Part 6 out of 6
doubt it DID; it COULD HAVE gone soldiering with a war-tribe when
no one was noticing, and learned soldier-wiles and soldier-ways,
and what to do with a mouse when opportunity offers; the plain
inference, therefore, is that that is what it DID. Since all
these manifold things COULD have occurred, we have EVERY RIGHT TO
BELIEVE they did occur. These patiently and painstakingly
accumulated vast acquirements and competences needed but one
thing more--opportunity--to convert themselves into triumphal
action. The opportunity came, we have the result; BEYOND SHADOW
OF QUESTION the mouse is in the kitten.
It is proper to remark that when we of the three cults plant
a "WE THINK WE MAY ASSUME," we expect it, under careful watering
and fertilizing and tending, to grow up into a strong and hardy
and weather-defying "THERE ISN'T A SHADOW OF A DOUBT" at last--
and it usually happens.
We know what the Baconian's verdict would be: "THERE IS NOT
A RAG OF EVIDENCE THAT THE KITTEN HAS HAD ANY TRAINING, ANY
EDUCATION, ANY EXPERIENCE QUALIFYING IT FOR THE PRESENT OCCASION,
OR IS INDEED EQUIPPED FOR ANY ACHIEVEMENT ABOVE LIFTING SUCH
UNCLAIMED MILK AS COMES ITS WAY; BUT THERE IS ABUNDANT EVIDENCE--
UNASSAILABLE PROOF, IN FACT--THAT THE OTHER ANIMAL IS EQUIPPED,
TO THE LAST DETAIL, WITH EVERY QUALIFICATION NECESSARY FOR THE
EVENT. WITHOUT SHADOW OF DOUBT THE TOM-CAT CONTAINS THE MOUSE."
When Shakespeare died, in 1616, great literary productions
attributed to him as author had been before the London world and
in high favor for twenty-four years. Yet his death was not an
event. It made no stir, it attracted no attention. Apparently
his eminent literary contemporaries did not realize that a
celebrated poet had passed from their midst. Perhaps they knew a
play-actor of minor rank had disappeared, but did not regard him
as the author of his Works. "We are justified in assuming" this.
His death was not even an event in the little town of
Stratford. Does this mean that in Stratford he was not regarded
as a celebrity of ANY kind?
"We are privileged to assume"--no, we are indeed OBLIGED to
assume--that such was the case. He had spent the first twenty-
two or twenty-three years of his life there, and of course knew
everybody and was known by everybody of that day in the town,
including the dogs and the cats and the horses. He had spent the
last five or six years of his life there, diligently trading in
every big and little thing that had money in it; so we are
compelled to assume that many of the folk there in those said
latter days knew him personally, and the rest by sight and
hearsay. But not as a CELEBRITY? Apparently not. For everybody
soon forgot to remember any contact with him or any incident
connected with him. The dozens of townspeople, still alive, who
had known of him or known about him in the first twenty-three
years of his life were in the same unremembering condition: if
they knew of any incident connected with that period of his life
they didn't tell about it. Would the if they had been asked? It
is most likely. Were they asked? It is pretty apparent that
they were not. Why weren't they? It is a very plausible guess
that nobody there or elsewhere was interested to know.
For seven years after Shakespeare's death nobody seems to have been
interested in him. Then the quarto was published, and Ben Jonson
awoke out of his long indifference and sang a song of praise and
put it in the front of the book. Then silence fell AGAIN.
For sixty years. Then inquiries into Shakespeare's Stratford
life began to be made, of Stratfordians. Of Stratfordians
who had known Shakespeare or had seen him? No. Then of
Stratfordians who had seen people who had known or seen
people who had seen Shakespeare? No. Apparently the inquires
were only made of Stratfordians who were not Stratfordians of
Shakespeare's day, but later comers; and what they had learned
had come to them from persons who had not seen Shakespeare; and
what they had learned was not claimed as FACT, but only as legend--
dim and fading and indefinite legend; legend of the calf-slaughtering
rank, and not worth remembering either as history or fiction.
Has it ever happened before--or since--that a celebrated
person who had spent exactly half of a fairly long life in the
village where he was born and reared, was able to slip out of
this world and leave that village voiceless and gossipless behind
him--utterly voiceless., utterly gossipless? And permanently so?
I don't believe it has happened in any case except Shakespeare's.
And couldn't and wouldn't have happened in his case if he had
been regarded as a celebrity at the time of his death.
When I examine my own case--but let us do that, and see if
it will not be recognizable as exhibiting a condition of things
quite likely to result, most likely to result, indeed
substantially SURE to result in the case of a celebrated person,
a benefactor of the human race. Like me.
My parents brought me to the village of Hannibal, Missouri,
on the banks of the Mississippi, when I was two and a half years
old. I entered school at five years of age, and drifted from one
school to another in the village during nine and a half years.
Then my father died, leaving his family in exceedingly straitened
circumstances; wherefore my book-education came to a standstill
forever, and I became a printer's apprentice, on board and
clothes, and when the clothes failed I got a hymn-book in place
of them. This for summer wear, probably. I lived in Hannibal
fifteen and a half years, altogether, then ran away, according to
the custom of persons who are intending to become celebrated. I
never lived there afterward. Four years later I became a "cub"
on a Mississippi steamboat in the St. Louis and New Orleans
trade, and after a year and a half of hard study and hard work
the U.S. inspectors rigorously examined me through a couple of
long sittings and decided that I knew every inch of the
Mississippi--thirteen hundred miles--in the dark and in the day--
as well as a baby knows the way to its mother's paps day or
night. So they licensed me as a pilot--knighted me, so to speak
--and I rose up clothed with authority, a responsible servant of
the United States Government.
Now then. Shakespeare died young--he was only fifty-two.
He had lived in his native village twenty-six years, or about
that. He died celebrated (if you believe everything you read in
the books). Yet when he died nobody there or elsewhere took any
notice of it; and for sixty years afterward no townsman
remembered to say anything about him or about his life in
Stratford. When the inquirer came at last he got but one fact--
no, LEGEND--and got that one at second hand, from a person who
had only heard it as a rumor and didn't claim copyright in it as
a production of his own. He couldn't, very well, for its date
antedated his own birth-date. But necessarily a number of
persons were still alive in Stratford who, in the days of their
youth, had seen Shakespeare nearly every day in the last five
years of his life, and they would have been able to tell that
inquirer some first-hand things about him if he had in those last
days been a celebrity and therefore a person of interest to the
villagers. Why did not the inquirer hunt them up and interview
them? Wasn't it worth while? Wasn't the matter of sufficient
consequence? Had the inquirer an engagement to see a dog-fight
and couldn't spare the time?
It all seems to mean that he never had any literary celebrity,
there or elsewhere, and no considerable repute as actor and manager.
Now then, I am away along in life--my seventy-third year
being already well behind me--yet SIXTEEN of my Hannibal
schoolmates are still alive today, and can tell--and do tell--
inquirers dozens and dozens of incidents of their young lives and
mine together; things that happened to us in the morning of life,
in the blossom of our youth, in the good days, the dear days,
"the days when we went gipsying, a long time ago." Most of them
creditable to me, too. One child to whom I paid court when she
was five years old and I eight still lives in Hannibal, and she
visited me last summer, traversing the necessary ten or twelve
hundred miles of railroad without damage to her patience or to
her old-young vigor. Another little lassie to whom I paid
attention in Hannibal when she was nine years old and I the same,
is still alive--in London--and hale and hearty, just as I am.
And on the few surviving steamboats--those lingering ghosts and
remembrancers of great fleets that plied the big river in the
beginning of my water-career--which is exactly as long ago as the
whole invoice of the life-years of Shakespeare numbers--there are
still findable two or three river-pilots who saw me do creditable
things in those ancient days; and several white-headed engineers;
and several roustabouts and mates; and several deck-hands who
used to heave the lead for me and send up on the still night the
"Six--feet--SCANT!" that made me shudder, and the "M-a-r-k--
TWAIN!" that took the shudder away, and presently the darling "By
the d-e-e-p--FOUR!" that lifted me to heaven for joy.  They
know about me, and can tell. And so do printers, from St. Louis
to New York; and so do newspaper reporters, from Nevada to San
Francisco. And so do the police. If Shakespeare had really been
celebrated, like me, Stratford could have told things about him;
and if my experience goes for anything, they'd have done it.
