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In these days, perhaps, there needs be no apology for writing a book. But a book without a preface, like a dinner without a grace, would seem to be uncivil. Let us have, at least, “ so much as will serve to be prologue to an egg and butter." This book must speak for itself: I did not see any good reason why it should not be printed. It may be, that the belles-letters critics will think little of it, or the trade still less, or the fixed orthodoxies, that it ought never to have been written at all, or the philosophers, that it is no great affair at best. But inasmuch as thought and knowledge among men lie stratified, as it were, like the densities of the ocean, or the air, in gradations infinite between the lower deeps and the higher realms, this book, like any other that is thrown into the flowing sea of things, may find its own level and so float somewhere ; howsoever that level should come near to measuring the weight of book, writer, and reader. It does not presume to contain anything that is positively new, or that was unknown before : it claims only to state things in its own way. I have sometimes thought I had hit upon a new idea, or discovered a new fact, but I was pretty sure to find the same thing stated, or glanced at, in a week or so, in some newspaper, or in some book, new or old, and for that matter (it might be) as old as the
hieroglyphics. If some things in this book should be new to some readers, they will bear in mind the saying of Plato, that “what is strange is the result of ignorance in the case of all”; and if, to others, some things should appear to be either not new, or, if new, not true, they will, of course, exercise the common privilege and judge for themselves.
Doubtless there have been many who could never rest satisfied with the story of William Shakespeare, any more than a Coleridge, or a Schlegel; nor attain to any
clear solution of the problem, that the spontaneous genius of a born poet, without the help of much learning, should come to see deeper into all the mysteries of God, Nature, and Man, and write better about the universal world, than the most accomplished scholars, critics, and philosophers, and be himself still unaware that he had done anything remarkable, wholly indifferent to fame (what might be no great wonder), and even (what may be more to the point) utterly heedless of the preservation of works which the author, howsoever he might deem them to be but trifles idly cast from him, could not but know to be “ the wanton burthen of the prime” and the best in that kind) of the age in which he lived, or of many ages :
as if he had been one,
" whose hand,
an unparalleled mortal, indeed! - nor of that other problem, that a common under - actor should turn poet, and, rummaging over the hereditary lumber of the play - house, should gather up the best of the traditional material, and through the limbec of his
capacious brain distil the quintessence of British genius from time immemorial, - a truly representative man, forsooth! Incredulous men that have been born as well as poets, and perhaps never believed so much as the tale about Santa Claus, not to speak of many other prodigious miracles, may have preferred to disbelieve all the biographers, critics, and teachers; or, if still believing them, to deny, flatly, in the outset, without further question, or any particular search, that there could be, or was, anything so very great in this Shakespeare drama after all; or they may even have tried to persuade themselves that this ingenious actor had, by frequent hearing, caught the manner of the stage, and learned like a parrot to imitate the tone, style, and diction of tragedy and comedy alike; still believing that no deep learning, no superior wisdom, no high art, and no divine revelation, beyond the natural flow of good native wit and sense, was to be found in these plays, and that what little learning the author had, was all borrowed, or picked up about the streets and theatres, allowing only that he was gifted with some sharp powers of observation, “a facetious grace in writing," and a pretty large amount of faculty in general. And so, not imagining that the highest and best things could spontaneously well up in such a man as from an original fountain of inspiration, they may have laid him up on a shelf, and never afterwards looked for such things in his works; and the jewels that lay scattered within sight may have been passed by unseen, as if they had been pearls cast before swine :
“ 'T is very pregnant, The jewel that we find, we stoop and take 't,
Because we see it; but what we do not see,
Meas. for Meas., Act II. Sc. 1. Bacon found it to be just so with the history of Winds ; for, says he, “it is evident, that the dullness of men is such and so infelicitous, that when things are put before their feet, they do not see them, unless admonished, but pass right on.” It would stand to reason, that the most precious things would not be strewn abroad thus by a mere swine-herd, if they had not come into his possession in an accidental or some other way, and without his having much knowledge of their real value; nor by a coney-catching, beer-drinking idler, or a common play-actor, or even a prosperous stage-manager. It must be admitted that learning does not come by instinct; nor can sensible men be made to believe that high philosophy can come by fantastic miracle. There never was any royal road to mathematics, though there have been very royal mathematicians.
An article appeared in Putnam's Magazine for January 1856 (afterwards known to have been writ. ten by Delia Bacon), in which some general considerations were set forth with much eloquence and ability, why William Shakespeare could not have written the plays which have been attributed to him; and the opinion was also pretty distinctly intimated, that Lord Bacon was the real author of them, or, at least, that he had had some hand in the work; but no proofs were then adduced. Being much struck with this idea, and for my own satisfaction, I began to look for the evidence on which such a proposition might rest, and finding it very considerable, and indeed quite amazing, I had thrown my
notes into some form, before the publication of Miss Bacon's work in 1857.1 Her book not appearing to have satisfied the critical world of the truth of her theory, much more than the “ Letter to Lord Ellesmere,” by Mr. William Henry Smith, I have thought it worth while to give them the results of my studies also, which have been considerably extended, since that date; and if enough be not found herein to settle the question on impregnable grounds, it may at least tend to exculpate them from any supposition of mental aberration in so far as they have ascribed this authorship to Francis Bacon. But I do not at all agree with her opinion that any other person had a hand in the work : on the contrary, I will endeavor to show that the whole genuine canon of Shakespeare was written by this one and the same author.
It may be that some persons have been already convinced of this fact : but the critics appear to be agreed in rejecting the theory altogether. More direct and palpable proofs seem to be required; for this “our Shakespeare” was not to be stripped of the peerless mantle he had worn unquestioned for above two centuries and a half, on mere generalities, however conclusive to the mind of the philosophical thinker. Certainly, if he is to be put on trial for his name and reputation, he has a right to be confronted with the proofs in the high court of criticism ; and his jury, which is the great republic of letters, will require the best and the most ample evidence to be produced, before they will agree to disrobe him of all his honors. On nothing less than proof, the most positive, direct, and complete, will those “ foreign
1 Philosophy of the Plays of Shakspere Unfolded. By Delia Bacon, with . Preface by Nathaniel Hawthorne. London and Boston, 1857.