Life on the Mississippi
by Mark Twain

Stories and history combined. Twain recollects all he can from the days when he was a riverboat pilot, including a vivid description of what a riverboat pilot had to know. Then he returns twenty-something years later, tours the river and its towns, and describes the changes.

It is good journalism rather than literature. It includes the following lines.

"I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn't know." (49)

"In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself by two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old O÷litic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upward of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact." (156)

"When there used to be four thousand steamboats and ten thousand acres of coal-barges, and rafts, and trading-scows, there wasn't a lantern from St. Paul to New Orleans, and the snags were thicker than bristles on a hog's back; and now, when there's three dozen steamboats and nary barge or raft, government has snatched out all the snags, and lit up the shores like Broadway, and a boat's as safe on the river as she'd be in heaven." (238)

"'Did I appeal to the lawŚI? Does it quench the pauper's thirst if the king drink for him?'" (268)

"It was Sir Walter [Scott] that made every gentleman in the South a major or a colonel, or a general or a judge, before the war; and it was he, also, that made these gentlemen value these bogus decorations. For it was he that created rank and caste down there, and also reverence for rank and cast, and pride and pleasure in them. Enough is laid upon slavery, without fathering upon it these creations and contributions of Sir Walter." (376)

"As far as our South is concerned, the good work done by Cervantes is pretty nearly a dead letter, so effectually has Scott's pernicious work undermined it." (378)

"The Model Boy of my timeŚwe never had but oneŚwas perfect: perfect in manners, perfect in dress, perfect in conduct, perfect in filial piety, perfect in exterior godliness; but at bottom he was a prig; and as for the contents of his skull, they could have changed place with the contents of a pie, and nobody would have been the worse off for it but the pie." (443)

Year Read: 2000


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