American Minute with Bill Federer
Mark Twain, Innocence Abroad , his visit to the Middle East & his views on life
“Mark Twain” a river measurement meaning 12-feet-deep, was the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who born November 30, 1835.
Growing up on the Mississippi, Clemens left school at age 12 when his father died.
He became a printer’s apprentice, then piloted steamboats till the War between the States suspended river traffic.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens joined the Confederates, but after two weeks obtained a discharge to work for his brother Orion, who was secretary to Nevada’s Governor.
After an attempt at mining, Clemens became a reporter in Virginia City, Nevada, using the name “Mark Twain” for the first time.
His first popular story was “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” written in 1865 while he was in San Francisco.
He moved to California, and in 1866, Mark Twain sailed as a reporter for the Sacramento Union to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).
In 1867, a newspaper funded Mark Twain’s voyage to the Mediterranean, which he recorded in his book, Innocents Abroad, 1869.
While on this trip, Twain saw the picture of his friend’s sister, Olivia Langdon of Elmira, New York, and he fell in love.
Immediately upon his return, he met and married Olivia.
Innocents Abroad established Twain’s reputation as a writer.
In it, he described Syria under the Ottoman Turkish Empire:
“Then we called at the tomb of Mahomet’s children and at … the mausoleum of the five thousand Christians who were massacred in Damascus in 1861 by the Turks.
They say those narrow streets ran blood for several days, and that men, women and children were butchered indiscriminately and left to rot by hundreds all through the Christian quarter; they say, further, that the stench was dreadful.
… All the Christians who could get away fled from the city, and the Mohammedans would not defile their hands by burying the ‘infidel dogs.’
… The thirst for blood extended to the high lands of Hermon and Anti-Lebanon,
and in a short time twenty-five thousand more Christians were massacred and their possessions laid waste …”
“How they hate a Christian in Damascus! — and pretty much all over Turkeydom as well.
And how they will pay for it when Russia turns her guns upon them again!
It is soothing to the heart to abuse England and France for interposing to save the Ottoman Empire from the destruction it has so richly deserved for a thousand years …”
“It hurts my vanity to see these pagans refuse to eat of food that has been cooked for us; or to eat from a dish we have eaten from; or to drink from a goatskin which we have polluted with our Christian lips, except by filtering the water through a rag which they put over the mouth of it or through a sponge! …
These degraded Turks and Arabs … When Russia is ready to war with them again, I hope England and France will not find it good breeding or good judgment to interfere.”
Twain wrote in Innocents Abroad, chapter 42:
“If ever an oppressed race existed, it is this one we see fettered around us under the inhuman tyranny of the Ottoman Empire.
I wish Europe would let Russia annihilate Turkey a little–not much, but enough to make it difficult to find the place again without a divining-rod or a diving-bell.”
Mark Twain wrote in Innocents Abroad, chapter 56:
“Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes.
Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies … about whose borders nothing grows but weeds, and scattering tufts of cane, and that treacherous fruit that promises refreshment to parching lips, but turns to ashes at the touch.”
In Innocents Abroad, chapter 53, Twain described the condition of Jerusalem under Ottoman Muslim rule:
“Palestine is desolate and unlovely … Rags, wretchedness, poverty and dirt, those signs and symbols that indicate the presence of Moslem rule more surely than the crescent-flag itself, abound …
Jerusalem is mournful, and dreary, and lifeless. I would not desire to live here …
… The Moslems watch the Golden Gate with a jealous eye, and an anxious one, for they have an honored tradition that when it falls, Islamism will fall and with it the Ottoman Empire.
It did not grieve me any to notice that the old gate was getting a little shaky.”
Twain wrote in Innocents Abroad, chapter 56:
“Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur … the wonderful temple which was the pride and the glory of Israel, is gone,
and the Ottoman crescent is lifted above the spot where, on that most memorable day in the annals of the world, they reared the Holy Cross.”
Mark Twain wrote the best-selling books:
- Tom Sawyer (1876);
- Prince and the Pauper (1882);
- Life on the Mississippi (1883);
- Huckleberry Finn (1884);
- Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court (1889); and
- Joan of Arc (1896).
Of his reverent portrayal of Joan of Arc, Twain stated in 1908:
“I like Joan of Arc best of all my books, it is the best.”
