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Mark Twain
contents: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Old Times On The Mississippi 1857-1860
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The River Learned

...a pilot, in those days, was the only unfettered and entirely independent human being that lived in the earth. Kings are but the hampered servants of parliament and people; parliaments sit in chains forged by their constituency...

In truth, every man and woman and child has a master, and worries and frets in servitude; but in the day I write of, the Mississippi pilot had none. The captain could stand upon the hurricane deck, in the pomp of a very brief authority, and give him five or six orders while the vessel backed into the stream, and then that skipper’s reign was over. The moment that the boat was under way in the river, she was under the sole and unquestioned control of the pilot. He could do with her exactly as he pleased, run her when and whither he chose, and tie her up to the bank whenever his judgment said that that course was best. His movements were entirely free; he consulted no one, he received commands from nobody, he promptly resented even the merest suggestions...

It will easily be guessed, considering the pilot’s boundless authority, that he was a great personage in the old steamboating days. He was treated with marked courtesy by the captain and with marked deference by all the officers and servants; and this deferential spirit was quickly communicated to the passengers, too. I think pilots were about the only people I ever knew who failed to show, in some degree, embarrassment in the presence of traveling foreign princes. But then, people in one’s own grade of life are not usually embarrassing objects.—Mark Twain, “Old Times on the Mississippi,” 1875. Later reprinted in Life on the Mississippi, 1883

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“A Riverboat Pilot”

Pilot's Certificate
Pilot’s Certificate
Courtesy of The Mariner’s Museum
Telegraph about Henry's Recovery, June 16, 1858
Telegraph about Henry’s
Illness, June 16, 1858
Courtesy of The Mark Twain Project,
Bancroft Library, Berkeley

Henry Clemens, c. 1855
Henry Clemens, c. 1855
Courtesy of The Mark Twain Museum, Hannibal
Portrait, c. 1859-60
Portrait, c. 1859-60
Courtesy of Special Collections, Vassar College Libraries