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Fri Oct 7, 2016, 10:00 AM

Christoper Columbus from Mark Twain's "Innocents Abroad"

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! -- come!"

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 this?"

"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 do?"

"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?"

"Im-poseeeble!"

"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.


Note: Twain's writings are in the public domain and not subject to copyright

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