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Mark Twain


  by Mark Twain


  [Date, 1601]


  As it was by the Social Fireside

  in the Time of the Tudors


  "Born irreverent," scrawled Mark Twain on a scratch pad, "--like all

  other people I have ever known or heard of--I am hoping to remain so

  while there are any reverent irreverences left to make fun of."

  --[Holograph manuscript of Samuel L. Clemens, in the collection of the

  F. J. Meine]

  Mark Twain was just as irreverent as he dared be, and 1601 reveals his

  richest expression of sovereign contempt for overstuffed language,

  genteel literature, and conventional idiocies. Later, when a magazine

  editor apostrophized, "O that we had a Rabelais!" Mark impishly and

  anonymously--submitted 1601; and that same editor, a praiser of Rabelais,

  scathingly abused it and the sender. In this episode, as in many others,

  Mark Twain, the "bad boy" of American literature, revealed his huge

  delight in blasting the shams of contemporary hypocrisy. Too, there was

  always the spirit of Tom Sawyer deviltry in Mark's make-up that prompted

  him, as he himself boasted, to see how much holy indignation he could

  stir up in the world.

  WHO WROTE 1601?

  The correct and complete title of 1601, as first issued, was: [Date,

  1601.] 'Conversation, as it was by the Social Fireside, in the Time of

  the Tudors.' For many years after its anonymous first issue in 1880,

  its authorship was variously conjectured and widely disputed. In Boston,

  William T. Ball, one of the leading theatrical critics during the late

  go's, asserted that it was originally written by an English actor (name

  not divulged) who gave it to him. Ball's original, it was said, looked

  like a newspaper strip in the way it was printed, and may indeed have

  been a proof pulled in some newspaper office. In St. Louis, William

  Marion Reedy, editor of the St. Louis Mirror, had seen this famous tour

  de force circulated in the early 80's in galley-proof form; he first

  learned from Eugene Field that it was from the pen of Mark Twain.

  "Many people," said Reedy, "thought the thing was done by Field and

  attributed, as a joke, to Mark Twain. Field had a perfect genius for

  that sort of thing, as many extant specimens attest, and for that sort of

  practical joke; but to my thinking the humor of the piece is too mellow

  --not hard and bright and bitter--to be Eugene Field's." Reedy's opinion

  hits off the fundamental difference between these two great humorists;

  one half suspects that Reedy was thinking of Field's French Crisis.

  But Twain first claimed his bantling from the fog of anonymity in 1906,

  in a letter addressed to Mr. Charles Orr, librarian of Case Library,

  Cleveland. Said Clemens , in the course of his letter, dated July 30,

  1906, from Dublin, New Hampshire:

  "The title of the piece is 1601. The piece is a supposititious

  conversation which takes place in Queen Elizabeth's closet in that year,

  between the Queen, Ben Jonson, Beaumont, Sir Walter Raleigh, the Duchess

  of Bilgewater, and one or two others, and is not, as John Hay mistakenly

  supposes, a serious effort to bring back our literature and philosophy to

  the sober and chaste Elizabeth's time; if there is a decent word findable

  in it, it is because I overlooked it. I hasten to assure you that it is

  not printed in my published writings."


  The circumstances of how 1601 came to be written have since been

  officially revealed by Albert Bigelow Paine in 'Mark Twain,

  A Bibliography' (1912), and in the publication of Mark Twain's Notebook


  1601 was written during the summer of 1876 when the Clemens family had

  retreated to Quarry Farm in Elmira County, New York. Here Mrs. Clemens

  enjoyed relief from social obligations, the children romped over the

  countryside, and Mark retired to his octagonal study, which, perched high

  on the hill, looked out upon the valley below. It was in the famous

  summer of 1876, too, that Mark was putting the finishing touches to Tom

  Sawyer. Before the close of the same year he had already begun work on

  'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn', published in 1885. It is

  interesting to note the use of the title, the "Duke of Bilgewater," in

  Huck Finn when the "Duchess of Bilgewater" had already made her

  appearance in 1601. Sandwiched between his two great masterpieces, Tom

  Sawyer and Huck Finn, the writing of 1601 was indeed a strange interlude.

  During this prolific period Mark wrote many minor items, most of them

  rejected by Howells, and read extensively in one of his favorite books,

  Pepys' Diary. Like many another writer Mark was captivated by Pepys'

  style and spirit, and "he determined," says Albert Bigelow Paine in his

  'Mark Twain, A Biography', "to try his hand on an imaginary record of

  conversation and court manners of a bygone day, written in the phrase of

  the period. The result was 'Fireside Conversation in the Time of Queen

  Elizabeth', or as he later called it, '1601'. The 'conversation'

  recorded by a supposed Pepys of that period, was written with all the

  outspoken coarseness and nakedness of that rank day, when fireside

  sociabilities were limited only to the loosened fancy, vocabulary, and

  physical performance, and not by any bounds of convention."

