Tramps and Tourists: Europe in Mark Twain's A Tramp Abroad
Messent, Peter, Yearbook of English Studies
This is a re-reading of Mark Twain's neglected travel book, A Tramp Abroad (1880) which explores the title pun, paying particular attention to Twain's highly ambivalent attitude to tramps as represented back home in America. The essay also examines the book's self-conscious concern with tourism as a subject, Twain's own depiction as tourist rather than sensitive traveller, and his awareness of the way mass tourism affects, and promotes a false version of, the countries it colonizes. The final suggestion is that, as parasites on their cultural hosts, tramps and tourists are not finally as different as they might at first appear.
A Tramp Abroad (1880) is normally considered one of Twain's less successful books, seen as a rather tired attempt to follow up the success of his earlier The Innocents Abroad (1869). In Innocents, conventional assumptions about Europe, its traditions, and the value of its artistic heritage, were subjected to the iconoclastic eye of 'Mark Twain', playful and 'free-talking American frankly sizing up the Old World'. (1) The comic energy and innovatory cultural impact of this text made it both 'the most successful travel book in [the] country's literary history' and a benchmark in the history of American travel writing. (2)
A Tramp Abroad has suffered in critical comparison from the time of its first publication. The reviewer of 'New Publications' for the San Francisco Evening Bulletin in May 1880 confessed 'to a feeling of disappointment. [...] It lacks the freedom, the lawless abandon, the sublime audacity, the [...] spontaneous humor, the irresistible drollery of [The Innocents Abroad]'. (3) Few modern critics would argue with Forrest Robinson's more recent assessment that this is 'the least interesting of [Twain's] travel books'. Robinson sees 'something fundamentally distracted' about it, a recurrent gap between the account of the trip itself and the real subjects of the narrator's interest that occur on some other (mental) level. With good cause, given the content of Twain's letters at the time, he judges the making of the book 'a trial to its author, both in the travel itself and in the writing about it'. (4)
This is a patchy book, and one in which narrative shape and sustained thematic focus waver, and especially in its final Italian section and the series of six appendices (fifty pages of material) that follow. Twain clearly had difficulty making up his mind just what should go into his text, indicated by the fact that, in The Stolen White Elephant, Etc. (1882), four pieces, including the title story, were specifically identified as having been carried over from A Tramp Abroad. (5) But the book is of considerably more interest than its current reputation indicates. We should not forget that this was a best seller too, with sixty-two thousand copies sold in its first year of publication in the United States alone. It outsold Twain's travel book about the American West, Roughing It (1872), and would be the most popular of all his books in England in his lifetime. (6) There were also positive comments on first publication to balance the negatives: 'plenty of passages [...] which are delightfully bright and clever'; 'a good deal of fun for [the public]'; 'Mark Twain [...] is the greatest writer living of travels containing an odd mixture of sober truth, droll exaggeration, and occasional buffoonery, all mixed together in the most incongruous way imaginable'. (7) And in his introduction to the 1899 Uniform Edition of Twain's works, Brander Matthews praised A Tramp Abroad as 'a better book than The Innocents Abroad [...] Twain was [now] master of his method'. (8) Such responses suggest that a critical re-evaluation of this unusual and often intriguing book may be overdue.
My approach here is necessarily selective but focuses on two related areas. First, I discuss the pun in Twain's title, concerning the different meanings of the word 'tramp' and their resonance, both in terms of the Europe through which Twain travels and the America that serves as his cultural and geographical point of departure. Here too, and as I proceed, I assess some of the changes in Twain's own response to Europe and its sights since Innocents. The main thrust of the second half of my essay is to examine the self-reflexive quality of the book: its concern with tourism itself as a subject. I see this as one of its most unusual and striking aspects.
Tramps were very much on Twain's mind as he prepared to write A Tramp Abroad. He and his family sailed for Europe in April 1878. The speech he made at the birthday dinner for poet John Greenleaf Whittier in December 1877 may well have been a factor in his decision to make the trip. Here, Twain had unwittingly offended his audience (or, at least, so both he and William Dean Howells thought) with a playful anecdote, set in the mining country of the western Sierras, about 'three rough and boozy looking tramps' assuming the identities of Emerson, Holmes, and Longfellow, three pillars of the New England literary establishment. (9) The comic blurring of the boundary between the disreputable and utmost respectability was entirely typical of one strand of Twain's humour. It also, however, engaged a particular set of concerns, to which he would often return, concerning the relationship between high social position, the work ethic and success in an American capitalist culture, and social transgression, disrepute, and a freedom from conventional cares and responsibility.
America was at this historical moment in economic recession: 'a rather severe depression cycle [...] begun in 1873' would last through till 1879. (10) And tramps, a 'new class of drifters without a job or home', were regarded as a considerable social threat. (11) In May 1877, Twain had visited Bermuda with his friend Joe Twichell (the 'Harris' of A Tramp Abroad). 'Some Rambling Notes of an Idle Excursion' (1877-78), the travel narrative recording that short trip, can in some ways be read as a companion piece to the later and longer European work. In it, Twain constructs an opposition between a modernized American world, with its 'millions of harassed people', and the 'pure recreation', idleness, and freedom associated with Bermuda. The tidiness and charm of the latter country is contrasted with the dirt and disorder implicitly associated with the American cityscape. (12) 'Bermuda', too, Twain writes in his notebook, 'is free (at present) from the triple curse of railways, telegraphs & newspapers'. (13) Twain notes ironically, though, that an 'elusive something' is missing from this pre-modern Bermudan haven, identifying tramps as this absent factor: 'Let them go there, right now [...]. Passage is cheap. [...] Whole armies of these excellent beings can be spared from our midst and our polls'. (14) Twain's reactionary social politics are obvious both here and in his further references to tramps in 'The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut' (1876).
