The Shakespeare Bacon Imbroglio
by Andrew Lang
The hypothesis that the works of Shakespeare were written by Bacon has now
been before the world for more than forty years. It has been supported in
hundreds of books and pamphlets, but, as a rule, it has been totally
neglected by scholars. Perhaps their indifference may seem wise, for such
an opinion may appear to need no confutation. 'There are foolisher fellows
than the Baconians,' says a sage—'those who argue against them.' On
the other hand, ignorance has often cherished beliefs which science has
been obliged reluctantly to admit. The existence of meteorites, and the
phenomena of hypnotism, were familiar to the ancient world, and to modern
peasants, while philosophy disdained to investigate them. In fact, it is
never really prudent to overlook a widely spread opinion. If we gain
nothing else by examining its grounds, at least we learn something about
the psychology of its advocates. In this case we can estimate the
learning, the logic, and the general intellect of people who form
themselves into Baconian Societies, to prove that the poems and plays of
Shakespeare were written by Bacon. Thus a light is thrown on the nature
and origin of popular delusions.
*(1) 'Bacon and Shakespeare,' by William Henry Smith (1857);
(2) 'The Authorship of Shakespeare,' by Nathaniel Holmes (1875); (3)
'The Great Cryptogram,' by Ignatius Donnelly (1888); (4) 'The Promus of
Formularies and Elegancies of Francis Bacon,' by Mrs. Henry Pott (1883);
(5) 'William Shakespeare,' by Georg Brandes (1898); (6) 'Shakespeare,'
by Sidney Lee (in the Dictionary of National Biography, 1897); (7)
'Shakespeare Dethroned' (in Pearson's Magazine, December 1897); (8) 'The
Hidden Lives of Shakespeare and Bacon,' by W. G. Thorpe, F.S.A. (1897).
(9) 'The Mystery of William Shakespeare,' by Judge Webb (1902).
The Baconian creed, of course, is scouted equally by special students of
Bacon, special students of Shakespeare, and by almost all persons who
devote themselves to sound literature. It is equally rejected by Mr.
Spedding, the chief authority on Bacon; by Mr. H. H. Furness, the learned
and witty American editor of the 'Variorum Shakespeare;' by Dr. Brandes,
the Danish biographer and critic; by Mr. Swinburne, with his rare
knowledge of Elizabethan and, indeed, of all literature; and by Mr. Sidney
Lee, Shakespeare's latest biographer. Therefore, the first point which
strikes us in the Baconian hypothesis is that its devotees are nobly
careless of authority. We do not dream of converting them, but it may be
amusing to examine the kind of logic and the sort of erudition which go to
support an hypothesis not freely welcomed even in Germany.
The mother of the Baconian theory (though others had touched a guess at
it) was undeniably Miss Delia Bacon, born at Tallmadge, Ohio, in 1811.
Miss Bacon used to lecture on Roman history, illustrating her theme by
recitations from Macaulay's 'Lays.' 'Her very heart was lacerated,' says
Mr. Donnelly, 'and her womanly pride wounded, by a creature in the shape
of a man—a Reverend (!) Alexander MacWhorter.' This Celtic divine
was twenty-five, Miss Bacon was thirty-five; there arose a
misunderstanding; but Miss Bacon had developed her Baconian theory before
she knew Mr. MacWhorter. 'She became a monomaniac on the subject,' writes
Mr. Wyman, and 'after the publication and non-success of her book she lost
her reason WHOLLY AND ENTIRELY.' But great wits jump, and, just as Mr.
Darwin and Mr. Wallace simultaneously evolved the idea of Natural
Selection, so, unconscious of Miss Delia, Mr. William Henry Smith
developed the Baconian verity.
From the days of Mr. William Henry Smith, in 1856, the great Baconian
argument has been that Shakespeare could not conceivably have had the vast
learning, classical, scientific, legal, medical, and so forth, of the
author of the plays. Bacon, on the other hand, and nobody else, had this
learning, and had, though he concealed them, the poetic powers of the
unknown author. Therefore, prima facie, Bacon wrote the works of
Shakespeare. Mr. Smith, as we said, had been partly anticipated, here, by
the unlucky Miss Delia Bacon, to whose vast and wandering book Mr.
Hawthorne wrote a preface. Mr. Hawthorne accused Mr. Smith of plagiarism
from Miss Delia Bacon; Mr. Smith replied that, when he wrote his first
essay (1856), he had never even heard the lady's name. Mr. Hawthorne
expressed his regret, and withdrew his imputation. Mr. Smith is the second
founder of Baconomania.
Like his followers, down to Mr. Ignatius Donnelly, and Mr. Bucke, and
General Butler, and Mr. Atkinson, who writes in 'The Spiritualist,' and
Mrs. Gallup, and Judge Webb, Mr. Smith rested, first, on Shakespeare's
lack of education, and on the wide learning of the author of the poems and
plays. Now, Ben Jonson, who knew both Shakespeare and Bacon, averred that
the former had 'small Latin and less Greek,' doubtless with truth. It was
necessary, therefore, to prove that the author of the plays had plenty of
Latin and Greek. Here Mr. John Churton Collins suggests that Ben meant no
more than that Shakespeare was not, in the strict sense, a scholar. Yet he
might read Latin, Mr. Collins thinks, with ease and pleasure, and might
pick out the sense of Greek books by the aid of Latin translations. To
this view we return later.
Meanwhile we shall compare the assertions of the laborious Mr. Holmes, the
American author of 'The Authorship of Shakespeare' (third edition, 1875),
and of the ingenious Mr. Donnelly, the American author of 'The Great
Cryptogram.' Both, alas! derive in part from the ignorance of Pope. Pope
had said: 'Shakespeare follows the Greek authors, and particularly Dares
Phrygius.' Mr. Smith cites this nonsense; so do Mr. Donnelly and Mr.
Holmes. Now the so-called Dares Phrygius is not a Greek author. No Greek
version of his early mediaeval romance, 'De Bello Trojano,' exists. The
matter of the book found its way into Chaucer, Boccaccio, Lydgate, Guido
de Colonna, and other authors accessible to one who had no Greek at all,
while no Greek version of Dares was accessible to anybody.* Some recent
authors, English and American, have gone on, with the credulity of 'the
less than half educated,' taking a Greek Dares for granted, on the
authority of Pope, whose Greek was 'small.' They have clearly never looked
at a copy of Dares, never known that the story attributed to Dares was
familiar, in English and French, to everybody. Mr. Holmes quotes Pope, Mr.
Donnelly quotes Mr. Holmes, for this Greek Dares Phrygius. Probably
Shakespeare had Latin enough to read the pseudo-Dares, but probably he did
not take the trouble.
*See Brandes, William Shakespeare, ii. 198-202.
This example alone proves that men who are not scholars venture to
pronounce on Shakespeare's scholarship, and that men who take absurd
statements at second hand dare to constitute themselves judges of a
question of evidence and of erudition.
The worthy Mr. Donnelly then quotes Mr. Holmes for Shakespeare's knowledge
of the Greek drama. Turning to Mr. Holmes (who takes his motto, if you
please, from Parmenides), we find that the author of 'Richard II.'
borrowed from a Greek play by Euripides, called 'Hellene,' as did the
author of the sonnets. There is, we need not say, no Greek play of the
name of 'Hellene.' As Mr. Holmes may conceivably mean the 'Helena' of
Euripides, we compare Sonnet cxxi. with 'Helena,' line 270. The parallel,
the imitation of Euripides, appears to be—
By their dark thoughts my deeds must not be shown,
Prooton men ouk ons adikoz eimi duskleez,
which means, 'I have lost my reputation though I have done no harm.'
