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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 160

Keokuk, and Cincinnati, and finally in 1857 planning, as his visionary father before him might have done, to go to Brazil to pick up a fortune. Instead, however, a chance conversation with a pilot on the Mississippi decided him to enter the pilot’s profession, to which practically every boy in the river towns then aspired.
  If Mark Twain’s years as a printer represent a more or less academic aspect of his training, his four years as a pilot are its technical aspect. His Life on the Mississippi makes clear how exacting his new profession was; how much erudition it called for to know twelve hundred miles of shifting current by day or night, with absolute certainty; how much responsibility for life and property lay in his hands. His powerful mind absorbed the necessary knowledge easily. His spirit delighted in the authority and prominence which his position gave. He had now a point of vantage from which he could look down on the whole pageant of the Mississippi. And that was a spectacle such as modern life has afforded at only a few times and in a few places. An enormous commerce flowed up and down the river, attended by every hue and condition of mankind. The United States filed by under the pilot’s observation: merchants about their business, planters on their occasional visits to the towns, laborers looking for work, immigrants on the way to new homes, curiosity-seekers and pleasure-hunters, slaves and slave-traders, stowaways and visiting noblemen and sportsmen. So much traffic called for a vast machinery to move it and entertain it and prey upon it: steamboats which competition forced to be swift and beautiful; skilled navigators, with the pilots chief among them; crews for the boats and



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