Mark Twain's memoir, Life on the Mississippi, contains his personal experiences as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain is a pen name) essentially smooth-talked his way onto the Paul Jones and convinced Mr. Bixby to instruct him on piloting the boat. Bixby even...
Mark Twain's memoir, Life on the Mississippi, contains his personal experiences as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain is a pen name) essentially smooth-talked his way onto the Paul Jones and convinced Mr. Bixby to instruct him on piloting the boat. Bixby even let Clemens pay him after the fact by taking a $100 advance, and he agreed to take the remaining $400 fee out of Clemens's wages as a pilot. This was quite generous of Mr. Bixby, and the man allowed Clemens to achieve his boyhood dream of becoming a river pilot. Twain was likely grateful for the opportunity to be taught by one of the most renowned steamboat pilots of his time.
In Chapter VI, Twain describes one of his early experiences on the steamboat, when he was still relatively new to the job:
I had a wide margin of safety intervening between the Paul Jones and the ships; and within ten seconds more I was set aside in disgrace, and Mr. Bixby was going into danger again and flaying me alive with abuse of my cowardice. I was stung, but I was obliged to admire the easy confidence with which my chief loafed from side to side of his wheel, and trimmed the ships so closely that disaster seemed ceaselessly imminent.
Twain references Bixby's profane language throughout the text; this which was quite customary boat speech. Still, Twain was hurt by Bixby's insults, but he respected his skill as a captain. In the same chapter, Twain writes:
He gave me the wheel once or twice, but I had no luck. I either came near chipping off the edge of a sugar-plantation, or I yawed too far from shore, and so dropped back into disgrace again and got abused.
On a night shortly after, Twain is woken up in the middle of the night to work. He begins to worry that boat piloting is not as "romantic" as he thought it was and that there was more work involved than he had thought. One of the other boat workers tells Bixby that he will have to stop at Jones' plantation, and Twain thinks:
"The vengeful spirit in me exulted. I said to myself, 'I wish you joy of your job, Mr. Bixby; you’ll have a good time finding Mr. Jones’s plantation such a night as this; and I hope you never will find it as long as you live.'"
This passage clearly indicates that Twain was resentful for Mr. Bixby making him work in the middle of the night, yet he does recognize that it is not personal and merely a requirement of the job. Twain's words give the impression that he had mixed feelings of Mr. Bixby, whether it be his profanity-laced teaching methods or his abrupt waking of Twain that night. These impressions of the captain were likely influenced by Twain adjusting to the new role and learning that not all of his high expectations associated with steamboat piloting were based on reality.