Life on the Mississippi

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Life on the Mississippi
Life on the Mississippi.jpg
Cover of the original U.S. edition, 1883.
Author Mark Twain
Country United States and England
Language English
Genre Biography
Publisher James R. Osgood & Co., Boston (U.S. edition)
Chatto & Windus, London (English edition)
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages 624 [1]
Preceded by The Prince and the Pauper
Followed by Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Life on the Mississippi (1883) is a memoir by Mark Twain of his days as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River before the American Civil War, and also a travel book, recounting his trip along the Mississippi River from St. Louis to New Orleans many years after the War.


The book begins with a brief history of the river as reported by Europeans and Americans, beginning with the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1542.[2] It continues with anecdotes of Twain's training as a steamboat pilot, as the 'cub' (apprentice) of an experienced pilot, Horace E. Bixby. He describes, with great affection, the science of navigating the ever-changing Mississippi River in a section that was first published in 1876, entitled "Old Times on the Mississippi". Although Twain was actually 21 when he began his training, he uses artistic license to make himself seem somewhat younger, referring to himself as a "fledgling" and a "boy" who "ran away from home" to seek his fortune on the river, and playing up his own callowness and naïveté.

In the second half, Twain narrates his trip many years later on a steamboat from St. Louis to New Orleans. He describes the competition from railroads, and the new, large cities, and adds his observations on greed, gullibility, tragedy, and bad architecture. He also tells some stories that are most likely tall tales.


Simultaneously published in 1883 in the United States and Great Britain, the book is the first submitted to a publisher as a typewritten manuscript.[3]


From the first edition's chapter summaries.
  • Chapter I

The Mississippi is Well worth Reading about.--It is Remarkable.-- Instead of Widening towards its Mouth, it grows Narrower.--It Empties four hundred and six million Tons of Mud.--It was First Seen in 1542. --It is Older than some Pages in European History.--De Soto has the Pull.--Older than the Atlantic Coast.--Some Half-breeds chip in.--La Salle Thinks he will Take a Hand

  • Chapter II

La Salle again Appears, and so does a Cat-fish.--Buffaloes also.-- Some Indian Paintings are Seen on the Rocks.--"The Father of Waters" does not Flow into the Pacific.--More History and Indians. --Some Curious Performances--not Early English.--Natchez, or the Site of it, is Approached

  • Chapter III

A little History.--Early Commerce.--Coal Fleets and Timber Rafts.-- We start on a Voyage.--I seek Information.--Some Music.--The Trouble begins.--Tall Talk.--The Child of Calamity.--Ground and lofty Tumbling.--The Wash-up.--Business and Statistics.-- Mysterious Band.--Thunder and Lightning.--The Captain speaks. --Allbright weeps.--The Mystery settled.--Chaff.--I am Discovered.--Some Art-work proposed.--I give an Account of Myself.-- Released

  • Chapter IV

The Boys' Ambition.--Village Scenes.--Steamboat Pictures.--A Heavy Swell.--A Runaway

  • Chapter V

A Traveller.--A Lively Talker.--A Wild-cat Victim

  • Chapter VI

Besieging the Pilot.--Taken along.--Spoiling a Nap.--Fishing for a Plantation.--"Points" on the River.--A Gorgeous Pilot-house

  • Chapter VII

River Inspectors.--Cottonwoods and Plum Point.--Hat-Island Crossing.--Touch and Go.--It is a Go.--A Lightning Pilot

  • Chapter VIII

A Heavy-loaded Big Gun.--Sharp Sights in Darkness.--Abandoned to his Fate.--Scraping the Banks.--Learn him or Kill him

  • Chapter IX

Shake the Reef.--Reason Dethroned.--The Face of the Water-- A Bewitching Scene.--Romance and Beauty

  • Chapter X

Putting on Airs.--Taken down a bit.--Learn it as it is.--The River Rising

  • Chapter XI

In the Tract Business.--Effects of the Rise.--Plantations gone.--A Measureless Sea.--A Somnambulist Pilot.--Supernatural Piloting. --Nobody there.--All Saved