Shakespeare, then, could not complain of calumny without borrowing from
'Hellene,' a name which only exists in the fancy of Mr. Nathaniel Holmes.
This critic assigns 'Richard II.,' act ii., scene 1, to 'Hellene' 512-514.
We can find no resemblance whatever between the three Greek lines cited,
from the 'Helena,' and the scene in Shakespeare. Mr. Holmes appears to
have reposed on Malone, and Malone may have remarked on fugitive
resemblances, such as inevitably occur by coincidence of thought. Thus the
similarity of the situations of Hamlet and of Orestes in the 'Eumenides'
is given by similarity of legend, Danish and Greek. Authors of genius,
Greek or English, must come across analogous ideas in treating analogous
topics. It does not follow that the poet of 'Hamlet' was able to read
AEschylus, least of all that he could read him in Greek.
Anglicised version of the author's original Greek text.
The 'Comedy of Errors' is based on the 'Menaechmi' of Plautus. It does not
follow that the author of the 'Comedy of Errors' could read the
'Menaechmi' or the 'Amphitryon,' though Shakespeare had probably Latin
enough for the purpose. The 'Comedy of Errors' was acted in December 1594.
A translation of the Latin play bears date 1595, but this may be an
example of the common practice of post-dating a book by a month or two,
and Shakespeare may have seen the English translation in the work itself,
in proof, or in manuscript. In those days MSS. often circulated long
before they were published, like Shakespeare's own 'sugared sonnets.'
However, it is highly probable that Shakespeare was equal to reading the
Latin of Plautus.
In 'Twelfth Night' occurs—
Like the Egyptian thief, at point of death, kill what I love.
Mr. Donnelly writes: 'This is an allusion to a story from Heliodorus's
"AEthiopica." I do not know of any English translation of it in the time
of Shakespeare.' The allusion is, we conceive, to Herodotus, ii. 121, the
story of Rhampsinitus, translated by 'B. R.' and published in 1584. In
'Macbeth' we find—
All our yesterdays have LIGHTED fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, BRIEF CANDLE.
This is 'traced,' says Mr. Donnelly, 'to Catullus.' He quotes:—
Soles occidere et redire possunt;
Nobis, cum semel occidit brevis lux,
Nox est perpetuo una dormienda.
Where is the parallel? It is got by translating Catullus thus:—
The LIGHTS of heaven go out and return;
When once our BRIEF CANDLE goes out,
One night is to be perpetually slept.
But soles are not 'lights,' and brevis lux is not 'brief candle.' If they
were, the passages have no resemblance. 'To be, or not to be,' is 'taken
almost verbatim from Plato.' Mr. Donnelly says that Mr. Follett says that
the Messrs. Langhorne say so. But, where is the passage in Plato?
Such are the proofs by which men ignorant of the classics prove that the
author of the poems attributed to Shakespeare was a classical scholar. In
fact, he probably had a 'practicable' knowledge of Latin, such as a person
of his ability might pick up at school, and increase by casual study:
points to which we return. For the rest, classical lore had filtered into
contemporary literature and translations, such as North's Plutarch.
As to modern languages, Mr. Donnelly decides that Shakespeare knew Danish,
because he must have read Saxo Grammaticus 'in the original tongue'—which,
of course, is NOT Danish! Saxo was done out of the Latin into French. Thus
Shakespeare is not exactly proved to have been a Danish scholar. There is
no difficulty in supposing that 'a clayver man,' living among wits, could
pick up French and Italian sufficient for his uses. But extremely stupid
people are naturally amazed by even such commonplace acquirements. When
the step is made from cleverness to genius, then the dull disbelieve, or
cry out of a miracle. Now, as 'miracles do not happen,' a man of
Shakespeare's education could not have written the plays attributed to him
by his critics, companions, friends, and acquaintances. Shakespeare, ex
hypothesi, was a rude unlettered fellow. Such a man, the Baconians assume,
would naturally be chosen by Bacon as his mask, and put forward as the
author of Bacon's pieces. Bacon would select a notorious ignoramus as a
plausible author of pieces which, by the theory, are rich in knowledge of
the classics, and nobody would be surprised. Nobody would say:
'Shakespeare is as ignorant as a butcher's boy, and cannot possibly be the
person who translated Hamlet's soliloquy out of Plato, "Hamlet" at large
out of the Danish; who imitated the "Hellene" of Euripides, and borrowed
"Troilus and Cressida" from the Greek of Dares Phrygius'—which
happens not to exist. Ignorance can go no further than in these arguments.
Such are the logic and learning of American amateurs, who sometimes do not
even know the names of the books they talk about, or the languages in
which they are written. Such learning and such logic are passed off by
'the less than half educated' on the absolutely untaught, who decline to
listen to scholars.
We cannot of course furnish a complete summary of all that the Baconians
have said in their myriad pages. All those pages, almost, really flow from
the little volume of Mr. Smith. We are obliged to take the points which
the Baconians regard as their strong cards. We have dealt with the point
of classical scholarship, and shown that the American partisans of Bacon
are not scholars, and have no locus standi. We shall take next in order
the contention that Bacon was a poet; that his works contain parallel
passages to Shakespeare, which can only be the result of common
authorship; that Bacon's notes, called 'Promus,' are notes for
Shakespeare's plays; that, in style, Bacon and Shakespeare are identical.
Then we shall glance at Bacon's motives for writing plays by stealth, and
blushing to find it fame. We shall expose the frank folly of averring that
he chose as his mask a man who (some assert) could not even write; and we
shall conclude by citing, once more, the irrefragable personal testimony
to the genius and character of Shakespeare.
To render the Baconian theory plausible it is necessary to show that Bacon
had not only the learning needed for 'the authorship of Shakespeare,' but
that he gives some proof of Shakespeare's poetic qualities; that he had
reasons for writing plays, and reasons for concealing his pen, and for
omitting to make any claim to his own literary triumphs after Shakespeare
was dead. Now, as to scholarship, the knowledge shown in the plays is not
that of a scholar, does not exceed that of a man of genius equipped with
what, to Ben Jonson, seemed 'small Latin and less Greek,' and with
abundance of translations, and books like 'Euphues,' packed with classical
lore, to help him. With the futile attempts to prove scholarship we have
dealt. The legal and medical lore is in no way beyond the 'general
information' which genius inevitably amasses from reading, conversation,
reflection, and experience.
A writer of to-day, Mr. Kipling, is fond of showing how easily a man of
his rare ability picks up the terminology of many recondite trades and
professions. Again, evidence taken on oath proves that Jeanne d'Arc, a
girl of seventeen, developed great military skill, especially in artillery
and tactics, that she displayed political clairvoyance, and that she held
her own, and more, among the subtlest and most hostile theologians. On the
ordinary hypothesis, that Shakespeare was a man of genius, there is, then,
nothing impossible in his knowledge, while his wildly daring anachronisms
could have presented no temptation to a well-regulated scientific
intellect like that of Bacon. The Baconian hypothesis rests on the
incredulity with which dulness regards genius. We see the phenomenon every
day when stupid people talk about people of ordinary cleverness, and
'wonder with a foolish face of praise.' As Dr. Brandes remarks, when the
Archbishop of Canterbury praises Henry V. and his universal
accomplishments, he says:
Which is a wonder, how his grace should glean it,
Since his addiction was to courses vain,
His companies unletter'd, rude, and shallow,
His hours fill'd up with riots, banquets, sports
AND NEVER NOTED IN HIM ANY STUDY,
Any retirement, any sequestration,
From open haunts and popularity.
