By Lord Sydenham of Combe
(Reprinted from Baconiana, February 1933)
or many years the authorship of the "Shakespeare" literature aroused no interest, and the few people who knew the secret kept silence. The Elizabethan period produced several playwrights of note, and the transcendent qualities of the master mind were beyond grasp of all except a small group of highly cultured men of letters.
Samuel Pepys, a shrewd critic and an admirer of "Shakespeare,"
born nine years after the appearance of the First Folio, wrote that
he had read Othello "which I ever esteemed a mighty good play; but,
he significantly added, " after having so lately read 'the Adventures
of Five Houres,' it seems a mean thing." Posterity formed a different
opinion; but many other persons in Pepy's day probably had as little
sense of values as the diarist.
Ben Jonson's appparently contradictory views have supplied much blank ammunition to Stratfordians, though they can easily be explained. When the bright new light rose on the horizon, he seems to have discerned a dangerous rival, and was moved either to scorn or to pettifogging cavils. From an "epigram" published in the year of Shakspere's death, but written some time before, he appears to have reached the conclusion that the player was but a broker of other men's goods, and passed off others' works as his own. His words bear no other meaning :
"Poor Poet Ape, that would be thought our chief,
Whose works are e'en the frippery of wit,
From Brokage is become so bold a thief-
As we, the robbed, leave rage and pity it."
The "epigram" goes on to say that the broker had "now grown to a
little wealth and credit on the scene"
In Every Man Out of his Humour Jonson presented Shakspere as Sogliardo, son of a farmer, "an essential clown," who is made to say :
"I have been so toiled among the harrots yonder, you will not believe, they do speak in the strangest language and give a man the hardest terms that you ever knew....I' faith I thank God I can write myself a gentleman now; here's my patent; it cost me thirty pounds by this breath."
It was in 1597 that John Shakspere, or Shagspere, obtained a coat
of arms from the "harrots" (heralds) after much misrepresentation,
and the identification appears complete.
Jonson, however, came to work with Bacon, and assisted in bringing out the First Folio. The magnificient panegyric introducing the collected Plays is admitted by Stratfordians to be his work. The "Poor Poet Ape," from being a "thief" had become "THE AUTHOR" of whom Jonson could say
"Leave thee alone for the comparison
Of all that insolent Greece or haughtie Rome
Sent forth,on since did from their ashes come."
Jonson had discoverd the secret, and this phrase, borrowed from
Seneca the Elder, exactly fits the immortal works which alone stand
comparison with the ancient classics to-day. Knowing the truth, he
felt constrained to write in his "Discoveries" after the death of
THE AUTHOR that Bacon also "has filled up all numbers, and
performed that in our tongue which may be compared or preferred to
insolent Greece or haughtie Rome." Both were in fact "the acme" of
In his "Scriptorum Catalugus," Jonson gave a list of the great writers and orators of his time, placing Bacon at the head and omitting the dramatist described as the "Soul of the Age" in the First Folio. After this, his apparently inconsistent statements, especially those in his rambling "de Shakespeare Nostrati," found among his papers after his death in 1637, cannot be taken seriously. He knew and had proved that he knew the authorship.
Contemporary allusions to the Plays are not many and can mean only acquiescence-conscious or not-in a pseudonym, just as the reading public accepted George Eliot and did not trouble about the real name of the authoress. The greatest writers and thinkers of the age including Bacon, Sidney, Pembroke, Raleigh, Cecil, Walsingham, Selden, Wooton and Donne&emdash;left no allusion to the "Starre of Poets." Some may have known the secret; but the inference is that, in their day, the "Shakespearean" literature had not attained the pinnacle of honour which Bacon, well understanding, said would be forthcoming from "mine own countrymen after some time be passed."
His devoted chaplain, Rawley, collected thirty-two tributes published by scholars of the day after his death. Of these revealing testimonials, twenty-seven dealt with the outstanding poetic genius of the dead master. As Mr. R. L. Eagle justly claimed,
"Here is undisputed contemporary evidence that Bacon was known to his intimates as the greatest of all poets and dramatists."
