The Bacon-Shakespeare Craze

WOULD to heaven there were unquestionable evidence that Bacon did write the plays contained in the famous folio volume published at London in 1623! Would that, as there is now what some folk think it fine to call “a consensus” of critical opinion that the lady of the last century who decided that it was Ben Jonson who “wrote Shikspur” was wrong (although even that, it would seem, is not sure beyond a doubt), it might be made as clear as the sun in the heavens that her rival female critics of our own day are right in proclaiming Francis Bacon the man ! True, this decision, like the other, affects in no way the value or the interest of the plays. It neither lessens nor enlarges their significance as regards the material, the mental, or the moral condition of the

English people at the time when they were produced; for the statesman-philosopher and the player-poet were strictly contemporaries, and lived at the same time in the same city. The question (if it were a question) is not at all akin to that, for example, which has been so long discussed, and which is not yet decided, as to the authorship of the Iliad and the Odyssey. For that is not a mere effort of curiosity to find out whether those poems were produced by a blind ballad-singer who spelled his name Homer, or by an open-eyed epic poet of some other name, but a question as to the period of the production of the poems, as to their purpose, as to the condition of the society in which they were produced, as to the intellectual record embodied in their language, and as to the historical value of the incidents which they profess to record. It is a question which touches the origin, the character, and the development of the most remarkable people and the brightest, richest, and most influential civilization of antiquity. But whether Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello were written by Francis Bacon, or by William Shakespeare, or by John Smith, so they were written by an Englishman, in London, between the years 1590 and 1610, affects in no way their literary importance or interest, their ethnological or their social significance, their value as objects of literary art, or their power as a civilizing, elevating influence upon the world. The question (if it were a question) is merely a large variety of that small sort of literary puzzles which interest pene-literary people, of the sort who are disturbed to the profoundest shallows of their minds by uncertainty as to who is the author of that foolish saying, “ Consistency, thou art a jewel,” and who search volumes of Familiar Quotations and vex other folk with letters there-anent, in hopes to allay the agitation of their souls.1 For one, I avow myself wholly indifferent upon the subject. What is Shakespeare to me, or what am I to Bacon ? They are no more. Even what they were when they lived concerned only themselves and their personal friends. What they did is of the greatest moment to the world for all time ; but it would be of the same value, the same interest, the same potential influence, whether the Novum Organum and the Comedy of Errors were written by either of them, or by both, or by neither, or whether Shakespeare wrote the Novum Organum and Bacon the Comedy of Errors. I am no partisan of William Shakespeare’s. I take no more interest in him, qua William Shakespeare, than the United States troops appeared to take in the battle sometimes called the Bladensburg races. I should not feel aggrieved or injured to the value of the pen with which I am writing if it were proved that the Stratford yeoman’s son, who went to London and became rich in the theatrical business, was as incapable of writing his very name as his father and his mother were ; but every man of common sense, and even a little knowledge of the literary and dramatic history of the times of Elizabeth and James I., has the right to feel aggrieved and injured when the productions of the two greatest minds of modern times are made the occasion of a gabble of controversy, the sole foundation of which is a petty parade of piddling, perverted verbal coincidences, which have no more real significance than the likeness of the notes of two cuckoos, or of two cuckoo clocks. And therefore placeat Diis that there might be discovered, under the hand and seal of William Shakespeare, a confession that he was an impostor, and that the Earl of Southampton and Ben Jonson and John Heminge and Henry Condell, and the people of London generally, were dupes, and that Francis Bacon did write Titus Andronicus and the Comedy of Errors, and so forth through the list. There would be so much more passed to the credit of him who perhaps was “ the greatest, wisest,” but was surely not “ the meanest, of mankind.”2 That is all. This fuss would be over, “and soe well ended.”

The subject is one upon which some very worthy and very “ literary ” people are in a sad state of mind, and about which they have been going on in a more or less spasmodical way for some years ; and now there comes about it a stout handsome volume of six hundred and twenty-five pages, which represents so much genuine enthusiasm and such an amount of honest, thorough, systematic work on the part of an intelligent, accomplished gentlewoman, that to treat it as it must be treated, only upon its merits. is an ungrateful and almost a forbidding task.3 The occasion of this volume and the substance of it are furnished by some memorandums of words, phrases, proverbs, adages, and so forth in Bacon’s handwriting, which seem to have been made by him perhaps for reference, and possibly for the improvement of his style. They fill fifty sheets or folios, as we are told, and they are preserved in the well-known Harleian Collection of manuscripts in the British Museum. Known long ago, they were described by Spedding, Bacon’s able and accomplished editor, who, however, did not deem them of sufficient importance to be included in his great edition of Bacon’s writings. It would have been well if they had been left to moulder in their fitting obscurity; for they tell the world nothing that it did not know before; and so far as Bacon himself is concerned, they add nothing to his reputation either for wisdom or for knowledge, certainly nothing for scholarship or for critical acumen. In fact, they are at best only the dust and sweepings of his study; such stuff as everybody, except those whose literary appetite is a small sort of curiosity about distinguished people, would gladly see put to real service to mankind in the kindling of fires or other like domestic function. Their editress, however (Spenser says “ poetress,” and Ben Jonson “ conqueress; ” why may we not say editress?), brings them now to light with a higher purpose than the mere gratification of petty literary curiosity. She fancies (fancies! believes, with a faith which would remove mountains, if faith indeed were such an uncommon carrier) that they establish beyond all reasonable doubt the claim which she and a few fond fellow-worshipers have set up for Bacon to the authorship of the plays which William Shakespeare, in his lifetime, claimed as his ; which all his personal friends, and more, his personal enemies, believed to be his ; and which have been accepted as his for nearly three hundred years, not only by the world in general, but by all the scholars and critics who were thoroughly informed upon the subject: — a not illaudable purpose, and one which she has pursued with such a touching union of fervor and singleness of heart, and such perfection of that candor which disdains to take advantage by any concealment or dexterous perversion, — common accompaniments of enthusiasm,—that the result of her labors cannot be contemplated without sadness, and, moreover, without sorrow that it cannot be treated with patience, hardly with decorum.