1. Four fathoms--twenty-four feet.
If I had under my superintendence a controversy appointed to
decide whether Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare or not, I believe
I would place before the debaters only the one question,
WAS SHAKESPEARE EVER A PRACTICING LAWYER? and leave everything
It is maintained that the man who wrote the plays was not
merely myriad-minded, but also myriad-accomplished: that he not
only knew some thousands of things about human life in all its
shades and grades, and about the hundred arts and trades and
crafts and professions which men busy themselves in, but that he
could TALK about the men and their grades and trades accurately,
making no mistakes. Maybe it is so, but have the experts spoken,
or is it only Tom, Dick, and Harry? Does the exhibit stand upon
wide, and loose, and eloquent generalizing--which is not
evidence, and not proof--or upon details, particulars,
statistics, illustrations, demonstrations?
Experts of unchallengeable authority have testified
definitely as to only one of Shakespeare's multifarious craft-
equipments, so far as my recollections of Shakespeare-Bacon talk
abide with me--his law-equipment. I do not remember that
Wellington or Napoleon ever examined Shakespeare's battles and
sieges and strategies, and then decided and established for good
and all that they were militarily flawless; I do not remember
that any Nelson, or Drake, or Cook ever examined his seamanship
and said it showed profound and accurate familiarity with that
art; I don't remember that any king or prince or duke has ever
testified that Shakespeare was letter-perfect in his handling of
royal court-manners and the talk and manners of aristocracies; I
don't remember that any illustrious Latinist or Grecian or
Frenchman or Spaniard or Italian has proclaimed him a past-master
in those languages; I don't remember--well, I don't remember that
there is TESTIMONY--great testimony--imposing testimony--
unanswerable and unattackable testimony as to any of
Shakespeare's hundred specialties, except one--the law.
Other things change, with time, and the student cannot trace
back with certainty the changes that various trades and their
processes and technicalities have undergone in the long stretch
of a century or two and find out what their processes and
technicalities were in those early days, but with the law it is
different: it is mile-stoned and documented all the way back,
and the master of that wonderful trade, that complex and
intricate trade, that awe-compelling trade, has competent ways of
knowing whether Shakespeare-law is good law or not; and whether
his law-court procedure is correct or not, and whether his legal
shop-talk is the shop-talk of a veteran practitioner or only a
machine-made counterfeit of it gathered from books and from
occasional loiterings in Westminster.
Richard H. Dana served two years before the mast, and had
every experience that falls to the lot of the sailor before the
mast of our day. His sailor-talk flows from his pen with the
sure touch and the ease and confidence of a person who has LIVED
what he is talking about, not gathered it from books and random
listenings. Hear him:
Having hove short, cast off the gaskets, and made the bunt
of each sail fast by the jigger, with a man on each yard, at the
word the whole canvas of the ship was loosed, and with the
greatest rapidity possible everything was sheeted home and
hoisted up, the anchor tripped and cat-headed, and the ship under
The royal yards were all crossed at once, and royals and
sky-sails set, and, as we had the wind free, the booms were run
out, and all were aloft, active as cats, laying out on the yards
and booms, reeving the studding-sail gear; and sail after sail
the captain piled upon her, until she was covered with canvas,
her sails looking like a great white cloud resting upon a black
Once more. A race in the Pacific:
Our antagonist was in her best trim. Being clear of the
point, the breeze became stiff, and the royal-masts bent under
our sails, but we would not take them in until we saw three boys
spring into the rigging of the CALIFORNIA; then they were all
furled at once, but with orders to our boys to stay aloft at the
top-gallant mast-heads and loose them again at the word. It was
my duty to furl the fore-royal; and while standing by to loose it
again, I had a fine view of the scene. From where I stood, the
two vessels seemed nothing but spars and sails, while their
narrow decks, far below, slanting over by the force of the wind
aloft, appeared hardly capable of supporting the great fabrics
raised upon them. The CALIFORNIA was to windward of us, and had
every advantage; yet, while the breeze was stiff we held our own.
As soon as it began to slacken she ranged a little ahead, and the
order was given to loose the royals. In an instant the gaskets
were off and the bunt dropped. "Sheet home the fore-royal!"--
"Weather sheet's home!"--"Lee sheet's home!"--"Hoist away, sir!"
is bawled from aloft. "Overhaul your clew-lines!" shouts the
mate. "Aye-aye, sir, all clear!"--"Taut leech! belay! Well the
lee brace; haul taut to windward!" and the royals are set.
What would the captain of any sailing-vessel of our time say
to that? He would say, "The man that wrote that didn't learn his
trade out of a book, he has BEEN there!" But would this same
captain be competent to sit in judgment upon Shakespeare's
seamanship--considering the changes in ships and ship-talk that
have necessarily taken place, unrecorded, unremembered, and lost
to history in the last three hundred years? It is my conviction
that Shakespeare's sailor-talk would be Choctaw to him. For
instance--from "The Tempest":
BOATSWAIN. Here, master; what cheer?
MASTER. Good, speak to the mariners: fall to 't, yarely,
or we run ourselves to ground; bestir, bestir!
BOATSWAIN. Heigh, my hearts! cheerly, cheerly, my hearts!
yare, yare! Take in the topsail. Tend to the master's whistle.
. . . Down with the topmast! yare! lower, lower! Bring her to
try wi' the main course. . . . Lay her a-hold, a-hold! Set her
two courses. Off to sea again; lay her off.
That will do, for the present; let us yare a little, now,
for a change.
If a man should write a book and in it make one of his
characters say, "Here, devil, empty the quoins into the standing
galley and the imposing-stone into the hell-box; assemble the
comps around the frisket and let them jeff for takes and be quick
about it," I should recognize a mistake or two in the phrasing,
and would know that the writer was only a printer theoretically,
I have been a quartz miner in the silver regions--a pretty
hard life; I know all the palaver of that business: I know all
about discovery claims and the subordinate claims; I know all
about lodes, ledges, outcroppings, dips, spurs, angles, shafts,
drifts, inclines, levels, tunnels, air-shafts, "horses," clay
casings, granite casings; quartz mills and their batteries;
arastras, and how to charge them with quicksilver and sulphate of
copper; and how to clean them up, and how to reduce the resulting
amalgam in the retorts, and how to cast the bullion into pigs;
and finally I know how to screen tailings, and also how to hunt
for something less robust to do, and find it. I know the argot
and the quartz-mining and milling industry familiarly; and so
whenever Bret Harte introduces that industry into a story, the
first time one of his miners opens his mouth I recognize from his
phrasing that Harte got the phrasing by listening--like
Shakespeare--I mean the Stratford one--not by experience. No one
can talk the quartz dialect correctly without learning it with
pick and shovel and drill and fuse.
I have been a surface miner--gold--and I know all its
mysteries, and the dialects that belongs with them; and whenever
Harte introduces that industry into a story I know by the
phrasing of his characters that neither he nor they have ever
served that trade.
I have been a "pocket" miner--a sort of gold mining not
findable in any but one little spot in the world, so far as I
know. I know how, with horn and water, to find the trail of a
pocket and trace it step by step and stage by stage up the
mountain to its source, and find the compact little nest of
yellow metal reposing in its secret home under the ground. I
know the language of that trade, that capricious trade, that
fascinating buried-treasure trade, and can catch any writer who
tries to use it without having learned it by the sweat of his
brow and the labor of his hands.
I know several other trades and the argot that goes with
them; and whenever a person tries to talk the talk peculiar to
any of them without having learned it at its source I can trap
him always before he gets far on his road.
And so, as I have already remarked, if I were required to
superintend a Bacon-Shakespeare controversy, I would narrow the
matter down to a single question--the only one, so far as the
previous controversies have informed me, concerning which
illustrious experts of unimpeachable competency have testified:
WAS THE AUTHOR OF SHAKESPEARE'S WORKS A LAWYER?--a lawyer deeply
read and of limitless experience? I would put aside the guesses
and surmises, and perhapes, and might-have-beens, and could-have-
beens, and must-have-beens, and we-are-justified-in-presumings,
and the rest of those vague specters and shadows and
indefintenesses, and stand or fall, win or lose, by the verdict
rendered by the jury upon that single question. If the verdict
was Yes, I should feel quite convinced that the Stratford
Shakespeare, the actor, manager, and trader who died so obscure,
so forgotten, so destitute of even village consequence, that
sixty years afterward no fellow-citizen and friend of his later
days remembered to tell anything about him, did not write the Works.
Chapter XIII of THE SHAKESPEARE PROBLEM RESTATED bears the
heading "Shakespeare as a Lawyer," and comprises some fifty pages
of expert testimony, with comments thereon, and I will copy the
first nine, as being sufficient all by themselves, as it seems to
me, to settle the question which I have conceived to be the
master-key to the Shakespeare-Bacon puzzle.
