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Chapter 6

When Shakespeare died, in 1616, great literary productions
attributed to him as author had been before the London world and in
high favor for twenty-four years. Yet his death was not an event.
It made no stir, it attracted no attention. Apparently his eminent
literary contemporaries did not realize that a celebrated poet had
passed from their midst. Perhaps they knew a play-actor of minor
rank had disappeared, but did not regard him as the author of his
Works. "We are justified in assuming" this.

His death was not even an event in the little town of Stratford.
Does this mean that in Stratford he was not regarded as a celebrity
of ANY kind?

"We are privileged to assume"--no, we are indeed OBLIGED to assume-
-that such was the case. He had spent the first twenty-two or
twenty-three years of his life there, and of course knew everybody
and was known by everybody of that day in the town, including the
dogs and the cats and the horses. He had spent the last five or
six years of his life there, diligently trading in every big and
little thing that had money in it; so we are compelled to assume
that many of the folk there in those said latter days knew him
personally, and the rest by sight and hearsay. But not as a
CELEBRITY? Apparently not. For everybody soon forgot to remember
any contact with him or any incident connected with him. The
dozens of townspeople, still alive, who had known of him or known
about him in the first twenty-three years of his life were in the
same unremembering condition: if they knew of any incident
connected with that period of his life they didn't tell about it.
Would they if they had been asked? It is most likely. Were they
asked? It is pretty apparent that they were not. Why weren't
they? It is a very plausible guess that nobody there or elsewhere
was interested to know.

For seven years after Shakespeare's death nobody seems to have been
interested in him. Then the quarto was published, and Ben Jonson
awoke out of his long indifference and sang a song of praise and
put it in the front of the book. Then silence fell AGAIN.

For sixty years. Then inquiries into Shakespeare's Stratford life
began to be made, of Stratfordians. Of Stratfordians who had known
Shakespeare or had seen him? No. Then of Stratfordians who had
seen people who had known or seen people who had seen Shakespeare?
No. Apparently the inquiries were only made of Stratfordians who
were not Stratfordians of Shakespeare's day, but later comers; and
what they had learned had come to them from persons who had not
seen Shakespeare; and what they had learned was not claimed as
FACT, but only as legend--dim and fading and indefinite legend;
legend of the calf-slaughtering rank, and not worth remembering
either as history or fiction.

Has it ever happened before--or since--that a celebrated person who
had spent exactly half of a fairly long life in the village where
he was born and reared, was able to slip out of this world and
leave that village voiceless and gossipless behind him--utterly
voiceless, utterly gossipless? And permanently so? I don't
believe it has happened in any case except Shakespeare's. And
couldn't and wouldn't have happened in his case if he had been
regarded as a celebrity at the time of his death.

When I examine my own case--but let us do that, and see if it will
not be recognizable as exhibiting a condition of things quite
likely to result, most likely to result, indeed substantially SURE
to result in the case of a celebrated person, a benefactor of the
human race. Like me.

My parents brought me to the village of Hannibal, Missouri, on the
banks of the Mississippi, when I was two and a half years old. I
entered school at five years of age, and drifted from one school to
another in the village during nine and a half years. Then my
father died, leaving his family in exceedingly straitened
circumstances; wherefore my book-education came to a standstill
forever, and I became a printer's apprentice, on board and clothes,
and when the clothes failed I got a hymn-book in place of them.
This for summer wear, probably. I lived in Hannibal fifteen and a
half years, altogether, then ran away, according to the custom of
persons who are intending to become celebrated. I never lived
there afterward. Four years later I became a "cub" on a
Mississippi steamboat in the St. Louis and New Orleans trade, and
after a year and a half of hard study and hard work the U. S.
inspectors rigorously examined me through a couple of long sittings
and decided that I knew every inch of the Mississippi--thirteen
hundred miles--in the dark and in the day--as well as a baby knows
the way to its mother's paps day or night. So they licensed me as
a pilot--knighted me, so to speak--and I rose up clothed with
authority, a responsible servant of the United States government.

Now then. Shakespeare died young--he was only fifty-two. He had
lived in his native village twenty-six years, or about that. He
died celebrated (if you believe everything you read in the books).
Yet when he died nobody there or elsewhere took any notice of it;
and for sixty years afterward no townsman remembered to say
anything about him or about his life in Stratford. When the
inquirer came at last he got but one fact--no, LEGEND--and got that
one at second hand, from a person who had only heard it as a rumor,
and didn't claim copyright in it as a production of his own. He
couldn't, very well, for its date antedated his own birth-date.
But necessarily a number of persons were still alive in Stratford
who, in the days of their youth, had seen Shakespeare nearly every
day in the last five years of his life, and they would have been
able to tell that inquirer some first-hand things about him if he
had in those last days been a celebrity and therefore a person of
interest to the villagers. Why did not the inquirer hunt them up
and interview them? Wasn't it worth while? Wasn't the matter of
sufficient consequence? Had the inquirer an engagement to see a
dog-fight and couldn't spare the time?

It all seems to mean that he never had any literary celebrity,
there or elsewhere, and no considerable repute as actor and

Now then, I am away along in life--my seventy-third year being
already well behind me--yet SIXTEEN of my Hannibal schoolmates are
still alive to-day, and can tell--and do tell--inquirers dozens and
dozens of incidents of their young lives and mine together; things
that happened to us in the morning of life, in the blossom of our
youth, in the good days, the dear days, "the days when we went
gipsying, a long time ago." Most of them creditable to me, too.
One child to whom I paid court when she was five years old and I
eight still lives in Hannibal, and she visited me last summer,
traversing the necessary ten or twelve hundred miles of railroad
without damage to her patience or to her old-young vigor. Another
little lassie to whom I paid attention in Hannibal when she was
nine years old and I the same, is still alive--in London--and hale
and hearty, just as I am. And on the few surviving steamboats--
those lingering ghosts and remembrancers of great fleets that plied
the big river in the beginning of my water-career--which is exactly
as long ago as the whole invoice of the life-years of Shakespeare
number--there are still findable two or three river-pilots who saw
me do creditable things in those ancient days; and several white-
headed engineers; and several roustabouts and mates; and several
deck-hands who used to heave the lead for me and send up on the
still night air the "six--feet--SCANT!" that made me shudder, and
the "M-a-r-k--twain!" that took the shudder away, and presently the
darling "By the d-e-e-p--four!" that lifted me to heaven for joy.
{1} They know about me, and can tell. And so do printers, from
St. Louis to New York; and so do newspaper reporters, from Nevada
to San Francisco. And so do the police. If Shakespeare had really
been celebrated, like me, Stratford could have told things about
him; and if my experience goes for anything, they'd have done it.

Mark Twain

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