A Burlesque Autobiography
This etext was produced by David Widger
A BURLESQUE AUTOBIOGRAPHY
by Mark Twain
MARK TWAIN'S (BURLESQUE) AUTO-BIOGRAPHY
Two or three persons having at different times intimated that if I would
write an autobiography they would read it, when they got leisure, I yield
at last to this frenzied public demand, and herewith tender my history:
Ours is a noble old house, and stretches a long way back into antiquity.
The earliest ancestor the Twains have any record of was a friend of the
family by the name of Higgins. This was in the eleventh century, when
our people were living in Aberdeen, county of Cork, England. Why it is
that our long line has ever since borne the maternal name (except when
one of them now and then took a playful refuge in an alias to avert
foolishness), instead of Higgins, is a mystery which none of us has ever
felt much desire to stir. It is a kind of vague, pretty romance, and we
leave it alone. All the old families do that way.
Arthour Twain was a man of considerable note a solicitor on the highway
in William Rufus' time. At about the age of thirty he went to one of
those fine old English places of resort called Newgate, to see about
something, and never returned again. While there he died suddenly.
Augustus Twain, seems to have made something of a stir about -the year
1160. He was as full of fun as he could be, and used to take his old
sabre and sharpen it up, and get in a convenient place on a dark night,
and stick it through people as they went by, to see them jump. He was a
born humorist. But he got to going too far with it; and the first time
he was found stripping one of these parties, the authorities removed one
end of him, and put it up on a nice high place on Temple Bar, where it
could contemplate the people and have a good time. He never liked any
situation so much or stuck to it so long.
Then for the next two hundred years the family tree shows a succession of
soldiers--noble, high-spirited fellows, who always went into battle
singing; right behind the army, and always went out a-whooping, right
ahead of it.
This is a scathing rebuke to old dead Froissart's poor witticism that our
family tree never had but one limb to it, and that that one stuck out at
right angles, and bore fruit winter, and summer.
|| / || \
OUR FAMILY TREE
Early in the fifteenth century we have Beau Twain, called "the Scholar."
He wrote a beautiful, beautiful hand. And he could imitate anybody's
hand so closely that it was enough to make a person laugh his head off to
see it. He had infinite sport with his talent. But by and by he took a
contract to break stone for a road, and the roughness of the work spoiled
his hand. Still, he enjoyed life all the time he was in the stone
business, which, with inconsiderable intervals, was some forty-two years.
In fact, he died in harness. During all those long years he gave such
satisfaction that he never was through with one contract a week till
government gave him another. He was a perfect pet. And he was always a
favorite with his fellow-artists, and was a conspicuous member of their
benevolent secret society, called the Chain Gang. He always wore his
hair short, had a preference for striped clothes, and died lamented by
the government. He was a sore loss to his country. For he was so
Some years later we have the illustrious John Morgan Twain. He came over
to this country with Columbus in 1492, as a passenger. He appears to
have been of a crusty, uncomfortable disposition. He complained of the
food all the way over, and was always threatening to go ashore unless
there was a change. He wanted fresh shad. Hardly a day passed over his
head that he did not go idling about the ship with his nose in the air,
sneering about the commander, and saying he did not believe Columbus knew
where he was going to or had ever been there before. The memorable cry
of "Land ho!" thrilled every heart in the ship but his. He gazed a while
through a piece of smoked glass at the penciled line lying on the distant
water, and then said: "Land be hanged,--it's a raft!"
When this questionable passenger came on board the ship, he brought
nothing with him but an old newspaper containing a handkerchief marked
"B. G.," one cotton sock marked "L. W. C." one woollen one marked "D. F."
and a night-shirt marked "O. M. R." And yet during the voyage he worried
more about his "trunk," and gave himself more airs about it, than all
the rest of the passengers put together.
