As it was by the Social Fireside
in the Time of the Tudors
"Born irreverent," scrawled Mark Twain on a scratch pad, "--like all
other people I have ever known or heard of--I am hoping to remain so
while there are any reverent irreverences left to make fun of."
--[Holograph manuscript of Samuel L. Clemens, in the collection of the
F. J. Meine]
Mark Twain was just as irreverent as he dared be, and 1601 reveals his
richest expression of sovereign contempt for overstuffed language,
genteel literature, and conventional idiocies. Later, when a magazine
editor apostrophized, "O that we had a Rabelais!" Mark impishly and
anonymously--submitted 1601; and that same editor, a praiser of Rabelais,
scathingly abused it and the sender. In this episode, as in many others,
Mark Twain, the "bad boy" of American literature, revealed his huge
delight in blasting the shams of contemporary hypocrisy. Too, there was
always the spirit of Tom Sawyer deviltry in Mark's make-up that prompted
him, as he himself boasted, to see how much holy indignation he could
stir up in the world.
WHO WROTE 1601?
The correct and complete title of 1601, as first issued, was: [Date,
1601.] 'Conversation, as it was by the Social Fireside, in the Time of
the Tudors.' For many years after its anonymous first issue in 1880,
its authorship was variously conjectured and widely disputed. In Boston,
William T. Ball, one of the leading theatrical critics during the late
90's, asserted that it was originally written by an English actor (name
not divulged) who gave it to him. Ball's original, it was said, looked
like a newspaper strip in the way it was printed, and may indeed have
been a proof pulled in some newspaper office. In St. Louis, William
Marion Reedy, editor of the St. Louis Mirror, had seen this famous tour
de force circulated in the early 80's in galley-proof form; he first
learned from Eugene Field that it was from the pen of Mark Twain.
"Many people," said Reedy, "thought the thing was done by Field and
attributed, as a joke, to Mark Twain. Field had a perfect genius for
that sort of thing, as many extant specimens attest, and for that sort of
practical joke; but to my thinking the humor of the piece is too mellow
--not hard and bright and bitter--to be Eugene Field's." Reedy's opinion
hits off the fundamental difference between these two great humorists;
one half suspects that Reedy was thinking of Field's French Crisis.
But Twain first claimed his bantling from the fog of anonymity in 1906,
in a letter addressed to Mr. Charles Orr, librarian of Case Library,
Cleveland. Said Clemens, in the course of his letter, dated July 30,
1906, from Dublin, New Hampshire:
"The title of the piece is 1601. The piece is a supposititious
conversation which takes place in Queen Elizabeth's closet in that year,
between the Queen, Ben Jonson, Beaumont, Sir Walter Raleigh, the Duchess
of Bilgewater, and one or two others, and is not, as John Hay mistakenly
supposes, a serious effort to bring back our literature and philosophy to
the sober and chaste Elizabeth's time; if there is a decent word findable
in it, it is because I overlooked it. I hasten to assure you that it is
not printed in my published writings."
TWITTING THE REV. JOSEPH TWICHELL
The circumstances of how 1601 came to be written have since been
officially revealed by Albert Bigelow Paine in 'Mark Twain,
A Bibliography' (1912), and in the publication of Mark Twain's Notebook
1601 was written during the summer of 1876 when the Clemens family had
retreated to Quarry Farm in Elmira County, New York. Here Mrs. Clemens
enjoyed relief from social obligations, the children romped over the
countryside, and Mark retired to his octagonal study, which, perched high
on the hill, looked out upon the valley below. It was in the famous
summer of 1876, too, that Mark was putting the finishing touches to Tom
Sawyer. Before the close of the same year he had already begun work on
'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn', published in 1885. It is
interesting to note the use of the title, the "Duke of Bilgewater," in
Huck Finn when the "Duchess of Bilgewater" had already made her
appearance in 1601. Sandwiched between his two great masterpieces, Tom
Sawyer and Huck Finn, the writing of 1601 was indeed a strange interlude.
During this prolific period Mark wrote many minor items, most of them
rejected by Howells, and read extensively in one of his favorite books,
Pepys' Diary. Like many another writer Mark was captivated by Pepys'
style and spirit, and "he determined," says Albert Bigelow Paine in his
'Mark Twain, A Biography', "to try his hand on an imaginary record of
conversation and court manners of a bygone day, written in the phrase of
the period. The result was 'Fireside Conversation in the Time of Queen
Elizabeth', or as he later called it, '1601'. The 'conversation'
recorded by a supposed Pepys of that period, was written with all the
outspoken coarseness and nakedness of that rank day, when fireside
sociabilities were limited only to the loosened fancy, vocabulary, and
physical performance, and not by any bounds of convention."
"It was written as a letter," continues Paine, "to that robust divine,
Rev. Joseph Twichell, who, unlike Howells, had no scruples about Mark's
'Elizabethan breadth of parlance.'"
The Rev. Joseph Twichell, Mark's most intimate friend for over forty
years, was pastor of the Asylum Hill Congregational Church of Hartford,
which Mark facetiously called the "Church of the Holy Speculators,"
because of its wealthy parishioners. Here Mark had first met "Joe" at a
social, and their meeting ripened into a glorious, life long friendship.
Twichell was a man of about Mark's own age, a profound scholar, a devout
Christian, "yet a man with an exuberant sense of humor, and a profound
understanding of the frailties of mankind." The Rev. Mr. Twichell
performed the marriage ceremony for Mark Twain and solemnized the births
of his children; "Joe," his friend, counseled him on literary as well as
personal matters for the remainder of Mark's life. It is important to
catch this brief glimpse of the man for whom this masterpiece was
written, for without it one can not fully understand the spirit in which
1601 was written, or the keen enjoyment which Mark and "Joe" derived from
"SAVE ME ONE."
The story of the first issue of 1601 is one of finesse, state diplomacy,
and surreptitious printing.
The Rev. "Joe" Twichell, for whose delectation the piece had been
written, apparently had pocketed the document for four long years. Then,
in 1880, it came into the hands of John Hay, later Secretary of State,
presumably sent to him by Mark Twain. Hay pronounced the sketch a
masterpiece, and wrote immediately to his old Cleveland friend, Alexander
Gunn, prince of connoisseurs in art and literature. The following
correspondence reveals the fine diplomacy which made the name of John Hay
known throughout the world.
DEPARTMENT OF STATE
June 21, 1880.
Are you in Cleveland for all this week? If you will say yes by return
mail, I have a masterpiece to submit to your consideration which is only
in my hands for a few days.
Yours, very much worritted by the depravity of Christendom,
The second letter discloses Hay's own high opinion of the effort and his
deep concern for its safety.
June 24, 1880
My dear Gunn:
Here it is. It was written by Mark Twain in a serious effort to bring
back our literature and philosophy to the sober and chaste Elizabethan
standard. But the taste of the present day is too corrupt for anything
so classic. He has not yet been able even to find a publisher. The
Globe has not yet recovered from Downey's inroad, and they won't touch
I send it to you as one of the few lingering relics of that race of
appreciative critics, who know a good thing when they see it.
Read it with reverence and gratitude and send it back to me; for Mark is
impatient to see once more his wandering offspring.
In his third letter one can almost hear Hay's chuckle in the certainty
that his diplomatic, if somewhat wicked, suggestion would bear fruit.
Washington, D. C.
