Here I may say a few words concernig those necessary guides. Many men have wished in their hearts they could do without a guide; but it was not possible men have wished they could get some amusement out of him. The guides know their story by heart – the history of every statue, painting, or other wonder they show you. If you intrerupt and throw them off the track, they have to go back and begin again. It is human nature to take delight in exciting admiration. It is what makes children say “smart” things or “show off” when company is present.
Think then, what a passion it becomes with a guide, to show to strangers wonders that throw them into perfect ecstasies of admiration. After we discovered this, we never went into ecstasies of admiration in the presence of the wonders a guide had to display.
The guides in Italy are delighted to secure an American party because Americans so much wonder before any relic of Columbus.
Our guide 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 own hand ! – come !”
He took us to the municipal palace.
“What I tell you, genteelmen: Is it not so ? See ! handwriting Christopher Colombo write it himself !”
We looked indifferent. 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 person 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 ! his own handwriting !”
Then the doctor laid the document down and said:
“Why, I have seen boys only fourteen years old that could write better than that.”
“But zis is ze great Cristo…”
“I don’t care who it is ! It’s the worst writing I ever saw. Now you mustn’t think you impose on us because we are strangers. We are not fools.”
The guide was considerably shaken up, but he made one more venture. He had something which he thought would overcome us. He said:
“Ah, enteelmen, you come wis me ! I show you beautiful, oh, magnificent bust of Christopher Colombo ! – splendid, grand, magnificent.”
He brought us before the beautiful bust – for it was beautiful:
“Ah, look, genteelmen ! – beautiful, grand – bust , Christopher Colombo ! – beautiful bust, beautiful pedestal !”
The doctor put up his eyeglasses:
“Ah – what did you say this genteelman’s name was ?”
“Christopher Colombo ! – ze great Christopher Colombo !”
“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, – three hundred year !”
“What did he die of ?”
“I do not know – I cannot tell.”
“Smallpox, I think ?”
“I do not know, genteelmen ! – I do not know what he die of.”
“Measless, likely ?”
“Maybe – maybe – I do not know – I think he die of something.”
“Parents living ?”
“Ah, I see, I see.”
The guide was bewildered. He walked his legs off, nearly, hunting up extraordinary things, and exhausted all hiss ingenuity on us, but it was a failure; we never showed any interest in anything.
Mark Twain, Tamming a Guide