&emdash;(Shakspeare, New Views for Old, 1930)
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Myth grew to formidable proportions. As Bacon had written :
"We also see the Reign or Tyranny of Custom, what it is."
The curious "Custom"or attributing to an uneducated rustic such a
polished classical poem as Venus and Adonis,written a few years after
leaving his illiterate family, grew into "Tyranny," which, being
quickly entrenched behind a barricade of vested interests, seemed to
be impregnable when Barnum had discovered the "Birthplace" and made
it world famous. The fortification
until it dawned upon Mr. Joseph Hart, American Consul at Santa Cruz
in 1848, the year of my birth, that the money-lending actor could not
have been THE AUTHOR. Poor Delia Bacon followed, and her life,
spent in an unequal struggle with obscurantism, ended in tragedy; but
a torch was lighted at last which burns fiercely today.
We now know, however, that Mr. Hart was not the first champion of the truth, and that he was anticipated by an Englishman, the Rev. J. Wilmot, D.D., Rector of Barton-on-the-Heath, a little village a few miles north of Stratford, who, about 1785, not only dethroned the singularly unattractive imposter, but rediscovered THE AUTHOR.
footnote (A curious book entitled "The Life and Adventure of Common Sense: an Historical Allegory," was published anonymously in 1769, which introduces a character named "Wisdom," obvioulsy Bacon, who "made an acquaintance with a person belonging to the Playhouse," who "was a profligate in his youth and some say a Deerstealer." "Wisdom had a "Common Place Book" containing "rules on the combinations and connections upon every subject or ocassion that might arise in dramatic writing." Thus equipped "the person" commenced Play-writing, and " his name was Shakespeare!" The author of this book who had--Johnson--discovered that "Shakespeare" was a wholesale plagiarist, though he credits the imposter with "good parts," was supposed on little evidence to be a physician named Herbert Lawrence.)
In the Times Literary Supplement of 25th February, 1932, Professor Allardyce Nicholl tells a story which should profoundly interest every Baconian student. Just before his death, Sir E. Durning Lawrence obtained and bequeathed to the London University a "thin quarto volume," containing in manuscript the text of an address entitled "Some reflections on the life of William Shakespeare," read before the Ipswich Philosophical Society by James Cowell on 7th February, 1805.
Mr. Cowell had a terrible confession to make to the Suffolk philsophers, who were naturally horrified. He had promised :
|"during the session of 1803 to read a paper on the genius of the poets Shakespeare and Milton.....I undertook the task of enlarging yet further on the Life of Shakespeare."
But unfortunately, he found himself in a
"Strange pass.....a Pervert, nay a Renegade to the faith I have proclaimed and avowed before you.....prepared to hear from you, as I unfold my strange and suprising story, cries of disapproval and even of execration."
What had happened was that, when searching for material for the promised address, he, like many later investigators, discovered&emdash;nothing.
"Everywhere was I met by a strange and perplexing silence."
This would not have mattered, and Sir Sidney Lee was to prove later that a large volume could be written with the most scanty and unsatisfactory material; but much worse lay behind. He had come across "an ingenious gentleman" of the neighborhood of Stratford-on-Avon, who had an "explanation" of the hopeless want of evidence
"that is so startling that it is easy to understand his timidity in putting it forth boldly, and I share his reticence. My Friend has a story, which he supports with much ingenuity, that the real author of the Plays attributed to Shakespeare was Sir Francis Bacon."
This announcement must have fallen as a bolt from the blue upon the assembled philosophers, and something like a row seems to have followed. Cowell, however, undertook, under a solemn vow of secrecy, to divulge the name of the "ingenious gentlemen" who had made him "a Pervert, nay a Renegade," and he was able to give an interesting account of the origin of the heresy at which the orthodox Society stood aghast. He told them that
"Dr. Wilmot does not venture to say definitely that Sir Francis Bacon was the author; but through his great knowledge of the works of that writer, he is able to prepare a cap which fits him amazingly."