Twain plays on the pun in his title at intervals throughout A Tramp Abroad. One of his satiric targets in the book is an over-talkative young New Englander. This youth's cycle of repetitive and formulaic questions and statements, obsessive concern with the company and travelling routines of his fellow Americans, and clear lack of engagement with the Europe through which he travels, mark a shallow, self-centred and parochial sensibility. (15) As in The Innocents Abroad, Twain uses the move away from home territory to measure the 'hollow core' of some American ways of responding to the larger world. (16) Here, his attitude toward the young man is irritation tempered with a good-humoured tolerance of his deficiencies. (17) For when the latter says, 'Excuse me a minute, there's some Americans I haven't seen before', Twain responds: 'And away he went. He went uninjured, too,--I had the murderous impulse to harpoon him in the back with my alpenstock, but as I raised the weapon the disposition left me; I found I hadn't the heart to kill him, he was such a joyous, innocent, good-natured numscull [sic]' (p. 279).
At one point in their 'conversation' the young man says, 'I ain't any more afraid of French than a tramp's afraid of pie' (p. 282). This brilliant and slightly surreal comparison, and the stereotype it engages, point in the direction of the double connotation of the book's title. Twain, too, (supposedly) tramping about Europe, refers to the other type of 'tramper' on several occasions in his Notebooks for the period. (18) Arriving in Hamburg directly from the US, he notes, 'Haven't seen a tramp--what luxury this is'. Later in Munich, tramps (presumably American) are in evidence, the Consulate 'infested' with them. (19)
Twain, then, contrasts and compares his leisurely 'tramp' through Europe with what 'tramping' signifies back home. I return to this shortly. It is important to note, though, that this is just one element in a larger cultural comparison, as Twain uses the unhurried relaxation of his time in Europe to suggest the shortcomings of contemporary American life. As in 'Some Rambling Notes', his unease with American modernity is evident here. Thus, for instance, Twain spends some time in the first part of his book describing student life in Heidelberg and particularly its duelling traditions. Walter Blair claims he is 'irritated by the cruel Heidelberg student duelists' and that his comic perspective consequently disappears. (20) It is true there is little comedy in this descriptive sequence, and Twain is well aware of the 'shocking nature' of some of the wounds received. But, describing 'the easy, careless, comfortable life' (p. 47) led by the students before they 'put on the chains once more and enter the slavery of official or professional life' (p. 50), he then watches the duels 'with rapt interest and strong excitement' (p. 57). He notes the 'good fortitude' and 'endurance' of the wounded combatants and is clearly impressed by the 'courtly ceremony [...] dignity, and [...] knightly graces' (p. 62) of these events. I would suggest Twain is attracted here to a type of pre-modern ritual marked precisely by its difference from the busy, bustling efficiencies of the America recently left behind. (21)
Modernization, its advantages and its discontents, provide a recurrent subtext to A Tramp Abroad. On one level, Twain is aware of the discomforts and primitive domestic and civic arrangements of the European countries he visits. He describes 'the smells [...] over a thousand [years old]' (p. 106) in a Heilbronn inn, the lack of sidewalks and street lamps in the same town (p. 112). Crucifixes and religious icons are as common in the Black Forest area as 'telegraph poles [...] in other lands [read America]' (p. 214). He notes, too, 'the packed and dirty tenements' of Hirschhorn (p. 163) and jokes about the prevalence of fleas scatter the whole text. The Swiss village of Leukerbad has streets covered with 'liquid "fertiliser"': 'They ought to either pave that village or organise a ferry' (p. 391). While 'there is no family in America without a clock', the same is not true in the 'poor' community of St Nicholas where the church bell serves as timekeeper (p. 401). American cities are healthier than those in Europe (pp. 536-37). European drinking water is 'flat and insipid' compared to American ice water, and the food and coffee in European hotels fail to match up to American domestic fare. Twain describes with relish the American 'mighty porter-house steak, hot and sputtering from the griddle; dusted with fragrant pepper; enriched with little melting bits of butter' (p. 572). Twain is, however, also strongly attracted by the more positive aspects of European culture. If every American family's having a clock is a sign of affluence and progress, it is also a sign of a rationalized society, one driven by the demands of clock time and the time clock. (22) Living by the sound of the church bell indicates a simpler, less pressured, more homogeneous community.
Twain, as he represents himself here, seems to suffer from what George Beard diagnosed as American Nervousness (the title of his 1881 book)--for Beard, a distinctively 'American disease' and product of modernization. (23) So we learn of Twain's 'nervous excitement' in his Heilbronn hotel caused, as he first thinks, by 'the rasping and grinding of distant machinery' (pp. 114-16): the noise in fact turns out to be a mouse. Later, he defines himself as 'a nervous man', easily upset by the sound of the Swiss cuckoo clock (p. 262). The roar of a Swiss mountain torrent, too, is compared to the 'muffled roar of a distant train', and makes Twain's temples throb as though 'he had spent his nights in a sleeping car' (p. 509). The pressures of American life are not easily cast off, but are reproduced in part in this new setting.
When Twain arrived in Europe he wrote to Howells describing his 'deep, grateful, unutterable sense of being "out of it all"'. Reaching his hotel in Heidelberg he continued: 'Lord, how blessed is the repose, the tranquillity of this place! [...] It is so healing to the spirit'. (24) A number of the descriptions in A Tramp Abroad echo this sense of welcome escape from the harassments of American modernity. Most famously, there is the raft trip down the Neckar, evidently an invented rather than actual event. The railroad, the very symbol of modern technology, is put in direct contrast with this river trip. Twain appreciates the calm rhythms of the raft--'gentle, and gliding, and smooth, and noiseless; it calms down all feverish activities, it soothes to sleep all nervous hurry [...]; existence becomes a dream, a charm, a deep and tranquil ecstasy'--and sets them directly against that other more disorienting form of travel: the 'dusty and deafening railroad rush' (p. 126). (25) Similarly, the Black Forest is described in terms of its 'remoteness from the workaday world', an 'entire emancipation from it and its affairs'. A 'suggestion of mystery and the supernatural [...] haunts' its quasi-religious setting, where 'a rich cathedral gloom pervades the pillared aisles' (p. 207). In Switzerland, too, the 'quiet Kandersteg valley' is suffused with 'a sense of deep pervading peace; one might dream his life tranquilly away there' (p. 364).
