The Boys’ Life of Mark Twain
by Paine

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Public Domain Books

XI. The Long Way to the Amazon

Sam decided on Cincinnati as his base. From there he could go either to New York or New Orleans to catch the Amazon boat. He paid a visit to St. Louis, where his mother made him renew his promise as to drink and cards. Then he was seized with a literary idea, and returned to Keokuk, where he proposed to a thriving weekly paper, the “Saturday Post,” to send letters of travel, which might even be made into a book later on. George Reese, owner of the “Post,” agreed to pay five dollars each for the letters, which speaks well for his faith in Samuel Clemens’s talent, five dollars being good pay for that time and place–more than the letters were worth, judged by present standards. The first was dated Cincinnati, November 14, 1856, and was certainly not promising literature. It was written in the ridiculous dialect which was once thought to be the dress of humor; and while here and there is a comic flash, there is in it little promise of the future Mark Twain. One extract is enough:

“When we got to the depo’, I went around to git a look at the iron hoss. Thunderation! It wasn’t no more like a hoss than a meetin’- house. If I was goin’ to describe the animule, I’d say it looked like–well, it looked like–blamed if I know what it looked like, snorting fire and brimstone out of his nostrils, and puffin’ out black smoke all ’round, and pantin’, and heavin’, and swellin’, and chawin’ up red-hot coals like they was good. A feller stood in a little house like, feedin’ him all the time; but the more he got, the more he wanted and the more he blowed and snorted. After a spell the feller ketched him by the tail, and great Jericho! he set up a yell that split the ground for more’n a mile and a half, and the next minit I felt my legs a-waggin’, and found myself at t’other end of the string o’ vehickles. I wasn’t skeered, but I had three chills and a stroke of palsy in less than five minits, and my face had a cur’us brownish-yaller-greenbluish color in it, which was perfectly unaccountable. ’Well,’ say I, ’comment is super-flu-ous.’”

How Samuel Clemens could have written that, and worse, at twenty-one, and a little more than ten years later have written “The Innocents Abroad," is one of the mysteries of literature. The letters were signed “Snodgrass,” and there are but two of them. Snodgrass seems to have found them hard work, for it is said he raised on the price, which, fortunately, brought the series to a close. Their value to-day lies in the fact that they are the earliest of Mark Twain’s newspaper contributions that have been preserved–the first for which he received a cash return.

Sam remained in Cincinnati until April of the following year, 1857, working for Wrightson & Co., general printers, lodging in a cheap boarding-house, saving every possible penny for his great adventure.

He had one associate at the boarding-house, a lank, unsmiling Scotchman named Macfarlane, twice young Clemens’s age, and a good deal of a mystery. Sam never could find out what Macfarlane did. His hands were hardened by some sort of heavy labor; he left at six in the morning and returned in the evening at the same hour. He never mentioned his work, and young Clemens had the delicacy not to inquire.

For Macfarlane was no ordinary person. He was a man of deep knowledge, a reader of many books, a thinker; he was versed in history and philosophy, he knew the dictionary by heart. He made but two statements concerning himself: one, that he had acquired his knowledge from reading, and not at school; the other, that he knew every word in the English dictionary. He was willing to give proof of the last, and Sam Clemens tested him more than once, but found no word that Macfarlane could not define.

Macfarlane was not silent–he would discuss readily enough the deeper problems of life and had many startling theories of his own. Darwin had not yet published his “Descent of Man,” yet Macfarlane was already advancing ideas similar to those in that book. He went further than Darwin. He had startling ideas of the moral evolution of man, and these he would pour into the ears of his young listener until ten o’clock, after which, like the English Sumner in Philadelphia, he would grill a herring, and the evening would end. Those were fermenting discourses that young Samuel Clemens listened to that winter in Macfarlane’s room, and they did not fail to influence his later thought.

