Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 1

Scattered here and there through the stacks of unpublished
manuscript which constitute this formidable Autobiography and Diary
of mine, certain chapters will in some distant future be found
which deal with "Claimants"--claimants historically notorious:
Satan, Claimant; the Golden Calf, Claimant; the Veiled Prophet of
Khorassan, Claimant; Louis XVII., Claimant; William Shakespeare,
Claimant; Arthur Orton, Claimant; Mary Baker G. Eddy, Claimant--and
the rest of them. Eminent Claimants, successful Claimants,
defeated Claimants, royal Claimants, pleb Claimants, showy
Claimants, shabby Claimants, revered Claimants, despised Claimants,
twinkle starlike here and there and yonder through the mists of
history and legend and tradition--and oh, all the darling tribe are
clothed in mystery and romance, and we read about them with deep
interest and discuss them with loving sympathy or with rancorous
resentment, according to which side we hitch ourselves to. It has
always been so with the human race. There was never a Claimant
that couldn't get a hearing, nor one that couldn't accumulate a
rapturous following, no matter how flimsy and apparently
unauthentic his claim might be. Arthur Orton's claim that he was
the lost Tichborne baronet come to life again was as flimsy as Mrs.
Eddy's that she wrote Science and Health from the direct dictation
of the Deity; yet in England near forty years ago Orton had a huge
army of devotees and incorrigible adherents, many of whom remained
stubbornly unconvinced after their fat god had been proven an
impostor and jailed as a perjurer, and to-day Mrs. Eddy's following
is not only immense, but is daily augmenting in numbers and
enthusiasm. Orton had many fine and educated minds among his
adherents, Mrs. Eddy has had the like among hers from the
beginning. Her church is as well equipped in those particulars as
is any other church. Claimants can always count upon a following,
it doesn't matter who they are, nor what they claim, nor whether
they come with documents or without. It was always so. Down out
of the long-vanished past, across the abyss of the ages, if you
listen you can still hear the believing multitudes shouting for
Perkin Warbeck and Lambert Simnel.

A friend has sent me a new book, from England--The Shakespeare
Problem Restated--well restated and closely reasoned; and my fifty
years' interest in that matter--asleep for the last three years--is
excited once more. It is an interest which was born of Delia
Bacon's book--away back in that ancient day--1857, or maybe 1856.
About a year later my pilot-master, Bixby, transferred me from his
own steamboat to the Pennsylvania, and placed me under the orders
and instructions of George Ealer--dead now, these many, many years.
I steered for him a good many months--as was the humble duty of the
pilot-apprentice: stood a daylight watch and spun the wheel under
the severe superintendence and correction of the master. He was a
prime chess player and an idolater of Shakespeare. He would play
chess with anybody; even with me, and it cost his official dignity
something to do that. Also--quite uninvited--he would read
Shakespeare to me; not just casually, but by the hour, when it was
his watch, and I was steering. He read well, but not profitably
for me, because he constantly injected commands into the text.
That broke it all up, mixed it all up, tangled it all up--to that
degree, in fact, that if we were in a risky and difficult piece of
river an ignorant person couldn't have told, sometimes, which
observations were Shakespeare's and which were Ealer's. For

What man dare, _I_ dare!

Approach thou WHAT are you laying in the leads for? what a hell of
an idea! like the rugged ease her off a little, ease her off!
rugged Russian bear, the armed rhinoceros or the THERE she goes!
meet her, meet her! didn't you KNOW she'd smell the reef if you
crowded it like that? Hyrcan tiger; take any shape but that and my
firm nerves she'll be in the WOODS the first you know! stop the
starboard! come ahead strong on the larboard! back the starboard! .
. . NOW then, you're all right; come ahead on the starboard;
straighten up and go 'long, never tremble: or be alive again, and
dare me to the desert damnation can't you keep away from that
greasy water? pull her down! snatch her! snatch her baldheaded!
with thy sword; if trembling I inhabit then, lay in the leads!--no,
only the starboard one, leave the other alone, protest me the baby
of a girl. Hence horrible shadow! eight bells--that watchman's
asleep again, I reckon, go down and call Brown yourself, unreal
mockery, hence!"

