Libido: Fiction: 1601
Friday Night Bedtime Story, October 13. Print me out... take me to bed!
Fireside Conversation in the Time of Queen Elizabeth

By Mark Twain

Her Majesty
Queen Elizabeth
Editor’s Note: -- The three most expressive words in the English vocabulary of love (two nouns and one verb, presenting in installments of four letters the complete paraphernalia of creation) are so generally looked down on by respectable people, that your editor who loves his liberty almost as much as he loves his literature, is compelled to leave a space wherever one of them occurs in this story. Let each reader insert the words in his own copy, I say, for if he cannot fill out these spaces, I swear to you he couldn’t fill anything else.

Mem: -- The following is supposed to be an extract from the diary of the Pepys of that day, the same being cup-bearer to Queen Elizabeth. It is supposed that he is of noble and ancient lineage; that he despises these canaille; that his soul consumes with wrath to see the queen stooping to talk to such; and that the old man feels his nobility defiled by contact with Shakespeare, etc., and yet he has got to stay there till Her Majesty chooses to dismiss him.


Yesternight took her Majestie, ye Queene, a fantasie such as she sometimes hath, and hadde to her closet certeain that do write playes, bookes & such like -- these being my Lord Bacon, his worship, Sir Walter Raleigh, Mr. Ben Jonson, & ye childe Francis Beaumont, which being but sixteen hath yet turned his hand to ye doing of the Latin masters into our English tongue with great discretion and much applause. Also came with those ye famous Shaxpur. A right strange mingling of mightie bloode with meane, ye more in especial since ye Queene’s Grace was present, as likewise these following, to wit: Ye Duchess of Bilgewater, twenty-two years of age; Ye Countess of Granby, thirty-six; her doter, ye Lady Helen; as also ye two maides of honor, to wit: Ye Lady Margery Bothby, sixty-five; ye Lady Alice Dilbury, turned seventy, she being two yeares ye Queene’s Grace’s elder.

I, being Her Majestie’s cup-bearer, hadde no choice but to remain & behold rank forgot, & ye high hold converse with ye low as upon equal termes, & a great scandal did ye world heare thereof.

In ye heate of ye talke, it befel that one did breake wynde, yielding an exceeding mightie and distressful stinke, whereat all did laffe full sore, and then:

Ye Queene: Verily, in mine eight and sixty yeares have I not heard the fellow to this fartte. Meseemeth by ye great sound and clamour of it, it was male, yet ye bellie it did lurke behinde should now falle lene and flat against ye spine of him that hath been delivered of so stately & so vaste a bulke, whereas ye guts of them that doe quiff-splinters beare, stand comely, still & rounde. Prithee, let ye author confess ye offspring. Will my Lady Alice testify?

LADY ALICE: Goode, your Grace, an’ I hadde roome for such a thundergust within mine ancient bowels, ’tis not in reason I could discharge the same and live to thank God for that he did chuse handmayd so humble to show his power. Nay, ’tis not I that have brought forth this rich o’ermastering fog, this fragrant gloom, so pray seek ye further.

YE QUEENE: Mayhap ye Lady Margery hath done ye companye this favour?

LADY MARGERY: So please you, Madame, my limbs are feeble with ye weight and drouthe of five and sixty winters, & it behooveth that I be tender with them. In ye goode providence of God, an’ hadde I contained this wonder forsooth would I have given ye whole evening of my sinking life to ye dribbling of it for the with trembling and uneasy soul, not launced it sudden in its matchless might, taking my own life with violence, rending my weak frame like rotten rags. It was not I, your Majestie.

YE QUEENE: In God’s name who hath favoured us? Hath it come to pass that a fartte shall fartte itself? Not such a one as this I trow. Young Master Beaumont? But no, ’twould have wafted him to Heaven like downe of goose’s bodie. ’Twas not ye little Lady Helen, -- nay, ne’er blush, my child, thou’lt tickle thy tender with many a mousie squeak before thou learn’st to blow a hurricane. Was’t you, my learned and ingenious Jonson?

Mr. Ben Johnson
JONSON: So felle a blast hath ne’er mine ears saluted, nor yet a stenche so all-pervading & immortal. ’Twas not a novice did it, rood Your Majestie, but one of veteran experience -- else had he failed of confidence. In sooth it was not I.

