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 13

Isn't it odd, when you think of it: that you may list all the
celebrated Englishmen, Irishmen, and Scotchmen of modern times,
clear back to the first Tudors--a list containing five hundred
names, shall we say?--and you can go to the histories, biographies
and cyclopedias and learn the particulars of the lives of every one
of them. Every one of them except one--the most famous, the most
renowned--by far the most illustrious of them all--Shakespeare!
You can get the details of the lives of all the celebrated
ecclesiastics in the list; all the celebrated tragedians,
comedians, singers, dancers, orators, judges, lawyers, poets,
dramatists, historians, biographers, editors, inventors, reformers,
statesmen, generals, admirals, discoverers, prize-fighters,
murderers, pirates, conspirators, horse-jockeys, bunco-steerers,
misers, swindlers, explorers, adventurers by land and sea, bankers,
financiers, astronomers, naturalists, Claimants, impostors,
chemists, biologists, geologists, philologists, college presidents
and professors, architects, engineers, painters, sculptors,
politicians, agitators, rebels, revolutionists, patriots,
demagogues, clowns, cooks, freaks, philosophers, burglars,
highwaymen, journalists, physicians, surgeons--you can get the
life-histories of all of them but ONE. Just one--the most
extraordinary and the most celebrated of them all--Shakespeare!

You may add to the list the thousand celebrated persons furnished
by the rest of Christendom in the past four centuries, and you can
find out the life-histories of all those people, too. You will
then have listed 1500 celebrities, and you can trace the authentic
life-histories of the whole of them. Save one--far and away the
most colossal prodigy of the entire accumulation--Shakespeare!
About him you can find out NOTHING. Nothing of even the slightest
importance. Nothing worth the trouble of stowing away in your
memory. Nothing that even remotely indicates that he was ever
anything more than a distinctly common-place person--a manager, an
actor of inferior grade, a small trader in a small village that did
not regard him as a person of any consequence, and had forgotten
all about him before he was fairly cold in his grave. We can go to
the records and find out the life-history of every renowned RACE-
HORSE of modern times--but not Shakespeare's! There are many
reasons why, and they have been furnished in cartloads (of guess
and conjecture) by those troglodytes; but there is one that is
worth all the rest of the reasons put together, and is abundantly
sufficient all by itself--HE HADN'T ANY HISTORY TO RECORD. There
is no way of getting around that deadly fact. And no sane way has
yet been discovered of getting around its formidable significance.

Its quite plain significance--to any but those thugs (I do not use
the term unkindly) is, that Shakespeare had no prominence while he
lived, and none until he had been dead two or three generations.
The Plays enjoyed high fame from the beginning; and if he wrote
them it seems a pity the world did not find it out. He ought to
have explained that he was the author, and not merely a nom de
plume for another man to hide behind. If he had been less
intemperately solicitous about his bones, and more solicitous about
his Works, it would have been better for his good name, and a
kindness to us. The bones were not important. They will moulder
away, they will turn to dust, but the Works will endure until the
last sun goes down.


P.S. March 25. About two months ago I was illuminating this
Autobiography with some notions of mine concerning the Bacon-
Shakespeare controversy, and I then took occasion to air the
opinion that the Stratford Shakespeare was a person of no public
consequence or celebrity during his lifetime, but was utterly
obscure and unimportant. And not only in great London, but also in
the little village where he was born, where he lived a quarter of a
century, and where he died and was buried. I argued that if he had
been a person of any note at all, aged villagers would have had
much to tell about him many and many a year after his death,
instead of being unable to furnish inquirers a single fact
connected with him. I believed, and I still believe, that if he
had been famous, his notoriety would have lasted as long as mine
has lasted in my native village out in Missouri. It is a good
argument, a prodigiously strong one, and a most formidable one for
even the most gifted, and ingenious, and plausible Stratfordolater
to get around or explain away. To-day a Hannibal Courier-Post of
recent date has reached me, with an article in it which reinforces
my contention that a really celebrated person cannot be forgotten
in his village in the short space of sixty years. I will make an
extract from it:

