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if defence can be needed against such a charge-has waited anxiously for some time, hoping that a champion better qualified to undertake the vindication of the mighty dead, now wantonly and wilfully assailed, would have come to the rescue. None have taken up the gauntlet so deliberately thrown down before us ; and he cannot suffer it to be said, that when, in the nineteenth century, dark suspicions were breathed against the character of William Shakespeare, no Englishman could be found to hurl them back at the head of the detractor. The platitudes of M. Ponsard, who drivelled the other day at Paris, about “the divine Williams," as only self-satisfied but incompetent critics can do, were too contemptible to require notice; but Mr. Williarn Henry Smith, though evidently a critic of the same class, cannot be allowed to perpetrate his follies without rebuke.
The French critic may be excused for not fully understanding the character or appreciating the genius of Shakespeare ; but the Englishman, who, at this advanced stage of Shakespearian investigation, has no adequate idea of either the one or the other, can plead nothing save wilful blindness, or hopeless obtuseness, in extenuation of his extraordinary ignorance. No inducement should lead such a one to set himself up as a teacher; and many people will doubtless assert that an offender of this class and calibre is beneath notice ; and that no well-educated man, acquainted either with the dramas of Shakespeare, the writings of Bacon, or the literary history of the Elizabethan period, can possibly be misled by his shallow speculations.
This is, to a certain extent, true; but we must not forget that Shakespeare has become a beloved and honoured guest in the cottages and hamlets of the land; that his name is dear to thousands of the humble and the lowly, who have neither the means nor the leisure which will admit of their diving deeply into his history, and to investigate accusations brought against him; and
for such persons in particular the author is now induced to take
his pen. Cheap literature has introduced the works of our great dramatist to all classes of his countrymen; it has opened unimagined mines of intellectual wealth to the enraptured gaze of once neglected sections of the community, and it has sunk shafts through the grim haunts of ignorance and crime, letting in the glorious rays of wisdom and intelligence. Wherever Englishmen go, they carry with them their English Bible and their English Shakespeare; and neither of these can suffer to be lightly spoken of or undervalued. The former we defend on account of its divine origin, as the source of all our hopes; the latter, as the most precious of uninspired writings.
Moreover, it is fit and proper that the high priests of literature should be protected from irreverent and wanton assault. Let these, his new admirers in the lower, but not, on that account, less honourable, ranks of life, know that the Shakespeare whose magic power holds them spellbound in amazement and admiration, is not the greatest literary impostor the world ever saw. Nor is it only the humbler class of readers that may be misled by such vagaries. Even the acute and sagacious editor of that deservedly popular periodical, Notes and Queries, falls into the snare, and, apparently without reflecting upon the infamy that must for ever rest upon the names of Bacon and Shakespeare, supposing that Mr. William Henry Smith were able to substantiate his charges, says, with reference to this pamphlet,—“ It is a Letter to the Earl of Ellesmere, suggesting whether the plays attributed to Shakespeare were not in reality written by Bacon. The author has overlooked two points : one, the fact that his theory had been anticipated by an American writer; the second, one which certainly tells strongly in favour of his theory, and which has been on several occasions alluded to in these columns, namely, the very remarkable circumstance that nowhere in the writings of Shakspeare porary."*
is any allusion to Bacon to be met with ; nor in the writings of the great philosopher is there the slightest reference to his wonderful and most philosophic contem
We are willing to allow Mr. William Henry Smith to make the most of this admission, but how it can possibly prove, either directly or indirectly, that Bacon wrote Shakespeare, or Shakespeare Bacon, we are at a loss to conceive. The former must have gone considerably out of his way to drag the greatest of modern philosophers into his dramas; and, as regards Bacon, he may have felt an influence which he did not choose to acknowledge. Such strange admissions from authorities highly qualified to give an opinion, and in every way entitled to respect, render it expedient that the question should be set at rest without delay, and that it should be clearly shown not only that Mr. William Henry Smith's arguments are untenable—that they are altogether without foundation, but that it is absolutely and utterly impossible, in the teeth of the evidence that we actually possess, that any one but William Shakespeare could have written the dramas that have been for more than two centuries attributed to him. Many years' earnest and affectionate study of the works of Shakespeare have served to increase the author's esteem and admiration for the great and commanding superiority of his genius over that of all other gifted men, and he has no hesitation in asserting, what he is prepared to prove ; namely, that Shakespeare merits that general tribute of affection and admiration which he has won. It is a most remarkable fact, that
particular brought to light concerning his career becomes an additional witness in his favour.
