Illustration from AMERICAN EXAMINER, 1910
from the Dave Thomson collection
If Shakespeare had been born and bred on a barren and unvisited rock
in the ocean his mighty intellect would have had no outside material to
work with, and could have invented none; and no outside influences, teachings,
moldings, persuasions, inspirations, of a valuable sort, and could have
invented none; and so Shakespeare would have produced nothing.
How curious and interesting is the parallel--as far as poverty of biographical
details is concerned--between Satan and Shakespeare. ...They are the best-known
unknown persons that have ever drawn breath upon the planet.
Shall I set down the rest of the great Conjecture which constitute the Giant
Biography of William Shakespeare? It would strain the Unabridged Dictionary
to hold them. He is a brontosaur: nine bones and six hundred barrels of plaster.
- "Is Shakespeare Dead?"
All the rest of his vast history, as furnished by the biographers, is built
up, course upon course, of guesses, inferences, theories, conjectures--an Eiffel
Tower of artificialities rising sky-high from a very flat and very thin foundation
of inconsequential facts.
- "Is Shakespeare Dead?"
From away back toward the very beginning of the Shakspeare-Bacon controversy
I have been on the Bacon side, and have wanted to see our majestic Shakspeare
unhorsed. My reasons for this attitude may have been good, they may have been
bad, but such as they were, they strongly influenced me. It always seemed unaccountable
to me that a man could be so prominent in Elizabeth's little London as historians
and biographers claim that Shakspeare was, and yet leave behind him hardly an
incident for people to remember him by; leave behind him nothing much but trivialities;
leave behind him little or nothing but the happenings of an utterly commonplace
life, happenings that could happen to the butcher and the grocer, the candlestickmaker
and the undertaker, and there an end -- deep, solemn, sepulchral silence. It
always seemed to me that not even a distinguished horse could die and leave
such biographical poverty behind him. His biographers did their best, I have
to concede it, they took his attendance at the grammar-school; they took his
holding of horses at sixpenny tips; they took his play-acting on the other side
of the river; they took his picturesque deer-stealing; they took his diligent
and profitable Stratford wool-staplings, they took his too-previous relations
with his subsequent wife; they took his will -- that monumental will! -- with
its solemnly comic second-best bed incident; they took his couple of reverently
preserved and solely existent signatures in the which he revealed the fact that
he didn't know how to spell his own name; they took his poor half-handful of
inconsequential odds and ends, and spun it out, and economised it, and inflated
it to bursting, and made a biography with a capital B out of it. It seemed incomprehensibly
odd to me, that a man situated as Shakspeare apparently was, could live to be
fifty-two years old and never a thing happen to him.
- Autobiographical dictation, 11 January 1909. Published in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 3 (University of California Press, 2015)
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