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The Species Seekers Quiz: Mark Twain’s Mighty …????

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 16, 2011

On what river did young Samuel Clemens (later Mark Twain) hope to make his reputation when he lit out from home in 1857?

1.  The Mississippi

2.  The Ohio

3.  The Congo

4.  The Amazon

And the answer is

Other oxbows, other river pilots

The Amazon.  In the mid-19th century, almost everyone dreamed of going out into the far corners of the world and discovering amazing new species.  While working as a printer’s apprentice, Clemens read an account of Amazonian exploration and became “fired with a longing to ascend” the river.  He found a fifty dollar bill in the street and took off for this “romantic land where all the birds and animals were of the museum varieties.”  He traveled down the Ohio River and the Mississippi to New Orleans to embark on a ship to Pará,  Brazil, at the mouth of the Amazon.  His hopes were dashed, however, when he found that there was no ship leaving for Pará and never had been.  So he learned to make do with the river at hand.

(Read more about how the search for species changed our world in The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff.)

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