  • Chapter XII

Low Water.--Yawl sounding.--Buoys and Lanterns.--Cubs and Soundings.--The Boat Sunk.--Seeking the Wrecked

  • Chapter XIII

A Pilot's Memory.--Wages soaring.--A Universal Grasp.--Skill and Nerve.--Testing a "Cub."--"Back her for Life."--A Good Lesson

  • Chapter XIV

Pilots and Captains.--High-priced Pilots.--Pilots in Demand.--A Whistler.--A cheap Trade--Two-hundred-and-fifty-dollar Speed

  • Chapter XV

New Pilots undermining the Pilots' Association.--Crutches and Wages. --Putting on Airs.--The Captains Weaken.--The Association Laughs.--The Secret Sign.--An Admirable System.--Rough on Outsiders.--A Tight Monopoly.--No Loophole.--The Railroads and the War

  • Chapter XVI

All Aboard.--A Glorious Start.--Loaded to Win.--Bands and Bugles. --Boats and Boats.--Racers and Racing

  • Chapter XVII

Cut-offs.--Ditching and Shooting.--Mississippi Changes.--A Wild Night.--Swearing and Guessing.--Stephen in Debt.--He Confuses his Creditors.--He makes a New Deal.--Will Pay them Alphabetically

  • Chapter XVIII

Sharp Schooling.--Shadows.--I am Inspected.--Where did you get them Shoes?--Pull her Down--I want to kill Brown.--I try to run her.--I am Complimented

  • Chapter XIX

A Question of Veracity.--A Little Unpleasantness.--I have an Audience with the Captain.--Mr. Brown Retires

  • Chapter XX

I become a Passenger.--We hear the News.--A Thunderous Crash.-- They Stand to their Posts.--In the Blazing Sun.--A Grewsome Spectacle.--His Hour has Struck

  • Chapter XXI

I get my License.--The War Begins.--I become a Jack-of-all-trades

  • Chapter XXII

I try the Alias Business.--Region of Goatees.--Boots begin to Appear.-- The River Man is Missing.--The Young Man is Discouraged.-- Specimen Water.--A Fine Quality of Smoke.--A Supreme Mistake. --We Inspect the Town.--Desolation Way-traffic.--A Wood-yard

  • Chapter XXIII

Old French Settlements.--We start for Memphis.--Young Ladies and Russia-leather Bags

  • Chapter XXIV

I receive some Information.--Alligator Boats.--Alligator Talk.--She was a Rattler to go.--I am Found Out

  • Chapter XXV

The Devil's Oven and Table.--A Bombshell falls.--No Whitewash.-- Thirty Years on the River.--Mississippi Uniforms.--Accidents and Casualties.--Two hundred Wrecks.--A Loss to Literature.-- Sunday-Schools and Brick Masons

  • Chapter XXVI

War Talk.--I Tilt over Backwards.--Fifteen Shot-holes.--A Plain Story.--Wars and Feuds.--Darnell versus Watson.--A Gang and a Woodpile.--Western Grammar.--River Changes.--New Madrid. --Floods and Falls

  • Chapter XXVII

Tourists and their Note-books.--Captain Hall.--Mrs. Trollope's Emotions.--Hon. Charles Augustus Murray's Sentiment.--Captain Marryat's Sensations.--Alexander Mackay's Feelings.--Mr. Parkman Reports

  • Chapter XXVIII

Swinging down the River.--Named for Me.--Plum Point again.-- Lights and Snag Boats.--Infinite Changes.--A Lawless River.-- Changes and Jetties.--Uncle Mumford Testifies.--Pegging the River.--What the Government does.--The Commission Men and Theories. "Had them Bad."--Jews and Prices

  • Chapter XXIX

Murel's Gang.--A Consummate Villain.--Getting Rid of Witnesses.-- Stewart turns Traitor.--I Start a Rebellion.--I get a New Suit of Clothes.--We Cover our Tracks.--Pluck and Capacity.--A Good Samaritan City.--The Old and the New

  • Chapter XXX

A Melancholy Picture.--On the Move.--River Gossip.--She Went By a-Sparklin'.--Amenities of Life.--A World of Misinformation.-- Eloquence of Silence.--Striking a Snag.--Photographically Exact. --Plank Side-walks

