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Mark Twain > Innocents Abroad > Chapter XXVII

Innocents Abroad

Chapter XXVII

So far, good. If any man has a right to feel proud of himself, and
satisfied, surely it is I. For I have written about the Coliseum, and
the gladiators, the martyrs, and the lions, and yet have never once used
the phrase "butchered to make a Roman holiday." I am the only free white
man of mature age, who has accomplished this since Byron originated the

Butchered to make a Roman holiday sounds well for the first seventeen or
eighteen hundred thousand times one sees it in print, but after that it
begins to grow tiresome. I find it in all the books concerning Rome--and
here latterly it reminds me of Judge Oliver. Oliver was a young lawyer,
fresh from the schools, who had gone out to the deserts of Nevada to
begin life. He found that country, and our ways of life, there, in those
early days, different from life in New England or Paris. But he put on a
woollen shirt and strapped a navy revolver to his person, took to the
bacon and beans of the country, and determined to do in Nevada as Nevada
did. Oliver accepted the situation so completely that although he must
have sorrowed over many of his trials, he never complained--that is, he
never complained but once. He, two others, and myself, started to the
new silver mines in the Humboldt mountains--he to be Probate Judge of
Humboldt county, and we to mine. The distance was two hundred miles. It
was dead of winter. We bought a two-horse wagon and put eighteen hundred
pounds of bacon, flour, beans, blasting-powder, picks and shovels in it;
we bought two sorry-looking Mexican "plugs," with the hair turned the
wrong way and more corners on their bodies than there are on the mosque
of Omar; we hitched up and started. It was a dreadful trip. But Oliver
did not complain. The horses dragged the wagon two miles from town and
then gave out. Then we three pushed the wagon seven miles, and Oliver
moved ahead and pulled the horses after him by the bits. We complained,
but Oliver did not. The ground was frozen, and it froze our backs while
we slept; the wind swept across our faces and froze our noses. Oliver
did not complain. Five days of pushing the wagon by day and freezing by
night brought us to the bad part of the journey--the Forty Mile Desert,
or the Great American Desert, if you please. Still, this mildest-
mannered man that ever was, had not complained. We started across at
eight in the morning, pushing through sand that had no bottom; toiling
all day long by the wrecks of a thousand wagons, the skeletons of ten
thousand oxen; by wagon-tires enough to hoop the Washington Monument to
the top, and ox-chains enough to girdle Long Island; by human graves;
with our throats parched always, with thirst; lips bleeding from the
alkali dust; hungry, perspiring, and very, very weary--so weary that when
we dropped in the sand every fifty yards to rest the horses, we could
hardly keep from going to sleep--no complaints from Oliver: none the next
morning at three o'clock, when we got across, tired to death.

Awakened two or three nights afterward at midnight, in a narrow canon, by
the snow falling on our faces, and appalled at the imminent danger of
being "snowed in," we harnessed up and pushed on till eight in the
morning, passed the "Divide" and knew we were saved. No complaints.
Fifteen days of hardship and fatigue brought us to the end of the two
hundred miles, and the Judge had not complained. We wondered if any
thing could exasperate him. We built a Humboldt house. It is done in
this way. You dig a square in the steep base of the mountain, and set up
two uprights and top them with two joists. Then you stretch a great
sheet of "cotton domestic" from the point where the joists join the hill-
side down over the joists to the ground; this makes the roof and the
front of the mansion; the sides and back are the dirt walls your digging
has left. A chimney is easily made by turning up one corner of the roof.
Oliver was sitting alone in this dismal den, one night, by a sage-brush
fire, writing poetry; he was very fond of digging poetry out of himself--
or blasting it out when it came hard. He heard an animal's footsteps
close to the roof; a stone or two and some dirt came through and fell by
him. He grew uneasy and said "Hi!--clear out from there, can't you!"--
from time to time. But by and by he fell asleep where he sat, and pretty
soon a mule fell down the chimney! The fire flew in every direction, and
Oliver went over backwards. About ten nights after that, he recovered
confidence enough to go to writing poetry again. Again he dozed off to
sleep, and again a mule fell down the chimney. This time, about half of
that side of the house came in with the mule. Struggling to get up, the
mule kicked the candle out and smashed most of the kitchen furniture, and
raised considerable dust. These violent awakenings must have been
annoying to Oliver, but he never complained. He moved to a mansion on
the opposite side of the canon, because he had noticed the mules did not
go there. One night about eight o'clock he was endeavoring to finish his
poem, when a stone rolled in--then a hoof appeared below the canvas--then
part of a cow--the after part. He leaned back in dread, and shouted
"Hooy! hooy! get out of this!" and the cow struggled manfully--lost
ground steadily--dirt and dust streamed down, and before Oliver could get
well away, the entire cow crashed through on to the table and made a
shapeless wreck of every thing!