Yet, as the Archbishop remarks (with doubtful orthodoxy), 'miracles are
Shakespeare in these lines describes, as only he could describe it, the
world's wonder which he himself was. Or, if Bacon wrote the lines, then
Bacon, unlike his advocates, was prepared to recognise the possible
existence of such a thing as genius. Incredulity on this head could only
arise in an age and in peoples where mediocrity is almost universal. It is
a democratic form of disbelief.
For the hypothesis, as we said, it is necessary to show that Bacon
possessed poetic genius. The proof cannot possibly be found in his prose
works. In the prose of Mr. Ruskin there are abundant examples of what many
respectable minds regard as poetic qualities. But, if the question arose,
'Was Mr. Ruskin the author of Tennyson's poems?' the answer could be
settled, for once, by internal evidence. We have only to look at Mr.
Ruskin's published verses. These prove that a great writer of 'poetical
prose' may be at the opposite pole from a poet. In the same way, we ask,
what are Bacon's acknowledged compositions in verse? Mr. Holmes is their
admirer. In 1599 Bacon wrote in a letter, 'Though I profess not to be a
poet, I prepared a sonnet,' to Queen Elizabeth. He PREPARED a sonnet!
'Prepared' is good. He also translated some of the Psalms into verse, a
field in which success is not to be won. Mr. Holmes notes, in Psalm xc., a
Shakespearean parallel. 'We spend our years as a tale that is told.' Bacon
As a tale told, which sometimes men attend,
And sometimes not, our life steals to an end.
In 'King John,' iii. 4, we read:—
Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale
Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man.
Now, if we must detect a connection, Bacon might have read 'King John' in
the Folio, for he versified the Psalms in 1625. But it is unnecessary to
suppose a reminiscence. Again, in Psalm civ. Bacon has—
The greater navies look like walking woods.
They looked like nothing of the sort; but Bacon may have remembered Birnam
Wood, either from Boece or Holinshed, or from the play itself. One thing
is certain: Shakespeare did not write Bacon's Psalms or compare navies to
'walking woods'! Mr. Holmes adds: 'Many of the sonnets [of Shakespeare]
show the strongest internal evidence that they were addressed [by Bacon]
to the Queen, as no doubt they were.' That is, Bacon wrote sonnets to
Queen Elizabeth, and permitted them to pass from hand to hand, among
Shakespeare's 'private friends,' as Shakespeare's (1598). That was an odd
way of paying court to Queen Elizabeth. Chalmers had already conjectured
that Shakespeare (not Bacon) in the sonnets was addressing the Virgin
Queen, whom he recommended to marry and leave offspring—rather late
in life. Shakespeare's apparent allusions to his profession—
I have gone here and there,
And made myself a motley to the view,
The public means which public manners breeds,
refer, no doubt, to Bacon's versatile POLITICAL behaviour. It has hitherto
been supposed that sonnet lvii. was addressed to Shakespeare's friend, a
man, not to any woman. But Mr. Holmes shows that the Queen is intended. Is
it not obvious?
I, MY SOVEREIGN, watch the clock for you.
Bacon clearly had an assignation with Her Majesty—so here is
'scandal about Queen Elizabeth.' Mr. Holmes pleasingly remarks that
Twickenham is 'within sight of Her Majesty's Palace of White Hall.' She
gave Bacon the reversion of Twickenham Park, doubtless that, from the
windows of White Hall, she might watch her swain. And Bacon wrote a masque
for the Queen; he skilfully varied his style in this piece from that which
he used under the name of Shakespeare. With a number of other gentlemen,
some named, some unnamed, Bacon once, at an uncertain date, interested
himself in a masque at Gray's Inn, while he and his friends 'partly
devised dumb shows and additional speeches,' in 1588.
Nothing follows as to Bacon's power of composing Shakespeare's plays. A
fragmentary masque, which may or may not be by Bacon, is put forward as
the germ of what Bacon wrote about Elizabeth in the 'Midsummer Night's
Dream.' An Indian WANDERER from the West Indies, near the fountain of the
AMAZON, is brought to Elizabeth to be cured of blindness. Now the fairy,
in the 'Midsummer Night's Dream,' says, capitalised by Mr. Holmes:
I DO WANDER EVERYWHERE.
Here then are two wanderers—and there is a river in Monmouth and a
river in Macedon. Puck, also, is 'that merry WANDERER of the night.' Then
'A BOUNCING AMAZON' is mentioned in the 'Midsummer Night's Dream,' and
'the fountain of the great river of the Amazons' is alluded to in the
fragment of the masque. Cupid too occurs in the play, and in the masque
the wanderer is BLIND; now Cupid is blind, sometimes, but hardly when 'a
certain aim he took.' The Indian, in the masque, presents Elizabeth with
'his gift AND PROPERTY TO BE EVER YOUNG,' and the herb, in the play, has a
For such exquisite reasons as these the masque and the 'Midsummer Night's
Dream' are by one hand, and the masque is by Bacon. For some unknown cause
the play is full of poetry, which is entirely absent from the masque. Mr.
Holmes was a Judge; sat on the bench of American Themis—and these
are his notions of proof and evidence. The parallel passages which he
selects are on a level with the other parallels between Bacon and
Shakespeare. One thing is certain: the writer of the masque shows no signs
of being a poet, and a poet Bacon explicitly 'did not profess to be.' One
piece of verse attributed to Bacon, a loose paraphrase of a Greek epigram,
has won its way into 'The Golden Treasury.' Apart from that solitary
composition, the verses which Bacon 'prepared' were within the powers of
almost any educated Elizabethan. They are on a level with the rhymes of
Mr. Ruskin. It was only when he wrote as Shakespeare that Bacon wrote as a
We have spoken somewhat harshly of Mr. Holmes as a classical scholar, and
as a judge of what, in literary matters, makes evidence. We hasten to add
that he could be convinced of error. He had regarded a sentence of Bacon's
as a veiled confession that Bacon wrote 'Richard II.,' 'which, though it
grew from me, went after about in others' names.' Mr. Spedding averred
that Mr. Holmes's opinion rested on a grammatical misinterpretation, and
Mr. Holmes accepted the correction. But 'nothing less than a miracle'
could shake Mr. Holmes's belief in the common authorship of the masque
(possibly Bacon's) and the 'Midsummer Night's Dream'—so he told Mr.
Spedding. To ourselves nothing short of a miracle, or the visitation of
God in the shape of idiocy, could bring the conviction that the person who
wrote the masque could have written the play. The reader may compare the
whole passage in Mr. Holmes's work (pp. 228-238). We have already set
forth some of those bases of his belief which only a miracle could shake.
