FictionForest

Chapter 26 – The First Newspaper

Mark TwainMay 20, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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WHEN I told the king I was going out disguised as
a petty freeman to scour the country and
familiarize myself with the humbler life of the people,
he was all afire with the novelty of the thing in a
minute, and was bound to take a chance in the adventure himself — nothing should stop him — he would
drop everything and go along — it was the prettiest
idea he had run across for many a day. He wanted
to glide out the back way and start at once; but I
showed him that that wouldn’t answer. You see, he
was billed for the king’s-evil — to touch for it, I mean
— and it wouldn’t be right to disappoint the house
and it wouldn’t make a delay worth considering, anyway, it was only a one-night stand. And I thought
he ought to tell the queen he was going away. He
clouded up at that and looked sad. I was sorry I had
spoken, especially when he said mournfully:

“Thou forgettest that Launcelot is here; and where
Launcelot is, she noteth not the going forth of the
king, nor what day he returneth.”

Of course, I changed the Subject. Yes, Guenever
was beautiful, it is true, but take her all around she
was pretty slack. I never meddled in these matters,
they weren’t my affair, but I did hate to see the way
things were going on, and I don’t mind saying that
much. Many’s the time she had asked me, “Sir
Boss, hast seen Sir Launcelot about?” but if ever she
went fretting around for the king I didn’t happen to be
around at the time.

There was a very good lay-out for the king’s-evil
business — very tidy and creditable. The king sat
under a canopy of state; about him were clustered a
large body of the clergy in full canonicals. Conspicuous, both for location and personal outfit, stood
Marinel, a hermit of the quack-doctor species, to
introduce the sick. All abroad over the spacious
floor, and clear down to the doors, in a thick jumble,
lay or sat the scrofulous, under a strong light. It
was as good as a tableau; in fact, it had all the look
of being gotten up for that, though it wasn’t. There
were eight hundred sick people present. The work
was slow; it lacked the interest of novelty for me,
because I had seen the ceremonies before; the thing
soon became tedious, but the proprieties required me
to stick it out. The doctor was there for the reason
that in all such crowds there were many people who
only imagined something was the matter with them,
and many who were consciously sound but wanted the
immortal honor of fleshly contact with a king, and yet
others who pretended to illness in order to get the
piece of coin that went with the touch. Up to this
time this coin had been a wee little gold piece worth
about a third of a dollar. When you consider how
much that amount of money would buy, in that age
and country, and how usual it was to be scrofulous,
when not dead, you would understand that the annual
king’s-evil appropriation was just the River and Harbor
bill of that government for the grip it took on the
treasury and the chance it afforded for skinning the
surplus. So I had privately concluded to touch the
treasury itself for the king’s-evil. I covered sixsevenths of the appropriation into the treasury a week
before starting from Camelot on my adventures, and
ordered that the other seventh be inflated into fivecent nickels and delivered into the hands of the head
clerk of the King’s Evil Department; a nickel to take
the place of each gold coin, you see, and do its work
for it. It might strain the nickel some, but I judged it
could stand it. As a rule, I do not approve of watering stock, but I considered it square enough in this
case, for it was just a gift, anyway. Of course, you
can water a gift as much as you want to; and I generally do. The old gold and silver coins of the country
were of ancient and unknown origin, as a rule, but
some of them were Roman; they were ill-shapen, and
seldom rounder than a moon that is a week past the
full; they were hammered, not minted, and they were
so worn with use that the devices upon them were as
illegible as blisters, and looked like them. I judged
that a sharp, bright new nickel, with a first-rate likeness of the king on one side of it and Guenever on the
other, and a blooming pious motto, would take the
tuck out of scrofula as handy as a nobler coin and
please the scrofulous fancy more; and I was right.
This batch was the first it was tried on, and it worked
to a charm. The saving in expense was a notable
economy. You will see that by these figures: We
touched a trifle over 700 of the 800 patients; at former
rates, this would have cost the government about
$240; at the new rate we pulled through for about
$35, thus saving upward of $200 at one swoop. To
appreciate the full magnitude of this stroke, consider
these other figures: the annual expenses of a national
government amount to the equivalent of a contribution
of three days’ average wages of every individual of the
population, counting every individual as if he were a
man. If you take a nation of 60,000,000, where
average wages are $2 per day, three days’ wages taken
from each individual will provide $360,000,000 and
pay the government’s expenses. In my day, in my
own country, this money was collected from imposts,
and the citizen imagined that the foreign importer paid
it, and it made him comfortable to think so; whereas,
in fact, it was paid by the American people, and was
so equally and exactly distributed among them that
the annual cost to the 100-millionaire and the annual
cost to the sucking child of the day-laborer was precisely the same — each paid $6. Nothing could be
equaler than that, I reckon. Well, Scotland and
Ireland were tributary to Arthur, and the united populations of the British Islands amounted to something
less than 1,OOO,OOO. A mechanic’s average wage was
3 cents a day, when he paid his own keep. By this
rule the national government’s expenses were $90,000
a year, or about $250 a day. Thus, by the substitution of nickels for gold on a king’s-evil day, I not
only injured no one, dissatisfied no one, but pleased
all concerned and saved four-fifths of that day’s
national expense into the bargain — a saving which
would have been the equivalent of $800,000 in my
day in America. In making this substitution I had
drawn upon the wisdom of a very remote source — the
wisdom of my boyhood — for the true statesman does
not despise any wisdom, howsoever lowly may be its
origin: in my boyhood I had always saved my pennies
and contributed buttons to the foreign missionary
cause. The buttons would answer the ignorant savage
as well as the coin, the coin would answer me better
than the buttons; all hands were happy and nobody
hurt.