Then, for the first time in his life, I think, Oliver complained. He

"This thing is growing monotonous!"

Then he resigned his judgeship and left Humboldt county. "Butchered to
make a Roman holyday" has grown monotonous to me.

In this connection I wish to say one word about Michael Angelo
Buonarotti. I used to worship the mighty genius of Michael Angelo--that
man who was great in poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture--great in
every thing he undertook. But I do not want Michael Angelo for
breakfast--for luncheon--for dinner--for tea--for supper--for between
meals. I like a change, occasionally. In Genoa, he designed every
thing; in Milan he or his pupils designed every thing; he designed the
Lake of Como; in Padua, Verona, Venice, Bologna, who did we ever hear of,
from guides, but Michael Angelo? In Florence, he painted every thing,
designed every thing, nearly, and what he did not design he used to sit
on a favorite stone and look at, and they showed us the stone. In Pisa
he designed every thing but the old shot-tower, and they would have
attributed that to him if it had not been so awfully out of the
perpendicular. He designed the piers of Leghorn and the custom house
regulations of Civita Vecchia. But, here--here it is frightful. He
designed St. Peter's; he designed the Pope; he designed the Pantheon, the
uniform of the Pope's soldiers, the Tiber, the Vatican, the Coliseum, the
Capitol, the Tarpeian Rock, the Barberini Palace, St. John Lateran, the
Campagna, the Appian Way, the Seven Hills, the Baths of Caracalla, the
Claudian Aqueduct, the Cloaca Maxima--the eternal bore designed the
Eternal City, and unless all men and books do lie, he painted every thing
in it! Dan said the other day to the guide, "Enough, enough, enough!
Say no more! Lump the whole thing! say that the Creator made Italy from
designs by Michael Angelo!"

I never felt so fervently thankful, so soothed, so tranquil, so filled
with a blessed peace, as I did yesterday when I learned that Michael
Angelo was dead.

But we have taken it out of this guide. He has marched us through miles
of pictures and sculpture in the vast corridors of the Vatican; and
through miles of pictures and sculpture in twenty other palaces; he has
shown us the great picture in the Sistine Chapel, and frescoes enough to
frescoe the heavens--pretty much all done by Michael Angelo. So with him
we have played that game which has vanquished so many guides for us--
imbecility and idiotic questions. These creatures never suspect--they
have no idea of a sarcasm.

He shows us a figure and says: "Statoo brunzo." (Bronze statue.)

We look at it indifferently and the doctor asks: "By Michael Angelo?"

"No--not know who."

Then he shows us the ancient Roman Forum. The doctor asks: "Michael

A stare from the guide. "No--thousan' year before he is born."

Then an Egyptian obelisk. Again: "Michael Angelo?"

"Oh, mon dieu, genteelmen! Zis is two thousan' year before he is born!"

He grows so tired of that unceasing question sometimes, that he dreads to
show us any thing at all. The wretch has tried all the ways he can think
of to make us comprehend that Michael Angelo is only responsible for the
creation of a part of the world, but somehow he has not succeeded yet.
Relief for overtasked eyes and brain from study and sightseeing is
necessary, or we shall become idiotic sure enough. Therefore this guide
must continue to suffer. If he does not enjoy it, so much the worse for
him. We do.