Clearly America and Europe, the mechanical and the natural, the modern and the pre-modern, are not consistently opposed to one another in this text. Twain is very aware of modernization's effects in Europe. And the sounds of nature can create similar damage to their technological counterpart. Twain is aware, too, that the increasing popularity of travel, and the bureaucratization that accompanies it, themselves make any idea of pre-modern escape or 'authenticity' suspect. (26) Having said this, the sense remains here that Europe does still function as a retreat from the stresses of American life, an alternative cultural space where this 'nervous man' can recuperate.
It is here that the 'tramp' pun becomes once more relevant. Twain, taking on the role of leisured tourist, enjoys at his ease 'the charm of pedestrianism' (p. 221). His 'foreign tramping' (p. 444) provides him with the opportunity to wander at will through the sights and scenery of Europe, his pocket metaphorically deep enough to make questions of cost irrelevant. Twain did in fact have to work hard for his living. The illustration that prefaces the text shows a dizzied author, working at the writing that followed from his trip (p. 16). And he found the book a real strain to write. That act of labour, though, is by and large elided from the text.
Despite Twain's hostility to American tramps, some aspects of their lifestyle also (contradictorily) attract him. His own 'tramp' round Europe brings a sense of escape and freedom from the 'workaday world', from the 'feverish activity' of American business life. And this provides a connection with the activity of the 'tramps' back home. For they too were vagabonds and wanderers and, in romantic fancy at least, unconstrained by the metaphorical iron cage of the late nineteenth-century socio-economic world. Twain describes how he and Harris 'loafed along, having a good time [...] real fun' (p. 368), enjoying the 'supreme pleasure' of good and varied talk as they did so (p. 220). The two might be seen here as the generic tramp's fellows, finding freedom and delight on the (European) margins of the normal working world.
Two things then happen here. Twain normally sees the tramp as social threat and predator and, accordingly, differentiates himself (in making his European tramp) from his less reputable counterpart. (27) But the gap he constructs is in part belied by the very pun he uses. It is belied, too, by Twain's own past history, when, just over a decade previously in California, he was himself apparently almost down-and-out, jobless, 'entirely penniless', possibly suicidal, 'in trouble, & in debt [...] utterly miserable'. (28) This, in turn, returns us to the Whittier birthday dinner. The fanciful narrative of Emerson, Holmes, and Longfellow as 'fantastic tramps' stopping off at a western miner's cabin, has a 'fourth literary man' then visit. This is Twain himself, and at a time (the anecdote is set in 1864) when his own literary reputation was only part-made, and prior to the crisis alluded to above. Twain informs the miner that the three previous tramp visitors were impostors, and the miner replies, after 'investigating me with a calm eye for a while [...] "Ah! Impostors, were they? Are you?"' (29)
The note of self-doubt here is clear. Twain, in his anecdote, measures himself against the respected members of the New England literary establishment, at a time when he has only relatively recently (through the success of his early books and his marriage) reached a position of social and financial respectability. The comic version of himself he projects reveals his insecurities, with his real status--as literary man, or impostor, or tramp--cast in some doubt. The hostility he elsewhere shows to this whole last social class may be partly a result of his own personal anxieties. (30)
As so often, though, Twain's attitudes are ambiguous. And the other thing that the punning title of his book indicates is the more positive attitude towards, and romantic version of, the tramp to which I have already referred. Both Twain, the tramp abroad, and his fellow tramps at home, are represented here as free agents, able to escape the bounds of the conventional and confining American world. This version of the tramp figures in an unpublished preface he wrote for A Tramp Abroad, where he also makes clear the (unintentional) nature of the title pun:
To the Reader
Perhaps you were about to say that formerly I went Abroad as an Innocent but that this time [...] I went Abroad as a Tramp. [...] When I chose my book's title, I only intended it to describe the nature of my journey, which was a walk, through foreign lands,--that is, a tramp; but the more I think of how little I cared whither I went [...] so long as I had a lazy, delightful, irresponsible high-holiday time on the road, the more I perceived that in using the word Tramp I was unconsciously describing the walker as well as the walk. Very well, let it go at that. Tramps are increasing; by and by they may be in the majority; in that day a Tramp will be elected President of the United States: I seem to have a future before me. (31)
The theme of careless freedom (rather than disrepute) sounds most strongly here. In the ending of the passage, and in the social context of its writing, however, the latter resonance cannot completely disappear.
I want to switch direction at this point, though my argument will continue to address Twain's constructed position as relaxed and free-wheeling tourist (he who tramps for pleasure rather than from necessity), and what 'Europe' means to him as he acts out this role. I have shown how 'Europe' stands, to a certain degree, as an attractive anti-modern 'other' to the modern American protagonist. This protagonist, however, cannot help but be implicated in modern American capitalist culture even as he reacts against certain of its manifestations. It is, then, Twain's self-conscious awareness of his role as tourist--one whose comparative wealth allows him to buy into the European leisure market--to which I now turn.
