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compelling an entry of stageright in the Stationers' Books, and no public office at which anything analogous to—(what nowadays becomes of such large pecuniary value)—a right to represent and perform dramatic productions—could be entered and secured.
In reading the late autobiographies of Anthony Trollope and Sergeant Ballantyne, I was impressed with the conviction that-down to the first quarter of the present century-nothing thorough (except flogging) was considered essential to the education of the British youth, in country schools. I was led by this to examine carefully into what must have been the course of instruction in Stratford school, when young Shakespeare is supposed to have been a student there. To make my examinations as valuable as possible, I cited the testimony of Roger Asham, John Milton, and others nearly contemporary, and went to the pains of compiling a considerable glossary of the Warwickshire Dialect. The result was too bulky, of course, for adding to this work, and has been published elsewhere in a volume by itself.
While I have never yielded my assent to the Baconian theory, I have been so widely accused of bringing it aid and comfort that I would like to say a final word or two in regard to it:
It seems to me quite as impossible that Francis Bacon should have written certain portions of the Plays and Poems as that William Shakespeare should have
written those other portions which the general consent of the New Shakespeare Society, Mr. Fleay, Mr. W. J. Rolfe, and others have rejected. But yet Francis, afterward Lord, Bacon, was one of the most versatile men who ever lived. It is not safe to judge of his poetical powers by his Paraphrase of the Psalms, which was written-just as John Milton's paraphrase was written—in what is to us, to-day, the purest doggerel. But that these versions were so written purposely, in order that the meanest intellects might commit them to memory and sing them, no one at all familiar with the times can doubt for a moment. If there is any degree in doggerel, Milton's versions are the most ridiculous. But the purpose for which both paraphrases were made is evidently one and the same. Nor can we exactly rail at the absurdity of a lord chancellor of England writing stage plays in the days of Elizabeth, when we have seen a prime minister of England writing novels in the age of Victoria.
We can, even now, hear the twenty-second century's comparative critic cry, “Ridiculous to conceive of the great Beaconsfield, the man whose statesmanship grappled with the world, who, singly and alone, confronted an empire in its flush of victory, and forced it to relinquish a prize its sword had just won—to conceive of that man writing a few florid and stagey novels. And then, if it were not ridiculous on its face, look at the
internal evidence; count the stopped' and the unstopped' and the 'double' endings: the run on' lines, and the alternates:' and, for the birth marks of style' (which any one not color-blind' can see for himself), put one of his speeches at the Berlin congress alongside a chapter of Lothair!” In short, so versatile, so great in every literary walk of that day, was Francis Bacon, that nobody can wonder that the old school Shakespearean,—while willing to admit Greene, Marston, Nash, Middleton, Fletcher, or anybody else, a collaborateur with Shakespeare in the plays,-stands aghast at any approach of Francis Bacon to that vicinity, and cries “sacrilege” and lunacy!”
For my part I have never been able to decide whether the Baconian Theory were the greater compliment to Bacon or to Shakespeare himself. Certainly William Shakespeare is the only man who ever lived whose works are accounted too sublime for himself—the only man as to whom the centuries are still debating whether he was not-after all—a Demigod !
ROOMS OF THE NEW YORK
OCTOBER 2, 1885.
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
M. Guizot, in his History of England, states the Shakespearean problem in a few words, when he says:
“Let us finally mention the great comedian, the great tragedian, the great philosopher, the great poet, who was in his lifetime butcher's apprentice, poacher, actor, theatrical manager, and whose name is William Shakespeare. In twenty years, amid the duties of his profession, the care of mounting his pieces, of instructing his actors, he composed the thirty-two tragedies and comedies, in verse and prose, rich with an incomparable knowledge of human nature, and an unequaled power of imagination, terrible and comic by turns, profound and delicate, homely and touching, responding to every emotion of the soul, divining all that was beyond the range of his experience and for ever remaining the treasure of the age—all this being accomplished, Shakespeare left the theater and the busy world, at the age of forty-five, to return to Stratford-on-Avon, where lived peacefully in the most modest retirement, writing nothing and never return.