The theory which this great mass of unconnected memorandums is published to sustain is simply this: Bacon must have written out these words and phrases and proverbs for his own use. Some few of them are found in his acknowledged writings, but the most of them he did not use in those writings; and between these, and indeed between a great number of them, and certain passages of the Shakespeare plays there is (so says enthusiasm) such likeness, either in word or in thought, that the unavoidable conclusion is that he wrote the plays. The logic is of the lamest; for it ignores practically, if not avowedly, the fact that these words and phrases and adages are in their very essence the common property of the world, — were the common property of the world at the time that Bacon made these memorandums; and that Bacon made them for his own convenience chiefly because they were such common property.

Moreover, the painful and elaborate deploying of the passages in the plays which are supposed to sustain this theory, or, to speak rightly, this fancy, exhibits no identity of phrase or of thought which will sustain this conclusion, or indeed a conclusion of any kind, about them. There is only one way of showing what and how great the failure is ; and that is the examination of some of the most striking of the sixteen hundred and fifty-five memorandums which, with their accompanying illustrative passages, make up the bulk of this big book. The process may be wearisome ; but if our task is to be performed at all, it is unavoidable.

The very first memorandum which is illustrated is most characteristic of the whole of this inept and absurdly inconclusive performance. It is,—

“ Corni contra croci. Good means against badd, hornes to crosses.” (Promus, 2.)

This is illustrated by five passages from the plays, of which here follow four: —

“And bear with mildness my misfortune’s cross.” (3 Henry VI., IV. iv.)
“ I have given way unto this cross of fortune.”
(Much Ado About Nothing, IV. i.)
. “ And curbs himself even of his natural scope
When you do cross his humor.”
(1 Henry IV., III. ii.)
“ I love not to be crossed.
“He speaks the mere contrary. Crosses love not him.” (Love’s Labour ’s Lost, I. ii.)

This is a hapless beginning; for except in the last line of the last quotation, “cross,” although it has the same sound and is spelled with the same letters, is really not the same word that appears in Bacon’s memorandum. Although etymologically the same, as an expression of thought it is not the same; for it means a wholly different thing. The cross in the Promus adage is the material cross (+), produced by the setting together of two straight rods or sticks at right angles. It is the cross of the crucifix, used figuratively to represent the influence of divine goodness and self-sacrificing love. On the other hand, the horns of the adage are the horns of Satan, which are used to typify the spirit of evil. Thus the opposition of good and evil was expressed. Moreover, the crucifix, or any cross, as that of a sword-hilt, was supposed, even in Bacon’s time, to have the power of exorcising evil spirits. Satan himself could not face it. An impressive scene it is in Faust where the throng of armed men draw their swords, and present to Mephistopheles, not their points or their edges, but their cross-hilts, from the sight of which he hides his eyes and shrinks away. This is the cross, and this the meaning of the Promus adage. But in all the instances cited above from Shakespeare the word “ cross ” means merely opposition, movement against, and (except in the third and fourth cases) consequent disaster. “ This cross of fortune ” is, This disastrous opposition of fortune; “When you do cross his humour ” is, When you do vexatiously run counter to his humor. So in the other cases. In these passages there is not the remotest suggestion of the cross of the crucifix which is to be opposed, as a token of divine love and power, to the horns of Satan, as the embodiment of evil. The notion of any connection between them and the adage is preposterous. We are told at the end of the illustrative passages that the word occurs “ thirty times ” in Shakespeare’s plays, which any one might see by consulting Mrs. Clarke’s Concordance. So it might have occurred three thousand times, and with just as little significance or pertinence to the matter in hand. As well cite in illustration of the Promus adage,

“ Cross-patch,
Draw the latch,
Sit by the fire and spin; ”

and very much better,

“ Ride a cock horse
To Danbury-cross; ”

for at Danbury there was such a cross as Bacon had in mind.

Because this is the first example, and because it is so very characteristic and typical an example, of these marvelous illustrations of the coincidences between the Shakespeare plays and Bacon’s Promus, more time and attention have been given to it than can be spared to those which follow ; through the fretful array of which we must push rapidly.

We turn a leaf, and at the top of the page we find, “ Nolite dare sanctum canibus, — Give not that which is holy unto dogs” (Promus, 11); which is illustrated by the following passage from As You Like It: —

Celia. Why cousin! . . . not a word?
Ros. Not one to throw at a dog.
Celia. No, thy words are too precious to be cast away upon curs.”

Again a typical example of a sort of “ illustration ” which swarms through these pages. It is absolutely without importance, and without significance of any kind. For, as the reader will doubtless have already seen, the words in the Promus are from the New Testament (Matt. vii. 6) ; they were known all over Europe, and had surely been in constant colloquial use for centuries before Bacon was born. And there are hundreds of just such meaningless illustrations in this volume.

It is difficult to keep one’s countenance, even if the effort should be made, when we find Bacon’s memorandum (Promus, 24) of Virgil’s “ Procul, o procul este profani ” (Away, away, ye profane), illustrated by Falstaff’s outbreak upon Nym and Pistol: —

“Rogues, hence! avaunt! vanish like hailstones!

