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families, (being both maried and of good reputation) as well as the widowes and orphanes of some of their dead fellows.—Your Lo. most bounden at com. “ Copia vera.”
Attempts have been made to cast suspicions upon the genuineness of this remarkable document; and Mr. Halliwell, in his new and magnificent folio edition of Shakespeare, does not accord to it that free and genial reception which it undoubtedly deserves. This gentleman seenis to have forgotten that since its publication many of the new facts which it revealed have been corroborated in a most unexpected manner. The discovery afforded the indefatigable Mr. Collier no mean satisfaction, and he was perfectly justified in believing that it would prove an acceptable offering to the student and admirer of Shakespeare.
The arguments in favour of and against the genuineness of the document in question have been very fairly investigated and weighed by Charles Knight, who sums up in the following terms :
“We have stated frankly, and without reserve, the objections to the authenticity of this document which have presented themselves to our mind. It is better to state these fully and fairly, than to 'hint a doubt.' Looking at the decided character of the external evidence as to the discovery, and taking into consideration the improbability of a spurious paper having been smuggled into the company of the Bridgewater documents, we are inclined to confide in it. But, apart from the interesting character of the letter, and the valuable testimony which it gives to the nature of the intercourse between Southampton and Shakspere—my especial friend,'—we might lay it aside with reference to its furnishing any new materials for the life of the poet, with the exception of
* This letter was first published in “ New Facts regarding the Life of Shakespeare,” by J. Payne Collier, 1835, p. 32.
the statement that he and Burbage were · both of one county.' Confiding in it, as we are anxious to do, we accept it as a valuable illustration of that life. We have on several occasions referred to the letter of H. S. ; and in this examination we can have no wish to neutralize our own inferences from its genuineness. These, however, in this biography, have reference only to the assertion, 1st, That Burbage and Shakspere were of one county, and almost of one town : This was a conjecture made by Malone. 2nd. That there was deep friendship between Southampton and Shakspere : This is an old traditionary belief, supported by the dedications of · Venus and Adonis,' and the "Lucrece.' 3rd. That Shakspere left the stage previous to 1608 : This differs little from the prevailing opinion, that he quitted it before 1605, founded upon his name not appearing to a play of Ben Jonson in that year.”*
This may be regarded as conclusive, and is another fatal blow to Mr. William Henry Smith's preposterous theory; to all, in fact, who wish to tear the poet's wreath from his benign and august brow. Lord Southampton must have known the particulars of the gigantic literary fraud which, according to Mr. William Henry Smith, Bacon and Shakespeare had concocted between them, and would not, as a man of honour, have gone out of his way to pen several unblushing falsehoods, and send them to some person high in authority. Lord Southampton is the witness to whom Mr. William Henry Smith appeals ; and this is his testimony on three points. 1st, that Shakespeare not only deserved favour, but was his " ESPECIAL FRIEND.” 2ndly, that Shakespeare was “ till of late an actor of good account in the companie, now a sharer in the same:" and 3rdly, that he was the “WRITER OF SOME OF OUR BEST ENGLISH PLAYES, which, as your lordship
* William Shakspere. A Biography. Book ii, chap. x. note, p. 500.
knoweth, were most singularly liked of Queen Elizabeth.” Never was witness summoned who gave more conclusive evidence. Shakespeare's character, pursuits, and his triumphs, are detailed in a few pithy sentences.
This letter was, we know from internal evidence, written in 1608 ; and if Bacon had composed, or even lent his assistance in the composition of these dramas, as Mr. William Henry Smith supposes, the Earl of Southampton, the friend of both Bacon and Shakespeare, must have been acquainted with the fact, and he would have recoiled from lending his name to prop up a falsehood, more particularly one that circumstances might at any time have unveiled. This evidence settles the matter. It not only shows the Baconian theory to be a snare and a delusion, for that would be but a questionable victory; it establishes the fact, that William Shakespeare, and William Shakespeare alone, was the author of those delightful productions which have added a charm to the existence of so many generations of his countrymen.