YE QUEENE: My Lord Bacon?

LORD BACON: Not from my lene entrails hath this prodigie burst forth, so please Your Grace. Nau’t doth so befit ye greate as great performance; and haply shall ye finde that ’tis not from mediocrity this miracle hath issued.

(Though ye subject be but a fartte, yet will this tedious sink of learning ponderously philosophize. Meantime did ye foul and deadly stinke pervade all places to that degree, that never smelt I ye like, yet dared I not leave ye Presence, albeit I was like to suffocate.)

YE QUEENE: What saith your worshipful Master Shaxpur?

SHAXPUR: In ye greate hands of God, I stande & so proclaim my innocence. Tho’ ye sinless hosts of Heaven hadde foretold ye coming of this most disolating breath, proclaiming it a work of uninspired man; its quaking thunders, its firmament-clogging rottenness his own achievement in due course of nature, yet hadde I not believed it; but hadde said, “ye Pit itself hath furnished forth ye stinke and Heaven’s artillery hath shook ye globe in admiration of it.”

(Then there was silence, & each did turne him toward ye worshipful Sir Walter Raleigh, that browned, embattled bloudy swash-buckler, who rousing up did smile and simpering say:)

RALEIGH: Most Gracious Majestie. ‘Twas I that did it; but, indeed, it was so poor and fragile a note compared with such as I am wont to furnish, that in sooth I was ashamed to call ye weakling mine in so august a Presence. It was nothing -- less than nothing -- Madame. I did it but to clear my nether throat; but hadde I come prepared then hadde I delivered something worthie. Beare with me, please your Grace, till I can make amends.

(Then delivered he himself of such a godless and rock-shivering blaste, that all were fain to stop their ears, and following it did come so dense and foul a stinke, that that which went before did seem a poor and trifling thing beside it. Then said he, feigning that he blushed and was confused, “I perceive that I am weake today & cannot justice doe unto my powers,” and sat him down as who should say, -- “There, it is not much; yet he that hath an to spare, let him follow that, an’ I think he can.” By God, and I were ye Queene, I would e’en tip this swaggering braggard out o’ ye court & let him air his grandeurs and break his intolerable wynd before ye deaf & such as suffocation pleaseth.)

Then fell they to talk about ye manners and customs of many peoples, and master Shaxpur spake of ye booke by Sir Michael Montaine, wherein was mention of ye custom of widows of Perigord, to wear upon ye headdress, in sign of widowhood, a jewel in ye similitude of a man’s member wilted & limber, whereat ye Queene did laffe and say, widows in England doe wear prickers too, but ‘twixt ye thyghs and not wilted either, till coition hath done that office for them.

Mr. William Shaxpur
Master Shaxpur did also observe that the Sieur de Montaine hath also spoken of a certain Emperor of such mightie prowess that he did take ten in ye compass of a single night, the while his empress did entertain two & twenty lusty knights atween her sheets & yet was not satisfied; whereat ye merrie Countess Granby saith, a ram is yet ye emperor’s superior, since he will top above a hundred ewes ‘twixt sun & sun, & after, if he can have none more to shag, will masturbate until he hath enriched whole acres with hys seed.

Then spake ye damned wind-mill, Sir Walter, of a people in ye uttermust parts of America, that copulate not until they be five and thirty years of age, ye woman being eight and twenty, and do it then but once in seven years.

YE QUEENE: How doth that like my little Lady Helen? Shall we send thee thither and preserve thy belly?

LADY HELEN: Please your Highness’ Grace, mine olde nurse hath told me there bee more ways of serving God than by locking the thyghs together; yet I am ready to serve him in that way too, since your Highness’ Grace hath set ye example.

YE QUEENE: God’s wounds, a good answer, childe.

LADY ALICE: Mayhap ‘twill weaken when ye hair sprouts below ye naval.

LADY HELEN: Nay, it sprouted two yeares since; I can scarce more than cover it with my hand now.

YE QUEENE: Heare ye that, my little Beaumont? Have you not a small bird about ye that stirs at hearing of so sweet a neste?

BEAUMONT: ’Tis not insensible, moste illustrious Madame; but mousing owls and bats of low degree may not aspire to bliss so overwhelming and ecstatic as is found in the downy nestes of birdes of Paradise.

