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Authors: Mark Twain

Tags: #Criticism, #Classics, #Literature: Classics, #Literature - Classics, #General, #Fiction, #Historical, #London (England), #Boys, #Princes, #Impostors and imposture, #Poor children, #King of England, #Edward, #VI, #1537-1553

The Prince and the Pauper (3 page)

BOOK: The Prince and the Pauper
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Then there is the problem with the language Twain employs. The book is filled with archaic and, in the mouths of the noble characters, flowery language. The more base characters speak a guttural if elaborate patois: “ ‘Gone stark mad as any Tom o’ Bedlam! ... But mad or no mad, I and thy Gammer Canty will soon find where the soft places in thy bones lie, or I’m no true man!’ ” (p. 28). The aristocrats are no less orotund, even when condemning one of their own to death: “ ‘Alack, how I have longed for this sweet hour! and lo, too late it cometh, and I am robbed of this so coveted chance. But speed ye, speed ye! let others do this happy office [that is, a beheading] sith ‘tis denied to me’ ” (p. 47). This is not the Mark Twain the reading public was used to—we are a long way from Tom, Huck, and Pudd’nhead. But Twain had always been a meticulous and discerning student of the spoken word, and absent a living example of Tudor speech, he readily admitted reading a great deal of Shakespeare to get the language down for both prince and pauper.

At first, the language seems a trifle daunting, but it quickly becomes easy to read and in the end adds immeasurably to the authenticity of the book. To have had his characters speak in the manner of Victorian Londoners of his age would have undercut the profound sense of time and place Twain manages to convey so well.

Having said how much
The Prince and the Pauper
is
not
a typical example of Twain’s work, it is worth taking a look at the factors that make it, in fact, a comfortable fit with the rest of the Twain canon. Like Tom Canty, the pauper of the story, Twain knew well the privations of youthful poverty. His father, John Marshall Clemens (1798-1847), was an inept businessman, perennially in debt, sometimes bringing his family to such low financial water as to force the selling of family land, and even the household furniture. At one point in Twain’s youth the family was forced to face the humiliation of having to take in boarders. True, Twain never knew the crushing poverty of the Canty clan, but he grew up knowing the cold sting of want.

Tom Canty’s father is an ogre, a tyrant, a drunkard, and an abuser. Were he alive today his treatment of his family would, more than likely, land him in jail. Twain’s own father, while no monster, was cold, distant, unaffectionate, and, it seems, uninterested in any of his seven children, still less in his wife (Jane Lampton Clemens, 1803—1890), with whom he lived in a loveless marriage. As Twain admits so candidly in a fragment of an autobiography published in 1907: “I had never once seen a member of the Clemens family kiss another one—except once. When my father lay dying in our house in Hannibal he put his arm around my sister’s neck and drew her down and kissed her, saying, ‘Let me die.’ ” (Paine, A. B.
Mark Twain: A Biography,
Vol. I, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1912, p. 73.) It is not difficult to imagine that Twain could take his own experiences of poverty and cruelty and amplify them into the truly ghastly conditions of Tom Canty’s early life.

As Twain’s reputation grew he was transformed from lowly newspaper reporter into celebrated author. This celebrity allowed him to hobnob with the Great and Good (including the Russian czar, the German kaiser, and the emperor of Austria-Hungary) and to develop a keen eye for the doings of the upper classes. The courts of the nineteenth century were at least as grand, perhaps even more so, than those of Tudor England. Mark Twain was a proud American and a republican, and he scoffed at the very notion of aristocracy, as well as at a type of American traveler of a certain class who fawned over the titled and highborn. However, he did admit: “We are all like—on the inside ... we dearly like to be noticed by a duke.... When a returned American is playing the earls he has met I can look on silent and unexcited and never offer to call his hand, although I have three kings and a pair of emperors up my sleeve.” (Camfield, p. 376.) These crowned heads do more than just pump up an awestruck American Grand Tourist: Twain’s travels in the courts, palaces, and lavish country houses of Europe must have provided grist for his mill and found their way into the pages of
The Prince and the Pauper.

