Part 5 out of 6
Girls are very stuck up and dignefied in their maner and be
have your. They think more of dress than anything and like to
play with dowls and rags. They cry if they see a cow in a far
distance and are afraid of guns. They stay at home all the time
and go to church on Sunday. They are al-ways sick. They are al-
ways funy and making fun of boy's hands and they say how dirty.
They cant play marbels. I pity them poor things. They make fun
of boys and then turn round and love them. I dont beleave they
ever kiled a cat or anything. They look out every nite and say
oh ant the moon lovely. Thir is one thing I have not told and
that is they al-ways now their lessons bettern boys.
From Mr. Edward Channing's recent article in SCIENCE:
The marked difference between the books now being produced
by French, English, and American travelers, on the one hand, and
German explorers, on the other, is too great to escape attention.
That difference is due entirely to the fact that in school and
university the German is taught, in the first place to see, and
in the second place to understand what he does see.
A SIMPLIFIED ALPHABET
(This article, written during the autumn of 1899, was about
the last writing done by Mark Twain on any impersonal subject.)
I have had a kindly feeling, a friendly feeling, a cousinly
feeling toward Simplified Spelling, from the beginning of the
movement three years ago, but nothing more inflamed than that.
It seemed to me to merely propose to substitute one inadequacy
for another; a sort of patching and plugging poor old dental
relics with cement and gold and porcelain paste; what was really
needed was a new set of teeth. That is to say, a new ALPHABET.
The heart of our trouble is with our foolish alphabet. It
doesn't know how to spell, and can't be taught. In this it is
like all other alphabets except one--the phonographic. This is
the only competent alphabet in the world. It can spell and
correctly pronounce any word in our language.
That admirable alphabet, that brilliant alphabet, that
inspired alphabet, can be learned in an hour or two. In a week
the student can learn to write it with some little facility, and
to read it with considerable ease. I know, for I saw it tried in
a public school in Nevada forty-five years ago, and was so
impressed by the incident that it has remained in my memory ever
I wish we could adopt it in place of our present written
(and printed) character. I mean SIMPLY the alphabet; simply the
consonants and the vowels--I don't mean any REDUCTIONS or
abbreviations of them, such as the shorthand writer uses in order
to get compression and speed. No, I would SPELL EVERY WORD OUT.
I will insert the alphabet here as I find it in Burnz's
PHONIC SHORTHAND. [Figure 1] It is arranged on the basis of
Isaac Pitman's PHONOGRAPHY. Isaac Pitman was the originator and
father of scientific phonography. It is used throughout the
globe. It was a memorable invention. He made it public seventy-
three years ago. The firm of Isaac Pitman & Sons, New York,
still exists, and they continue the master's work.
What should we gain?
First of all, we could spell DEFINITELY--and correctly--any
word you please, just by the SOUND of it. We can't do that with
our present alphabet. For instance, take a simple, every-day
word PHTHISIS. If we tried to spell it by the sound of it, we
should make it TYSIS, and be laughed at by every educated person.
Secondly, we should gain in REDUCTION OF LABOR in writing.
Simplified Spelling makes valuable reductions in the case of
several hundred words, but the new spelling must be LEARNED. You
can't spell them by the sound; you must get them out of the book.
But even if we knew the simplified form for every word in
the language, the phonographic alphabet would still beat the
Simplified Speller "hands down" in the important matter of
economy of labor. I will illustrate:
PRESENT FORM: through, laugh, highland.
SIMPLIFIED FORM: thru, laff, hyland.
PHONOGRAPHIC FORM: [Figure 2]
To write the word "through," the pen has to make twenty-one strokes.
To write the word "thru," then pen has to make twelve strokes--
a good saving.
To write that same word with the phonographic alphabet, the
pen has to make only THREE strokes.
To write the word "laugh," the pen has to make FOURTEEN
To write "laff," the pen has to make the SAME NUMBER of
strokes--no labor is saved to the penman.
To write the same word with the phonographic alphabet, the
pen has to make only THREE strokes.
To write the word "highland," the pen has to make twenty-two
To write "hyland," the pen has to make eighteen strokes.
To write that word with the phonographic alphabet, the pen
has to make only FIVE strokes. [Figure 3]
To write the words "phonographic alphabet," the pen has to
make fifty-three strokes.
To write "fonografic alfabet," the pen has to make fifty strokes.
To the penman, the saving in labor is insignificant.
To write that word (with vowels) with the phonographic
alphabet, the pen has to make only SEVENTEEN strokes.
Without the vowels, only THIRTEEN strokes. [Figure 4] The
vowels are hardly necessary, this time.
We make five pen-strokes in writing an m. Thus: [Figure 5]
a stroke down; a stroke up; a second stroke down; a second stroke
up; a final stroke down. Total, five. The phonographic alphabet
accomplishes the m with a single stroke--a curve, like a
parenthesis that has come home drunk and has fallen face down
right at the front door where everybody that goes along will see
him and say, Alas!
When our written m is not the end of a word, but is
otherwise located, it has to be connected with the next letter,
and that requires another pen-stroke, making six in all, before
you get rid of that m. But never mind about the connecting
strokes--let them go. Without counting them, the twenty-six
letters of our alphabet consumed about eighty pen-strokes for
their construction--about three pen-strokes per letter.
It is THREE TIMES THE NUMBER required by the phonographic
alphabet. It requires but ONE stroke for each letter.
My writing-gait is--well, I don't know what it is, but I
will time myself and see. Result: it is twenty-four words per
minute. I don't mean composing; I mean COPYING. There isn't any
Very well, my copying-gait is 1,440 words per hour--say
1,500. If I could use the phonographic character with facility I
could do the 1,500 in twenty minutes. I could do nine hours'
copying in three hours; I could do three years' copying in one
year. Also, if I had a typewriting machine with the phonographic
alphabet on it--oh, the miracles I could do!
I am not pretending to write that character well. I have
never had a lesson, and I am copying the letters from the book.
But I can accomplish my desire, at any rate, which is, to make
the reader get a good and clear idea of the advantage it would be
to us if we could discard our present alphabet and put this
better one in its place--using it in books, newspapers, with the
typewriter, and with the pen.
[Figure 6]--MAN DOG HORSE. I think it is graceful and
would look comely in print. And consider--once more, I beg--what
a labor-saver it is! Ten pen-strokes with the one system to
convey those three words above, and thirty-three by the other!
[Figure 6] I mean, in SOME ways, not in all. I suppose I might
go so far as to say in most ways, and be within the facts, but
never mind; let it go at SOME. One of the ways in which it
exercises this birthright is--as I think--continuing to use our
laughable alphabet these seventy-three years while there was a
rational one at hand, to be had for the taking.
It has taken five hundred years to simplify some of
Chaucer's rotten spelling--if I may be allowed to use to frank a
term as that--and it will take five hundred years more to get our
exasperating new Simplified Corruptions accepted and running
smoothly. And we sha'n't be any better off then than we are now;
for in that day we shall still have the privilege the Simplifiers
are exercising now: ANYBODY can change the spelling that wants
BUT YOU CAN'T CHANGE THE PHONOGRAPHIC SPELLING; THERE ISN'T
ANY WAY. It will always follow the SOUND. If you want to change
the spelling, you have to change the sound first.
Mind, I myself am a Simplified Speller; I belong to that
unhappy guild that is patiently and hopefully trying to reform
our drunken old alphabet by reducing his whiskey. Well, it will
improve him. When they get through and have reformed him all
they can by their system he will be only HALF drunk. Above that
condition their system can never lift him. There is no
competent, and lasting, and real reform for him but to take away
his whiskey entirely, and fill up his jug with Pitman's wholesome
and undiseased alphabet.
One great drawback to Simplified Spelling is, that in print
a simplified word looks so like the very nation! and when you
bunch a whole squadron of the Simplified together the spectacle
is very nearly unendurable.
The da ma ov koars kum when the publik ma be expektd to get
rekonsyled to the bezair asspekt of the Simplified Kombynashuns,
but--if I may be allowed the expression--is it worth the wasted
time? [Figure 7]
To see our letters put together in ways to which we are not accustomed
offends the eye, and also takes the EXPRESSION out of the words.
La on, Makduf, and damd be he hoo furst krys hold, enuf!
It doesn't thrill you as it used to do. The simplifications
have sucked the thrill all out of it.
But a written character with which we are NOT ACQUAINTED
does not offend us--Greek, Hebrew, Russian, Arabic, and the
others--they have an interesting look, and we see beauty in them,
too. And this is true of hieroglyphics, as well. There is
something pleasant and engaging about the mathematical signs when
we do not understand them. The mystery hidden in these things
has a fascination for us: we can't come across a printed page of
shorthand without being impressed by it and wishing we could read
Very well, what I am offering for acceptance and adopting is
not shorthand, but longhand, written with the SHORTHAND ALPHABET
UNREACHED. You can write three times as many words in a minute
with it as you can write with our alphabet. And so, in a way, it
IS properly a shorthand. It has a pleasant look, too; a
beguiling look, an inviting look. I will write something in it,
in my rude and untaught way: [Figure 8]
Even when _I_ do it it comes out prettier than it does in
Simplified Spelling. Yes, and in the Simplified it costs one
hundred and twenty-three pen-strokes to write it, whereas in the
phonographic it costs only twenty-nine.
[Figure 9] is probably [Figure 10].
Let us hope so, anyway.
AS CONCERNS INTERPRETING THE DEITY
This line of hieroglyphics was for fourteen years the
despair of all the scholars who labored over the mysteries of the
Rosetta stone: [Figure 1]
After five years of study Champollion translated it thus:
Therefore let the worship of Epiphanes be maintained in all
the temples, this upon pain of death.
That was the twenty-forth translation that had been
furnished by scholars. For a time it stood. But only for a
time. Then doubts began to assail it and undermine it, and the
scholars resumed their labors. Three years of patient work
produced eleven new translations; among them, this, by
Gr:unfeldt, was received with considerable favor:
The horse of Epiphanes shall be maintained at the public expense;
this upon pain of death.