A Tramp Abroad is a very different type of book from Innocents Abroad. In both texts, Twain satirizes certain aspects of old-world culture. In Tramp, he continues the earlier critique of traditional high cultural forms, and their failure to appeal to his 'untutored' (p. 86) American eye and ear. So, for instance, he writes of the opera, Lohengrin, 'the racking and pitiless pain of it remains stored up in my memory alongside of the time that I had my teeth fixed' (pp. 83-84). Twain's attitude to visual art, too, remains sceptical. A sporadic element in the book's comedy depends on the supposed instruction Twain and Harris receive in 'drawing and painting', and its results. So Twain describes how 'my great picture, "Heidelberg Castle Illuminated," [...] was instantly recognised as mine [when displayed, unsigned, in an art exhibition]. [...] Strangers [...] were not only drawn to it as by a lodestone, the moment they entered the gallery, but always took it for a "Turner"' (pp. 100-01). (32) Further comedy results from Twain and Twichell's own crude attempts at sketches and illustrations that occasionally accompany the text (see, for instance, p. 105). (33) When Twain reaches Italy, he visits the art galleries, 'to see if I had learned anything in twelve years' (since Innocents). This time round, he finds he does at least prefer the originals to their copies, though 'the Old Masters were still unpleasing to me' (p. 558). Operating from realist assumptions (see p. 579), he judges the latter too often faulty in perspective and marked by sheer 'bad drawing' (p. 559). (34) He then launches an extended burlesque on the language and limits of fine art appreciation in the 'Bassano's immortal Hair Trunk' sequence (pp. 563-66).
But Twain now is less cocksure than he was in Innocents, less fierce in his rejection of European cultural models. In the section on Wagner he accepts the influence of 'habit and education' to admit that 'our nation will like the opera, too, by and by, no doubt' (p. 87). His tone is clearly uneasy in discussing the Old Masters, but he does start to see their value (see pp. 560-62). By the time he wrote 'Down the Rhone' (1891), Twain appeared to accept the fact that the ability to appreciate fine art (in this case, the Mona Lisa) depended on advice previously given to him: 'You must train your eye--you must teach yourself to see.' (35)
Generally, in A Tramp Abroad, the combative sense of American national identity and insistent iconoclasm of Innocents is far more muted. (36) This goes hand in hand with a more limited use of his comic persona too. There is, in the later text, a sequence of finely comic set pieces where the narrator displays a similar capacity for lunatic mayhem, ignorance and accident, naive misapprehension, and ethnocentric comedy to that found in the earlier work (the 'Great French Duel', pp. 69-82; the 'Night Excursion', pp. 114-21; the climbing of the Rigi-Kulm and attempt to view the Alpine sunrise, pp. 284-304; and the brilliant humorous attack on 'The Awful German Language', pp. 601-19: 'I heard a California student in Heidelberg say that [...] he would rather decline two drinks than one German adjective' (p. 606)). But, by and large, we seem much closer in this text to the actual Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), well-established American author, making his comfortable way through Europe and reporting, sometimes humorously, sometimes relatively straightforwardly and seriously, on his experiences as tourist and traveller. The fact that Twain was travelling with his family--though this information is generally elided in the book--and, briefly but crucially, with friend and minister, Joe Twichell (the 'Harris' who never really comes fully to life there) may also help to explain such a difference.
I am immediately aware, as I use the traveller-tourist pairing above, of the problematic relationship of these words. Conventionally, the two terms have been opposed to one another. 'Travellers' are conventionally seen as '"nonexploitative" visitors, motivated not by the lazy desire for instant entertainment but by the hard-won battle to satisfy their insatiable curiosity about other countries and people'. (37) '"Mere" tourists', on the other hand, are represented as the non-individualized 'vulgar herd' that follow in the traveller's footsteps, moving 'en masse, remaking whole regions in their homogeneous image'. (38) Twain's book engages issues that are now central to the debate over the history and meaning of travel narratives, offering a self-reflexive account of the status of the tourist and the impact of tourism at a time when mass travel to continental Europe (first from Britain and, after the Civil War, from America) had become relatively commonplace. His position as he does so is again ambivalent, aware of his own tourist status but also aware of his difference from the other tourists he sees, and on whom he comments.
This ambivalence is, in a sense, inevitable. For while Twain, exceptionally, recognizes his common identity with the tourist mass, like any travel writer he still needs to draw a distinction (here, in aspects of his sensibility, in what he sees and describes, in the meandering and flexible nature of his travel) between himself and those who surround him. For, if Twain is, to some extent, 'touring "by the book"', he is also writing the book that others will use to tour by, even if (for those who will never visit these countries) just in their imagination. (39) Twain is, though, aware of his own tourist status in this text. He is also aware of the way tourism both affects and promotes a false version of the countries it colonizes, and the mutual part guest and host play as this occurs. Buzard's words suggest something of the process: '[Nineteenth-century] witnesses saw or suspected that tourism was capable of both physically remaking places (by introducing railways, hotels, restaurants, Thomas Cook offices, souvenir shops, crowds of tourists) and re-presenting them in series of mnemonic stereotypes (symbols of Paris, Rome, Italy, the Rhine)' (pp. 11-12).
'American travel abroad seemed to explode after 1865' just as British travel had exploded following the end of the Napoleonic wars (Buzard, pp. 219, 19). The whole tone of American travel had changed, too. Rather than seeing themselves 'primarily as learners and appreciators', post-Civil War Americans confidently came to Europe 'to acquire choice bits of culture and experience at a good price'. They came for pleasure as well as education, 'eager to experience the best that their hard-earned money could buy', eager too to bring back material souvenirs of their trip. (40) In A Tramp Abroad, Twain mocks the sensitive traveller--delicately appreciative of foreign culture and capable of making meaningful contact with its 'real essence'--and his way of separating himself from the general mass. He does so in his depiction of the pretentious American 'adolescent' (in fact, about twenty-three), who complacently defines himself as 'a traveler--an inveterate traveler--a man of the world', visiting 'the unvisited nooks and corners where others never think of going'. 'A guest in the inner sanctuaries of palaces', he marks himself off in every respect from 'the herd [...] content to get a hurried glimpse of the unused chambers by feeing a servant' (pp. 442-43). One cannot help but measure the difference between Twain and his contemporary, Henry James, in the satiric ridicule that Twain pours on his target here. (41)
Twain is very much one of the tourists despite the distance he, at times, rhetorically constructs between himself and them. He is dismissive in his notebook of the 'gawking gangs of tourists [in St Mark's, Venice] poking about with red guidebooks [Murray] up to near-sighted eyes', (42) but he too relied heavily on such guides. Baedeker and Murray's efforts, together with the organizational work of Thomas Cook, helped set a 'style of bureaucratic efficiency' in the 'ever-tightening network' of travel and tourism of the time. (43) The tourist, increasingly, was seen as 'the creature of modernity's creeping network of impersonal institutions' (forms of travel, accommodation, monetary exchange and so on), as 'the particular creature of a transport and tourist network' (Buzard, p. 32).
