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TO THE READER.
To the Memory of my beloved, the Author, MR. WILLIAM
SHAKESPEARE: and what he hath left us. To draw no envy (Shakespeare) on thy name,
Am I thus ample to thy Booke, and Fame: While I confesse thy writings to be such,
As neither Man, nor Muse, can praise too much. 'Tis true, and all men's suffrage. But these wayes
Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise : For seeliest Ignorance on these may light,
Which, when it sounds at best, but echoes right; Or blinde Affection, which doth ne’re advance
The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance ; Or crafty Malice, might pretend this praise,
And thinke to ruine, where it seem'd to raise. These are, as some infamous Baud, or Whore,
Should praise a Matron. What could hurt her more ? But thou art proofe against them, and indeed
Above th' ill fortune of them, or the need. I, therefore will begin. Soule of the Age!
The applause ! delight! the wonder of our Stage! My Shakespeare, rise; I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lye A little further, to make thee a roome:
Thou art a Moniment, without a Tombe, And art alive still, while thy Booke doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give. That I not mixe thee so, my braine excuses
I meane with great, but disproportion’d Muses : For, if I thought my judgement were of yeeres,
I should commit thee surely with thy peeres, And tell, how farre thou didst our Lily out-shine,
Or sporting Kyd, or Marlowe's mighty line. And though thou hadst small Latine, and lesse Greeke,
From thence to honour thee, I would not seeke For names ; but call forth thund'ring Æschilus,
Euripides, and Sophocles to us,
To life againe, to heare thy Buskin tread,
Leave thee alone, for the comparison
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
To whom all Scenes of Europe homage owe. He was not of an age, but for all time!
And all the Muses still were in their prime, When like Apollo he came forth to warme
Our eares, or like a Mercury to charme! Nature her selfe was proud of his designes,
And joy'd to weare the dressing of his lines ! Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
As, since, she will vouchsafe no other Wit. The merry Greeke, tart Aristophanes,
Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not please ;
As they were not of Nature's family.
My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part.
His Art doth give the fashion. And, that he, Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muses' anvile: turne the sanie,
(And himselfe with it) that he thinkes to frame;
For a good Poet's made, as well as borne.
Lives in his issue, even so the race
In his well-turned, and true-filed lines :
As brandish't at the eyes of Ignorance.
To see thee in our waters yet appeare,
That so did take Eliza, and our James !
Advanc'd, and made a Constellation there!
Or influence, chide or cheere the drooping Stage ;
BEN IONSON. These lines appear to be capable of a double meaning. We do not at all mean to contend that they in any way prove that Bacon was the author of these plays, but only that they do not afford that direct evidence in favour of Shakespeare which might be expected ; and that some of the expressions are clearly susceptible of being applied to Bacon.
Not to dilate upon the exordium, the early lines of which appear to express something of an excuse for praising the book rather than the individual,
we proceed at once to the invocation. That we may not be charged with anything like special pleading, or a desire to deceive, we admit that the lines and phrases selected will be such as seem best to favour the theory we are advocating.
Soul of the age !
My Shakespeare-rise ! “Soul of the age” seems a term more applicable to Bacon than to Shakespeare; whilst the possessive pronoun “my,” added to Shakespeare, may serve to render his invocation applicable to either the one or the other. The lines,
Thou art a monument without a tomb,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give, seem much more applicable to a living than to a
And though thou hast small Latin and less Greek,
The first of these lines has been wrested in every possible way, to make it applicable to William Shakespeare, without success; and though at first sight it might seem even less applicable to Bacon,
upon investigation the reverse will be found to be the case.
There is reason to suppose that Bacon was not greatly proficient in the Greek language, but that he was well acquainted with Latin there can be no doubt : he probably could speak it with fluency. But in that age, when, as has been well observed, Latin occupied the place which French now occupies, and every one who was educated at all, must, of necessity, have been classically educated, a man might have a very considerable knowledge of Latin and Greek, and yet be pronounced by so finished and critical a scholar as Ben Jonson undoubtedly was, to have “small Latin and less Greek.” The observation, and the mode of introducing it in the midst of a panygeric, are highly characteristic of Jonson; and it is just such a hit as he would delight to bestow upon a living great man, whom he considered his inferior in scholarship. That there is some truth in it, is confirmed by contemporary statements; for in Bacon's life in the Biographia Britannica, there is this note : -"Amelot, in his Memoires Historiques, tom. i. page 361, has asserted, upon the pretended authority of Casaubon, that Lord Bacon did not understand Latin. This is as evident a falsehood as