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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
“Mountainous error be too highly heap'd,
For truth to over-peer.”
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,
“Stratford Butcher-Boy,''8 nor does it answer the legitimate suggestions or inferences of the Baconians, based upon honest research and fair investigation, to term them “A troop of less than half educated people”;9 to assert that Delia Bacon was really insane, when she wrote her erratic book; that her imitators have been chiefly weak minds of the sort that thrive upon paradox, closely akin to the circle-squarers and inventors of perpetual mo
When such a scholar as Emerson would refer to the issue as one “Opened so that it can never again be closed,' at least until positive proofs on the one side or the other can be produced, it is useless for either side to indulge in this species of evasion. Critical individuals, of sceptical tendencies have and will continue to seek a cause equal to the effect they find existing; a man, adequate to the result to be accounted for and so long as there is honest research and study of the question, the inferences and theories of those who doubt Shakespeare's authorship, ought to be given the serious attention of those who incline to the traditional authorship of the plays and it is in the interest of free scholarship and fair investigation that the controversy should be squarely met and carefully considered.
* Delia Bacon's "Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded.”
* Brandes, “William Shakespeare."
19 John Fiske's "Forty Years of Bacon-Shakespeare Folly," in Atlantic Monthly, for November, 1897, p. 636.
11 This observation of Emerson noted a condition and was not necessarily an opinion based upon existing proof. This statement is in keeping with the unorthodox tendency of Emerson's mind and loses sight of the real fact that a title established by contemporary testimony and resting secure through a lapse of centuries, cannot be over-thrown by mere negative evidence, but that the burden rests upon those asserting the adverse title and the proof must be clear and convincing before the vested right of the ancient title will be set aside.
However, the framing of an issue is a far different thing from the proof of such issue, by competent evidence and the observation of Emerson that such an issue, as to a title based upon credible contemporary testimony, cannot be closed so long as doubts may be expressed as to such title, is not in keeping with the rule of evidence which places the burden of proof upon those asserting an adverse title, to establish the adverse claim by clear and convincing proof and protects a title and right vested and based upon an ancient claim, against mere negative testimony of the weakness of such claim.
The Syndicate Those who oppose the traditional authorTheory.
ship of the plays of Shakespeare ad
vąnce two principal theories, one, that the plays were written by a syndicate of poets and play. writers, and the other, that they were written by one man, but this man was Bacon, not Shakespeare.
Principal among the advocates of the syndicate theory, is Appleton Morgan, of New York, who, in 1880, in his book, the “Shakespearian Myth,” fully set forth the theory of a number of writers of the plays, and Wm. H. Edwards, and others have followed this idea, in later works. 12
There is undoubted evidence, in some of the plays, of the work of other hands than Shakespeare's. Henry VIII was, in part, unquestionably written by Fletcher 13 and perhaps parts of it by Massinger, yet there is no doubt but what the bulk of the play was by Shakespeare.14 The earliest edition of "The Two Noble Kinsmen," in 1634, ascribed the play to "The memorable worthies of their time; Mr. John Fletcher and Mr. William Shakespeare." These plays, as Doctor Rolfe concludes, were no doubt
12 “Shaksper not Shakespeare," 1900, and see, also, “A Cambridze Graduate," 1903.
13 Rolfe's Henry VIII. 14 Ante idem.
begun by Shakespeare, but for some reason were laid aside and left unfinished and patched out by others.
But while some fragments of evidence may be found to show that others than Shakespeare may have had a hand in writing some parts of some of the plays, this is no evidence from which his authorship of the other portions or of other plays can be denied. Other collaberators may have assisted him, or finished some few plays that he left unfinished, but if they did, they waived their right and title by letting these plays be published in his name. He was evidently the head and active member of any such partnership and any others were but silent and unknown members of the firm. He was the master genius who shaped the course of the firm's product and rendered the partnership of insignificant importance. And, if problem enough to determine what individual wrote the plays, why multiply the difficulties, by looking for innumerable authors? If Shakespeare's title were based upon a miracle, then it would be a mere combination of miracles that others should have combined with him, to produce the plays, bearing such unmistakable evidences of the genius of one and the same individual.15
Origin of the
As the Wolfian theory, asserting an Baconian Theory. adverse title or claim to the Homeric
poems, originally suggested by the philosopher Vico, in a moment of passing doubt or fancy, was later specially enlarged upon by the gifted Freidrich Wolf,16 and a respectable number of critics followed this
1 Even Voltaire acknowledged that “All the plays of the divine Shakespeare are in the very same taste.” Voltaire's Works IX, p. 137.
* In the “Prolegomena ad Homerum," published in 1795, Wolf attempted to demonstrate that the Homeric poems were not the work of any one man, but were a compilation of poems written by various minstrels and sung in public assemblies, while the art of writing was but little known.
fallacy-until historians and scholars of succeeding years by a great mass of competent evidence, successfully defeated this theory and established Homer's title-so the passing uncertainties and doubts expressed by M. de Voltaire, in his criticisms of Shakespeare's plays, were later taken up and analyzed by Horace Walpole and with his fervid imagination and little care for the existing facts of history, some real doubts were expressed as to his own countryman's distinguished life work, although he had elsewhere defended this work against the unjust attacks of this same Voltaire.17
In the preface to the second edition of “The Castle of Otranto" and “Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of Richard III," Walpole first expressed the theories connected with Shakespeare's life and writings that have led to the present Baconian theory.18
The researches of Edmond Malone, the respectable editor of Shakespeare's plays, and literary detective, whose work led to the discovery of the Chatterton and Ireland forgeries, may be said to have thrown a mere cloud or shade of uncertainty over the authorship of Shakespeare, which has also been utilized by the Baconians. 19
And in Emerson's Essay on Shakespeare delivered in 1835, occurs the following passage: “I cannot marry this man to his verse. Other admirable men have lived in some sort of keeping with their thought,
17 Castle of Otranto, (2nd ed.) preface, 20.
Speaking of these works, in his book "Shakespeare and Voltaire,” Prof. Lounsbury, of Yale, observes: “In this very volume, dealing with Richard III, appears the first example of that long line of absurd theories connected with Shakespeare's life and writings."
19 Life of Edmond Malone, with Selections from his Manuscript Anecdotes, by Sir James Prior: Malone's Genuineness of the three plays of Henry VI; Literary Digest, for July 8, 1911, p. 61.