Shakespeare as a Lawyer 
The Plays and Poems of Shakespeare supply ample evidence
that their author not only had a very extensive and accurate
knowledge of law, but that he was well acquainted with the
manners and customs of members of the Inns of Court and with
legal life generally.
"While novelists and dramatists are constantly making
mistakes as to the laws of marriage, of wills, of inheritance, to
Shakespeare's law, lavishly as he expounds it, there can neither
be demurrer, nor bill of exceptions, nor writ of error." Such
was the testimony borne by one of the most distinguished lawyers
of the nineteenth century who was raised to the high office of
Lord Chief Justice in 1850, and subsequently became Lord
Chancellor. Its weight will, doubtless, be more appreciated by
lawyers than by laymen, for only lawyers know how impossible it
is for those who have not served an apprenticeship to the law to
avoid displaying their ignorance if they venture to employ legal
terms and to discuss legal doctrines. "There is nothing so
dangerous," wrote Lord Campbell, "as for one not of the craft to
tamper with our freemasonry." A layman is certain to betray
himself by using some expression which a lawyer would never
employ. Mr. Sidney Lee himself supplies us with an example of
this. He writes (p. 164): "On February 15, 1609, Shakespeare
. . . obtained judgment from a jury against Addenbroke for the
payment of No. 6, and No. 1, 5s. 0d. costs." Now a lawyer would
never have spoken of obtaining "judgment from a jury," for it is
the function of a jury not to deliver judgment (which is the
prerogative of the court), but to find a verdict on the facts.
The error is, indeed, a venial one, but it is just one of those
little things which at once enable a lawyer to know if the writer
is a layman or "one of the craft."
But when a layman ventures to plunge deeply into legal
subjects, he is naturally apt to make an exhibition of his
incompetence. "Let a non-professional man, however acute,"
writes Lord Campbell again, "presume to talk law, or to draw
illustrations from legal science in discussing other subjects,
and he will speedily fall into laughable absurdity."
And what does the same high authority say about Shakespeare?
He had "a deep technical knowledge of the law," and an easy
familiarity with "some of the most abstruse proceedings in
English jurisprudence." And again: "Whenever he indulges this
propensity he uniformly lays down good law." Of "Henry IV.,"
Part 2, he says: "If Lord Eldon could be supposed to have written
the play, I do not see how he could be chargeable with having
forgotten any of his law while writing it." Charles and Mary
Cowden Clarke speak of "the marvelous intimacy which he displays
with legal terms, his frequent adoption of them in illustration,
and his curiously technical knowledge of their form and force."
Malone, himself a lawyer, wrote: "His knowledge of legal terms
is not merely such as might be acquired by the casual observation
of even his all-comprehending mind; it has the appearance of
technical skill." Another lawyer and well-known Shakespearean,
Richard Grant White, says: "No dramatist of the time, not even
Beaumont, who was the younger son of a judge of the Common Pleas,
and who after studying in the Inns of Court abandoned law for the
drama, used legal phrases with Shakespeare's readiness and
exactness. And the significance of this fact is heightened by
another, that is only to the language of the law that he exhibits
this inclination. The phrases peculiar to other occupations
serve him on rare occasions by way of description, comparison, or
illustration, generally when something in the scene suggests
them, but legal phrases flow from his pen as part of his
vocabulary and parcel of his thought. Take the word 'purchase'
for instance, which, in ordinary use, means to acquire by giving
value, but applies in law to all legal modes of obtaining
property except by inheritance or descent, and in this peculiar
sense the word occurs five times in Shakespeare's thirty-four
plays, and only in one single instance in the fifty-four plays of
Beaumont and Fletcher. It has been suggested that it was in
attendance upon the courts in London that he picked up his legal
vocabulary. But this supposition not only fails to account for
Shakespeare's peculiar freedom and exactness in the use of that
phraseology, it does not even place him in the way of learning
those terms his use of which is most remarkable, which are not
such as he would have heard at ordinary proceedings at NISI
PRIUS, but such as refer to the tenure or transfer of real
property, 'fine and recovery,' 'statutes merchant,' 'purchase,'
'indenture,' 'tenure,' 'double voucher,' 'fee simple,' 'fee
farm,' 'remainder,' 'reversion,' 'forfeiture,' etc. This
conveyancer's jargon could not have been picked up by hanging
round the courts of law in London two hundred and fifty years
ago, when suits as to the title of real property were
comparatively rare. And besides, Shakespeare uses his law just
as freely in his first plays, written in his first London years,
as in those produced at a later period. Just as exactly, too;
for the correctness and propriety with which these terms are
introduced have compelled the admiration of a Chief Justice and a
Senator Davis wrote: "We seem to have something more than a
sciolist's temerity of indulgence in the terms of an unfamiliar
art. No legal solecisms will be found. The abstrusest elements
of the common law are impressed into a disciplined service. Over
and over again, where such knowledge is unexampled in writers
unlearned in the law, Shakespeare appears in perfect possession
of it. In the law of real property, its rules of tenure and
descents, its entails, its fines and recoveries, their vouchers
and double vouchers, in the procedure of the Courts, the method
of bringing writs and arrests, the nature of actions, the rules
of pleading, the law of escapes and of contempt of court, in the
principles of evidence, both technical and philosophical, in the
distinction between the temporal and spiritual tribunals, in the
law of attainder and forfeiture, in the requisites of a valid
marriage, in the presumption of legitimacy, in the learning of
the law of prerogative, in the inalienable character of the
Crown, this mastership appears with surprising authority."
To all this testimony (and there is much more which I have
not cited) may now be added that of a great lawyer of our own
times, VIZ.: Sir James Plaisted Wilde, Q.C. 1855, created a
Baron of the Exchequer in 1860, promoted to the post of Judge-
Ordinary and Judge of the Courts of Probate and Divorce in 1863,
and better known to the world as Lord Penzance, to which dignity
he was raised in 1869. Lord Penzance, as all lawyers know, and
as the late Mr. Inderwick, K.C., has testified, was one of the
first legal authorities of his day, famous for his "remarkable
grasp of legal principles," and "endowed by nature with a
remarkable facility for marshaling facts, and for a clear
expression of his views."
Lord Penzance speaks of Shakespeare's "perfect familiarity
with not only the principles, axioms, and maxims, but the
technicalities of English law, a knowledge so perfect and
intimate that he was never incorrect and never at fault. . . .
The mode in which this knowledge was pressed into service on all
occasions to express his meaning and illustrate his thoughts was
quite unexampled. He seems to have had a special pleasure in his
complete and ready mastership of it in all its branches. As
manifested in the plays, this legal knowledge and learning had
therefore a special character which places it on a wholly
different footing from the rest of the multifarious knowledge
which is exhibited in page after page of the plays. At every
turn and point at which the author required a metaphor, simile,
or illustration, his mind ever turned FIRST to the law. He seems
almost to have THOUGHT in legal phrases, the commonest of legal
expressions were ever at the end of his pen in description or
illustration. That he should have descanted in lawyer language
when he had a forensic subject in hand, such as Shylock's bond,
was to be expected, but the knowledge of law in 'Shakespeare' was
exhibited in a far different manner: it protruded itself on all
occasions, appropriate or inappropriate, and mingled itself with
strains of thought widely divergent from forensic subjects."
Again: "To acquire a perfect familiarity with legal principles,
and an accurate and ready use of the technical terms and phrases
not only of the conveyancer's office, but of the pleader's
chambers and the Courts at Westminster, nothing short of
employment in some career involving constant contact with legal
questions and general legal work would be requisite. But a
continuous employment involves the element of time, and time was
just what the manager of two theaters had not at his disposal.
In what portion of Shakespeare's (i.e., Shakspere's) career would
it be possible to point out that time could be found for the
interposition of a legal employment in the chambers or offices of
Stratfordians, as is well known, casting about for some
possible explanation of Shakespeare's extraordinary knowledge of
law, have made the suggestion that Shakespeare might,
conceivably, have been a clerk in an attorney's office before he
came to London. Mr. Collier wrote to Lord Campbell to ask his
opinion as to the probability of this being true. His answer was
as follows: "You require us to believe implicitly a fact, of
which, if true, positive and irrefragable evidence in his own
handwriting might have been forthcoming to establish it. Not
having been actually enrolled as an attorney, neither the records
of the local court at Stratford nor of the superior Court at
Westminster would present his name as being concerned in any suit
as an attorney, but it might reasonably have been expected that
there would be deeds or wills witnessed by him still extant, and
after a very diligent search none such can be discovered."
