We need not follow in detail here the travels of the "pilgrims" and their adventures. Most of them have been fully set down in "The Innocents Abroad," and with not much elaboration, for plenty of amusing things were happening on a trip of that kind, and Mark Twain's old note-books are full of the real incidents that we find changed but little in the book. If the adventures of Jack, Dan, and the Doctor are embroidered here and there, the truth is always there, too.
Yet the old note-books have a very intimate interest of their own. It is curious to be looking through them to-day, trying to realize that those penciled memoranda were the fresh first impressions that would presently grow into the world's most delightful book of travel; that they were set down in the very midst of that historic little company that frolicked through Italy and climbed wearily the arid Syrian hills.
It required five months for the "Quaker City" to make the circuit of the Mediterranean and return to New York. Mark Twain in that time contributed fifty two or three letters to the "Alta California" and six to the "New York Tribune," or an average of nearly three a week--a vast amount of labor to be done in the midst of sight-seeing. And what letters of travel they were! The most remarkable that had been written up to that time. Vivid, fearless, full of fresh color, humor, poetry, they came as a revelation to a public weary of the tiresome descriptive drivel of that day. They preached a new gospel in travel literature--the gospel of seeing honestly and speaking frankly--a gospel that Mark Twain would continue to preach during the rest of his career.
Furthermore, the letters showed a great literary growth in their author. No doubt the cultivated associations of the ship, the afternoon reading aloud of his work, and Mrs. Fairbanks's advice had much to do with this. But we may believe, also, that the author's close study of the King James version of the Old Testament during the weeks of travel through Palestine exerted a powerful influence upon his style. The man who had recited "The Burial of Moses" to Joe Goodman, with so much feeling, could not fail to be mastered by the simple yet stately Bible phrase and imagery. Many of the fine descriptive passages in "The Innocents Abroad" have something almost Biblical in their phrasing. The writer of this memoir heard in childhood "The Innocents Abroad" read aloud, and has never forgotten the poetic spell that fell upon him as he listened to a paragraph written of Tangier:
"Here is a crumbled wall that was old when Columbus discovered America; old when Peter the Hermit roused the knightly men of the Middle Ages to arm for the first Crusade; old when Charlemagne and his paladins beleaguered enchanted castles and battled with giants and genii in the fabled days of the olden time; old when Christ and His disciples walked the earth; stood where it stands to-day when the lips of Memnon were vocal and men bought and sold in the streets of ancient Thebes."
Mark Twain returned to America to find himself, if not famous, at least in very high repute. The "Alta" and "Tribune" letters had carried his name to every corner of his native land. He was in demand now. To his mother he wrote:
"I have eighteen offers to lecture, at $100 each, in various parts of the Union--have declined them all . . . . Belong on the "Tribune" staff and shall write occasionally. Am offered the same berth to-day on the 'Herald,' by letter."
He was in Washington at this time, having remained in New York but one day. He had accepted a secretaryship from Senator Stewart of Nevada, but this arrangement was a brief one. He required fuller freedom for his Washington correspondence and general literary undertakings.
He had been in Washington but a few days when he received a letter that meant more to him than he could possibly have dreamed at the moment. It was from Elisha Bliss, Jr., manager of the American Publishing Company, of Hartford, Connecticut, and it suggested gathering the Mediterranean travel-letters into a book.