Mark Twain started a publishing business, but it failed.
He paid off his debts by lecturing across America and England.
While in London, May of 1897, a rumor circulated that he had died.
Mark Twain quipped to a reporter for the New York Journal, Frank Marshall White, May 31, 1897:
“The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
Twain persuaded former President Ulysses S. Grant to write his Civil War memoirs, which, after Grant’s death, provided support for his widow, Julia Grant.
He met Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frederick Douglass.
Twain wrote to President-elect James Garfield requesting a favor, that Frederick Douglass be kept on as Marshal of the District of Columbia:
“I offer this petition with peculiar pleasure and strong desire, because I so honor this man’s high and blemishless character and so admire his brave, long crusade for the liberties and elevation of his race.
He is a personal friend of mine, but that is nothing to the point; his history would move me to say these things without that, and I feel them too.”
Twain personally supported African American students, and in 1906, co-chaired a major fundraising effort for Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee University.
His admiration of gospel music led him to support Fisk University Jubilee singers in their efforts to raise money to keep the school open.
He was vice-president of the American Chapter of the Congo Reform Association.
Twain was friends with Nikola Tesla and spent time in his science laboratory.
Thomas Edison visited Twain at his home in Redding, Connecticut, in 1909, and even filmed him.
Twain was awarded an honorary doctorate from Oxford University in 1907.
Mark Twain wrote:
- “When in doubt, tell the truth”;
- “Always do right. That will gratify some of the people, and astonish the rest”;
- “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it”;
- “Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.”
Twain’s religious views fluctuated:
from being sarcastically irreligious, ridiculing organized religion;
to declaring “the universe is governed by strict and immutable laws”;
to raising money to help build a Presbyterian Church and stating “the goodness, the justice, and the mercy of God are manifested in His works.”
His daughter Clara related:
“Sometimes he believed death ended everything, but most of the time he felt sure of a life beyond.”
Answering Bible skeptics, Mark Twain said:
“If the Ten Commandments were not written by Moses, then they were written by another fellow of the same name.”
Mark Twain stated in 1909:
“I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it.
It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet.
The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'”
The day after Halley’s Comet made its nearest approach to the Earth, Mark Twain died April 21, 1910.
His funeral was in New York’s “Old Brick” Presbyterian Church.
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do … Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Of the Bible, Twain wrote in Innocents Abroad, 1869:
“It is hard to make a choice of the most beautiful passage in a book which is so gemmed with beautiful passages as the Bible; but it is certain that not many things within its lids may take rank above the exquisite story of Joseph.
Who taught those ancient writers their simplicity of language, their felicity of expression, their pathos, and above all, their faculty of sinking themselves entirely out of sight of the reader and making the narrative stand out alone and seem to tell itself?
Shakespeare is always present when one reads his book; Macaulay is present when we follow the march of his stately sentences; but the Old Testament writers are hidden from view.”
In Innocents Abroad, chapter 47, Mark Twain gave a further description of the land of Israel:
“We dismounted on those shores which the feet of the Saviour had made holy ground …
We left Capernaum behind us. It was only a shapeless ruin. It bore no semblance to a town. But, all desolate and unpeopled as it was, it was illustrious ground.
From it sprang that tree of Christianity whose broad arms overshadow so many distant lands today. Christ visited his old home at Nazareth, and saw His brothers Joses, Judas, James, and Simon …
… Who wonders what passed in their minds when they saw this brother (who was only a brother to them, however He might be to others a mysterious stranger; who was a God, and had stood face to face with God above the clouds) doing miracles, with crowds of astonished people for witnesses? …
One of the most astonishing things that has yet fallen under our observation is the exceedingly small portion of the earth from which sprang the new flourishing plant of Christianity.
… The longest journey our Saviour ever performed was from here to Jerusalem – about one hundred to one hundred and twenty miles …
Leaving out two or three short journeys, He spent His life, preaching His Gospel, and performing His miracles, within a compass no larger than an ordinary county of the United States.”
Mark Twain wrote in Innocents Abroad, 1869:
“In the starlight, Galilee has no boundaries but the broad compass of the heavens, and is a theatre meet for great events; meet for the birth of a religion able to save the world.”
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