But the following rendering, by Gospodin, was received by
the learned world with yet greater favor:
The priest shall explain the wisdom of Epiphanes to all these people,
and these shall listen with reverence, upon pain of death.
Seven years followed, in which twenty-one fresh and widely
varying renderings were scored--none of them quite convincing.
But now, at last, came Rawlinson, the youngest of all the
scholars, with a translation which was immediately and
universally recognized as being the correct version, and his name
became famous in a day. So famous, indeed, that even the
children were familiar with it; and such a noise did the
achievement itself make that not even the noise of the monumental
political event of that same year--the flight from Elba--was able
to smother it to silence. Rawlinson's version reads as follows:
Therefore, walk not away from the wisdom of Epiphanes, but
turn and follow it; so shall it conduct thee to the temple's
peace, and soften for thee the sorrows of life and the pains of
Here is another difficult text: [Figure 2]
It is demotic--a style of Egyptian writing and a phase of
the language which has perished from the knowledge of all men
twenty-five hundred years before the Christian era.
Our red Indians have left many records, in the form of
pictures, upon our crags and boulders. It has taken our most
gifted and painstaking students two centuries to get at the
meanings hidden in these pictures; yet there are still two little
lines of hieroglyphics among the figures grouped upon the Dighton
Rocks which they have not succeeds in interpreting to their
satisfaction. These: [Figure 3]
The suggested solutions are practically innumerable; they
would fill a book.
Thus we have infinite trouble in solving man-made mysteries;
it is only when we set out to discover the secret of God that our
difficulties disappear. It was always so. In antique Roman
times it was the custom of the Deity to try to conceal His
intentions in the entrails of birds, and this was patiently and
hopefully continued century after century, although the attempted
concealment never succeeded, in a single recorded instance. The
augurs could read entrails as easily as a modern child can read
coarse print. Roman history is full of the marvels of
interpretation which these extraordinary men performed. These
strange and wonderful achievements move our awe and compel our
admiration. Those men could pierce to the marrow of a mystery
instantly. If the Rosetta-stone idea had been introduced it
would have defeated them, but entrails had no embarrassments for
them. Entrails have gone out, now--entrails and dreams. It was
at last found out that as hiding-places for the divine intentions
they were inadequate.
A part of the wall of Valletri in former times been struck
with thunder, the response of the soothsayers was, that a native
of that town would some time or other arrive at supreme power.--
BOHN'S SUETONIUS, p. 138.
"Some time or other." It looks indefinite, but no matter,
it happened, all the same; one needed only to wait, and be
patient, and keep watch, then he would find out that the thunder-
stroke had Caesar Augustus in mind, and had come to give notice.
There were other advance-advertisements. One of them
appeared just before Caesar Augustus was born, and was most
poetic and touching and romantic in its feelings and aspects.
It was a dream. It was dreamed by Caesar Augustus's mother,
and interpreted at the usual rates:
Atia, before her delivery, dreamed that her bowels stretched
to the stars and expanded through the whole circuit of heaven
and earth.--SUETONIUS, p. 139.
That was in the augur's line, and furnished him no
difficulties, but it would have taken Rawlinson and Champollion
fourteen years to make sure of what it meant, because they would
have been surprised and dizzy. It would have been too late to be
valuable, then, and the bill for service would have been barred
by the statute of limitation.
In those old Roman days a gentleman's education was not
complete until he had taken a theological course at the seminary
and learned how to translate entrails. Caesar Augustus's
education received this final polish. All through his life,
whenever he had poultry on the menu he saved the interiors and
kept himself informed of the Deity's plans by exercising upon
those interiors the arts of augury.
In his first consulship, while he was observing the
auguries, twelve vultures presented themselves, as they had done
to Romulus. And when he offered sacrifice, the livers of all
the victims were folded inward in the lower part; a circumstance
which was regarded by those present who had skill in things of
that nature, as an indubitable prognostic of great and wonderful
fortune.--SUETONIUS, p. 141.
"Indubitable" is a strong word, but no doubt it was
justified, if the livers were really turned that way. In those
days chicken livers were strangely and delicately sensitive to
coming events, no matter how far off they might be; and they
could never keep still, but would curl and squirm like that,
particularly when vultures came and showed interest in that
approaching great event and in breakfast.
We may now skip eleven hundred and thirty or forty years,
which brings us down to enlightened Christian times and the
troubled days of King Stephen of England. The augur has had his
day and has been long ago forgotten; the priest had fallen heir
to his trade.
King Henry is dead; Stephen, that bold and outrageous
person, comes flying over from Normandy to steal the throne from
Henry's daughter. He accomplished his crime, and Henry of
Huntington, a priest of high degree, mourns over it in his
Chronicle. The Archbishop of Canterbury consecrated Stephen:
"wherefore the Lord visited the Archbishop with the same judgment
which he had inflicted upon him who struck Jeremiah the great
priest: he died with a year."
Stephen's was the greater offense, but Stephen could wait;
not so the Archbishop, apparently.
The kingdom was a prey to intestine wars; slaughter, fire,
and rapine spread ruin throughout the land; cries of distress,
horror, and woe rose in every quarter.
That was the result of Stephen's crime. These unspeakable
conditions continued during nineteen years. Then Stephen died as
comfortably as any man ever did, and was honorably buried. It
makes one pity the poor Archbishop, and with that he, too, could
have been let off as leniently. How did Henry of Huntington know
that the Archbishop was sent to his grave by judgment of God for
consecrating Stephen? He does not explain. Neither does he
explain why Stephen was awarded a pleasanter death than he was
entitled to, while the aged King Henry, his predecessor, who had
ruled England thirty-five years to the people's strongly worded
satisfaction, was condemned to close his life in circumstances
most distinctly unpleasant, inconvenient, and disagreeable. His
was probably the most uninspiring funeral that is set down in
history. There is not a detail about it that is attractive. It
seems to have been just the funeral for Stephen, and even at this
far-distant day it is matter of just regret that by an
indiscretion the wrong man got it.
Whenever God punishes a man, Henry of Huntington knows why
it was done, and tells us; and his pen is eloquent with
admiration; but when a man has earned punishment, and escapes, he
does not explain. He is evidently puzzled, but he does not say
anything. I think it is often apparent that he is pained by
these discrepancies, but loyally tries his best not to show it.
When he cannot praise, he delivers himself of a silence so marked
that a suspicious person could mistake it for suppressed
criticism. However, he has plenty of opportunities to feel
contented with the way things go--his book is full of them.
King David of Scotland . . . under color of religion caused
his followers to deal most barbarously with the English. They
ripped open women, tossed children on the points of spears,
butchered priests at the altars, and, cutting off the heads from
the images on crucifixes, placed them on the bodies of the slain,
while in exchange they fixed on the crucifixes the heads of their
victims. Wherever the Scots came, there was the same scene of
horror and cruelty: women shrieking, old men lamenting, amid the
groans of the dying and the despair of the living.
But the English got the victory.
Then the chief of the men of Lothian fell, pierced by an arrow,
and all his followers were put to flight. For the Almighty was
offended at them and their strength was rent like a cobweb.
Offended at them for what? For committing those fearful
butcheries? No, for that was the common custom on both sides,
and not open to criticism. Then was it for doing the butcheries
"under cover of religion"? No, that was not it; religious
feeling was often expressed in that fervent way all through those
old centuries. The truth is, He was not offended at "them" at all;
He was only offended at their king, who had been false to an oath.
Then why did not He put the punishment upon the king instead of
upon "them"? It is a difficult question. One can see by the
Chronicle that the "judgments" fell rather customarily upon
the wrong person, but Henry of Huntington does not explain why.
Here is one that went true; the chronicler's satisfaction
in it is not hidden:
In the month of August, Providence displayed its justice in
a remarkable manner; for two of the nobles who had converted
monasteries into fortifications, expelling the monks, their sin
being the same, met with a similar punishment. Robert Marmion
was one, Godfrey de Mandeville the other. Robert Marmion,
issuing forth against the enemy, was slain under the walls of the
monastery, being the only one who fell, though he was surrounded
by his troops. Dying excommunicated, he became subject to death
everlasting. In like manner Earl Godfrey was singled out among
his followers, and shot with an arrow by a common foot-soldier.
He made light of the wound, but he died of it in a few days,
under excommunication. See here the like judgment of God,
memorable through all ages!
The exaltation jars upon me; not because of the death of the
men, for they deserved that, but because it is death eternal, in
white-hot fire and flame. It makes my flesh crawl. I have not
known more than three men, or perhaps four, in my whole lifetime,
whom I would rejoice to see writhing in those fires for even a
year, let alone forever. I believe I would relent before the
year was up, and get them out if I could. I think that in
the long run, if a man's wife and babies, who had not harmed me,
should come crying and pleading, I couldn't stand it; I know I
should forgive him and let him go, even if he had violated a
monastery. Henry of Huntington has been watching Godfrey and
Marmion for nearly seven hundred and fifty years, now, but I
couldn't do it, I know I couldn't. I am soft and gentle in my
nature, and I should have forgiven them seventy-and-seven times,
long ago. And I think God has; but this is only an opinion,
and not authoritative, like Henry of Huntington's interpretations.
I could learn to interpret, but I have never tried; I get so
All through his book Henry exhibits his familiarity with the
intentions of God, and with the reasons for his intentions.
Sometimes--very often, in fact--the act follows the intention
after such a wide interval of time that one wonders how Henry
could fit one act out of a hundred to one intention out of a
hundred and get the thing right every time when there was such
abundant choice among acts and intentions. Sometimes a man
offends the Deity with a crime, and is punished for it thirty
years later; meantime he was committed a million other crimes:
no matter, Henry can pick out the one that brought the worms.
Worms were generally used in those days for the slaying of
particularly wicked people. This has gone out, now, but in old
times it was a favorite. It always indicated a case of "wrath."
. . . the just God avenging Robert Fitzhilderbrand's
perfidy, a worm grew in his vitals, which gradually gnawing its
way through his intestines fattened on the abandoned man till,
tortured with excruciating sufferings and venting himself in
bitter moans, he was by a fitting punishment brought to his end.
It was probably an alligator, but we cannot tell; we only
know it was a particular breed, and only used to convey wrath.
