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Chapter 8 – The Boss

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

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TO be vested with enormous authority is a fine
thing; but to have the on-looking world consent
to it is a finer. The tower episode solidified my
power, and made it impregnable. If any were perchance disposed to be jealous and critical before that,
they experienced a change of heart, now. There was
not any one in the kingdom who would have considered
it good judgment to meddle with my matters.

I was fast getting adjusted to my situation and circumstances. For a time, I used to wake up, mornings,
and smile at my “dream,” and listen for the Colt’s
factory whistle; but that sort of thing played itself
out, gradually, and at last I was fully able to realize
that I was actually living in the sixth century, and in
Arthur’s court, not a lunatic asylum. After that, I
was just as much at home in that century as I could
have been in any other; and as for preference, I
wouldn’t have traded it for the twentieth. Look at
the opportunities here for a man of knowledge, brains,
pluck, and enterprise to sail in and grow up with the
country. The grandest field that ever was; and all my
own; not a competitor; not a man who wasn’t a baby
to me in acquirements and capacities; whereas, what
would I amount to in the twentieth century? I should
be foreman of a factory, that is about all; and could
drag a seine down street any day and catch a hundred
better men than myself.

What a jump I had made! I couldn’t keep from
thinking about it, and contemplating it, just as one
does who has struck oil. There was nothing back of
me that could approach it, unless it might be Joseph’s
case; and Joseph’s only approached it, it didn’t equal
it, quite. For it stands to reason that as Joseph’s
splendid financial ingenuities advantaged nobody but
the king, the general public must have regarded him
with a good deal of disfavor, whereas I had done my
entire public a kindness in sparing the sun, and was
popular by reason of it.

I was no shadow of a king; I was the substance;
the king himself was the shadow. My power was
colossal; and it was not a mere name, as such things
have generally been, it was the genuine article. I
stood here, at the very spring and source of the second
great period of the world’s history; and could see the
trickling stream of that history gather and deepen and
broaden, and roll its mighty tides down the far
centuries; and I could note the upspringing of adventurers like myself in the shelter of its long array of
thrones: De Montforts, Gavestons, Mortimers, Villierses; the war-making, campaign-directing wantons of
France, and Charles the Second’s scepter-wielding
drabs; but nowhere in the procession was my fullsized fellow visible. I was a Unique; and glad to
know that that fact could not be dislodged or challenged for thirteen centuries and a half, for sure.
Yes, in power I was equal to the king. At the same
time there was another power that was a trifle stronger
than both of us put together. That was the Church.
I do not wish to disguise that fact. I couldn’t, if I
wanted to. But never mind about that, now; it will
show up, in its proper place, later on. It didn’t cause
me any trouble in the beginning — at least any of
consequence.

Well, it was a curious country, and full of interest.
And the people! They were the quaintest and simplest and trustingest race; why, they were nothing but
rabbits. It was pitiful for a person born in a wholesome free atmosphere to listen to their humble and
hearty outpourings of loyalty toward their king and
Church and nobility; as if they had any more occasion
to love and honor king and Church and noble than a
slave has to love and honor the lash, or a dog has to
love and honor the stranger that kicks him! Why,
dear me,ANY kind of royalty, howsoever modified,
ANY kind of aristocracy, howsoever pruned, is rightly
an insult; but if you are born and brought up under
that sort of arrangement you probably never find it
out for yourself, and don’t believe it when somebody
else tells you. It is enough to make a body ashamed
of his race to think of the sort of froth that has
always occupied its thrones without shadow of right
or reason, and the seventh-rate people that have always
figured as its aristocracies — a company of monarchs
and nobles who, as a rule, would have achieved only
poverty and obscurity if left, like their betters, to their
own exertions.

The most of King Arthur’s British nation were
slaves, pure and simple, and bore that name, and wore
the iron collar on their necks; and the rest were slaves
in fact, but without the name; they imagined themselves men and freemen, and called themselves so.
The truth was, the nation as a body was in the world
for one object, and one only: to grovel before king
and Church and noble; to slave for them, sweat blood
for them, starve that they might be fed, work that they
might play, drink misery to the dregs that they might
be happy, go naked that they might wear silks and
jewels, pay taxes that they might be spared from paying them, be familiar all their lives with the degrading
language and postures of adulation that they might
walk in pride and think themselves the gods of this
world. And for all this, the thanks they got were
cuffs and contempt; and so poor-spirited were they
that they took even this sort of attention as an honor.