Theory had it that the true traveller should resist such packaging (the tourist as 'mere parcel') and 'work (travail) for the pleasures of travel' (Buzard, p. 33). Twain, though, is generally happy to take directions, get information from the most convenient sources, and to enjoy the comforts at hand and the efficiencies that the developing European tourist industry offered him. Though he uses (as an independent traveller might) the private carriage and the courier on his trip, later evidence suggests that this was in part because any alternative infrastructure was not yet fully in place. For in 'Letters to Satan' he talks of European travel in 1897, to compare it with the earlier period:
We made our preparations for Switzerland as fast as we could; then bought the tickets. Bought them of Thomas Cook & Sons, of course. [...] All sorts and conditions of men fly to Cook in our days. In the bygone times travel in Europe was made hateful and humiliating by [...] wanton difficulties, hindrances, annoyances [...] and one had to travel with a courier or risk going mad. [...] But Cook has remedied all these things and made travel simple, easy, and a pleasure. [...] Cook's servants at the great stations will attend to your baggage, get you a cab [...] procure guides for you [...] and make life a comfort and a satisfaction to you. [...] I recommend Your Grace to travel on Cook's tickets when you come; and I do this without embarrassment, for I get no commission. (44)
Many of the new forms of popular European tourism, though, are already established in A Tramp Abroad, and Twain accepts the assumptions that accompany them. Baedeker's guides, along with Murray's, were increasingly responsible for directing the mass tourist's gaze (see the satiric nod in this direction on page 211) and prompting her or his response, both 'limiting and enabling' in equal turn. (45) Such guides are taken for granted as part of Twain's travelling equipment, even as he (at times) fails to follow them to the letter. So he recurrently creates humour from Baedeker's habit of measuring distance on the basis of the time taken to complete a journey by playing on the gap between his indolent and roundabout way of doing things and the scheduled efficiency of the guidebook: 'As Mr. Baedeker requests all tourists to call his attention to any errors which they may find in his guide-books, I dropped him a line to inform him that when he said the foot-journey from Waggis to the summit [of the Rigi-Kulm] was only three hours and a quarter, he missed it by just about three days' (p. 295). He 'examines his guidebook' to see if certain Swiss sights are 'important', and again suggests his role as the most half-hearted of tourists by then sending his agent (Harris) to examine 'these noted places' on his behalf (p. 311). Later on he tells Baedeker's version of an Alpine tragedy, quoting directly from his source (p. 388). And when he ignores Baedeker's advice and pays more than he needs for the diligence from Chamonix to Geneva, Twain admonishes himself, since 'Baedeker knows all about hotels, railway, and diligence companies, and speaks his mind freely. He is a trustworthy friend of the traveler' (p. 540). A good deal of Twain's material here is prompted by the guidebook (what sights to see and routes to follow), but he does not rely just on these basic traveller's aids, leaning heavily on other written sources. Thus, for instance, he transfers both words ('almost verbatim') and images from Edward Whymper's Scrambles Among the Alps (1871) to his own book, as he retells the story of the Englishman's tragic Matterhorn climb. (46)
It is in the Swiss section of the book that Twain focuses most emphatically on mass tourism. He reports how 'the crowd' viewing the Rigi sunrise 'had their red guide-books [Murray] open at the diagram of the view, and were painfully picking out the several mountains and trying to impress their names and positions on their memories. It was one of the saddest sights I ever saw' (p. 304). (47) He also comments on the 'summer horde' (p. 427) of visitors, the 'tramp-tramp of tourists' through the region as a whole and visiting its individual sights, and the 'gimcrackery of the souvenir sort' packing the shops (p. 258). Chamonix was described by a Blackwood's writer as a 'little London of the high Alps' (Buzard, p. 90). Twain's account of the arrival of 'carriage after carriage, laden with tourists and trunks' at a village hotel at the foot of the Brunig pass, and of the young English newlywed there, with her, 'Do order the champaign, I'm oful dry' (p. 333), is similarly suggestive. He then comments explicitly on the 'change [that] has come over Switzerland, and in fact all Europe, during this century': 'Now everybody goes everywhere', he says, 'and Switzerland, and many other regions which were unvisited and unknown remotenesses a hundred years ago, are in our days a buzzing hive of restless strangers' (p. 345).
Twain would seem in such passages to separate himself from his fellow tourists. But it is clear that he is, in many respects, one of them, his and their 'tramp' closely related. Buzard talks of the way that the tourist 'patronage of new obtrusive institutions' such as hotels, railway line, and so on 'irrevocably altered the landscape' of the travelled territory (p. 28). He discusses, too, how the notion of 'what a "place" is' changes with the development of mass tourism: 'when we think of geography, particularly in the context of tourism, we tend to impose fixed limits on accustomed attractions and stops, and to imagine the areas between them as somehow "empty", as unworthy of attention' (p. 34). Related to this, he suggests the theatricality that mass tourism encourages (p. 184). Thus 'Switzerland' or 'Italy', say, become a type of '"touristy" distillation' (p. 199), with attention focused not on the day-to-day life and culture of their inhabitants but, more narrowly, on the picturesque difference that separates the exotically 'foreign' place from 'home'. What also happens here is that those who cater to the tourists manufacture, in turn, a version of their country that fits this paradigm, and any notion of 'authenticity' disappears in the making of 'pre-packaged [...] wholly touristic place [...] trumped up, corrupted, commodified' (p. 11).
