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Chapter 4 – Sir Dinadan the Humorist

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

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IT seemed to me that this quaint lie was most simply
and beautifully told; but then I had heard it only
once, and that makes a difference; it was pleasant to
the others when it was fresh, no doubt.

Sir Dinadan the Humorist was the first to awake, and
he soon roused the rest with a practical joke of a sufficiently poor quality. He tied some metal mugs to a
dog’s tail and turned him loose, and he tore around and
around the place in a frenzy of fright, with all the other
dogs bellowing after him and battering and crashing
against everything that came in their way and making
altogether a chaos of confusion and a most deafening
din and turmoil; at which every man and woman of the
multitude laughed till the tears flowed, and some fell
out of their chairs and wallowed on the floor in ecstasy.
It was just like so many children. Sir Dinadan was so
proud of his exploit that he could not keep from telling
over and over again, to weariness, how the immortal
idea happened to occur to him; and as is the way with
humorists of his breed, he was still laughing at it after
everybody else had got through. He was so set up
that he concluded to make a speech — of course a
humorous speech. I think I never heard so many old
played-out jokes strung together in my life. He was
worse than the minstrels, worse than the clown in the
circus. It seemed peculiarly sad to sit here, thirteen
hundred years before I was born, and listen again to
poor, flat, worm-eaten jokes that had given me the dry
gripes when I was a boy thirteen hundred years afterwards. It about convinced me that there isn’t any such
thing as a new joke possible. Everybody laughed at
these antiquities — but then they always do; I had
noticed that, centuries later. However, of course the
scoffer didn’t laugh — I mean the boy. No, he scoffed;
there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t scoff at. He said
the most of Sir Dinadan’s jokes were rotten and the rest
were petrified. I said “petrified” was good; as I believed, myself, that the only right way to classify the
majestic ages of some of those jokes was by geologic
periods. But that neat idea hit the boy in a blank
place, for geology hadn’t been invented yet. However,
I made a note of the remark, and calculated to educate
the commonwealth up to it if I pulled through. It is
no use to throw a good thing away merely because the
market isn’t ripe yet.

Now Sir Kay arose and began to fire up on his history-mill with me for fuel. It was time for me to feel
serious, and I did. Sir Kay told how he had encountered me in a far land of barbarians, who all wore
the same ridiculous garb that I did — a garb that was a
work of enchantment, and intended to make the wearer
secure from hurt by human hands. However he had
nullified the force of the enchantment by prayer, and
had killed my thirteen knights in a three hours’ battle,
and taken me prisoner, sparing my life in order that so
strange a curiosity as I was might be exhibited to the
wonder and admiration of the king and the court. He
spoke of me all the time, in the blandest way, as “this
prodigious giant,” and “this horrible sky-towering
monster,” and “this tusked and taloned man-devouring ogre”, and everybody took in all this bosh in the
naivest way, and never smiled or seemed to notice that
there was any discrepancy between these watered statistics and me. He said that in trying to escape from him
I sprang into the top of a tree two hundred cubits high
at a single bound, but he dislodged me with a stone the
size of a cow, which “all-to brast” the most of my
bones, and then swore me to appear at Arthur’s court
for sentence. He ended by condemning me to die at
noon on the 21st; and was so little concerned about it
that he stopped to yawn before he named the date.

I was in a dismal state by this time; indeed, I was
hardly enough in my right mind to keep the run of a
dispute that sprung up as to how I had better be killed,
the possibility of the killing being doubted by some,
because of the enchantment in my clothes. And yet it
was nothing but an ordinary suit of fifteen-dollar slopshops. Still, I was sane enough to notice this detail,
to wit: many of the terms used in the most matter-offact way by this great assemblage of the first ladies and
gentlemen in the land would have made a Comanche
blush. Indelicacy is too mild a term to convey the
idea. However, I had read “Tom Jones,” and “Roderick Random,” and other books of that kind, and
knew that the highest and first ladies and gentlemen in
England had remained little or no cleaner in their talk,
and in the morals and conduct which such talk implies,
clear up to a hundred years ago; in fact clear into our
own nineteenth century — in which century, broadly
speaking, the earliest samples of the real lady and real
gentleman discoverable in English history — or in
European history, for that matter — may be said to
have made their appearance. Suppose Sir Walter, instead of putting the conversations into the mouths of
his characters, had allowed the characters to speak for
themselves? We should have had talk from Rebecca
and Ivanhoe and the soft lady Rowena which would
embarrass a tramp in our day. However, to the unconsciously indelicate all things are delicate. King Arthur’s people were not aware that they were indecent
and I had presence of mind enough not to mention it.

They were so troubled about my enchanted clothes
that they were mightily relieved, at last, when old
Merlin swept the difficulty away for them with a common-sense hint. He asked them why they were so dull
— why didn’t it occur to them to strip me. In half a
minute I was as naked as a pair of tongs! And dear,
dear, to think of it: I was the only embarrassed person
there. Everybody discussed me; and did it as unconcernedly as if I had been a cabbage. Queen Guenever
was as naively interested as the rest, and said she had
never seen anybody with legs just like mine before. It
was the only compliment I got — if it was a compliment.

Finally I was carried off in one direction, and my
perilous clothes in another. I was shoved into a dark
and narrow cell in a dungeon, with some scant remnants
for dinner, some moldy straw for a bed, and no end
of rats for company.

 

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