July 7, 1880
My dear Gunn:
I have your letter, and the proposition which you make to pull a few
proofs of the masterpiece is highly attractive, and of course highly
immoral. I cannot properly consent to it, and I am afraid the great many
would think I was taking an unfair advantage of his confidence. Please
send back the document as soon as you can, and if, in spite of my
prohibition, you take these proofs, save me one.
Very truly yours,
Thus was this Elizabethan dialogue poured into the moulds of cold type.
According to Merle Johnson, Mark Twain's bibliographer, it was issued in
pamphlet form, without wrappers or covers; there were 8 pages of text and
the pamphlet measured 7 by 8 1/2 inches. Only four copies are believed to
have been printed, one for Hay, one for Gunn, and two for Twain.
"In the matter of humor," wrote Clemens, referring to Hay's delicious
notes, "what an unsurpassable touch John Hay had!"
HUMOR AT WEST POINT
The first printing of 1601 in actual book form was "Donne at ye Academie
Press," in 1882, West Point, New York, under the supervision of Lieut. C.
E. S. Wood, then adjutant of the U. S. Military Academy.
In 1882 Mark Twain and Joe Twichell visited their friend Lieut. Wood at
West Point, where they learned that Wood, as Adjutant, had under his
control a small printing establishment. On Mark's return to Hartford,
Wood received a letter asking if he would do Mark a great favor by
printing something he had written, which he did not care to entrust to
the ordinary printer. Wood replied that he would be glad to oblige.
On April 3, 1882, Mark sent the manuscript:
"I enclose the original of 1603 [sic] as you suggest. I am afraid there
are errors in it, also, heedlessness in antiquated spelling--e's stuck on
often at end of words where they are not strickly necessary, etc.....
I would go through the manuscript but I am too much driven just now, and
it is not important anyway. I wish you would do me the kindness to make
any and all corrections that suggest themselves to you.
"S. L. Clemens."
Charles Erskine Scott Wood recalled in a foreword, which he wrote for the
limited edition of 1601 issued by the Grabhorn Press, how he felt when he
first saw the original manuscript. "When I read it," writes Wood,
"I felt that the character of it would be carried a little better by a
printing which pretended to the eye that it was contemporaneous with the
"I wrote Mark that for literary effect I thought there should be a
species of forgery, though of course there was no effort to actually
deceive a scholar. Mark answered that I might do as I liked;--that his
only object was to secure a number of copies, as the demand for it was
becoming burdensome, but he would be very grateful for any interest I
brought to the doing.
"Well, Tucker [foreman of the printing shop] and I soaked some handmade
linen paper in weak coffee, put it as a wet bundle into a warm room to
mildew, dried it to a dampness approved by Tucker and he printed the
'copy' on a hand press. I had special punches cut for such Elizabethan
abbreviations as the a, e, o and u, when followed by m or n--and for the
(commonly and stupidly pronounced ye).
"The only editing I did was as to the spelling and a few old English
words introduced. The spelling, if I remember correctly, is mine, but
the text is exactly as written by Mark. I wrote asking his view of
making the spelling of the period and he was enthusiastic--telling me to
do whatever I thought best and he was greatly pleased with the result."
Thus was printed in a de luxe edition of fifty copies the most curious
masterpiece of American humor, at one of America's most dignified
institutions, the United States Military Academy at West Point.
"1601 was so be-praised by the archaeological scholars of a quarter of a
century ago," wrote Clemens in his letter to Charles Orr, "that I was
rather inordinately vain of it. At that time it had been privately
printed in several countries, among them Japan. A sumptuous edition on
large paper, rough-edged, was made by Lieut. C. E. S. Wood at West Point
--an edition of 50 copies--and distributed among popes and kings and such
people. In England copies of that issue were worth twenty guineas when I
was there six years ago, and none to be had."
FROM THE DEPTHS
Mark Twain's irreverence should not be misinterpreted: it was an
irreverence which bubbled up from a deep, passionate insight into the
well-springs of human nature. In 1601, as in 'The Man That Corrupted
Hadleyburg,' and in 'The Mysterious Stranger,' he tore the masks off
human beings and left them cringing before the public view. With the
deftness of a master surgeon Clemens dealt with human emotions and
delighted in exposing human nature in the raw.
The spirit and the language of the Fireside Conversation were rooted deep
in Mark Twain's nature and in his life, as C. E. S. Wood, who printed
1601 at West Point, has pertinently observed,
"If I made a guess as to the intellectual ferment out of which 1601 rose
I would say that Mark's intellectual structure and subconscious graining
was from Anglo-Saxons as primitive as the common man of the Tudor period.
He came from the banks of the Mississippi--from the flatboatmen, pilots,
roustabouts, farmers and village folk of a rude, primitive people--as
"He was finished in the mining camps of the West among stage drivers,
gamblers and the men of '49. The simple roughness of a frontier people
was in his blood and brain.
"Words vulgar and offensive to other ears were a common language to him.
Anyone who ever knew Mark heard him use them freely, forcibly,
picturesquely in his unrestrained conversation. Such language is
forcible as all primitive words are. Refinement seems to make for
weakness--or let us say a cutting edge--but the old vulgar monosyllabic
words bit like the blow of a pioneer's ax--and Mark was like that. Then
I think 1601 came out of Mark's instinctive humor, satire and hatred of
puritanism. But there is more than this; with all its humor there is a
sense of real delight in what may be called obscenity for its own sake.
Whitman and the Bible are no more obscene than Nature herself--no more
obscene than a manure pile, out of which come roses and cherries. Every
word used in 1601 was used by our own rude pioneers as a part of their
vocabulary--and no word was ever invented by man with obscene intent, but
only as language to express his meaning. No act of nature is obscene in
itself--but when such words and acts are dragged in for an ulterior
purpose they become offensive, as everything out of place is offensive.
I think he delighted, too, in shocking--giving resounding slaps on what
Chaucer would quite simply call 'the bare erse.'"
Quite aside from this Chaucerian "erse" slapping, Clemens had also a
semi-serious purpose, that of reproducing a past time as he saw it in
Shakespeare, Dekker, Jonson, and other writers of the Elizabethan era.
Fireside Conversation was an exercise in scholarship illumined by a keen
sense of character. It was made especially effective by the artistic
arrangement of widely-gathered material into a compressed picture of a
phase of the manners and even the minds of the men and women "in the
spacious times of great Elizabeth."
Mark Twain made of 1601 a very smart and fascinating performance, carried
over almost to grotesqueness just to show it was not done for mere
delight in the frank naturalism of the functions with which it deals.
That Mark Twain had made considerable study of this frankness is apparent
from chapter four of 'A Yankee At King Arthur's Court,' where he refers
to the conversation at the famous Round Table thus:
"Many of the terms used in the most matter-of-fact way by this great
assemblage of the first ladies and gentlemen of the land would have made
a Comanche blush. Indelicacy is too mild a term to convey the idea.
However, I had read Tom Jones and Roderick Random and other books of that
kind and knew that the highest and first ladies and gentlemen in England
had remained little or no cleaner in their talk, and in the morals and
conduct which such talk implies, clear up to one hundred years ago; in
fact clear into our own nineteenth century--in which century, broadly
speaking, the earliest samples of the real lady and the real gentleman
discoverable in English history,--or in European history, for that
matter--may be said to have made their appearance. Suppose Sir Walter
[Scott] instead of putting the conversation into the mouths of his
characters, had allowed the characters to speak for themselves? We
should have had talk from Rebecca and Ivanhoe and the soft lady Rowena
which would embarrass a tramp in our day. However, to the unconsciously
indelicate all things are delicate."
