I thought the whole matter very curious.

The Shakespeare interest had diverging by-paths. One evening, when we were alone at dinner, he said:

"There is only one other illustrious man in history about whom there is so little known," and he added, "Jesus Christ."

He reviewed the statements of the Gospels concerning Christ, though he declared them to be mainly traditional and of no value. I agreed that they contained confusing statements, and inflicted more or less with justice and reason; but I said I thought there was truth in them, too.

"Why do you think so?" he asked.

"Because they contain matters that are self-evident--things eternally and essentially just."

"Then you make your own Bible?"

"Yes, from those materials combined with human reason."

"Then it does not matter where the truth, as you call it, comes from?"

I admitted that the source did not matter; that truth from Shakespeare, Epictetus, or Aristotle was quite as valuable as from the Scriptures. We were on common ground now. He mentioned Marcus Aurelius, the Stoics, and their blameless lives. I, still pursuing the thought of Jesus, asked:

"Do you not think it strange that in that day when Christ came, admitting that there was a Christ, such a character could have come at all--in the time of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, when all was ceremony and unbelief?"

"I remember," he said, "the Sadducees didn't believe in hell. He brought them one."

"Nor the resurrection. He brought them that, also."

He did not admit that there had been a Christ with the character and mission related by the Gospels.

"It is all a myth," he said. "There have been Saviours in every age of the world. It is all just a fairy tale, like the idea of Santa Claus."

"But," I argued, "even the spirit of Christmas is real when it is genuine. Suppose that we admit there was no physical Saviour--that it is only an idea--a spiritual embodiment which humanity has made for itself and is willing to improve upon as its own spirituality improves, wouldn't that make it worthy?"

"But then the fairy story of the atonement dissolves, and with it crumbles the very foundations of any established church. You can create your own Testament, your own Scripture, and your own Christ, but you've got to give up your atonement."

"As related to the crucifixion, yes, and good riddance to it; but the death of the old order and the growth of spirituality comes to a sort of atonement, doesn't it?"

He said:

"A conclusion like that has about as much to do with the Gospels and Christianity as Shakespeare had to do with Bacon's plays. You are preaching a doctrine that would have sent a man to the stake a few centuries ago. I have preached that in my own Gospel."

I remembered then, and realized that, by my own clumsy ladder, I had merely mounted from dogma, and superstition to his platform of training the ideals to a higher contentment of soul.



I set out on my long journey with much reluctance. However, a series of guests with various diversions had been planned, and it seemed a good time to go. Clemens gave me letters of introduction, and bade me Godspeed. It would be near the end of April before I should see him again.

Now and then on the ship, and in the course of my travels, I remembered the great news I was to hear concerning Shakespeare. In Cairo, at Shepheard's, I looked eagerly through English newspapers, expecting any moment to come upon great head-lines; but I was always disappointed. Even on the return voyage there was no one I could find who had heard any particular Shakespeare news.

Arriving in New York, I found that Clemens himself had published his Shakespeare dictations in a little volume of his own, entitled, 'Is Shakespeare Dead?' The title certainly suggested spiritistic matters, and I got a volume at Harpers', and read it going up on the train, hoping to find somewhere in it a solution of the great mystery. But it was only matter I had already known; the secret was still unrevealed.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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