Some authorities think it was an ichthyosaurus, but there is
However, one thing we do know; and that is that that worm had been
due years and years. Robert F. had violated a monastery once;
he had committed unprintable crimes since, and they had been
permitted--under disapproval--but the ravishment of the monastery
had not been forgotten nor forgiven, and the worm came at last.
Why were these reforms put off in this strange way? What was to
be gained by it? Did Henry of Huntington really know his facts,
or was he only guessing? Sometimes I am half persuaded that
he is only a guesser, and not a good one. The divine wisdom
must surely be of the better quality than he makes it out to be.
Five hundred years before Henry's time some forecasts of the
Lord's purposes were furnished by a pope, who perceived, by
certain perfectly trustworthy signs furnished by the Deity for
the information of His familiars, that the end of the world was
. . . about to come. But as this end of the world draws
near many things are at hand which have not before happened, as
changes in the air, terrible signs in the heavens, tempests out
of the common order of the seasons, wars, famines, pestilences,
earthquakes in various places; all which will not happen in our
days, but after our days all will come to pass.
Still, the end was so near that these signs were "sent before
that we may be careful for our souls and be found prepared
to meet the impending judgment."
That was thirteen hundred years ago. This is really no
improvement on the work of the Roman augurs.
As concerns tobacco, there are many superstitions. And the
chiefest is this--that there is a STANDARD governing the matter,
whereas there is nothing of the kind. Each man's own preference
is the only standard for him, the only one which he can accept,
the only one which can command him. A congress of all the
tobacco-lovers in the world could not elect a standard which
would be binding upon you or me, or would even much influence us.
The next superstition is that a man has a standard of his own.
He hasn't. He thinks he has, but he hasn't. He thinks he can
tell what he regards as a good cigar from what he regards as a
bad one--but he can't. He goes by the brand, yet imagines he goes
by the flavor. One may palm off the worst counterfeit upon him;
if it bears his brand he will smoke it contentedly and never suspect.
Children of twenty-five, who have seven years experience,
try to tell me what is a good cigar and what isn't.
Me, who never learned to smoke, but always smoked;
me, who came into the world asking for a light.
No one can tell me what is a good cigar--for me. I am the
only judge. People who claim to know say that I smoke the worst
cigars in the world. They bring their own cigars when they come
to my house. They betray an unmanly terror when I offer them
a cigar; they tell lies and hurry away to meet engagements
which they have not made when they are threatened with the
hospitalities of my box. Now then, observe what superstition,
assisted by a man's reputation, can do. I was to have twelve
personal friends to supper one night. One of them was as
notorious for costly and elegant cigars as I was for cheap and
devilish ones. I called at his house and when no one was looking
borrowed a double handful of his very choicest; cigars which cost
him forty cents apiece and bore red-and-gold labels in sign of
their nobility. I removed the labels and put the cigars into a
box with my favorite brand on it--a brand which those people all
knew, and which cowed them as men are cowed by an epidemic. They
took these cigars when offered at the end of the supper, and lit
them and sternly struggled with them--in dreary silence, for
hilarity died when the fell brand came into view and started
around--but their fortitude held for a short time only; then they
made excuses and filed out, treading on one another's heels with
indecent eagerness; and in the morning when I went out to observe
results the cigars lay all between the front door and the gate.
All except one--that one lay in the plate of the man from whom I
had cabbaged the lot. One or two whiffs was all he could stand.
He told me afterward that some day I would get shot for giving
people that kind of cigars to smoke.
Am I certain of my own standard? Perfectly; yes, absolutely
--unless somebody fools me by putting my brand on some other kind
of cigar; for no doubt I am like the rest, and know my cigar by
the brand instead of by the flavor. However, my standard is a
pretty wide one and covers a good deal of territory. To me,
almost any cigar is good that nobody else will smoke, and to me
almost all cigars are bad that other people consider good.
Nearly any cigar will do me, except a Havana. People think they
hurt my feelings when then come to my house with their life
preservers on--I mean, with their own cigars in their pockets.
It is an error; I take care of myself in a similar way. When I
go into danger--that is, into rich people's houses, where, in the
nature of things, they will have high-tariff cigars, red-and-gilt
girded and nested in a rosewood box along with a damp sponge,
cigars which develop a dismal black ash and burn down the side
and smell, and will grow hot to the fingers, and will go on
growing hotter and hotter, and go on smelling more and more
infamously and unendurably the deeper the fire tunnels down
inside below the thimbleful of honest tobacco that is in the
front end, the furnisher of it praising it all the time and
telling you how much the deadly thing cost--yes, when I go into
that sort of peril I carry my own defense along; I carry my own
brand--twenty-seven cents a barrel--and I live to see my family
again. I may seem to light his red-gartered cigar, but that is
only for courtesy's sake; I smuggle it into my pocket for the
poor, of whom I know many, and light one of my own; and while he
praises it I join in, but when he says it cost forty-five cents I
say nothing, for I know better.
However, to say true, my tastes are so catholic that I have
never seen any cigars that I really could not smoke, except those
that cost a dollar apiece. I have examined those and know that
they are made of dog-hair, and not good dog-hair at that.
I have a thoroughly satisfactory time in Europe, for all
over the Continent one finds cigars which not even the most
hardened newsboys in New York would smoke. I brought cigars with
me, the last time; I will not do that any more. In Italy, as in
France, the Government is the only cigar-peddler. Italy has
three or four domestic brands: the Minghetti, the Trabuco, the
Virginia, and a very coarse one which is a modification of the
Virginia. The Minghettis are large and comely, and cost three
dollars and sixty cents a hundred; I can smoke a hundred in seven
days and enjoy every one of them. The Trabucos suit me, too; I
don't remember the price. But one has to learn to like the
Virginia, nobody is born friendly to it. It looks like a rat-
tail file, but smokes better, some think. It has a straw through
it; you pull this out, and it leaves a flue, otherwise there
would be no draught, not even as much as there is to a nail.
Some prefer a nail at first. However, I like all the French,
Swiss, German, and Italian domestic cigars, and have never cared
to inquire what they are made of; and nobody would know, anyhow,
perhaps. There is even a brand of European smoking-tobacco that
I like. It is a brand used by the Italian peasants. It is loose
and dry and black, and looks like tea-grounds. When the fire is
applied it expands, and climbs up and towers above the pipe, and
presently tumbles off inside of one's vest. The tobacco itself
is cheap, but it raises the insurance. It is as I remarked in
the beginning--the taste for tobacco is a matter of superstition.
There are no standards--no real standards. Each man's preference
is the only standard for him, the only one which he can accept,
the only one which can command him.
It was Maeterlinck who introduced me to the bee. I mean, in
the psychical and in the poetical way. I had had a business
introduction earlier. It was when I was a boy. It is strange
that I should remember a formality like that so long; it must be
nearly sixty years.
Bee scientists always speak of the bee as she. It is
because all the important bees are of that sex. In the hive
there is one married bee, called the queen; she has fifty
thousand children; of these, about one hundred are sons; the rest
are daughters. Some of the daughters are young maids, some are
old maids, and all are virgins and remain so.
Every spring the queen comes out of the hive and flies away
with one of her sons and marries him. The honeymoon lasts only
an hour or two; then the queen divorces her husband and returns
home competent to lay two million eggs. This will be enough to
last the year, but not more than enough, because hundreds of bees
are drowned every day, and other hundreds are eaten by birds, and
it is the queen's business to keep the population up to standard
--say, fifty thousand. She must always have that many children
on hand and efficient during the busy season, which is summer, or
winter would catch the community short of food. She lays from
two thousand to three thousand eggs a day, according to the
demand; and she must exercise judgment, and not lay more than are
needed in a slim flower-harvest, nor fewer than are required in a
prodigal one, or the board of directors will dethrone her and
elect a queen that has more sense.
There are always a few royal heirs in stock and ready to
take her place--ready and more than anxious to do it, although
she is their own mother. These girls are kept by themselves, and
are regally fed and tended from birth. No other bees get such
fine food as they get, or live such a high and luxurious life.
By consequence they are larger and longer and sleeker than their
working sisters. And they have a curved sting, shaped like a
scimitar, while the others have a straight one.
A common bee will sting any one or anybody, but a royalty
stings royalties only. A common bee will sting and kill another
common bee, for cause, but when it is necessary to kill the queen
other ways are employed. When a queen has grown old and slack
and does not lay eggs enough one of her royal daughters is
allowed to come to attack her, the rest of the bees looking on at
the duel and seeing fair play. It is a duel with the curved
stings. If one of the fighters gets hard pressed and gives it up
and runs, she is brought back and must try again--once, maybe
twice; then, if she runs yet once more for her life, judicial
death is her portion; her children pack themselves into a ball
around her person and hold her in that compact grip two or three
days, until she starves to death or is suffocated. Meantime the
victor bee is receiving royal honors and performing the one royal
As regards the ethics of the judicial assassination of the
queen, that is a matter of politics, and will be discussed later,
in its proper place.
During substantially the whole of her short life of five or
six years the queen lives in Egyptian darkness and stately
seclusion of the royal apartments, with none about her but
plebeian servants, who give her empty lip-affection in place of
the love which her heart hungers for; who spy upon her in the
interest of her waiting heirs, and report and exaggerate her
defects and deficiencies to them; who fawn upon her and flatter
her to her face and slander her behind her back; who grovel
before her in the day of her power and forsake her in her age and
weakness. There she sits, friendless, upon her throne through
the long night of her life, cut off from the consoling sympathies
and sweet companionship and loving endearments which she craves,
by the gilded barriers of her awful rank; a forlorn exile in her
own house and home, weary object of formal ceremonies and
machine-made worship, winged child of the sun, native to the free
air and the blue skies and the flowery fields, doomed by the
splendid accident of her birth to trade this priceless heritage
for a black captivity, a tinsel grandeur, and a loveless life,
with shame and insult at the end and a cruel death--and condemned
by the human instinct in her to hold the bargain valuable!
