Conversation, as it was by the Social Fireside, in the time of the Tudors. [Date, 1601.]
By Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), originally censored and recently rediscovered
Mem:-- The following is supposed to be an extract from the dairy of the Pepys of that day, the same being cup-bearer to Queen Elizabeth. It is supposed that he is of ancient and noble lineage; that he despises those canaille; that his soul consumes with wrath to see the Queen stooping to talk to such; and that the old man feels his nobility defiled by contact with Shakespeare, etc., and yet he has got to stay there till Her Majesty chooses to dismiss him.
YESTERNIGHT TOOK Her Majestie, ye Queen, a fantasie such as she sometimes hath, and hadde to her closet certain that do write playes, bookes, and such like -- these being by Lord Bacon, his worship, Sir Walter Raleigh, Mr. Ben Jonson, & ye childe Francis Beaumont, which being but sixteen hath yet turned his hande to ye doing of ye Latin masters into our English tongue with great discretion and much applause. Also came with those ye famous Shaxpur. A right strange mingling of mightie blood with meane, ye more in especial since ye Queene's Grace was present, as likewise these following to wit: Ye Duchesse of Bilgewater, twenty-two years of age; ye Countess of Granby, thirty-six; her tower, ye Lady Helen; as also yet two maides of honor to wit: Ye Lady Margery Bothby, sixty-five; ye Lady Alice Dilbur, turned seventy, she being two years ye Queene's Graces elder.
I, being Her Majestie's cup-bearer, had no choice but to remain & behold rank forgot, & ye high hold converse with ye low as upon equal termes, & a great scandal did ye world heare thereof. In ye heate of ye talke, it befel that one did breake wynde, yielding an exceeding mightie and distressful stinke, whereat all did laffe full sore, and then:
Verily, in mine eight and sixty years have I not hearde ye fellow to this fartte. Meseemth by ye greate sound and clamour of it, it was male, yet ye bellie it did lurke behind should now falle lene and flat against ye spine of him that hath been delivered of so stately & so vaste a bulke, whereas ye guts of them that doe quiff-splitters beare, stand comely, stille & rounde. Prithee, let ye author confess ye offspring. Will my Lady Alice testify?
Goode, your Grace, an' I hadde roome for such a thundergust within mine ancient bowels, 'tis not in reason I could discharge the same and live to thank God for that he did chuse handmayd so humble to show his power. Nay, 'tis not I that have brought forth this rych o'ermastering fog, this fragrant gloom, so pray seek ye further.
Mayhap ye Lady Margery hath done ye companie this favour?
So please you, Madame, my limbs are feeble with ye weighte and drouthe of five and sixty winters, & it behooveth that I be tender with them. In ye good providence of Good, an' hadde I contained this wonder forsooth would I have given ye whole evening of my sinking life to ye dribbling of it forthe with trembling and uneasy soul, not launched it sudden in its matchless might, taking my own life with violence, rending my weake frame like rotten rags. It was not I, Your Majestie.
In God's name who hath favoured us? Hath it come to pass that a fartte shall fartte itself? Not such a one as this I trow. Young Master Beaumont? But no, 'twould have wafted him to Heaven like down of goose's bodie. "Twas not ye little Lady Helen, -- nay, ne'er blush, my childe, thou'lt tickle thy tender maiden-hedde with many a mousie squeak before thou learn'st to blow a hurricant. Wasn't you, my learned and ingenius Jonson?
So felle a blaste hath ne'er mine ears saluted, nor yet a stenche so all-pervading & immortal. 'Twas not a novice did it, good Your Majestie, but one of veteran experience -- else had he failed of confidence. In sooth it was not I.
My Lord Bacon?
Not from my lene entrailes hath this prodigie burst forth, so please Your Grace. Nau't doth so befit ye greate as greate performance; and haply shall ye find that 'tis not form mediocrity this miracle hath issued.
Tho ye subject bee but a fartte, yet will this tedious sink of learning ponderously philosphize. Meantime did ye foul & deadly sinke pervade all places to that degree, that never smelt I ye like, yet dared I not leave ye Presence, albeit I was like to suffocate.