The weak wind that scarcely bids the aspen shiver might blow them all
Vast space is allotted by Baconians to 'parallel passages' in Bacon and
Shakespeare. We have given a few in the case of the masque and the
'Midsummer Night's Dream.' The others are of equal weight. They are on a
level with 'Punch's' proofs that Alexander Smith was a plagiarist. Thus
No CHARACTER that servant WOMAN asked;
Most WOMEN have no CHARACTER at all.
It is tedious to copy out the puerilities of such parallelisms. Thus
If we simply looked to the fabric of the world;
And, like the baseless fabric of a vision.
The intellectual light in the top and consummation of thy
Like eyasses that cry out on the top of the question.
Myriads of pages of such matter would carry no proof. Probably the hugest
collection of such 'parallels' is that preserved by Mrs. Pott in Bacon's
'Promus,' a book of 628 pages. Mrs. Pott's 'sole object' in publishing
'was to confirm the growing belief in Bacon's authorship of the plays.'
Having acquired the opinion, she laboured to strengthen herself and others
in the faith. The so-called 'Promus' is a manuscript set of notes,
quotations, formulae, and proverbs. As Mr. Spedding says, there are 'forms
of compliment, application, excuse, repartee, etc.' 'The collection is
from books which were then in every scholar's hands.' 'The proverbs may
all, or nearly all, be found in the common collections.' Mrs. Pott remarks
that in 'Promus' are 'several hundreds of notes of which no trace has been
discovered in the acknowledged writings of Bacon, or of any other
contemporary writer but Shakespeare.' She adds that the theory of 'close
intercourse' between the two men is 'contrary to all evidence.' She then
infers that 'Bacon alone wrote all the plays and sonnets which are
attributed to Shakespeare.' So Bacon entrusted his plays, and the dread
secret of his authorship, to a boorish cabotin with whom he had no 'close
intercourse'! This is lady's logic, a contradiction in terms. The theory
that Bacon wrote the plays and sonnets inevitably implies the closest
intercourse between him and Shakespeare. They must have been in constant
connection. But, as Mrs. Pott truly says, this is 'contrary to all
Perhaps the best way to deal with Mrs. Pott is to cite the author of her
preface, Dr. Abbott. He is not convinced, but he is much struck by a very
exquisite argument of the lady's. Bacon in 'Promus' is writing down
'Formularies and Elegancies,' modes of salutation. He begins with 'Good
morrow!' This original remark, Mrs. Pott reckons, 'occurs in the plays
nearly a hundred times. In the list of upwards of six thousand words in
Appendix E, "Good morrow" has been noted thirty-one times.... "Good
morrow" may have become familiar merely by means of "Romeo and Juliet."'
Dr. Abbott is so struck by this valuable statement that he writes: 'There
remains the question, Why did Bacon think it worth while to write down in
a notebook the phrase "Good morrow" if it was at that time in common use?'
Bacon wrote down 'Good morrow' just because it WAS in common use. All the
formulae were in common use; probably 'Golden sleepe' was a regular wish,
like 'Good rest.' Bacon is making a list of commonplaces about beginning
the day, about getting out of bed, about sleep. Some are in English, some
in various other languages. He is not, as in Mrs. Pott's ingenious theory,
making notes of novelties to be introduced through his plays. He is
cataloguing the commonplace. It is Mrs. Pott's astonishing contention, as
we have seen, that Bacon probably introduced the phrase 'Good morrow!' Mr.
Bucke, following her in a magazine article, says: 'These forms of
salutation were not in use in England before Bacon's time, and it was his
entry of them in the "Promus" and use of them in the plays that makes them
current coin day by day with us in the nineteenth century.' This is
ignorant nonsense. 'Good morrow' and 'Good night' were as familiar before
Bacon or Shakespeare wrote as 'Good morning' and 'Good night' are to-day.
This we can demonstrate. The very first Elizabethan handbook of phrases
which we consult shows that 'Good morrow' was the stock phrase in regular
use in 1583. The book is 'The French Littelton, A most Easie, Perfect, and
Absolute way to learne the Frenche Tongue. Set forth by Claudius Holyband.
Imprinted at London by Thomas Vautrollier, dwelling in the blacke-Friers.
1583.' (There is an edition of 1566.)
On page 10 we read:—
'Of Scholars and Schoole.
'God give you good morrow, Sir! Good morrow gossip: good morrow my she
gossip: God give you a good morrow and a good year.'
Thus the familiar salutation was not introduced by Bacon; it was, on the
other hand, the very first formula which a writer of an English-French
phrase-book translated into French ten years before Bacon made his notes.
Presently he comes to 'Good evening, good night, good rest,' and so on.
This fact annihilates Mrs. Pott's contention that Bacon introduced 'Good
morrow' through the plays falsely attributed to Shakespeare. There
follows, in 'Promus,' a string of proverbs, salutations, and quotations,
about sleep and waking. Among these occur 'Golden Sleepe' (No. 1207) and
(No. 1215) 'Uprouse. You are up.' Now Friar Laurence says to Romeo:—
But where unbruised youth with unstuffed brain
Doth couch his limbs, there GOLDEN SLEEP doth reign:
Therefore thy earliness doth me assure,
Thou art UP-ROUSED by some distemperature.
Dr. Abbott writes: 'Mrs. Pott's belief is that the play is indebted for
these expressions to the "Promus;" mine is that the "Promus" is borrowed
from the play.' And why should either owe anything to the other? The
phrase 'Uprouse' or 'Uprose' is familiar in Chaucer, from one of his
best-known lines. 'Golden' is a natural poetic adjective of excellence,
from Homer to Tennyson. Yet in Dr. Abbott's opinion 'TWO of these entries
constitute a coincidence amounting almost to a demonstration' that either
Shakespeare or Bacon borrowed from the other. And this because each
writer, one in making notes of commonplaces on sleep, the other in a
speech about sleep, uses the regular expression 'Uprouse,' and the
poetical commonplace 'Golden sleep' for 'Good rest.' There was no
originality in the matter.
We have chosen Dr. Abbott's selected examples of Mrs. Pott's triumphs.
Here is another of her parallels. Bacon gives the formula, 'I pray God
your early rising does you no hurt.' Shakespeare writes:—
Go, you cot-quean, go,
Get you to bed; faith, you'll be sick to-morrow
For this night's watching.
Here Bacon notes a morning salutation, 'I hope you are none the worse for
early rising,' while Shakespeare tells somebody not to sit up late.
Therefore, and for similar reasons, Bacon is Shakespeare.
We are not surprised to find Mr. Bucke adopting Mrs. Pott's theory of the
novelty of 'Good morrow.' He writes in the Christmas number of an
illustrated sixpenny magazine, and his article, a really masterly
compendium of the whole Baconian delirium, addresses its natural public.
But we are amazed to find Dr. Abbott looking not too unkindly on such
imbecilities, and marching at least in the direction of Coventry with such
a regiment. He is 'on one point a convert' to Mrs. Pott, and that point is
the business of 'Good morrow,' 'Uprouse,' and 'Golden sleepe.' It need
hardly be added that the intrepid Mr. Donnelly is also a firm adherent of
'Some idea,' he says, 'may be formed of the marvellous industry of this
remarkable lady when I state that to prove that we are indebted to Bacon
for having enriched the English language, through the plays, with these
beautiful courtesies of speech, 'Good morrow,' 'Good day,' etc., she
carefully examined SIX THOUSAND WORKS ANTERIOR TO OR CONTEMPORARY WITH
Dr. Abbott thought it judicious to 'hedge' about these six thousand works,
and await 'the all-knowing dictionary' of Dr. Murray and the Clarendon
Press. We have deemed it simpler to go to the first Elizabethan
phrase-book on our shelves, and that tiny volume, in its very first
phrase, shatters the mare's-nest of Mrs. Pott, Mr. Donnelly, and Mr.
