Over the years many critics and scholars have speculated that Shakespeare did not write any of his plays and that the real author was Sir Francis Bacon. Below is an essay dealing with the arguments pro and con, taken from "THE VALET'S TRAGEDY AND OTHER STUDIES" by Andrew Lang, a public domain book.
THE SHAKESPEARE-BACON IMBROGLIO
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
*(1) 'Bacon and Shakespeare,' by William Henry Smith (1857);
'The Authorship of Shakespeare,' by Nathaniel Holmes (1875);
'The Great Cryptogram,' by Ignatius Donnelly (1888);
'The Promus of Formularies and Elegancies of Francis Bacon,' by
Mrs. Henry Pott (1883);
'William Shakespeare,' by Georg Brandes (1898);
'Shakespeare,' by Sidney Lee (in the Dictionary of National
'Shakespeare Dethroned' (in Pearson's Magazine, December 1897);
'The Hidden Lives of Shakespeare and Bacon,' by W. G. Thorpe,
'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
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
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 renders:
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
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
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 poet.
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 away.
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 Smith:
No CHARACTER that servant WOMAN asked;
Most WOMEN have no CHARACTER at all.
It is tedious to copy out the puerilities of such parallelisms.
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
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.'
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 Mrs. Pott.
'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 BACON.'
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. Bucke.
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 Shakespeare.
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 Nickleby.
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 themselves.
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 inquirer.
*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
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 (ii. 269).'
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.
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,
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
*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;
- 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
The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage,
My Shakespeare, rise!
By a pun, Ben speaks of Shakespeare as
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
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.
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.