In this place I may as well jot down a chapter concerning those necessary
nuisances, European guides. Many a man has wished in his heart he could
do without his guide; but knowing he could not, has wished he could get
some amusement out of him as a remuneration for the affliction of his
society. We accomplished this latter matter, and if our experience can
be made useful to others they are welcome to it.

Guides know about enough English to tangle every thing up so that a man
can make neither head or tail of it. They know their story by heart--the
history of every statue, painting, cathedral or other wonder they show
you. They know it and tell it as a parrot would--and if you interrupt,
and throw them off the track, they have to go back and begin over again.
All their lives long, they are employed in showing strange things to
foreigners and listening to their bursts of admiration. It is human
nature to take delight in exciting admiration. It is what prompts
children to say "smart" things, and do absurd ones, and in other ways
"show off" when company is present. It is what makes gossips turn out in
rain and storm to go and be the first to tell a startling bit of news.
Think, then, what a passion it becomes with a guide, whose privilege it
is, every day, to show to strangers wonders that throw them into perfect
ecstasies of admiration! He gets so that he could not by any possibility
live in a soberer atmosphere. After we discovered this, we never went
into ecstasies any more--we never admired any thing--we never showed any
but impassible faces and stupid indifference in the presence of the
sublimest wonders a guide had to display. We had found their weak point.
We have made good use of it ever since. We have made some of those
people savage, at times, but we have never lost our own serenity.

The doctor asks the questions, generally, because he can keep his
countenance, and look more like an inspired idiot, and throw more
imbecility into the tone of his voice than any man that lives. It comes
natural to him.

The guides in Genoa are delighted to secure an American party, because
Americans so much wonder, and deal so much in sentiment and emotion
before any relic of Columbus. Our guide there fidgeted about as if he
had swallowed a spring mattress. He was full of animation--full of
impatience. He said:

"Come wis me, genteelmen!--come! I show you ze letter writing by
Christopher Colombo!--write it himself!--write it wis his own hand!--

He took us to the municipal palace. After much impressive fumbling of
keys and opening of locks, the stained and aged document was spread
before us. The guide's eyes sparkled. He danced about us and tapped the
parchment with his finger:

"What I tell you, genteelmen! Is it not so? See! handwriting
Christopher Colombo!--write it himself!"

We looked indifferent--unconcerned. The doctor examined the document
very deliberately, during a painful pause.--Then he said, without any
show of interest:

"Ah--Ferguson--what--what did you say was the name of the party who wrote

"Christopher Colombo! ze great Christopher Colombo!"

Another deliberate examination.

"Ah--did he write it himself; or--or how?"

"He write it himself!--Christopher Colombo! He's own hand-writing, write
by himself!"

Then the doctor laid the document down and said:

"Why, I have seen boys in America only fourteen years old that could
write better than that."

"But zis is ze great Christo--"

"I don't care who it is! It's the worst writing I ever saw. Now you
musn't think you can impose on us because we are strangers. We are not
fools, by a good deal. If you have got any specimens of penmanship of
real merit, trot them out!--and if you haven't, drive on!"

We drove on. The guide was considerably shaken up, but he made one more
venture. He had something which he thought would overcome us. He said:

"Ah, genteelmen, you come wis me! I show you beautiful, O, magnificent
bust Christopher Colombo!--splendid, grand, magnificent!"

He brought us before the beautiful bust--for it was beautiful--and sprang
back and struck an attitude:

"Ah, look, genteelmen!--beautiful, grand,--bust Christopher Colombo!--
beautiful bust, beautiful pedestal!"

The doctor put up his eye-glass--procured for such occasions:

"Ah--what did you say this gentleman's name was?"

"Christopher Colombo!--ze great Christopher Colombo!"

"Christopher Colombo--the great Christopher Colombo. Well, what did he

"Discover America!--discover America, Oh, ze devil!"

"Discover America. No--that statement will hardly wash. We are just
from America ourselves. We heard nothing about it. Christopher Colombo
--pleasant name--is--is he dead?"

"Oh, corpo di Baccho!--three hundred year!"

"What did he die of?"

"I do not know!--I can not tell."

"Small-pox, think?"