It was the high-tide of spring, late in April, when the prospective cocoa-hunter decided that it was time to set out for the upper Amazon. He had saved money enough to carry him at least as far as New Orleans, where he would take ship, it being farther south and therefore nearer his destination. Furthermore, he could begin with a lazy trip down the Mississippi, which, next to being a pilot, had been one of his most cherished dreams. The Ohio River steamers were less grand than those of the Mississippi, but they had a homelike atmosphere and did not hurry. Samuel Clemens had the spring fever and was willing to take his time.

In “Life on the Mississippi” we read that the author ran away, vowing never to return until he could come home a pilot, shedding glory. But this is the fiction touch. He had always loved the river, and his boyhood dream of piloting had time and again returned, but it was not uppermost when he bade good-by to Macfarlane and stepped aboard the “Paul Jones,” bound for New Orleans, and thus conferred immortality on that ancient little craft.

Now he had really started on his voyage. But it was a voyage that would continue not for a week or a fortnight, but for four years–four marvelous, sunlit years, the glory of which would color all that followed them.


Preface  •  I. The Family of John Clemens  •  II. The New Home, and Uncle John Quarles’s Farm  •  IV. Education Out of School  •  V. Tom Sawyer and His Band  •  VI. Closing School-Days  •  VII. The Apprentice  •  VIII. Orion’s Paper  •  IX. The Open Road  •  X. A Wind of Chance  •  XI. The Long Way to the Amazon  •  XII. Renewing an Old Ambition  •  XIII. Learning the River  •  XIV. River Days  •  XV. The Wreck of the “Pennsylvania”  •  XVI. The Pilot  •  XVII. The End of Piloting  •  XVIII. The Soldier  •  XIX. The Pioneer  •  XX. The Miner  •  XXI. The Territorial Enterprise  •  XXII. “Mark Twain”  •  XXIII. Artemus Ward and Literary San Francisco  •  XXIV. The Discovery of “The Jumping Frog”  •  XXV. Hawaii and Anson Burlingame  •  XXVI. Mark Twain, Lecturer  •  XXVII. An Innocent Abroad, and Home Again  •  XXVIII. Olivia Langdon. Work on the “Innocents”  •  XXIX. The Visit to Elmira and Its Consequences  •  XXX. The New Book and a Wedding  •  XXXI. Mark Twain in Buffalo  •  XXXII. At Work on “Roughing It”  •  XXXIII. In England  •  XXXIV. A New Book and New English Triumphs  •  XXXV. Beginning “Tom Sawyer”  •  XXXVI. The New Home  •  XXXVII. “Old Times,” “Sketches,” And “Tom Sawyer”  •  XXXVIII. Home Pictures  •  XXXIX. Tramping Abroad  •  XL. “The Prince and the Pauper”  •  XLI. General Grant at Hartford  •  XLII. Many Investments  •  XLIII. Back to the River, With Bixby  •  XLIV. A Reading-Tour With Cable  •  XLV. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”  •  XLVI. Publisher to General Grant  •  XLVII. The High-Tide of Fortune  •  XLVIII. Business Difficulties. Pleasanter Things  •  XLIX. Kipling at Elmira. Elsie Leslie. The “Yankee”  •  L. The Machine. Good-By to Hartford. “Joan” Is Begun  •  LI. The Failure of Webster & Co. Around the World. Sorrow  •  LII. European Economies  •  LIII. Mark Twain Pays His Debts  •  LIV. Return After Exile  •  LV. A Prophet At Home  •  LVI. Honored by Missouri  •  LVII. The Close of a Beautiful Life  •  LVIII. Mark Twain at Seventy  •  LIX. Mark Twain Arranges for His Biography  •  LX. Working With Mark Twain  •  LXI. Dictations at Dublin, N. H.  •  LXII. A New Era of Billiards  •  LXIII. Living With Mark Twain  •  LXIV. A Degree From Oxford  •  LXV. The Removal to Redding  •  LXVI. Life at Stormfield  •  LXVII. The Death of Jean  •  LXVIII. Days in Bermuda  •  LXIX. The Return to Redding  •  LXX. The Close of a Great Life

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The boys' life of Mark Twain: The story of a man who made the world laugh and love him
By Albert Bigelow Paine
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