Of Shakespeare's sonnets and minor poems it is scarcely necessary to speak. They were published with his name; and had it been otherwise, the internal evidences they contain of having proceeded from the same mental laboratory which produced the “ Venus and Adonis,” the “ Lucrece,” and the dramas, would enable us to assign them to him without the slightest hesitation.
Two very erroneous impressions are prevalent amongst many who have not made any deep researches into our literature and its history; the one being, that Shakespeare was not much esteemed as an author in his own day, and the other, that his poems are, on the whole, very inferior productions. As these are altogether unfounded, we may render a service to some of our readers by adducing evidence, of the best and simplest kind, showing the actual state of the case.
William Shakespeare was frequently mentioned by his contemporaries ; but we do not intend to refer categori
cally to all these numerous allusions. We prefer quoting the remarks of an author entitled to consideration, who gives the modern reader a fair idea of the estimation in which the poet was held about 1598, when he was in his thirty-fifth year. If people will reflect upon the wide difference between the state of literature in the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries, and call to mind how few celebrated men in the present day, with all the facilites which they enjoy for the circulation of their productions, achieve distinction before completing their thirty-fifth year, they will have a better conception of the real character of Shakespeare's fame, and of the importance of the position which he had attained, when even quite a young man. It has long been the fashion among certain classes of critics to bolster up the false notion that Shakespeare, as an author, was comparatively unknown in his own day, and that his merits were only recognized after a tedious lapse of time. Nothing can be more directly at variance with the truth, as we learn from evidence that is above suspicion. In 1598, Francis Meres, a clergyman, educated at Cambridge, put forth a small critical work, bearing the following quaint title, “ Palladis Tamia ; Wit's Treasury, being the second Part of Wit's Commonwealth ;” and in this book Shakespeare is honourably noticed. Our poet is not only mentioned several times by name, but always with high commendation. One instance will suffice to show this. Meres says :
“As the soule of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras :* so the sweete wittie-soule of Ovid lives in
* For the benefit of readers not versed in classical allusions, the following explanation from “Smith's Classical Dictionary” is appended :-“Euphorbus, a son of Panthous, and brother of Hyperenor, who was one of the bravest among the Trojans. He was the first who wounded Patroclus, but was afterwards slain by Menelaus, who subsequently dedicated the shield of Euphorbus in the temple of Hera, near Mycenæ. It is a well-known story, that Pythagoras asserted that he had once been the Trojan Euphorbus ; that from a
mellifluous and honytongued Shakespeare, witnes his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred Sonnets among his private friends, &c.
“ As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for Comedy and Tragedy among the Latines : so Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage ; for Comedy, witnes his Gentlemen of Verona, his Errors, * his Love labors lost, his Love labours wonnent his Midsummers Night Dreame, and his Merchant of Venice : for Tragedy his Richard the Second, Richard the Third, Henry the Fourth, King John, Titus Andronicus, and his Romeo and Juliet.
“As Epius Stolof said, that the Muses would speake with Plautus tongue if they would speak Latin : so I say that the Muses would speak with Shakespeare's fine filed phrase, if they would speake English." S
Francis Meres, the poet's contemporary, states explicitly that William Shakespeare was the author both of the poems and of the plays. The critic even goes farther than this, and enumerates certain poems and plays that Shakespeare had written. The manner in which this is done, justifies the conclusion that Meres was perfectly well informed upon the subject. Shakespeare's Sonnets were not published until 1609, yet in 1598 he speaks of them confidently as “his sugred Sonnets among his private friends.” Thus Shakespeare was recognized by his contemporaries as a poet, and elevated by them to the highest rank.
A reputation of this kind is not easily achieved ;
Trojan he had become an Ionian ; and from a warrior a philosopher.” Pythagoras was the author of that system the principal feature of which is a belief in the transmigration of souls.
* Comedy of Errors.
# The grammarian L. Ælius Stilo used to say, and Varro adopted his words, “ that the Muses would use the language of Plautus if they were to speak Latin.”-Smith's Classical Dictionary.