A Tramp Abroad can be read in this context. Twain moves from sight to sight, satirizing tourist routines and habits of mind, but also himself the subject of their strong influence. He takes the most convenient forms of transport instead of walking--that mode of travel that calls for 'the slowest pace and closest attention to detail', the separation of self and companion from 'the common run of tourists'. (48) So the comic tactic on which he most often relies (the evasion of 'tramping') serves to mark out his own tourist identity. He descends the Rigi by mountain train, an hour's rather than--for him--a day's journey (p. 304). He means to enjoy the 'romantic nature' of, and 'marvelous' views from, the road over the Brunig pass (p. 334), but, travelling by horse and carriage over the well-built road and after a good dinner, falls asleep and misses the whole thing. The Swiss landscape has been altered by the hotels built for the tourist trade and Twain takes due advantage of them. In Interlaken, 'we located ourselves at the Jungfrau Hotel, one of those huge establishments which the needs of modern travel have created in every attractive spot on the continent. There was a great gathering at dinner' (p. 340). And the comforts of modern tourism are properly appreciated by him: the 'exceedingly comfortable' nature of a carriage hired (p. 323), the 'choicer rooms' engaged in Chamonix (p. 498), the stay at a 'new and nice hotel' in St Nicholas (p. 399).
If there is choice between doing things 'properly', experiencing the rigours but also the satisfactions of strenuous and adventurous activity, or taking the short cut (the tourist as 'surface-skimmer'), Twain does the latter (Buzard, p. 12). He follows a routine itinerary from one tourist sight to the next, from the Rigi to the Matterhorn to Mont Blanc. Once arrived at the foot of Mont Blanc, he tries unsuccessfully to buy an official diploma saying that he has climbed the peak, without actually facing the physical danger and effort involved (p. 505). When he does then finally ascend the mountain it is only via the medium of a telescope: 'The old dare-devil spirit was upon me, and I said that as I had committed myself I would not back down; I would ascend Mont Blanc if it cost me my life. I told the man to slant his machine in the proper direction and let us be off' (p. 515). This detached and mediated perspective--one recalls the common critique of tourists as seeing Europe through the train or carriage window--burlesques the activity, or rather the lack of it, of this most lax and lazy of tourists. It creates a gap between him and his more active counterparts (we can assume he is watching other tourists, including a woman, ascend the mountain). Implicitly, too, it creates a further gap between the latter and the mountaineers and adventurers (such as Whymper) who first tread what was then an unbeaten track, and who gain their pleasure from the challenge and risk involved and the self-actualization (man both battling nature and dignified by its sublime presence) accompanying it. Burlesque, though, in Twain's case, goes together with an acceptance of his role. He is, in Stowe's words, 'willy-nilly, a tourist' and a particularly blithe one at that. (49)
As a tourist, too, Twain is aware of the way that the inhabitants of the country through which he passes (I focus particularly on Switzerland where this motif is strongly developed) serve the needs of their visitors, and in part construct their national identity accordingly. The 'unbroken procession of [...] tourist carriages' on the road from Lucerne to Interlaken is matched by a similar procession of 'fruit pedlars' and milk and flower sellers (p. 328). At the Jungfrau hotel, the waitresses wear 'the quaint and comely costume of the Swiss peasants' (p. 340). The version of Switzerland more generally peddled rests on exactly such re-presentations as the latter, a set of 'mnemonic stereotypes' that symbolize the country as touristic place. On first hearing 'the famous Alpine jodel in its own native wilds' (p. 289), Twain is pleased and gives the shepherd-boy performer a franc. He soon realizes, though, that it exactly is a performance, aimed at a tourist audience: 'After that we found a jodler every ten minutes [...] and during the remainder of the day hired the rest of the jodlers, at a franc apiece, not to jodel any more. There is somewhat too much of this jodling in the Alps' (pp. 289-90). Twain describes, too, the 'memento-magazine [shop]' in the Rigi-Kum hotel, selling paper-knives 'with handles made of the little curved horn of the [...] chamois' (p. 295), and the 'memento factory' at the Mer de Glace, where 'I bought the normal paper-cutter to remember the place by, and had Mont Blanc [...] branded on my alpenstock' (p. 539). He drives through Brienz, but on this occasion, ignores 'the seduction of its bewildering array of Swiss carvings and the clamorous hoo-hooing of its cuckoo clocks' (p. 339). The tourists' Switzerland is built from such materials, and Twain often buys into, even as he sceptically notes, such stereotypical and one-dimensional surfeit. For he, too, tends to shop as other tourists shop, to visit the same restaurants, hotels, and sights as they visit.
There is much more to The Tramp Abroad than this and tourism is just one of Twain's many subjects here. At the start of the book, he says: 'One day it occurred to me that it had been many years since the world had been afforded the spectacle of a man adventurous enough to undertake a journey through Europe on foot. After much thought, I decided that I was a person fitted to furnish mankind this spectacle (p. 17). Much of the (sporadic) brilliance of the book lies in the moves that then follow between the Twain persona as object of interest or spectacle, and the alternating focus on the countries he passes through and the sights that he sees. Much, too, lies in another set of moves between the working of Twain's eyes and ears (what he sees and hears), and the workings of his mind--what memories and associations those things in turn trigger. (50)
Yet much of the book's distinctive identity does come from the loose but underlying patterns concerning relationships of work, leisure, idleness, and social marginalization that I identify. The play on the word 'tramp' in the title introduces opposing notions of earned leisure and professional success and enforced idleness and threatening deprivation. At the same time, it serves as springboard for an implicit critique of modernization and the normative (American) business world in favour of forms of freedom and vagabonding, wherever and however they may be released. Finally, in his use of tourism as a theme, Twain shows a self-reflexive awareness of what is at stake in the development of such new forms of upper- and middle-class leisure. Twain saw tramps in America as a danger, non-productive drifters threatening and feeding off respectable homeowners and workers. Similarly, at bottom, he recognizes the power of the tourists, tramping round Europe at their leisure, to transform, threaten the integrity of, and act as parasite on their cultural host. Tramps and tourists, it appears, are not finally as different as they might at first appear. Twain's description of tramps at the 1880 Republican rally in Hartford as 'our old ragged tourists moving in eternal procession from door to door disdaining bread and demanding pie at the butt end of the club' certainly carries such an implication. (51)
(1) Alfred Kazin, introduction to The Innocents Abroad (New York: Bantam, 1964), p. vii. The book also describes Twain's tour of the Holy Land. See Peter Messent, Mark Twain (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997), pp. 22-43, for discussion of the instability of the 'Mark Twain' persona in the text.
