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Chapter 7

If I had under my superintendence a controversy appointed to decide
whether Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare or not, I believe I would
place before the debaters only the one question, WAS SHAKESPEARE
EVER A PRACTICING LAWYER? and leave everything else out.

It is maintained that the man who wrote the plays was not merely
myriad-minded, but also myriad-accomplished: that he not only knew
some thousands of things about human life in all its shades and
grades, and about the hundred arts and trades and crafts and
professions which men busy themselves in, but that he could TALK
about the men and their grades and trades accurately, making no
mistakes. Maybe it is so, but have the experts spoken, or is it
only Tom, Dick, and Harry? Does the exhibit stand upon wide, and
loose, and eloquent generalizing--which is not evidence, and not
proof--or upon details, particulars, statistics, illustrations,

Experts of unchallengeable authority have testified definitely as
to only one of Shakespeare's multifarious craft-equipments, so far
as my recollections of Shakespeare-Bacon talk abide with me--his
law-equipment. I do not remember that Wellington or Napoleon ever
examined Shakespeare's battles and sieges and strategies, and then
decided and established for good and all, that they were militarily
flawless; I do not remember that any Nelson, or Drake or Cook ever
examined his seamanship and said it showed profound and accurate
familiarity with that art; I don't remember that any king or prince
or duke has ever testified that Shakespeare was letter-perfect in
his handling of royal court-manners and the talk and manners of
aristocracies; I don't remember that any illustrious Latinist or
Grecian or Frenchman or Spaniard or Italian has proclaimed him a
past-master in those languages; I don't remember--well, I don't
remember that there is TESTIMONY--great testimony--imposing
testimony--unanswerable and unattackable testimony as to any of
Shakespeare's hundred specialties, except one--the law.

Other things change, with time, and the student cannot trace back
with certainty the changes that various trades and their processes
and technicalities have undergone in the long stretch of a century
or two and find out what their processes and technicalities were in
those early days, but with the law it is different: it is mile-
stoned and documented all the way back, and the master of that
wonderful trade, that complex and intricate trade, that awe-
compelling trade, has competent ways of knowing whether
Shakespeare-law is good law or not; and whether his law-court
procedure is correct or not, and whether his legal shop-talk is the
shop-talk of a veteran practitioner or only a machine-made
counterfeit of it gathered from books and from occasional
loiterings in Westminster.

Richard H. Dana served two years before the mast, and had every
experience that falls to the lot of the sailor before the mast of
our day. His sailor-talk flows from his pen with the sure touch
and the ease and confidence of a person who has LIVED what he is
talking about, not gathered it from books and random listenings.
Hear him:

Having hove short, cast off the gaskets, and made the bunt of each
sail fast by the jigger, with a man on each yard, at the word the
whole canvas of the ship was loosed, and with the greatest rapidity
possible everything was sheeted home and hoisted up, the anchor
tripped and cat-headed, and the ship under headway.


The royal yards were all crossed at once, and royals and sky-sails
set, and, as we had the wind free, the booms were run out, and all
were aloft, active as cats, laying out on the yards and booms,
reeving the studding-sail gear; and sail after sail the captain
piled upon her, until she was covered with canvas, her sails
looking like a great white cloud resting upon a black speck.

Once more. A race in the Pacific:

Our antagonist was in her best trim. Being clear of the point, the
breeze became stiff, and the royal-masts bent under our sails, but
we would not take them in until we saw three boys spring into the
rigging of the California; then they were all furled at once, but
with orders to our boys to stay aloft at the top-gallant mast-heads
and loose them again at the word. It was my duty to furl the fore-
royal; and while standing by to loose it again, I had a fine view
of the scene. From where I stood, the two vessels seemed nothing
but spars and sails, while their narrow decks, far below, slanting
over by the force of the wind aloft, appeared hardly capable of
supporting the great fabrics raised upon them. The California was
to windward of us, and had every advantage; yet, while the breeze
was stiff we held our own. As soon as it began to slacken she
ranged a little ahead, and the order was given to loose the royals.
In an instant the gaskets were off and the bunt dropped. "Sheet
home the fore-royal!"--"Weather sheet's home!"--"Lee sheet's
home!"--"Hoist away, sir!" is bawled from aloft. "Overhaul your
clewlines!" shouts the mate. "Aye-aye, sir, all clear!"--"Taut
leech! belay! Well the lee brace; haul taut to windward!" and the
royals are set.

