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ATHENÆUM AND OTHER OBJECTORS
Having candidly communicated and, we trust, successfully combatted the main objection urged by our adversary, we feel ourself at liberty to quote the arguments he has adduced in our behalf.
“We believe," writes the editor of the Atheneum (Sept. 13, 1856), “that a very plausible case could be made against the assumed authorship of William Shakespeare by any one with knowledge of the times. There is, for example, the one great fact to begin with-Shakespeare never claimed the plays as his own. His poems he claimed, and his sonnets he claimed; and there is an undoubted difficulty in understanding how a man who cared about Lucrece and Venus and Adonis, could be negligent about Hamlet and Othello. Yet Shakespeare was unquestionably indifferent about the dramas which were played in his name at the
theatres and at the court, and died without seeing the most remarkable series of intellectual works which ever issued from the brain of man, set in the custody of type. In the second place, the plays contain many lines which allude, or which we fancy allude, to passing events—such as Coke's brutality on Raleigh's trial, the three thous so keenly caricatured in Twelfth Night, and many more; and it is natural to infer that these allusions came from some one higher in station than a poor player—from Bacon, who hated Coke, or from Raleigh, who smarted under his insolence. In the third place, some of the references of contemporaries to Shakespeare admit of being tortured into a charge, that he did not invent the dramas which appeared under his name :-for example, when Greene says, in his Groat's-worth of Wit,—There is an upstart crow beautified in our feathers, in his own conceit the only Shakescene in a country,' what more easy than to say that Shakespeare, in the opinion of contemporary dramatists, was only a borrower, an adapter of other men's work, like some of the salaried poets of our present theatres, whose qualifications are described as carpentry and French ? In the fourth place, the legal references in some of the plays are so numerous and so
minute, as to suggest, and almost infer, a legal origin for these particular dramas. Then, in the fifth place, there is the very suspicious fact that Bacon nowhere mentions Shakespeare. Bacon was rather fond of speaking of his great contemporaries-of quoting their wit and recording their sayings. In his Apophthegms we find nearly all that is known about Raleigh's power of repartee. How came such a gatherer of wit, humours, and characters to ignore the greatest man living? Had he a reason for his omission ? It were idle to assume that Bacon failed to see the greatness of Lear and Macbeth. There must have been some reason for his silence. What reason? But the most striking difficulty, perhaps, lies in the descriptions of foreign scenes, particularly of Italian scenes, and of sealife, interwoven with the texts of the plays--descriptions so numerous and so marvellously accurate, that it is almost impossible to believe they were written by a man who lived in London and Stratford, who never left this island, and who saw the world only from a stroller's booth. Every reader of the plays has felt this difficulty, and theories have been formed of imaginary Shakespeare travels, in order to account for the minute local truth and the prevalence of local colour.
is not easy to conceive the Merchant of Venice as coming from the brain of one who had never strolled on the Rialto, or sunned himself on the slopes of Monte Bello. Without warrant of any sort beyond the internal evidence of the play, Mr. Brown and Mr. Halliwell have boldly adopted the theory of an Italian journey; though when and how it could have been performed, in the course of a life so brief and so busy as Shakespeare's was, between his marriage and his retirement from the stage, is a mystery not more perplexing than the local knowledge it would serve to explain. Out of a hundred points and arguments like these, a theory might be framed-of course, a theory not defensible against serious attack-but plausible enough on paper.
Mr. Smith has scarcely made the semblance of a case. His reasoning is wholly inferential and hypothetical.”
Our reasoning, we admit, is “wholly inferential and hypothetical”; and so is that which attributes these productions to William Shakespeare. They infer that they were written by him upon the strength of the “hypothesis,” that all works are written by the authors whose names are attached to them. They reject Pericles, the Two Kins• men, &c., upon the hypothesis that the names of superior writers are often attached to works of inferior merit. They infer that he wrote the superior works, because they can find no evidence that he was capable of the inferior; and they reject the inferior, upon the hypothesis that he that can write well cannot write badly.
Surely no creed of man's concocting ever required so great faith, was more contradictory or more incomprehensible.
which to believeMust be a faith, that reason without miracle Should never plant in me.
And is it true that Shakespeare “claimed the poems and the sonnets”? Archimedes is reported to have said, boasting of the power of the lever, “Give me a spot to stand on, and I will move the world.” So certain critics exclaim, “Grant Shakespeare wrote the sonnets, and we will prove he wrote the plays.” Yet surely the question at issue is none other than this :- Was William Shakespeare a poet, or was he simply a player and part proprietor of a paltry playhouse? If he was a poet, it is more than probable that he wrote the plays; if he wrote the plays, it is certain that he was a poet.
We do not intend now critically to consider the