If the ship was "down by the head," and would got steer, he would go and
move his "trunk" farther aft, and then watch the effect. If the
ship was "by the stern," he would suggest to Columbus to detail some men
to "shift that baggage." In storms he had to be gagged, because his
wailings about his "trunk" made it impossible for the men to hear the
orders. The man does not appear to have been openly charged with any
gravely unbecoming thing, but it is noted in the ship's log as a "curious
circumstance" that albeit he brought his baggage on board the ship in a
newspaper, he took it ashore in four trunks, a queensware crate, and a
couple of champagne baskets. But when he came back insinuating in an
insolent, swaggering way, that some of his things were missing, and was
going to search the other passengers' baggage, it was too much, and they
threw him overboard. They watched long and wonderingly for him to come
up, but not even a bubble rose on the quietly ebbing tide. But while
every one was most absorbed in gazing over the side, and the interest was
momentarily increasing, it was observed with consternation that the
vessel was adrift and the anchor cable hanging limp from the bow. Then
in the ship's dimmed and ancient log we find this quaint note:
"In time it was discouvered yt ye troblesome passenger hadde
gonne downe and got ye anchor, and toke ye same and solde it to
ye dam sauvages from ye interior, saying yt he hadde founde it,
ye sonne of a ghun!"
Yet this ancestor had good and noble instincts, and it is with pride that
we call to mind the fact that he was the first white person who ever
interested himself in the work of elevating and civilizing our Indians.
He built a commodious jail and put up a gallows, and to his dying day he
claimed with satisfaction that he had had a more restraining and
elevating influence on the Indians than any other reformer that ever,
labored among them. At this point the chronicle becomes less frank and
chatty, and closes abruptly by saying that the old voyager went to see
his gallows perform on the first white man ever hanged in America, and
while there received injuries which terminated in his death.
The great grandson of the "Reformer" flourished in sixteen hundred and
something, and was known in our annals as, "the old Admiral," though in
history he had other titles. He was long in command of fleets of swift
vessels, well armed and, manned, and did great service in hurrying up
merchantmen. Vessels which he followed and kept his eagle eye on, always
made good fair time across the ocean. But if a ship still loitered in
spite of all he could do, his indignation would grow till he could
contain himself no longer--and then he would take that ship home where he
lived and, keep it there carefully, expecting the owners to come for it,
but they never did. And he would try to get the idleness and sloth out
of the sailors of that ship by compelling, them to take invigorating
exercise and a bath. He called it "walking a plank." All the pupils
liked it. At any rate, they never found any fault with it after trying
it. When the owners were late coming for their ships, the Admiral always
burned them, so that the insurance money should not be lost. At last
this fine old tar was cut down in the fulness of his years and honors.
And to her dying day, his poor heart-broken widow believed that if he had
been cut down fifteen minutes sooner he might have been resuscitated.
Charles Henry Twain lived during the latter part of the seventeenth
century, and was a zealous and distinguished missionary. He converted
sixteen thousand South Sea islanders, and taught them that a dog-tooth
necklace and a pair of spectacles was not enough clothing to come to
divine service in. His poor flock loved him very, very dearly; and when
his funeral was over, they got up in a body (and came out of the
restaurant) with tears in their eyes, and saying, one to another, that he
was a good tender missionary, and they wished they had some more of him.
PAH-GO-TO-WAH-WAH-PUKKETEKEEWIS (Mighty-Hunter-with-a-Hog-Eye) TWAIN
adorned the middle of the eighteenth century, and aided Gen. Braddock
with all his heart to resist the oppressor Washington. It was this
ancestor who fired seventeen times at our Washington from behind a tree.
So far the beautiful romantic narrative in the moral story-books is
correct; but when that narrative goes on to say that at the seventeenth
round the awe-stricken savage said solemnly that that man was being
reserved by the Great Spirit for some mighty mission, and he dared not
lift his sacrilegious rifle against him again, the narrative seriously
impairs the integrity of history. What he did say was:
"It ain't no (hic !) no use. 'At man's so drunk he can't stan' still
long enough for a man to hit him. I (hic !) I can't 'ford to fool away
any more am'nition on him!"