Marinel took the patients as they came. He examined the candidate; if he couldn’t qualify he was
warned off; if he could he was passed along to the
king. A priest pronounced the words, “They shall
lay their hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”
Then the king stroked the ulcers, while the reading
continued; finally, the patient graduated and got his
nickel — the king hanging it around his neck himself —
and was dismissed. Would you think that that would
cure? It certainly did. Any mummery will cure if
the patient’s faith is strong in it. Up by Astolat there
was a chapel where the Virgin had once appeared to a
girl who used to herd geese around there — the girl
said so herself — and they built the chapel upon that
spot and hung a picture in it representing the occurrence — a picture which you would think it dangerous
for a sick person to approach; whereas, on the contrary, thousands of the lame and the sick came and
prayed before it every year and went away whole and
sound; and even the well could look upon it and live.
Of course, when I was told these things I did not believe them; but when I went there and saw them I had
to succumb. I saw the cures effected myself; and
they were real cures and not questionable. I saw
cripples whom I had seen around Camelot for years
on crutches, arrive and pray before that picture, and
put down their crutches and walk off without a limp.
There were piles of crutches there which had been left
by such people as a testimony.

In other places people operated on a patient’s mind,
without saying a word to him, and cured him. In
others, experts assembled patients in a room and
prayed over them, and appealed to their faith, and
those patients went away cured. Wherever you find a
king who can’t cure the king’s-evil you can be sure
that the most valuable superstition that supports his
throne — the subject’s belief in the divine appointment
of his sovereign — has passed away. In my youth the
monarchs of England had ceased to touch for the evil,
but there was no occasion for this diffidence: they
could have cured it forty-nine times in fifty.

Well, when the priest had been droning for three
hours, and the good king polishing the evidences, and
the sick were still pressing forward as plenty as ever, I
got to feeling intolerably bored. I was sitting by an
open window not far from the canopy of state. For
the five hundredth time a patient stood forward to have
his repulsivenesses stroked; again those words were
being droned out: “they shall lay their hands on the
sick” — when outside there rang clear as a clarion a
note that enchanted my soul and tumbled thirteen
worthless centuries about my ears: “Camelot WEEKLY
HOSANNAH AND LITERARY VOLCANO! — latest irruption —
only two cents — all about the big miracle in the
Valley of Holiness!” One greater than kings had
arrived — the newsboy. But I was the only person in
all that throng who knew the meaning of this mighty
birth, and what this imperial magician was come into
the world to do.

