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THE prevalent notion that Shakespeare was a poet, who owed little or nothing to education and everything to original genius, is the opinion that was for many years entertained regarding Homer. And the opinion seems to have obtained among some, from the early days of the seventeenth century. Thus we have it on the authority of Nicholas Rowe that “ In a conversation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter, Mr. Hales of Eton and Ben Jonson, Sir John Suckling, who was a professed admirer of Shakspeare, had undertaken his defence against Ben Jonson with some warmth. Mr. Hales, who had sat still for some time, told them that if Mr. Shakspeare had not read the ancients, he had likewise not stolen anything from them, and that if he would produce any one topick, finely treated by any one of them, he would undertake to shew something upon the same subject at least as well written by Shakspeare” (Some Account of the Life of William Shakspeare,' p. ix). And Dr. Johnson writing in 1765 makes the assertion that, “ The greater part of his (Shakespeare's) excellence was the product of his own genius. He found the English stage in a state of the utmost rudeness, no essays either in tragedy or comedy had appeared from which it could be discovered to what degree of delight either one or the other might be carried.” . . . . And he adds, “ Perhaps it would not be easy to find any author, except Homer, who invented so much ” ( Preface to the Plays,' pp. lv and lviii). But the old fashioned idea of Homer, a blind beggar unable to read or write, who, inspired by the divine spirit within him, wandered through the cities of Asiatic Greece chanting the epic which delights the world, has long since been abandoned by classical scholars, so that unless Shakespeare be the sole example, the history of mankind affords no instance of a man without education having produced a literary work of the highest excellence. Yet that is what we are required to believe in the case of Shakespeare.
and nothing has transpired to contradict them -as being without learning or art, and yet as having produced works fit, as Ben Jonson says, to compare with
All that insolent Greece or haughty Rome
Surely such a proposition must be strictly proved before reasonable people can believe it; surely the matter must always remain open to doubt until it is proved. And to the few, who trouble themselves with probabilities, it has been for many years a doubtful question ; while some have cut the knot by finding a more likely author in our great philosopher, Francis Bacon. Meanwhile the patient labour of skilful investigators has shown that certain well-known Elizabethan dramatists were undoubtedly engaged in the composition of the plays, and that all that could be claimed either for Shakespeare or Bacon was a final revision of so material a kind as would constitute practical authorship.
Now at first sight it does not appear why the discussion of this question should raise either heat or acrimony. We are in possession of those inimitable dramas; and it can therefore matter very little to us whether they were written by one man or another. Shakespeare has not, like Homer, been deified. His temples do not adorn the land, and no vested interests seem to belong to his worship. When, however, we remember how much learned criticism has been written on the assumption that he is our divine bard, the vested interest at once appears. How can we expect ingenious ladies and gentlemen to tolerate a theory, which suggests the propriety of burning their books. I have, nevertheless, been driven to the conclusion, that Shakespeare had nothing to do with the composition of the plays; that Bacon began the series by writing ‘Hamlet,' and was afterwards employed to revise those which Shakespeare bought of other playwrights.
I make no claim for the discovery of facts before unknown. Everything in that shape had been already discovered, or at least suggested before
time ; and all that remained to do, was, to marshal the evidence and draw from it a consistent conclusion. In thus doing I have aimed at producing a popular treatise, which will place before the general public, the information hitherto confined to specialists. Every reader