Inherited ideas are a curious thing, and interesting
to observe and examine. I had mine, the king and his
people had theirs. In both cases they flowed in ruts
worn deep by time and habit, and the man who should
have proposed to divert them by reason and argument
would have had a long contract on his hands. For
instance, those people had inherited the idea that all
men without title and a long pedigree, whether they
had great natural gifts and acquirements or hadn’t,
were creatures of no more consideration than so many
animals, bugs, insects; whereas I had inherited the
idea that human daws who can consent to masquerade
in the peacock-shams of inherited dignities and unearned titles, are of no good but to be laughed at.
The way I was looked upon was odd, but it was
natural. You know how the keeper and the public
regard the elephant in the menagerie: well, that is the
idea. They are full of admiration of his vast bulk and
his prodigious strength; they speak with pride of the
fact that he can do a hundred marvels which are far
and away beyond their own powers; and they speak
with the same pride of the fact that in his wrath he is
able to drive a thousand men before him. But does
that make him one of THEM? No; the raggedest
tramp in the pit would smile at the idea. He couldn’t
comprehend it; couldn’t take it in; couldn’t in any
remote way conceive of it. Well, to the king, the
nobles, and all the nation, down to the very slaves
and tramps, I was just that kind of an elephant, and
nothing more. I was admired, also feared; but it
was as an animal is admired and feared. The animal
is not reverenced, neither was I; I was not even respected. I had no pedigree, no inherited title; so
in the king’s and nobles’ eyes I was mere dirt; the
people regarded me with wonder and awe, but there
was no reverence mixed with it; through the force of
inherited ideas they were not able to conceive of anything being entitled to that except pedigree and lordship. There you see the hand of that awful power,
the Roman Catholic Church. In two or three little
centuries it had converted a nation of men to a nation
of worms. Before the day of the Church’s supremacy
in the world, men were men, and held their heads up,
and had a man’s pride and spirit and independence;
and what of greatness and position a person got, he
got mainly by achievement, not by birth. But then
the Church came to the front, with an axe to grind;
and she was wise, subtle, and knew more than one
way to skin a cat — or a nation; she invented “divine
right of kings,” and propped it all around, brick by
brick, with the Beatitudes — wrenching them from
their good purpose to make them fortify an evil one;
she preached (to the commoner) humility, obedience
to superiors, the beauty of self-sacrifice; she preached
(to the commoner) meekness under insult; preached
(still to the commoner, always to the commoner) patience, meanness of spirit, non-resistance under oppression; and she introduced heritable ranks and
aristocracies, and taught all the Christian populations
of the earth to bow down to them and worship them.
Even down to my birth-century that poison was still in
the blood of Christendom, and the best of English commoners was still content to see his inferiors impudently
continuing to hold a number of positions, such as lordships and the throne, to which the grotesque laws of
his country did not allow him to aspire; in fact, he
was not merely contented with this strange condition
of things, he was even able to persuade himself that
he was proud of it. It seems to show that there isn’t
anything you can’t stand, if you are only born and
bred to it. Of course that taint, that reverence for
rank and title, had been in our American blood, too —
I know that; but when I left America it had disappeared — at least to all intents and purposes. The
remnant of it was restricted to the dudes and dudesses.
When a disease has worked its way down to that level,
it may fairly be said to be out of the system.

But to return to my anomalous position in King
Arthur’s kingdom. Here I was, a giant among pigmies, a man among children, a master intelligence
among intellectual moles: by all rational measurement
the one and only actually great man in that whole
British world; and yet there and then, just as in the
remote England of my birth-time, the sheep-witted
earl who could claim long descent from a king’s leman,
acquired at second-hand from the slums of London,
was a better man than I was. Such a personage was
fawned upon in Arthur’s realm and reverently looked
up to by everybody, even though his dispositions were
as mean as his intelligence, and his morals as base as
his lineage. There were times when HE could sit down
in the king’s presence, but I couldn’t. I could have
got a title easily enough, and that would have raised
me a large step in everybody’s eyes; even in the
king’s, the giver of it. But I didn’t ask for it; and I
declined it when it was offered. I couldn’t have enjoyed
such a thing with my notions; and it wouldn’t have
been fair, anyway, because as far back as I could go,
our tribe had always been short of the bar sinister. I
couldn’t have felt really and satisfactorily fine and
proud and set-up over any title except one that should
come from the nation itself, the only legitimate source;
and such an one I hoped to win; and in the course of
years of honest and honorable endeavor, I did win it
and did wear it with a high and clean pride. This
title fell casually from the lips of a blacksmith, one
day, in a village, was caught up as a happy thought
and tossed from mouth to mouth with a laugh and an
affirmative vote; in ten days it had swept the kingdom,
and was become as familiar as the king’s name. I
was never known by any other designation afterward,
whether in the nation’s talk or in grave debate upon
matters of state at the council-board of the sovereign.
This title, translated into modern speech, would be
THE BOSS. Elected by the nation. That suited me.
And it was a pretty high title. There were very few
THE’S, and I was one of them. If you spoke of the
duke, or the earl, or the bishop, how could anybody
tell which one you meant? But if you spoke of The
King or The Queen or The Boss, it was different.

Well, I liked the king, and as king I respected him
— respected the office; at least respected it as much as
I was capable of respecting any unearned supremacy;
but as MEN I looked down upon him and his nobles —
privately. And he and they liked me, and respected
my office; but as an animal, without birth or sham
title, they looked down upon me — and were not particularly private about it, either. I didn’t charge for
my opinion about them, and they didn’t charge for
their opinion about me: the account was square, the
books balanced, everybody was satisfied.

 

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