Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
Verdict No. I. Opinions of Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace, D.C.L., The Marquis of Lorne, O. B. Frothingham, G. Kruell, Appleton Morgan, Franklin H. Head, Rev. C. A. Bartol, Henry George, and Frances E. Willard.
When we are asked to believe that the whole of the plays and poems attributed to Shakespeare were not written by him, but by Lord Bacon, we naturally require evidence of the most convincing kind. It must be shown either that Bacon did actually write them, in which case of course Shakespeare was not their author, or that Shakespeare could not possibly have written them, in which case somebody else must have done so, and we then demand proof that Bacon could possibly, and did probably, write them.
First, then, is there any good evidence that Bacon did write them? Positively none whatever; only a number of vague hints and suggestions, which might perhaps add some weight to an insufficient amount of direct testimony, but in its absence are entirely valueless. And then we have the enormous, the overwhelming improbability, that any man would write, and allow to be published or acted, so wonderful a series of poems and plays, [[p. 223]] while another man received all the honor and all the profits; and though surviving that man for ten years, that the real author never made the slightest claim to them, never confided the secret to a single friend, and died without a word or a sign to show that he had any part or share in them. To most persons this consideration alone will be conclusive against Bacon's authorship.
The reasons alleged for believing that Shakespeare could not have written them, are weak in the extreme. They amount to this: That his early life was spent in a small country town; that he had not a university education; that most of his early associates and connections were illiterate; that his signatures were almost unintelligible; and that no single letter or manuscript exists in his handwriting. The wide knowledge of human nature, of the court and the nobility, and of classical and modern literature, could not, it is alleged, have been acquired by such a man. But in making this objection, the opponents of Shakespeare take no account of the most important of all the facts--of that fact without which the production of these works is in any case unintelligible--the fact that their author was a transcendent genius; and further, that it is the especial quality of genius to be able to acquire and assimilate knowledge, and to realize and interpret the whole range of human passions, moods, and foibles, under conditions that to ordinary men would be impossible. Admitting, as we must admit, the genius, there is no difficulty, no improbability. For the first twenty years of his conscious life, Shakespeare lived in the midst of the calm and beautiful scenery of Warwickshire, and acquired that extensive knowledge and love of nature, and that sympathy with all her moods and aspects, which are manifested throughout his works. The lordly castles of Warwick and Kenilworth were within a dozen miles of Stratford, and at times of festivity such castles were open house, and at all times would be easily accessible through the friendship of servants or retainers; and thus might have been acquired, some portion of that knowledge of the manners and speech of nobles and kings, which appears in the historical plays. During his long residence in London, crowded then as now with adventurers of all nations, he would have had ample opportunity for studying human nature under every possible aspect. The endearing terms applied to him by his friends show that he had an attractive personality, and would, therefore, easily gain access to many grades of society; while the law courts at Westminster would afford ample opportunities for extending that knowledge of law terms and legal processes, which he had probably begun to acquire by means of justices' sessions and coroners' inquests in his native town. Through his foreign acquaintances he might have obtained translations of some of those Italian or Spanish tales which [[p. 224]] furnished a portion of his plots, and which have been supposed to indicate an amount of learning he could not have possessed. What genius can do under adverse circumstances and uncongenial surroundings, we see in the case of Chatterton, of Keats, of Shelley. Shakespeare had much better opportunities than any of these; he was gifted with a far loftier genius, a broader and more powerful intellect, a more balanced and harmonious personality. Of this rare combination of qualities and opportunities, his works are the natural and consistent outcome. Alike in their depth, their beauty, their exquisite fancy, their melodious harmony, and their petty defects, they are the full expression of the man and his surroundings.
Let us consider, lastly, whether, supposing Shakespeare were altogether out of the way, Bacon could possibly have written the plays and poems. These works are universally admitted to exhibit the very highest poetry, the most exquisite fancy, the deepest pathos, the most inimitable humor. We are told by his admirers that Bacon possessed all these qualities; but when any attempt is made to give us examples of them, we find only the most commonplace verse or labored and monotonous prose. The specimens of Bacon's versification given by Mr. Reed, in his capacity of counsel for the defendant, demonstrate that he had absolutely no poetic faculty; and as no better specimens have been produced when advocating the plaintiffs cause, we may presume that none exist. We are told that his sense of humor was phenomenal, that no man had a finer ear for melody of speech,--but, again, no examples are given. We are told that he rewrote his "Essays" many times, and gave them "a thousand exquisite touches"; yet when we read them, and search for these alleged beauties, either of poetic ideas or noble and harmonious passages, we find only a polished mediocrity, with labored antitheses of epithets, as utterly remote from the glowing thoughts and winged words of Shakespeare, as is the doggerel version of the psalms by Sternhold and Hopkins, from the hymns of Keble or the "In Memoriam" of Tennyson. The man who conceived and delineated such characters as Portia, Juliet, Imogen, and a score of others, and who poured forth his soul in the "Sonnets," could not possibly have written the essays on "Love" and "Marriage," in which not one spark of poetry or sentiment is allowed to appear.
Again, what have the acknowledged writings of Bacon to show of the intense love of nature, and the poetic ideas it inspired, which are main characteristics of the author of the plays and poems? Flowers are therein continually referred to as illustrations of the beauty of women. The white hand of the sleeping Lucrece "showed like an April daisy on the grass"; a girl's [[p. 225]] complexion is compared with "morning roses newly washed with dew"; and the writer's deep love and intense enjoyment of flowers is shown by such expressions as "Daffodils . . . which take the winds of March with beauty"; the cuckoo-buds which "do paint the meadows with delight"; and the regret that "rough winds do shake the darling buds of May."
This passionate love of nature will perhaps account for Shakespeare's early retirement from London to his native town, where he could enjoy those charms of rural scenery and natural beauty which had aided in developing his poetic fancy in youth, and which, to every true lover of nature, have a still purer influence and a deeper significance in advancing years. This withdrawal from London has, strangely enough, been made one of the arguments against Shakespeare, as implying a want of taste for literary society, or for the refinements of life; whereas it is really a point in his favor, as showing that the fount of natural beauty, from which his choicest poetic inspiration had sprung, had lost none of its attraction in his maturer years.
The advocates of Bacon, on the other hand, have not attempted to show that he was equally influenced by natural beauty. He was, it is true, fond of gardens and gardening; but his essay on the subject is devoted mainly to a design for the arrangement of a large garden, and to giving dry lists of the plants worthy of cultivation. He dwells much on the odors of herbs and sweet-smelling flowers, but he uses none of those expressions of admiration for their beauty, which Shakespeare would certainly have employed, nor does he indicate that they had for him any poetical associations.
The facts and considerations now briefly set forth seem to me absolutely to demonstrate two things. The first is, that, judging from Bacon's acknowledged works, he could not possibly have written the plays and poems attributed to Shakespeare. The second is, that, given the essential attribute of genius of the highest kind, there is nothing whatever in the known facts of Shakespeare's life that is opposed to the view of his being their author, but, on the contrary, everything in its favor. Having, therefore, the direct testimony of Ben Jonson, Fuller, and his two fellow-actors who edited the folio of 1623, that Shakespeare was the author, while the terms of affection and admiration in which they all speak of him, show that they considered him fully capable of writing the works attributed to him, there remains no possible reason for now disputing that testimony. Never, surely, was there so utterly baseless a claim as that made by the advocates of Bacon against Shakespeare.
Verdict for the defendant.