Mark Twain's interest in history and in the depiction of historical
periods and characters is revealed through his fondness for historical
reading in preference to fiction, and through his other historical
writings. Even in the hilarious, youthful days in San Francisco, Paine
reports that "Clemens, however, was never quite ready for sleep. Then,
as ever, he would prop himself up in bed, light his pipe, and lose
himself in English or French history until his sleep conquered." Paine
tells us, too, that Lecky's 'European Morals' was an old favorite.
The notes to 'The Prince and the Pauper' show again how carefully Clemens
examined his historical background, and his interest in these materials.
Some of the more important sources are noted: Hume's 'History of
England', Timbs' 'Curiosities of London', J. Hammond Trumbull's 'Blue
Laws, True and False'. Apparently Mark Twain relished it, for as Bernard
DeVoto points out, "The book is always Mark Twain. Its parodies of Tudor
speech lapse sometimes into a callow satisfaction in that idiom--Mark
hugely enjoys his nathlesses and beshrews and marrys." The writing of
1601 foreshadows his fondness for this treatment.
"Do you suppose the liberties and the Brawn of These States have to
do only with delicate lady-words? with gloved gentleman words"
Walt Whitman, 'An American Primer'.
Although 1601 was not matched by any similar sketch in his published
works, it was representative of Mark Twain the man. He was no emaciated
literary tea-tosser. Bronzed and weatherbeaten son of the West, Mark was
a man's man, and that significant fact is emphasized by the several
phases of Mark's rich life as steamboat pilot, printer, miner, and
On the Virginia City Enterprise Mark learned from editor R. M. Daggett
that "when it was necessary to call a man names, there were no expletives
too long or too expressive to be hurled in rapid succession to emphasize
the utter want of character of the man assailed.... There were
typesetters there who could hurl anathemas at bad copy which would have
frightened a Bengal tiger. The news editor could damn a mutilated
dispatch in twenty-four languages."
In San Francisco in the sizzling sixties we catch a glimpse of Mark Twain
and his buddy, Steve Gillis, pausing in doorways to sing "The Doleful
Ballad of the Neglected Lover," an old piece of uncollected erotica.
One morning, when a dog began to howl, Steve awoke "to find his room-mate
standing in the door that opened out into a back garden, holding a big
revolver, his hand shaking with cold and excitement," relates Paine in
"'Come here, Steve,' he said. 'I'm so chilled through I can't get a bead
"'Sam,' said Steve, 'don't shoot him. Just swear at him. You can easily
kill him at any range with your profanity.'
"Steve Gillis declares that Mark Twain let go such a scorching, singeing
blast that the brute's owner sold him the next day for a Mexican hairless
Nor did Mark's "geysers of profanity" cease spouting after these gay and
youthful days in San Francisco. With Clemens it may truly be said that
profanity was an art--a pyrotechnic art that entertained nations.
"It was my duty to keep buttons on his shirts," recalled Katy Leary,
life-long housekeeper and friend in the Clemens menage, "and he'd swear
something terrible if I didn't. If he found a shirt in his drawer
without a button on, he'd take every single shirt out of that drawer and
throw them right out of the window, rain or shine--out of the bathroom
window they'd go. I used to look out every morning to see the
snowflakes--anything white. Out they'd fly.... Oh! he'd swear at
anything when he was on a rampage. He'd swear at his razor if it didn't
cut right, and Mrs. Clemens used to send me around to the bathroom door
sometimes to knock and ask him what was the matter. Well, I'd go and
knock; I'd say, 'Mrs. Clemens wants to know what's the matter.' And
then he'd say to me (kind of low) in a whisper like, 'Did she hear me
Katy?' 'Yes,' I'd say, 'every word.' Oh, well, he was ashamed then, he
was afraid of getting scolded for swearing like that, because Mrs.
Clemens hated swearing." But his swearing never seemed really bad to
Katy Leary, "It was sort of funny, and a part of him, somehow," she said.
"Sort of amusing it was--and gay--not like real swearing, 'cause he swore
like an angel."
In his later years at Stormfield Mark loved to play his favorite
billiards. "It was sometimes a wonderful and fearsome thing to watch Mr.
Clemens play billiards," relates Elizabeth Wallace. "He loved the game,
and he loved to win, but he occasionally made a very bad stroke, and then
the varied, picturesque, and unorthodox vocabulary, acquired in his more
youthful years, was the only thing that gave him comfort. Gently,
slowly, with no profane inflexions of voice, but irresistibly as though
they had the headwaters of the Mississippi for their source, came this
stream of unholy adjectives and choice expletives."
Mark's vocabulary ran the whole gamut of life itself. In Paris, in his
appearance in 1879 before the Stomach Club, a jolly lot of gay wags,
Mark's address, reports Paine, "obtained a wide celebrity among the clubs
of the world, though no line of it, not even its title, has ever found
its way into published literature." It is rumored to have been called
"Some Remarks on the Science of Onanism."
In Berlin, Mark asked Henry W. Fisher to accompany him on an exploration
of the Berlin Royal Library, where the librarian, having learned that
Clemens had been the Kaiser's guest at dinner, opened the secret treasure
chests for the famous visitor. One of these guarded treasures was a
volume of grossly indecent verses by Voltaire, addressed to Frederick the
Great. "Too much is enough," Mark is reported to have said, when Fisher
translated some of the verses, "I would blush to remember any of these
stanzas except to tell Krafft-Ebing about them when I get to Vienna."
When Fisher had finished copying a verse for him Mark put it into his
pocket, saying, "Livy [Mark's wife, Olivia] is so busy mispronouncing
German these days she can't even attempt to get at this."
In his letters, too, Howells observed, "He had the Southwestern, the
Lincolnian, the Elizabethan breadth of parlance, which I suppose one
ought not to call coarse without calling one's self prudish; and I was
often hiding away in discreet holes and corners the letters in which he
had loosed his bold fancy to stoop on rank suggestion; I could not bear
to burn them, and I could not, after the first reading, quite bear to
look at them. I shall best give my feeling on this point by saying that
in it he was Shakespearean."
"With a nigger squat on her safety-valve"
John Hay, Pike County Ballads.
"Is there any other explanation," asks Van Wyck Brooks, "'of his
Elizabethan breadth of parlance?' Mr. Howells confesses that he
sometimes blushed over Mark Twain's letters, that there were some which,
to the very day when he wrote his eulogy on his dead friend, he could not
bear to reread. Perhaps if he had not so insisted, in former years,
while going over Mark Twain's proofs, upon 'having that swearing out in
an instant,' he would never had had cause to suffer from his having
'loosed his bold fancy to stoop on rank suggestion.' Mark Twain's verbal
Rabelaisianism was obviously the expression of that vital sap which, not
having been permitted to inform his work, had been driven inward and left
thereto ferment. No wonder he was always indulging in orgies of
forbidden words. Consider the famous book, 1601, that fireside
conversation in the time of Queen Elizabeth: is there any obsolete verbal
indecency in the English language that Mark Twain has not painstakingly
resurrected and assembled there? He, whose blood was in constant ferment
and who could not contain within the narrow bonds that had been set for
him the roitous exuberance of his nature, had to have an escape-valve,
and he poured through it a fetid stream of meaningless obscenity--the
waste of a priceless psychic material!" Thus, Brooks lumps 1601 with
Mark Twain's "bawdry," and interprets it simply as another indication of
FIGS FOR FIG LEAVES!