I dropped a nickel out of the window and got my
paper; the Adam-newsboy of the world went around
the corner to get my change; is around the corner
yet. It was delicious to see a newspaper again, yet I
was conscious of a secret shock when my eye fell upon
the first batch of display head-lines. I had lived in a
clammy atmosphere of reverence, respect, deference,
so long that they sent a quivery little cold wave
through me:

              HIGH TIMES IN THE VALLEY

                    OF HOLINESS!

                        ----

               THE WATER-WORKS CORKED!

                        ----

         BRER MERLIN WORKS HIS ARTS, BUT GETS
                        LEFT?

                        ----

      But the Boss scores on his first Innings!

                        ----

          The Miraculous Well Uncorked amid
                  awful outbursts of

              INFERNAL FIRE AND SMOKE
                     ATHUNDER!

                        ----

           THE BUZZARD-ROOST ASTONISHED!

                        ----

              UNPARALLELED REJOIBINGS!

— and so on, and so on. Yes, it was too loud. Once
I could have enjoyed it and seen nothing out of the
way about it, but now its note was discordant. It was
good Arkansas journalism, but this was not Arkansas.
Moreover, the next to the last line was calculated to
give offense to the hermits, and perhaps lose us their
advertising. Indeed, there was too lightsome a tone
of flippancy all through the paper. It was plain I had
undergone a considerable change without noticing it.
I found myself unpleasantly affected by pert little
irreverencies which would have seemed but proper and
airy graces of speech at an earlier period of my life.
There was an abundance of the following breed of
items, and they discomforted me:

   LOCAL SMOKE AND CINDERS.

   Sir Launcelot met up with old King
   Agrivance of Ireland unexpectedly last
   weok over on the moor south of Sir
   Balmoral le Merveilleuse's hog dasture.
   The widow has been notified.

   Expedition No. 3 will start adout the
   first of mext month on a search f8r Sir
   Sagramour le Desirous. It is in com-
   and of the renowned Knight of the Red
   Lawns, assissted by Sir Persant of Inde,
   who is compete9t. intelligent, courte-
   ous, and in every way a brick, and fur-
   tHer assisted by Sir Palamides the Sara-
   cen, who is no huckleberry hinself.
   This is no pic-nic, these boys mean
   busine&s.

   The readers of the Hosannah will re-
   gret to learn that the hadndsome and
   popular Sir Charolais of Gaul, who dur-
   ing his four weeks' stay at the Bull and
   Halibut, this city, has won every heart
   by his polished manners and elegant
   cPnversation, will pUll out to-day for
   home. Give us another call, Charley!

   The bdsiness end of the funeral of
   the late Sir Dalliance the duke's son of
   Cornwall, killed in an encounter with
   the Giant of the Knotted Bludgeon last
   Tuesday on the borders of the Plain of
   Enchantment was in the hands of the
   ever affable and efficient Mumble,
   prince of un3ertakers, then whom there
   exists none by whom it were a more
   satisfying pleasure to have the last sad
   offices performed. Give him a trial.

   The cordial thanks of the Hosannah
   office are due, from editor down to
   devil, to the ever courteous and thought-
   ful Lord High Stew d of the Palace's
   Third Assistant V  t for several sau-
   ceTs of ice crEam a quality calculated
   to make the ey of the recipients hu-
   mid with grt  ude; and it done it.
   When this  administration wants to
   chalk up a desirable name for early
   promotion, the Hosannah would like a
   chance to sudgest.

   The Demoiselle Irene Dewlap, of
   South Astolat, is visiting her uncle, the
   popular host of the Cattlemen's Board-
   ing Ho&se, Liver Lane, this city.

   Young Barker the bellows-mender is
   hoMe again, and looks much improved
   by his vacation round-up among the ut-
   lying smithies. See his ad.