  • Chapter XXXI

Mutinous Language.--The Dead-house.--Cast-iron German and Flexible English.--A Dying Man's Confession.--I am Bound and Gagged.--I get Myself Free.--I Begin my Search.--The Man with one Thumb.--Red Paint and White Paper.--He Dropped on his Knees.--Fright and Gratitude.--I Fled through the Woods.--A Grisly Spectacle.--Shout, Man, Shout.--A look of Surprise and Triumph.--The Muffled Gurgle of a Mocking Laugh.--How strangely Things happen.--The Hidden Money

  • Chapter XXXII

Ritter's Narrative.--A Question of Money.--Napoleon.--Somebody is Serious.--Where the Prettiest Girl used to Live

  • Chapter XXXIII

A Question of Division.--A Place where there was no License.--The Calhoun Land Company.--A Cotton-planter's Estimate.--Halifax and Watermelons.--Jewelled-up Bar-keepers

  • Chapter XXXIV

An Austere Man.--A Mosquito Policy.--Facts dressed in Tights.--A swelled Left Ear

  • Chapter XXXV

Signs and Sears.--Cannon-thunder Rages.--Cave-dwellers.--A Continual Sunday.--A ton of Iron and no Glass.--The Ardent is Saved. --Mule Meat.--A National Cemetery.--A Dog and a Shell.-- Railroads and Wealth.--Wharfage Economy.--Vicksburg versus The "Gold Dust."--A Narrative in Anticipation

  • Chapter XXXVI

The Professor Spins a Yarn.--An Enthusiast in Cattle.--He makes a Proposition.--Loading Beeves at Acapulco.--He was n't Raised to it --He is Roped In.--His Dull Eyes Lit Up.--Four Aces, you Ass!-- He does n't Care for the Gores

  • Chapter XXXVII

A Terrible Disaster.--The "Gold Dust" explodes her Boilers.--The End of a Good Man . . . . .

  • Chapter XXXVIII

Mr. Dickens has a Word.--Best Dwellings and their Furniture.--Albums and Music.--Pantelettes and Conch-shells.--Sugar-candy Rabbits and Photographs.--Horse-hair Sofas and Snuffers.--Rag Carpets and Bridal Chambers

  • Chapter XXXIX

Rowdies and Beauty.--Ice as Jewelry.--Ice Manufacture.--More Statistics.--Some Drummers.--Oleomargarine versus Butter.--Olive Oil versus Cotton Seed.--The Answer was not Caught.--A Terrific Episode.--A Sulphurous Canopy.--The Demons of War.--The Terrible Gauntlet

  • Chapter XL

In Flowers, like a Bride.--A White-washed Castle.--A Southern Prospectus.--Pretty Pictures.--An Alligator's Meal

  • Chapter XLI

The Approaches to New Orleans.--A Stirring Street.--Sanitary Improvements.--Journalistic Achievements.--Cisterns and Wells .

  • Chapter XLII

Beautiful Grave-yards.--Chameleons and Panaceas.--Inhumation and Infection.--Mortality and Epidemics.--The Cost of Funerals

  • Chapter XLIII

I meet an Acquaintance.--Coffins and Swell Houses.--Mrs. O'Flaherty goes One Better.--Epidemics and Embamming.--Six hundred for a Good Case.--Joyful High Spirits

  • Chapter XLIV

French and Spanish Parts of the City.--Mr. Cable and the Ancient Quarter.--Cabbages and Bouquets.--Cows and Children.--The Shell Road.--The West End.--A Good Square Meal.--The Pompano.--The Broom-Brigade.--Historical Painting.--Southern Speech.--Lagniappe


"Waw" Talk.--Cock-Fighting.--Too Much to Bear.--Fine Writing. --Mule Racing

  • Chapter XLVI

Mardi-Gras.--The Mystic Crewe.--Rex and Relics.--Sir Walter Scott. --A World Set Back.--Titles and Decorations.--A Change

