IF they did not realize it before, Americans now know what Mark Twain and many others have known for a long time -- the Mississippi River is powerful and demands attention.
Twain captured the essence of the river in his book, "Life on the Mississippi," published in 1883. Here are a few excerpts from his first chapter, entitled "The River and its History":
"The Mississippi is well worth reading about. It is not a commonplace river, but on the contrary is in all ways remarkable. Considering the Missouri its main branch, it is the longest river in the world, since in one part of its journey it uses up one thousand three hundred miles to cover the same ground that the crow would fly over in six hundred and seventy-five.
"It discharges three times as much water as the St. Lawrence, twenty-five times as much as the Rhine, and three hundred and thirty-eight times as much as the Thames.
"No other river has so vast a drainage basin: it draws its water supply from twenty-eight States and Territories: from Delaware, on the Atlantic seaboard, and from all the country between that ** and Idaho on the Pacific slope -- a spread of forty-five degrees in longitude.
"The Mississippi receives and carries to the Gulf water from fifty-four subordinate rivers that are navigable by steam boats, and from some hundreds that are navigable by flats and keels.
"The area of its drainage basin is as great as the combined areas of England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Turkey; and almost all this wide region is fertile; the Mississippi valley, proper, is exceptionally so.
"An article in the New Orleans Times-Democrat, based upon reports of able engineers, states that the river annually empties four hundred and six million tons of mud into the Gulf of Mexico -- which brings to mind Captain Marryat's rude name for the Mississippi -- 'the Great Sewer.' This mud, solidified, would make a mass a mile square and two hundred and forty-one feet high."