That was why he stopped at the seventeenth round, and it was, a good
plain matter-of-fact reason, too, and one that easily commends itself to
us by the eloquent, persuasive flavor of probability there is about it.
I always enjoyed the story-book narrative, but I felt a marring misgiving
that every Indian at Braddock's Defeat who fired at a soldier a couple of
times (two easily grows to seventeen in a century), and missed him,
jumped to the conclusion that the Great Spirit was reserving that soldier
for some grand mission; and so I somehow feared that the only reason why
Washington's case is remembered and the others forgotten is, that in his
the prophecy' came true, and in that of the others it didn't. There are
not books enough on earth to contain the record of the prophecies Indians
and other unauthorized parties have made; but one may carry in his
overcoat pockets the record of all the prophecies that have been
I will remark here, in passing, that certain ancestors of mine are so
thoroughly well known in history by their aliases, that I have not felt
it to be worth while to dwell upon them, or even mention them in the
order of their birth. Among these may be mentioned RICHARD BRINSLEY
TWAIN, alias Guy Fawkes; JOHN WENTWORTH TWAIN, alias Sixteen-String Jack;
WILLIAM HOGARTH TWAIN, alias Jack Sheppard; ANANIAS TWAIN, alias Baron
Munchausen; JOHN GEORGE TWAIN, alias Capt. Kydd; and them there are
George Francis Train, Tom Pepper, Nebuchadnezzar and Baalam's Ass--they
all belong to our family, but to a branch of it somewhat distantly
removed from the honorable direct line--in fact, a collateral branch,
whose members chiefly differ from the ancient stock in that, in order to
acquire the notoriety we have always yearned and hungered for, they have
got into a low way of going to jail instead of getting hanged.
It is not well; when writing an autobiography, to follow your ancestry
down too close to your own time--it is safest to speak only vaguely of
your great-grandfather, and then skip from there to yourself, which I now
I was born without teeth--and there Richard III had the advantage of me;
but I was born without a humpback, likewise, and there I had the
advantage of him. My parents were neither very poor nor conspicuously
But now a thought occurs to me. My own history would really seem so tame
contrasted with that of my ancestors, that it is simply wisdom to leave
it unwritten until I am hanged. If some other biographies I have read
had stopped with the ancestry until a like event occurred, it would have
been a felicitous thing, for the reading public. How does it strike you?
THE SECRET REVEALED.
It was night. Stillness reigned in the grand old feudal castle of
Klugenstein. The year 1222 was drawing to a close. Far away up in the
tallest of the castle's towers a single light glimmered. A secret
council was being held there. The stern old lord of Klugenstein sat in
a chair of state meditating. Presently he, said, with a tender
A young man of noble presence, clad from head to heel in knightly mail,
"My daughter, the time is come for the revealing of the mystery that hath
puzzled all your young life. Know, then, that it had its birth in the
matters which I shall now unfold. My brother Ulrich is the great Duke of
Brandenburgh. Our father, on his deathbed, decreed that if no son were
born to Ulrich, the succession should pass to my house, provided a son
were born to me. And further, in case no son, were born to either, but
only daughters, then the succession should pass to Ulrich's daughter,
if she proved stainless; if she did not, my daughter should succeed,
if she retained a blameless name. And so I, and my old wife here, prayed
fervently for the good boon of a son, but the prayer was vain. You were
born to us. I was in despair. I saw the mighty prize slipping from my
grasp, the splendid dream vanishing away. And I had been so hopeful!
Five years had Ulrich lived in wedlock, and yet his wife had borne no
heir of either sex.