In the newest fangle of Shakespearean or anti-Shakespearean criticism are we required to assume as a postulate that a dramatist of the Elizabethan period was unable to use his mother tongue in a plain, direct, and somewhat effective manner, without reference to a commonplace book of the Latin classics ?

Our next example is one of a sort not uncommon, in which the same word occurs in both Promus and play, but with a meaning wholly and absolutely opposite. It is the following : “ Semper virgines furiæ " (Promus, 43) ; in which Erasmus notes the remarkable fact that the Furies are always represented as maidens, as angels are always masculine. The illustration here is from Much Ado About Nothing: —

“Her cousin, an she were not possessed with a
fury, exceeds her as much in beauty as the first
of May doth the last of December.”

In this speech, Benedick, on the contrary, expresses his surprise ; he regards it as an extraordinary combination that virginal beauty should be accompanied by sharp temper and a shrewish tongue, — a union that would not have astonished Erasmus, nor, indeed, Bacon.

These illustrations of Bacon’s common placing by the Shakespeare plays frequently present us, on the one hand, an adage or a phrase so long known the civilized world over that no repetition nor use of it by any writer in any language, within the last five hundred years, would be stronger proof of acquaintance with any other writer who also used it than the assertion that there was a sun in the heavens would; and, on the other, a string of passages which have not only no relation to the phrase to be illustrated, but none to each other ; and which are like a class in a district school, — Yankees, Irish, Germans, French, and Italians; all bawling out together at the word of command; some right and some wrong, none with any real understanding of what they are saying, and having in blood, in speech, or in purpose no semblance of kindred, coherence, or unity. Of this sort is the following : —

“Et justificata est sapientia a fihis suis, — Wisdom is justified of her children.” (Promus, 249.)

This, again, is from the New Testament (Matt. xi. 19), and was the common property of Europe for centuries before Bacon’s time; its English form having been nearly as well known as the Ten Commandments or the Lord’s Prayer three hundred years before Bacon was born. It means, we need hardly say, that the children of wisdom justify (that is, prove) their parentage by their conduct; they “ behave as sich,” — an adage equally true with “ Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” or with “ Just as the twig is bent the tree’s inclined.” This has the following illustrations : —

“ And make us heirs of all eternity.” (Love’s Labour ’s Lost, I. i.)
“ Earthly godfathers of heaven’s lights.”(Ib.)
“ This child of fancy.” (Ib.) “ The first heir of my invention.” (Dedication to Venus and Adonis.)
“ The children of an idle brain.” (Romeo and Juliet, I. iv.)

What possible connection or relation is discoverable between these passages and the declaration in regard to the children of wisdom ? There is none, except that in the one, as in the others, the idea of childhood or of heirship is presented. Had Elizabeth given her young Lord Keeper a monopoly of these ?

Passing rapidly on, among these memorandums we find the very familiar phrase “ Prima facie ” (Promus, 299) ; the illustration of which (Love at first sight. As You Like It, III. v. 81 ; Troilus and Cressida, v. ii. ; Tempest, I. ii.) I pass by in mute admiration, as I do that of our next example, “ A catt may look on a kynge ” (Promus, 489) ; which is supposed to be the origin of the following question and answer : —

Ben. What is Tybalt?
Mer. More than prince of cats.” (Romeo and Juliet, II. iv.)

That is, I would pass it by, leaving it to stand in staring ineptness and puerility, but for its flagrant exhibition of a kind and degree of ignorance of Shakespeare’s writings which is characteristic of the Bacon-saving Shakespearean. For the reason of Juliet’s cousin being called prince of cats by the witty Mercutio is that “Tybert, Tybalt, Thibault” (all really one name), means a cat, just as " Graymalkin ” and “ Tabby ” do in English. Tybert is the name of the cat in the Middle Age apologue, Reynard the Fox. And in the old Italian story of Romeo and Julietta, which furnishes the whole substance of the Shakespeare tragedy, Juliet’s cousin is named Tibaldo. This story was translated by Arthur Brooke into an English poem, Romeus and Julietta, and published at London in 1562 ; and this poem it is that was dramatized into the great English tragedy. In it, Juliet’s cousin’s name is Tybalt. So far, then, is it from being true that he was called prince of cats because Francis Bacon wrote among his commonplaces, “ A catt may look on a kynge ” (shade of Aristotle, what an inference !), that it is absolutely impossible that the Promus memorandum had any connection with Mercutio’s speech ; for Juliet’s quarrelsome kinsman was made known to all English readers by his typical name in a rhymed story, which was well known (and which soon became popular) at a time when the future philosopher and Lord Chancellor was in long clothes, — he having been born in the year before that in which Brooke’s Romeus and Julietta was published. His Promus memorandum could have had no more to do with the calling Tybalt prince of cats than it had with the origin of Puss in Boots.

“ Neither too heavy nor too hot ” (Promus, 651), a saying which was applied to a bold thief, who would steal anything not too heavy or too hot for him to carry, is illustrated by sixteen passages from the plays, not one of which has the slightest connection with it or similarity to it, except the presence of one of the two common English words, “ heavy ” and “ hot; ” as may be gathered from the fact that the first is, “Are you so hot, sir ? ” (1 Henry V., III. ii.), and the last, “ Seneca cannot be too heavy nor Plautus too light.” (Hamlet, IV. ii.)

Perhaps one of the most startling of these illustrations is that of “ a ring of gold on a swynes snout ” (687) ; which degrading satirical comparison is presented as the origin of Romeo’s beautiful extravagance “ like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear.” The absurdity of this is not all apparent without a consideration of the whole of the lover’s simile: —

“It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear; ”

which is but a variation of the passage in the XXVIIth Sonnet: —

“Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which like a jewel hung in ghastly night
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face

It would seem, then, that the solemn figure of Night with her dark, begemmed robe was suggested to the author of Romeo and Juliet by a pig’s snout, with a ring in it to keep him from rooting.