  "It was written as a letter," continues Paine, "to that robust divine,

  Rev. Joseph Twichell," who, unlike Howells, had no scruples about Mark's

  'Elizabethan breadth of parlance.'"

  The Rev. Joseph Twichell, Mark's most intimate friend for over forty

  years, was pastor of the Asylum Hill Congregational Church of Hartford,

  which Mark facetiously called the "Church of the Holy Speculators,"

  because of its wealthy parishioners. Here Mark had first met "Joe" at a

  social, and their meeting ripened into a glorious, life long friendship.

  Twichell was a man of about Mark's own age, a profound scholar, a devout

  Christian, "yet a man with an exuberant sense of humor, and a profound

  understanding of the frailties of mankind." The Rev. Mr. Twichell

  performed the marriage ceremony for Mark Twain and solemnized the births

  of his children; "Joe," his friend, counseled him on literary as well as

  personal matters for the remainder of Mark's life. It is important to

  catch this brief glimpse of the man for whom this masterpiece was

  written, for without it one can not fully understand the spirit in which

  1601 was written, or the keen enjoyment which Mark and "Joe" derived from



  The story of the first issue of 1601 is one of finesse, state diplomacy,

  and surreptitious printing.

  The Rev. "Joe" Twichell, for whose delectation the piece had been

  written, apparently had pocketed the document for four long years. Then,

  in 1880, it came into the hands of John Hay, later Secretary of State,

esumably sent to him by Mark Twain. Hay pronounced the sketch a

  masterpiece, and wrote immediately to his old Cleveland friend, Alexander

  Gunn, prince of connoisseurs in art and literature. The following

  correspondence reveals the fine diplomacy which made the name of John Hay

  known throughout the world.



  June 21, 1880.

  Dear Gunn:

  Are you in Cleveland for all this week? If you will say yes by return

  mail, I have a masterpiece to submit to your consideration which is only

  in my hands for a few days.

  Yours, very much worritted by the depravity of Christendom,


  The second letter discloses Hay's own high opinion of the effort and his

  deep concern for its safety.

  June 24, 1880

  My dear Gunn:

  Here it is. It was written by Mark Twain in a serious effort to bring

  back our literature and philosophy to the sober and chaste Elizabethan

  standard. But the taste of the present day is too corrupt for anything

  so classic. He has not yet been able even to find a publisher. The

  Globe has not yet recovered from Downey's inroad, and they won't touch


  I send it to you as one of the few lingering relics of that race of

  appreciative critics, who know a good thing when they see it.

  Read it with reverence and gratitude and send it back to me; for Mark is

  impatient to see once more his wandering offspring.



  In his third letter one can almost hear Hay's chuckle in the certainty

  that his diplomatic, if somewhat wicked, suggestion would bear fruit.

  Washington, D. C.

  July 7, 1880

  My dear Gunn:

  I have your letter, and the proposition which you make to pull a few

  proofs of the masterpiece is highly attractive, and of course highly

  immoral. I cannot properly consent to it, and I am afraid the great many

  would think I was taking an unfair advantage of his confidence. Please

  send back the document as soon as you can, and if, in spite of my

  prohibition, you take these proofs, save me one.

  Very truly yours,

  John Hay.

  Thus was this Elizabethan dialogue poured into the moulds of cold type.

  According to Merle Johnson, Mark Twain's bibliographer, it was issued in

  pamphlet form, without wrappers or covers; there were 8 pages of text and

  the pamphlet measured 7 by 8 « inches. Only four copies are believed to

  have been printed, one for Hay, one for Gunn, and two for Twain.

  "In the matter of humor," wrote Clemens, referring to Hay's delicious

  notes, "what an unsurpassable touch John Hay had!"


  The first printing of 1601 in actual book form was "Donne at ye Academie

  Press, in 1882, West Point, New York, under the supervision of Lieut. C.

  E. S. Wood, then adjutant of the U. S. Military Academy.

  In 1882 Mark Twain and Joe Twichell visited their friend Lieut. Wood at

  West Point, where they learned that Wood, as Adjutant, had under his

  control a small printing establishment. On Mark's return to Hartford,

  Wood received a letter asking if he would do Mark a great favor by

  printing something he had written, which he did not care to entrust to

  the ordinary printer. Wood replied that he would be glad to oblige.

  On April 3, 1882, Mark sent the manuscript:

  "I enclose the original of 1603 [sic] as you suggest. I am afraid there

  are errors in it, also, heedlessness in antiquated spelling--e's stuck on

  often at end of words where they are not strickly necessary, etc.....