"'But hold,' I said, 'all is not lost.' A saving scheme had shot athwart
my brain. You were born at midnight. Only the leech, the nurse, and six
waiting-women knew your sex. I hanged them every one before an hour had
sped. Next morning all the barony went mad with rejoicing over the
proclamation that a son was born to Klugenstein, an heir to mighty
Brandenburgh! And well the secret has been kept. Your mother's own
sister nursed your infancy, and from that time forward we feared nothing.
"When you were ten years old, a daughter was born to Ulrich. We grieved,
but hoped for good results from measles, or physicians, or other natural
enemies of infancy, but were always disappointed. She lived, she throve-
-Heaven's malison upon her! But it is nothing. We are safe. For,
Ha-ha! have we not a son? And is not our son the future Duke? Our well-
beloved Conrad, is it not so?--for, woman of eight-and-twenty years--as
you are, my child, none other name than that hath ever fallen to you!
"Now it hath come to pass that age hath laid its hand upon my brother,
and he waxes feeble. The cares of state do tax him sore. Therefore he
wills that you shall come to him and be already Duke--in act, though not
yet in name. Your servitors are ready--you journey forth to-night.
"Now listen well. Remember every word I say. There is a law as old as
Germany that if any woman sit for a single instant in the great ducal
chair before she hath been absolutely crowned in presence of the people,
SHE SHALL DIE! So heed my words. Pretend humility. Pronounce your
judgments from the Premier's chair, which stands at the foot of the
throne. Do this until you are crowned and safe. It is not likely that
your sex will ever be discovered; but still it is the part of wisdom to
make all things as safe as may be in this treacherous earthly life."
"Oh; my father, is it for this my life hath been a lie! Was it that I
might cheat my unoffending cousin of her rights? Spare me, father,
spare your child!"
"What, huzzy! Is this my reward for the august fortune my brain has
wrought for thee? By the bones of my father, this puling sentiment of
thine but ill accords with my humor.
"Betake thee to the Duke, instantly! And beware how thou meddlest with my
Let this suffice, of the conversation. It is enough for us to know that
the prayers, the entreaties and the tears of the gentle-natured girl
availed nothing. They nor anything could move the stout old lord of
Klugenstein. And so, at last, with a heavy heart, the daughter saw the
castle gates close behind her, and found herself riding away in the
darkness surrounded by a knightly array of armed, vassals and a brave
following of servants.
The old baron sat silent for many minutes after his daughter's departure,
and then he turned to his sad wife and said:
"Dame, our matters seem speeding fairly. It is full three months since I
sent the shrewd and handsome Count Detzin on his devilish mission to my
brother's daughter Constance. If he fail, we are not wholly safe; but if
he do succeed, no power can bar our girl from being Duchess e'en though
ill-fortune should decree she never should be Duke!"
"My heart is full of bodings, yet all may still be well."
"Tush, woman! Leave the owls to croak. To bed with ye, and dream of
Brandenburgh and grandeur!"
FESTIVITY AND TEARS
Six days after the occurrences related in the above chapter, the
brilliant capital of the Duchy of Brandenburgh was resplendent with
military pageantry, and noisy with the rejoicings of loyal multitudes;
for Conrad, the young heir to the crown, was come. The old Duke's, heart
was full of happiness, for Conrad's handsome person and graceful bearing
had won his love at once. The great halls of tie palace were thronged
with nobles, who welcomed Conrad bravely; and so bright and happy did all
things seem, that he felt his fears and sorrows passing away and giving
place to a comforting contentment.
But in a remote apartment of the palace a scene of a different nature
was, transpiring. By a window stood the Duke's only child, the Lady
Constance. Her eyes were red and swollen, and full of tears. She was
alone. Presently she fell to weeping anew, and said aloud:
"The villain Detzin is gone--has fled the dukedom! I could not believe
it at first, but alas! it is too true. And I loved him so. I dared to
love him though I knew the Duke my father would never let me wed him.
I loved him--but now I hate him! With all, my soul I hate him! Oh, what
is to become of me! I am lost, lost, lost! I shall go mad!"