That memorandum 706, “ Laconismus,” from Erasmus’s Adagia, should be illustrated by “Like the Romans in brevity” is Hibernian in its blundering, as the Laconians were not Romans, but Greeks, which Francis Bacon surely knew. But as the illustration is from King Henry IV., perhaps it was the embryo Pistol who put in his oar here. He was in the habit of talking of Trojan Greeks and Phrygian Turks, and the like two-headed monsters.

Many others of Bacon’s Promus memorandums are from Erasmus; aud at meeting among them the one here following, every true American heart must flutter with joy and pride : —

“ Riper than a mulberry. (Maturior moro,&emdash; Of a mild, soft-mannered man,” etc.) Promus, 869.

Did Bacon, — tell us, did he, — looking forward nearly three centuries, project his all-creative mind into the dramatic future of this country, and in this memorandum give the New World the germ of the great mulberry, Colonel Mulberry Sellers ? It must be so. The colonel, beyond a doubt, was a mild, soft-mannered man. How is it possible that anybody could have dreamed of a mulberry, unless the word had been previously commonplaced by Bacon ! Perish the thought! The discovery of the Promus establishes, beyond a question, that Mulberry Sellers is Bacon’s boon to America.

In like manner we learn that Charles Reade has hitherto been most unjustly credited with the conception of one of his own novels; for as number 959 of the Promus memorandums we find “Love me little, love me long;” and what more is needed to show where Mr. Reade found the title and the motive of his charming book ?

In memorandum 1544, “ Soleil qui luise au matin, femme qui parle latin, enfant nourrit de vin, ne vient point à bonne fin,” who can hesitate for a moment at discovering that we have the origin of that admirable poetical embodiment of common sense aud common experience,

“Whistlin’ gals an’ crowin’ hens
Never conies to no good ends ” ?

But this part of our subject is becoming too grave and serious, and I must bring it to a close with an illustration of a lighter and more amusing nature ; to wit, the following : —

“ Nourriture passe nature.” (Promus, 1595.)

This adage, it need hardly be said, means that breeding is a second nature, stronger than that with which a man is born. Would it be believed, without the evidence of black and white before us, that, in proof that Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays, the first and principal illustration of this adage is the following passage from Pericles ? —

“ Those mothers, who, to nousle up their babes
Thought not too curious, are ready now
To eat those little darlings whom they loved.
So sharp are hunger’s teeth, that man and wife
Draw lots who first shall die to lengthen life.”
(Act I. Scene iv.)

The italic emphasis of the third line is mine; and I have thus distinguished it, because as an illustration of “ Nourriture passe nature,” it surpasses all the Shakespearean jokes that I have had the good fortune to encounter. There are five hundred mortal octavo pages of proofs and illustrations, of which the foregoing are fair examples, that Francis Bacon wrote William Shakespeare’s thirty-seven comedies, histories, and tragedies ! One more of them shall delay us a moment. Promus memorandum 1404 is “ O the ; ” and this wholly senseless union of words is seriously illustrated by the following passages, of which it is assumed to be the origin : “ O the heavens ! ” “ O the devil!” “O the time ! ” “ O the gods ! ” “ O the good gods ! ” “ O the vengeance ! ” “ O all the devils ! ” “ O the Lord ! " O the blest gods ! ” It is needless to give the titles of the plays from which they are taken. When Benedick said that he should die a bachelor he did not think that he would live to be married. When I wrote the foregoing assertion about Shakespearean jokes I had not read this number of the Promus and its illustrations. They bear the palm. The fair editress might have deprived us of our laugh if she had perceived that the meaningless “ O the,” which could be the origin of nothing, is a mere irregular phonetic spelling of oath,—othe, in which the first letter was accidentally separated from the second, which is shown by the immediately following memorandums: (1405) “O my L[ord] Sr,” (1406) “ Beleeve it,” (1409) “ Mought it please God that,” or, “ I would to God.” Why Bacon wrote down phrases like this, here and elsewhere, seems inexplicable ; but that is not to the purpose.

What is evidently regarded as the strong point of this array of evidence in favor of the Baconian origin of the Shakespeare plays is Folio 111 of the Promus. It is indorsed by Bacon, “ Formularies and Elegancies;” and it contains forty-five memorandums (11891233) of phrases either of salutation or of complimentary remark in connection with the time of day, or what has been known time out of mind in the English language, and among people of English blood and speech, as giving the time of day. First among these memorandums is “ Good morrow ” (1189) ; we find also among them “Good matens” (1192), “Good betimes” (1193), “Bon iouyr, Bon iour bridegroome ” (1194), “ Good day to me, and good morrow to you ” (1195), and the pretty conceit, “I have not said all my prayers till I have bid you good morrow” (1196). Here Bacon’s enthusiastic champion throws down the gauge and takes a stand so boldly, and maintains it so earnestly, that it would be both unfair and unwise not to set forth fully the point upon which she joins issue. It is asserted that this folio generally, and particularly in these phrases of morning salutation, supports “ a reasonable belief that these Promus notes are by the same hand that penned Romeo and Juliet.” The ground of this reasonable belief is that these forms of salutation, although they “ are introduced into almost every play of Shakespeare, . . . certainly were not in common use until many years after the publication of these plays,” and that “it appears to be the case ” (risum teneatis ?) that “ they were of Bacon’s introduction.” This is insisted upon again and again: as, for example, “ It certainly does not appear that, as a rule, any forms of morning and evening salutation were used in the early part of the sixteenth century, nor, indeed, until after the writing of this folio (111), which is placed between the folios dated December, 1594, and others bearing the date January 27, 1595 ; ” and again, “ It seems to have been the practice for friends to meet in the morning, and to part at night, without any special form of greeting or valediction;" and again, “ In Ben Jonson’s plays . . . there is hardly one, except in Every Man in his Humour, where you twice meet with ‘ good morrow.’ But this play was written in 1598, a year after Romeo and Juliet was published, and four years after the date usually assigned to that tragedy. ‘ Good morrow ’ might have become familiar merely by means of Romeo and Juliet ; but it does not appear that it had become a necessary or common salutation,” etc. ; and yet again, “ It is certain that the habit of using forms of morning and evening salutation was not introduced into England prior to the date of Bacon’s notes, 1594.”