Huber, Lubbock, Maeterlinck--in fact, all the great
authorities--are agreed in denying that the bee is a member of
the human family. I do not know why they have done this, but I
think it is from dishonest motives. Why, the innumerable facts
brought to light by their own painstaking and exhaustive
experiments prove that if there is a master fool in the world, it
is the bee. That seems to settle it.
But that is the way of the scientist. He will spend thirty
years in building up a mountain range of facts with the intent to
prove a certain theory; then he is so happy in his achievement
that as a rule he overlooks the main chief fact of all--that his
accumulation proves an entirely different thing. When you point
out this miscarriage to him he does not answer your letters; when
you call to convince him, the servant prevaricates and you do not
get in. Scientists have odious manners, except when you prop up
their theory; then you can borrow money of them.
To be strictly fair, I will concede that now and then one of
them will answer your letter, but when they do they avoid the
issue--you cannot pin them down. When I discovered that the bee
was human I wrote about it to all those scientists whom I have
just mentioned. For evasions, I have seen nothing to equal the
answers I got.
After the queen, the personage next in importance in the
hive is the virgin. The virgins are fifty thousand or one
hundred thousand in number, and they are the workers, the
laborers. No work is done, in the hive or out of it, save by
them. The males do not work, the queen does no work, unless
laying eggs is work, but it does not seem so to me. There are
only two million of them, anyway, and all of five months to
finish the contract in. The distribution of work in a hive is as
cleverly and elaborately specialized as it is in a vast American
machine-shop or factory. A bee that has been trained to one of
the many and various industries of the concern doesn't know how
to exercise any other, and would be offended if asked to take a
hand in anything outside of her profession. She is as human as a
cook; and if you should ask the cook to wait on the table, you
know what will happen. Cooks will play the piano if you like,
but they draw the line there. In my time I have asked a cook to
chop wood, and I know about these things. Even the hired girl
has her frontiers; true, they are vague, they are ill-defined,
even flexible, but they are there. This is not conjecture; it is
founded on the absolute. And then the butler. You ask the
butler to wash the dog. It is just as I say; there is much to be
learned in these ways, without going to books. Books are very well,
but books do not cover the whole domain of esthetic human culture.
Pride of profession is one of the boniest bones in existence,
if not the boniest. Without doubt it is so in the hive.
TAMING THE BICYCLE
In the early eighties Mark Twain learned to ride one of the
old high-wheel bicycles of that period. He wrote an account of
his experience, but did not offer it for publication. The form
of bicycle he rode long ago became antiquated, but in the humor
of his pleasantry is a quality which does not grow old.
A. B. P.
I thought the matter over, and concluded I could do it. So
I went down a bought a barrel of Pond's Extract and a bicycle.
The Expert came home with me to instruct me. We chose the
back yard, for the sake of privacy, and went to work.
Mine was not a full-grown bicycle, but only a colt--a
fifty-inch, with the pedals shortened up to forty-eight--and
skittish, like any other colt. The Expert explained the thing's
points briefly, then he got on its back and rode around a little,
to show me how easy it was to do. He said that the dismounting
was perhaps the hardest thing to learn, and so we would leave
that to the last. But he was in error there. He found, to his
surprise and joy, that all that he needed to do was to get me on
to the machine and stand out of the way; I could get off, myself.
Although I was wholly inexperienced, I dismounted in the best
time on record. He was on that side, shoving up the machine;
we all came down with a crash, he at the bottom, I next,
and the machine on top.
We examined the machine, but it was not in the least
injured. This was hardly believable. Yet the Expert assured me
that it was true; in fact, the examination proved it. I was
partly to realize, then, how admirably these things are
constructed. We applied some Pond's Extract, and resumed. The
Expert got on the OTHER side to shove up this time, but I
dismounted on that side; so the result was as before.
The machine was not hurt. We oiled ourselves again, and resumed.
This time the Expert took up a sheltered position behind,
but somehow or other we landed on him again.
He was full of admiration; said it was abnormal. She was
all right, not a scratch on her, not a timber started anywhere.
I said it was wonderful, while we were greasing up, but he said
that when I came to know these steel spider-webs I would realize
that nothing but dynamite could cripple them. Then he limped out
to position, and we resumed once more. This time the Expert took
up the position of short-stop, and got a man to shove up behind.
We got up a handsome speed, and presently traversed a brick, and
I went out over the top of the tiller and landed, head down, on
the instructor's back, and saw the machine fluttering in the air
between me and the sun. It was well it came down on us, for that
broke the fall, and it was not injured.
Five days later I got out and was carried down to the
hospital, and found the Expert doing pretty fairly. In a few
more days I was quite sound. I attribute this to my prudence in
always dismounting on something soft. Some recommend a feather
bed, but I think an Expert is better.
The Expert got out at last, brought four assistants with
him. It was a good idea. These four held the graceful cobweb
upright while I climbed into the saddle; then they formed in
column and marched on either side of me while the Expert pushed
behind; all hands assisted at the dismount.
The bicycle had what is called the "wabbles," and had them
very badly. In order to keep my position, a good many things
were required of me, and in every instance the thing required was
against nature. That is to say, that whatever the needed thing
might be, my nature, habit, and breeding moved me to attempt it
in one way, while some immutable and unsuspected law of physics
required that it be done in just the other way. I perceived by
this how radically and grotesquely wrong had been the life-long
education of my body and members. They were steeped in
ignorance; they knew nothing--nothing which it could profit them
to know. For instance, if I found myself falling to the right, I
put the tiller hard down the other way, by a quite natural
impulse, and so violated a law, and kept on going down. The law
required the opposite thing--the big wheel must be turned in the
direction in which you are falling. It is hard to believe this,
when you are told it. And not merely hard to believe it, but
impossible; it is opposed to all your notions. And it is just as
hard to do it, after you do come to believe it. Believing it,
and knowing by the most convincing proof that it is true, does
not help it: you can't any more DO it than you could before; you
can neither force nor persuade yourself to do it at first. The
intellect has to come to the front, now. It has to teach the
limbs to discard their old education and adopt the new.
The steps of one's progress are distinctly marked. At the
end of each lesson he knows he has acquired something, and he
also knows what that something is, and likewise that it will stay
with him. It is not like studying German, where you mull along,
in a groping, uncertain way, for thirty years; and at last, just
as you think you've got it, they spring the subjunctive on you,
and there you are. No--and I see now, plainly enough, that the
great pity about the German language is, that you can't fall off
it and hurt yourself. There is nothing like that feature to make
you attend strictly to business. But I also see, by what I have
learned of bicycling, that the right and only sure way to learn
German is by the bicycling method. That is to say, take a grip
on one villainy of it at a time, leaving that one half learned.
When you have reached the point in bicycling where you can
balance the machine tolerably fairly and propel it and steer it,
then comes your next task--how to mount it. You do it in this
way: you hop along behind it on your right foot, resting the
other on the mounting-peg, and grasping the tiller with your
hands. At the word, you rise on the peg, stiffen your left leg,
hang your other one around in the air in a general in indefinite
way, lean your stomach against the rear of the saddle, and then
fall off, maybe on one side, maybe on the other; but you fall off.
You get up and do it again; and once more; and then several times.
By this time you have learned to keep your balance; and also
to steer without wrenching the tiller out by the roots (I say
tiller because it IS a tiller; "handle-bar" is a lamely
descriptive phrase). So you steer along, straight ahead, a little
while, then you rise forward, with a steady strain, bringing your
right leg, and then your body, into the saddle, catch your
breath, fetch a violent hitch this way and then that, and down
you go again.
But you have ceased to mind the going down by this time; you
are getting to light on one foot or the other with considerable
certainty. Six more attempts and six more falls make you
perfect. You land in the saddle comfortably, next time, and stay
there--that is, if you can be content to let your legs dangle,
and leave the pedals alone a while; but if you grab at once for
the pedals, you are gone again. You soon learn to wait a little
and perfect your balance before reaching for the pedals; then the
mounting-art is acquired, is complete, and a little practice will
make it simple and easy to you, though spectators ought to keep
off a rod or two to one side, along at first, if you have nothing
And now you come to the voluntary dismount; you learned the
other kind first of all. It is quite easy to tell one how to do
the voluntary dismount; the words are few, the requirement
simple, and apparently undifficult; let your left pedal go down
till your left leg is nearly straight, turn your wheel to the
left, and get off as you would from a horse. It certainly does
sound exceedingly easy; but it isn't. I don't know why it isn't
but it isn't. Try as you may, you don't get down as you would
from a horse, you get down as you would from a house afire. You
make a spectacle of yourself every time.
During the eight days I took a daily lesson an hour and a
half. At the end of this twelve working-hours' appreticeship I
was graduated--in the rough. I was pronounced competent to
paddle my own bicycle without outside help. It seems incredible,
this celerity of acquirement. It takes considerably longer than
that to learn horseback-riding in the rough.
Now it is true that I could have learned without a teacher,
but it would have been risky for me, because of my natural
clumsiness. The self-taught man seldom knows anything
accurately, and he does not know a tenth as much as he could have
known if he had worked under teachers; and, besides, he brags,
and is the means of fooling other thoughtless people into going
and doing as he himself has done. There are those who imagine
that the unlucky accidents of life--life's "experiences"--are in
some way useful to us. I wish I could find out how. I never
knew one of them to happen twice. They always change off and
swap around and catch you on your inexperienced side. If
personal experience can be worth anything as an education, it
wouldn't seem likely that you could trip Methuselah; and yet if
that old person could come back here it is more that likely that
one of the first things he would do would be to take hold of one
of these electric wires and tie himself all up in a knot. Now
the surer thing and the wiser thing would be for him to ask
somebody whether it was a good thing to take hold of. But that
would not suit him; he would be one of the self-taught kind that
go by experience; he would want to examine for himself. And he
would find, for his instruction, that the coiled patriarch shuns
the electric wire; and it would be useful to him, too, and would
leave his education in quite a complete and rounded-out
condition, till he should come again, some day, and go to
bouncing a dynamite-can around to find out what was in it.
But we wander from the point. However, get a teacher; it
saves much time and Pond's Extract.
