During this prolific period Mark wrote many minor items, most of them rejected by Howells, and read extensively in one of his favorite books, Pepys’ Diary. Like many another writer Mark was captivated by Pepys’ style and spirit, and “he determined,” says Albert Bigelow Paine in his ‘Mark Twain, A Biography’, “to try his hand on an imaginary record of conversation and court manners of a bygone day, written in the phrase of the period. The result was ’Fireside Conversation in the Time of Queen Elizabeth’, or as he later called it, ‘1601’. The ‘conversation’ recorded by a supposed Pepys of that period, was written with all the outspoken coarseness and nakedness of that rank day, when fireside sociabilities were limited only to the loosened fancy, vocabulary, and physical performance, and not by any bounds of convention.”
“It was written as a letter,” continues Paine, “to that robust divine, Rev. Joseph Twichell, who, unlike Howells, had no scruples about Mark’s ‘Elizabethan breadth of parlance.’”
The Rev. Joseph Twichell, Mark’s most intimate friend for over forty years, was pastor of the Asylum Hill Congregational Church of Hartford, which Mark facetiously called the “Church of the Holy Speculators,” because of its wealthy parishioners. Here Mark had first met “Joe” at a social, and their meeting ripened into a glorious, life long friendship. Twichell was a man of about Mark’s own age, a profound scholar, a devout Christian, “yet a man with an exuberant sense of humor, and a profound understanding of the frailties of mankind.” The Rev. Mr. Twichell performed the marriage ceremony for Mark Twain and solemnized the births of his children; “Joe,” his friend, counseled him on literary as well as personal matters for the remainder of Mark’s life. It is important to catch this brief glimpse of the man for whom this masterpiece was written, for without it one can not fully understand the spirit in which 1601 was written, or the keen enjoyment which Mark and “Joe” derived from it.
“Save me one.”
The story of the first issue of 1601 is one of finesse, state diplomacy, and surreptitious printing.
The Rev. “Joe” Twichell, for whose delectation the piece had been written, apparently had pocketed the document for four long years. Then, in 1880, it came into the hands of John Hay, later Secretary of State, presumably sent to him by Mark Twain. Hay pronounced the sketch a masterpiece, and wrote immediately to his old Cleveland friend, Alexander Gunn, prince of connoisseurs in art and literature. The following correspondence reveals the fine diplomacy which made the name of John Hay known throughout the world.