(2) Jeffrey Steinbrink, Getting to Be Mark Twain (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), p. 62.
(3) See Mark Twain: The Contemporary Reviews, ed. by Louis J. Budd (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 190.
(4) 'The Innocent at Large: Mark Twain's Travel Writing', in The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain, ed. by Forrest G. Robinson, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) pp. 41-43.
(5) On further excess material, see Robert Gray Bruce and Hamlin Hill, introduction to A Tramp Abroad (New York: Penguin, 1997), p. xxiii.
(6) See James S. Leonard, Afterword, A Tramp Abroad (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 12; Larzer Ziff, Return Passages: Great American Travel Writing 1780-1910 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 206.
(7) Mark Twain: The Contemporary Reviews, pp. 184, 189, 191.
(8) Reprinted as 'An Appreciation' in Twain's posthumous collection of later European travel writing and other pieces, Europe and Elsewhere (New York: Harper, 1923), p. xix.
(9) See Justin Kaplan, Mr Clemens and Mark Twain (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966; repr. 1970), pp. 320-23.
(10) Matthew Frye Jacobson, Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876-1917 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000), pp. 16, 18.
(11) Louis J. Budd, Mark Twain: Social Philosopher (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1962; repr. 1964), p. 70. 'Twain', Budd continues, 'shared in the nervousness they aroused'.
(12) Mark Twain, 'Some Rambling Notes of an Idle Excursion', in The Stolen White Elephant Etc. (1882; New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 40, 36, 70-71. For more extended analysis, see Peter Messent, The Short Works of Mark Twain: A Critical Study (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), pp. 81-86.
(13) Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, Vol. II (1877-1883), ed. by Frederick Anderson, Lin Salano, and Bernard L. Stein (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), p. 36.
(14) 'Some Rambling Notes', p. 90.
(15) A Tramp Abroad (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 275-79, 280-83. Further references to this edition are given after quotations in the text.
(16) Ziff, p. 22. The author suggests that, following his depiction of the Chinese in Roughing It, Twain 'henceforth [...] was to use exotic cultures to expose the hollow core of American self-satisfaction rather than to find those cultures wanting by American standards'. I see Twain's attitude toward his foreign materials as more ambivalent than this.
(17) 'Mark Twain' is both author and narrator-protagonist of the book. Sometimes the latter reflects the author's views and opinions, sometimes--as a clear gap opens between author and character--he stands as separate constructed comic persona. I do not distinguish between these different 'Mark Twains' as I proceed. See, though, Messent, Mark Twain, pp. 22, 32, 181.
(18) Twain has a running gag in the book about his narrator's supposed pedestrian tour and actual travel by whatever easy means at hand: train, carriage, etc. Webster's 1858 American Dictionary does not include the word 'tramp' used as a noun, just 'tramper' defined as 'a vagrant or vagabond'. The definition of a tramp as a wandering labourer or vagrant was, however, according to the OED, well established by the nineteenth century.
(19) Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, pp. 71 and 260. See also his comments on how to address the problems of his hometown, Hartford; 'the Tramp's paradise' (p. 261).
(20) Walter Blair, Mark Twain & Huck Finn (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960; repr. 1962) p. 170.
(21) See T. J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920 (New York: Pantheon, 1981), and his analysis of the search for '"authentic" alternatives to the apparent unreality of modern existence' (p. 5) in late-nineteenth-century America. Twain's opposition here is not simply between America and Europe: the allusion to modern forms of 'slavery' occurs in a European context. But I would suggest that, for Twain, America is the nation primarily associated with modernization (new technology, industrialization, urbanization) while it is the pre-modern aspects of (a modernized) Europe that attract him. A similar patterning marks Twain's representation of America and its urban/ rural difference elsewhere. The boundaries represented here are far from stable. See also my later comments. Twain would return to the subject of 'Dueling' [sic] in an 1898 essay of that title. His tone has changed (though the Austrian duelling he describes is of more deadly kind). The duellist now becomes 'the meek slave of [...] custom', and Twain's sympathies lie with the real victims of the duel, the family left behind: 'Theirs is the loss and theirs the misery' (Europe and Elsewhere, p. 229).
(22) See Lears, pp. 10-11.
(23) On Beard, see Messent, The Short Works of Mark Twain, pp. 90-92.
(24) Mark Twain-Howells Letters, Vol. 1, ed. by Henry Nash Smith and William M. Gibson (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1960), pp. 227, 230.
(25) See also The Short Works of Mark Twain, pp. 91, 238. In the later 'Down the Rhone' (1891), Twain introduces his journey as follows: 'To glide down the stream in an open boat, moved by the current only, would afford many days of lazy repose, with opportunity to smoke, read, doze, talk, accumulate comfort [...] and all the while be out of the reach of the news and remote from the world and its concerns. [...] There was such a rush, and boom, and life, and confusion, and activity in Geneva yesterday--how remote that all seems now, how wholly vanished away and gone out of this world!' (Europe and Elsewhere, p. 129).
(26) See the introduction to Writes of Passage: Reading Travel Writing, ed. by James Duncan and Derek Gregory (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 7.