The learned Rector of Barton-on-the-Heath, then an octogenearian, had been struck some years earlier by the allusion to the circulation of the blood in Coriolanus. He had noted that Biron, Dumain and Longaville in Love's Labour's Lost ( the first play attributed to the actor) were "the names of the ministers" at the Court of Navarre when Anthony Bacon resided there and would certainly be unknown in the rather exceptionally backward town of Stratford, or in the sordid purlieus of an Elizabethan theatre. Realising, as should any literary man, that the author must have had a large and very valuable library, Dr. Wilmot proceeded to search for specimens and
"covered himself with the dust of every private bookcase for 50 miles round"
Stratford, naturally without any result. Imbued, like Dr. Hotson, with the true spirit of research, he diligently collected all the traditions regarding Shakspere or Shagspere and his contemporaries that were available. He thus came across a legend of
"a certain man of extreme ugliness and tallness, who Blackmailed the Farmers under threat of bewitching their cattle."
There was also the usual legend of some exploit of the devil with other stories still lingering by the banks of the Avon. Dr. Wilmot seems to have been impressed by the absence of all such local colour in the Plays, and Professor Nicholl, who evidently has no knowledge of the now huge volume of Baconian research, naively remarks in this connection that :
"Wilmot's method of argumentation thus seems to have differed from the methods employed by his followers."
Why should they differ, and how could
Baconians avoid "argumentation" based on the fact that the Plays
contain no allusion to the only bit of countryside that the actor
could have known well, while they refer 23 times to St. Albans which
there is no reason to suppose he ever saw?
Of Cowell and the Philosophical Society no more transpires. The secret must have been kept, and we might never have heard of the first Baconian, if this revolutionary address had not been preserved; but a tragedy followed, during "the very year" when the "renegade" was incurring "execration," Dr.Wilmot, who had never dared to come out into the open and may have feared a storm as the result of Cowell's revelations, suddenly burned all his Shakespeare papers, and his studies and researches towards the end of the 18th century were irretrievably lost. The "Tyranny" had prevailed, and the truth dropped back to the bottom of the well, there to remain for more than 50 years.
As for Dr. Wilmot, Professor Nichol refers to his Life by his niece, published in 1813, which shows him to have been born at Warwick in 1726, just one hundred years after Bacon's death. the writer claims for him the authorship of the Letters of Junius, and while recording nothing about his Shakespeare studies, states that her uncle placed "Lord Bacon's works" in her hands "at a very early age and desired her to read his Essays very frequently."
From the little we know of his researches, his papers having been unhappily destroyed in fear of the "Tyranny," it appears that, apart from the realisation of the want of local colour in the Plays, he was profoundly impressed by the close similiarity in form and thought of the "Shakespeare" and the avowed Baconian literature. Like Mr. Gerald Massey, more than a century later, Dr. Wilmot saw clearly that :
"The Philosophical writings of Bacon are suffused and saturated with Shakespeare's thought..... These likenesses of thought and expression are mainly confined to these two contemporaries. It may be admitted that one must have copied the other!"
It is certainly a portentious fact that two
men living at the same time should have possessed all knowledge then
available, should have used the same words and modes of expression,
and should have freely copied from each other without leaving a
scintilla of evidence that they ever met.
Dr. Wilmot may not have known the existence of Bacon's "PROMUS" of which "Shakespeare" was a wholesale plagiarist, or of the devastating "NORTHUMBERLAND MANUSCRIPT," which Stratfordians have either never heard of or discreetly ignore. He may, however, have been aware that the bust at Stratford was completely changed in 1748 to represent a personage with a hirsute appendage never discovered on an Englishman of his period. He noted the tell-tale allusion to the circulation of blood; but he probably did not know that Dr.William Harvey was Bacon's physician. Whether he discovered that an expert in cyphers had written his name liberally in places where it might be observed,or whether he had come across the fine allegorical engravings, designed with evident purpose to accompany some of Bacon's works, we cannot know. Most of the huge volume of recent Baconian reseach of which the "Tyranny of Custom" robs the dupes of the Myth, became available a century too late for his guidance; but a strong literary sense led him to the truth.
Baconians must in the future hold the memory of Dr. Wilmot&emdash; their venerable forerunner of the 18th century&emdash; in special honour.
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