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- Shakespeare, Bacon and the Great Unknown - 30/37 -

that Bacon was the author of the plays, then the facts are suitable to his belief. But if he does not,--"I hold no brief for the Baconians," he says,--how is all this passage on Ben's visits to Bacon concerned with the subject in hand?

Between the passage on some "efficient cause" "at the back of Ben's mind," {261a} and the passage on Ben's visits to Bacon in 1621-3, {261b} six pages intervene, and blur the supposed connection between the "efficient cause" of Ben's verses of 1623, and his visits to Bacon in 1621-3. These intercalary pages are concerned with Ben's laudations of Bacon, by name, in his Discoveries. The first is entirely confined to praise of Bacon as an orator. Bacon is next mentioned in a Catalogue of Writers as "HE WHO HATH FILLED UP ALL NUMBERS, and performed that in our tongue which may be preferred or compared either to INSOLENT GREECE OR HAUGHTY ROME," words used of Shakespeare by Jonson in the Folio verses.

Mr. Greenwood remarks that Jonson's Catalogue, to judge by the names he cites (More, Chaloner, Smith, Sir Nicholas Bacon, Sidney, Hooker, Essex, Raleigh, Savile, Sandys, and so on), suggests that "he is thinking mainly of wits and orators of his own and the preceding generation," not of poets specially. This is obvious; why should Ben name Shakespeare with More, Smith, Chaloner, Eliot, Bishop Gardiner, Egerton, Sandys, and Savile? Yet "it is remarkable that no mention should be made of the great dramatist." Where is Spenser named, or Beaumont, or Chaucer, with whom Ben ranked Shakespeare? Ben quoted of Bacon the line he wrote long before of Shakespeare as a poet, about "insolent Greece," and all this is "remarkable," and Mr. Greenwood finds it "not surprising" {262a} that the Baconians dwell on the "extraordinary coincidence of expression," as if Ben were incapable of repeating a happy phrase from himself, and as if we should wonder at anything the Baconians may say or do.

Another startling coincidence is that, in Discoveries, Ben said of Shakespeare "his wit was in his own power," and wished that "the rule of it had been so too." Of Bacon, Ben wrote, "his language, where he could spare or pass by a jest, was nobly censorious." Thus Bacon HAD "the rule of his own wit," Bacon "COULD spare or pass by a jest," whereas Shakespeare apparently could not--so like were the two Dromios in this particular! Strong in these convincing arguments, the Baconians ask (not so Mr. Greenwood, he is no Baconian), "were there then TWO writers of whom this description was appropriate . . . Was there only one, and was it of Bacon, under the name of "Shakespeare," that Ben wrote De Shakespeare nostrati?

Read it again, substituting "Bacon" for "Shakespeare." "I remember the players," and so on, and what has Bacon to do here? "Sometimes it was necessary that BACON should be stopped." "Many times BACON fell into those things could not escape laughter," such as Caesar's supposed line, "and such like, which were ridiculous." "BACON redeemed his vices with his virtues. There was ever more in BACON to be praised than to be pardoned."

Thus freely, according to the Baconians, speaks Ben of Bacon, whom he here styles "Shakespeare,"--Heaven knows why! while crediting him with the players as his friends. Ben could not think or speak thus of Bacon. Mr. Greenwood occupies his space with these sagacities of the Baconians; one marvels why he takes the trouble. We are asked why Ben wrote so little and that so cool ("I loved him on this side idolatry as much as any") about Shakespeare. Read through Ben's Discoveries: what has he to say about any one of his great contemporary dramatists, from Marlowe to Beaumont? He says nothing about any of them; though he had panegyrised them, as he panegyrised Beaumont, in verse. In his prose Discoveries he speaks, among English dramatists, of Shakespeare alone.

We are also asked by the Baconians to believe that his remarks on Bacon under the name of Shakespeare are really an addition to his more copious and infinitely more reverential observations on Bacon, named by his own name; "I have and do reverence him for the greatness that was only proper to himself." Also (where Bacon is spoken of as Shakespeare) "He redeemed his vices by his virtues. There was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned . . . Sometimes it was necessary that he should be stopped . . . Many times he fell into those things that could not escape laughter."

These two views of Bacon are, if you like, incongruous. The person spoken of is in both cases Bacon, say the Baconians, and Mr. Greenwood sympathetically alludes to their ideas, {264a} which I cannot qualify in courteous terms. Baconians "would, of course, explain the difficulty by saying that however sphinx-like were Jonson's utterances, he had clearly distinct in his own mind two different personages, viz. Shakspere the player, and Shakespeare the real author of the plays and poems, and that if in the perplexing passage quoted from the Discoveries he appears to confound one with the other, it is because the solemn seal of secrecy had been imposed on him." They WOULD say, they DO say all that. Ben is not to let out that Bacon is the author. So he tells us of Bacon that he often made himself ridiculous, and so forth,--but he PRETENDS that he is speaking of Shakespeare.

All this wedge of wisdom, remember, is inserted between the search for "the efficient cause" of Ben's panegyric (1623), in the Folio, on his Beloved Mr. William Shakespeare, and the discovery of Ben's visits to Bacon in 1621-3.