THE PLOT THICKENS.
Few months drifted by. All men published the praises of the young
Conrad's government and extolled the wisdom of his judgments, the
mercifulness of his sentences, and the modesty with which he bore himself
in his great office. The old Duke soon gave everything into his hands,
and sat apart and listened with proud satisfaction while his heir
delivered the decrees of the crown from the seat of the premier.
It seemed plain that one so loved and praised and honored of all men
as Conrad was, could not be otherwise than happy. But strange enough,
he was not. For he saw with dismay that the Princess Constance had begun
to love him! The love of, the rest of the world was happy fortune for
him, but this was freighted with danger! And he saw, moreover, that the
delighted Duke had discovered his daughter's passion likewise, and was
already dreaming of a marriage. Every day somewhat of the deep sadness
that had been in the princess' face faded away; every day hope and
animation beamed brighter from her eye; and by and by even vagrant smiles
visited the face that had been so troubled.
Conrad was appalled. He bitterly cursed himself for having yielded to
the instinct that had made him seek the companionship of one of his own
sex when he was new and a stranger in the palace--when he was sorrowful
and yearned for a sympathy such as only women can give or feel. He now
began to avoid, his cousin. But this only made matters worse, for,
naturally enough, the more he avoided her, the more she cast herself in
his way. He marveled at this at first; and next it startled him. The
girl haunted him; she hunted him; she happened upon him at all times and
in all places, in the night as well as in the day. She seemed singularly
anxious. There was surely a mystery somewhere.
This could not go on forever. All the world was talking about it. The
Duke was beginning to look perplexed. Poor Conrad was becoming a very
ghost through dread and dire distress. One day as he was emerging from a
private ante-room attached to the picture gallery, Constance confronted
him, and seizing both his hands, in hers, exclaimed:
"Oh, why, do you avoid me? What have I done--what have I said, to lose
your kind opinion of me--for, surely I had it once? Conrad, do not
despise me, but pity a tortured heart? I cannot--cannot hold the words
unspoken longer, lest they kill me--I LOVE you, CONRAD! There, despise
me if you must, but they would be uttered!"
Conrad was speechless. Constance hesitated a moment, and then,
misinterpreting his silence, a wild gladness flamed in her eyes, and she
flung her arms about his neck and said:
"You relent! you relent! You can love me--you will love me! Oh, say you
will, my own, my worshipped Conrad!'"
Conrad groaned aloud. A sickly pallor overspread his countenance, and
he trembled like an aspen. Presently, in desperation, he thrust the poor
girl from him, and cried:
"You know not what you ask! It is forever and ever impossible!" And then
he fled like a criminal and left the princess stupefied with amazement.
A minute afterward she was crying and sobbing there, and Conrad was
crying and sobbing in his chamber. Both were in despair. Both save ruin
staring them in the face.
By and by Constance rose slowly to her feet and moved away, saying:
"To think that he was despising my love at the very moment that I thought
it was melting his cruel heart! I hate him! He spurned me--did this
man--he spurned me from him like a dog!"
THE AWFUL REVELATION.
Time passed on. A settled sadness rested once more upon the countenance
of the good Duke's daughter. She and Conrad were seen together no more
now. The Duke grieved at this. But as the weeks wore away, Conrad's
color came back to his cheeks and his old-time vivacity to his eye, and
he administered the government with a clear and steadily ripening wisdom.
Presently a strange whisper began to be heard about the palace. It grew
louder; it spread farther. The gossips of the city got hold-of it. It
swept the dukedom. And this is what the whisper said:
"The Lady Constance hath given birth to a child!"
When the lord of Klugenstein heard it, he swung his plumed helmet thrice
around his head and shouted:
"Long live. Duke Conrad!--for lo, his crown is sure, from this day
forward! Detzin has done his errand well, and the good scoundrel shall
And he spread, the tidings far and wide, and for eight-and-forty hours no
soul in all the barony but did dance and sing, carouse and illuminate, to
celebrate the great event, and all at proud and happy old Klugenstein's
THE FRIGHTFUL CATASTROPHE.