Upon this Lord Penzance commends: "It cannot be doubted
that Lord Campbell was right in this. No young man could have
been at work in an attorney's office without being called upon
continually to act as a witness, and in many other ways leaving
traces of his work and name." There is not a single fact or
incident in all that is known of Shakespeare, even by rumor or
tradition, which supports this notion of a clerkship. And after
much argument and surmise which has been indulged in on this subject,
we may, I think, safely put the notion on one side, for no less
an authority than Mr. Grant White says finally that the idea of
his having been clerk to an attorney has been "blown to pieces."
It is altogether characteristic of Mr. Churton Collins that
he, nevertheless, adopts this exploded myth. "That Shakespeare
was in early life employed as a clerk in an attorney's office may
be correct. At Stratford there was by royal charter a Court of
Record sitting every fortnight, with six attorneys, besides the
town clerk, belonging to it, and it is certainly not straining
probability to suppose that the young Shakespeare may have had
employment in one of them. There is, it is true, no tradition to
this effect, but such traditions as we have about Shakespeare's
occupation between the time of leaving school and going to London
are so loose and baseless that no confidence can be placed in
them. It is, to say the least, more probable that he was in an
attorney's office than that he was a butcher killing calves 'in a
high style,' and making speeches over them."
This is a charming specimen of Stratfordian argument. There
is, as we have seen, a very old tradition that Shakespeare was a
butcher's apprentice. John Dowdall, who made a tour of
Warwickshire in 1693, testifies to it as coming from the old
clerk who showed him over the church, and it is unhesitatingly
accepted as true by Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps. (Vol. I, p. 11, and
Vol. II, pp. 71, 72.) Mr. Sidney Lee sees nothing improbable in
it, and it is supported by Aubrey, who must have written his
account some time before 1680, when his manuscript was completed.
Of the attorney's clerk hypothesis, on the other hand, there is
not the faintest vestige of a tradition. It has been evolved out
of the fertile imaginations of embarrassed Stratfordians, seeking
for some explanation of the Stratford rustic's marvelous
acquaintance with law and legal terms and legal life. But Mr.
Churton Collins has not the least hesitation in throwing over the
tradition which has the warrant of antiquity and setting up in
its stead this ridiculous invention, for which not only is there
no shred of positive evidence, but which, as Lord Campbell and
Lord Penzance pointed out, is really put out of court by the
negative evidence, since "no young man could have been at work in
an attorney's office without being called upon continually to act
as a witness, and in many other ways leaving traces of his work
and name." And as Mr. Edwards further points out, since the day
when Lord Campbell's book was published (between forty and fifty
years ago), "every old deed or will, to say nothing of other
legal papers, dated during the period of William Shakespeare's
youth, has been scrutinized over half a dozen shires, and not one
signature of the young man has been found."
Moreover, if Shakespeare had served as clerk in an attorney's
office it is clear that he must have served for a considerable
period in order to have gained (if, indeed, it is credible that
he could have so gained) his remarkable knowledge of the law.
Can we then for a moment believe that, if this had been so,
tradition would have been absolutely silent on the matter?
That Dowdall's old clerk, over eighty years of age,
should have never heard of it (though he was sure enough
about the butcher's apprentice) and that all the other
ancient witnesses should be in similar ignorance!
But such are the methods of Stratfordian controversy.
Tradition is to be scouted when it is found inconvenient, but
cited as irrefragable truth when it suits the case. Shakespeare
of Stratford was the author of the Plays and Poems, but the
author of the Plays and Poems could not have been a butcher's
apprentice. Anyway, therefore, with tradition. But the author
of the Plays and Poems MUST have had a very large and a very
accurate knowledge of the law. Therefore, Shakespeare of
Stratford must have been an attorney's clerk! The method is
simplicity itself. By similar reasoning Shakespeare has been
made a country schoolmaster, a soldier, a physician, a printer,
and a good many other things besides, according to the
inclination and the exigencies of the commentator. It would not
be in the least surprising to find that he was studying Latin as
a schoolmaster and law in an attorney's office at the same time.
However, we must do Mr. Collins the justice of saying that
he has fully recognized, what is indeed tolerable obvious, that
Shakespeare must have had a sound legal training. "It may, of
course, be urged," he writes, "that Shakespeare's knowledge of
medicine, and particularly that branch of it which related to
morbid psychology, is equally remarkable, and that no one has
ever contended that he was a physician. (Here Mr. Collins is
wrong; that contention also has been put forward.) It may be
urged that his acquaintance with the technicalities of other
crafts and callings, notably of marine and military affairs, was
also extraordinary, and yet no one has suspected him of being a
sailor or a soldier. (Wrong again. Why, even Messrs. Garnett
and Gosse "suspect" that he was a soldier!) This may be
conceded, but the concession hardly furnishes an analogy. To
these and all other subjects he recurs occasionally, and in
season, but with reminiscences of the law his memory, as is
abundantly clear, was simply saturated. In season and out of
season now in manifest, now in recondite application, he presses
it into the service of expression and illustration. At least a
third of his myriad metaphors are derived from it. It would
indeed be difficult to find a single act in any of his dramas,
nay, in some of them, a single scene, the diction and imagery of
which are not colored by it. Much of his law may have been
acquired from three books easily accessible to him--namely,
Tottell's PRECEDENTS (1572), Pulton's STATUTES (1578), and
Fraunce's LAWIER'S LOGIKE (1588), works with which he certainly
seems to have been familiar; but much of it could only have come
from one who had an intimate acquaintance with legal proceedings.
We quite agree with Mr. Castle that Shakespeare's legal knowledge
is not what could have been picked up in an attorney's office,
but could only have been learned by an actual attendance at the
Courts, at a Pleader's Chambers, and on circuit, or by
associating intimately with members of the Bench and Bar."
This is excellent. But what is Mr. Collins's explanation?
"Perhaps the simplest solution of the problem is to accept the
hypothesis that in early life he was in an attorney's office (!),
that he there contracted a love for the law which never left him,
that as a young man in London he continued to study or dabble in
it for his amusement, to stroll in leisure hours into the Courts,
and to frequent the society of lawyers. On no other supposition
is it possible to explain the attraction which the law evidently
had for him, and his minute and undeviating accuracy in a subject
where no layman who has indulged in such copious and ostentatious
display of legal technicalities has ever yet succeeded in keeping
himself from tripping."
A lame conclusion. "No other supposition" indeed! Yes,
there is another, and a very obvious supposition--namely, that
Shakespeare was himself a lawyer, well versed in his trade,
versed in all the ways of the courts, and living in close
intimacy with judges and members of the Inns of Court.
One is, of course, thankful that Mr. Collins has appreciated
the fact that Shakespeare must have had a sound legal training,
but I may be forgiven if I do not attach quite so much importance
to his pronouncements on this branch of the subject as to those
of Malone, Lord Campbell, Judge Holmes, Mr. Castle, K.C., Lord
Penzance, Mr. Grant White, and other lawyers, who have expressed
their opinion on the matter of Shakespeare's legal acquirements.
. . .
Here it may, perhaps, be worth while to quote again from
Lord Penzance's book as to the suggestion that Shakespeare had
somehow or other managed "to acquire a perfect familiarity with
legal principles, and an accurate and ready use of the technical
terms and phrases, not only of the conveyancer's office, but of
the pleader's chambers and the Courts at Westminster." This, as
Lord Penzance points out, "would require nothing short of
employment in some career involving CONSTANT CONTACT with legal
questions and general legal work." But "in what portion of
Shakespeare's career would it be possible to point out that time
could be found for the interposition of a legal employment in the
chambers or offices of practicing lawyers? . . . It is beyond
doubt that at an early period he was called upon to abandon his
attendance at school and assist his father, and was soon after,
at the age of sixteen, bound apprentice to a trade. While under
the obligation of this bond he could not have pursued any other
employment. Then he leaves Stratford and comes to London. He
has to provide himself with the means of a livelihood, and this
he did in some capacity at the theater. No one doubts that. The
holding of horses is scouted by many, and perhaps with justice,
as being unlikely and certainly unproved; but whatever the nature
of his employment was at the theater, there is hardly room for
the belief that it could have been other than continuous, for his
progress there was so rapid. Ere long he had been taken into the
company as an actor, and was soon spoken of as a 'Johannes
Factotum.' His rapid accumulation of wealth speaks volumes for
the constancy and activity of his services. One fails to see
when there could be a break in the current of his life at this
period of it, giving room or opportunity for legal or indeed any
other employment. 'In 1589,' says Knight, 'we have undeniable
evidence that he had not only a casual engagement, was not only a
salaried servant, as may players were, but was a shareholder in
the company of the Queen's players with other shareholders below
him on the list.' This (1589) would be within two years after
his arrival in London, which is placed by White and Halliwell-
Phillipps about the year 1587. The difficulty in supposing that,
starting with a state of ignorance in 1587, when he is supposed
to have come to London, he was induced to enter upon a course of
most extended study and mental culture, is almost insuperable.
