indecent verses by Voltaire, addressed to Frederick the Great. "Too much is enough," Mark is reported to have said, when Fisher translated some of the verses, "I would blush to remember any of these stanzas except to tell Krafft-Ebing about them when I get to Vienna." When Fisher had finished copying a verse for him Mark put it into his pocket, saying, "Livy [Mark's wife, Olivia] is so busy mispronouncing German these days she can't even attempt to get at this."
In his letters, too, Howells observed, "He had the Southwestern, the Lincolnian, the Elizabethan breadth of parlance, which I suppose one ought not to call coarse without calling one's self prudish; and I was often hiding away in discreet holes and corners the letters in which he had loosed his bold fancy to stoop on rank suggestion; I could not bear to burn them, and I could not, after the first reading, quite bear to look at them. I shall best give my feeling on this point by saying that in it he was Shakespearean."
"With a nigger squat on her safety-valve"
John Hay, Pike County Ballads.
"Is there any other explanation," asks Van Wyck Brooks, "'of his Elizabethan breadth of parlance?' Mr. Howells confesses that he sometimes blushed over Mark Twain's letters, that there were some which, to the very day when he wrote his eulogy on his dead friend, he could not bear to reread. Perhaps if he had not so insisted, in former years, while going over Mark Twain's proofs, upon 'having that swearing out in an instant,' he would never had had cause to suffer from his having 'loosed his bold fancy to stoop on rank suggestion.' Mark Twain's verbal Rabelaisianism was obviously the expression of that vital sap which, not having been permitted to inform his work, had been driven inward and left there to ferment. No wonder he was always indulging in orgies of forbidden words. Consider the famous book, 1601, that fireside conversation in the time of Queen Elizabeth: is there any obsolete verbal indecency in the English language that Mark Twain has not painstakingly resurrected and assembled there? He, whose blood was in constant ferment and who could not contain within the narrow bonds that had been set for him the riotous exuberance of his nature, had to have an escape-valve, and he poured through it a fetid stream of meaningless obscenity—the waste of a priceless psychic material!" Thus, Brooks lumps 1601 with Mark Twain's "bawdry," and interprets it simply as another indication of frustration.
FIGS FOR FIG LEAVES!
Of course, the writing of such a piece as 1601 raised the question of freedom of expression for the creative artist.
Although little discussed at that time, it was a question which intensely interested Mark, and for a fuller appreciation of Mark's position one must keep in mind the year in which 1601 was written, 1876. There had been nothing like it before in American literature; there had appeared no Caldwells, no Faulkners, no Hemingways. Victorian England was gushing Tennyson. In the United States polite letters was a cult of the Brahmins of Boston, with William Dean Howells at the helm of the Atlantic. Louisa May Alcott published Little Women in 1868-69, and Little Men in 1871. In 1873 Mark Twain led the van of the debunkers, scraping the gilt off the lily in the Gilded Age.
In 1880 Mark took a few pot shots at license in Art and Literature in his Tramp Abroad, "I wonder why some things are? For instance, Art is allowed as much indecent license to-day as in earlier times—but the privileges of Literature in this respect have been sharply curtailed within the past eighty or ninety years. Fielding and Smollet could portray the beastliness of their day in the beastliest language; we have plenty of foul subjects to deal with in our day, but we are not allowed to approach them very near, even with nice and guarded forms of speech. But not so with Art. The brush may still deal freely with any subject; however revolting or indelicate. It makes a body ooze sarcasm at every pore, to go about Rome and Florence and see what this last generation has been doing with the statues. These works, which had stood in innocent nakedness for ages, are all fig-leaved now. Yes, every one of them. Nobody noticed their nakedness before, perhaps; nobody can help noticing it now, the fig-leaf makes it so conspicuous. But the comical thing about it all, is, that the fig-leaf is confined to cold and pallid marble, which would be still cold and unsuggestive without this sham and ostentatious symbol of modesty, whereas warm-blooded paintings which do really need it have in no case been furnished with it.
"At the door of the Ufizzi, in Florence, one is confronted by statues of a man and a woman, noseless, battered, black with accumulated grime—they hardly suggest human beings—yet these ridiculous creatures have been thoughtfully and conscientiously fig-leaved by this fastidious generation. You enter, and proceed to that most-visited little gallery that exists in the world.... and there, against the wall, without obstructing rag or leaf, you may look your fill upon the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses—Titian's Venus. It isn't that she is naked and stretched out on a bed—no, it is the attitude of one of her arms and hand. If I ventured to describe the attitude, there would be a fine howl—but there the Venus lies, for anybody to gloat over that wants to—and there she has a right to lie, for she is a work of art, and Art has its privileges. I saw young girls stealing furtive glances at her; I saw young men gaze long and absorbedly at her; I saw aged, infirm men hang upon her charms with a pathetic interest. How I should like to describe her—just to see what a holy indignation I could stir up in the world—just to hear the unreflecting average man deliver himself about my grossness and coarseness, and all that.
"In every gallery in Europe there are hideous pictures of blood, carnage, oozing brains, putrefaction—pictures portraying intolerable suffering—pictures alive with every conceivable horror, wrought out in dreadful detail—and similar pictures are being put on the canvas every day and publicly exhibited—without a growl from anybody—for they are innocent, they are inoffensive, being works of art. But suppose a literary artist ventured to go into a painstaking and elaborate description of one of these grisly things—the critics would skin him alive. Well, let it go, it cannot be helped; Art retains her privileges, Literature has lost hers. Somebody else may cipher out the whys and the wherefores and the consistencies of it—I haven't got time."
PROFESSOR SCENTS PORNOGRAPHY
Unfortunately, 1601 has recently been tagged by Professor Edward Wagenknecht as "the most famous piece of pornography in American literature." Like many another uninformed, Prof. W. is like the little boy who is shocked to see "naughty" words chalked on the back fence, and thinks they are pornography. The initiated, after years of wading through the mire, will recognize instantly the significant difference between filthy filth and funny "filth." Dirt for dirt's sake is something else again. Pornography, an eminent American jurist has pointed out, is distinguished by the "leer of the sensualist."
"The words which are criticised as dirty," observed justice John M. Woolsey in the United States District Court of New York, lifting the ban on Ulysses by James Joyce, "are old Saxon words known to almost all men and, I venture, to many women, and are such words as would be naturally and habitually used, I believe, by the types of folk whose life, physical and mental, Joyce is seeking to describe." Neither was there "pornographic intent," according to justice Woolsey, nor was Ulysses obscene within the legal definition of that word.
"The meaning of the word 'obscene,'" the Justice indicated, "as legally defined by the courts is: tending to stir the sex impulses or to lead to sexually