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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

VIII. Mark Twain

§ 14. Following the Equator

The material for Following the Equator (1897) he collected under the strain of debt, ill health, and the fatigues of the immense lecture-tour undertaken in 1895. In Australasia, to which the first half of the book is given, the people impress him as Englishmen democratized, that is to say, as Americans, and the cities and towns offer little noteworthy. In order to exhibit novelties he is obliged to present the history of the early settlers, the aborigines, and the fauna; and as he gets up his facts by visits to museums and hasty digestion of Australasian literature, his treatment strikes one as, for him, noticeably secondhand and uninspired. He also introduces later a good deal of “lifted” material of a vivid sort in his account of the Sepoy Mutiny, Suttee, and the Thugs—and here we may note his taste for the collection of atrocious incident. India, however, for which Kipling had sharpened his appetite, inspired him to the task of imparting his oppressed sense of her historic and scenic immensities, stricken with plagues, famines, ferocious beasts, superstitions, over-population, and swooning heat:

  • a haunting sense of the myriads of human lives that have blossomed, and withered, and perished here, repeating and repeating and repeating, century after century, and age after age, the barren and meaningless process; it is this sense that gives to this forlorn, uncomely land power to speak to the spirit and make friends with it; to speak to it with a voice bitter with satire, but eloquent with melancholy.
  • There are satirical and witty disquisitions on imperialistic morality apropos of Madagascar, the Jameson Raid, Cecil Rhodes, and the British dealings with the Boers. The barbarity of the civilized in contact with the so-called backward peoples excites his indignation, but history and travel show him its universality and quiet his sensibilities to a state of tolerant contempt for all unregenerate mankind: “Christian governments are as frank to-day, as open and above-board, in discussing projects for raiding each other’s clothes-lines as ever they were before the Golden Rule came smiling into this inhospitable world and couldn’t get a night’s lodging anywhere.”