Still it was physically possible, provided always that he could
have had access to the needful books. But this legal training
seems to me to stand on a different footing. It is not only
unaccountable and incredible, but it is actually negatived by the
known facts of his career." Lord Penzance then refers to the
fact that "by 1592 (according to the best authority, Mr. Grant
White) several of the plays had been written. 'The Comedy of
Errors' in 1589, 'Love's Labour's Lost' in 1589, 'Two Gentlemen
of Verona' in 1589 or 1590," and so forth, and then asks, "with
this catalogue of dramatic work on hand . . . was it possible
that he could have taken a leading part in the management and
conduct of two theaters, and if Mr. Phillipps is to be relied
upon, taken his share in the performances of the provincial tours
of his company--and at the same time devoted himself to the study
of the law in all its branches so efficiently as to make himself
complete master of its principles and practice, and saturate his
mind with all its most technical terms?"
I have cited this passage from Lord Penzance's book, because
it lay before me, and I had already quoted from it on the matter
of Shakespeare's legal knowledge; but other writers have still
better set forth the insuperable difficulties, as they seem to
me, which beset the idea that Shakespeare might have found them
in some unknown period of early life, amid multifarious other
occupations, for the study of classics, literature, and law, to
say nothing of languages and a few other matters. Lord Penzance
further asks his readers: "Did you ever meet with or hear of an
instance in which a young man in this country gave himself up to
legal studies and engaged in legal employments, which is the only
way of becoming familiar with the technicalities of practice, unless
with the view of practicing in that profession? I do not believe
that it would be easy, or indeed possible, to produce an instance
in which the law has been seriously studied in all its branches,
except as a qualification for practice in the legal profession."
This testimony is so strong, so direct, so authoritative;
and so uncheapened, unwatered by guesses, and surmises, and
maybe-so's, and might-have-beens, and could-have-beens, and must-
have-beens, and the rest of that ton of plaster of Paris out of
which the biographers have built the colossal brontosaur which
goes by the Stratford actor's name, that it quite convinces me
that the man who wrote Shakespeare's Works knew all about law and
lawyers. Also, that that man could not have been the Stratford
Who did write these Works, then?
I wish I knew.
1. From Chapter XIII of THE SHAKESPEARE PROBLEM RESTATED.
By George G. Greenwood, M.P. John Lane Company, publishers.
Did Francis Bacon write Shakespeare's Works? Nobody knows.
We cannot say we KNOW a thing when that thing has not been
proved. KNOW is too strong a word to use when the evidence is
not final and absolutely conclusive. We can infer, if we want
to, like those slaves. . . . No, I will not write that word,
it is not kind, it is not courteous. The upholders of the
Stratford-Shakespeare superstition call US the hardest names they
can think of, and they keep doing it all the time; very well,
if they like to descend to that level, let them do it, but I
will not so undignify myself as to follow them. I cannot call
them harsh names; the most I can do is to indicate them by terms
reflecting my disapproval; and this without malice, without venom.
To resume. What I was about to say was, those thugs have built
their entire superstition upon INFERENCES, not upon known and
established facts. It is a weak method, and poor, and I am
glad to be able to say our side never resorts to it while there
is anything else to resort to.
But when we must, we must; and we have now arrived at a
place of that sort. . . . Since the Stratford Shakespeare
couldn't have written the Works, we infer that somebody did.
Who was it, then? This requires some more inferring.
Ordinarily when an unsigned poem sweeps across the continent
like a tidal wave whose roar and boom and thunder are made up of
admiration, delight, and applause, a dozen obscure people rise up
and claim the authorship. Why a dozen, instead of only one or
two? One reason is, because there are a dozen that are
recognizably competent to do that poem. Do you remember
"Beautiful Snow"? Do you remember "Rock Me to Sleep, Mother,
Rock Me to Sleep"? Do you remember "Backward, turn, backward, O
Time, in thy flight! Make me a child again just for tonight"? I
remember them very well. Their authorship was claimed by most of
the grown-up people who were alive at the time, and every
claimant had one plausible argument in his favor, at least--to
wit, he could have done the authoring; he was competent.
Have the Works been claimed by a dozen? They haven't.
There was good reason. The world knows there was but one man on
the planet at the time who was competent--not a dozen, and not
two. A long time ago the dwellers in a far country used now and
then to find a procession of prodigious footprints stretching
across the plain--footprints that were three miles apart, each
footprint a third of a mile long and a furlong deep, and with
forests and villages mashed to mush in it. Was there any doubt
as to who made that mighty trail? Were there a dozen claimants?
Where there two? No--the people knew who it was that had been
along there: there was only one Hercules.
There has been only one Shakespeare. There couldn't be two;
certainly there couldn't be two at the same time. It takes ages
to bring forth a Shakespeare, and some more ages to match him.
This one was not matched before his time; nor during his time;
and hasn't been matched since. The prospect of matching him in
our time is not bright.
The Baconians claim that the Stratford Shakespeare was not
qualified to write the Works, and that Francis Bacon was.
They claim that Bacon possessed the stupendous equipment--both
natural and acquired--for the miracle; and that no other
Englishman of his day possessed the like; or, indeed,
anything closely approaching it.
Macaulay, in his Essay, has much to say about the splendor
and horizonless magnitude of that equipment. Also, he has
synopsized Bacon's history--a thing which cannot be done for the
Stratford Shakespeare, for he hasn't any history to synopsize.
Bacon's history is open to the world, from his boyhood to his
death in old age--a history consisting of known facts, displayed
in minute and multitudinous detail; FACTS, not guesses and
conjectures and might-have-beens.
Whereby it appears that he was born of a race of statesmen,
and had a Lord Chancellor for his father, and a mother who was
"distinguished both as a linguist and a theologian: she
corresponded in Greek with Bishop Jewell, and translated his
APOLOGIA from the Latin so correctly that neither he nor
Archbishop Parker could suggest a single alteration." It is the
atmosphere we are reared in that determines how our inclinations
and aspirations shall tend. The atmosphere furnished by the
parents to the son in this present case was an atmosphere
saturated with learning; with thinkings and ponderings upon deep
subjects; and with polite culture. It had its natural effect.
Shakespeare of Stratford was reared in a house which had no use
for books, since its owners, his parents, were without education.
This may have had an effect upon the son, but we do not know,
because we have no history of him of an informing sort. There
were but few books anywhere, in that day, and only the well-to-do
and highly educated possessed them, they being almost confined to
the dead languages. "All the valuable books then extant in all
the vernacular dialects of Europe would hardly have filled a
single shelf"--imagine it! The few existing books were in the
Latin tongue mainly. "A person who was ignorant of it was shut
out from all acquaintance--not merely with Cicero and Virgil, but
with the most interesting memoirs, state papers, and pamphlets of
his own time"--a literature necessary to the Stratford lad, for
his fictitious reputation's sake, since the writer of his Works
would begin to use it wholesale and in a most masterly way before
the lad was hardly more than out of his teens and into his
At fifteen Bacon was sent to the university, and he spent
three years there. Thence he went to Paris in the train of the
English Ambassador, and there he mingled daily with the wise, the
cultured, the great, and the aristocracy of fashion, during
another three years. A total of six years spent at the sources
of knowledge; knowledge both of books and of men. The three
spent at the university were coeval with the second and last
three spent by the little Stratford lad at Stratford school
supposedly, and perhapsedly, and maybe, and by inference--with
nothing to infer from. The second three of the Baconian six were
"presumably" spent by the Stratford lad as apprentice to a
butcher. That is, the thugs presume it--on no evidence of any
kind. Which is their way, when they want a historical fact.
Fact and presumption are, for business purposes, all the same to
them. They know the difference, but they also know how to blink
it. They know, too, that while in history-building a fact is
better than a presumption, it doesn't take a presumption long to
bloom into a fact when THEY have the handling of it. They know
by old experience that when they get hold of a presumption-
tadpole he is not going to STAY tadpole in their history-tank;
no, they know how to develop him into the giant four-legged
bullfrog of FACT, and make him sit up on his hams, and puff out
his chin, and look important and insolent and come-to-stay; and
assert his genuine simon-pure authenticity with a thundering
bellow that will convince everybody because it is so loud.