  • Chapter XLVII

Uncle Remus.--The Children Disappointed.--We Read Aloud.--Mr. Cable and Jean ah Poquelin.--Involuntary Trespass.--The Gilded Age.--An Impossible Combination.--The Owner Materializes.-- and Protests

  • Chapter XLVIII

Tight Curls and Springy Steps.--Steam-plows.--"No. I." Sugar.--A Frankenstein Laugh.--Spiritual Postage.--A Place where there are no Butchers or Plumbers.--Idiotic Spasms

  • Chapter XLIX

Pilot-Farmers.--Working on Shares.--Consequences.--Men who Stick to their Posts.--He saw what he would do.--A Day after the Fair

  • Chapter L

A Patriarch.----Leaves from a Diary.--A Tongue-stopper.--The Ancient Mariner.--Pilloried in Print.--Petrified Truth

  • Chapter LI

A Fresh "Cub" at the Wheel.--A Valley Storm.--Some Remarks on Construction.--Sock and Buskin.--The Man who never played Hamlet.--I got Thirsty.--Sunday Statistics

  • Chapter LII

I Collar an Idea.--A Graduate of Harvard.--A Penitent Thief.--His Story in the Pulpit.--Something Symmetrical.--A Literary Artist. --A Model Epistle.--Pumps again Working.--The "Nub" of the Note

  • Chapter LIII

A Masterly Retreat.--A Town at Rest.--Boyhood's Pranks.--Friends of my Youth.--The Refuge for Imbeciles.--I am Presented with my Measure

  • Chapter LIV

A Special Judgment.--Celestial Interest.--A Night of Agony.-- Another Bad Attack.--I become Convalescent.--I address a Sunday-school.--A Model Boy

  • Chapter LV

A second Generation.--A hundred thousand Tons of Saddles.--A Dark and Dreadful Secret.--A Large Family.--A Golden-haired Darling. --The Mysterious Cross.--My Idol is Broken.--A Bad Season of Chills and Fever.--An Interesting Cave

  • Chapter LVI

Perverted History.--A Guilty Conscience.--A Supposititious Case.--A Habit to be Cultivated.--I Drop my Burden.--Difference in Time

  • Chapter LVII

A Model Town.--A Town that Comes up to Blow in the Summer.--The Scare-crow Dean.--Spouting Smoke and Flame.--An Atmosphere that tastes good.--The Sunset Land

  • Chapter LVIII

An Independent Race.--Twenty-four-hour Towns.--Enchanting Scenery.--The Home of the Plow.--Black Hawk.--Fluctuating Securities.--A Contrast--Electric Lights

  • Chapter LIX

Indian Traditions and Rattlesnakes.--A Three-ton Word.--Chimney Rock.--The Panorama Man.--A Good Jump.--The Undying Head. --Peboan and Seegwun

  • Chapter LX

The Head of Navigation.--From Roses to Snow.--Climatic Vaccination.--A Long Ride.--Bones of Poverty.--The Pioneer of Civilization.--Jug of Empire.--Siamese Twins.--The Sugar-bush.--He Wins his Bride.--The Mystery about the Blanket.--A City that is always a Novelty.--Home again

  • Appendices A, B, C & D

Dramatic adaptations[edit]

In 1980 the book was adapted as a TV movie for American public television, with David Knell performing as Sam Clemens (Mark Twain's real name), and Robert Lansing as Horace Bixby, the steamboat pilot who mentored him. The film used many tall tales from the book, woven into a fictional narrative.

In 2010, Life on the Mississippi was adapted as a stage musical, with book and lyrics by Douglas M. Parker and music by Denver Casado. It was produced that year in Kansas City, Missouri and Door County, Wisconsin.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Facsimile of the original 1st edition.
  2. ^ Twain, Mark; Clemens, Samuel L. (2000) [1883]. Life on the Mississippi. Mineola, NY: Dover. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-486-41426-3. and
    Facsimile copy of the First edition, page 26"[...] De Soto, the first white man who ever saw the Mississippi River, saw it in 1542 [...]"
  3. ^ "The First Typewriter". Rehr, Darryl. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 

External links[edit]