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CHAPTER VI.

EVIDENCE IN FAVOUR OF

SHAKESPEARE.

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 Leur. 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 any to be derived from any

other

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

their friend by, wherein he most faulted, and to justify my own candour; for I loved the man, and do honour his memory on this side idolatry, as much as any. He was indeed) honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent phantasy, brave notions, and gentle expressions; wherein he flowed with that facility that sometimes it was necessary, that he should be stopped: Suffiaminandus erat, as Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was in his own power; would the rule of it had been so to. Many times he fell into those things could not escape laughter : as when he said, in the person of Cæsar, one speaking to him, 'Cæsar, thou dost me wrong,' he replied, 'Cæsar did never wrong but with just cause;' and such like, which were ridiculous. But he redeemed his vices with his yirtues. There was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned.”

The edition of Jonson's works, published in 1616,

-a rare folio-does not contain the Discoveries : they were first published in 1640, three years after Jonson's death. The Discoveries are detached thoughts and reflections, which appear to have been dotted down or entered in a commonplace book, without much regard to order, sequence, or priority. It is hardly possible to imagine any man,

who had read the collected plays of Shakespeare, writing such a description of him as herein contained, or, in the face of such evidence misquoting a passage from one of these plays. The probability is, that Jonson wrote this passage prior to 1623, very likely soon after Shakespeare's death, and before he became so intimately acquainted with these plays, as we shall presently endeavour to show that he ultimately was. Pope surmises that his remark on Julius Cæsar was made “upon no better credit than some blunder of an actor in speaking the verse.” This doubtless was the fact; and Jonson, having noted it down, and neglected to destroy or expunge it, his executors found it after his death, and published it with his other writings, thus perpetuating a blunder which reflects ridicule, not upon Shakespeare, but upon Jonson himself. As we cannot believe that Jonson retained this opinion after the publication of the folio, or would have wished such a comment on Julius Cæsar to have been published, so we may fairly infer that his judgment with regard to Shakespeare would in other respects also have been greatly changed.

This paragraph, therefore, has not the weight and importance which at first sight it would seem to possess.

JF The

UNIVERSI

OF SHAKESPEARE.

29

1

Shakespeare's fame—the fame which he now and ever will enjoy—is based upon the folio of 1623. At its publication, it was ushered into the world accompanied by verses written by Ben Jonson, and Malone satisfactorily shows that the dedication and preface, ascribed to Heminge and Condell, were also most likely from his pen; in fact, it probably would not be too much to say, that Ben Jonson was the Editor of the Folio of 1623.

Now, at this time Ben Jonson was at the zenith of his fame, and on terms of intimacy with Lord Bacon, and perhaps the most competent living judge and discriminator of the works of his various contemporaries. If then the lines which he wrote, and which accompany this volume, celebrate and identify the William Shakespeare who died in 1616 as the author of the plays therein written, that evidence ought to be conclusive. The lines are in many parts incomprehensible, and throughout exhibit a mysterious vagueness quite at variance with the general character of Ben Jonson's laudatory verses. The critic who would translate them into plain prose, would not be ill employed ; but, as Bacon observes, with commentators, “ it is ever usual to blanche the obscure places and discourse upon the plain.”

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