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Mark Twain > A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court > Chapter VIII

A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court

Chapter VIII


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 full-sized 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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