But why, being a great poet, should Bacon conceal the fact, and choose as
a mask a man whom, on the hypothesis of his ignorance, every one that knew
him must have detected as an impostor? Now, one great author did choose to
conceal his identity, though he never shifted the burden of the 'Waverley
Novels' on to Terry the actor. Bacon may, conceivably, have had Scott's
pleasure in secrecy, but Bacon selected a mask much more impossible (on
the theory) than Terry would have been for Scott. Again, Sir Walter Scott
took pains to make his identity certain, by an arrangement with Constable,
and by preserving his manuscripts, and he finally confessed. Bacon never
confessed, and no documentary traces of his authorship survive. Scott,
writing anonymously, quoted his own poems in the novels, an obvious
'blind.' Bacon, less crafty, never (as far as we are aware) mentions
It is arguable, of course, that to write plays might seem dangerous to
Bacon's professional and social position. The reasons which might make a
lawyer keep his dramatic works a secret could not apply to 'Lucrece.' A
lawyer, of good birth, if he wrote plays at all, would certainly not vamp
up old stock pieces. That was the work of a 'Johannes Factotum,' of a
'Shakescene,' as Greene says, of a man who occupied the same position in
his theatrical company as Nicholas Nickleby did in that of Mr. Crummles.
Nicholas had to bring in the vulgar pony, the Phenomenon, the buckets, and
so forth. So, in early years, the author of the plays (Bacon, by the
theory) had to work over old pieces. All this is the work of the hack of a
playing company; it is not work to which a man in Bacon's position could
stoop. Why should he? What had he to gain by patching and vamping?
Certainly not money, if the wealth of Shakespeare is a dark mystery to the
Baconian theorists. We are asked to believe that Bacon, for the sake of
some five or six pounds, toiled at refashioning old plays, and handed the
fair manuscripts to Shakespeare, who passed them off, among the actors who
knew him intimately, as his own. THEY detected no incongruity between the
player who was their Johannes Factotum and the plays which he gave in to
the manager. They seemed to be just the kind of work which Shakespeare
would be likely to write. BE LIKELY TO WRITE, but 'the father of the
rest,' Mr. Smith, believed that Shakespeare COULD NOT WRITE AT ALL.
We live in the Ages of Faith, of faith in fudge. Mr. Smith was certain,
and Mr. Bucke is inclined to suspect, that when Bacon wanted a mask he
chose, as a plausible author of the plays, a man who could not write. Mr.
Smith was certain, and Mr. Bucke must deem it possible, that Shakespeare's
enemy, Greene, that his friends, Jonson, Burbage, Heming, and the other
actors, and that his critics and admirers, Francis Meres and others,
accepted, as author of the pieces which they played in or applauded, a man
who could write no more than his name. Such was the tool whom Bacon found
eligible, and so easily gulled was the literary world of Eliza and our
James. And Bacon took all this trouble for what reason? To gain five or
six pounds, or as much of that sum as Shakespeare would let him keep. Had
Bacon been possessed by the ambition to write plays he would always have
written original dramas, he would not have assumed the part of Nicholas
There is no human nature in this nonsense. An ambitious lawyer passes his
nights in retouching stock pieces, from which he can reap neither fame nor
profit. He gives his work to a second-rate illiterate actor, who adopts it
as his own. Bacon is so enamoured of this method that he publishes 'Venus
and Adonis' and 'Lucrece' under the name of his actor friend. Finally, he
commits to the actor's care all his sonnets to the Queen, to Gloriana, and
for years these manuscript poems are handed about by Shakespeare, as his
own, among the actors, hack scribblers, and gay young nobles of his
acquaintance. They 'chaff' Shakespeare about his affection for his
'sovereign;' great Gloriana's praises are stained with sack in taverns,
and perfumed with the Indian weed. And Bacon, careful toiler after Court
favour, 'thinks it all wery capital,' in the words of Mr. Weller pere.
Moreover, nobody who hears Shakespeare talk and sees him smile has any
doubt that he is the author of the plays and amorous fancies of Bacon.
It is needless to dwell on the pother made about the missing manuscripts
of Shakespeare. 'The original manuscripts, of course, Bacon would take
care to destroy,' says Mr. Holmes, 'if determined that the secret should
die with him.' If he was so determined, for what earthly reason did he
pass his valuable time in vamping up old plays and writing new ones?
'There was no money in it,' and there was no reason. But, if he was not
determined that the secret should die with him, why did not he, like
Scott, preserve the manuscripts? The manuscripts are where Marlowe's and
where Moliere's are, by virtue of a like neglect. Where are the MSS. of
any of the great Elizabethans? We really cannot waste time over Mr.
Donnelly's theory of a Great Cryptogram, inserted by Bacon, as proof of
his claim, in the multitudinous errors of the Folio. Mr. Bucke, too, has
his Anagram, the deathless discovery of Dr. Platt, of Lakewood, New
Jersey. By manipulating the scraps of Latin in 'Love's Labour's Lost,' he
extracts 'Hi Ludi tuiti sibi Fr. Bacono nati': 'These plays, entrusted to
themselves, proceeded from Fr. Bacon.' It is magnificent, but it is not
Latin. Had Bacon sent in such Latin at school, he would never have
survived to write the 'Novum Organon' and his sonnets to Queen Elizabeth.
In that stern age they would have 'killed him—with wopping.' That
Bacon should be a vamper and a playwright for no appreciable profit, that,
having produced his deathless works, he should make no sign, has, in fact,
staggered even the great credulity of Baconians. He MUST, they think, have
made a sign in cipher. Out of the mass of the plays, anagrams and
cryptograms can be fashioned a plaisir, and the world has heard too much
of Mrs. Gallup, while the hunt for hints in contemporary frontispieces led
to mistaking the porcupine of Sidney's crest for 'a hanged hog' (Bacon).
The theory of the Baconian authorship of Shakespeare's plays and poems has
its most notable and recent British advocate in His Honour Judge Webb,
sometime Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, Regius Professor of Laws, and
Public Orator in the University of Dublin. Judge Webb, as a scholar and a
man used to weighing evidence, puts the case at its strongest. His work,
'The Mystery of William Shakespeare' (1902), rests much on the old
argument about the supposed ignorance of Shakespeare, and the supposed
learning of the author of the plays. Judge Webb, like his predecessors,
does not take into account the wide diffusion of a kind of classical and
pseudo-scientific knowledge among all Elizabethan writers, and bases
theories on manifest misconceptions of Shakespearean and other texts. His
book, however, has affected the opinions of some readers who do not verify
his references and examine the mass of Elizabethan literature for
Judge Webb, in his 'Proem,' refers to Mr. Holmes and Mr. Donnelly as
'distinguished writers,' who 'have received but scant consideration from
the accredited organs of opinion on this side of the Atlantic.' Their
theories have not been more favourably considered by Shakespearean
scholars on the other side of the Atlantic, and how much consideration
they deserve we have tried to show. The Irish Judge opens his case by
noting an essential distinction between 'Shakspere,' the actor, and
'Shakespeare,' the playwright. The name, referring to the man who was both
actor and author, is spelled both 'Shakspeare' and 'Shakespeare' in the
'Returne from Parnassus' (1602).* The 'school of critics' which divides
the substance of Shakespeare on the strength of the spelling of a proper
name, in the casual times of great Elizabeth, need not detain the
*The Returne from Parnassus, pp. 56,57,138. Oxford, 1886.