YE QUEENE: By ye gullet of God, ’tis a neat turned compliment. With such a tongue as thyne, lad, thou’lt spread the ivory thyghs of many a willing maide in thy goode time, an’ thy be as handy as thy speech.

(Then spake ye Queene of how she met old Rabelais when she was turned fifteen, & hee did tell her of a man his father knew that hadde a double paire of bollocks, whereon a controversy followed as concerning ye moste just way to spell ye word, ye controversy running high ‘twixt ye learned Bacon and ye ingenious Jonson, until at last ye old Lady Margery, wearying of it all, saith, “Gentles, what mattereth how’ye spell ye word? I warrant ye when ye use your bollocks ye shall not think of it; and my Lady Granby, bee ye content, let ye spelling bee; ye shall enjoy ye beating of them on your buttocks just ye same I trow. Before I hadde gained my fourteenth yeare, I hadde learned that them that would explore a ----’ stopped not to consider ye spelling o’t.”)

SIR WALTER: In sooth, when a shift’s turned uppe, delay is meet for naught but dalliance. Boccaccio hath a story of a priest that did beguile a mayd into his cell, then knelt him in a corner for to pray for grace that he be rightly thankful for this tender the Lord hadde sent him, but the abbot spying through ye keyhole did see a tuft of brownish hair with fair white flesh about it, wherefore, when ye priest’s prayer was done his chance was gone, foresmuch as ye little mayd hadde but ye one ---- and that was already occupied to her content.

Then conversed they of religion & the mightie works ye olde dead Luther did doe by ye grace of God. Then next about poetry, & Master Shaxpur did read a part of his Kyng Henry IV, the which it seemed unto mee is not of the value of a arseful of ashes, yet they praised it bravely, one and all.

The same did rede a portion of his Venus & Adonis to their prodigious admiration, whereas, I. being sleepy & fatigued withal, did deeme it but paltry stuffe, & was ye more discomfitted in that ye bloudy buccanneer hadde got wynd again & did turn his mind to farting with such villain zeal that presently I was like to choke once more. God damn this wyndy ruffian & all his breede. I would that helle might get him.

They talked about the wonderful defense which olde Nicholas Throgmorton did make for himself before ye judges in ye time of Mary, which was unlucky matter for to broach, since it fetched out ye Queen with a pity that he, having so much wit, had yet not enough to save his daughter’s ---- sound for her marriage bedde, & ye Queene did give ye damned Sir Walter a look that made him wince -- for she hath not yet forgot that he was her own lover in ye olden days. There was a silent uncomfortableness now, ’twas not a good turne for talke to take, since if ye Queene must find offense in a little harmless debauching when were stiffe & not loath to take the stiffness out of them, who of the company was sinless? Beholde, was not ye wife of Master Shaxpur four months gone with childe when she stood uppe before ye altar? Was not her grace of Bilgewater rogered by four lords before she had a husband? Was not little Lady Helen born on her mother’s wedding day? & beholde, were not ye Lady Alice & Lady Margery there, mouthing religion, whores from the cradle?

In time they came to discourse of Cervantes & ye new painter Rubens, that is beginning to be heard of. Fine words and dainty wrought phrases from ye ladies now, one or two of them beeing in other days, pupils of that poore asse, Lillie, himselfe; & I remarked how that Jonson and Shaxpur did fidget to discharge some venom of sarcasm, yet dared they not in ye presence, ye Queene’s grace being ye very flower in ye Euphuists herself. But beholde, there bee they that, having a specialtie admiring it in themselves, bee jealous when a neighbor doth essay it nor can abide it in them very long. Wherefore it was observed that ye Queene waxed uncontent; & in time a laboured grandiose speech out of ye mouthe of Lady Alice, who manifestly did mightylie pride herself thereon, did quite exhaust ye Queene’s endurance, who listened till ye gaudy speeche was done, then lifting up her brows & with vaste irony mincing, saith, “O Shitte!” whereat they all did laffe, but not ye Lady Alice that olde foole bitche.

Now was Sir Walter minded of a tale he once did heare ye ingenious Margaret of Navarre relate about a mayd, which being like to suffer rape by an olde archbishop, did smartly contrive a device to save her ---- & said to him: “First, my Lord, prithee take out thy toole & ---- before me,” which doing, Lo! his member felle & would not rise again.