Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mark Twain, Traveler, 100 Years On

Mark Twain, the great American writer, was also a great traveler. Born Samuel Clemens, this engaging, perceptive and witty man died 100 years ago today, on April 21, 1910.

Twain is remembered for his folksy way with a joke. But he had a corrosive sense of humor when the situation called for it. Twain's wit was put fully into play when he went on the road. He traveled the USA and the world by river steamboat, stagecoach, horse and buggy, on horseback and by oceanliner. One of his best early books, "The Innocents Abroad,'' and an uneven but entertaining later book, "Following the Equator,'' were nonfiction travel books.

In "Innocents Abroad'' Twain wrote:

"The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become until he goes abroad. I speak now, of course, in the supposition that the gentle reader has not been abroad, and therefore is not already a consummate ass. If the case be otherwise, I beg his pardon and extend to him the cordial hand of fellowship and call him brother.''

One of Twain's most trenchant observations about travel - and certainly the most inspiring - is this declaration, also from "Innocents Abroad'':

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.''

Sam, we miss you.

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