As to Shakespeare's education, Judge Webb admits that 'there was a grammar
school in the place.' As its registers of pupils have not survived, we
cannot prove that Shakespeare went to the school. Mr. Collins shows that
the Headmaster was a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and
describes the nature of the education, mainly in Latin, as, according to
the standard of the period, it ought to have been.* There is no doubt that
if Shakespeare attended the school (the age of entry was eight), minded
his book, and had 'a good sprag memory,' he might have learned Latin. Mr.
Collins commends the Latin of two Stratford contemporaries and friends of
Shakespeare, Sturley and Quiney, who probably were educated at the Grammar
School. Judge Webb disparages their lore, and, on the evidence of the
epistles, says that Sturley and Quiney 'were not men of education.' If
Judge Webb had compared the original letters of distinguished Elizabethan
officials and diplomatists—say, Sir William Drury, the Commandant of
Berwick—he would have found that Sturley and Quiney were at least on
the ordinary level of education in the upper classes. But the whole method
of the Baconians rests on neglecting such comparisons.
*Fortnightly Review, April 1903.
In a letter of Sturley's, eximiae is spelled eximie, without the digraph,
a thing then most usual, and no disproof of Sturley's Latinity.* The
Shakspearean hypothesis is that Shakespeare was rather a cleverer man than
Quiney and Sturley, and, consequently, that, if he went to school, he
probably learned more by a great deal than they did. There was no reason
why he should not acquire Latin enough to astonish modern reviewers, who
have often none at all.
*Webb, p. 14. Phillipps's Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare, i. p.
150, ii. p. 57.
Judge Webb then discusses the learning of Shakespeare, and easily shows
that he was full of mythological lore. So was all Elizabethan literature.
Every English scribbler then knew what most men have forgotten now. Nobody
was forced to go to the original authorities—say, Plato, Herodotus,
and Plutarch—for what was accessible in translations, or had long
before been copiously decanted into English prose and poetry. Shakespeare
could get Rhodope, not from Pliny, but from B. R.'s lively translation
(1584) of the first two books of Herodotus. 'Even Launcelot Gobbo talks of
Scylla and Charybdis,' says Judge Webb. Who did not? Had the Gobbos not
known about Scylla and Charybdis, Shakespeare would not have lent them the
The mythological legends were 'in the air,' familiar to all the
Elizabethan world. These allusions are certainly no proof 'of trained
scholarship or scientific education.' In five years of contact with the
stage, with wits, with writers for the stage, with older plays, with
patrons of the stage, with Templars, and so on, a man of talent could
easily pick up the 'general information'—now caviare to the general—which
a genius like Shakespeare inevitably absorbed.
We naturally come to Greene's allusion to 'Shakescene' (1592), concerning
which a schoolboy said, in an examination, 'We are tired to death with
hearing about it.' Greene conspicuously insults 'Shakescene' both as a
writer and an actor. Judge Webb says: 'As Mr. Phillipps justly observes,
it' (one of Greene's allusions) 'merely conveys that Shakspere was one who
acted in the plays of which Greene and his three friends were the authors
It is necessary to verify the Judge's reference. Mr. Phillipps writes:
'Taking Greene's words in their contextual and natural sense, he first
alludes to Shakespeare as an actor, one "beautified with our feathers,"
that is, one who acts in their plays; THEN TO THE POET as a writer just
commencing to try his hand at blank verse, and, finally, to him as not
only engaged in both those capacities, but in any other in which he might
be useful to the company.' Mr. Phillipps adds that Greene's quotation of
the line 'TYGER'S HEART WRAPT IN A PLAYER'S HIDE' 'is a decisive proof of
Shakespeare's authorship of the line.'*
*Webb, p. 57. Phillipps, ii. p. 269.
Judge Webb has manifestly succeeded in not appreciating Mr. Phillipps's
plain English. He says, with obvious truth, that Greene attacks
Shakespeare both as actor and poet, but Judge Webb puts the matter thus:
'The language of Greene... as Mr. Phillipps justly observes, merely
conveys that Shakspere was one who acted in the plays of which Greene and
his three friends were authors.'
The language of Greene IN ONE PART OF HIS TIRADE, 'an upstart crow
beautified in our feathers,' probably refers to Shakespeare as an actor
only, but Greene goes on to insult him as a writer. Judge Webb will not
recognise him as a writer, and omits that part of Mr. Phillipps's opinion.
There followed Chettle's well-known apology (1592), as editor of Greene's
sally, to Shakespeare. Chettle speaks of his excellence 'in the quality he
professes,' and of his 'facetious grace in writing, that approves his
art,' this on the authority of 'the report of divers of worship.'
This proves, of course, that Shakespeare was a writer as well as an actor,
and Judge Webb can only murmur that 'we are "left to guess" who divers of
worship' were, and 'what motive' they had for praising his 'facetious
grace in writing.' The obvious motive was approval of the work, for work
there WAS, and, as to who the 'divers' were, nobody knows.
The evidence that, IN THE OPINION OF GREENE, CHETTLE, AND 'DIVERS OF
WORSHIP,' Shakespeare was a writer as well as an actor is absolutely
irrefragable. Had Shakespeare been the ignorant lout of the Baconian
theorists, these men would not have credited him, for example, with his
first signed and printed piece, 'Venus and Adonis.' It appeared early in
1593, and Greene and Chettle wrote in 1592. 'Divers of worship,' according
to the custom of the time, may have seen 'Venus and Adonis' in manuscript.
It was printed by Richard Field, a Stratford-on-Avon man, as was natural,
a Stratford-on-Avon man being the author.* It was dedicated, in stately
but not servile courtesy, to the Earl of Southampton, by 'William
*Phillipps, i. p. 101.
Judge Webb asks: 'Was it a pseudonym, or was it the real name of the
author of the poem?' Well, Shakespeare signs 'Shakspere' in two deeds, in
which the draftsman throughout calls him 'Shakespeare:' obviously taking
no difference.* People were not particular, Shakespeare let them spell his
name as best pleased them.
*Phillipps, ii. pp. 34, 36.
Judge Webb argues that Southampton 'took no notice' of the dedication. How
can he know? Ben Jonson dedicated to Lady Wroth and many others. Does
Judge Webb know what 'notice' they took? He says that on various occasions
'Southampton did not recognise the existence of the Player.' How can he
know? I have dedicated books to dozens of people. Probably they 'took
notice,' but no record thereof exists. The use of arguments of this kind
demonstrates the feebleness of the case.
