1601 by Mark Twain



The year is 1601 and a poor lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth is waiting on her lady, who is chatting with some of the well-known writers of the day—Ben Jonson, Francis Bacon and William Shakespeare. Other Elizabethans of note are lolling about.

Suddenly, someone cuts one.

I mean, they really let one rip.

A fart. Someone farts.

Then, Queen Bess interrogates each person in attendance about the thing, which was both quite loud and impressively noxious.

No one is admitting to it at first and she asks,

‘Hath it come to pass yt a fart shall fart itself?’

I laughed out loud.

When asked, Shakespeare says it wasn’t him, but he thought perhaps Hell supplied the smell and Heaven shook Earth in appreciation of the stench.

Just as the Queen is getting round to Sir Walter Raleigh, he admits it was indeed he, but he can do even better and proceeds then to do so.

Once this has been settled the conversation turns to sex and what people have heard about various tribes or singular people. Everyone has a little obscene story to share. There’s a discussion about the correct spelling of the plural of ‘bollocks’:

Then spake ye queene of how she met old Rabelais when she was turned of fifteen, and he did tell her of a man his father knew that had a double pair of bollocks, whereon a controversy followed as concerning the most just way to spell the word, ye contention running high betwixt ye learned Bacon and ye ingenious Jonson, until at least ye old Lady Margery, wearying of it all, saith, ‘Gentles, what mattereth it how ye shall spell the word? I warrant Ye when ye use your bollocks ye shall not think of it; and my Lady Granby, be ye content; let the spelling be, ye shall enjoy the beating of them on your buttocks just the same…’

Good ol’ Lady Margery. Reminding everyone what’s really important.

The ‘story’, as it is, doesn’t go anywhere, as it’s a diary entry of the lady-in-waiting. It’s quite short—it took less than half an hour to read. It’s written in Elizabethan English but is understandable. There’s no kink, just ribald fun.

Originally called Conversation, as it was by the Social Fireside, in the Time of the Tudors, it was published anonymously in 1880 and claimed by Twain in 1906. The history of the publication is pretty interesting.

I’ve always enjoyed finding risque and out-right pornographic pieces by people who are considered ‘classic’ writers. Part of the fun of this one is that it’s written by the person who wrote Tom Sawyer. You know. Wholesome Mark Twain! We read him at school! Ahem.

My copy was $3 and was bundled with Venus in Furs, Forbidden Fruit, Romance of Lust, My Secret Life and The Memoirs of Fanny Hill, which was worth it, in my opinion. You can also get it for free from Project Gutenberg.


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