"I do not know, genteelmen!--I do not know what he die of!"

"Measles, likely?"

"May be--may be--I do not know--I think he die of somethings."

"Parents living?"


"Ah--which is the bust and which is the pedestal?"

"Santa Maria!--zis ze bust!--zis ze pedestal!"

"Ah, I see, I see--happy combination--very happy combination, indeed.
Is--is this the first time this gentleman was ever on a bust?"

That joke was lost on the foreigner--guides can not master the subtleties
of the American joke.

We have made it interesting for this Roman guide. Yesterday we spent
three or four hours in the Vatican, again, that wonderful world of
curiosities. We came very near expressing interest, sometimes--even
admiration--it was very hard to keep from it. We succeeded though.
Nobody else ever did, in the Vatican museums. The guide was bewildered--
non-plussed. He walked his legs off, nearly, hunting up extraordinary
things, and exhausted all his ingenuity on us, but it was a failure; we
never showed any interest in any thing. He had reserved what he
considered to be his greatest wonder till the last--a royal Egyptian
mummy, the best preserved in the world, perhaps. He took us there. He
felt so sure, this time, that some of his old enthusiasm came back to

"See, genteelmen!--Mummy! Mummy!"

The eye-glass came up as calmly, as deliberately as ever.

"Ah,--Ferguson--what did I understand you to say the gentleman's name

"Name?--he got no name!--Mummy!--'Gyptian mummy!"

"Yes, yes. Born here?"

"No! 'Gyptian mummy!"

"Ah, just so. Frenchman, I presume?"

"No!--not Frenchman, not Roman!--born in Egypta!"

"Born in Egypta. Never heard of Egypta before. Foreign locality,
likely. Mummy--mummy. How calm he is--how self-possessed. Is, ah--is
he dead?"

"Oh, sacre bleu, been dead three thousan' year!"

The doctor turned on him savagely:

"Here, now, what do you mean by such conduct as this! Playing us for
Chinamen because we are strangers and trying to learn! Trying to impose
your vile second-hand carcasses on us!--thunder and lightning, I've a
notion to--to--if you've got a nice fresh corpse, fetch him out!--or by
George we'll brain you!"

We make it exceedingly interesting for this Frenchman. However, he has
paid us back, partly, without knowing it. He came to the hotel this
morning to ask if we were up, and he endeavored as well as he could to
describe us, so that the landlord would know which persons he meant. He
finished with the casual remark that we were lunatics. The observation
was so innocent and so honest that it amounted to a very good thing for a
guide to say.

There is one remark (already mentioned,) which never yet has failed to
disgust these guides. We use it always, when we can think of nothing
else to say. After they have exhausted their enthusiasm pointing out to
us and praising the beauties of some ancient bronze image or broken-
legged statue, we look at it stupidly and in silence for five, ten,
fifteen minutes--as long as we can hold out, in fact--and then ask:

"Is--is he dead?"

That conquers the serenest of them. It is not what they are looking for
--especially a new guide. Our Roman Ferguson is the most patient,
unsuspecting, long-suffering subject we have had yet. We shall be sorry
to part with him. We have enjoyed his society very much. We trust he
has enjoyed ours, but we are harassed with doubts.

