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Shakespeare, Bacon, and the Great Unknown   By: (1844-1912)

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The theory that Francis Bacon was, in the main, the author of "Shakespeare's plays," has now been for fifty years before the learned world. Its advocates have met with less support than they had reason to expect. Their methods, their logic, and their hypotheses closely resemble those applied by many British and foreign scholars to Homer; and by critics of the very Highest School to Holy Writ. Yet the Baconian theory is universally rejected in England by the professors and historians of English literature; and generally by students who have no profession save that of Letters. The Baconians, however, do not lack the countenance and assistance of highly distinguished persons, whose names are famous where those of mere men of letters are unknown; and in circles where the title of "Professor" is not duly respected.

The partisans of Bacon aver (or one of them avers) that "Lord Penzance, Lord Beaconsfield, Lord Palmerston, Judge Webb, Judge Holmes (of Kentucky, U.S.), Prince Bismarck, John Bright, and innumerable most THOUGHTFUL SCHOLARS EMINENT IN MANY WALKS OF LIFE, AND ESPECIALLY IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION . . . " have been Baconians, or, at least, opposed to Will Shakspere's authorship. To these names of scholars I must add that of my late friend, Samuel Clemens, D.Litt. of Oxford; better known to many as Mark Twain. Dr. Clemens was, indeed, no mean literary critic; witness his epoch making study of Prof. Dowden's Life of Shelley, while his researches into the biography of Jeanne d'Arc were most conscientious.

With the deepest respect for the political wisdom and literary taste of Lord Palmerston, Prince Bismarck, Lord Beaconsfield, and the late Mr. John Bright; and with every desire to humble myself before the judicial verdicts of Judges Holmes, Webb, and Lord Penzance; with sincere admiration of my late friend, Dr. Clemens, I cannot regard them as, in the first place and professionally, trained students of literary history.

They were no more specially trained students of Elizabethan literature than myself; they were amateurs in this province, as I am an amateur, who differ from all of them in opinion. Difference of opinion concerning points of literary history ought not to make "our angry passions rise." Yet this controversy has been extremely bitter.

I abstain from quoting the "sweetmeats," in Captain MacTurk's phrase, which have been exchanged by the combatants. Charges of ignorance and monomania have been answered by charges of forgery, lying, "scandalous literary dishonesty," and even inaccuracy. Now no mortal is infallibly accurate, but we are all sane and "indifferent honest." There have been forgeries in matters Shakespearean, alas, but not in connection with the Baconian controversy.

It is an argument of the Baconians, and generally of the impugners of good Will's authorship of the plays vulgarly attributed to him, that the advocates of William Shakspere, Gent, as author of the plays, differ like the Kilkenny cats among themselves on many points. All do not believe, with Mr. J. C. Collins, that Will knew Sophocles, Euripides, and AEschylus (but not Aristophanes) as well as Mr. Swinburne did, or knew them at all for that matter. Mr. Pollard differs very widely from Sir Sidney Lee on points concerning the First Folio and the Quartos: my sympathies are with Mr. Pollard. Few, if any, partisans of Will agree with Mrs. Stopes (herself no Baconian) about the history of the Stratford monument of the poet. About Will's authorship of Titus Andronicus, and Henry VI, Part I, the friends of Will, like the friends of Bacon, are at odds among themselves. These and other divergencies of opinion cause the Baconians to laugh, as if THEY were a harmonious circle . . . ! For the Baconian camp is not less divided against itself than the camp of the "Stratfordians." Not all Baconians hold that Bacon was the legitimate son of "that Imperial votaress" Queen Elizabeth... Continue reading book >>

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