He certainly was a good reader, and splendidly thrilling and stormy
and tragic, but it was a damage to me, because I have never since
been able to read Shakespeare in a calm and sane way. I cannot rid
it of his explosive interlardings, they break in everywhere with
their irrelevant "What in hell are you up to NOW! pull her down!
more! MORE!--there now, steady as you go," and the other
disorganizing interruptions that were always leaping from his
mouth. When I read Shakespeare now, I can hear them as plainly as
I did in that long-departed time--fifty-one years ago. I never
regarded Ealer's readings as educational. Indeed they were a
detriment to me.

His contributions to the text seldom improved it, but barring that
detail he was a good reader, I can say that much for him. He did
not use the book, and did not need to; he knew his Shakespeare as
well as Euclid ever knew his multiplication table.

Did he have something to say--this Shakespeare-adoring Mississippi
pilot--anent Delia Bacon's book? Yes. And he said it; said it all
the time, for months--in the morning watch, the middle watch, the
dog watch; and probably kept it going in his sleep. He bought the
literature of the dispute as fast as it appeared, and we discussed
it all through thirteen hundred miles of river four times traversed
in every thirty-five days--the time required by that swift boat to
achieve two round trips. We discussed, and discussed, and
discussed, and disputed and disputed and disputed; at any rate he
did, and I got in a word now and then when he slipped a cog and
there was a vacancy. He did his arguing with heat, with energy,
with violence; and I did mine with the reserve and moderation of a
subordinate who does not like to be flung out of a pilot-house that
is perched forty feet above the water. He was fiercely loyal to
Shakespeare and cordially scornful of Bacon and of all the
pretensions of the Baconians. So was I--at first. And at first he
was glad that that was my attitude. There were even indications
that he admired it; indications dimmed, it is true, by the distance
that lay between the lofty boss-pilotical altitude and my lowly
one, yet perceptible to me; perceptible, and translatable into a
compliment--compliment coming down from above the snow-line and not
well thawed in the transit, and not likely to set anything afire,
not even a cub-pilot's self-conceit; still a detectable compliment,
and precious.

Naturally it flattered me into being more loyal to Shakespeare--if
possible--than I was before, and more prejudiced against Bacon--if
possible than I was before. And so we discussed and discussed,
both on the same side, and were happy. For a while. Only for a
while. Only for a very little while, a very, very, very little
while. Then the atmosphere began to change; began to cool off.

A brighter person would have seen what the trouble was, earlier
than I did, perhaps, but I saw it early enough for all practical
purposes. You see, he was of an argumentative disposition.
Therefore it took him but a little time to get tired of arguing
with a person who agreed with everything he said and consequently
never furnished him a provocative to flare up and show what he
could do when it came to clear, cold, hard, rose-cut, hundred-
faceted, diamond-flashing reasoning. That was his name for it. It
has been applied since, with complacency, as many as several times,
in the Bacon-Shakespeare scuffle. On the Shakespeare side.

Then the thing happened which has happened to more persons than to
me when principle and personal interest found themselves in
opposition to each other and a choice had to be made: I let
principle go, and went over to the other side. Not the entire way,
but far enough to answer the requirements of the case. That is to
say, I took this attitude, to wit: I only BELIEVED Bacon wrote
Shakespeare, whereas I KNEW Shakespeare didn't. Ealer was
satisfied with that, and the war broke loose. Study, practice,
experience in handling my end of the matter presently enabled me to
take my new position almost seriously; a little bit later, utterly
seriously; a little later still, lovingly, gratefully, devotedly;
finally: fiercely, rabidly, uncompromisingly. After that, I was
welded to my faith, I was theoretically ready to die for it, and I
looked down with compassion not unmixed with scorn, upon everybody
else's faith that didn't tally with mine. That faith, imposed upon
me by self-interest in that ancient day, remains my faith to-day,
and in it I find comfort, solace, peace, and never-failing joy.
You see how curiously theological it is. The "rice Christian" of
the Orient goes through the very same steps, when he is after rice
and the missionary is after HIM; he goes for rice, and remains to

Ealer did a lot of our "reasoning"--not to say substantially all of
it. The slaves of his cult have a passion for calling it by that
large name. We others do not call our inductions and deductions
and reductions by any name at all. They show for themselves, what
they are, and we can with tranquil confidence leave the world to
ennoble them with a title of its own choosing.

Now and then when Ealer had to stop to cough, I pulled my
induction-talents together and hove the controversial lead myself:
always getting eight feet, eight-and-a-half, often nine, sometimes
even quarter-less-twain--as _I_ believed; but always "no bottom,"
as HE said.