The thug is aware that loudness convinces sixty persons where
reasoning convinces but one. I wouldn't be a thug, not even if--
but never mind about that, it has nothing to do with the argument,
and it is not noble in spirit besides. If I am better than a thug,
is the merit mine? No, it is His. Then to Him be the praise.
That is the right spirit.
They "presume" the lad severed his "presumed" connection
with the Stratford school to become apprentice to a butcher.
They also "presume" that the butcher was his father. They don't
know. There is no written record of it, nor any other actual
evidence. If it would have helped their case any, they would
have apprenticed him to thirty butchers, to fifty butchers, to a
wilderness of butchers--all by their patented method "presumption."
If it will help their case they will do it yet; and if it will
further help it, they will "presume" that all those butchers
were his father. And the week after, they will SAY it.
Why, it is just like being the past tense of the compound
reflexive adverbial incandescent hypodermic irregular
accusative Noun of Multitude; which is father to the expression
which the grammarians call Verb. It is like a whole ancestry,
with only one posterity.
To resume. Next, the young Bacon took up the study of law,
and mastered that abstruse science. From that day to the end of
his life he was daily in close contact with lawyers and judges;
not as a casual onlooker in intervals between holding horses in
front of a theater, but as a practicing lawyer--a great and
successful one, a renowned one, a Launcelot of the bar, the most
formidable lance in the high brotherhood of the legal Table
Round; he lived in the law's atmosphere thenceforth, all his
years, and by sheer ability forced his way up its difficult
steeps to its supremest summit, the Lord-Chancellorship, leaving
behind him no fellow-craftsman qualified to challenge his divine
right to that majestic place.
When we read the praises bestowed by Lord Penzance and the
other illustrious experts upon the legal condition and legal
aptnesses, brilliances, profundities, and felicities so
prodigally displayed in the Plays, and try to fit them to the
historyless Stratford stage-manager, they sound wild, strange,
incredible, ludicrous; but when we put them in the mouth of Bacon
they do not sound strange, they seem in their natural and
rightful place, they seem at home there. Please turn back and
read them again. Attributed to Shakespeare of Stratford they are
meaningless, they are inebriate extravagancies--intemperate
admirations of the dark side of the moon, so to speak; attributed
to Bacon, they are admirations of the golden glories of the
moon's front side, the moon at the full--and not intemperate, not
overwrought, but sane and right, and justified. "At ever turn
and point at which the author required a metaphor, simile, or
illustration, his mind ever turned FIRST to the law; he seems
almost to have THOUGHT in legal phrases; the commonest legal
phrases, the commonest of legal expressions, were ever at the end
of his pen." That could happen to no one but a person whose
TRADE was the law; it could not happen to a dabbler in it.
Veteran mariners fill their conversation with sailor-phrases and
draw all their similes from the ship and the sea and the storm,
but no mere PASSENGER ever does it, be he of Stratford or
elsewhere; or could do it with anything resembling accuracy, if
he were hardy enough to try. Please read again what Lord
Campbell and the other great authorities have said about Bacon
when they thought they were saying it about Shakespeare of Stratford.
The Rest of the Equipment
The author of the Plays was equipped, beyond every other man
of his time, with wisdom, erudition, imagination, capaciousness
of mind, grace, and majesty of expression. Everyone one had said
it, no one doubts it. Also, he had humor, humor in rich
abundance, and always wanting to break out. We have no evidence
of any kind that Shakespeare of Stratford possessed any of these
gifts or any of these acquirements. The only lines he ever
wrote, so far as we know, are substantially barren of them--
barren of all of them.
Good friend for Iesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare:
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones
And curst be he yt moves my bones.
Ben Jonson says of Bacon, as orator:
His language, WHERE HE COULD SPARE AND PASS BY A JEST, was
nobly censorious. No man ever spoke more neatly, more pressly,
more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness, in
what he uttered. No member of his speech but consisted of his
(its) own graces. . . . The fear of every man that heard him was
lest he should make an end.
He continued to distinguish himself in Parliament,
particularly by his exertions in favor of one excellent measure
on which the King's heart was set--the union of England and
Scotland. It was not difficult for such an intellect to discover
many irresistible arguments in favor of such a scheme. He
conducted the great case of the POST NATI in the Exchequer
Chamber; and the decision of the judges--a decision the legality
of which may be questioned, but the beneficial effect of which
must be acknowledged--was in a great measure attributed to his
While actively engaged in the House of Commons and in the courts
of law, he still found leisure for letters and philosophy.
The noble treatise on the ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING, which at a
later period was expanded into the DE AUGMENTIS, appeared in 1605.
The WISDOM OF THE ANCIENTS, a work which, if it had
proceeded from any other writer, would have been considered as a
masterpiece of wit and learning, was printed in 1609.
In the mean time the NOVUM ORGANUM was slowly proceeding.
Several distinguished men of learning had been permitted to see
portions of that extraordinary book, and they spoke with the
greatest admiration of his genius.
Even Sir Thomas Bodley, after perusing the COGITATA ET VISA,
one of the most precious of those scattered leaves out of which
the great oracular volume was afterward made up, acknowledged
that "in all proposals and plots in that book, Bacon showed
himself a master workman"; and that "it could not be gainsaid but
all the treatise over did abound with choice conceits of the
present state of learning, and with worthy contemplations of the
means to procure it."
In 1612 a new edition of the ESSAYS appeared, with additions
surpassing the original collection both in bulk and quality.
Nor did these pursuits distract Bacon's attention from a
work the most arduous, the most glorious, and the most useful
that even his mighty powers could have achieved, "the reducing
and recompiling," to use his own phrase, "of the laws of England."
To serve the exacting and laborious offices of Attorney-General
and Solicitor-General would have satisfied the appetite of any
other man for hard work, but Bacon had to add the vast literary
industries just described, to satisfy his. He was a born worker.
The service which he rendered to letters during the last
five years of his life, amid ten thousand distractions and
vexations, increase the regret with which we think on the many
years which he had wasted, to use the words of Sir Thomas Bodley,
"on such study as was not worthy such a student."
He commenced a digest of the laws of England, a History of
England under the Princes of the House of Tudor, a body of
National History, a Philosophical Romance. He made extensive and
valuable additions to his Essays. He published the inestimable
TREATISE DE AUGMENTIS SCIENTIARUM.
Did these labors of Hercules fill up his time to his contentment,
and quiet his appetite for work? Not entirely:
The trifles with which he amused himself in hours of pain and languor
bore the mark of his mind. THE BEST JEST-BOOK IN THE WORLD is that
which he dictated from memory, without referring to any book,
on a day on which illness had rendered him incapable of serious study.
Here are some scattered remarks (from Macaulay) which throw
light upon Bacon, and seem to indicate--and maybe demonstrate--
that he was competent to write the Plays and Poems:
With great minuteness of observation he had an amplitude of comprehension
such as has never yet been vouchsafed to any other human being.
The ESSAYS contain abundant proofs that no nice feature of
character, no peculiarity in the ordering of a house, a garden,
or a court-masque, could escape the notice of one whose mind was
capable of taking in the whole world of knowledge.
His understanding resembled the tent which the fairy
Paribanou gave to Prince Ahmed: fold it, and it seemed a toy for
the hand of a lady; spread it, and the armies of the powerful
Sultans might repose beneath its shade.
The knowledge in which Bacon excelled all men was a knowledge
of the mutual relations of all departments of knowledge.
In a letter written when he was only thirty-one, to his uncle,
Lord Burleigh, he said, "I have taken all knowledge to be my province."
Though Bacon did not arm his philosophy with the weapons of logic,
he adorned her profusely with all the richest decorations of rhetoric.
The practical faculty was powerful in Bacon; but not, like
his wit, so powerful as occasionally to usurp the place of his
reason and to tyrannize over the whole man.
There are too many places in the Plays where this happens.
Poor old dying John of Gaunt volleying second-rate puns at his
own name, is a pathetic instance of it. "We may assume" that it is
Bacon's fault, but the Stratford Shakespeare has to bear the blame.
No imagination was ever at once so strong and so thoroughly
subjugated. It stopped at the first check from good sense.
In truth, much of Bacon's life was passed in a visionary world--
amid things as strange as any that are described in the ARABIAN TALES
. . . amid buildings more sumptuous than the palace of Aladdin,
fountains more wonderful than the golden water of Parizade,
conveyances more rapid than the hippogryph of Ruggiero, arms more
formidable than the lance of Astolfo, remedies more effacious
than the balsam of Fierabras. Yet in his magnificent day-dreams
there was nothing wild--nothing but what sober reason sanctioned.
