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Full Online Book HomeEssaysIs Shakespeare Dead? - Chapter VII
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Is Shakespeare Dead? - Chapter VII Post by :venomous012u Category :Essays Author :Mark Twain Date :May 2011 Read :2877

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Is Shakespeare Dead? - Chapter VII

VII

If I had under my superintendence a controversy appointed to
decide whether Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare or not, I believe
I would place before the debaters only the one question,
WAS SHAKESPEARE EVER A PRACTICING LAWYER? and leave everything
else out.

It is maintained that the man who wrote the plays was not
merely myriad-minded, but also myriad-accomplished: that he not
only knew some thousands of things about human life in all its
shades and grades, and about the hundred arts and trades and
crafts and professions which men busy themselves in, but that he
could TALK about the men and their grades and trades accurately,
making no mistakes. Maybe it is so, but have the experts spoken,
or is it only Tom, Dick, and Harry? Does the exhibit stand upon
wide, and loose, and eloquent generalizing--which is not
evidence, and not proof--or upon details, particulars,
statistics, illustrations, demonstrations?

Experts of unchallengeable authority have testified
definitely as to only one of Shakespeare's multifarious craft-
equipments, so far as my recollections of Shakespeare-Bacon talk
abide with me--his law-equipment. I do not remember that
Wellington or Napoleon ever examined Shakespeare's battles and
sieges and strategies, and then decided and established for good
and all that they were militarily flawless; I do not remember
that any Nelson, or Drake, or Cook ever examined his seamanship
and said it showed profound and accurate familiarity with that
art; I don't remember that any king or prince or duke has ever
testified that Shakespeare was letter-perfect in his handling of
royal court-manners and the talk and manners of aristocracies; I
don't remember that any illustrious Latinist or Grecian or
Frenchman or Spaniard or Italian has proclaimed him a past-master
in those languages; I don't remember--well, I don't remember that
there is TESTIMONY--great testimony--imposing testimony--
unanswerable and unattackable testimony as to any of
Shakespeare's hundred specialties, except one--the law.

Other things change, with time, and the student cannot trace
back with certainty the changes that various trades and their
processes and technicalities have undergone in the long stretch
of a century or two and find out what their processes and
technicalities were in those early days, but with the law it is
different: it is mile-stoned and documented all the way back,
and the master of that wonderful trade, that complex and
intricate trade, that awe-compelling trade, has competent ways of
knowing whether Shakespeare-law is good law or not; and whether
his law-court procedure is correct or not, and whether his legal
shop-talk is the shop-talk of a veteran practitioner or only a
machine-made counterfeit of it gathered from books and from
occasional loiterings in Westminster.

Richard H. Dana served two years before the mast, and had
every experience that falls to the lot of the sailor before the
mast of our day. His sailor-talk flows from his pen with the
sure touch and the ease and confidence of a person who has LIVED
what he is talking about, not gathered it from books and random
listenings. Hear him:


Having hove short, cast off the gaskets, and made the bunt
of each sail fast by the jigger, with a man on each yard, at the
word the whole canvas of the ship was loosed, and with the
greatest rapidity possible everything was sheeted home and
hoisted up, the anchor tripped and cat-headed, and the ship under
headway.


Again:


The royal yards were all crossed at once, and royals and
sky-sails set, and, as we had the wind free, the booms were run
out, and all were aloft, active as cats, laying out on the yards
and booms, reeving the studding-sail gear; and sail after sail
the captain piled upon her, until she was covered with canvas,
her sails looking like a great white cloud resting upon a black
speck.


Once more. A race in the Pacific:


Our antagonist was in her best trim. Being clear of the
point, the breeze became stiff, and the royal-masts bent under
our sails, but we would not take them in until we saw three boys
spring into the rigging of the CALIFORNIA; then they were all
furled at once, but with orders to our boys to stay aloft at the
top-gallant mast-heads and loose them again at the word. It was
my duty to furl the fore-royal; and while standing by to loose it
again, I had a fine view of the scene. From where I stood, the
two vessels seemed nothing but spars and sails, while their
narrow decks, far below, slanting over by the force of the wind
aloft, appeared hardly capable of supporting the great fabrics
raised upon them. The CALIFORNIA was to windward of us, and had
every advantage; yet, while the breeze was stiff we held our own.
As soon as it began to slacken she ranged a little ahead, and the
order was given to loose the royals. In an instant the gaskets
were off and the bunt dropped. "Sheet home the fore-royal!"--
"Weather sheet's home!"--"Lee sheet's home!"--"Hoist away, sir!"
is bawled from aloft. "Overhaul your clew-lines!" shouts the
mate. "Aye-aye, sir, all clear!"--"Taut leech! belay! Well the
lee brace; haul taut to windward!" and the royals are set.