Ultimately, of course, the plot and the action of the novel spring from Twain’s own fabulous imagination. It is apparent in every line of the book how much he enjoyed writing it, and in later years he would rank it alongside
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
and
Tom Sawyer
—even if others would not. Perhaps the praise Twain valued most highly came from his favorite daughter, Susie. She said, emphatically, that
The Prince and the Pauper
was “Unquestionably the best book he has ever written.”

Robert Tine
is the author of six novels, including
State of Grace
and
Black Market.
He has written for a variety of periodicals and magazines—from the
New York Times
to
Newsweek.
He was educated at various schools in six countries (the Bahamas, Wales, South Africa, Swaziland, and Argentina) and at Columbia University in New York. He lives in New York City.

TO
THOSE GOOD-MANNERED AND AGREEABLE CHILDREN,
SUSIE AND CLARA CLEMENS,
this book
IS AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED
BY THEIR FATHER.

THE quality of mercy ...
is twice bless’d;
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes;
’Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The thronéd monarch better than his crown.

Merchant of Venice

PREFACE

I
will set down a tale as it was told to me by one who had it of his father, which latter had it of
his
father, this last having in like manner had it of
his
father—and so on, back and still back, three hundred years and more, the fathers transmitting it to the sons and so preserving it. It may be history, it may be only legend, a tradition. It may have happened, it may not have happened: but it
could
have happened. It may be that the wise and the learned believed it in the old days; it may be that only the unlearned and the simple loved it and credited it.

HUGH LATIMER,
Bishop of Worcester, to
LORD CROMWELL,
on the birth of the
PRINCE OF WALES (
afterward
EDWARD VI.)

FROM THE NATIONAL MANUSCRIPTS PRESERVED BY THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT

HUGH LATIMER,
Bishop of Worcester, to
LORD CROMWELL,
on the birth of the
PRINCE OF WALES
(afterward
EDWARD VI.)

FROM THE NATIONAL MANUSCRIPTS PRESERVED BY THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT

Ryght honorable,
Salutem in Christo Jesu,
and Syr here ys no lesse joynge and rejossynge in thes partees for the byrth of our prynce, hoom we hungurde for so longe, then ther was (I trow), inter vicinos att the byrth of S. I. Baptyste, as thys berer, Master Erance, can telle you. Gode gyffe us alle grace, to yelde dew thankes to our Lorde Gode, Gode of Inglonde, for verely He hathe shoyd Hym selff Gode of Inglonde, or rather an Inglyssh Gode, yf we consydyr and pondyr welle alle Hys procedynges with us from tyme to tyme. He hath overcumme alle our yllnesse with Hys excedynge goodnesse, so that we are now moor then compellyd to serve Hym, seke Hys glory, promott Hys wurde, yf the Devylle of alle Devylles be natt in us. We have now the stooppe of vayne trustes ande they stey of vayne expectations; lett us alle pray for hys preservatione. And I for my partt wylle wyssh that hys Grace allways have, and evyn now from the begynynge, Governares, Instructores and offyceres of ryght jugmente, ne optimum ingenium non
optimâ educatione depravetur.

Butt whatt a grett fowlle am I! So, whatt devotione shoyth many tymys butt lytelle dyscretione! Ande thus the Gode of Inglonde be ever with you in alle your procedynges.

The 19 of October.

Youres, H. L. B. of Wurcestere,
now att Hartlebury.

Yfyou wolde excytt thys berere to be moore hartye ayen the abuse of ymagry or mor forwarde to promotte the veryte, ytt myght
doo
goode. Natt that ytt came of me, butt of your selffe, &c.

(Addressed) To the Ryght Honorable Loorde P. Sealle hys synguler gode Lorde.

