A New Pilgrim’s (lack of) Progress

Going through my library the other day, I found an old paperback of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad. In the inside front cover I had written the following:

Purchased on Saturday 16 September 1995 at the American International School in Vienna, Austria during a school picnic in which we furnished a display about the Church and whose only success for us was a little boy who wanted to buy an Articles of Faith card and a girl from Israel who took a Joseph Smith pamphlet and who, due to Church policy regarding citizens of Israel, we cannot teach anyway.

Einfach spass, gell? [Fun, eh?]*

Elder RJH

16/9/95 Austria Vienna Mission


*Actually, I think it was fun, despite this early example of Ronanic sarcasm. At the very least we had a day off from knocking doors. The weather was good. We ate hot dogs and drank root beer. And we got to spend the day with some cool sister missionaries,** IIRC.

**One of whom is now KenJen’s sister-in-law. But she was cool before that.


  1. Tsk, tsk, Ronan. Did you read this book on your mission? No wonder everybody thinks of BCC as the blog of heretics…

  2. JNS,
    Funnily enough, I never read it. I just bought it. Honestly!

  3. Mark IV says:

    Innocents Abroad is actually a pretty good description of missionaries.

    Ronan, if you had somebody who wanted a AoF card, your day was more successful that 99% of mine.

    JN-S, Shhh! Don’t tell anyone else (we don’t want heads to explode) but my MTC teacher read part of that book to us in the MTC. Twain details some of the difficulties of learning German, and some of the language’s idiosyncracies. On a day when I was wondering how I was ever going to remember the rules governing the sixteen different ways to say *the*, it was wonderful comic relief.

  4. Researcher says:

    I love Twain’s remarks on the awful German language. Here’s a representative tidbit:

    An average sentence, in a German newspaper, is a sublime and impressive curiosity; it occupies a quarter of a column; it contains all the ten parts of speech — not in regular order, but mixed; it is built mainly of compound words constructed by the writer on the spot, and not to be found in any dictionary — six or seven words compacted into one, without joint or seam — that is, without hyphens; it treats of fourteen or fifteen different subjects, each inclosed in a parenthesis of its own, with here and there extra parentheses which reinclose three or four of the minor parentheses, making pens within pens: finally, all the parentheses and reparentheses are massed together between a couple of king-parentheses, one of which is placed in the first line of the majestic sentence and the other in the middle of the last line of it — after which comes the VERB, and you find out for the first time what the man has been talking about; and after the verb — merely by way of ornament, as far as I can make out — the writer shovels in “haben sind gewesen gehabt haben geworden sein,” or words to that effect, and the monument is finished.

  5. Is THAT where that comes from?! I’ve laughed about that paragraph before, without knowing where it came from.

  6. Larry the cable guy says:

    A favorite passage from TIA:

    from chapter 47
    To stand before {Galillee} in the flesh–to see it as they saw it now–to sail upon the hallowed sea, and kiss the holy soil that compassed it about: these were aspirations they had cherished while a generation dragged its lagging seasons by and left its furrows in their faces and its frosts upon their hair. To look upon this picture, and sail upon this sea, they had forsaken home and its idols and journeyed thousands and thousands of miles, in weariness and tribulation. What wonder that the sordid lights of work-day prudence should pale before the glory of a hope like theirs in the full splendor of its fruition? Let them squander millions! I said–who speaks of money at a time like this?

    In this frame of mind I followed, as fast as I could, the eager footsteps of the pilgrims, and stood upon the shore of the lake, and swelled, with hat and voice, the frantic hail they sent after the “ship” that was speeding by. It was a success. The toilers of the sea ran in and beached their barque. Joy sat upon every countenance.

    “How much?–ask him how much, Ferguson!–how much to take us all–eight of us, and you–to Bethsaida, yonder, and to the mouth of Jordan, and to the place where the swine ran down into the sea–quick!–and we want to coast around every where–every where!–all day long!–I could sail a year in these waters!–and tell him we’ll stop at Magdala and finish at Tiberias!–ask him how much?–any thing–any thing whatever!–tell him we don’t care what the expense is!” [I said to myself, I knew how it would be.]

    Ferguson–(interpreting)–“He says two Napoleons–eight dollars.”

    One or two countenances fell. Then a pause.

    “Too much!–we’ll give him one!”

  7. Researcher says:

    #5 Ummm…that’s not a paragraph; it’s a sentence of unusual size. (“I don’t think they exist.”)

    Five semi-colons, one colon, six dashes, fifteen commas and over 200 words. In one sentence. If I practice enough someday I might be able to write that kind of prose.

    Innocents Abroad is actually a pretty good description of missionaries. (3)

    And except for the mustache and cigar, the guy on the cover could be a missionary, umbrella, book bag and all. Looks like he’s doing a lot of walking.

  8. Stefani Boam says:

    Ronan, I do remember this!! It was a great day! Thanks for thinking I was cool then….I am glad you don’t hold Ken Jennings too much against me.

    Hope all is well!

  9. Stefani, we also hope you don’t hold Ken Jennings too much against you.

  10. If Twain’s comments on German are fair game, my favorite comes from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court:

    I was gradually coming to have a mysterious and shuddery reverence for this girl; nowadays whenever she pulled out from the station and got her train fairly started on one of those horizonless transcontinental sentences of hers, it was borne in upon me that I was standing in the awful presence of the Mother of the German Language. I was so impressed with this, that sometimes when she began to empty one of these sentences on me I unconsciously took the very attitude of reverence, and stood uncovered; and if words had been water, I had been drowned, sure. She had exactly the German way; whatever was in her mind to be delivered, whether a mere remark, or a sermon, or a cyclopedia, or the history of a war, she would get it into a single sentence or die. Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth.

  11. I think Ken Jennings would be good on SNL Celebrity Jeopardy.

  12. #7: “mmm…that’s not a paragraph; it’s a sentence of unusual size. (“I don’t think they exist.”)


  13. “Ummm…that’s not a paragraph; it’s a sentence of unusual size.”

    I knew there was a reason I like Twain.

  14. Mark B. says:

    Re: 8 & 9

    If someone holds Ken Jennings too much against her, the only appropriate response is (thanks to Mr. Rooney in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off):

    So THAT’s how it is in their family…

  15. Austria, 1967. Out tracting, a woman said she knew all about these American sects. She gave me a copy of Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry in German translation. It was my first novel in German, which became a minor addiction.

    Mission rules were somewhat looser then, I guess, which is why we had 2 1/2 years to contemplate the language.

    Anyway, the prize for the longest sentence was the first page of Hesse’s Goldmund und Narzisse which was also a paragraph. But that is the absolute beauty of German. A single thought so convoluted and nuanced. This is not to mention the newly constructed words to enhance the nuance.

    I think it took me nearly a half an hour to parse that sentence, while keeping all the clauses in mind and all the modifiers, all of the cases of all the nouns. It was a true intellectual exercise.

    German is a language meant to be read. English is poor by comparison. So Twain (#4) has it right, but only with an eye to comedy. There is also beauty there.