Of course, the writing of such a piece as 1601 raised the question of
freedom of expression for the creative artist.
Although little discussed at that time, it was a question which intensely
interested Mark, and for a fuller appreciation of Mark's position one
must keep in mind the year in which 1601 was written, 1876. There had
been nothing like it before in American literature; there had appeared no
Caldwells, no Faulkners, no Hemingways. Victorian England was gushing
Tennyson. In the United States polite letters was a cult of the Brahmins
of Boston, with William Dean Howells at the helm of the Atlantic. Louisa
May Alcott published Little Women in 1868-69, and Little Men in 1871. In
1873 Mark Twain led the van of the debunkers, scraping the gilt off the
lily in the Gilded Age.
In 1880 Mark took a few pot shots at license in Art and Literature in his
Tramp Abroad, "I wonder why some things are? For instance, Art is
allowed as much indecent license to-day as in earlier times--but the
privileges of Literature in this respect have been sharply curtailed
within the past eighty or ninety years. Fielding and Smollet could
portray the beastliness of their day in the beastliest language; we have
plenty of foul subjects to deal with in our day, but we are not allowed
to approach them very near, even with nice and guarded forms of speech.
But not so with Art. The brush may still deal freely with any subject;
however revolting or indelicate. It makes a body ooze sarcasm at every
pore, to go about Rome and Florence and see what this last generation has
been doing with the statues. These works, which had stood in innocent
nakedness for ages, are all fig-leaved now. Yes, every one of them.
Nobody noticed their nakedness before, perhaps; nobody can help noticing
it now, the fig-leaf makes it so conspicuous. But the comical thing
about it all, is, that the fig-leaf is confined to cold and pallid
marble, which would be still cold and unsuggestive without this sham and
ostentatious symbol of modesty, whereas warm-blooded paintings which do
really need it have in no case been furnished with it.
"At the door of the Ufizzi, in Florence, one is confronted by statues of
a man and a woman, noseless, battered, black with accumulated grime--they
hardly suggest human beings--yet these ridiculous creatures have been
thoughtfully and conscientiously fig-leaved by this fastidious
generation. You enter, and proceed to that most-visited little gallery
that exists in the world.... and there, against the wall, without
obstructing rag or leaf, you may look your fill upon the foulest, the
vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses--Titian's Venus. It
isn't that she is naked and stretched out on a bed--no, it is the
attitude of one of her arms and hand. If I ventured to describe the
attitude, there would be a fine howl--but there the Venus lies, for
anybody to gloat over that wants to--and there she has a right to lie,
for she is a work of art, and Art has its privileges. I saw young girls
stealing furtive glances at her; I saw young men gaze long and absorbedly
at her; I saw aged, infirm men hang upon her charms with a pathetic
interest. How I should like to describe her--just to see what a holy
indignation I could stir up in the world--just to hear the unreflecting
average man deliver himself about my grossness and coarseness, and all
"In every gallery in Europe there are hideous pictures of blood, carnage,
oozing brains, putrefaction--pictures portraying intolerable suffering
--pictures alive with every conceivable horror, wrought out in dreadful
detail--and similar pictures are being put on the canvas every day and
publicly exhibited--without a growl from anybody--for they are innocent,
they are inoffensive, being works of art. But suppose a literary artist
ventured to go into a painstaking and elaborate description of one of
these grisly things--the critics would skin him alive. Well, let it go,
it cannot be helped; Art retains her privileges, Literature has lost
hers. Somebody else may cipher out the whys and the wherefores and the
consistencies of it--I haven't got time."
PROFESSOR SCENTS PORNOGRAPHY
Unfortunately, 1601 has recently been tagged by Professor Edward
Wagenknecht as "the most famous piece of pornography in American
literature." Like many another uninformed, Prof. W. is like the little
boy who is shocked to see "naughty" words chalked on the back fence,
and thinks they are pornography. The initiated, after years of wading
through the mire, will recognize instantly the significant difference
between filthy filth and funny "filth." Dirt for dirt's sake is
something else again. Pornography, an eminent American jurist has
pointed out, is distinguished by the "leer of the sensualist."
"The words which are criticised as dirty," observed justice John M.
Woolsey in the United States District Court of New York, lifting the ban
on Ulysses by James Joyce, "are old Saxon words known to almost all men
and, I venture, to many women, and are such words as would be naturally
and habitually used, I believe, by the types of folk whose life, physical
and mental, Joyce is seeking to describe." Neither was there
"pornographic intent," according to justice Woolsey, nor was Ulysses
obscene within the legal definition of that word.
"The meaning of the word 'obscene,'" the Justice indicated, "as legally
defined by the courts is: tending to stir the sex impulses or to lead to
sexually impure and lustful thoughts.
"Whether a particular book would tend to excite such impulses and
thoughts must be tested by the court's opinion as to its effect on a
person with average sex instincts--what the French would call 'l'homme
moyen sensuel'--who plays, in this branch of legal inquiry, the same role
of hypothetical reagent as does the 'reasonable man' in the law of torts
and 'the learned man in the art' on questions of invention in patent
Obviously, it is ridiculous to say that the "leer of the sensualist"
lurks in the pages of Mark Twain's 1601.
"In a way," observed William Marion Reedy, "1601 is to Twain's whole
works what the 'Droll Stories' are to Balzac's. It is better than the
privately circulated ribaldry and vulgarity of Eugene Field; is, indeed,
an essay in a sort of primordial humor such as we find in Rabelais, or in
the plays of some of the lesser stars that drew their light from
Shakespeare's urn. It is humor or fun such as one expects, let us say,
from the peasants of Thomas Hardy, outside of Hardy's books. And, though
it be filthy, it yet hath a splendor of mere animalism of good spirits...
I would say it is scatalogical rather than erotic, save for one touch
toward the end. Indeed, it seems more of Rabelais than of Boccaccio or
Masuccio or Aretino--is brutally British rather than lasciviously
latinate, as to the subjects, but sumptuous as regards the language."
Immediately upon first reading, John Hay, later Secretary of State, had
proclaimed 1601 a masterpiece. Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain's
biographer, likewise acknowledged its greatness, when he said, "1601 is a
genuine classic, as classics of that sort go. It is better than the
gross obscenities of Rabelais, and perhaps in some day to come, the taste
that justified Gargantua and the Decameron will give this literary
refugee shelter and setting among the more conventional writing of Mark
Twain. Human taste is a curious thing; delicacy is purely a matter of
environment and point of view."
"It depends on who writes a thing whether it is coarse or not," wrote
Clemens in his notebook in 1879. "I built a conversation which could
have happened--I used words such as were used at that time--1601. I sent
it anonymously to a magazine, and how the editor abused it and the
But that man was a praiser of Rabelais and had been saying, 'O that we
had a Rabelais!' I judged that I could furnish him one.
"Then I took it to one of the greatest, best and most learned of Divines
[Rev. Joseph H. Twichell] and read it to him. He came within an ace of
killing himself with laughter (for between you and me the thing was
dreadfully funny. I don't often write anything that I laugh at myself,
but I can hardly think of that thing without laughing). That old Divine
said it was a piece of the finest kind of literary art--and David Gray of
the Buffalo Courier said it ought to be printed privately and left behind
me when I died, and then my fame as a literary artist would last."