We have been in the catacombs. It was like going down into a very deep
cellar, only it was a cellar which had no end to it. The narrow passages
are roughly hewn in the rock, and on each hand as you pass along, the
hollowed shelves are carved out, from three to fourteen deep; each held a
corpse once. There are names, and Christian symbols, and prayers, or
sentences expressive of Christian hopes, carved upon nearly every
sarcophagus. The dates belong away back in the dawn of the Christian
era, of course. Here, in these holes in the ground, the first Christians
sometimes burrowed to escape persecution. They crawled out at night to
get food, but remained under cover in the day time. The priest told us
that St. Sebastian lived under ground for some time while he was being
hunted; he went out one day, and the soldiery discovered and shot him to
death with arrows. Five or six of the early Popes--those who reigned
about sixteen hundred years ago--held their papal courts and advised with
their clergy in the bowels of the earth. During seventeen years--from
A.D. 235 to A.D. 252--the Popes did not appear above ground. Four were
raised to the great office during that period. Four years apiece, or
thereabouts. It is very suggestive of the unhealthiness of underground
graveyards as places of residence. One Pope afterward spent his entire
pontificate in the catacombs--eight years. Another was discovered in
them and murdered in the episcopal chair. There was no satisfaction in
being a Pope in those days. There were too many annoyances. There are
one hundred and sixty catacombs under Rome, each with its maze of narrow
passages crossing and recrossing each other and each passage walled to
the top with scooped graves its entire length. A careful estimate makes
the length of the passages of all the catacombs combined foot up nine
hundred miles, and their graves number seven millions. We did not go
through all the passages of all the catacombs. We were very anxious to
do it, and made the necessary arrangements, but our too limited time
obliged us to give up the idea. So we only groped through the dismal
labyrinth of St. Callixtus, under the Church of St. Sebastian. In the
various catacombs are small chapels rudely hewn in the stones, and here
the early Christians often held their religious services by dim, ghostly
lights. Think of mass and a sermon away down in those tangled caverns
under ground!

In the catacombs were buried St. Cecilia, St. Agnes, and several other of
the most celebrated of the saints. In the catacomb of St. Callixtus, St.
Bridget used to remain long hours in holy contemplation, and St. Charles
Borromeo was wont to spend whole nights in prayer there. It was also the
scene of a very marvelous thing.

     "Here the heart of St. Philip Neri was so inflamed with divine love
     as to burst his ribs."

I find that grave statement in a book published in New York in 1808, and
written by "Rev. William H. Neligan, LL.D., M. A., Trinity College,
Dublin; Member of the Archaeological Society of Great Britain."
Therefore, I believe it. Otherwise, I could not. Under other
circumstances I should have felt a curiosity to know what Philip had for

This author puts my credulity on its mettle every now and then. He tells
of one St. Joseph Calasanctius whose house in Rome he visited; he visited
only the house--the priest has been dead two hundred years. He says the
Virgin Mary appeared to this saint. Then he continues:

     "His tongue and his heart, which were found after nearly a century
     to be whole, when the body was disinterred before his canonization,
     are still preserved in a glass case, and after two centuries the
     heart is still whole. When the French troops came to Rome, and when
     Pius VII. was carried away prisoner, blood dropped from it."

To read that in a book written by a monk far back in the Middle Ages,
would surprise no one; it would sound natural and proper; but when it is
seriously stated in the middle of the nineteenth century, by a man of
finished education, an LL.D., M. A., and an Archaeological magnate, it
sounds strangely enough. Still, I would gladly change my unbelief for
Neligan's faith, and let him make the conditions as hard as he pleased.

The old gentleman's undoubting, unquestioning simplicity has a rare
freshness about it in these matter-of-fact railroading and telegraphing
days. Hear him, concerning the church of Ara Coeli:

     "In the roof of the church, directly above the high altar, is
     engraved, 'Regina Coeli laetare Alleluia." In the sixth century
     Rome was visited by a fearful pestilence. Gregory the Great urged
     the people to do penance, and a general procession was formed. It
     was to proceed from Ara Coeli to St. Peter's. As it passed before
     the mole of Adrian, now the Castle of St. Angelo, the sound of
     heavenly voices was heard singing (it was Easter morn,) Regina
     Coeli, laetare! alleluia! quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia!
     resurrexit sicut dixit; alleluia!" The Pontiff, carrying in his
     hands the portrait of the Virgin, (which is over the high altar and
     is said to have been painted by St. Luke,) answered, with the
     astonished people, 'Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia!' At the same time
     an angel was seen to put up a sword in a scabbard, and the
     pestilence ceased on the same day. There are four circumstances
     which 'CONFIRM'--[The italics are mine--M. T.]--this miracle: the
     annual procession which takes place in the western church on the
     feast of St Mark; the statue of St. Michael, placed on the mole of
     Adrian, which has since that time been called the Castle of St.
     Angelo; the antiphon Regina Coeli which the Catholic church sings
     during paschal time; and the inscription in the church."

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