This is the most amazing assertion, and this the most amazing inference, that exists, to my knowledge, in all English critical literature. If the assertion had been made in connection with another subject, and the inference had been drawn in regard to a point of less general interest than the influence of Bacon or of Shakespeare upon the manners and speech of their time, or even if they had not been here trumpeted so triumphantly as a note of victory, they might well have been passed by in smiling silence. But the circumstances give them an importance not their own ; and the confident manner in which they are set forth, with an array of citation that may be mistaken for proof, might mislead many readers whose knowledge of the subject is even less than that which is shown by the compiler of this volume.

First, the fact asserted is in its very nature so incredible that it could not be received as established upon any merely negative evidence. That any civilized, or half-civilized, people of the Indo-European race should have existed in the sixteenth century without customary salutation and valediction at morning and evening could not be believed, upon the mere absence of such phrases in their literature. Such absence, if it existed, would have to be accounted for upon some other supposition. This is one of those cases in which reasoning a priori is of more weight than negative evidence. A society so beyond civility as to be without forms of salutation would be one in which neither a Bacon nor a Shakespeare would be possible. But leaving this point without further remark, it is to be said simply that the assertion is absolutely untrue ; and with the assertion goes, of course, the inference drawn from it. Mrs. Pott herself furnishes evidence against it. For she is very candid; and indeed, were her knowledge and her critical ability only equal to her candor and her industry, she would have produced a very valuable and interesting work, or — none at all. She has painfully searched an almost incredible number of books of the Elizabethan and post-Elizabethan period, for the purpose of illustrating and maintaining her thesis, and has even catalogued the results of her examination. Hence alone her careful readers are able to see, even if they did not know it before, that such forms as “good morrow,” “good night,” “good bye,” and the like, are used by these writers of that time : Gascoigne, Stubbs, Ben Jonson, Fletcher, Beaumont, and Heywood, all of them men who wrote between 1580 and 1620; and to these there might be numerous additions. Is it to be believed that these writers put into the mouths of their personages phrases of this nature which were not in common colloquial use ? But we are told that people began suddenly, and all at once, to say “ good morrow,” and the like, to each other, because Francis Bacon had elaborated those phrases in his Promus, and introduced them in his Romeo and Juliet to the English people. Bacon is made equivalent to the hunger which “ expedivit [Persius’s] psittaco suum χαίрє.” Will any one not bitten and mad with the Bacon-Shakespeare œstrum believe this, or pause for one moment in doubt over its preposterous incredibility ? But even our Bacon enthusiast is, in candor, obliged to confess one fact which is mortal to the theory which she has undertaken to maintain. We are told in a footnote, and in one of the appendices, that since the volume was compiled its editress, or some one for her, has discovered that the salutation “good morrow” occurs in the dialogue of John Bon and Master Person [parson], which was printed in 1548, nearly half a century before Bacon jotted down his Promus, and, what is something to the purpose, thirteen years before he was born.

The Parson. What, John Bon! Good morrowe to thee!
John Bon. Nowe good morrowe, Mast. Parson, so mut I thee.” 4

The fact that Gascoigne published in 1587, before Bacon was born, two poems, Good Morrow and Good Night, had been set aside, or “ got over,” by the astonishing plea that these were only titles, and not colloquial uses of these phrases ! (But if they were not known as salutations, with what propriety were they used as titles ?) And as to John Bon and Master Person, there is a despairing attempt to show that “ good morrow” was not a morning salutation, and that “ the first use for that purpose seems to be in Romeo and Juliet.” Great Phœbus, god of the morning, for what, then, was good morrow used ? Surely, the force of self-delusion could no further go.

To have given so much time to the examination of this frantic fancy would have been more than wasteful, were it not that within its petty convolutions is involved another, which is of as much importance as anything can be that is connected with this subject. It is fortunate, ad hoc, that the point was made; for it is fatal to the whole bearing of this Promus upon the Bacon theory of the Shakespeare plays. It is so because we have, according to the Bacon-saving-Shakespeare folk themselves, Bacon’s own testimony that English people, of all sorts and conditions, were in the constant habit of using salutations, particularly in the morning.

In the Second Part of King Henry VI., Act III. Sc. i., is the following passage : —

Queen. We know the time since he was mild and affable,
And if we did but glance a far-off look,
Immediately he was upon his knee,
That all the court admired him for submission.
But meet him now, be it in the morn,
When every one will give the time of day,
He knits Ids brow and shows an angry eye,
And passeth by,” etc.