FRANKLIN J. MEINE
THE FIRST PRINTING
CONVERSATION, AS IT WAS BY THE SOCIAL FIRESIDE, IN THE TIME OF THE
[Mem.--The following is supposed to be an extract from the diary of the
Pepys of that day, the same being Queen Elizabeth's cup-bearer. He is
supposed to be of ancient and noble lineage; that he despises these
literary canaille; that his soul consumes with wrath, to see the queen
stooping to talk with such; and that the old man feels that his nobility
is defiled by contact with Shakespeare, etc., and yet he has got to stay
there till her Majesty chooses to dismiss him.]
toke her maiste ye queene a fantasie such as she sometimes hath, and had
to her closet certain that doe write playes, bokes, and such like, these
being my lord Bacon, his worship Sir Walter Ralegh, Mr. Ben Jonson, and
ye child Francis Beaumonte, which being but sixteen, hath yet turned his
hand to ye doing of ye Lattin masters into our Englishe tong, with grete
discretion and much applaus. Also came with these ye famous Shaxpur. A
righte straunge mixing truly of mighty blode with mean, ye more in
especial since ye queenes grace was present, as likewise these following,
to wit: Ye Duchess of Bilgewater, twenty-two yeres of age; ye Countesse
of Granby, twenty-six; her doter, ye Lady Helen, fifteen; as also these
two maides of honor, to-wit, ye Lady Margery Boothy, sixty-five, and ye
Lady Alice Dilberry, turned seventy, she being two yeres ye queenes
I being her maites cup-bearer, had no choice but to remaine and beholde
rank forgot, and ye high holde converse wh ye low as uppon equal termes,
a grete scandal did ye world heare thereof.
In ye heat of ye talk it befel yt one did breake wind, yielding an
exceding mightie and distresfull stink, whereat all did laugh full sore,
Ye Queene.--Verily in mine eight and sixty yeres have I not heard the
fellow to this fart. Meseemeth, by ye grete sound and clamour of it, it
was male; yet ye belly it did lurk behinde shoulde now fall lean and flat
against ye spine of him yt hath bene delivered of so stately and so waste
a bulk, where as ye guts of them yt doe quiff-splitters bear, stand
comely still and rounde. Prithee let ye author confess ye offspring.
Will my Lady Alice testify?
Lady Alice.--Good your grace, an' I had room for such a thundergust
within mine ancient bowels, 'tis not in reason I coulde discharge ye same
and live to thank God for yt He did choose handmaid so humble whereby to
shew his power. Nay, 'tis not I yt have broughte forth this rich
o'ermastering fog, this fragrant gloom, so pray you seeke ye further.
Ye Queene.--Mayhap ye Lady Margery hath done ye companie this favor?
Lady Margery.--So please you madam, my limbs are feeble wh ye weighte and
drouth of five and sixty winters, and it behoveth yt I be tender unto
them. In ye good providence of God, an' I had contained this wonder,
forsoothe wolde I have gi'en 'ye whole evening of my sinking life to ye
dribbling of it forth, with trembling and uneasy soul, not launched it
sudden in its matchless might, taking mine own life with violence,
rending my weak frame like rotten rags. It was not I, your maisty.
Ye Queene.--O' God's name, who hath favored us? Hath it come to pass yt
a fart shall fart itself? Not such a one as this, I trow. Young Master
Beaumont--but no; 'twould have wafted him to heaven like down of goose's
boddy. 'Twas not ye little Lady Helen--nay, ne'er blush, my child;
thoul't tickle thy tender maidenhedde with many a mousie-squeak before
thou learnest to blow a harricane like this. Wasn't you, my learned and
Jonson.--So fell a blast hath ne'er mine ears saluted, nor yet a stench
so all-pervading and immortal. 'Twas not a novice did it, good your
maisty, but one of veteran experience--else hadde he failed of
confidence. In sooth it was not I.
Ye Queene.--My lord Bacon?
Lord Bacon.-Not from my leane entrailes hath this prodigy burst forth, so
please your grace. Naught doth so befit ye grete as grete performance;
and haply shall ye finde yt 'tis not from mediocrity this miracle hath
[Tho' ye subjoct be but a fart, yet will this tedious sink of learning
pondrously phillosophize. Meantime did the foul and deadly stink pervade
all places to that degree, yt never smelt I ye like, yet dare I not to
leave ye presence, albeit I was like to suffocate.]
Ye Queene.--What saith ye worshipful Master Shaxpur?
Shaxpur.--In the great hand of God I stand and so proclaim mine
innocence. Though ye sinless hosts of heaven had foretold ye coming of
this most desolating breath, proclaiming it a work of uninspired man, its
quaking thunders, its firmament-clogging rottenness his own achievement
in due course of nature, yet had not I believed it; but had said the pit
itself hath furnished forth the stink, and heaven's artillery hath shook
the globe in admiration of it.
[Then was there a silence, and each did turn him toward the worshipful
Sr Walter Ralegh, that browned, embattled, bloody swashbuckler, who
rising up did smile, and simpering say,]
Sr W.--Most gracious maisty, 'twas I that did it, but indeed it was so
poor and frail a note, compared with such as I am wont to furnish, yt in
sooth I was ashamed to call the weakling mine in so august a presence.
It was nothing--less than nothing, madam--I did it but to clear my nether
throat; but had I come prepared, then had I delivered something worthy.
Bear with me, please your grace, till I can make amends.
[Then delivered he himself of such a godless and rock-shivering blast
that all were fain to stop their ears, and following it did come so dense
and foul a stink that that which went before did seem a poor and trifling
thing beside it. Then saith he, feigning that he blushed and was
confused, I perceive that I am weak to-day, and cannot justice do unto my
powers; and sat him down as who should say, There, it is not much yet he
that hath an arse to spare, let him fellow that, an' he think he can. By
God, an' I were ye queene, I would e'en tip this swaggering braggart out
o' the court, and let him air his grandeurs and break his intolerable
wind before ye deaf and such as suffocation pleaseth.]
Then fell they to talk about ye manners and customs of many peoples, and
Master Shaxpur spake of ye boke of ye sieur Michael de Montaine, wherein
was mention of ye custom of widows of Perigord to wear uppon ye
headdress, in sign of widowhood, a jewel in ye similitude of a man's
member wilted and limber, whereat ye queene did laugh and say widows in
England doe wear prickes too, but betwixt the thighs, and not wilted
neither, till coition hath done that office for them. Master Shaxpur did
likewise observe how yt ye sieur de Montaine hath also spoken of a
certain emperor of such mighty prowess that he did take ten maidenheddes
in ye compass of a single night, ye while his empress did entertain two
and twenty lusty knights between her sheetes, yet was not satisfied;
whereat ye merrie Countess Granby saith a ram is yet ye emperor's
superior, sith he wil tup above a hundred yewes 'twixt sun and sun; and
after, if he can have none more to shag, will masturbate until he hath
enrich'd whole acres with his seed.
Then spake ye damned windmill, Sr Walter, of a people in ye uttermost
parts of America, yt capulate not until they be five and thirty yeres of
age, ye women being eight and twenty, and do it then but once in seven
Ye Queene.--How doth that like my little Lady Helen? Shall we send thee
thither and preserve thy belly?