That Southampton, however, DID 'take notice' may be safely inferred from
the fact that Shakespeare, in 1594, dedicated to him 'The Rape of
Lucrece.' Had the Earl been an ungrateful patron, had he taken no notice,
Shakespeare had Latin enough to act on the motto Invenies alium si te hic
fastidit Alexin. He speaks of 'the warrant I have of your honourable
disposition,' which makes the poem 'assured of acceptance.' This could
never have been written had the dedication of 'Venus and Adonis' been
disdained. 'The client never acknowledged his obligation to the patron,'
says Judge Webb. The dedication of 'Lucrece' is acknowledgment enough. The
Judge ought to think so, for he speaks, with needless vigour, of 'the
protestations, warm and gushing as a geyser, of "The Rape."' There is
nothing 'warm,' and nothing 'gushing,' in the dedication of 'Lucrece'
(granting the style of the age), but, if it were as the Judge says, here,
indeed, would be the client's 'acknowledgment,' which, the Judge says, was
never made.* To argue against such logic seems needless, and even cruel,
but judicial contentions appear to deserve a reply.
Webb, p. 67.
We now come to the evidence of the Rev. Francis Meres, in 'Palladis Tamia'
(1598). Meres makes 'Shakespeare among the English' the rival, in comedy
and tragedy, of Plautus and Seneca 'among the Latines.' He names twelve
plays, of which 'Love's Labour's Won' is unknown. 'The soul of Ovid' lives
in his 'Venus and Adonis,' his 'Lucrece,' and his 'sugred sonnets among
his private friends.' Meres also mentions Sidney, Spenser, Daniel,
Drayton, and so forth, a long string of English poetic names, ending with
'Samuel Page, sometime Fellow of C.C.C. in Oxford, Churchyard, Bretton.'*
*Phillipps, ii. pp. 149,150.
Undeniably Meres, in 1598, recognises Shakespeare as both playwright and
poet. So Judge Webb can only reply: 'But who this mellifluous and
honey-tongued Shakespeare was he does not say, AND HE DOES NOT PRETEND TO
KNOW.'* He does not 'pretend to know' 'who' any of the poets was—except
Samuel Page, and he was a Fellow of Corpus. He speaks of Shakespeare just
as he does of Marlowe, Kid, Chapman, and the others whom he mentions. He
'does not pretend to know who' they were. Every reader knew who they all
were. If I write of Mr. Swinburne or Mr. Pinero, of Mr. Browning or of Mr.
Henry Jones, I do not say 'who they were,' I do not 'pretend to know.'
There was no Shakespeare in the literary world of London but the one
Shakespeare, 'Burbage's deserving man.'
*Webb, p. 71.
The next difficulty is that Shakespeare's company, by request of the Essex
conspirators (who paid 2 pounds), acted 'Richard II.' just before their
foolish attempt (February 7, 1601). 'If Coke,' says the Judge, 'had the
faintest idea that the player' (Shakespeare) 'was the author of "Richard
II.," he would not have hesitated a moment to lay him by the heels.' Why,
the fact of Shakespeare's authorship had been announced, in print, by
Meres, in 1598. Coke knew, if he cared to know. Judge Webb goes on: 'And
that the Player' (Shakespeare) 'was not regarded as the author by the
Queen is proved by the fact that, with his company, he performed before
the Court at Richmond, on the evening before the execution of the Earl.'*
*Webb, pp. 72, 73.
Nothing of the kind is proved. The guilt, if any, lay, not in writing the
drama—by 1601 'olde and outworne'—but in acting it, on the eve
of an intended revolution. This error Elizabeth overlooked, and with it
the innocent authorship of the piece, 'now olde and outworne.'* It is not
even certain, in Mr. Phillipps's opinion, that the 'olde and outworne'
play was that of Shakespeare. It is perfectly certain that, as Elizabeth
overlooked the fault of the players, she would not attack the author of a
play written years before Essex's plot, with no political intentions.
*Phillipps, ii. pp. 359-362.
We now come to evidence of which Judge Webb says very little, that of the
two plays acted at St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1600-1601, known as
'The Returne from Parnassus.' These pieces prove that Shakespeare the poet
was identified with Shakespeare the player. They also prove that
Shakespeare's scholarship and art were held very cheaply by the University
wits, who, as always, were disdainful of non-University men. His
popularity is undisputed, but his admirer in the piece, Gullio, is a
vapouring ignoramus, who pretends to have been at the University of Padua,
but knows no more Latin than many modern critics. Gullio rants thus:
'Pardon, faire lady, though sicke-thoughted Gullio makes amaine unto thee,
and LIKE A BOULD-FACED SUTOR 'GINS TO WOO THEE.' This, of course, is from
'Venus and Adonis.' Ingenioso says, aside: 'We shall have nothinge but
pure Shakespeare and shreds of poetry that he hath gathered at the
theaters.' Gullio next mouths a reminiscence of 'Romeo and Juliet,' and
Ingenioso whispers, 'Marke, Romeo and Juliet, O monstrous theft;' however,
aloud, he says 'Sweete Mr. Shakspeare!'—the spelling varies. Gullio
continues to praise sweete Mr. Shakspeare above Spenser and Chaucer. 'Let
mee heare Mr. Shakspear's veyne.' Judge Webb does not cite these passages,
which identify Shakspeare (or Shakespeare) with the poet of 'Venus and
Adonis' and 'Romeo and Juliet.'
In the second 'Returne,' Burbage and Kemp, the noted morrice dancer and
clown of Shakespeare's company, are introduced. 'Few of the University men
pen plays well,' says Kemp; 'they smack too much of that writer Ovid, and
that writer Metamorphosis, and talke too much of Proserpina and Jupiter.
Why here's our fellow Shakespeare' (fellow is used in the sense of
companion), 'puts them all downe, ay, and Ben Jonson too. O that Ben
Jonson is a pestilent fellow; he brought up Horace giving the Poets a
pill, but our fellow Shakespeare hath given him a purge that made him
bewray his credit.' At Burbage's request, one of the University men then
recites two lines of 'Richard III.,' by the poet of his company.
Ben, according to Judge Webb, 'bewrayed his credit' in 'The Poetaster,'
1601-1602, where Pantalabus 'was meant for Shakspere.'* If so, Pantalabus
is described as one who 'pens high, lofty, and in a new stalking strain,'
and if Shakespeare is the Poet Ape of Jonson's epigram, why then Jonson
regards him as a writer, not merely as an actor. No amount of evil that
angry Ben could utter about the plays, while Shakespeare lived, and,
perhaps, was for a time at odds with him, can obliterate the praises which
the same Ben wrote in his milder mood. The charge against Poet Ape is a
charge of plagiarism, such as unpopular authors usually make against those
who are popular. Judge Webb has to suppose that Jonson, when he storms,
raves against some 'works' at that time somehow associated with
Shakespeare; and that, when he praises, he praises the divine masterpieces
of Bacon. But we know what plays really were attributed to Shakespeare,
then as now, while no other 'works' of a contemptible character,
attributed to Shakespeare, are to be heard of anywhere. Judge Webb does
not pretend to know what the things were to which the angry Jonson
referred.** If he really aimed his stupid epigram at Shakespeare, he
obviously alluded to the works which were then, and now are, recognised as
Shakespeare's; but in his wrath he denounced them. 'Potter is jealous of
potter, poet of poet'—it is an old saying of the Greek. There was
perhaps some bitterness between Jonson and Shakespeare about 1601; Ben
made an angry epigram, perhaps against Shakespeare, and thought it good
enough to appear in his collected epigrams in 1616, the year of
Shakespeare's death. By that time the application to Shakespeare, if to
him the epigram applied, might, in Ben's opinion perhaps, be forgotten by
readers. In any case, Ben, according to Drummond of Hawthornden, was one
who preferred his jest to his friend.