Before taking final leave of me, my instructor inquired
concerning my physical strength, and I was able to inform him
that I hadn't any. He said that that was a defect which would
make up-hill wheeling pretty difficult for me at first; but he
also said the bicycle would soon remove it. The contrast between
his muscles and mine was quite marked. He wanted to test mine,
so I offered my biceps--which was my best. It almost made him
smile. He said, "It is pulpy, and soft, and yielding, and
rounded; it evades pressure, and glides from under the fingers;
in the dark a body might think it was an oyster in a rag."
Perhaps this made me look grieved, for he added, briskly: "Oh,
that's all right, you needn't worry about that; in a little while
you can't tell it from a petrified kidney. Just go right along
with your practice; you're all right."
Then he left me, and I started out alone to seek adventures.
You don't really have to seek them--that is nothing but a phrase
--they come to you.
I chose a reposeful Sabbath-day sort of a back street which
was about thirty yards wide between the curbstones. I knew it
was not wide enough; still, I thought that by keeping strict
watch and wasting no space unnecessarily I could crowd through.
Of course I had trouble mounting the machine, entirely on my
own responsibility, with no encouraging moral support from the
outside, no sympathetic instructor to say, "Good! now you're
doing well--good again--don't hurry--there, now, you're all right
--brace up, go ahead." In place of this I had some other
support. This was a boy, who was perched on a gate-post munching
a hunk of maple sugar.
He was full of interest and comment. The first time I
failed and went down he said that if he was me he would dress up
in pillows, that's what he would do. The next time I went down
he advised me to go and learn to ride a tricycle first. The
third time I collapsed he said he didn't believe I could stay on
a horse-car. But the next time I succeeded, and got clumsily
under way in a weaving, tottering, uncertain fashion, and
occupying pretty much all of the street. My slow and lumbering
gait filled the boy to the chin with scorn, and he sung out, "My,
but don't he rip along!" Then he got down from his post and
loafed along the sidewalk, still observing and occasionally
commenting. Presently he dropped into my wake and followed along
behind. A little girl passed by, balancing a wash-board on her
head, and giggled, and seemed about to make a remark, but the boy
said, rebukingly, "Let him alone, he's going to a funeral."
I have been familiar with that street for years, and had
always supposed it was a dead level; but it was not, as the
bicycle now informed me, to my surprise. The bicycle, in the
hands of a novice, is as alert and acute as a spirit-level in the
detecting the delicate and vanishing shades of difference in
these matters. It notices a rise where your untrained eye would
not observe that one existed; it notices any decline which water
will run down. I was toiling up a slight rise, but was not aware
of it. It made me tug and pant and perspire; and still, labor as
I might, the machine came almost to a standstill every little while.
At such times the boy would say: "That's it! take a rest--
there ain't no hurry. They can't hold the funeral without YOU."
Stones were a bother to me. Even the smallest ones gave me a
panic when I went over them. I could hit any kind of a stone,
no matter how small, if I tried to miss it; and of course at
first I couldn't help trying to do that. It is but natural.
It is part of the ass that is put in us all, for some
It was at the end of my course, at last, and it was necessary
for me to round to. This is not a pleasant thing, when you
undertake it for the first time on your own responsibility,
and neither is it likely to succeed. Your confidence oozes away,
you fill steadily up with nameless apprehensions, every fiber of
you is tense with a watchful strain, you start a cautious and
gradual curve, but your squirmy nerves are all full of electric
anxieties, so the curve is quickly demoralized into a jerky and
perilous zigzag; then suddenly the nickel-clad horse takes the
bit in its mouth and goes slanting for the curbstone, defying all
prayers and all your powers to change its mind--your heart stands
still, your breath hangs fire, your legs forget to work, straight
on you go, and there are but a couple of feet between you and the
curb now. And now is the desperate moment, the last chance to
save yourself; of course all your instructions fly out of your
head, and you whirl your wheel AWAY from the curb instead of
TOWARD it, and so you go sprawling on that granite-bound
inhospitable shore. That was my luck; that was my experience. I
dragged myself out from under the indestructible bicycle and sat
down on the curb to examine.
I started on the return trip. It was now that I saw a
farmer's wagon poking along down toward me, loaded with cabbages.
If I needed anything to perfect the precariousness of my steering,
it was just that. The farmer was occupying the middle of the road
with his wagon, leaving barely fourteen or fifteen yards of space
on either side. I couldn't shout at him--a beginner can't shout;
if he opens his mouth he is gone; he must keep all his attention
on his business. But in this grisly emergency, the boy came
to the rescue, and for once I had to be grateful to him.
He kept a sharp lookout on the swiftly varying impulses and
inspirations of my bicycle, and shouted to the man accordingly:
"To the left! Turn to the left, or this jackass 'll run over you!"
The man started to do it. "No, to the right, to the right!
Hold on! THAT won't do!--to the left!--to the right!--to the
LEFT--right! left--ri-- Stay where you ARE, or you're a goner!"
And just then I caught the off horse in the starboard and went
down in a pile. I said, "Hang it! Couldn't you SEE I was coming?"
"Yes, I see you was coming, but I couldn't tell which WAY you
was coming. Nobody could--now, COULD they? You couldn't
yourself--now, COULD you? So what could _I_ do?"
There was something in that, and so I had the magnanimity to
say so. I said I was no doubt as much to blame as he was.
Within the next five days I achieved so much progress that
the boy couldn't keep up with me. He had to go back to his gate-
post, and content himself with watching me fall at long range.
There was a row of low stepping-stones across one end of the
street, a measured yard apart. Even after I got so I could steer
pretty fairly I was so afraid of those stones that I always hit
them. They gave me the worst falls I ever got in that street,
except those which I got from dogs. I have seen it stated that
no expert is quick enough to run over a dog; that a dog is always
able to skip out of his way. I think that that may be true: but
I think that the reason he couldn't run over the dog was because
he was trying to. I did not try to run over any dog. But I ran
over every dog that came along. I think it makes a great deal of
difference. If you try to run over the dog he knows how to
calculate, but if you are trying to miss him he does not know how
to calculate, and is liable to jump the wrong way every time. It
was always so in my experience. Even when I could not hit a
wagon I could hit a dog that came to see me practice. They all
liked to see me practice, and they all came, for there was very
little going on in our neighborhood to entertain a dog. It took
time to learn to miss a dog, but I achieved even that.
I can steer as well as I want to, now, and I will catch that
boy one of these days and run over HIM if he doesn't reform.
Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live.
IS SHAKESPEARE DEAD?
(from My Autobiography)
Scattered here and there through the stacks of unpublished
manuscript which constitute this formidable Autobiography and
Diary of mine, certain chapters will in some distant future be
found which deal with "Claimants"--claimants historically
notorious: Satan, Claimant; the Golden Calf, Claimant; the
Veiled Prophet of Khorassan, Claimant; Louis XVII., Claimant;
William Shakespeare, Claimant; Arthur Orton, Claimant; Mary Baker
G. Eddy, Claimant--and the rest of them. Eminent Claimants,
successful Claimants, defeated Claimants, royal Claimants, pleb
Claimants, showy Claimants, shabby Claimants, revered Claimants,
despised Claimants, twinkle star-like here and there and yonder
through the mists of history and legend and tradition--and, oh,
all the darling tribe are clothed in mystery and romance, and we
read about them with deep interest and discuss them with loving
sympathy or with rancorous resentment, according to which side we
hitch ourselves to. It has always been so with the human race.
There was never a Claimant that couldn't get a hearing, nor one
that couldn't accumulate a rapturous following, no matter how
flimsy and apparently unauthentic his claim might be. Arthur
Orton's claim that he was the lost Tichborne baronet come to life
again was as flimsy as Mrs. Eddy's that she wrote SCIENCE AND
HEALTH from the direct dictation of the Deity; yet in England
nearly forty years ago Orton had a huge army of devotees and
incorrigible adherents, many of whom remained stubbornly
unconvinced after their fat god had been proven an impostor and
jailed as a perjurer, and today Mrs. Eddy's following is not only
immense, but is daily augmenting in numbers and enthusiasm.
Orton had many fine and educated minds among his adherents, Mrs.
Eddy has had the like among hers from the beginning. Her Church
is as well equipped in those particulars as is any other Church.
Claimants can always count upon a following, it doesn't matter
who they are, nor what they claim, nor whether they come with
documents or without. It was always so. Down out of the long-
vanished past, across the abyss of the ages, if you listen, you
can still hear the believing multitudes shouting for Perkin
Warbeck and Lambert Simnel.
A friend has sent me a new book, from England--THE
SHAKESPEARE PROBLEM RESTATED--well restated and closely reasoned;
and my fifty years' interest in that matter--asleep for the last
three years--is excited once more. It is an interest which was
born of Delia Bacon's book--away back in the ancient day--1857,
or maybe 1856. About a year later my pilot-master, Bixby,
transferred me from his own steamboat to the PENNSYLVANIA, and
placed me under the orders and instructions of George Ealer--dead
now, these many, many years. I steered for him a good many
months--as was the humble duty of the pilot-apprentice: stood a
daylight watch and spun the wheel under the severe
superintendence and correction of the master. He was a prime
chess-player and an idolater of Shakespeare. He would play chess
with anybody; even with me, and it cost his official dignity
something to do that. Also--quite uninvited--he would read
Shakespeare to me; not just casually, but by the hour, when it
was his watch and I was steering. He read well, but not
profitably for me, because he constantly injected commands into
the text. That broke it all up, mixed it all up, tangled it all
up--to that degree, in fact, that if we were in a risky and
difficult piece of river an ignorant person couldn't have told,
sometimes, which observations were Shakespeare's and which were
Ealer's. For instance:
What man dare, _I_ dare!
Approach thou WHAT are you laying in the leads for? what a
hell of an idea! like the rugged ease her off a little, ease her
off! rugged Russian bear, the armed rhinoceros or the THERE she
goes! meet her, meet her! didn't you KNOW she'd smell the reef if
you crowded in like that? Hyrcan tiger; take any ship but that
and my firm nerves she'll be in the WOODS the first you know!
stop he starboard! come ahead strong on the larboard! back the
starboard! . . . NOW then, you're all right; come ahead on the
starboard; straighten up and go 'long, never tremble: or be
alive again, and dare me to the desert DAMNATION can't you keep
away from that greasy water? pull her down! snatch her! snatch
her baldheaded! with thy sword; if trembling I inhabit then, lay
in the leads!--no, only with the starboard one, leave the other
alone, protest me the baby of a girl. Hence horrible shadow!
eight bells--that watchman's asleep again, I reckon, go down and
call Brown yourself, unreal mockery, hence!
