Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Mark Twain is full of bull

One particular joy of getting back to my hometown -- Baton Rouge -- is the chance to spend some quality time with one of my favorite buildings in the world.

Mark Twain, on the other hand, could not abide the Old State Capitol. Twain got to know the building as a river pilot in the mid-1800s, when the Gothic Revival statehouse didn't have the adjective "Old" attached to it.

Granted, it did have some unfortunate turrets atop its towers back then, but that doesn't change my opinion that, as an architecture critic, Samuel Clemens was a brilliant novelist.

You know, let's just be blunt. As an architecture critic, the man just reeked. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn would have been scandalized by his snobbish arrogance.
Baton Rouge was clothed in flowers, like a bride - no, much more so; like a greenhouse. For we were in the absolute South now - no modifications, no compromises, no halfway measures. The Magnolia trees in the Capitol grounds were lovely and fragrant, with their dense rich foliage and huge snow-ball blossoms. The scent of the flower is very sweet, but you want distance on it, because it is so powerful. They are not good bedroom blossoms-- they might suffocate one in his sleep. We were certainly in the South at last; for here the sugar region begins, and the plantations--vast green levels, with sugar-mill and negro quarters clustered together in the middle distance--were in view. And there was a tropical sun overhead and a tropical swelter in the air.

And at this point, also, begins the pilot's paradise: a wide river hence to New Orleans, abundance of water from shore to shore, and no bars, snags, sawyers, or wrecks in his road.

Sir Walter Scott is probably responsible for the Capitol building; for it is not conceivable that this little sham castle would ever have been built if he had not ran the people mad, a couple of generations ago, with his mediæval romances. The South has not yet recovered from the debilitating influence of his books. Admiration of his fantastic heroes and their grotesque "chivalry" doings and romantic juvenilities still survives here, in an atmosphere in which is already perceptible the wholesome and practical nineteenth-century smell of cotton-factories and locomotives; and traces of inflated language and other windy humbuggeries survive along with it. It is pathetic enough, that a whitewashed castle, with turrets and things--materials all ungenuine within and without, pretending to be what they are not-- should ever have been built in this otherwise honorable place; but it is much more pathetic to see this architectural falsehood undergoing restoration and perpetuation in our day, when it would have been so to let dynamite finish what a charitable fire began, and then devote this restoration-money to the building of something genuine.
HOW VERY "sivilized" of Mr. Clemens . . . Twain . . . whatever.

Me, I think a picture is worth a thousand words. So here are four.

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