Of course it was good enough journalism for a beginning; I knew that quite well, and yet it was somehow disappointing. The “Court Circular” pleased
me better; indeed, its simple and dignified respectfulness was a distinct refreshment to me after all those
disgraceful familiarities. But even it could have been
improved. Do what one may, there is no getting an
air of variety into a court circular, I acknowledge that.
There is a profound monotonousness about its facts
that baffles and defeats one’s sincerest efforts to make
them sparkle and enthuse. The best way to manage —
in fact, the only sensible way — is to disguise repetitiousness of fact under variety of form: skin your fact
each time and lay on a new cuticle of words. It deceives the eye; you think it is a new fact; it gives you
the idea that the court is carrying on like everything;
this excites you, and you drain the whole column, with
a good appetite, and perhaps never notice that it’s a
barrel of soup made out of a single bean. Clarence’s
way was good, it was simple, it was dignified, it was
direct and business-like; all I say is, it was not the
best way:

             COURT CIRCULAR.

   On Monday, the king rode in the park.
   "  Tuesday,      "      "        "
   "  Wendesday     "      "        "
   "  Thursday      "      "        "
   "  Friday,       "      "        "
   "  Saturday      "      "        "
   "  Sunday,       "      "        "

However, take the paper by and large, I was vastly
pleased with it. Little crudities of a mechanical sort
were observable here and there, but there were not
enough of them to amount to anything, and it was
good enough Arkansas proof-reading, anyhow, and
better than was needed in Arthur’s day and realm.
As a rule, the grammar was leaky and the construction more or less lame; but I did not much mind these
things. They are common defects of my own, and
one mustn’t criticise other people on grounds where he
can’t stand perpendicular himself.

I was hungry enough for literature to want to take
down the whole paper at this one meal, but I got only
a few bites, and then had to postpone, because the
monks around me besieged me so with eager questions: What is this curious thing? What is it for? Is
it a handkerchief? — saddle blanket? — part of a shirt?
What is it made of? How thin it is, and how dainty
and frail; and how it rattles. Will it wear, do you
think, and won’t the rain injure it? Is it writing that
appears on it, or is it only ornamentation? They suspected it was writing, because those among them who
knew how to read Latin and had a smattering of
Greek, recognized some of the letters, but they could
make nothing out of the result as a whole. I put my
information in the simplest form I could:

“It is a public journal; I will explain what that is,
another time. It is not cloth, it is made of paper;
some time I will explain what paper is. The lines on
it are reading matter; and not written by hand, but
printed; by and by I will explain what printing is. A
thousand of these sheets have been made, all exactly
like this, in every minute detail — they can’t be told
apart.” Then they all broke out with exclamations of
surprise and admiration:

“A thousand! Verily a mighty work — a year’s
work for many men.”

“No — merely a day’s work for a man and a boy.”

They crossed themselves, and whiffed out a protective prayer or two.

“Ah-h — a miracle, a wonder! Dark work of enchantment.”

I let it go at that. Then I read in a low voice, to as
many as could crowd their shaven heads within hearing
distance, part of the account of the miracle of the
restoration of the well, and was accompanied by astonished and reverent ejaculations all through: “Ah-h-h!”
“How true!” “Amazing, amazing!” “These be
the very haps as they happened, in marvelous exactness!” And might they take this strange thing in
their hands, and feel of it and examine it? — they
would be very careful. Yes. So they took it, handling it as cautiously and devoutly as if it had been
some holy thing come from some supernatural region;
and gently felt of its texture, caressed its pleasant
smooth surface with lingering touch, and scanned the
mysterious characters with fascinated eyes. These
grouped bent heads, these charmed faces, these speaking eyes — how beautiful to me! For was not this my
darling, and was not all this mute wonder and interest
and homage a most eloquent tribute and unforced
compliment to it? I knew, then, how a mother feels
when women, whether strangers or friends, take her
new baby, and close themselves about it with one
eager impulse, and bend their heads over it in a
tranced adoration that makes all the rest of the universe vanish out of their consciousness and be as if it
were not, for that time. I knew how she feels, and
that there is no other satisfied ambition, whether of
king, conqueror, or poet, that ever reaches half-way to
that serene far summit or yields half so divine a contentment.

During all the rest of the seance my paper traveled
from group to group all up and down and about that
huge hall, and my happy eye was upon it always, and
I sat motionless, steeped in satisfaction, drunk with
enjoyment. Yes, this was heaven; I was tasting it
once, if I might never taste it more.

 

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