What would the captain of any sailing-vessel of our time say
to that? He would say, "The man that wrote that didn't learn his
trade out of a book, he has BEEN there!" But would this same
captain be competent to sit in judgment upon Shakespeare's
seamanship--considering the changes in ships and ship-talk that
have necessarily taken place, unrecorded, unremembered, and lost
to history in the last three hundred years? It is my conviction
that Shakespeare's sailor-talk would be Choctaw to him. For
instance--from "The Tempest":


MASTER. Boatswain!

BOATSWAIN. Here, master; what cheer?

MASTER. Good, speak to the mariners: fall to 't, yarely,
or we run ourselves to ground; bestir, bestir!
(ENTER MARINERS.)

BOATSWAIN. Heigh, my hearts! cheerly, cheerly, my hearts!
yare, yare! Take in the topsail. Tend to the master's whistle.
. . . Down with the topmast! yare! lower, lower! Bring her to
try wi' the main course. . . . Lay her a-hold, a-hold! Set her
two courses. Off to sea again; lay her off.

That will do, for the present; let us yare a little, now,
for a change.


If a man should write a book and in it make one of his
characters say, "Here, devil, empty the quoins into the standing
galley and the imposing-stone into the hell-box; assemble the
comps around the frisket and let them jeff for takes and be quick
about it," I should recognize a mistake or two in the phrasing,
and would know that the writer was only a printer theoretically,
not practically.

I have been a quartz miner in the silver regions--a pretty
hard life; I know all the palaver of that business: I know all
about discovery claims and the subordinate claims; I know all
about lodes, ledges, outcroppings, dips, spurs, angles, shafts,
drifts, inclines, levels, tunnels, air-shafts, "horses," clay
casings, granite casings; quartz mills and their batteries;
arastras, and how to charge them with quicksilver and sulphate of
copper; and how to clean them up, and how to reduce the resulting
amalgam in the retorts, and how to cast the bullion into pigs;
and finally I know how to screen tailings, and also how to hunt
for something less robust to do, and find it. I know the argot
and the quartz-mining and milling industry familiarly; and so
whenever Bret Harte introduces that industry into a story, the
first time one of his miners opens his mouth I recognize from his
phrasing that Harte got the phrasing by listening--like
Shakespeare--I mean the Stratford one--not by experience. No one
can talk the quartz dialect correctly without learning it with
pick and shovel and drill and fuse.

I have been a surface miner--gold--and I know all its
mysteries, and the dialects that belongs with them; and whenever
Harte introduces that industry into a story I know by the
phrasing of his characters that neither he nor they have ever
served that trade.

I have been a "pocket" miner--a sort of gold mining not
findable in any but one little spot in the world, so far as I
know. I know how, with horn and water, to find the trail of a
pocket and trace it step by step and stage by stage up the
mountain to its source, and find the compact little nest of
yellow metal reposing in its secret home under the ground. I
know the language of that trade, that capricious trade, that
fascinating buried-treasure trade, and can catch any writer who
tries to use it without having learned it by the sweat of his
brow and the labor of his hands.

I know several other trades and the argot that goes with
them; and whenever a person tries to talk the talk peculiar to
any of them without having learned it at its source I can trap
him always before he gets far on his road.

And so, as I have already remarked, if I were required to
superintend a Bacon-Shakespeare controversy, I would narrow the
matter down to a single question--the only one, so far as the
previous controversies have informed me, concerning which
illustrious experts of unimpeachable competency have testified:
WAS THE AUTHOR OF SHAKESPEARE'S WORKS A LAWYER?--a lawyer deeply
read and of limitless experience? I would put aside the guesses
and surmises, and perhapes, and might-have-beens, and could-have-
beens, and must-have-beens, and we-are-justified-in-presumings,
and the rest of those vague specters and shadows and
indefintenesses, and stand or fall, win or lose, by the verdict
rendered by the jury upon that single question. If the verdict
was Yes, I should feel quite convinced that the Stratford
Shakespeare, the actor, manager, and trader who died so obscure,
so forgotten, so destitute of even village consequence, that
sixty years afterward no fellow-citizen and friend of his later
days remembered to tell anything about him, did not write the Works.

Chapter XIII of THE SHAKESPEARE PROBLEM RESTATED bears the
heading "Shakespeare as a Lawyer," and comprises some fifty pages
of expert testimony, with comments thereon, and I will copy the
first nine, as being sufficient all by themselves, as it seems to
me, to settle the question which I have conceived to be the
master-key to the Shakespeare-Bacon puzzle.

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