He certainly was a good reader, and splendidly thrilling and
stormy and tragic, but it was a damage to me, because I have
never since been able to read Shakespeare in a calm and sane way.
I cannot rid it of his explosive interlardings, they break in
everywhere with their irrelevant, "What in hell are you up to
NOW! pull her down! more! MORE!--there now, steady as you go,"
and the other disorganizing interruptions that were always
leaping from his mouth. When I read Shakespeare now I can hear
them as plainly as I did in that long-departed time--fifty-one
years ago. I never regarded Ealer's readings as educational.
Indeed, they were a detriment to me.
His contributions to the text seldom improved it, but
barring that detail he was a good reader; I can say that much for
him. He did not use the book, and did not need to; he knew his
Shakespeare as well as Euclid ever knew his multiplication table.
Did he have something to say--this Shakespeare-adoring
Mississippi pilot--anent Delia Bacon's book?
Yes. And he said it; said it all the time, for months--in
the morning watch, the middle watch, and dog watch; and probably
kept it going in his sleep. He bought the literature of the
dispute as fast as it appeared, and we discussed it all through
thirteen hundred miles of river four times traversed in every
thirty-five days--the time required by that swift boat to achieve
two round trips. We discussed, and discussed, and discussed, and
disputed and disputed and disputed; at any rate, HE did, and I
got in a word now and then when he slipped a cog and there was a
vacancy. He did his arguing with heat, with energy, with
violence; and I did mine with the reverse and moderation of a
subordinate who does not like to be flung out of a pilot-house
and is perched forty feet above the water. He was fiercely loyal
to Shakespeare and cordially scornful of Bacon and of all the
pretensions of the Baconians. So was I--at first. And at first
he was glad that that was my attitude. There were even
indications that he admired it; indications dimmed, it is true,
by the distance that lay between the lofty boss-pilotical
altitude and my lowly one, yet perceptible to me; perceptible,
and translatable into a compliment--compliment coming down from
about the snow-line and not well thawed in the transit, and not
likely to set anything afire, not even a cub-pilot's self-
conceit; still a detectable complement, and precious.
Naturally it flattered me into being more loyal to Shakespeare--
if possible--than I was before, and more prejudiced against
Bacon--if possible--that I was before. And so we discussed
and discussed, both on the same side, and were happy.
For a while. Only for a while. Only for a very little while,
a very, very, very little while. Then the atmosphere began
to change; began to cool off.
A brighter person would have seen what the trouble was,
earlier than I did, perhaps, but I saw it early enough for all
practical purposes. You see, he was of an argumentative
disposition. Therefore it took him but a little time to get
tired of arguing with a person who agreed with everything he said
and consequently never furnished him a provocative to flare up
and show what he could do when it came to clear, cold, hard,
rose-cut, hundred-faceted, diamond-flashing REASONING. That was
his name for it. It has been applied since, with complacency, as
many as several times, in the Bacon-Shakespeare scuffle. On the
Then the thing happened which has happened to more persons
than to me when principle and personal interest found themselves
in opposition to each other and a choice had to be made: I let
principle go, and went over to the other side. Not the entire
way, but far enough to answer the requirements of the case. That
is to say, I took this attitude--to wit, I only BELIEVED Bacon
wrote Shakespeare, whereas I KNEW Shakespeare didn't. Ealer was
satisfied with that, and the war broke loose. Study, practice,
experience in handling my end of the matter presently enabled me
to take my new position almost seriously; a little bit later,
utterly seriously; a little later still, lovingly, gratefully,
devotedly; finally: fiercely, rabidly, uncompromisingly. After
that I was welded to my faith, I was theoretically ready to die
for it, and I looked down with compassion not unmixed with scorn
upon everybody else's faith that didn't tally with mine. That
faith, imposed upon me by self-interest in that ancient day,
remains my faith today, and in it I find comfort, solace, peace,
and never-failing joy. You see how curiously theological it is.
The "rice Christian" of the Orient goes through the very same
steps, when he is after rice and the missionary is after HIM; he
goes for rice, and remains to worship.
Ealer did a lot of our "reasoning"--not to say substantially
all of it. The slaves of his cult have a passion for calling it
by that large name. We others do not call our inductions and
deductions and reductions by any name at all. They show for
themselves what they are, and we can with tranquil confidence
leave the world to ennoble them with a title of its own choosing.
Now and then when Ealer had to stop to cough, I pulled my
induction-talents together and hove the controversial lead
myself: always getting eight feet, eight and a half, often nine,
sometimes even quarter-less-twain--as _I_ believed; but always
"no bottom," as HE said.
I got the best of him only once. I prepared myself. I
wrote out a passage from Shakespeare--it may have been the very
one I quoted awhile ago, I don't remember--and riddled it with
his wild steamboatful interlardings. When an unrisky opportunity
offered, one lovely summer day, when we had sounded and buoyed a
tangled patch of crossings known as Hell's Half Acre, and were
aboard again and he had sneaked the PENNSYLVANIA triumphantly
through it without once scraping sand, and the A. T. LACEY had
followed in our wake and got stuck, and he was feeling good, I
showed it to him. It amused him. I asked him to fire it off--
READ it; read it, I diplomatically added, as only HE could read
dramatic poetry. The compliment touched him where he lived. He
did read it; read it with surpassing fire and spirit; read it as
it will never be read again; for HE know how to put the right
music into those thunderous interlardings and make them seem a
part of the text, make them sound as if they were bursting from
Shakespeare's own soul, each one of them a golden inspiration and
not to be left out without damage to the massed and magnificent
I waited a week, to let the incident fade; waited longer;
waited until he brought up for reasonings and vituperation my pet
position, my pet argument, the one which I was fondest of, the
one which I prized far above all others in my ammunition-wagon--
to wit, that Shakespeare couldn't have written Shakespeare's
words, for the reason that the man who wrote them was limitlessly
familiar with the laws, and the law-courts, and law-proceedings,
and lawyer-talk, and lawyer-ways--and if Shakespeare was
possessed of the infinitely divided star-dust that constituted
this vast wealth, HOW did he get it, and WHERE and WHEN?
From books! That was always the idea. I answered as my
readings of the champions of my side of the great controversy had
taught me to answer: that a man can't handle glibly and easily
and comfortably and successfully the argot of a trade at which he
has not personally served. He will make mistakes; he will not,
and cannot, get the trade-phrasings precisely and exactly right;
and the moment he departs, by even a shade, from a common trade-
form, the reader who has served that trade will know the writer
HASN'T. Ealer would not be convinced; he said a man could learn
how to correctly handle the subtleties and mysteries and free-
masonries of ANY trade by careful reading and studying. But when
I got him to read again the passage from Shakespeare with the
interlardings, he perceived, himself, that books couldn't teach a
student a bewildering multitude of pilot-phrases so thoroughly
and perfectly that he could talk them off in book and play or
conversation and make no mistake that a pilot would not
immediately discover. It was a triumph for me. He was silent
awhile, and I knew what was happening--he was losing his temper.
And I knew he would presently close the session with the same old
argument that was always his stay and his support in time of
need; the same old argument, the one I couldn't answer, because I
dasn't--the argument that I was an ass, and better shut up. He
delivered it, and I obeyed.
O dear, how long ago it was--how pathetically long ago! And
here am I, old, forsaken, forlorn, and alone, arranging to get
that argument out of somebody again.
When a man has a passion for Shakespeare, it goes without
saying that he keeps company with other standard authors. Ealer
always had several high-class books in the pilot-house, and he
read the same ones over and over again, and did not care to
change to newer and fresher ones. He played well on the flute,
and greatly enjoyed hearing himself play. So did I. He had a
notion that a flute would keep its health better if you took it
apart when it was not standing a watch; and so, when it was not
on duty it took its rest, disjointed, on the compass-shelf under
the breastboard. When the PENNSYLVANIA blew up and became a
drifting rack-heap freighted with wounded and dying poor souls
(my young brother Henry among them), pilot Brown had the watch
below, and was probably asleep and never knew what killed him;
but Ealer escaped unhurt. He and his pilot-house were shot up
into the air; then they fell, and Ealer sank through the ragged
cavern where the hurricane-deck and the boiler-deck had been, and
landed in a nest of ruins on the main deck, on top of one of the
unexploded boilers, where he lay prone in a fog of scald and
deadly steam. But not for long. He did not lose his head--long
familiarity with danger had taught him to keep it, in any and all
emergencies. He held his coat-lapels to his nose with one hand,
to keep out the steam, and scrabbled around with the other till
he found the joints of his flute, then he took measures to save
himself alive, and was successful. I was not on board. I had
been put ashore in New Orleans by Captain Klinenfelter. The
reason--however, I have told all about it in the book called OLD
TIMES ON THE MISSISSIPPI, and it isn't important, anyway, it is
so long ago.
When I was a Sunday-school scholar, something more than
sixty years ago, I became interested in Satan, and wanted to find
out all I could about him. I began to ask questions, but my
class-teacher, Mr. Barclay, the stone-mason, was reluctant about
answering them, it seemed to me. I was anxious to be praised for
turning my thoughts to serious subjects when there wasn't another
boy in the village who could be hired to do such a thing. I was
greatly interested in the incident of Eve and the serpent, and
thought Eve's calmness was perfectly noble. I asked Mr. Barclay
if he had ever heard of another woman who, being approached by a
serpeant, would not excuse herself and break for the nearest
timber. He did not answer my question, but rebuked me for
inquiring into matters above my age and comprehension. I will
say for Mr. Barclay that he was willing to tell me the facts of
Satan's history, but he stopped there: he wouldn't allow any
discussion of them.
In the course of time we exhausted the facts. There were
only five or six of them; you could set them all down on a
visiting-card. I was disappointed. I had been meditating a
biography, and was grieved to find that there were no materials.