(27) Whitman, in contrast, sees tramps as unfortunate and miserable victims of economic destitution. See 'A Specimen Tramp Family' (c. 1878), in Walt Whitman: Prose Works 1892: Specimen Days, ed. by Floyd Stovall (New York: New York University Press, 1963), pp. 168-69.
(28) Mark Twain's Letters, Vol. 1, ed. by Edgar Marquess Branch, Michael B. Frank, and Kenneth M. Sanderson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), pp. 320, 324, 325.
(29) Mr Clemens and Mark Twain, pp. 320-23.
(30) See Richard Bridgman, Traveling in Mark Twain (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), pp. 103-04, on Twain's reference to the 'most dilapidated tramp' on the very final page (p. 631) of his book. Bridgman's chapter on A Tramp Abroad (pp. 70-104) is a fascinating study of the 'sub-surface logic' (p. 11) and the psychological impulses driving Twain's text.
(31) Mark Twain's Letters to His Publishers, 1867-1894, ed. by Hamlin Hill (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), pp. 109-10.
(32) The satiric point becomes obvious when Twain later describes the effect of Turner's Slave Ship on a Boston newspaper reporter, who 'took a look at the Slave Ship floundering about in that fierce conflagration of reds and yellows, and said it reminded him of a tortoiseshell cat having a fit in a platter of tomatoes' (p. 238).
(33) For an authoritative study of all the illustrative work in this text, see Beverly David, Mark Twain and His Illustrators: Vol. 2 (1875-1883) (Albany, NY: Whitston, 2001).
(34) On the problems raised by Twain's reliance on realist criteria, see William W. Stowe, Going Abroad: European Travel in Nineteenth-Century American Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 158-59.
(35) Europe and Elsewhere, p. 144. See, too, what he says about 'low-' and 'high-grade' music and art in A Tramp Abroad, pp. 236-38, though again his tone as he discusses Turner is conspicuously uneasy.
(36) Twain does end the main body of his book advising only 'short visits' to Europe if one is to retain 'our pride of country intact'. His main target here, though, is extended expatriation and the 'dulling of [national] feeling' linked to it (p. 580). But this conclusion comes somewhat unexpectedly and there is no previous extensive celebration of American difference.
(37) Patrick Holland and Graham Huggins, Tourists with Typewriters: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Travel Writing (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998; repr. 2000), p. 2.
(38) James Buzard, The Beaten Track: European Tourism. Literature and the Ways to 'Culture', 1800-1918 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993) p. 2. See both Buzard, and Holland and Huggins, on the 'highly specious' nature of the opposition: in short, in Holland and Huggins's words (following MacCannell), '"travelers" seemingly plaintive need to dissociate themselves from "mere" tourists functions as a strategy of self-exemption, whereby they displace their guilt for interfering with, and adversely changing, the cultures through which they travel onto tourists' (pp. 2, 3). Whatever its final speciousness, however, the construction of difference between these two types is basic in most conceptualizations of the subject (including mine).
(39) Buzard, p. 157. I rely considerably on this very useful book in the analysis that follows.
(40) William W. Stowe, pp. 17, 34. The Mark Twain Papers exhibition at Berkeley, 'Mark Twain at Large: His Travels Here and Abroad' (25 September to 11 December 1998) showed Olivia Clemens's record of the many Venetian purchases made on the Tramp Abroad trip. Many were to complete the furnishing of the Hartford family house (library table $70, tea table $30, Florentine mosaic $35.80, Venetian glass goblet $3, etc.). See also Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, pp. 198, 221, 238.
(41) See Buzard, p. 95, on James's attitude to the 'masses' in Switzerland and 'his strategy of establishing his distance from the hordes'. See also James's own travel writing.
(42) Notebooks & Journals, pp. 195-96.
(43) Buzard, p. 31. See also his first chapter for a history of Baedeker, Murray, and Cook.
(44) Europe and Elsewhere, pp. 215-16. See also his disparaging comments here on Joseph Very, the courier Twain re-employed after a twenty year gap (see A Tramp Abroad, p. 354): clearly Very had not lived up to prior expectations. Clearly too, at least once his reputation was made, Twain would never quite travel as a 'normal' tourist might.
(45) Buzard, pp. 75-76. Baedeker rather than Murray seems to be Twain's favoured guide. In his notebook, he writes: 'Make a chapter showing what curious & useful details Baedeker goes into for the protection of the tourist. He has run Murray out of Europe' (Notebooks & Journals, p. 193).
(46) See Beverly David, pp. 125-40. As she comments, 'undocumented appropriation of already published material [...] was part and parcel of the popular nineteenth-century travel-book trade', and Twain did 'at least acknowledg[e] his debt to Whymper' (p. 131).
(47) This provides a reminder of that belatedness that is a constant element in travel and travel writing: that we come to the sights we see with the words and perspectives of others always in mind. It is reminder too of the power exercised by tourism's mediating instruments. Direct reaction to a supposedly stunning scene falters in the study of the two-dimensional diagram. The individual response of each tourist disappears in the (guidebook-led) predictability of shared actions. In his recognition of such mediations, Twain strikes a particularly (and precociously) postmodern note.
(48) Buzard, p. 34. I generalize here, for there are occasions when Twain takes things more slowly. Here too, though (as I go on to suggest), his very desultory progress is a marker of his status as a type of distinctively indolent tourist.
(49) Stowe, p. 125. He is referring primarily to Innocents Abroad here.
(50) See Bridgman, Chapter 1, on Twain's associative technique.
(51) Mark Twain Speaking, ed. by Paul Fatout (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1976), p. 142.
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Publication information: Article title: Tramps and Tourists: Europe in Mark Twain's A Tramp Abroad. Contributors: Messent, Peter - Author. Journal title: Yearbook of English Studies. Volume: 34. Publication date: Annual 2004. Page number: 138+. © 2008 Modern Humanities Research Association. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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