Mark Twain
1601

Page 09

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 sender!"

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 Verbatim Reprint

[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 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.]

YESTERNIGHT 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 graces elder.

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, and then--

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.

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