What would the captain of any sailing-vessel of our time say to
that? He would say, "The man that wrote that didn't learn his
trade out of a book, he has BEEN there!" But would this same
captain be competent to sit in judgment upon Shakespeare's
seamanship--considering the changes in ships and ship-talk that
have necessarily taken place, unrecorded, unremembered, and lost to
history in the last three hundred years? It is my conviction that
Shakespeare's sailor-talk would be Choctaw to him. For instance--
from The Tempest:

Master. Boatswain!

Boatswain. Here, master; what cheer?

Master. Good, speak to the mariners: fall to't, yarely, or we run
ourselves to ground; bestir, bestir!

(Enter mariners.)

Boatswain. Heigh, my hearts! cheerly, cheerly, my hearts! yare,
yare! Take in the topsail. Tend to the master's whistle . . .
Down with the topmast! yare! lower, lower! Bring her to try wi'
the main course . . . Lay her a-hold, a-hold! Set her two courses.
Off to sea again; lay her off.

That will do, for the present; let us yare a little, now, for a

If a man should write a book and in it make one of his characters
say, "Here, devil, empty the quoins into the standing galley and
the imposing stone into the hell-box; assemble the comps around the
frisket and let them jeff for takes and be quick about it," I
should recognize a mistake or two in the phrasing, and would know
that the writer was only a printer theoretically, not practically.

I have been a quartz miner in the silver regions--a pretty hard
life; I know all the palaver of that business: I know all about
discovery claims and the subordinate claims; I know all about
lodes, ledges, outcroppings, dips, spurs, angles, shafts, drifts,
inclines, levels, tunnels, air-shafts, "horses," clay casings,
granite casings; quartz mills and their batteries; arastras, and
how to charge them with quicksilver and sulphate of copper; and how
to clean them up, and how to reduce the resulting amalgam in the
retorts, and how to cast the bullion into pigs; and finally I know
how to screen tailings, and also how to hunt for something less
robust to do, and find it. I know the argot of the quartz-mining
and milling industry familiarly; and so whenever Bret Harte
introduces that industry into a story, the first time one of his
miners opens his mouth I recognize from his phrasing that Harte got
the phrasing by listening--like Shakespeare--I mean the Stratford
one--not by experience. No one can talk the quartz dialect
correctly without learning it with pick and shovel and drill and

I have been a surface-miner--gold--and I know all its mysteries,
and the dialect that belongs with them; and whenever Harte
introduces that industry into a story I know by the phrasing of his
characters that neither he nor they have ever served that trade.

I have been a "pocket" miner--a sort of gold mining not findable in
any but one little spot in the world, so far as I know. I know
how, with horn and water, to find the trail of a pocket and trace
it step by step and stage by stage up the mountain to its source,
and find the compact little nest of yellow metal reposing in its
secret home under the ground. I know the language of that trade,
that capricious trade, that fascinating buried-treasure trade, and
can catch any writer who tries to use it without having learned it
by the sweat of his brow and the labor of his hands.

I know several other trades and the argot that goes with them; and
whenever a person tries to talk the talk peculiar to any of them
without having learned it at its source I can trap him always
before he gets far on his road.

And so, as I have already remarked, if I were required to
superintend a Bacon-Shakespeare controversy, I would narrow the
matter down to a single question--the only one, so far as the
previous controversies have informed me, concerning which
illustrious experts of unimpeachable competency have testified:
read and of limitless experience? I would put aside the guesses,
and surmises, and perhapses, and might-have-beens, and could-have
beens, and must-have-beens, and we-are justified-in-presumings, and
the rest of those vague spectres and shadows and indefinitenesses,
and stand or fall, win or lose, by the verdict rendered by the jury
upon that single question. If the verdict was Yes, I should feel
quite convinced that the Stratford Shakespeare, the actor, manager,
and trader who died so obscure, so forgotten, so destitute of even
village consequence that sixty years afterward no fellow-citizen
and friend of his later days remembered to tell anything about him,
did not write the Works.

Chapter XIII of The Shakespeare Problem Restated bears the heading
"Shakespeare as a Lawyer," and comprises some fifty pages of expert
testimony, with comments thereon, and I will copy the first nine,
as being sufficient all by themselves, as it seems to me, to settle
the question which I have conceived to be the master-key to the
Shakespeare-Bacon puzzle.

Mark Twain

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