I got the best of him only once. I prepared myself. I wrote out a
passage from Shakespeare--it may have been the very one I quoted a
while ago, I don't remember--and riddled it with his wild
steamboatful interlardings. When an unrisky opportunity offered,
one lovely summer day, when we had sounded and buoyed a tangled
patch of crossings known as Hell's Half Acre, and were aboard again
and he had sneaked the Pennsylvania triumphantly through it without
once scraping sand, and the A. T. Lacey had followed in our wake
and got stuck, and he was feeling good, I showed it to him. It
amused him. I asked him to fire it off: read it; read it, I
diplomatically added, as only he could read dramatic poetry. The
compliment touched him where he lived. He did read it; read it
with surpassing fire and spirit; read it as it will never be read
again; for HE knew how to put the right music into those thunderous
interlardings and make them seem a part of the text, make them
sound as if they were bursting from Shakespeare's own soul, each
one of them a golden inspiration and not to be left out without
damage to the massed and magnificent whole.

I waited a week, to let the incident fade; waited longer; waited
until he brought up for reasonings and vituperation my pet
position, my pet argument, the one which I was fondest of, the one
which I prized far above all others in my ammunition-wagon, to wit:
that Shakespeare couldn't have written Shakespeare's works, for the
reason that the man who wrote them was limitlessly familiar with
the laws, and the law-courts, and law-proceedings, and lawyer-talk,
and lawyer-ways--and if Shakespeare was possessed of the
infinitely-divided star-dust that constituted this vast wealth, how
did he get it, and WHERE, and WHEN?

"From books."

From books! That was always the idea. I answered as my readings
of the champions of my side of the great controversy had taught me
to answer: that a man can't handle glibly and easily and
comfortably and successfully the argot of a trade at which he has
not personally served. He will make mistakes; he will not, and
cannot, get the trade-phrasings precisely and exactly right; and
the moment he departs, by even a shade, from a common trade-form,
the reader who has served that trade will know the writer HASN'T.
Ealer would not be convinced; he said a man could learn how to
correctly handle the subtleties and mysteries and free-masonries of
any trade by careful reading and studying. But when I got him to
read again the passage from Shakespeare with the interlardings, he
perceived, himself, that books couldn't teach a student a
bewildering multitude of pilot-phrases so thoroughly and perfectly
that he could talk them off in book and play or conversation and
make no mistake that a pilot would not immediately discover. It
was a triumph for me. He was silent awhile, and I knew what was
happening: he was losing his temper. And I knew he would
presently close the session with the same old argument that was
always his stay and his support in time of need; the same old
argument, the one I couldn't answer--because I dasn't: the
argument that I was an ass, and better shut up. He delivered it,
and I obeyed.

Oh, dear, how long ago it was--how pathetically long ago! And here
am I, old, forsaken, forlorn and alone, arranging to get that
argument out of somebody again.

When a man has a passion for Shakespeare, it goes without saying
that he keeps company with other standard authors. Ealer always
had several high-class books in the pilot-house, and he read the
same ones over and over again, and did not care to change to newer
and fresher ones. He played well on the flute, and greatly enjoyed
hearing himself play. So did I. He had a notion that a flute
would keep its health better if you took it apart when it was not
standing a watch; and so, when it was not on duty it took its rest,
disjointed, on the compass-shelf under the breast-board. When the
Pennsylvania blew up and became a drifting rack-heap freighted with
wounded and dying poor souls (my young brother Henry among them),
pilot Brown had the watch below, and was probably asleep and never
knew what killed him; but Ealer escaped unhurt. He and his pilot-
house were shot up into the air; then they fell, and Ealer sank
through the ragged cavern where the hurricane deck and the boiler
deck had been, and landed in a nest of ruins on the main deck, on
top of one of the unexploded boilers, where he lay prone in a fog
of scalding and deadly steam. But not for long. He did not lose
his head: long familiarity with danger had taught him to keep it,
in any and all emergencies. He held his coat-lappels to his nose
with one hand, to keep out the steam, and scrabbled around with the
other till he found the joints of his flute, then he is took
measures to save himself alive, and was successful. I was not on
board. I had been put ashore in New Orleans by Captain
Klinefelter. The reason--however, I have told all about it in the
book called Old Times on the Mississippi, and it isn't important
anyway, it is so long ago.

Mark Twain

Sorry, no summary available yet.