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THE BACON-SHAKESPEARE CONTROVERSY.
HISTORY OF THE VAGARY.
Cause and Basis The claims of those who contend that of the Fallacy. Lord Francis Bacon was the author of
the plays of the immortal Shakespeare, when a reason for the existence of such a doctrine is looked for, is to be found in the fact that the hero worshipers of the Eighteenth Century had created an impossible character in the person of Shakespeare, by attributing to him superhuman knowledge. These extreme claims are responsible for the conclusion that no one person could have accomplished such miracles of knowledge as have been attributed to him. It was then but another step from the conclusion that he did not possess the literary omniscience attributed to him, to the discovery of one capable of such accomplishments.
The fond Shakespearian Commentators, therefore, with their absurd claims for the great Bard, are responsible for the refutation of such claims and the next unreasonable claim of title, in another than Shakespeare. These literary hero worshipers, not only in England and America but in Germany, as well, in accordance with the natural German tendency to discover profound significance in the most trifling things, found that Shakespeare knew
* Mr. John Fiske states that the key note of the Baconian theory was first sounded by August von Schlegel, who claimed that Shakespeare had “mastered all things and relations of this world," and treated his life as a mere fable. Fiske's "Forty Years of Bacon-Shakespeare Folly,” in Atlantic Monthly for November, 1897, page 652.
* Lowell, Literary Essays, 11, 163,
the most scientific facts, connected with medicine, law, music, invention and the then undiscovered phenomena of the universe, the psychological facts of human nature and the whole realm of literature, christianity and the philosophies of the ancients, better than the most learned of modern times.
The problem was bound to be suggested, when and where did this son of a country 'Squire, acquire this vast fund of accurate and wonderful information? This inquiry, when considered in connection with the known facts connected with his life, was certain to result in the conclusion that such a vast fund of attributed wisdom could not consistently be found in one with such opportunities and training and this led to the additional conclusion that, given a man of such attainments, Shakespeare was not that man.
The theory and logic, granting the correctness of their major and minor premise, is not without reason. Their investigation evidences a great amount of critical inquiry, in order to find a cause equal to the effect presumed, an individual capable of the accomplishments credited to him. But the error of this school lies in accepting the miraculous results credited to the man.
Referring to the current criticism of his Author, we find that Dr. Samuel Johnson, in his preface to his edition of the plays, published in 1768, said: “His adherence to general nature, has exposed him to the censure of critics, who form their judgments upon narrower principles. Dennis and Rymer think his Romans not sufficiently Roman; and Voltaire censures his kings as not completely royal."3 This distinguished Editor and Commentator thus feels called upon to apologize for the Poet, with the explanation that “Shakespeare always makes nature predominate over accident.'
But, answering the claims of the Idolators, who assert that he had mastered the whole realm of human knowledge, this distinguished scholar also observed : “Some have imagined that they have discovered deep learning in many imitations of old writers; but the examples which I have known urged were drawn from books translated in his time; or were such easy coincidences of thought, as will happen to all who consider the same subjects; or such remarks of life or axioms of morality as float in conversation, and are transmitted through the world in proverbial sentences."4
3 Johnson's Works, vol. II, p. 84.
Thus, it will be seen, that the men of letters of that period, were criticising Shakespeare for his want of knowledge and his ignorance and this learned and just Commentator, without the halo of a hero worshiper, made due explanations for his shortcomings and also explained passages that attributed superhuman knowledge to the man.
Additional evidence could be adduced to show that the first premise of the Baconizers is unsound, in accepting the false claims of the Shakespeare Idolators, as true.
The whole trouble with the proposition is that, in disputing the absurd claims of his worshipers, the reactionaries went further and attempted to dispute his title to his works. Their error consisted in ever believing or accepting the false claims of the Shakespearian Idolators, in the first instance, and in advancing another erroneous theory to defeat the error of his followers.
Once advanced, however, the fallacy that someone else wrote the plays, in accordance with the common human tendency to follow new fashions and fads—"Though they be never so ridiculous, nay, let them be unmanly, yet are follow'd'6_like the slander, based on hearsay, so the suggestion, put in motion, even as the rolling snow-ball gathered volume, until, with the passing years, among a certain credulous class, it reached the vast proportion of a settled custom, and thus it has continued, until
* Johnson's Works, vol. 11, p. 106.
* See Fiske's "Forty Years of Bacon-Shakespeare Folly,” in Atlantic Monthly, November, 1897, p. 652.
• Henry VIII, Act I, Scene III.
“Mountainous error be too highly heap'd,
Issue Not Met As it is always an evidence of the weakBy Abuse.
ness of an argument, to indulge in in
crimination or abuse, the champions of the issues upon both sides of this controversy have too frequently fallen into the error of answering the just observations of their opponents, based upon careful research, by unjust criticism or abuse.
The cause of the Baconians is not at all advanced by referring to Shakespeare as “The Poacher” and the
'Coriolanus, Act II, Scene III.
The growing tendency toward agnosticism and doubt is not wholly confined to the works of the masters in poetry, such as Homer and Shakespeare, whose titles have been questioned by erratic scholars of imaginative tendencies, but the works of art of the great painters are also being questioned by doubters in the artistic realm, as well.
In July of the present year, someone laboring under an artistic brain-storm, charged through the London Post that the famous canvas, by Rembrandt, “The Mill," that for the past centuries has been recognized as one of his worthiest creations, was really painted by a Dutchman named Seghers. This alleged discovery was based upon the name claimed to have been plainly visible on the picture, after the removal of the varnish. A number of eminent artists were ready to believe the doubt and to rob Rembrandt of the title that posterity had recognized in him, to this picture. But following this news, in the Post, the eminent Rembrandt authority, Dr. Bode, was quoted by a writer in the Atheneum, to the effect that he had seen the picture immediately after the removal of the varnish and that no such name appeared on the picture. (Literary Digest, Sept. 2, 1911, pp. 354,