I

The Birth of the Prince and the Pauper

I
n the ancient city of London, on a certain autumn day in the second quarter of the sixteenth century, a boy was born to a poor family of the name of Canty, who did not want him. On the same day another English child was born to a rich family of the name of Tudor, who did want him. All England wanted him too. England had so longed for him, and hoped for him, and prayed God for him, that, now that he was really come, the people went nearly mad for joy. Mere acquaintances hugged and kissed each other and cried. Everybody took a holiday, and high and low, rich and poor, feasted and danced and sang, and got very mellow; and they kept this up for days and nights together. By day, London was a sight to see, with gay banners waving from every balcony and house-top, and splendid pageants marching along. By night, it was again a sight to see, with its great bonfires at every corner, and its troops of revelers making merry around them. There was no talk in all England but of the new baby, Edward Tudor, Prince of Wales,
1
who lay lapped in silks and satins, unconscious of all this fuss, and not knowing that great lords and ladies were tending him and watching over him—and not caring, either. But there was no talk about the other baby, Tom Canty, lapped in his poor rags, except among the family of paupers whom he had just come to trouble with his presence.

II

Tom’s Early Life

L
et us skip a number of years. London was fifteen hundred years old, and was a great town—for that day. It had a hundred thousand inhabitants—some think double as many. The streets were very narrow, and crooked, and dirty, especially in the part where Tom Canty lived, which was not far from London Bridge. The houses were of wood, with the second story projecting over the first, and the third sticking its elbows out beyond the second. The higher the houses grew, the broader they grew. They were skeletons of strong crisscross beams, with solid material between, coated with plaster. The beams were painted red or blue or black, according to the owner’s taste, and this gave the houses a very picturesque look. The windows were small, glazed with little diamond-shaped panes, and they opened outward, on hinges, like doors.

The house which Tom’s father lived in was up a foul little pocket called Offal Court, out of Pudding Lane.
b
It was small, decayed, and rickety, but it was packed full of wretchedly poor families. Canty’s tribe occupied a room on the third floor. The mother and father had a sort of bedstead in the corner; but Tom, his grandmother, and his two sisters, Bet and Nan, were not restricted—they had all the floor to themselves, and might sleep where they chose. There were the remains of a blanket or two, and some bundles of ancient and dirty straw, but these could not rightly be called beds, for they were not organized; they were kicked into a general pile, mornings, and selections made from the mass at night, for service.

Bet and Nan were fifteen years old—twins. They were good-hearted girls, unclean, clothed in rags, and profoundly ignorant. Their mother was like them. But the father and the grandmother were a couple of fiends. They got drunk whenever they could; then they fought each other or anybody else who came in the way; they cursed and swore always, drunk or sober; John Canty was a thief, and his mother a beggar. They made beggars of the children, but failed to make thieves of them. Among, but not of, the dreadful rabble that inhabited the house was a good old priest whom the king had turned out of house and home with a pension of a few far-things, and he used to get the children aside and teach them right ways secretly. Father Andrew also taught Tom a little Latin, and how to read and write; and would have done the same with the girls, but they were afraid of the jeers of their friends, who could not have endured such a queer accomplishment in them.

All Offal Court was just such another hive as Canty’s house. Drunkenness, riot, and brawling were the order, there, every night and nearly all night long. Broken heads were as common as hunger in that place. Yet little Tom was not unhappy. He had a hard time of it, but did not know it. It was the sort of time that all the Offal Court boys had, therefore he supposed it was the correct and comfortable thing. When he came home empty-handed at night, he knew his father would curse him and thrash him first, and that when he was done the awful grandmother would do it all over again and improve on it; and that away in the night his starving mother would slip to him stealthily with any miserable scrap or crust she had been able to save for him by going hungry herself, notwithstanding she was often caught in that sort of treason and soundly beaten for it by her husband.

No, Tom’s life went along well enough, especially in summer. He only begged just enough to save himself, for the laws against mendicancy
c
were stringent, and the penalties heavy; so he put in a good deal of his time listening to good Father Andrew’s charming old tales and legends about giants and fairies, dwarfs, and genii, and enchanted castles, and gorgeous kings and princes. His head grew to be full of these wonderful things, and many a night as he lay in the dark on his scant and offensive straw, tired, hungry, smarting from a thrashing, he unleashed his imagination and soon forgot his aches and pains in delicious picturings to himself of the charmed life of a petted prince in a regal palace. One desire came in time to haunt him day and night: it was to see a real prince, with his own eyes. He spoke of it once to some of his Offal Court comrades; but they jeered him and scoffed him so unmercifully that he was glad to keep his dream to himself after that.