*Webb, pp. 114-116.
**Webb, pp. 116-119.
Judge Webb's hypothesis is that Ben, in Shakespeare's lifetime, especially
in 1600-1601, spoke evil of his works, though he allowed that they might
endure to 'after-times'—
May judge it to be his, as well as ours.
But these works (wholly unknown) were not (on the Judge's theory) the
works which, after Shakespeare's death, Ben praised, as his, in verse;
and, more critically, praised in prose: the works, that is, which the
world has always regarded as Shakespeare's. THESE were Bacon's, and Ben
knew it on Judge Webb's theory. Here Judge Webb has, of course, to deal
with Ben's explicit declarations, in the First Folio, that the works which
he praises are by Shakespeare. The portrait, says Ben,
Was for gentle Shakespeare cut.
Judge Webb then assures us, to escape this quandary, that 'in the Sonnets
"the gentle Shakespeare himself informs us that Shakespeare was not his
real name, but the "noted weed" in which he "kept invention."'* The author
of the Sonnets does nothing of the kind. Judge Webb has merely
misconstrued his text. The passage which he so quaintly misinterprets
occurs in Sonnet lxxvi.:
Why is my verse so barren of new pride?
So far from variation or quick change?
Why, with the time, do I not glance aside
To new-found methods, and to compounds strange?
WHY WRITE I STILL ALL ONE, EVER THE SAME,
AND KEEP INVENTION IN A NOTED WEED,
THAT EVERY WORD DOES ALMOST TELL MY NAME,
SHOWING THEIR BIRTH AND WHENCE THEY DO PROCEED?
Oh, know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument;
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:
For as the sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told.
*Webb, pp. 125,156,235,264. Judge Webb is fond of his discovery.
The lines capitalised are thus explained by the Judge: 'Here the author
certainly intimates that Shakespeare is not his real name, and that he was
fearful lest his real name should be discovered.' The author says nothing
about Shakespeare not being his real name, nor about his fear lest his
real name should be discovered. He even 'quibbles on his own Christian
name,' WILL, as Mr. Phillipps and everyone else have noted. What he means
is: 'Why am I so monotonous that every word almost tells my name?' 'To
keep invention in a noted weed' means, of course, to present his genius
always in the same well-known attire. There is nothing about disguise of a
name, or of anything else, in the sonnet.*
*Webb, pp. 64,156.
But Judge Webb assures us that Shakespeare himself informs us in the
sonnets that 'Shakespeare was not his real name, but the noted weed in
which he kept invention.' As this is most undeniably not the case, it
cannot aid his effort to make out that, in the Folio, by the name of
Shakespeare, Ben Jonson means another person.
In the Folio verses, 'To the Memory of my Beloved, Mr. William
Shakespeare, and What he has Left Us,' Judge Webb finds many mysterious
Soul of the Age,
The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage,
My Shakespeare, rise!
By a pun, Ben speaks of Shakespeare as
shaking a lance
As brandish't at the eyes of Ignorance.
The pun does not fit the name of—Bacon! The apostrophe to 'sweet
Swan of Avon' hardly applies to Bacon either; he was not a Swan of Avon.
It were a sight, says Ben, to see the Swan 'in our waters yet appear,' and
Judge Webb actually argues that Shakespeare was dead, and could not
appear, so somebody else must be meant! 'No poet that ever lived would be
mad enough to talk of a swan as YET appearing, and resuming its flights,
upon the river some seven or eight years after it was dead.'* The Judge is
like the Scottish gentleman who when Lamb, invited to meet Burns's sons,
said he wished it were their father, solemnly replied that this could not
be, for Burns was dead. Wordsworth, in a sonnet, like Glengarry at
Sheriffmuir, sighed for 'one hour of Dundee!' The poet, and the chief,
must have been mad, in Judge Webb's opinion, for Dundee had fallen long
ago, in the arms of victory. A theory which not only rests on such
arguments as Judge Webb's, but takes it for granted that Bacon might be
addressed as 'sweet Swan of Avon,' is conspicuously impossible.
*Webb, p. 134.
Another of the Judge's arguments reposes on a misconception which has been
exposed again and again. In his Memorial verses Ben gives to Shakespeare
the palm for POETRY: to Bacon for ELOQUENCE, in the 'Discoveries.' Both
may stand the comparison with 'insolent Greece or haughty Rome.'
Shakespeare is not mentioned with Bacon in the 'Scriptorum Catalogus' of
the 'Discoveries': but no more is any dramatic author or any poet, as a
poet. Hooker, Essex, Egerton, Sandys, Sir Nicholas Bacon are chosen, not
Spenser, Marlowe, or Shakespeare. All this does not go far to prove that
when Ben praised 'the wonder of our stage,' 'sweet Swan of Avon,' he meant
Bacon, not Shakespeare.
When Judge Webb argued that in matters of science ('falsely so called')
Bacon and Shakespeare were identical, Professor Tyrrell, of Trinity
College, Dublin, was shaken, and said so, in 'The Pilot.' Professor Dowden
then proved, in 'The National Review,' that both Shakespeare and Bacon
used the widely spread pseudo-scientific ideas of their time (as is
conspicuously the case), and Mr. Tyrrell confessed that he was sorry he
had spoken. 'When I read Professor Dowden's article, I would gladly have
recalled my own, but it was too late.' Mr. Tyrrell adds, with an
honourable naivete, 'I AM NOT VERSED IN THE LITERATURE OF THE
SHAKESPEAREAN ERA, and I assumed that the Baconians who put forward the
parallelisms had satisfied themselves that the coincidences were peculiar
to the writings of the philosopher and the poet. Professor Dowden has
proved that this is not so....' Professor Dowden has indeed proved, in
copious and minute detail, what was already obvious to every student who
knew even such ordinary Elizabethan books as Lyly's 'Euphues' and Phil
Holland's 'Pliny,' and the speculations of such earlier writers as
Paracelsus. Bacon and Shakespeare, like other Elizabethans, accepted the
popular science of their period, and decorated their pages with queer
ideas about beasts, and stones, and plants; which were mere folklore. A
sensible friend of my own was staggered, if not converted, by the
parallelisms adduced in Judge Webb's chapter 'Of Bacon as a Man of
Science.' I told him that the parallelisms were Elizabethan commonplaces,
and were not peculiar to Bacon and Shakespeare. Professor Dowden, out of
the fulness of his reading, corroborated this obiter dictum, and his
article (in 'The National Review,' vol. xxxix., 1902) absolutely disposes
of the Judge's argument.
Mr. Tyrrell went on: 'The evidence of Ben Jonson alone seems decisive of
the question; the other' (the Judge, for one) 'persuades himself (how, I
cannot understand) that it may be explained away.'*
*Pilot, August 30, 1902, p. 220.
We have seen how Judge Webb 'explains away' the evidence of Ben. But while
people 'not versed in the literature of the Shakespearean era' assume that
the Baconians have examined it, to discover whether Shakespearo-Baconian
parallelisms are peculiar to these two writers or not, these people may
fall into the error confessed by Mr. Tyrrell.
Some excuse is needed for arguing on the Baconian doctrine. 'There is much
doubt and misgiving on the subject among serious men,' says Judge Webb,
and if a humble author can, by luck, allay the doubts of a single serious
man, he should not regret his labour.