Lady Helen.--Please your highnesses grace, mine old nurse hath told me
there are more ways of serving God than by locking the thighs together;
yet am I willing to serve him yt way too, sith your highnesses grace hath
set ye ensample.
Ye Queene.--God' wowndes a good answer, childe.
Lady Alice.--Mayhap 'twill weaken when ye hair sprouts below ye navel.
Lady Helen.--Nay, it sprouted two yeres syne; I can scarce more than
cover it with my hand now.
Ye Queene.--Hear Ye that, my little Beaumonte? Have ye not a little
birde about ye that stirs at hearing tell of so sweete a neste?
Beaumonte.--'Tis not insensible, illustrious madam; but mousing owls and
bats of low degree may not aspire to bliss so whelming and ecstatic as is
found in ye downy nests of birdes of Paradise.
Ye Queene.--By ye gullet of God, 'tis a neat-turned compliment. With
such a tongue as thine, lad, thou'lt spread the ivory thighs of many a
willing maide in thy good time, an' thy cod-piece be as handy as thy
Then spake ye queene of how she met old Rabelais when she was turned of
fifteen, and he did tell her of a man his father knew that had a double
pair of bollocks, whereon a controversy followed as concerning the most
just way to spell the word, ye contention running high betwixt ye learned
Bacon and ye ingenious Jonson, until at last ye old Lady Margery,
wearying of it all, saith, 'Gentles, what mattereth it how ye shall spell
the word? I warrant Ye when ye use your bollocks ye shall not think of
it; and my Lady Granby, be ye content; let the spelling be, ye shall
enjoy the beating of them on your buttocks just the same, I trow. Before
I had gained my fourteenth year I had learnt that them that would explore
a cunt stop'd not to consider the spelling o't.'
Sr W.--In sooth, when a shift's turned up, delay is meet for naught but
dalliance. Boccaccio hath a story of a priest that did beguile a maid
into his cell, then knelt him in a corner to pray for grace to be rightly
thankful for this tender maidenhead ye Lord had sent him; but ye abbot,
spying through ye key-hole, did see a tuft of brownish hair with fair
white flesh about it, wherefore when ye priest's prayer was done, his
chance was gone, forasmuch as ye little maid had but ye one cunt, and
that was already occupied to her content.
Then conversed they of religion, and ye mightie work ye old dead Luther
did doe by ye grace of God. Then next about poetry, and Master Shaxpur
did rede a part of his King Henry IV., ye which, it seemeth unto me,
is not of ye value of an arsefull of ashes, yet they praised it bravely,
one and all.
Ye same did rede a portion of his "Venus and Adonis," to their prodigious
admiration, whereas I, being sleepy and fatigued withal, did deme it but
paltry stuff, and was the more discomforted in that ye blody bucanier had
got his wind again, and did turn his mind to farting with such villain
zeal that presently I was like to choke once more. God damn this windy
ruffian and all his breed. I wolde that hell mighte get him.
They talked about ye wonderful defense which old Sr. Nicholas Throgmorton
did make for himself before ye judges in ye time of Mary; which was
unlucky matter to broach, sith it fetched out ye quene with a 'Pity yt
he, having so much wit, had yet not enough to save his doter's
maidenhedde sound for her marriage-bed.' And ye quene did give ye damn'd
Sr. Walter a look yt made hym wince--for she hath not forgot he was her
own lover it yt olde day. There was silent uncomfortableness now; 'twas
not a good turn for talk to take, sith if ye queene must find offense in
a little harmless debauching, when pricks were stiff and cunts not loathe
to take ye stiffness out of them, who of this company was sinless;
behold, was not ye wife of Master Shaxpur four months gone with child
when she stood uppe before ye altar? Was not her Grace of Bilgewater
roger'd by four lords before she had a husband? Was not ye little Lady
Helen born on her mother's wedding-day? And, beholde, were not ye Lady
Alice and ye Lady Margery there, mouthing religion, whores from ye
In time came they to discourse of Cervantes, and of the new painter,
Rubens, that is beginning to be heard of. Fine words and dainty-wrought
phrases from the ladies now, one or two of them being, in other days,
pupils of that poor ass, Lille, himself; and I marked how that Jonson and
Shaxpur did fidget to discharge some venom of sarcasm, yet dared they not
in the presence, the queene's grace being ye very flower of ye Euphuists
herself. But behold, these be they yt, having a specialty, and admiring
it in themselves, be jealous when a neighbor doth essaye it, nor can
abide it in them long. Wherefore 'twas observable yt ye quene waxed
uncontent; and in time labor'd grandiose speeche out of ye mouth of Lady
Alice, who manifestly did mightily pride herself thereon, did quite
exhauste ye quene's endurance, who listened till ye gaudy speeche was
done, then lifted up her brows, and with vaste irony, mincing saith 'O
shit!' Whereat they alle did laffe, but not ye Lady Alice, yt olde
Now was Sr. Walter minded of a tale he once did hear ye ingenious
Margrette of Navarre relate, about a maid, which being like to suffer
rape by an olde archbishoppe, did smartly contrive a device to save her
maidenhedde, and said to him, First, my lord, I prithee, take out thy
holy tool and piss before me; which doing, lo his member felle, and would
not rise again.
The historical consistency of 1601 indicates that Twain must have given
the subject considerable thought. The author was careful to speak only
of men who conceivably might have been in the Virgin Queen's closet and
engaged in discourse with her.
At this time (1601) Queen Elizabeth was 68 years old. She speaks of
having talked to "old Rabelais" in her youth. This might have been
possible as Rabelais died in 1552, when the Queen was 19 years old.
Among those in the party were Shakespeare, at that time 37 years old; Ben
Jonson, 27; and Sir Walter Raleigh, 49. Beaumont at the time was 17, not
16. He was admitted as a member of the Inner Temple in 1600, and his
first translations, those from Ovid, were first published in 1602.
Therefore, if one were holding strictly to the year date, neither by age
nor by fame would Beaumont have been eligible to attend such a gathering
of august personages in the year 1601; but the point is unimportant.
THE ELIZABETHAN WRITERS
In the Conversation Shakespeare speaks of Montaigne's Essays. These were
first published in 1580 and successive editions were issued in the years
following, the third volume being published in 1588. "In England
Montaigne was early popular. It was long supposed that the autograph of
Shakespeare in a copy of Florio's translation showed his study of the
Essays. The autograph has been disputed, but divers passages, and
especially one in The Tempest, show that at first or second hand the poet
was acquainted with the essayist." (Encyclopedia Brittanica.)
The company at the Queen's fireside discoursed of Lilly (or Lyly),
English dramatist and novelist of the Elizabethan era, whose novel,
Euphues, published in two parts, 'Euphues', or the 'Anatomy of Wit'
(1579) and 'Euphues and His England' (1580) was a literary sensation.
It is said to have influenced literary style for more than a quarter of a
century, and traces of its influence are found in Shakespeare. (Columbia
The introduction of Ben Jonson into the party was wholly appropriate,
if one may call to witness some of Jonson's writings. The subject under
discussion was one that Jonson was acquainted with, in The Alchemist:
Act. I, Scene I,
FACE: Believe't I will.
SUBTLE: Thy worst. I fart at thee.