  I would go through the manuscript but I am too much driven just now, and

  it is not important anyway. I wish you would do me the kindness to make

  any and all corrections that suggest themselves to you.

  Sincerely yours,

  S. L. Clemens."

  Charles Erskine Scott Wood recalled in a foreword, which he wrote for the

  limited edition of 1601 issued by the Grabhorn Press, how he felt when he

  first saw the original manuscript. "When I read it," writes Wood,

  "I felt that the character of it would be carried a little better by a

  printing which pretended to the eye that it was contemporaneous with the

  pretended 'conversation.'

  "I wrote Mark that for literary effect I thought there should be a

  species of forgery, though of course there was no effort to actually

  deceive a scholar. Mark answered that I might do as I liked;--that his

  only object was to secure a number of copies, as the demand for it was

  becoming burdensome, but he would be very grateful for any interest I

  brought to the doing.

  "Well, Tucker [foreman of the printing shop] and I soaked some handmade

  linen paper in weak coffee, put it as a wet bundle into a warm room to

  mildew, dried it to a dampness approved by Tucker and he printed the

  'copy' on a hand press. I had special punches cut for such Elizabethan

  abbreviations as the a, e, o and u, when followed by m or n--and for the

  (commonly and stupidly pronounced ye).

  "The only editing I did was as to the spelling and a few old English

  words introduced. The spelling, if I remember correctly, is mine, but

  the text is exactly as written by Mark. I wrote asking his view of

  making the spelling of the period and he was enthusiastic--telling me to

  do whatever I thought best and he was greatly pleased with the result."

  Thus was printed in a de luxe edition of fifty copies the most curious

  masterpiece of American humor, at one of America's most dignified

  institutions, the United States Military Academy at West Point.

  "1601 was so be-praised by the archaeological scholars of a quarter of a

  century ago," wrote Clemens in his letter to Charles Orr, "that I was

  rather inordinately vain of it. At that time it had been privately

  printed in several countries, among them Japan. A sumptuous edition on

  large paper, rough-edged, was made by Lieut. C. E. S. Wood at West Point

  --an edition of 50 copies--and distributed among popes and kings and such

  people. In England copies of that issue were worth twenty guineas when I

  was there six years ago, and none to be had."


  Mark Twain's irreverence should not be misinterpreted: it was an

  irreverence which bubbled up from a deep, passionate insight into the

  well-springs of human nature. In 1601, as in 'The Man That Corrupted

  Hadleyburg,' and in 'The Mysterious Stranger,' he tore the masks off

  human beings and left them cringing before the public view. With the

  deftness of a master surgeon Clemens dealt with human emotions and

  delighted in exposing human nature in the raw.

  The spirit and the language of the Fireside Conversation were rooted deep

  in Mark Twain's nature and in his life, as C. E. S. Wood, who printed

  1601 at West Point, has pertinently observed,

  "If I made a guess as to the intellectual ferment out of which 1601 rose

  I would say that Mark's intellectual structure and subconscious graining

  was from Anglo-Saxons as primitive as the common man of the Tudor period.

  He came from the banks of the Mississippi--from the flatboatmen, pilots, />
  roustabouts, farmers and village folk of a rude, primitive people--as

  Lincoln did.

  "He was finished in the mining camps of the West among stage drivers,

  gamblers and the men of '49. The simple roughness of a frontier people

  was in his blood and brain.

  "Words vulgar and offensive to other ears were a common language to him.

  Anyone who ever knew Mark heard him use them freely, forcibly,

  picturesquely in his unrestrained conversation. Such language is

  forcible as all primitive words are. Refinement seems to make for

  weakness--or let us say a cutting edge--but the old vulgar monosyllabic

  words bit like the blow of a pioneer's ax--and Mark was like that. Then

  I think 1601 came out of Mark's instinctive humor, satire and hatred of

  puritanism. But there is more than this; with all its humor there is a

  sense of real delight in what may be called obscenity for its own sake.

  Whitman and the Bible are no more obscene than Nature herself--no more

  obscene than a manure pile, out of which come roses and cherries. Every

  word used in 1601 was used by our own rude pioneers as a part of their

  vocabulary--and no word was ever invented by man with obscene intent, but

  only as language to express his meaning. No act of nature is obscene in

  itself--but when such words and acts are dragged in for an ulterior

  purpose they become offensive, as everything out of place is offensive.

  I think he delighted, too, in shocking--giving resounding slaps on what

  Chaucer would quite simply call 'the bare erse.'"

  Quite aside from this Chaucerian "erse" slapping, Clemens had also a

  semi-serious purpose, that of reproducing a past time as he saw it in

  Shakespeare, Dekker, Jonson, and other writers of the Elizabethan era.