I said as much, with the tears running down. Mr. Barclay's
sympathy and compassion were aroused, for he was a most kind and
gentle-spirited man, and he patted me on the head and cheered me
up by saying there was a whole vast ocean of materials! I can
still feel the happy thrill which these blessed words shot
Then he began to bail out that ocean's riches for my
encouragement and joy. Like this: it was "conjectured"--though
not established--that Satan was originally an angel in Heaven;
that he fell; that he rebelled, and brought on a war; that he was
defeated, and banished to perdition. Also, "we have reason to
believe" that later he did so and so; that "we are warranted in
supposing" that at a subsequent time he traveled extensively,
seeking whom he might devour; that a couple of centuries
afterward, "as tradition instructs us," he took up the cruel
trade of tempting people to their ruin, with vast and fearful
results; that by and by, "as the probabilities seem to indicate,"
he may have done certain things, he might have done certain other
things, he must have done still other things.
And so on and so on. We set down the five known facts by
themselves on a piece of paper, and numbered it "page 1"; then on
fifteen hundred other pieces of paper we set down the
"conjectures," and "suppositions," and "maybes," and "perhapses,"
and "doubtlesses," and "rumors," and "guesses," and
"probabilities," and "likelihoods," and "we are permitted to
thinks," and "we are warranted in believings," and "might have
beens," and "could have beens," and "must have beens," and
"unquestionablys," and "without a shadow of doubt"--and behold!
MATERIALS? Why, we had enough to build a biography of Shakespeare!
Yet he made me put away my pen; he would not let me write
the history of Satan. Why? Because, as he said, he had
suspicions--suspicions that my attitude in the matter was not
reverent, and that a person must be reverent when writing about
the sacred characters. He said any one who spoke flippantly of
Satan would be frowned upon by the religious world and also be
brought to account.
I assured him, in earnest and sincere words, that he had
wholly misconceived my attitude; that I had the highest respect
for Satan, and that my reverence for him equaled, and possibly
even exceeded, that of any member of the church. I said it
wounded me deeply to perceive by his words that he thought I
would make fun of Satan, and deride him, laugh at him, scoff at
him; whereas in truth I had never thought of such a thing, but
had only a warm desire to make fun of those others and laugh at
THEM. "What others?" "Why, the Supposers, the Perhapsers, the
Might-Have-Beeners, the Could-Have-Beeners, the Must-Have-Beeners,
the Without-a-Shadow-of-Doubters, the We-Are-Warranted-in-Believingers,
and all that funny crop of solemn architects who have taken a
good solid foundation of five indisputable and unimportant facts
and built upon it a Conjectural Satan thirty miles high."
What did Mr. Barclay do then? Was he disarmed? Was he
silenced? No. He was shocked. He was so shocked that he
visibly shuddered. He said the Satanic Traditioners and
Perhapsers and Conjecturers were THEMSELVES sacred! As sacred as
their work. So sacred that whoso ventured to mock them or make
fun of their work, could not afterward enter any respectable
house, even by the back door.
How true were his words, and how wise! How fortunate it
would have been for me if I had heeded them. But I was young, I
was but seven years of age, and vain, foolish, and anxious to
attract attention. I wrote the biography, and have never been in
a respectable house since.
How curious and interesting is the parallel--as far as
poverty of biographical details is concerned--between Satan and
Shakespeare. It is wonderful, it is unique, it stands quite
alone, there is nothing resembling it in history, nothing
resembling it in romance, nothing approaching it even in
tradition. How sublime is their position, and how over-topping,
how sky-reaching, how supreme--the two Great Unknowns, the two
Illustrious Conjecturabilities! They are the best-known unknown
persons that have ever drawn breath upon the planet.
For the instruction of the ignorant I will make a list, now,
of those details of Shakespeare's history which are FACTS--
verified facts, established facts, undisputed facts.
He was born on the 23d of April, 1564.
Of good farmer-class parents who could not read, could not
write, could not sign their names.
At Stratford, a small back settlement which in that day was
shabby and unclean, and densely illiterate. Of the nineteen
important men charged with the government of the town, thirteen
had to "make their mark" in attesting important documents,
because they could not write their names.
Of the first eighteen years of his life NOTHING is known.
They are a blank.
On the 27th of November (1582) William Shakespeare took out
a license to marry Anne Whateley.
Next day William Shakespeare took out a license to marry
Anne Hathaway. She was eight years his senior.
William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. In a hurry. By
grace of a reluctantly granted dispensation there was but one
publication of the banns.
Within six months the first child was born.
About two (blank) years followed, during which period
NOTHING AT ALL HAPPENED TO SHAKESPEARE, so far as anybody knows.
Then came twins--1585. February.
Two blank years follow.
Then--1587--he makes a ten-year visit to London, leaving the family behind.
Five blank years follow. During this period NOTHING
HAPPENED TO HIM, as far as anybody actually knows.
Then--1592--there is mention of him as an actor.
Next year--1593--his name appears in the official list of players.
Next year--1594--he played before the queen. A detail of no
consequence: other obscurities did it every year of the forty-
five of her reign. And remained obscure.
Three pretty full years follow. Full of play-acting. Then
In 1597 he bought New Place, Stratford.
Thirteen or fourteen busy years follow; years in which he
accumulated money, and also reputation as actor and manager.
Meantime his name, liberally and variously spelt, had
become associated with a number of great plays and poems, as
(ostensibly) author of the same.
Some of these, in these years and later, were pirated, but
he made no protest.
Then--1610-11--he returned to Stratford and settled down for
good and all, and busied himself in lending money, trading in
tithes, trading in land and houses; shirking a debt of forty-one
shillings, borrowed by his wife during his long desertion of his
family; suing debtors for shillings and coppers; being sued
himself for shillings and coppers; and acting as confederate to a
neighbor who tried to rob the town of its rights in a certain
common, and did not succeed.
He lived five or six years--till 1616--in the joy of these
elevated pursuits. Then he made a will, and signed each of its
three pages with his name.
A thoroughgoing business man's will. It named in minute
detail every item of property he owned in the world--houses,
lands, sword, silver-gilt bowl, and so on--all the way down to
his "second-best bed" and its furniture.
It carefully and calculatingly distributed his riches among
the members of his family, overlooking no individual of it. Not
even his wife: the wife he had been enabled to marry in a hurry
by urgent grace of a special dispensation before he was nineteen;
the wife whom he had left husbandless so many years; the wife who
had had to borrow forty-one shillings in her need, and which the
lender was never able to collect of the prosperous husband, but
died at last with the money still lacking. No, even this wife
was remembered in Shakespeare's will.
He left her that "second-best bed."
And NOT ANOTHER THING; not even a penny to bless her lucky
It was eminently and conspicuously a business man's will,
not a poet's.
It mentioned NOT A SINGLE BOOK.
Books were much more precious than swords and silver-gilt
bowls and second-best beds in those days, and when a departing
person owned one he gave it a high place in his will.
The will mentioned NOT A PLAY, NOT A POEM, NOT AN UNFINISHED
LITERARY WORK, NOT A SCRAP OF MANUSCRIPT OF ANY KIND.
Many poets have died poor, but this is the only one in
history that has died THIS poor; the others all left literary
remains behind. Also a book. Maybe two.
If Shakespeare had owned a dog--but we not go into that: we
know he would have mentioned it in his will. If a good dog,
Susanna would have got it; if an inferior one his wife would have
got a downer interest in it. I wish he had had a dog, just so we
could see how painstakingly he would have divided that dog among
the family, in his careful business way.
He signed the will in three places.
In earlier years he signed two other official documents.
These five signatures still exist.
There are NO OTHER SPECIMENS OF HIS PENMANSHIP IN EXISTENCE.
Not a line.
Was he prejudiced against the art? His granddaughter, whom
he loved, was eight years old when he died, yet she had had no
teaching, he left no provision for her education, although he was
rich, and in her mature womanhood she couldn't write and couldn't
tell her husband's manuscript from anybody else's--she thought it
When Shakespeare died in Stratford, IT WAS NOT AN EVENT. It
made no more stir in England than the death of any other
forgotten theater-actor would have made. Nobody came down from
London; there were no lamenting poems, no eulogies, no national
tears--there was merely silence, and nothing more. A striking
contrast with what happened when Ben Jonson, and Francis Bacon,
and Spenser, and Raleigh, and the other distinguished literary
folk of Shakespeare's time passed from life! No praiseful voice
was lifted for the lost Bard of Avon; even Ben Jonson waited
seven years before he lifted his.
SO FAR AS ANYBODY ACTUALLY KNOWS AND CAN PROVE, Shakespeare
of Stratford-on-Avon never wrote a play in his life.
SO FAR AS ANY ONE KNOWS, HE RECEIVED ONLY ONE LETTER
DURING HIS LIFE.
So far as any one KNOWS AND CAN PROVE, Shakespeare of
Stratford wrote only one poem during his life. This one is
authentic. He did write that one--a fact which stands
undisputed; he wrote the whole of it; he wrote the whole of it
out of his own head. He commanded that this work of art be
engraved upon his tomb, and he was obeyed. There it abides to
this day. This is it:
Good friend for Iesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare:
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones
And curst be he yt moves my bones.
In the list as above set down will be found EVERY POSITIVELY
KNOWN fact of Shakespeare's life, lean and meager as the invoice
is. Beyond these details we know NOT A THING about him. All the
rest of his vast history, as furnished by the biographers, is
built up, course upon course, of guesses, inferences, theories,
conjectures--an Eiffel Tower of artificialities rising sky-high
from a very flat and very thin foundation of inconsequential
The historians "suppose" that Shakespeare attended the Free
School in Stratford from the time he was seven years old till he
was thirteen. There is no EVIDENCE in existence that he ever
went to school at all.
The historians "infer" that he got his Latin in that school
--the school which they "suppose" he attended.
They "suppose" his father's declining fortunes made it
necessary for him to leave the school they supposed he attended,
and get to work and help support his parents and their ten
children. But there is no evidence that he ever entered or
returned from the school they suppose he attended.