DOL COMMON: Have you your wits? Why, gentlemen, for love----
Act. 2, Scene I,
SIR EPICURE MAMMON: ....and then my poets, the same that writ so subtly
of the fart, whom I shall entertain still for that subject and again in
NIGHTENGALE: (sings a ballad)
Hear for your love, and buy for your money.
A delicate ballad o' the ferret and the coney.
A preservative again' the punk's evil.
Another goose-green starch, and the devil.
A dozen of divine points, and the godly garter
The fairing of good counsel, of an ell and three-quarters.
What is't you buy?
The windmill blown down by the witche's fart,
Or Saint George, that, O! did break the dragon's heart.
GOOD OLD ENGLISH CUSTOM
That certain types of English society have not changed materially in
their freedom toward breaking wind in public can be noticed in some
comparatively recent literature. Frank Harris in My Life, Vol. 2,
Ch. XIII, tells of Lady Marriott, wife of a judge Advocate General,
being compelled to leave her own table, at which she was entertaining Sir
Robert Fowler, then the Lord Mayor of London, because of the suffocating
and nauseating odors there. He also tells of an instance in parliament,
and of a rather brilliant bon mot spoken upon that occasion.
"While Fowler was speaking Finch-Hatton had shewn signs of restlessness;
towards the end of the speech he had moved some three yards away from the
Baronet. As soon as Fowler sat down Finch-Hatton sprang up holding his
handkerchief to his nose:
"'Mr. Speaker,' he began, and was at once acknowledged by the Speaker,
for it was a maiden speech, and as such was entitled to precedence by the
courteous custom of the House, 'I know why the Right Honourable Member
from the City did not conclude his speech with a proposal. The only way
to conclude such a speech appropriately would be with a motion!'"
But society had apparently degenerated sadly in modern times, and even in
the era of Elizabeth, for at an earlier date it was a serious--nay,
capital--offense to break wind in the presence of majesty. The Emperor
Claudius, hearing that one who had suppressed the urge while paying him
court had suffered greatly thereby, "intended to issue an edict, allowing
to all people the liberty of giving vent at table to any distension
occasioned by flatulence:"
Martial, too (Book XII, Epigram LXXVII), tells of the embarrassment of
one who broke wind while praying in the Capitol,
"One day, while standing upright, addressing his prayers to Jupiter,
Aethon farted in the Capitol. Men laughed, but the Father of the Gods,
offended, condemned the guilty one to dine at home for three nights.
Since that time, miserable Aethon, when he wishes to enter the Capitol,
goes first to Paterclius' privies and farts ten or twenty times. Yet, in
spite of this precautionary crepitation, he salutes Jove with constricted
buttocks." Martial also (Book IV, Epigram LXXX), ridicules a woman who
was subject to the habit, saying,
"Your Bassa, Fabullus, has always a child at her side, calling it her
darling and her plaything; and yet--more wonder--she does not care for
children. What is the reason then. Bassa is apt to fart. (For which
she could blame the unsuspecting infant.)"
The tale is told, too, of a certain woman who performed an aeolian
crepitation at a dinner attended by the witty Monsignieur Dupanloup,
Bishop of Orleans, and that when, to cover up her lapse, she began to
scrape her feet upon the floor, and to make similar noises, the Bishop
said, "Do not trouble to find a rhyme, Madam!"
Nay, worthier names than those of any yet mentioned have discussed the
matter. Herodotus tells of one such which was the precursor to the fall
of an empire and a change of dynasty--that which Amasis discharges while
on horseback, and bids the envoy of Apries, King of Egypt, catch and
deliver to his royal master. Even the exact manner and posture of
Amasis, author of this insult, is described.
St. Augustine (The City of God, XIV:24) cites the instance of a man who
could command his rear trumpet to sound at will, which his learned
commentator fortifies with the example of one who could do so in tune!
Benjamin Franklin, in his "Letter to the Royal Academy of Brussels" has
canvassed suggested remedies for alleviating the stench attendant upon
"My Prize Question therefore should be: To discover some Drug, wholesome
and--not disagreeable, to be mixed with our common food, or sauces, that
shall render the natural discharges of Wind from our Bodies not only
inoffensive, but agreeable as Perfumes.
"That this is not a Chimerical Project & altogether impossible, may
appear from these considerations. That we already have some knowledge of
means capable of varying that smell. He that dines on stale Flesh,
especially with much Addition of Onions, shall be able to afford a stink
that no Company can tolerate; while he that has lived for some time on
Vegetables only, shall have that Breath so pure as to be insensible of
the most delicate Noses; and if he can manage so as to avoid the Report,
he may anywhere give vent to his Griefs, unnoticed. But as there are
many to whom an entire Vegetable Diet would be inconvenient, & as a
little quick Lime thrown into a Jakes will correct the amazing Quantity
of fetid Air arising from the vast Mass of putrid Matter contained in
such Places, and render it pleasing to the Smell, who knows but that a
little Powder of Lime (or some other equivalent) taken in our Food, or
perhaps a Glass of Lime Water drank at Dinner, may have the same Effect
on the Air produced in and issuing from our Bowels?"
One curious commentary on the text is that Elizabeth should be so fond of
investigating into the authorship of the exhalation in question, when she
was inordinately fond of strong and sweet perfumes; in fact, she was
responsible for the tremendous increase in importations of scents into
England during her reign.
"YE BOKE OF YE SIEUR MICHAEL DE MONTAINE"
There is a curious admixture of error and misunderstanding in this part
of the sketch. In the first place, the story is borrowed from Montaigne,
where it is told inaccurately, and then further corrupted in the telling.
It was not the good widows of Perigord who wore the phallus upon their
coifs; it was the young married women, of the district near Montaigne's
home, who paraded it to view upon their foreheads, as a symbol, says our
essayist, "of the joy they derived therefrom." If they became widows,
they reversed its position, and covered it up with the rest of their
The "emperor" mentioned was not an emperor; he was Procolus, a native of
Albengue, on the Genoese coast, who, with Bonosus, led the unsuccessful
rebellion in Gaul against Emperor Probus. Even so keen a commentator as
Cotton has failed to note the error.
The empress (Montaigne does not say "his empress") was Messalina, third
wife of the Emperor Claudius, who was uncle of Caligula and foster-father
to Nero. Furthermore, in her case the charge is that she copulated with
twenty-five in a single night, and not twenty-two, as appears in the
text. Montaigne is right in his statistics, if original sources are
correct, whereas the author erred in transcribing the incident.
As for Proculus, it has been noted that he was associated with Bonosus,
who was as renowned in the field of Bacchus as was Proculus in that of
Venus (Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire). The feat of
Proculus is told in his own words, in Vopiscus, (Hist. Augustine, p. 246)
where he recounts having captured one hundred Sarmatian virgins, and
unmaidened ten of them in one night, together with the happenings
Concerning Messalina, there appears to be no question but that she was a
nymphomaniac, and that, while Empress of Rome, she participated in some
fearful debaucheries. The question is what to believe, for much that we
have heard about her is almost certainly apocryphal.
The author from whom Montaigne took his facts is the elder Pliny, who,
in his Natural History, Book X, Chapter 83, says, "Other animals become
sated with veneral pleasures; man hardly knows any satiety. Messalina,
the wife of Claudius Caesar, thinking this a palm quite worthy of an
empress, selected for the purpose of deciding the question, one of the
most notorious women who followed the profession of a hired prostitute;
and the empress outdid her, after continuous intercourse, night and day,
at the twenty-fifth embrace."