The bearing of this passage is such, it is so broad, so clear, so direct, and its testimony comes from such a quarter, that it might be well to leave the point upon which it touches without another word of remark ; but it may also be well to set forth its full importance and significance. It will be seen that here, according to those who proclaim that Bacon is Shakespeare, and that they are his prophets, Bacon himself declares that at the time when he wrote this passage “ every one ” in England said good morning; that it was recognized as so general and absolute a requirement of good manners that the omission of it gave occasion for censure. Now this passage, although it is found in the Second Part of King Henry VI., appears originally, word for word, in a play of which Bacon (or, as some un-illuminated people believe, Shakespeare) was one of the writers, called The First Part of the Contention of the Two Noble Houses of York and Lancaster, which was worked over into the Henry VI. play, and which must have been in existence in the year 1591, as it is referred to in a book published in 1592. Whence we see that this declaration of Bacon the playwright as to giving the time of day “ in the morn ” by “ every one ” antedates the memorandum of Bacon the Promus writer at least three years. According, therefore, to people with whose fancies we are now dealing seriously, Bacon himself tells us that he did not teach the people of England to bid each other good morrow by writing Romeo and Juliet; and perhaps even they — the BaconShakespeare folk — are now beginning to suspect that the writer of John Bon and Master Person and the poet Gascoigne, when they used “ good morrow ” and “good night,” were merely repeating phrases which were even commoner than mere household words, and had been so in England for centuries.

And yet again, this passage, which appears in The First Part of the Contention and in the Second Part of King Henry VI., is one of those as to the authorship of which there is no doubt. Whatever his name was, the writer of it was the writer of the Shakespeare plays. Whoever wrote that passage wrote also As You Like It, Ilamlet, King Lear, and Othello, and the rest. And this man, as we have seen, was not the one who felt it necessary to potter over a Promus of elegancies in salutation to justify him in the use of “good morrow.” For, moreover, this man had used this phrase in at least five plays which preceded the Promus and Romeo and Juliet. It occurs (as any one may see by referring to Mrs. Clarke’s Concordance) in Love’s Labour ’s Lost, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Titus Andronicus, King Richard III., and A Midsummer - Night’s Dream, all of which are earlier than Romeo and Juliet, as it should seem that any person who ventured to write upon this subject would know.5 That Romeo and Juliet brought “good morrow ” into use in England as a morning salutation is impossible ; the notion that any writer brought it into use in the reign of Elizabeth, or within centuries of that reign, is, to any person competent to have an opinion upon the subject, ridiculously absurd.

We have, however, not yet seen the extreme of the ignorance which is displayed in this attempt to show that the writer of the Promus was also the writer of Romeo and Juliet. In this folio (111) of the Promus, memorandum 1200 is “rome;” upon which we find the following comment in the Introductory Essay to this volume : —

“ One can scarcely avoid imagining that the solitary word ' rome,’ which is entered six notes (44) farther on in the Promus with a mark of abbreviation over the e, may have been a hint for the name of the bridegroom himself. It has been suggested that ' romẽ ’ may be intended for the Greek work ῥώμη = strength, and that the mark may denote that the vowel (e) is long in quantity. The objection to this suggestion is that Bacon frequently uses a mark of abbreviation, whilst in no other Greek word does he take any heed of quantity ; but were it so, it would not extinguish the possibility that the word may have been intended as a hint for the name of Romeo, alluding perhaps to the strength of the love which is alluded to in the following passages,” etc.

If what we have seen before is amazing, the gravity of this is astounding. A hint for the name of the bridegroom ! An allusion in Greek to the strength of his passion! Why, who that has the slightest and most superficial acquaintance with the origin of Shakespeare’s plays does not know that the name of the bridegroom in this tragedy was furnished by the old poem, of which it is a mere dramatization, — a poem familiar to the people of London for years before the tragedy was produced, or the Promus memorandums written, — and that it came into that poem from a story which had been told and retold by various writers for generations ? The “ name of the bridegroom ” was settled in Italy, centuries before Bacon or Shakespeare could write it. The writer of the tragedy took all its principal personages, and their names with them, from the old poem, and he would not have thought of such a thing as changing the name of its hero. He chose his plot because it was that of the old popular story of the sad fate of the two lovers, — Romeo of the Montagues and Juliet of the Capulets,—with which he wished to please his audience, by putting it before them in a dramatic form. There was no occasion for a hint as to the name of the bridegroom; he had been baptized long before.

It seems very strange to be obliged to treat such fancies even with a semblance of respect; but these are characteristic of the methods by which this foolish fuss is kept up, and is pressed upon the attention of the uninformed, or the more easily deceived half-informed, as if it were a serious literary question.

As to this Promus memorandum “ romẽ,” if it has any connection with Romeo and Juliet, which is not at all probable, it may possibly be of this nature: The Italian pronunciation of Romeo is Romēo ; but Brooke, in his poem Romeus and Juliet, published in 1562 (and consequently Shakespeare in his tragedy), accented it upon the first syllable, whether in the Latin or the Italian form, as will appear by the following passage: —

“ Fayre Juliet tourned to her chayre with plesaunt cheere,
And glad she was her Romeus approched was so neere.
At thone side of her chayre her lover Romeo
And on the other syde there sat one cald Mercutio.”

The distortions of proper names, in this manner, by English writers of the Elizabethan period are monstrous and ridiculous. For example, Robert Greene, a university scholar, not only deprives poor Iphegenia entirely of the ei in her name, I ϕιγηνϵιɑ, but actually pronounces it If-fíj-in-ay:-

“ You ’ll curse the hour wherein you did denay
To join Alphonsus with Iphigena.
And so by marriage of Iphigena
You soon shall drive the danger clear away.”
(Alphonsus, Act III.)

Now it is just not impossible that Bacon, having read Brooke’s poem, or seen Shakespeare’s play, made a memorandum, imperfect and obscure, as to either the proper pronunciation, or the customary English mispronunciation, of the e in Romeo ; but, nevertheless, we may be pretty sure that his “ romẽ ” had no more to do with Romeo than his “ good morrow ” with the appearance of that phrase in Shakespeare’s plays, or its use by English people.