Hannibal, as a city, may have many sins to answer for, but
ingratitude is not one of them, or reverence for the great men she
has produced, and as the years go by her greatest son Mark Twain,
or S. L. Clemens as a few of the unlettered call him, grows in the
estimation and regard of the residents of the town he made famous
and the town that made him famous. His name is associated with
every old building that is torn down to make way for the modern
structures demanded by a rapidly growing city, and with every hill
or cave over or through which he might by any possibility have
roamed, while the many points of interest which he wove into his
stories, such as Holiday Hill, Jackson's Island, or Mark Twain
Cave, are now monuments to his genius. Hannibal is glad of any
opportunity to do him honor as he has honored her.

So it has happened that the "old timers" who went to school with
Mark or were with him on some of his usual escapades have been
honored with large audiences whenever they were in a reminiscent
mood and condescended to tell of their intimacy with the ordinary
boy who came to be a very extraordinary humorist and whose every
boyish act is now seen to have been indicative of what was to come.
Like Aunt Beckey and Mrs. Clemens, they can now see that Mark was
hardly appreciated when he lived here and that the things he did as
a boy and was whipped for doing were not all bad after all. So
they have been in no hesitancy about drawing out the bad things he
did as well as the good in their efforts to get a "Mark Twain
story," all incidents being viewed in the light of his present
fame, until the volume of "Twainiana" is already considerable and
growing in proportion as the "old timers" drop away and the stories
are retold second and third hand by their descendants. With some
seventy-three years young and living in a villa instead of a house
he is a fair target, and let him incorporate, copyright, or patent
himself as he will, there are some of his "works" that will go
swooping up Hannibal chimneys as long as gray-beards gather about
the fires and begin with "I've heard father tell" or possibly "Once
when I."

The Mrs. Clemens referred to is my mother--WAS my mother.

And here is another extract from a Hannibal paper. Of date twenty
days ago:

Miss Becca Blankenship died at the home of William Dickason, 408
Rock Street, at 2.30 o'clock yesterday afternoon, aged 72 years.
The deceased was a sister of "Huckleberry Finn," one of the famous
characters in Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer. She had been a member of
the Dickason family--the housekeeper--for nearly forty-five years,
and was a highly respected lady. For the past eight years she had
been an invalid, but was as well cared for by Mr. Dickason and his
family as if she had been a near relative. She was a member of the
Park Methodist Church and a Christian woman.

I remember her well. I have a picture of her in my mind which was
graven there, clear and sharp and vivid, sixty-three years ago.
She was at that time nine years old, and I was about eleven. I
remember where she stood, and how she looked; and I can still see
her bare feet, her bare head, her brown face, and her short tow-
linen frock. She was crying. What it was about, I have long ago
forgotten. But it was the tears that preserved the picture for me,
no doubt. She was a good child, I can say that for her. She knew
me nearly seventy years ago. Did she forget me, in the course of
time? I think not. If she had lived in Stratford in Shakespeare's
time, would she have forgotten him? Yes. For he was never famous
during his lifetime, he was utterly obscure in Stratford, and there
wouldn't be any occasion to remember him after he had been dead a

"Injun Joe," "Jimmy Finn," and "General Gaines" were prominent and
very intemperate ne'er-do-weels in Hannibal two generations ago.
Plenty of gray-heads there remember them to this day, and can tell
you about them. Isn't it curious that two "town-drunkards" and one
half-breed loafer should leave behind them, in a remote Missourian
village, a fame a hundred times greater and several hundred times
more particularized in the matter of definite facts than
Shakespeare left behind him in the village where he had lived the
half of his lifetime?



{1} Four fathoms--twenty-four feet.

{2} From chapter XIII of "The Shakespeare Problem Restated."

Mark Twain

Sorry, no summary available yet.