Does Mr. Greenwood mean that Ben, in 1623 (or earlier), knew the secret of Bacon's authorship, and, stimulated by his hospitality, applauded his works in the Folio, while, as he must not disclose the secret, he throughout speaks of Bacon as Shakespeare, puns on that name in the line about seeming "to shake a lance," and salutes the Lord of Gorhambury as "Sweet Swan of Avon"? Mr. Greenwood cannot mean that; for he is not a Baconian. What DOES he mean?

Put together his pages 483, 489-491. On the former we find how "it would appear" that Jonson thought the issue of the Folio (1623) "a very special occasion," and that perhaps if we could only "get to the back of his mind, we should find that there was some efficient cause operating to induce him to give the best possible send-off to that celebrated venture." Then skip to pp. 489-491, and you find very special occasions: Bacon's birthday feast with its" mystery"; Ben as one of Bacon's "good pens," in 1623. "The best of these good pens, it seems, was Jonson." {266a} On what evidence does it "seem"? The opinion of Judge Webb.

Is this supposed collaboration with Bacon in 1623, "the efficient cause operating to induce" Ben "to give the best possible send-off" to the Folio? How could this be the "efficient cause" if Bacon were not the author of the plays?

Mr. Greenwood, like the Genius at the birthday supper,

"Stands as if some mystery he did."

On a trifling point of honour, namely, as to whether Ben were a man likely to lie, tortuously, hypocritically, to be elaborately false about the authorship of the Shakespearean plays, it is hopelessly impossible to bring the Baconians and Mr. Greenwood (who "holds no brief for the Baconians") to my point of view. Mr. Greenwood rides off thus--what the Baconians do is unimportant.

"There are, as everybody knows, many falsehoods that are justifiable, some that it is actually a duty to tell." It may be so; I pray that I may never tell any of them (or any more of them).

Among justifiable lies I do not reckon that of Scott if ever he plumply denied that he wrote the Waverley novels. I do not judge Sir Walter. Heaven forbid! But if, in Mr. Greenwood's words, he, "we are told, thought it perfectly justifiable for a writer who wished to preserve his anonymity, to deny, when questioned, the authorship of a work, since the interrogator had no right to put such a question to him," {267a} I disagree with Sir Walter. Many other measures, in accordance with the conditions of each case, were open to him. Some are formulated by his own Bucklaw, in The Bride of Lammermoor, as regards questions about what occurred on his bridal night. Bucklaw would challenge the man, and cut the lady, who asked questions. But Scott's case, as cited, applies only to Bacon (or Mr. Greenwood's Unknown), if HE were asked whether or not he were the author of the plays. No idiot, at that date, was likely to put the question! But, if anyone did ask, Bacon must either evade, or deny, or tell the truth.

On the parallel of Scott, Bacon could thus deny, evade, or tell the truth. But the parallel of Scott is not applicable to any other person except to the author who wishes to preserve his anonymity, and is questioned. The parallel does not apply to Ben. HE had not written the Shakespearean plays. Nobody was asking HIM if he had written them. If he knew that the author was Bacon, and knew it under pledge of secrecy, and was asked (per impossibile) "Who wrote these plays?" he had only to say, "Look at the title-page." But no mortal was asking Ben the question. But we are to suppose that, in the panegyric and in Discoveries, Ben chooses to assert, first, that Shakespeare was his Beloved, his Sweet Swan of Avon; and that he "loved him, on this side idolatry, as much as any." There is no evidence that he did love Shakespeare, except his own statement, when, according to the Baconians, he is really speaking of Bacon, and, according to Mr. Greenwood, of an unknown person, singularly like Bacon. Consequently, unless we can prove that Ben really loved the actor, he is telling a disgustingly hypocritical and wholly needless falsehood, both before and after the death of Bacon. To be silent about the authorship of a book, an authorship which is the secret of your friend and patron, is one thing and a blameless thing. All the friends, some twenty, to whom Scott confided the secret of his authorship were silent. But not one of them publicly averred that the author was their very dear friend, So-and-so, who was not Scott, and perhaps not their friend at all. That was Ben's line. Thus the parallel with Scott drawn by Mr. Greenwood, twice, {268a} is no parallel. It has no kind of analogy with Ben's alleged falsehoods, so elaborate, so incomprehensible except by Baconians, and, if he did not love the actor Shakspere dearly, so detestably hypocritical, and open to instant detection.

It is not easy to find a parallel to the conduct with which Ben is charged. But suppose that Scott lived unsuspected of writing his novels, which, let us say, he signed "James Hogg," and died without confessing his secret, and without taking his elaborate precautions for its preservation on record.

Next, imagine that Lockhart knew Scott's secret, under vow of silence, and was determined to keep it at any cost. He therefore, writing after the death of Hogg of Ettrick, and in Scott's lifetime, publishes verses declaring that Hogg was his "beloved" (an enormous fib), and that Hogg, "Sweet Swan of Ettrick," was the author of the Waverley novels.

To complete the parallels, Lockhart, after Scott's death, leaves a note in prose to the effect that, while he loved Hogg on this side idolatry (again, a monstrous fable), he must confess that Hogg,

Shakespeare, Bacon and the Great Unknown - 30/37

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