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. Fireside Conversation was an exercise in scholarship illumined by a keen sense of character. It was made especially effective by the artistic arrangement of widely-gathered material into a compressed picture of a phase of the manners and even the minds of the men and women "in the spacious times of great Elizabeth."
Mark Twain made of 1601 a very smart and fascinating performance, carried over almost to grotesqueness just to show it was not done for mere delight in the frank naturalism of the functions with which it deals. That Mark Twain had made considerable study of this frankness is apparent from chapter four of 'A Yankee At King Arthur's Court,' where he refers to the conversation at the famous Round Table thus:
"Many of the terms used in the most matter-of-fact way by this great assemblage of the first ladies and gentlemen of the land would have made a Comanche blush. Indelicacy is too mild a term to convey the idea. However, I had read Tom Jones and Roderick Random and other books of that kind and knew that the highest and first ladies and gentlemen in England had remained little or no cleaner in their talk, and in the morals and conduct which such talk implies, clear up to one hundred years ago; in fact clear into our own nineteenth century—in which century, broadly speaking, the earliest samples of the real lady and the real gentleman discoverable in English history,—or in European history, for that matter—may be said to have made their appearance. Suppose Sir Walter [Scott] instead of putting the conversation into the mouths of his characters, had allowed the characters to speak for themselves? We should have had talk from Rebecca and Ivanhoe and the soft lady Rowena which would embarrass a tramp in our day. However, to the unconsciously indelicate all things are delicate."
Mark Twain's interest in history and in the depiction of historical periods and characters is revealed through his fondness for historical reading in preference to fiction, and through his other historical writings. Even in the hilarious, youthful days in San Francisco, Paine reports that "Clemens, however, was never quite ready for sleep. Then, as ever, he would prop himself up in bed, light his pipe, and lose himself in English or French history until his sleep conquered." Paine tells us, too, that Lecky's 'European Morals' was an old favorite.
The notes to 'The Prince and the Pauper' show again how carefully Clemens examined his historical background, and his interest in these materials. Some of the more important sources are noted: Hume's 'History of England', Timbs' 'Curiosities of London', J. Hammond Trumbull's 'Blue Laws, True and False'. Apparently Mark Twain relished it, for as Bernard DeVoto points out, "The book is always Mark Twain. Its parodies of Tudor speech lapse sometimes into a callow satisfaction in that idiom—Mark hugely enjoys his nathlesses and beshrews and marrys." The writing of 1601 foreshadows his fondness for this treatment.
"Do you suppose the liberties and the Brawn of These States have to
do only with delicate lady-words? with gloved gentleman words"
Walt Whitman, 'An American Primer'.
Although 1601 was not matched by any similar sketch in his published works, it was representative of Mark Twain the man. He was no emaciated literary tea-tosser. Bronzed and weatherbeaten son of the West, Mark was a man's man, and that significant fact is emphasized by the several phases of Mark's rich life as steamboat pilot, printer, miner, and frontier journalist.
On the Virginia City Enterprise Mark learned from editor R. M. Daggett that "when it was necessary to call a man names, there were no expletives too long or too expressive to be hurled in rapid succession to emphasize the utter want of character of the man assailed.... There were typesetters there who could hurl anathemas at bad copy which would have frightened a Bengal tiger. The news editor could damn a mutilated dispatch in twenty-four languages."
In San Francisco in the sizzling sixties we catch a glimpse of Mark Twain and his buddy, Steve Gillis, pausing in doorways to sing "The Doleful Ballad of the Neglected Lover," an old piece of uncollected erotica. One morning, when a dog began to howl, Steve awoke "to find his room-mate standing in the door that opened out into a back garden, holding a big revolver, his hand shaking with cold and excitement," relates Paine in his Biography.
"'Come here, Steve,' he said. 'I'm so chilled through I can't get a bead on him.'
"'Sam,' said Steve, 'don't shoot him. Just swear at him. You can easily kill him at any range with your profanity.'
"Steve Gillis declares that Mark Twain let go such a scorching, singeing blast that the brute's owner sold him the next day for a Mexican hairless dog."
Nor did Mark's "geysers of profanity" cease spouting after these gay and youthful days in San Francisco. With Clemens it may truly be said that profanity was an art—a pyrotechnic art that entertained nations.
"It was my duty to keep buttons on his shirts," recalled Katy Leary, life-long housekeeper and friend in the Clemens menage, "and he'd swear something terrible if I didn't. If he found a shirt in his drawer without a button on, he'd take every single shirt out of that drawer and throw them right out of the window, rain or shine—out of the bathroom window they'd go. I used to look out every morning to see the snowflakes—anything white. Out they'd fly.... Oh! he'd swear at anything when he was on a rampage. He'd swear at his razor if it didn't cut right, and Mrs. Clemens used to send me around to the bathroom door sometimes to knock and ask him what was the matter. Well, I'd go and knock; I'd say, 'Mrs. Clemens wants to know what's the matter.' And then he'd say to me (kind of low) in a whisper like, 'Did she hear me Katy?' 'Yes,' I'd say, 'every word.' Oh, well, he was ashamed then, he was afraid of getting scolded for swearing like that, because Mrs. Clemens hated swearing." But his swearing never seemed really bad to Katy Leary, "It was sort of funny, and a part of him, somehow," she said. "Sort of amusing it was—and gay—not like real swearing, 'cause he swore like an angel."
In his later years at Stormfield Mark loved to play his favorite billiards. "It was sometimes a wonderful and fearsome thing to watch Mr. Clemens play billiards," relates Elizabeth Wallace. "He loved the game, and he loved to win, but he occasionally made a very bad stroke, and then the varied, picturesque, and unorthodox vocabulary, acquired in his more youthful years, was the only thing that gave him comfort. Gently, slowly, with no profane inflexions of voice, but irresistibly as though they had the headwaters of the Mississippi for their source, came this stream of unholy adjectives and choice expletives."
Mark's vocabulary ran the whole gamut of life itself. In Paris, in his appearance in 1879 before the Stomach Club, a jolly lot of gay wags, Mark's address, reports Paine, "obtained a wide celebrity among the clubs of the world, though no line of it, not even its title, has ever found its way into published literature." It is rumored to have been called "Some Remarks on the Science of Onanism."
In Berlin, Mark asked Henry W. Fisher to accompany him on an exploration of the Berlin Royal Library, where the librarian, having learned that Clemens had been the Kaiser's guest at dinner, opened the secret treasure chests for the famous visitor. One of these guarded treasures was a volume of grossly