The trial was at hand. All the great lords and barons of Brandenburgh
were assembled in the Hall of Justice in the ducal palace. No space was
left unoccupied where there was room for a spectator to stand or sit.
Conrad, clad in purple and ermine, sat in the premier's chair, and on
either side sat the great judges of the realm. The old Duke had sternly
commanded that the trial of his daughter should proceed, without favor,
and then had taken to his bed broken-hearted. His days were numbered.
Poor Conrad had begged, as for his very life, that he might be spared the
misery of sitting in judgment upon his cousin's crime, but it did not
The saddest heart in all that great assemblage was in Conrad's breast.
The gladdest was in his father's. For, unknown to his daughter "Conrad,"
the old Baron Klugenstein was come, and was among the crowd of nobles,
triumphant in the swelling fortunes of his house.
After the heralds had made due proclamation and the other preliminaries
had followed, the venerable Lord Chief justice said:
"Prisoner, stand forth!"
The unhappy princess rose and stood unveiled before the vast multitude.
The Lord Chief Justice continued:
"Most noble lady, before the great judges of this realm it hath been
charged and proven that out of holy wedlock your Grace hath given birth
unto a child; and by our ancient law the penalty is death, excepting in
one sole contingency, whereof his Grace the acting Duke, our good Lord
Conrad, will advertise you in his solemn sentence now; wherefore, give
Conrad stretched forth the reluctant sceptre, and in the self-same moment
the womanly heart beneath his robe yearned pityingly toward the doomed
prisoner, and the tears came into his eyes. He opened his lips to speak,
but the Lord Chief Justice said quickly:
"Not there, your Grace, not there! It is not lawful to pronounce
judgment upon any of the ducal line SAVE FROM THE DUCAL THRONE!"
A shudder went to the heart of poor Conrad, and a tremor shook the iron
frame of his old father likewise. CONRAD HAD NOT BEEN CROWNED--dared he
profane the throne? He hesitated and turned pale with fear. But it must
be done. Wondering eyes were already upon him. They would be suspicious
eyes if he hesitated longer. He ascended the throne. Presently he
stretched forth the sceptre again, and said:
"Prisoner, in the name of our sovereign lord, Ulrich, Duke of
Brandenburgh, I proceed to the solemn duty that hath devolved upon me.
Give heed to my words. By the ancient law of the land, except you
produce the partner of your guilt and deliver him up to the executioner,
you must surely die. Embrace this opportunity--save yourself while yet
you may. Name the father of your child!"
A solemn hush fell upon the great court--a silence so profound that men
could hear their own hearts beat. Then the princess slowly turned, with
eyes gleaming with hate, and pointing her finger straight at Conrad,
"Thou art the man!"
An appalling conviction of his helpless, hopeless peril struck a chill to
Conrad's heart like the chill of death itself. What power on earth could
save him! To disprove the charge, he must reveal that he was a woman;
and for an uncrowned woman to sit in the ducal chair was death! At one
and the same moment, he and his grim old father swooned and fell to, the
[The remainder of this thrilling and eventful story will NOT be found in
this or any other publication, either now or at any future time.]
The truth is, I have got my hero (or heroine) into such a particularly
close place, that I do not see how I am ever going to get him (or her)
out of it again--and therefore I will wash my hands of the whole
business, and leave that person to get out the best way that offers--or
else stay there. I thought it was going to be easy enough to straighten
out that little difficulty, but it looks different now.
[If Harper's Weekly or the New York Tribune desire to copy these initial
chapters into the, reading columns of their valuable journals, just as
they do the opening chapters of Ledger and New York Weekly novels, they
are at liberty to do so at the usual rates, provided they "trust."]
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