What saith your worshipful Master Shaxpur?
In ye greate hande of God, I stande & so proclaim my innocence. Tho' ye sinlesse hostess of Heaven hadde fortold ye coming of this most desolating breathe, proclaiming it a worke of uninspired man; its quaking thunders, its firmament-clogging rottenness his own achievement in due course of nature, yet hadde I not believed it; but hadde said, "ye Pit itself hath furnished forth ye stinke and Heaven's artillery hath shook ye globe in admiration of it."
Then there was a silence, & each did turne him toward ye worshipful Sir Walter Raleigh, that browned, embattled, bloudy swashbucker, who rousing up did smile and simpering say:
Most gracious Majestie, 'Twas I that did it; but, indeed, it was so poor and fragile a note comparied with such as I am wont to furnish, that in sooth I was ashamed to call ye weakling mine in so august a Presence. It was nothing -- less than nothing -- Madame. I did it but to clear my nether throat; but hadde I come prepared then hadde I delivered something worthie. Beare with me, please your Grace, till I can make amends.
Then delivered he himself of such a god-lesse & rock-shivering blaste, that all were fain to stop their ears, and following it did come so dense and foul a stinke, that that which went before did seem a poor and trifling thing beside it. Then saith he, feigning that he blushed and was confused, 'I perceive that I am weake today & cannot justice doe unto my powers,' and sat him down as who should say, -- There, it is not much, yet he that hath an arse to spare, let him follow that, an' he think he can. By God, and I were ye Queene, I would e'en tip this swaggering bragggart out o' ye court, & let him air his grandeurs & breake his intolerable wynd before ye deaf & such as suffocation pleaseth.
Then fell they to talk about ye manners and customs of many peoples, and master Shaxpur spake of ye booke of Sir Michael Montaine, wherein was mention of ye custom of widows of Perigord, to wear upon ye headdress, in sign of widowhood, a jewel in ye similitude of a man's member wilted and limber, whereat ye Queened did laffe and say, widows in England do wear prickers too, but 'twixt ye thyghs and not wilted either, till coition hath done that office for them. Master Shaxpur did also observe that the Sieur de Montaine hath also spoken of a certain emperor of such mightie prowess that he did take ten maiden-heddes in ye compass of a single night, and while his empress did entertain two & twenty lusty knights atween her sheets & yet was not satisfied; whereat ye merrie Countess Granby saith, a ram is yet ye Emperor's superior, since he will top above a hundred ewes 'twixt sun & sun, & after, if he can have none more to shag, will masturbate until he hath enryched whole acres with hys seed.
Then spake ye dammed wynd-mill, Sir Walter, of a people in ye uttermost parts of America, that copulate not until they be five and thirty yeares of age, ye women being eight and twenty, and do it then but once in seven yeares.
How doth that like my little Lady Helen? Shall we send thee thither and preserve thy belly?
Please your Highness' Grace, mine olde nurse hath told me there bee more ways of serve God than by locking the thyghs together; yet I am ready to serve him in that way too, since your Highness' Grace hath set ye example.
God's woundes, a good answer, childe.
Mayhap 'twill weaken when ye hair sprouts below ye naval.
Nay, it sprouted two years since; I can scurce more than cover it with my hand now.
Heare ye that, my little Beaumont? Have you not a small birdie about ye that stirs at hearing of so sweet a neste?
'Tis not insensible, moste illustrious Madame; but mousing owls and bats of low degree may not aspire to bliss so overwhelming and ecstatic as is found in the downy nestes of birdes of Paradise.
By ye gullet of God, 'tis a neet turned compliment. With such a tongue as thyne, lad, thou'lt spread the ivorie thyghs of many a willing maide in thy goode time, an' thy cod-piece be as handy as thy speach.
