Mark Twain

Mark Twain is the authorship debate's top poster boy. Famous, funny and universally well-regarded, possibly even the author of the semi-mythical Great American Novel.

Twain did indeed collect a list of authorship shibboleths, though none referring to De Vere, and wrote the piece quoted below in conclusion. Before reading that, however, you are invited to look at some of Twain's scientific work in his description of the geological development of the River Mississippi. I'm sure we should always take anything written under the name Samuel Langhorne Clemens at face value.

However, anyone taking the work of Mark Twain as gospel is going to come a-cropper. Big Time.

Twain on Mississippian geology:

In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

Twain on the Shakespearean authorship question:


I have never let my schooling get in the way of my education.

Mark Twain

Am I trying to convince anybody that Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare’s Works? Ah, now, what do you take me for? Would I be so soft as that, after having known the human race familiarly for nearly seventy-four years? It would grieve me to know that any one could think so injuriously of me, so uncomplimentarily, so unadmiringly of me. No, no, I am aware that when even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself. We always get second hand our notions about systems of government; and high tariff and low tariff; and prohibition and anti-prohibition; and the holiness of peace and the glories of war; and codes of honor and codes of morals; and approval of the duel and disapproval of it; and our beliefs concerning the nature of cats; and our ideas as to whether the murder of helpless wild animals is base or is heroic; and our preferences in the matter of religious and political parties; and our acceptance or rejection of the Shakespeares….

We are the reasoning race, and when we find a vague file of chipmunk-tracks stringing through the dust of Stratford village, we know by our reasoning powers that Hercules has been along there. I feel that our fetish is safe for three centuries yet. The bust, too – there in the Stratford Church. The precious bust, the priceless bust, the calm bust, the serene bust, the emotionless bust, with the dandy mustache, and the putty face, unseamed of care – that face which has looked passionlessly down upon the awed pilgrim for a hundred and fifty years and will still look down upon the awed pilgrim three hundred more, with the deep, deep, deep, subtle, subtle, subtle, expression of a bladder….

Shakespeare HASN’T ANY HISTORY TO RECORD. There is no way of getting around that deadly fact. And no sane way has yet been discovered to getting around its formidable significance. Its quite plain significance… is, that Shakespeare had no prominence while he lived, and none until he had been dead two or three generations. The Plays enjoyed high fame from the beginning; and if he wrote them it seems a pity the world did not find it out. He ought to have explained that he was the author, and not merely a nom de plume for another man to hide behind. If he had been less intemperately solicitous about his bones, and more solicitous about his Works, it would have been better for his good name, and a kindness to us. The bones were not important. They will moulder away, they will turn to dust, but the Works will endure until the last sun goes down.”

The last two sentences are what Twain really wants to say about Shakespeare.


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Comments (15)

  • anon

    Wasn't Twain a master at playing on the gullibility of people? Isn't his *1601* his answer to the SAQ?

    Jan 28, 2013
  • anon

    The joke of course being that most people will fail to realize that the decrease in the Mississippi River is negated by the fact the river is fed by its tributaries thus depositing silt which builds up the river bed.

    Twain plays on people’s gullibility by taking facts out of context and magnifying their importance *based on their own sole existence*.

    I wouldn’t be too keen on insisting Twain was on my side of a debate.

    IMHO, I think the Oxfordians have some awesome evidence on their side but I’ve also seen the misuse of documents and others’ works via the “let’s take this fact out of context and build on that” argument.

    Excellent post! :)

    With that said, alfa, *just for today* I’m going to agree with Kathman on the de Vere Bible based on the idea that he and I both think Care Bears are way cuter than Gummy Bears. But you on the other hand, today and tomorrow infinity, will continue to agree with Kathman on the de Vere Bible because you and he both think Will wrote Shax. You’ve not added one iota of new criticism to his critique; you’ve merely high-fived it based on “common sense”.

    Did you go through Stritmatter’s dissertation and form your own un-biased opinion? I read Kathman’s critique. I read Veal’s critique. I read Stritmatter’s dissertation. I formed my own opinion based on my knowledge of prior authorities on Shax and the Bible.

    Sorry, but Kathman and Veal are playing on your gullibility by taking facts out of context. They failed to point out the Geneva Bible was not the only Bible Shax referred to. They also failed to point out de Vere’s Geneva Bible *could not possibly have been used as a workbook* to write the Shax plays. *Their criticisms are groundless* based on the fact there is *no basis* for insisting there should be an overlap between the two works.

    The irony of your Twain post is tout suite. Suggest you shouldn’t be too smug on insisting Twain was on your side of the debate. He was an independent thinker who played the common man.

