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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Bacon–Shakespeare Craze
By Richard Grant White (1822–1885)
 
From ‘Studies in Shakespeare’

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 all 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.  1
  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 molding 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 his plays 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, often 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, merely 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,—for 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 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,—one that does not defy or suspend the laws of nature.  2
  Many readers of these pages 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.  3
  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 Shakespeare Society look to its laurels. None the less, however, is it a lunacy, which should be treated with all the skill and tenderness which modern medical science and humanity have 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.  4
  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, but much the contrary) 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.’ We know this as well as we know any fact in history. 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.  5
 
 
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