The more learn of Shakespeare, the higher does our admiration rise ; the nearer we get at the truth, the fairer does the truth appear. Every advance made in our inves
* Notes and Queries, Second Series, No. 42. Notes on Books,
tigations serves to remove a blemish from his portrait ; and were it not that fresh calumnies are invented as the old ones disappear, a defence of our great national bard would be at this moment unnecessary. Vain is: it for this last assailant of the reputation of the mighty dead to plead the controversy that has arisen respecting the authorship of the Letters of Junius at his excuse for starting this question. Junius was a writer who did not wish to be known, and the public were, naturally enough, anxious to strip off the mask ; but we have no reason for entertaining the slightest doubt that Shakespeare was the author of at least the majority of the dramas that bear his name.
The writers who laboured to establish the identity of Junius endeavoured to clear up a mystery, in the solution of which all Englishmen had an interest. He was an anonymous censor, who gloried in his secret, boasting that he would carry it with him to the grave ; and he thus threw out a challenge to every member of the community. It was a fair game at hide-and-seek between him and the public; the former did his best to evade detection, the latter to unearth the literary fox. Circumstances pointed at various times to different persons ; and even when a mistake was made, no great harm was done. A temperate denial from some one able to speak with certainty upon the matter, or the silent yet not less certain testimony of evidence called circumstantial, turned pursuit in another direction; and if to this hour the authorship of those Letters, that created a wonderful sensation at the time of publication, and have excited so many keen encounters of wit, and provoked such animated controversies at intervals during the last fifty years, remains to a certain extent
a mystery, the memories of the dead lie under no grievous imputations on that account. An anonymous author is one thing ; and a man who appropriates the reputation that does not belong to him another.
If the dramas of Shakespeare were really written by Bacon, the former is the greatest of all impostors, and the latter the basest of deceivers. Mr. William Henry Smith seeks to consign these men to eternal degradation ; he would have us believe that the lives of both were a series of palpable deceits, an acted lie. To the hour that Mr. William Henry Smith poured forth his dark suspicions, no critic, commentator, nor editor, had ventured to hint that William Shakespeare was not the author of the dramas published under his name. Certain crude and disconnected pieces, that have been foisted upon him by interested publishers, were indeed rejected by the most discerning critics; but the question, as it now stands, deals not with particular dramas, but the whole collection. The English people are asked to subscribe to the preposterous theory, that the poet, whon, of all others, they admire and respect, is no poet at all, and that for two centuries, students and commentators have been groping in the dark, and erecting a monument to a man who practised one of the vilest deceptions of which human nature is capable; and who added to the degradation of being a base-minded upstart, that of seeking to appropriate to himself the fame and the honour which belonged by right to another.
What the public in general think of the matter, will be seen from the following letter, published in the Illustrated London News, of January 10, under the signature of “ John Bull;"
"I won't have Bacon. I will have my own cherished • Will.' 'I have borne a great deal, and never changed
I have seen him chipped, mauled, befribbled and overdone. I have seen upholsterers and classic managers cloud his glories in fustian and explanations. I have heard shouts against his anachronisms, and anathemas against his want of the unities and ignorance of Greek ; but never thought that an Englishman, and a Smith,' would try to prove that he was a swindler, a