Baltimore Evening Sun (20 December 1912): 6.
Boil your drinking water! Cover your garbage can! Every man his own hell!
Has it ever occurred to any one that the prosperity of the so-called Baconian theory is probably due, at least in part, to the grotesque overpraise of Shakespeare by his worshipers? What is the idea at the bottom of that theory? Simply the idea that plays so miraculously perfect as the Bard’s could never have been written by a country butcher’s son. This is what led the late Mark Twain astray, and this is what you will find in all the nonsense of the Baconians. No wonder, being so convinced, they cast about them for some more likely author, and no wonder they pick out the greatest all-round genius of the time, and no wonder they then proceed to justify their choice by making him out an even greater genius than he actually was!
In every one of the tomes of the Baconians you will find it assumed as an axiom that the author of “Hamlet” differed not only in degree, but also in kind from all other masters of the written word, ancient or modern. This is the assumption of the celebrated Mrs. Elizabeth Wells Gallup, it is the assumption of the delving Germans, and it is the assumption of Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence, Bart., boss of the Baconians of England. Let me quote from the preface to Sir Edwin’s “Bacon to Shakespeare”:
The plays known as Shakespeare’s are at the present time universally acknowledged to be the “greatest birth of time,” the grandest production of the human mind. Their author is generally recognized as the grentest genius of all the ages. The more they are studied, the more wonderful they are seen to be.
And so on and so on. According to Durning-Lawrence, even the anchronisms and absurdities in the plays are proofs of the author’s genius! And the orthodox critics go fully as far, if not actually further. Saving only much stray dissenters as Johnson and Shaw, they heap so much praise on the Bard that he finally appears as less a man than a god. And even some of those dissenters admit frankly that he was incomparable--for example, Frank Harris. In Harris’ “The Women of Shakespeare,” just out, will find this:
He went deeper into hell and rose higher into Heaven than any other mortal.
No wonder it seems incredible, in the face of such praise, that the plays of Shakespeare should have been written by a mere human being, and particularly by a mere country yokel! No wonder it seems necessary to find a more likely author, and then to make him likelier still by creating for him the character of a Socrates plus Sophocles plus Homer plus Dante plus David plus Christ!
The truth is, of course, that Shakespeare was by no means the rustic lout that the Baconians try to make him appear, nor was Bacon the heaven-kissing prophet. Shakespeare’s somewhat copious legal knowledge, about which so much ado is made, was probably obtained at Stratford as clerk to a country solicitor. So long as he deals with notarial practice he is perfect, but so soon as he goes into court, as in “The Merchant of Venice,” he becomes enmeshed in absurdities. And so with all his other knowledge--of ships, of foreign lands, of books, of history, of the court. It is superficial knowledge of the sort that any brilliant young man might pick up in a few years. It is always showy, but it is never profound. Soon or late it always reveals its limitations.
But the Shakespeareomaniacs, of course, never admit the Bard’s blunders, even when they are obvious. Consider, for example, that the editor of the Law Times quoted by Durning-Lawrence, who “was not ashamed to confess that he had not sufficient legal knowledge or mental capacity to enable him to fully comprehend a quarter of the law contained in the plays.” In the same way, I have no doubt, Dr. Welch is unable to comprehend a quarter of the physiology and pathology contained in “Science and Health.” But does any sane man thereby argue that Mrs. Eddy knew more about physiology and pathology than Dr. Welch? Of course not. The instant verdict of every intelligent reader is that she knew vastly less--that her divergences from Dr. Welch, her bafflements of Dr. Welch, must be due to her own voluble ignorance.
Much of this overpraise of Shakespeare, I am convinced, is done by folks who have never read him attentively. The average Shakespearean reading “Othello” or “The Tempest,” is so soothed and enchanted by the sheer music of the verse that he quickly falls into a sort of hypnotic state, and often gathers no very definite ideas from what he reads. This is undoubtedly the case with many actors: they intone whole speeches without knowing what they are talking about. And thousands of eager persons, hearing them with sensuous pleasure, are no better off. To most auditors, indeed, the tragedies of Shakespeare are more operas than dramas. It is only in the comedies, and then only in the rougher scenes, that he becomes wholly intelligible, in the sense that Sardou and Rostand are intelligible.
Moreover, many chronic over-praisers of the plays, particularily among the Baconians, do not even perceive their music, but merely search their text. Their interest in typographical errors is 10 times as intense as their interest in human character. And, going still further, there are even Baconians who do not read Shakespeare at all, but content themselves with arguing that his authorship of the plays is unimaginable. Mark Twain was one such. He devoted a whole book to proving that the plays of Shakespeare were too good ever to have been written by Shakespeare, and yet he seldom read Shakespeare. If you don’t believe it, read Vol. II of Albert Bigelow Paine’s biography of him, pages 1536-40. Here Paine, who lived with him and knew his habits, says that he read very few books, and then gives a list of the few–St. Simon, Carlyle, Leckey, Suetonius, Kipling, the Morte Arthure, but not Shakespeare.
However, I do not lay down any hard and fast doctrine. All I want to do is to call attention to an overlooked reason for the Baconian madness. If there are any Baconians in Baltimore it will be a pleasure to hear from them on the subject--or, for that matter, from any of the worshiping Shakespeareans.
Col. Jacobus Hook is still drawing his $7,00 a year and the members of the Concord Club are still standing up.--Adv.
A monument to G. Washington in Westminster Abbey? Next, perhaps, a statue of U. S. Grant in Richmond! Or a portrait of Dr. Finney in the City Hall!
Morality, n, a device for making cruelty respectable.