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have been the case with Bacon. That the fruit should come first and remain till the last, and the blossom not appear till late, is so contrary to nature, that we may well pause and inquire whether this was really the case, or did but seem to be so.
Upon the orange-tree we may observe the bud, the blossom, and the fruit in every stage of ripeness, all exhibited in one plant at the same time, although each individually has, in its production, observed the exact order prescribed by nature. But when the plant is in this state, what hinders that the gardener should not gather fruit and flower at the same time, and appropriate each to its several use? And how diverse and remote may their several uses be!
The stentorian orator in the City Forum, who, restoring his voice with the luscious fruit, continues his harangue to the applauding multitude,little reflects, that the delicate blossom which grew by its side, and was gathered at the same time, decorates the fair brow of the fainting bride in the far-off village church. Nature is always true to herself: her order was not reversed in the case of Bacon. The bud, the blossom, the flower, and the fruit, each came in its proper and accustomed order, and grew and flourished long together. But what if, like a prudent husbandman, he sent each
to its appropriate market—the flowers of his fancy, to the wits and the players; the fruits of his judgment, to the sages and statesmen of his day? This peculiarity, remarked upon by Mr. Macaulay, tends greatly to confirm the probability of the theory we are advocating. The theatre seems to have been a necessity of Bacon's spiritual existence, as affording a safety-valve by which he was able to let off the superfluous wit, which would otherwise, doubtless, have exploded in a manner totally destructive to the reputation, which at that early period of his life he was endeavouring to build up.
We attribute, then, the gravity of Bacon's early style, to the nature of his position and the character of the age. The times of Elizabeth and James are often mentioned together, as though they were identical, yet few proximate periods are more dissimilar. The gloomy fanaticism of the Commonwealth was scarcely more opposed to the gay licentiousness of the Restoration, than the wisdom and discretion of the days of Elizabeth to the pedantry and folly of those of James.
In the former, learned men studied only how best to employ their learning; in the latter, men equally learned, studied only how best to display it. Events were so stirring in the days of Elizabeth, that to those engaged in the business of the state, feigned catastrophes might well seem impertinent, and poetry be for the time disregarded. The commoner sort of people doubtless had a keen appreciation of it, and wise rulers have ever paid some attention to popular feeling; hence the toleration of professed actors and a public playhouse.
But the writing of plays, as the acting of them, was considered by the better sort "a toy," which might be practised as a pastime and recreation, but which conferred neither honour nor distinction upon the maker or performer.
In that age, as Coleridge truly observes, the law, the church, and the state, engrossed all honour and respectability; a degree of disgrace—levior quædam infamiæ macula—was attached to the publication of poetry, and even to have sported with the muse as a private relaxation, was supposed to be, a venial fault indeed, but something beneath the gravity 0. a wise man. The professed writers for the stage in the days of Elizabeth,were all men of talent, most of them members of the universities, and some clergymen; but, with hardly an exception, they were men of licentious lives, depraved habits, and ruined characters—pests of society, shunned by all the respectable portion of the community.
EVIDENCE IN FAVOUR OF
The main evidence in favour of Shakespeare having been the author of these plays, is—
The fact of his name always having been attached to and associated with them.
Mere's mention of him in Wit's Commonwealth.
Basse's elegy the only one supposed to have been written near the time of his decease.
The passage in the Return from Parnassus.
Ben Jonson's testimony in his Discoveries, and his verses published with the folio of 1623.
All the other testimonies are subsequent to the publication of the collection of plays, and have reference to them, and not to the individual man, or else are worthless traditions, which, whether true or false, would serve as incidents to eke out a life or biography, but do nothing towards elucidating the authorship of the plays. Hallam observes, “I laud the labours of Mr. Collier, Mr. Hunter, and other collectors of such crumbs, though I am not sure that we should not venerate Shakespeare as much if they had left him undisturbed in his obscurity. To be told that he played a trick to a brother player in a licentious amour, or that he died of a drunken frolic, as a stupid vicar of Stratford recounts (long after the time) in his diary, does not exactly inform us of the man who wrote Lear. If there was a Shakespeare of earth (as I suspect), there was also one of heaven; and it is of him we desire to know something.”—1842.
In fact, every accession of information we obtain respecting the man Shakespeare, renders it more and more difficult to detect in him the poet.
The evidence of Ben Jonson is so much more direct than
source, that, as we intend to impugn it, we do not esteem it necessary to grapple with the others.
In his Discoveries Jonson writes :-“I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that in his writings (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, Would he had blotted a thousand! which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this but for their ignorance, who chose that circumstance to commend