Bacon's greatest performance is the first book of the NOVUM
ORGANUM. . . . Every part of it blazes with wit, but with wit
which is employed only to illustrate and decorate truth. No book
ever made so great a revolution in the mode of thinking,
overthrew so may prejudices, introduced so many new opinions.
But what we most admire is the vast capacity of that
intellect which, without effort, takes in at once all the domains
of science--all the past, the present and the future, all the
errors of two thousand years, all the encouraging signs of the
passing times, all the bright hopes of the coming age.
He had a wonderful talent for packing thought close and
rendering it portable.
His eloquence would alone have entitled him to a high rank
It is evident that he had each and every one of the mental gifts
and each and every one of the acquirements that are so prodigally
displayed in the Plays and Poems, and in much higher and richer
degree than any other man of his time or of any previous time.
He was a genius without a mate, a prodigy not matable. There was
only one of him; the planet could not produce two of him at
one birth, nor in one age. He could have written anything that
is in the Plays and Poems. He could have written this:
The cloud-cap'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like an insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Also, he could have written this, but he refrained:
Good friend for Iesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare:
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones
And curst be he yt moves my bones.
When a person reads the noble verses about the cloud-cap'd
towers, he ought not to follow it immediately with Good friend
for Iesus sake forbeare, because he will find the transition from
great poetry to poor prose too violent for comfort. It will give
him a shock. You never notice how commonplace and unpoetic
gravel is until you bite into a layer of it in a pie.
Am I trying to convince anybody that Shakespeare did not
write Shakespeare's Works? Ah, now, what do you take me for?
Would I be so soft as that, after having known the human race
familiarly for nearly seventy-four years? It would grieve me to
know that any one could think so injuriously of me, so
uncomplimentarily, so unadmiringly of me. No, no, I am aware
that when even the brightest mind in our world has been trained
up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be
possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely,
dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any
circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity
of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself. We
always get at second hand our notions about systems of
government; and high tariff and low tariff; and prohibition and
anti-prohibition; and the holiness of peace and the glories of
war; and codes of honor and codes of morals; and approval of the
duel and disapproval of it; and our beliefs concerning the nature
of cats; and our ideas as to whether the murder of helpless wild
animals is base or is heroic; and our preferences in the matter
of religious and political parties; and our acceptance or
rejection of the Shakespeares and the Author Ortons and the Mrs.
Eddys. We get them all at second hand, we reason none of them
out for ourselves. It is the way we are made. It is the way we
are all made, and we can't help it, we can't change it. And
whenever we have been furnished a fetish, and have been taught to
believe in it, and love it and worship it, and refrain from
examining it, there is no evidence, howsoever clear and strong,
that can persuade us to withdraw from it our loyalty and our
devotion. In morals, conduct, and beliefs we take the color of
our environment and associations, and it is a color that can
safely be warranted to wash. Whenever we have been furnished
with a tar baby ostensibly stuffed with jewels, and warned that
it will be dishonorable and irreverent to disembowel it and test
the jewels, we keep our sacrilegious hands off it. We submit,
not reluctantly, but rather gladly, for we are privately afraid
we should find, upon examination that the jewels are of the sort
that are manufactured at North Adams, Mass.
I haven't any idea that Shakespeare will have to vacate his
pedestal this side of the year 2209. Disbelief in him cannot
come swiftly, disbelief in a healthy and deeply-loved tar baby
has never been known to disintegrate swiftly; it is a very slow
process. It took several thousand years to convince our fine
race--including every splendid intellect in it--that there is no
such thing as a witch; it has taken several thousand years to
convince the same fine race--including every splendid intellect
in it--that there is no such person as Satan; it has taken
several centuries to remove perdition from the Protestant
Church's program of post-mortem entertainments; it has taken a
weary long time to persuade American Presbyterians to give up
infant damnation and try to bear it the best they can; and it
looks as if their Scotch brethren will still be burning babies in
the everlasting fires when Shakespeare comes down from his perch.
We are The Reasoning Race. We can't prove it by the above
examples, and we can't prove it by the miraculous "histories"
built by those Stratfordolaters out of a hatful of rags and a
barrel of sawdust, but there is a plenty of other things we can
prove it by, if I could think of them. We are The Reasoning
Race, and when we find a vague file of chipmunk-tracks stringing
through the dust of Stratford village, we know by our reasoning
bowers that Hercules has been along there. I feel that our
fetish is safe for three centuries yet. The bust, too--there in
the Stratford Church. The precious bust, the priceless bust, the
calm bust, the serene bust, the emotionless bust, with the dandy
mustache, and the putty face, unseamed of care--that face which
has looked passionlessly down upon the awed pilgrim for a hundred
and fifty years and will still look down upon the awed pilgrim
three hundred more, with the deep, deep, deep, subtle, subtle,
subtle expression of a bladder.
One of the most trying defects which I find in these--these
--what shall I call them? for I will not apply injurious epithets
to them, the way they do to us, such violations of courtesy being
repugnant to my nature and my dignity. The farthest I can go in
that direction is to call them by names of limited reverence--
names merely descriptive, never unkind, never offensive, never
tainted by harsh feeling. If THEY would do like this, they would
feel better in their hearts. Very well, then--to proceed. One
of the most trying defects which I find in these
Stratfordolaters, these Shakesperiods, these thugs, these
bangalores, these troglodytes, these herumfrodites, these
blatherskites, these buccaneers, these bandoleers, is their
spirit of irreverence. It is detectable in every utterance of
theirs when they are talking about us. I am thankful that in me
there is nothing of that spirit. When a thing is sacred to me it
is impossible for me to be irreverent toward it. I cannot call
to mind a single instance where I have ever been irreverent,
except towards the things which were sacred to other people. Am
I in the right? I think so. But I ask no one to take my
unsupported word; no, look at the dictionary; let the dictionary
decide. Here is the definition:
IRREVERENCE. The quality or condition of irreverence toward
God and sacred things.
What does the Hindu say? He says it is correct. He says
irreverence is lack of respect for Vishnu, and Brahma, and
Chrishna, and his other gods, and for his sacred cattle, and for
his temples and the things within them. He endorses the
definition, you see; and there are 300,000,000 Hindus or their
equivalents back of him.
The dictionary had the acute idea that by using the capital
G it could restrict irreverence to lack of reverence for OUR
Deity and our sacred things, but that ingenious and rather sly
idea miscarried: for by the simple process of spelling HIS
deities with capitals the Hindu confiscates the definition and
restricts it to his own sects, thus making it clearly compulsory
upon us to revere HIS gods and HIS sacred things, and nobody's
else. We can't say a word, for he had our own dictionary at his
back, and its decision is final.
This law, reduced to its simplest terms, is this:
1. Whatever is sacred to the Christian must be held in reverence by
everybody else; 2. whatever is sacred to the Hindu must be held
in reverence by everybody else; 3. therefore, by consequence,
logically, and indisputably, whatever is sacred to ME must be
held in reverence by everybody else.
Now then, what aggravates me is that these troglodytes and
muscovites and bandoleers and buccaneers are ALSO trying to crowd
in and share the benefit of the law, and compel everybody to
revere their Shakespeare and hold him sacred. We can't have
that: there's enough of us already. If you go on widening and
spreading and inflating the privilege, it will presently come to
be conceded that each man's sacred things are the ONLY ones, and
the rest of the human race will have to be humbly reverent toward
them or suffer for it. That can surely happen, and when it
happens, the word Irreverence will be regarded as the most
meaningless, and foolish, and self-conceited, and insolent, and
impudent, and dictatorial word in the language. And people will
say, "Whose business is it what gods I worship and what things
hold sacred? Who has the right to dictate to my conscience, and
where did he get that right?"
We cannot afford to let that calamity come upon us. We must
save the word from this destruction. There is but one way to do
it, and that is to stop the spread of the privilege and strictly
confine it to its present limits--that is, to all the Christian
sects, to all the Hindu sects, and me. We do not need any more,
the stock is watered enough, just as it is.
It would be better if the privilege were limited to me
alone. I think so because I am the only sect that knows how to
employ it gently, kindly, charitably, dispassionately. The other
sects lack the quality of self-restraint. The Catholic Church
says the most irreverent things about matters which are sacred to
the Protestants, and the Protestant Church retorts in kind about
the confessional and other matters which Catholics hold sacred;
then both of these irreverencers turn upon Thomas Paine and
charge HIM with irreverence. This is all unfortunate, because it
makes it difficult for students equipped with only a low grade of
mentality to find out what Irreverence really IS.