They "suppose" he assisted his father in the butchering
business; and that, being only a boy, he didn't have to do full-
grown butchering, but only slaughtering calves. Also, that
whenever he killed a calf he made a high-flown speech over it.
This supposition rests upon the testimony of a man who wasn't
there at the time; a man who got it from a man who could have
been there, but did not say whether he was nor not; and neither
of them thought to mention it for decades, and decades, and
decades, and two more decades after Shakespeare's death (until
old age and mental decay had refreshed and vivified their
memories). They hadn't two facts in stock about the long-dead
distinguished citizen, but only just the one: he slaughtered
calves and broke into oratory while he was at it. Curious. They
had only one fact, yet the distinguished citizen had spent
twenty-six years in that little town--just half his lifetime.
However, rightly viewed, it was the most important fact, indeed
almost the only important fact, of Shakespeare's life in
Stratford. Rightly viewed. For experience is an author's most
valuable asset; experience is the thing that puts the muscle and
the breath and the warm blood into the book he writes. Rightly
viewed, calf-butchering accounts for "Titus Andronicus," the only
play--ain't it?--that the Stratford Shakespeare ever wrote; and
yet it is the only one everybody tried to chouse him out of, the
The historians find themselves "justified in believing" that
the young Shakespeare poached upon Sir Thomas Lucy's deer preserves
and got haled before that magistrate for it. But there is no shred
of respectworthy evidence that anything of the kind happened.
The historians, having argued the thing that MIGHT have
happened into the thing that DID happen, found no trouble in
turning Sir Thomas Lucy into Mr. Justice Shallow. They have long
ago convinced the world--on surmise and without trustworthy
evidence--that Shallow IS Sir Thomas.
The next addition to the young Shakespeare's Stratford
history comes easy. The historian builds it out of the surmised
deer-steeling, and the surmised trial before the magistrate, and
the surmised vengeance-prompted satire upon the magistrate in the
play: result, the young Shakespeare was a wild, wild, wild, oh,
SUCH a wild young scamp, and that gratuitous slander is
established for all time! It is the very way Professor Osborn
and I built the colossal skeleton brontosaur that stands fifty-
seven feet long and sixteen feet high in the Natural History
Museum, the awe and admiration of all the world, the stateliest
skeleton that exists on the planet. We had nine bones, and we
built the rest of him out of plaster of Paris. We ran short of
plaster of Paris, or we'd have built a brontosaur that could sit
down beside the Stratford Shakespeare and none but an expert
could tell which was biggest or contained the most plaster.
Shakespeare pronounced "Venus and Adonis" "the first heir of
his invention," apparently implying that it was his first effort
at literary composition. He should not have said it. It has
been an embarrassment to his historians these many, many years.
They have to make him write that graceful and polished and
flawless and beautiful poem before he escaped from Stratford and
his family--1586 or '87--age, twenty-two, or along there; because
within the next five years he wrote five great plays, and could
not have found time to write another line.
It is sorely embarrassing. If he began to slaughter calves,
and poach deer, and rollick around, and learn English, at the
earliest likely moment--say at thirteen, when he was supposably
wretched from that school where he was supposably storing up
Latin for future literary use--he had his youthful hands full,
and much more than full. He must have had to put aside his
Warwickshire dialect, which wouldn't be understood in London, and
study English very hard. Very hard indeed; incredibly hard,
almost, if the result of that labor was to be the smooth and
rounded and flexible and letter-perfect English of the "Venus and
Adonis" in the space of ten years; and at the same time learn
great and fine and unsurpassable literary FORM.
However, it is "conjectured" that he accomplished all this
and more, much more: learned law and its intricacies; and the
complex procedure of the law-courts; and all about soldiering,
and sailoring, and the manners and customs and ways of royal
courts and aristocratic society; and likewise accumulated in his
one head every kind of knowledge the learned then possessed, and
every kind of humble knowledge possessed by the lowly and the
ignorant; and added thereto a wider and more intimate knowledge
of the world's great literatures, ancient and modern, than was
possessed by any other man of his time--for he was going to make
brilliant and easy and admiration-compelling use of these
splendid treasures the moment he got to London. And according to
the surmisers, that is what he did. Yes, although there was no
one in Stratford able to teach him these things, and no library in
the little village to dig them out of. His father could not read,
and even the surmisers surmise that he did not keep a library.
It is surmised by the biographers that the young Shakespeare
got his vast knowledge of the law and his familiar and accurate
acquaintance with the manners and customs and shop-talk of
lawyers through being for a time the CLERK OF A STRATFORD COURT;
just as a bright lad like me, reared in a village on the banks of
the Mississippi, might become perfect in knowledge of the Bering
Strait whale-fishery and the shop-talk of the veteran exercises
of that adventure-bristling trade through catching catfish with a
"trot-line" Sundays. But the surmise is damaged by the fact that
there is no evidence--and not even tradition--that the young
Shakespeare was ever clerk of a law-court.
It is further surmised that the young Shakespeare
accumulated his law-treasures in the first years of his sojourn
in London, through "amusing himself" by learning book-law in his
garret and by picking up lawyer-talk and the rest of it through
loitering about the law-courts and listening. But it is only
surmise; there is no EVIDENCE that he ever did either of those
things. They are merely a couple of chunks of plaster of Paris.
There is a legend that he got his bread and butter by
holding horses in front of the London theaters, mornings and
afternoons. Maybe he did. If he did, it seriously shortened his
law-study hours and his recreation-time in the courts. In those
very days he was writing great plays, and needed all the time he
could get. The horse-holding legend ought to be strangled; it
too formidably increases the historian's difficulty in accounting
for the young Shakespeare's erudition--an erudition which he was
acquiring, hunk by hunk and chunk by chunk, every day in those
strenuous times, and emptying each day's catch into next day's
He had to acquire a knowledge of war at the same time; and a
knowledge of soldier-people and sailor-people and their ways and
talk; also a knowledge of some foreign lands and their languages:
for he was daily emptying fluent streams of these various knowledges,
too, into his dramas. How did he acquire these rich assets?
In the usual way: by surmise. It is SURMISED that he
traveled in Italy and Germany and around, and qualified himself
to put their scenic and social aspects upon paper; that he
perfected himself in French, Italian, and Spanish on the road;
that he went in Leicester's expedition to the Low Countries, as
soldier or sutler or something, for several months or years--or
whatever length of time a surmiser needs in his business--and
thus became familiar with soldiership and soldier-ways and
soldier-talk and generalship and general-ways and general-talk,
and seamanship and sailor-ways and sailor-talk.
Maybe he did all these things, but I would like to know who
held the horses in the mean time; and who studied the books in
the garret; and who frolicked in the law-courts for recreation.
Also, who did the call-boying and the play-acting.
For he became a call-boy; and as early as '93 he became a
"vagabond"--the law's ungentle term for an unlisted actor; and in
'94 a "regular" and properly and officially listed member of that
(in those days) lightly valued and not much respected profession.
Right soon thereafter he became a stockholder in two
theaters, and manager of them. Thenceforward he was a busy and
flourishing business man, and was raking in money with both hands
for twenty years. Then in a noble frenzy of poetic inspiration
he wrote his one poem--his only poem, his darling--and laid him
down and died:
Good friend for Iesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare:
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones
And curst be he yt moves my bones.
He was probably dead when he wrote it. Still, this is only
conjecture. We have only circumstantial evidence. Internal
Shall I set down the rest of the Conjectures which
constitute the giant Biography of William Shakespeare? It would
strain the Unabridged Dictionary to hold them. He is a
brontosaur: nine bones and six hundred barrels of plaster of
"We May Assume"
In the Assuming trade three separate and independent cults
are transacting business. Two of these cults are known as the
Shakespearites and the Baconians, and I am the other one--the
The Shakespearite knows that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's
Works; the Baconian knows that Francis Bacon wrote them; the
Brontosaurian doesn't really know which of them did it, but is
quite composedly and contentedly sure that Shakespeare DIDN'T,
and strongly suspects that Bacon DID. We all have to do a good
deal of assuming, but I am fairly certain that in every case I
can call to mind the Baconian assumers have come out ahead of the
Shakespearites. Both parties handle the same materials, but the
Baconians seem to me to get much more reasonable and rational and
persuasive results out of them than is the case with the
Shakespearites. The Shakespearite conducts his assuming upon a
definite principle, an unchanging and immutable law: which is:
2 and 8 and 7 and 14, added together, make 165. I believe this
to be an error. No matter, you cannot get a habit-sodden
Shakespearite to cipher-up his materials upon any other basis.
With the Baconian it is different. If you place before him the
above figures and set him to adding them up, he will never in any
case get more than 45 out of them, and in nine cases out of ten
he will get just the proper 31.
Let me try to illustrate the two systems in a simple and
homely way calculated to bring the idea within the grasp of the
ignorant and unintelligent. We will suppose a case: take a lap-
bred, house-fed, uneducated, inexperienced kitten; take a rugged
old Tom that's scarred from stem to rudder-post with the
memorials of strenuous experience, and is so cultured, so
educated, so limitlessly erudite that one may say of him "all
cat-knowledge is his province"; also, take a mouse. Lock the
three up in a holeless, crackless, exitless prison-cell. Wait
half an hour, then open the cell, introduce a Shakespearite and a
Baconian, and let them cipher and assume. The mouse is missing:
the question to be decided is, where is it? You can guess both
verdicts beforehand. One verdict will say the kitten contains
the mouse; the other will as certainly say the mouse is in the
The Shakespearite will Reason like this--(that is not my
word, it is his). He will say the kitten MAY HAVE BEEN attending
school when nobody was noticing; therefore WE ARE WARRANTED IN
ASSUMING that it did so; also, it COULD HAVE BEEN training in a
court-clerk's office when no one was noticing; since that could
have happened, WE ARE JUSTIFIED IN ASSUMING that it did happen;
it COULD HAVE STUDIED CATOLOGY IN A GARRET when no one was
noticing--therefore it DID; it COULD HAVE attended cat-assizes on
the shed-roof nights, for recreation, when no one was noticing,
and have harvested a knowledge of cat court-forms and cat lawyer-
talk in that way: it COULD have done it, therefore without a