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“Look at me! I’m the man they call Sudden Death and General Desolation! Sired by a hurricane, dam’d by an earthquake, half-brother to the cholera, nearly related to the small-pox on the mother’s side! Look at me! I take nineteen alligators and a bar’l of whiskey for breakfast when I’m in robust health, and a bushel of rattlesnakes and a dead body when I’m ailing! I split the everlasting rocks with my glance, and I squench the thunder when I speak! Whoo-oop! Stand back and give me room according to my strength! Blood’s my natural drink, and the wails of the dying is music to my ear! Cast your eye on me, gentlemen!—and lay low and hold your breath, for I’m bout to turn myself loose!”


“I became a new being, and the subject of my own admiration. I was a traveler! A word never had tasted so good in my mouth before. I had an exultant sense of being bound for mysterious lands and distant climes which I never have felt in so uplifting a degree since. I was in such a glorified condition that all ignoble feelings departed out of me, and I was able to look down and pity the untraveled with a compassion that had hardly a trace of contempt in it.”


Life on the Mississippi
Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Boston: James R. Osgood and Co., 1883
First American edition, first state
F353 C6458 1883b

During an 1872 visit to the American Midwest, Samuel Clemens was “struck by the great diminution of steamboat traffic on the Ohio River and became anxious to document the steamboat era before it vanished altogether….” Life is his memoir of his youthful years as a “cub” pilot on a steamboat paddling up and down the Mississippi River. He used his childhood experiences growing up along the Mississippi in a number of works, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but in Life, thoroughly described the river and the pilot’s life prior to the American Civil War.

Clemens wrote of his return to the river, traveling on a steamboat from St. Louis to New Orleans. He described the competition from the railroads; the new cities; and a world of greed, gullibility, and bad architecture. Clemens considered Life his greatest work, in spite of the fact that he attempted to rewrite it immediately after publication.

This is believed to be the first literary work composed on a typewriter. It was published simultaneously in the United States and England. Illustration on page 441, showing Mark Twain in flames, which was omitted at the request of Mrs. Clemens in further printings of the same date.


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