It will surely be much better all around if the privilege of
regulating the irreverent and keeping them in order shall
eventually be withdrawn from all the sects but me. Then there
will be no more quarreling, no more bandying of disrespectful
epithets, no more heartburnings.
There will then be nothing sacred involved in this Bacon-
Shakespeare controversy except what is sacred to me. That will
simplify the whole matter, and trouble will cease. There will be
irreverence no longer, because I will not allow it. The first
time those criminals charge me with irreverence for calling their
Stratford myth an Arthur-Orton-Mary-Baker-Thompson-Eddy-Louis-
the-Seventeenth-Veiled-Prophet-of-Khorassan will be the last.
Taught by the methods found effective in extinguishing earlier
offenders by the Inquisition, of holy memory, I shall know how to
Isn't it odd, when you think of it, that you may list all
the celebrated Englishmen, Irishmen, and Scotchmen of modern
times, clear back to the first Tudors--a list containing five
hundred names, shall we say?--and you can go to the histories,
biographies, and cyclopedias and learn the particulars of the
lives of every one of them. Every one of them except one--the
most famous, the most renowned--by far the most illustrious of
them all--Shakespeare! You can get the details of the lives of
all the celebrated ecclesiastics in the list; all the celebrated
tragedians, comedians, singers, dancers, orators, judges,
lawyers, poets, dramatists, historians, biographers, editors,
inventors, reformers, statesmen, generals, admirals, discoverers,
prize-fighters, murderers, pirates, conspirators, horse-jockeys,
bunco-steerers, misers, swindlers, explorers, adventurers by land
and sea, bankers, financiers, astronomers, naturalists,
claimants, impostors, chemists, biologists, geologists,
philologists, college presidents and professors, architects,
engineers, painters, sculptors, politicians, agitators, rebels,
revolutionists, patriots, demagogues, clowns, cooks, freaks,
philosophers, burglars, highwaymen, journalists, physicians,
surgeons--you can get the life-histories of all of them but ONE.
Just ONE--the most extraordinary and the most celebrated of them all--
You may add to the list the thousand celebrated persons
furnished by the rest of Christendom in the past four centuries,
and you can find out the life-histories of all those people, too.
You will then have listed fifteen hundred celebrities, and you
can trace the authentic life-histories of the whole of them.
Save one--far and away the most colossal prodigy of the entire
accumulation--Shakespeare! About him you can find out NOTHING.
Nothing of even the slightest importance. Nothing worth the
trouble of stowing away in your memory. Nothing that even
remotely indicates that he was ever anything more than a
distinctly commonplace person--a manager, an actor of inferior
grade, a small trader in a small village that did not regard him
as a person of any consequence, and had forgotten all about him
before he was fairly cold in his grave. We can go to the records
and find out the life-history of every renowned RACE-HORSE of
modern times--but not Shakespeare's! There are many reasons why,
and they have been furnished in cart-loads (of guess and
conjecture) by those troglodytes; but there is one that is worth
all the rest of the reasons put together, and is abundantly
sufficient all by itself--HE HADN'T ANY HISTORY TO RECORD. There
is no way of getting around that deadly fact. And no sane way
has yet been discovered of getting around its formidable
Its quite plain significance--to any but those thugs (I do
not use the term unkindly) is, that Shakespeare had no prominence
while he lived, and none until he had been dead two or three
generations. The Plays enjoyed high fame from the beginning; and
if he wrote them it seems a pity the world did not find it out.
He ought to have explained that he was the author, and not merely
a NOM DE PLUME for another man to hide behind. If he had been
less intemperately solicitous about his bones, and more
solicitous about his Works, it would have been better for his
good name, and a kindness to us. The bones were not important.
They will moulder away, they will turn to dust, but the Works
will endure until the last sun goes down.
P.S. MARCH 25. About two months ago I was illuminating
this Autobiography with some notions of mine concerning the
Bacon-Shakespeare controversy, and I then took occasion to air
the opinion that the Stratford Shakespeare was a person of no
public consequence or celebrity during his lifetime, but was
utterly obscure and unimportant. And not only in great London,
but also in the little village where he was born, where he lived
a quarter of a century, and where he died and was buried. I
argued that if he had been a person of any note at all, aged
villagers would have had much to tell about him many and many a
year after his death, instead of being unable to furnish
inquirers a single fact connected with him. I believed, and I
still believe, that if he had been famous, his notoriety would
have lasted as long as mine has lasted in my native village out
in Missouri. It is a good argument, a prodigiously strong one,
and most formidable one for even the most gifted and ingenious
and plausible Stratfordolator to get around or explain away.
Today a Hannibal COURIER-POST of recent date has reached me, with
an article in it which reinforces my contention that a really
celebrated person cannot be forgotten in his village in the short
space of sixty years. I will make an extract from it:
Hannibal, as a city, may have many sins to answer for, but
ingratitude is not one of them, or reverence for the great men
she has produced, and as the years go by her greatest son, Mark
Twain, or S. L. Clemens as a few of the unlettered call him,
grows in the estimation and regard of the residents of the town
he made famous and the town that made him famous. His name is
associated with every old building that is torn down to make way
for the modern structures demanded by a rapidly growing city, and
with every hill or cave over or through which he might by any
possibility have roamed, while the many points of interest which
he wove into his stories, such as Holiday Hill, Jackson's Island,
or Mark Twain Cave, are now monuments to his genius. Hannibal is
glad of any opportunity to do him honor as he had honored her.
So it has happened that the "old timers" who went to school
with Mark or were with him on some of his usual escapades have
been honored with large audiences whenever they were in a
reminiscent mood and condescended to tell of their intimacy with
the ordinary boy who came to be a very extraordinary humorist and
whose every boyish act is now seen to have been indicative of
what was to come. Like Aunt Becky and Mrs. Clemens, they can now
see that Mark was hardly appreciated when he lived here and that
the things he did as a boy and was whipped for doing were not all
bad, after all. So they have been in no hesitancy about drawing
out the bad things he did as well as the good in their efforts to
get a "Mark Twain" story, all incidents being viewed in the light
of his present fame, until the volume of "Twainiana" is already
considerable and growing in proportion as the "old timers" drop
away and the stories are retold second and third hand by their
descendants. With some seventy-three years and living in a villa
instead of a house, he is a fair target, and let him incorporate,
copyright, or patent himself as he will, there are some of his
"works" that will go swooping up Hannibal chimneys as long as
graybeards gather about the fires and begin with, "I've heard
father tell," or possibly, "Once when I."
The Mrs. Clemens referred to is my mother--WAS my mother.
And here is another extract from a Hannibal paper, of date
twenty days ago:
Miss Becca Blankenship died at the home of William Dickason,
408 Rock Street, at 2.30 o'clock yesterday afternoon, aged 72
years. The deceased was a sister of "Huckleberry Finn," one of
the famous characters in Mark Twain's TOM SAWYER. She had been a
member of the Dickason family--the housekeeper--for nearly forty-
five years, and was a highly respected lady. For the past eight
years she had been an invalid, but was as well cared for by
Mr. Dickason and his family as if she had been a near relative.
She was a member of the Park Methodist Church and a Christian woman.
I remember her well. I have a picture of her in my mind
which was graven there, clear and sharp and vivid, sixty-three
years ago. She was at that time nine years old, and I was about
eleven. I remember where she stood, and how she looked; and I
can still see her bare feet, her bare head, her brown face, and
her short tow-linen frock. She was crying. What it was about I
have long ago forgotten. But it was the tears that preserved the
picture for me, no doubt. She was a good child, I can say that
for her. She knew me nearly seventy years ago. Did she forget
me, in the course of time? I think not. If she had lived in
Stratford in Shakespeare's time, would she have forgotten him?
Yes. For he was never famous during his lifetime, he was utterly
obscure in Stratford, and there wouldn't be any occasion to
remember him after he had been dead a week.
"Injun Joe," "Jimmy Finn," and "General Gaines" were
prominent and very intemperate ne'er-do-weels in Hannibal two
generations ago. Plenty of grayheads there remember them to this
day, and can tell you about them. Isn't it curious that two
"town drunkards" and one half-breed loafer should leave behind
them, in a remote Missourian village, a fame a hundred times
greater and several hundred times more particularized in the
matter of definite facts than Shakespeare left behind him in the
village where he had lived the half of his lifetime?