    Again, excellent post! :)

    Jan 29, 2013
  • anon

    Well my point is that Twain isn't anybody's reliable ally. I'm pretty sure that he would not want to argue his Shakespeare case in any solid English faculty at a university he respected. He almost says as much. Taking facts out of context, eh? Here's something you won't find in Kathman or Veal. The first 5 chapters of the Stritmatter dissertation are a recital of the facts in the Oxfordian canon with some high quality embroidery and the sort of attempts at sleight of hand that belong in internet debate but not in serious academic work. Example?

    At the end of Chapter 5 we have a quote from Looney. "All the quickness of the senses which marks alike the work of De Vere and Shakespeare manifests itself in the person of Hamlet. He misses nothing; and every thing he sees or hears opens some new avenue to the "inmost parts" of those about him. A man like this is almost foredoomed to a tragic loneliness; for even such love as he shows towards Ophelia and she towards him cannot blind him to her want of honesty in her dealings. He sees much of which he may not speak. In the play he can express himself in soliloquy or cunningly reveal to the audience what is hidden from the other personages in the drama; but in real life he would become a man of large mental reserves and an enforced secretiveness. (395)"

    Stritmatter follows this with, "Has any Shakespeare critic, ideology aside, written two hundred more eloquent words about the essential nature of the character Hamlet? I cannot name any. "

    Well I can. Easy peasy. Given the number of top drawer poets like Coleridge and Byron or the number of consummate prose stylists like Johnson and Hazlitt who have written about Hamlet, it's a two minute task for anyone who can Google. Stritmatter is attempting a conjuring trick (he's quite good at them). This trick is intened to acclimatise the reader to the unacceptable ideas of Mr Looney by creating a debating space manufactured from his uncontentious statements.

    Weight is added by stepping back from time to time, like here, to admire Looney's insight, expression and all round superiority as a Shakespearean guru.

    We can see the trick just by taking a few steps back and reminding ourselves that the object praised here once struggled to separate De Vere's poetry from Churchyard's (much less Shakespeare's). Looney's critical skill allowed to him link De Vere's ambulant prose to Will based on its 'terse genius' (entirely imaginary) and 'wealth of figurative language' (also entirely imaginary).

    Here by contrast, is T S Eliot in his collection of literary essays, The Sacred Wood, also musing on Hamlet's internal struggles "The levity of Hamlet, his repetition of phrase, his puns, are not part of a deliberate plan of dissimulation, but a form of emotional relief. In the character Hamlet it is the buffoonery of an emotion which can find no outlet in action; in the dramatist it is the buffoonery of an emotion which he cannot express in art. The intense feeling, ecstatic or terrible, without an object or exceeding its object, is something which every person of sensibility has known; it is doubtless a study to pathologists. It often occurs in adolescence: the ordinary person puts these feelings to sleep, or trims down his feeling to fit the business world; the artist keeps it alive by his ability to intensify the world to his emotions. "

    Jan 29, 2013
  • anon

    Sorry, but I have zero knowledge of Mr. Looney's book so can't respond.

    I'm basing my interest in Stritmatter's dissertation per his (p.11): the Bible supplies “researchers with a revealing look into the devotional practices which sustained the annotator’s creative life and bring to bear for the first time a cornucopia of hitherto unnoticed confirmatory evidence supporting the Oxfordian thesis.”

    Am sorry, but your need to uphold the Kathman/Veal rant is a bit dull. Their purposefully ignoring relevant facts says a lot about your team's ease in being deceived by lies. But please, do continue their rant. You should be pleased to know you are helping your fellow Strats make a case for the SAQ. *Nobody* spends time responding to “nonsense".

    Keep up the good work!

    Jan 29, 2013
  • anon

    Academics do not ignore facts.

    Thanks to technology, the Laws of Physics seem to get rewritten every 5 or 10 years. One conclusive fact supporting de Vere's candidacy would cause a 180 degree volte face, without even much embarrassment. The reason 99.99% of people involved in performing, teaching and writing about Shakespeare won't give a second's consideration to turning even half a degree towards De Vere s that there are no such facts. Not one. And as far as responding to nonsense goes, if nobody responds, pretty soon everyone is admiring the Emperor's New Clothes.

    The Anonymous board on the imdb site, where the people responsible for this site first encountered each other, became a decent rebuttal resource in its own right. However, housekeeping and the disappearance of counter arguments from the battlefield and the rather nasty Oxfordian habit of reporting people who contradict them as Internet Abusers have reduced the imdb board to a shadow of its former self. So now, the Shakespearean side of the argument that took place there, has moved to here. We're not, by and large, academics engaged in the campus fray. There are enough of those. Nor are we trying to settle the argument. We're just providing summary rebuttal arguments for those who want to swat the uncommitted, while hopefully helping a few people to avoid getting their feet muddy.