To one stumbling-block in the path of the Bacon-Shakespeare theorists they seem to be quite blind, — the Sonnets. They busy themselves with Bacon’s writings, the plays, and the concordance ; and with their eyes fixed upon the one point which they hope to attain, these headlong literary steeple-chasers, with their noses in the air, look right over this obstacle, which is one of many, each one of which would bring them to the ground. They have little to say about it ; and what they do say is not at all to the purpose. If there is one fact in literary history which, upon moral grounds, upon internal and external evidence, is as certain as any recorded fact in general history, or as any demonstrated mathematical proposition, it is that the writer of the plays was also the writer of the sonnets, both of which bear the name of Shakespeare. In spirit, in manner, and in the use of language, their likeness is so absolute that if either one of the two groups had been published anonymously, there would have been no room for doubt that it was by the writer of the other. Now the sonnets, or a considerable number of them, had been written before the year 1597 ; for, as all students of the literature of the period know, they are mentioned by Francis Meres in his Palladis Tamia, which was published in 1598. They were not then published; they were not written for the public, as Meres tells us; they were not printed until eleven years afterwards, when they were procured for publication in some surreptitious or quasi-surreptitious way. Meres mentions them as Shakespeare’s “ sugred sonnets among his private friends.” Now, if Bacon wrote the plays, he also wrote the sonnets : and consequently we must believe that the lawyer, philosopher, and statesman, who at twenty-six years of age had planned his great system of inductive investigation, who never took his eye from that grand purpose ; who was struggling with unpropitious fortune, who had dilficulty in procuring the means of living in modest conformity to his position as a gentleman of good birth and high connection, who was a hard-working barrister conducting great public as well as private causes, an active member of Parliament, and a scheming, if not an intriguing, courtier, occupied himself, not only in writing plays, for which he might have got a little (for one like him a very little) money, but in writing fanciful sonnets, — not an occasional sonnet or two, but one hundred and fiftyfour sonnets, more than Wordsworth inflicted upon the world, — which were not to be published or put to any profitable use, but which he gave to an actor, to be handed about as his own among his private friends, for their delectation and his own glory. This Bacon did, or he did not write the plays. That he did so is morally impossible ; and indeed the supposition that he could have done so is too monstrously absurd to merit this serious examination of its possibility. Besides all which, there are many of these sonnets, and they by no means the least meritorious or the least characteristic of them, that are of such a nature in their subjects and their language and their allusions that any one at all acquainted with Bacon’s tastes, or his moral nature, would hesitate at accepting them, would revolt from accepting them, as his, even upon positive and direct testimony. Bacon certainly did not write the sonnets ; and therefore, as certainly, he did not write the plays. (It shames me to seem to rest such a decision upon a formula of grave and sober reasoning.) There is no visible avoidance of this conclusion.

And now we are face to face with what is, after all, the great inherent absurdity (as distinguished from evidence and external conditions) of this fantastical notion, — the unlikeness of Bacon’s mind and of his style to those of the writer of the plays. Among all the men of that brilliant period who stand forth in the blaze of its light with sufficient distinction for us, at this time, to know anything of them, no two were so elementally unlike in their mental and moral traits and in their literary habits as Francis Bacon and William Shakespeare ; and each of them stamped his individuality unmistakably upon his work. Both were thinkers of the highest order; both, what we somewhat loosely call philosophers : but how different their philosophy, how divergent their ways of thought, and how notably unlike their modes of expression ! Bacon, a cautious observer and investigator, ever looking at men and things through the dry light of cool reason ; Shakespeare, glowing with instant inspiration, seeing by intuition the thing before him, outside and inside, body and spirit, as it was, yet moulding it as it was to his immediate need,—finding in it merely an occasion of present thought, and regardless of it, except as a stimulus to his fancy and his imagination: Bacon, a logician ; Shakespeare, one who set logic at naught, and soared upon wings, compared with which syllogisms are crutches: Bacon, who sought, in the phrase of Saul of Tarsus, — that Shakespeare of Christianity, — to prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good; Shakespeare, one who, like Saul, loosed upon the world winged phrases, but who recked not his own rede, proved nothing, and held fast both to good and evil, delighting in his Falstaff as much as he delighted in his Imogen: Bacon, in his writing, the most self-asserting of men ; Shakespeare, one who, when he wrote, did not seem to have a self: Bacon, the most cautious and painstaking, the most consistent and exact, of writers ; Shakespeare, the most heedless, the most inconsistent, the most inexact, of all writers who have risen to fame: Bacon, sweet sometimes, sound always, but dry, stiff, and formal; Shakespeare, unsavory sometimes, but oftenest breathing perfume from Paradise, grand, large, free, flowing, flexible, unconscious, and incapable of formality : Bacon, precise and reserved in expression ; Shakespeare, a player and quibbler with words, and swept away by his own verbal conceits into intellectual paradox, and almost into moral obliquity : Bacon, without humor ; Shakespeare’s smiling lips the mouthpiece of humor for all human kind : Bacon, looking at the world before him and at the teaching of past ages with a single eye to his theories and his individual purposes ; Shakespeare, finding in the wisdom and the folly, the woes and the pleasures, of the past and the present only the means of giving pleasure to others and getting money for himself, and rising to his height as a poet and a moral teacher only by his sensitive intellectual sympathy with all the needs and joys and sorrows of humanity : Bacon, shrinking from a generalization even in morals ; Shakespeare, ever moralizing, and dealing even with individual men and particular things in their general relations: both worldly-wise, both men of the world, and both these master intellects of the Christian era were worldly-minded men in the thorough Bunyan sense of the term : but the one using his knowledge of men and things critically in philosophy and in affairs ; the other, his synthetically, as a creative artist: Bacon, a highly trained mind, and showing his training at every step of his cautious, steady march; Shakespeare, wholly untrained, and showing his want of training even in the highest reach of his soaring flight: Bacon, utterly without the poetic faculty even in a secondary degree, as is most apparent when he desires to show the contrary; Shakespeare, rising with unconscious effort to the highest heaven of poetry ever reached by the human mind. To suppose that one of these men did his own work and also the work of the other is to assume two miracles for the sake of proving one absurdity, and to shrink from accepting in the untaught son of the Stratford yeoman a miraculous miracle, that does not defy or suspend the laws of nature.

