Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Her Initiation of the Shakespeare-Bacon Controversy
By Delia Bacon (18111859)
[Born in Tallmadge, Ohio, 1811. Died at Hartford, Conn., 1859. William Shakespeare and his Plays; an Inquiry concerning them.Contributed to Putnams Monthly Magazine, January, 1856.]
THERE was one moment in which all the elements of the national genius that are now separated and incorporated in institutions as wide apart, at least, as earth and heaven, were held together, and that in their first vigor, pressed from without into their old Greek conjunction. That moment there was; it is chronicled; we have one word for it; we call itShakespeare.
Has the time come at last, or has it not yet come, in which this message of the new time can be laid open to us? This message from the lips of one endowed so wondrously with skill to utter it; endowed, not with the speakers melodious tones and subduing harmonies only, but with the teachers divinely glowing heart, with the ambition that seeks its own in all, with the love that is sweeter than the tongues of men and angels. Are we, or are we not, his legatees? Surely this new summing up of all the real questions of our common life, from such an elevation in it, this new philosophy of all mens business and desires, cannot be without its perpetual vital uses. For, in all the points on which the demonstration rests, these diagrams from the dissolving views of the past are still included in the problems of the present.
And if, in this new and more earnest research into the true ends and meanings of this greatest of our teachers, the poor player who was willing enough to assume the responsibility of these works, while they were still playstheatrical exhibitions only, and quite in his line for the time; who might, indeed, be glad enough to do it for the sake of the princely patronage that henceforth encompassed his fortunes, even to the granting of a thousand pounds at a time, if that were needed to complete his purchaseif this good man, sufficiently perplexed already with the developments which the modern criticism has by degrees already laid at his door, does here positively refuse to go any further with us on this road, why een let us shake hands with him and part, he as his business and desire shall point him, for every man hath business and desire, such as it is, and not without a grateful recollection of the good service he has rendered us.
The publisher of these plays let his name go down still and to all posterity on the cover of it. They were his plays. He brought them out,he and his firm. They took the scholars text, that dull black and white, that mere ink and paper, and made of it a living, speaking, many-colored, glittering reality, which even the groundlings of that time could appreciate, in some sort. What was Hamlet to them, without his inky cloak and his forest of feathers and his razed shoes and the roses on them? And they came out of this mans baghe was the owner of the wardrobe and of the other stage properties. He was the owner of the manuscripts; and if he came honestly by them, whose business was it to enquire any further, then? If there was no one who chose, just then, to claim the authorship of them, whose else should they be? Was not the actor himself a poet, and a very facetious one, too? Witness the remains of him, the incontestable poetical remains of him, which have come down to us. What if his ill-natured contemporaries, whose poetic glories he was eclipsing forever with those new plays of his, did assail him on his weak points, and call him, in the face of his time, a Johannes Factotum, and held up to public ridicule his particular style of acting, plainly intimating that it was chargeable with that very fault which the prince of Denmark directs his tragedians to omitdid not the blundering editor of that piece of offensive criticism get a decisive hint from some quarter, that he might better have withheld it; and was it not humbly retracted and hushed up directly? Some of the earlier anonymous plays, which were included in the collection published, after this players decease, as the plays of William Shakespeare, are, indeed, known to have been produced anonymously at other theatres, and by companies with which this actor had never any connection; but the poets company and the players were, as it seems, two different things; and that is a fact which the criticism and history of these plays, as it stands at present, already exhibits. Several of the plays which form the nucleus of the Shakespeare drama had already been brought out, before the Stratford actor was yet in a position to assume that relation to it which proved so advantageous to his fortunes. Such a nucleus of the Shakespeare drama there was already, when the name which this actor bore, with such orthographical variations as the purpose required, began to be assumed as the name and device of that new sovereignty of genius which was then first rising and kindling behind its cloud, and dimming and overflowing with its greater glory all the less, and gilding all it shone on. The machinery of these theatrical establishments offered, indeed, the most natural and effective, as well as, at that time, on other accounts, the most convenient mode of exhibition for that particular class of subjects which the genius of this particular poet naturally inclined him to meddle with. He had the most profoundly philosophical reasons for preferring that mode of exhibiting his poems, as will be seen hereafter.
And, when we have once learned to recognize the actors true relations to the works which have given to his name its anomalous significance, we shall be prepared, perhaps, to accept, at last, this great offer of aid in our readings of these works, which has been lying here now two hundred and thirty years, unnoticed; then, and not till then, we shall be able to avail ourselves, at last, of the aid of those friends of his, to whom, two hundred and thirty years ago, knowing that his wit could no more lie hid than it could be lost, the editors of the first printed collection of these works venture to refer us; those other friends of his, whom, IF WE NEED, can be our guides; and, IF WE NEED THEM NOT, we are able to lead ourselves and others, and such readers they wish him.
If we had accepted either of these two conditionsif we had found ourselves with those who need this offered guidance, or with those who need it notif we had but gone far enough in our readings of these works to feel the want of that aid, from exterior sources, which is here proffered usthere would not have been presented to the world, at this hour, the spectaclethe stupendous spectacleof a nation referring the origin of its dramaa drama more noble, and learned, and subtle than the Greekto the inventionthe accidental, unconscious inventionof a stupid, ignorant, illiterate, third-rate play-actor.
If we had, indeed, but applied to these works the commonest rules of historical investigation and criticism, we might, ere this, have been led to enquire, on our own account, whether this player here, who brought them out, might not possibly, in an age like that, like the player in Hamlet, have had some friend, or friends, who could, an if they would, or an if they might, explain his miracles to us, and the secret of his poor cell.
If we had accepted this suggestion, the true Shakespeare would not have been now to seek. In the circle of that patronage with which this players fortunes brought him in contact, in that illustrious company of wits and poets, we need not have been at a loss to find the philosopher who writes, in his prose as well, and over his own name also,
we should have found one, at least, furnished for that last and ripest proof of learning which the drama, in the unmiraculous order of the human development, must constitute; that proof of it in which philosophy returns from history, from its noblest fields, and from her last analysis, with the secret and material of the creative synthesiswith the secret and material of art. With this direction, we should have been able to identify, ere this, the Philosopher who is only the Poet in disguisethe Philosopher who calls himself the New Magicianthe Poet who was toiling and plotting to fill the globe with his Arts, and to make our common, every-day human life poeticalwho would have all our life, and not a part of it, learned, artistic, beautiful, religious.
We should have found, ere this, ONE, with learning broad enough, and deep enough, and subtle enough, and comprehensive enough, one with nobility of aim and philosophic and poetic genius enough, to be able to claim his own, his own immortal progenyundwarfed, unblinded, undeprived of one ray or dimple of that all-pervading reason that informs them; one who is able to reclaim them, even now, cured and perfect in their limbs, and absolute in their numbers, as he conceived them.