Then spake ye Queene of how she met old Rabelais when she was turned of fifteen, & hee did tell her of a man his father knew that hadd a couple pair of bollocks, whereon a controversy followed as concerning ye most just way to spell ye word, ye controversy running high 'twixt ye learned Bacon and ye ingenious JOnson, until at last ye olde Lady Margery, wearing of it, saith,
GENTLES, WHAT MATTERETH IT HOW YE SPELL YE WORD?I WARRANT YE WHEN YE USE YOUR BOLLOCKS YE SHALL NOT THINK OF IT; AND MY LADY GRANBY, BEE YE CONTENT, LET YE SPELLING BE; YE SHALL ENJOY YE BEATING OF THEM ON YOUR BUTTOCKS JUST YE SAME I TROW. BEFORE I HAD GAINED MY FOURTEENTH YEARE, I HADDE LEARNED THAT THEM THAT WOULD EXPLORE A CUNT, STOPP'D NOT TO CONSIDER YE SPELLING O'T.
In sooth, when a shift's turned uppe, delay is meete for naught but dalliance. Bocaccio hath a story of a priest that did beguile a mayd into his cell, then knelt him in a corner to pray for grace that he bee rightly thankful for this tender maiden-hedde the Lorde hadd sent him, but the abbot spying through ye keyhole did see a tuft of brownish hair with fair white flesh about it, wherefore, when ye priest's prayer was done his chance was gone, forasmuch as ye little mayd hadde but ye one cunt and that was already occupide to her content.
Then conversed they of religion & mightie worke ye olde deade Luther did doe by ye grace of God. Then next about poetry, & Master Shaxpur did read a part of his Kyng Henrie IV, the which it seemeth to mee is not of the value of an arseful of ashes, yet they prised it bravely, one and all.
The same did rede a portion of his Venus & Adonis to their prodigious admiration, whereas, I being sleepy & fatigured withal, did deem it but paltry stuffe & was ye more discomfitted in that ye bloudy buccaneer hadde got wynd again & did turn his minde to fartting with such villain zeil that presently I was like to choke once more. God damn this wyndy ruffian & all his breeds. I would that helle might get hym.
They talked about the wonderful defence which olde Nicholas Throgmorton did make for himself before ye judges in ye time of Mary, which was unlucky matter for to broach, since it fetched out ye Queene with a pity that he, having so much wit, had yet not enough to save his daugher's maiden-hedde sound for her marriage bedde, & ye Queene did give ye damned Sir Walter a look that made him wince -- for she hath not forgot that he was her own love in ye olden days. There was a silent uncomfortableness now, 'twas not a goode turne for talke to take, since if ye Queen must find offense in a little harmless debauching, when pricks were stiff & cunts not loath to take the stiffness out of them, who of the companie was sinless. Beholde, was not ye wife of Master Shaxpur four months gone with childe when she stoode uppe before ye altar? Was not her grace of Bilgewater rogered by four lords before she hadde a husband? Was not little Lady Helen borne on her mother's wedding day? & beholde, were not ye Lady Alice & Lady Margery there, mouthing religion, whores from the cradle?
In time came they to discourse of Cervantes & of ye new painter Rubens, that is beginning to be heard of. Fine words and dainty wrought phrases from ye ladies now, one or two of them beeing, in other days, pupils of that poore ass, Lillie, himselfe: I marked how that Jonson & Shaxpur did fidget to discharge some venom of sarcasm, yet dared they not in ye presence, ye Queene's grace beeing ye very flower in ye that, having a specialtie & admiring it in themselves, bee jealous when a neighbor doth essay it nor can abide it in them long. Wherefore it was observed that ye Queene waxed uncontent; & in time a labourd grandiose speeche out of ye mouth of Lady Alice, who manifestly did mightylie pride herself thereon, did quite exhaust ye Queene's endurance, who listened till ye gaudy speeche was doen, then lifting up her brows & with a vast irony, mincing, said, "O SHIT!" Whereat they all did laffe, but not ye Lady Alice, that olde foole bitche.
Now was Sir Walter minded of a tale he once did heare ye ingenious Margaret of Navarre relate about a mayd, which being like to suffer rape by an olde arch-bishop, did smartly contrive a device to save her maidenhedde, & said to him: "first, my Lord, prithee take out thy toole & pisse before me," which doing, Lo! his member fell & would not rise again.