But Pliny, notwithstanding his great attainments, was often a retailer of
stale gossip, and in like case was Aurelius Victor, another writer who
heaped much odium on her name. Again, there is a great hiatus in the
Annals of Tacitus, a true historian, at the period covering the earlier
days of the Empress; while Suetonius, bitter as he may be, is little more
than an anecdotist. Juvenal, another of her detractors, is a prejudiced
witness, for he started out to satirize female vice, and naturally aimed
at high places. Dio also tells of Messalina's misdeeds, but his work is
under the same limitations as that of Suetonius. Furthermore, none but
Pliny mentions the excess under consideration.
However, "where there is much smoke there must be a little fire," and
based upon the superimposed testimony of the writers of the period, there
appears little doubt but that Messalina was a nymphomaniac, that she
prostituted herself in the public stews, naked, and with gilded nipples,
and that she did actually marry her chief adulterer, Silius, while
Claudius was absent at Ostia, and that the wedding was consummated in the
presence of a concourse of witnesses. This was "the straw that broke the
camel's back." Claudius hastened back to Rome, Silius was dispatched,
and Messalina, lacking the will-power to destroy herself, was killed when
an officer ran a sword through her abdomen, just as it appeared that
Claudius was about to relent.
"THEN SPAKE YE DAMNED WINDMILL, SIR WALTER"
Raleigh is thoroughly in character here; this observation is quite in
keeping with the general veracity of his account of his travels in
Guiana, one of the most mendacious accounts of adventure ever told.
Naturally, the scholarly researches of Westermarck have failed to
discover this people; perhaps Lady Helen might best be protected among
the Jibaros of Ecuador, where the men marry when approaching forty.
Ben Jonson in his Conversations observed "That Sr. W. Raughlye esteemed
more of fame than of conscience."
YE VIRGIN QUEENE
Grave historians have debated for centuries the pretensions of Elizabeth
to the title, "The Virgin Queen," and it is utterly impossible to dispose
of the issue in a note. However, the weight of opinion appears to be in
the negative. Many and great were the difficulties attending the
marriage of a Protestant princess in those troublous times, and Elizabeth
finally announced that she would become wedded to the English nation,
and she wore a ring in token thereof until her death. However, more or
less open liaisons with Essex and Leicester, as well as a host of lesser
courtiers, her ardent temperament, and her imperious temper, are
indications that cannot be denied in determining any estimate upon the
point in question.
Ben Jonson in his Conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden
"Queen Elizabeth never saw herself after she became old in a true glass;
they painted her, and sometymes would vermillion her nose. She had
allwayes about Christmass evens set dice that threw sixes or five, and
she knew not they were other, to make her win and esteame herself
fortunate. That she had a membrana on her, which made her uncapable of
man, though for her delight she tried many. At the comming over of
Monsieur, there was a French Chirurgion who took in hand to cut it, yett
fear stayed her, and his death."
It was a subject which again intrigued Clemens when he was abroad with
W. H. Fisher, whom Mark employed to "nose up" everything pertaining to
Queen Elizabeth's manly character.
"'BOCCACCIO HATH A STORY"
The author does not pay any great compliment to Raleigh's memory here.
There is no such tale in all Boccaccio. The nearest related incident
forms the subject matter of Dineo's novel (the fourth) of the First day
of the Decameron.
OLD SR. NICHOLAS THROGMORTON
The incident referred to appears to be Sir Nicholas Throgmorton's trial
for complicity in the attempt to make Lady Jane Grey Queen of England,
a charge of which he was acquitted. This so angered Queen Mary that she
imprisoned him in the Tower, and fined the jurors from one to two
thousand pounds each. Her action terrified succeeding juries, so that
Sir Nicholas's brother was condemned on no stronger evidence than that
which had failed to prevail before. While Sir Nicholas's defense may
have been brilliant, it must be admitted that the evidence was weak.
He was later released from the Tower, and under Elizabeth was one of a
group of commissioners sent by that princess into Scotland, to foment
trouble with Mary, Queen of Scots. When the attempt became known,
Elizabeth repudiated the acts of her agents, but Sir Nicholas, having
anticipated this possibility, had sufficient foresight to secure
endorsement of his plan by the Council, and so outwitted Elizabeth, who
was playing a two-faced role, and Cecil, one of the greatest statesmen
who ever held the post of principal minister. Perhaps it was this
incident to which the company referred, which might in part explain
Elizabeth's rejoinder. However, he had been restored to confidence ere
this, and had served as ambassador to France.
"TO SAVE HIS DOTER'S MAIDENHEDDE"
Elizabeth Throckmorton (or Throgmorton), daughter of Sir Nicholas, was
one of Elizabeth's maids of honor. When it was learned that she had been
debauched by Raleigh, Sir Walter was recalled from his command at sea by
the Queen, and compelled to marry the girl. This was not "in that olde
daie," as the text has it, for it happened only eight years before the
date of this purported "conversation," when Elizabeth was sixty years
The various printings of 1601 reveal how Mark Twain's 'Fireside
Conversation' has become a part of the American printer's lore. But more
important, its many printings indicate that it has become a popular bit
of American folklore, particularly for men and women who have a feeling
for Mark Twain. Apparently it appeals to the typographer, who devotes to
it his worthy art, as well as to the job printer, who may pull a crudely
printed proof. The gay procession of curious printings of 1601 is unique
in the history of American printing.
Indeed, the story of the various printings of 1601 is almost legendary.
In the days of the "jour." printer, so I am told, well-thumbed copies
were carried from print shop to print shop. For more than a quarter
century now it has been one of the chief sources of enjoyment for
printers' devils; and many a young rascal has learned about life from
this Fireside Conversation. It has been printed all over the country,
and if report is to be believed, in foreign countries as well. Because
of the many surreptitious and anonymous printings it is exceedingly
difficult, if not impossible, to compile a complete bibliography. Many
printings lack the name of the publisher, the printer, the place or date
of printing. In many instances some of the data, through the patient
questioning of fellow collectors, has been obtained and supplied.
1. [Date, 1601.] Conversation, as it was by the Social Fireside, in the
Time of the Tudors.
DESCRIPTION: Pamphlet, pp. [ 1 ]-8, without wrappers or cover, measuring
7x8 inches. The title is Set in caps. and small caps.
The excessively rare first printing, printed in Cleveland, 1880, at the
instance of Alexander Gunn, friend of John Hay. Only four copies are
believed to have been printed, of which, it is said now, the only known
copy is located in the Willard S. Morse collection.
2. Date 1601. Conversation, as it was by the Social Fireside, in the
time of the Tudors.
(Mem.--The following is supposed to be an extract from the diary of the
Pepys of that day, the same being cup-bearer to Queen Elizabeth. It is
supposed that he is of ancient and noble lineage; that he despises these
literary canaille; that his soul consumes with wrath to see the Queen
stooping to talk with such; and that the old man feels his nobility
defiled by contact with Shakespeare, etc., and yet he has got to stay
there till Her Majesty chooses to dismiss him.)
DESCRIPTION: Title as above, verso blank; pp. [i]-xi, text; verso p. xi
blank. About 8 x 10 inches, printed on handmade linen paper soaked in
weak coffee, wrappers. The title is set in caps and small caps.
COLOPHON: at the foot of p. xi: Done Att Ye Academie Preffe; M DCCC LXXX