Many readers of The Atlantic probably know that this notion that our Shakespeare, the Shakespeare of As You Like It and Hamlet and King Lear, was Francis Bacon masking in the guise of a player at the Globe Theatre is not of very recent origin. It was first brought before the public by Miss Delia Bacon (who afterwards deployed her theory in a ponderous volume, with an introduction by Nathaniel Hawthorne, — who did not advocate it) in an article in Putnam’s Magazine for January, 1856. Some time before that article was published, and shortly after the publication of Shakespeare’s Scholar, it was sent to me in proof by the late Mr. George P. Putnam, with a letter calling my attention to its importance, and a request that I would write an introduction to it. After reading it carefully and without prejudice (for I knew nothing of the theory or of its author, and, as I have already said, I am perfectly indifferent as to the name and the personality of the writer of the plays, and had as lief it should have been Francis Bacon as William Shakespeare) I returned the article to Mr. Putnam, declining the proposed honor of introducing it to the public, and adding that, as the writer was plainly neither a fool nor an ignoramus, she must be insane ; not a maniac, but what boys call “ loony.” So it proved: she died a lunatic, and I believe in a lunatic asylum. I record this incident for the first time on this occasion, not at all in the spirit of I-told-you-so, but merely as a fitting preliminary to the declaration that this Bacon-Shakespeare notion is an infatuation ; a literary bee in the bonnets of certain ladies of both sexes, which should make them the objects of tender care and sympathy. It will not be extinguished at once ; on the contrary, it may become a mental epidemic. For there is no notion, no fancy or folly, which may not be developed into a “ movement,” or even into a " school,” by iteration and agitation. I do not despair of seeing a Bacon-Shakespeare Society, with an array of vice-presidents of both sexes, that may make the New Shakspere Society look to its laurels. None the less, however, is it a lunacy, which should be treated with all the skill and the tenderness which modern medical science and humanity has developed. Proper retreats should be provided, and ambulances kept ready, with horses harnessed ; and when symptoms of the Bacon-Shakespeare craze manifest themselves, the patient should be immediately carried, off to the asylum, furnished with pens, ink, and paper, a copy of Bacon’s works, one of the Shakespeare plays, and one of Mrs. Cowden-Clarke’s Concordance (and that good lady is largely responsible for the development of this harmless mental disease, and other “ fads ” called Shakespearean) ; and the literary results, which would be copious, should be received for publication with deferential respect, and then — committed to the flames. In this way the innocent victims of the malady might be soothed and tranquillized, and the world protected against the debilitating influence of tomes of tedious twaddle.

As to treating the question seriously, that is not to be done by men of common sense and moderate knowledge of the subject. Even the present not very serious, or, I fear, sufficiently considerate, examination of it (to which I was not very ready, as the editor of the Atlantic will hear witness) provokes me to say almost with Henry Percy’s words, that I could divide myself and go to buffets for being moved by such a dish of skimmed milk to so honorable an action. It is as certain that William Shakespeare wrote (after the theatrical fashion and under the theatrical conditions of his day) the plays which bear his name as it is that Francis Bacon wrote the Novum Organum, the Advancement of Learning, and the Essays. The notion that Bacon also wrote Titus Andronicus, The Comedy of Errors, Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello is not worth five minutes’ serious consideration by any reasonable creature.

Richard Grant White.

  1. Or who spring to life in the discovery that Hamlet should say that he is “ to the manor born.” I have certainly received fifty letters, indeed many more than fifty, suggesting this new reading. A man who could make it should no more be trusted with a copy of Shakespeare than a boy of nine years old with a revolving razor.
  2. See Evenings with a Reviewer, by James Spedding, 2 vols. 8vo, 1883: see also The Personal History of Lord Bacon, by Hepworth Dixon.
  3. The Promus of Formularies and Elegancies (being private notes, circa 1594, hitherto unpublished)of Francis Bacon, illustrated and elucidatedby passages from. Shakespeare. By MRS. HENRY POTT. With Preface by E. A. ABBOTT, D. D. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.
  4. So mut [or mote] I thee = so might I thrive; so may I prosper.
  5. What ignorance may, and generally does, accompany the effort to transmute Shakespeare into Bacon is shown here in regard to this very question of the date of the production of Romeo and Juliet. It is remarked in the Introductory Essay (page 68), “The publication of Romeo and Juliet is fixed at 1597, and its composition has been usually ascribed to 1594-5. . . . Recently, however, Dr. Delius has proposed the date 1592 for the composition of Romeo and Juliet, on the ground that a certain earthquake which took place in 1580 is alluded to by the Nurse (I. iii.) as having happened eleven years ago.” Wonderful discovery on the part of the German doctor! Wonderful discovery of the German doctor by our editress! This point as to the bearing of the Nurse’s earthquake on the date of the play vas made by Tyrwhitt more than a hundred years ago, and has been discussed by every considerable editor since. The notes upon it in Furness’s variorum edition of Romeo and Juliet fill two pages. Proposed by Dr. Delius! But if ignorant English-speaking folk will run after strange gods, they cannot complain if they are led into trouble.