He often read the priest’s old books and got him to explain and enlarge upon them. His dreamings and readings worked certain changes in him, by and by. His dream-people were so fine that he grew to lament his shabby clothing and his dirt, and to wish to be clean and better clad. He went on playing in the mud just the same, and enjoying it, too; but instead of splashing around in the Thames solely for the fun of it, he began to find an added value in it because of the washings and cleansings it afforded.

Tom could always find something going on around the Maypole in Cheapside,
2
and at the fairs; and now and then he and the rest of London had a chance to see a military parade when some famous unfortunate was carried prisoner to the Tower, by land or boat. One summer’s day he saw poor Anne Askew
3
and three men burned at the stake in Smithfield, and heard an ex-bishop preach a sermon to them which did not interest him. Yes, Tom’s life was varied and pleasant enough, on the whole.

By and by Tom’s reading and dreaming about princely life wrought such a strong effect upon him that he began to act the prince, unconsciously. His speech and manners became curiously ceremonious and courtly, to the vast admiration and amusement of his intimates. But Tom’s influence among these young people began to grow, now, day by day; and in time he came to be looked up to, by them, with a sort of wondering awe, as a superior being. He seemed to know so much! and he could do and say such marvelous things! and withal, he was so deep and wise! Tom’s remarks, and Tom’s performances, were reported by the boys to their elders; and these, also, presently began to discuss Tom Canty, and to regard him as a most gifted and extraordinary creature. Full-grown people brought their perplexities to Tom for solution, and were often astonished at the wit and wisdom of his decisions. In fact he was become a hero to all who knew him except his own family—these, only, saw nothing in him.

Privately, after a while, Tom organized a royal court! He was the prince; his special comrades were guards, chamberlains, equerries, lords and ladies in waiting, and the royal family. Daily the mock prince was received with elaborate ceremonials borrowed by Tom from his romantic readings; daily the great affairs of the mimic kingdom were discussed in the royal council, and daily his mimic highness issued decrees to his imaginary armies, navies, and viceroyalties.

After which, he would go forth in his rags and beg a few far-things, eat his poor crust, take his customary cuffs and abuse, and then stretch himself upon his handful of foul straw, and resume his empty grandeurs in his dreams.

And still his desire to look just once upon a real prince, in the flesh, grew upon him, day by day, and week by week, until at last it absorbed all other desires, and became the one passion of his life.

One January day, on his usual begging tour, he tramped despondently up and down the region round about Mincing Lane and Little East Cheap,
4
hour after hour, barefooted and cold, looking in at cook-shop windows and longing for the dreadful pork-pies and other deadly inventions displayed there—for to him these were dainties fit for the angels; that is, judging by the smell, they were—for it had never been his good luck to own and eat one. There was a cold drizzle of rain; the atmosphere was murky; it was a melancholy day. At night Tom reached home so wet and tired and hungry that it was not possible for his father and grandmother to observe his forlorn condition and not be moved—after their fashion; wherefore they gave him a cuffing at once and sent him to bed. For a long time his pain and hunger, and the swearing and fighting going on in the building, kept him awake; but at last his thoughts drifted away to far, romantic lands, and he fell asleep in the company of jeweled and gilded princelings who lived in vast palaces, and had servants salaaming before them or flying to execute their orders. And then, as usual, he dreamed that he was a princeling himself.

All night long the glories of his royal estate shone upon him; he moved among great lords and ladies, in a blaze of light, breathing perfumes, drinking in delicious music, and answering the reverent obeisances of the glittering throng as it parted to make way for him, with here a smile, and there a nod of his princely head.

And when he awoke in the morning and looked upon the wretchedness about him, his dream had had its usual effect—it had intensified the sordidness of his surroundings a thousandfold. Then came bitterness, and heartbreak, and tears.

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