    Jan 30, 2013
  • anon

    Your "pretty soon everyone is admiring the Emperor's New Clothes". Sorry, but without *the promotion* of the SAQ, it would not be such a fore-front entity as it is now. BTW...

    Thanks to Dr. Shapiro for being the first Shakespearean scholar to announce the existence of the SAQ to a new and unsuspecting audience beyond its previously topically-limited audience via a well-known publisher. By promoting the idea that the SAQ *is* an issue to be rebutted, you're announcing to the world that their ideas are worthy of your time and effort to refute. Am extremely curious as to why the Shax Birthplace Trust decided to put out its own missive dismissival regarding the SAQ . See also ... Again, why the need to respond to nonsense?

    Jan 31, 2013
  • anon

    It's good to know that your grasp of literary history is ever bit as good as your grasp of Shakespeare.


    The first rebuttal to the idea that Shakespeare was someone else was William Shakespeare Not an Impostor (1857), by English critic George Henry Townsend, who especially pointed out the slovenly scholarship and false premises upon which the claims were based (how little has changed!). Many more followed in the 19th century. William and Elizebeth Friedman won the Folger Shakespeare Library Literary Prize for their The Shakespeare Ciphers Examined (1957), which disproved all claims that the works contain ciphers.


    Soon after, the publication of The Poacher from Stratford (1958), by Frank Wadsworth, Shakespeare and His Betters (1958), by Reginald Churchill, and The Shakespeare Claimants (1962), by H. N. Gibson, squashed the growth of anti-Stratfordism for 20 years. Charlton Ogburn Jr., president of The Shakespeare Oxford Society, threw in the towel and abandoned his losing debate with academics and started a public relations campaign in the media to bypass the academics and appeal directly to the public, resulting in placing Oxford at the top of the Shakespeare claimant list. But I daresay the end is in sight for Oxford: while anti-Stratfordism will always exist iin one form or another, the popularisation of the Prince Tudor theory among the rank-and-file Oxfordians will eventually topple that particular schism. The Prince Tudor theory will do for Oxfordism what ever-more-ridiculous ciphers did for Baconism when it was at its peak of popularity: alert the general public to the basic ridiculousness of the theory, and some other candidate (my guess is Marlowe) will take the throne.


    So you see that your idea that Shapiro was "the first Shakespearean scholar to announce the existence of the SAQ to a new and unsuspecting audience beyond its previously topically-limited audience via a well-known publisher" betrays the same ignorance of the SAQ topic as you demonstrate in other areas. But please don't feel bad; it's perfectly normal for an Oxfordian, who are as ignorant of their own history as they are of Shakespeare. They never really research anything, much less their own founder. It took James Shapiro to publish the first reliable biography of Looney and it took Paul Barlow to track down photographs of Looney that Oxfordians didn't even suspect existed. Oxfordians mainly stick to their FaceBook echo chambers and secret list servs because they secretly know their "research" won't hold up in the light of scholarly enquiry.

    Jan 31, 2013
  • anon

    My "to a new and unsuspecting audience beyond its previously topically-limited audience" is correct. I had never heard of the SAQ until Shapiro's book. I doubt your rebukers per your "this day in history" pressed their points onto a mainstream audience as did Doc Shapiro. Enjoy your historical fantasies.

    Feb 01, 2013
  • anon

    Getting fact and fantasy into two separate categories of evidence seems to be a bit of a problem, doesn't it?

    To which 'historical fantasies' are you referring??

    Feb 01, 2013
  • anon

    Thanks to Dr. Shapiro for being the first Shakespearean scholar to announce the existence of the SAQ to a new and unsuspecting audience

    > I had never heard of the SAQ until Shapiro's book.

    Given the content of your participation on these boards, you haven't heard of a lot of things, especially having to do with Shakespeare. Your ignorance is not universal.

    My post was in response to the first part of your sentence, "Thanks to Dr. Shapiro for being the first Shakespearean scholar to announce the existence of the SAQ to a new and unsuspecting audience..." New audiences are always being informed for the first time, about all kinds of things.

    Your other sentence, "By promoting the idea that the SAQ *is* an issue to be rebutted, you're announcing to the world that their ideas are worthy of your time and effort to refute", was corrected by my recitation of the history of the SAQ. Again, your ignorance of the subject is not universal.

    Feb 01, 2013