| The Mississippi River will always have its
own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise...
- Mark Twain in Eruption
...all men--kings & serfs alike--are slaves to other men & to
circumstance--save alone, the pilot--who comes at no man's back and call,
obeys no man's orders & scorns all men's suggestions. The king would
do this thing, & would do that: but a cramped treasury overmasters
him in the one case & a seditious people in the other. The Senator
must hob-nob with canaille whom he despises, & banker, priest &
statesman trim their actions by the breeze of the world's will & the
world's opinion. It is a strange study,--a singular phenomenon, if you
please, that the only real, independent & genuine gentlemen in the
world go quietly up and down the Mississippi river, asking no homage of
any one, seeking no popularity, no notoriety, & not caring a damn
whether school keeps or not.
Jefferson City, Missouri.
Original artwork by Gari Melchers.
In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has
shortened itself 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 Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million
years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards 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.
- Life on the Mississippi
It is strange how little has been written about the Upper Mississippi. The
river below St. Louis has been described time and again, and it is the least
interesting part. One can sit on the pilot-house for a few hours and watch the
low shores, the ungainly trees and the democratic buzzards, and then one might
as well go to bed. One has seen everything there is to see. Along the Upper
Mississippi every hour brings something new. There are crowds of odd islands,
bluffs, prairies, hills, woods and villages--everything one could desire to
amuse the children. Few people every think of going there, however. Dickens,
Corbett, Mother Trollope and the other discriminating English people who 'wrote
up' the country before 1842 had hardly an idea that such a stretch of river
scenery existed. Their successors have followed in their footsteps, and as we
form our opinions of our country from what other people say of us, of course
we ignore the finest part of the Mississippi.
- interview in Chicago Tribune, July 9, 1886
LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI
Harper & Bros. 1917
When I find a well-drawn character in fiction or biography I generally
take a warm personal interest in him, for the reason that I have known
him before--met him on the river.
Many more materials on Mark Twain's Mississippi River are available from Northern Illinois University's website.
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