The evidence of Ben Jonson to the identity of Shakespeare the author with Shakspere the actor, is “the strength of the Stratfordian faith,” says Mr. Greenwood. “But I think it will be admitted that the various Jonsonian utterances with regard to ‘Shakespeare’ are by no means easy to reconcile one with the other.” 205
It is difficult to reply briefly to Mr. Greenwood’s forty-seven pages about the evidence of Jonson. But, first, whenever in written words or in reported conversation, Ben speaks of Shakespeare by name, he speaks of his WORKS: in 1619 to Drummond of Hawthornden; in 1623 in commendatory verses to the Folio; while, about 1630, probably, in his posthumously published Discourses, he writes on Shakespeare as the friend and “fellow” of the players, on Shakespeare as his own friend, and as a dramatist. On each of these three occasions, Ben’s TONE varies. In 1619 he said no more to Drummond of Hawthornden (apparently on two separate occasions) than that Shakespeare “lacked art,” and made the mistake about a wreck on the sea-coast of Bohemia.
In 1619, Ben spoke gruffly and briefly of Shakespeare, as to Drummond he also spoke disparagingly of Beaumont, whom he had panegyrised in an epigram in his own folio of 1616, and was again to praise in the commendatory verses in the Folio. He spoke still more harshly of Drayton, whom in 1616 he had compared to Homer, Virgil, Theocritus, and Tyraeus! He told an unkind anecdote of Marston, with whom he had first quarrelled and then made friends, collaborating with him in a play; and very generously and to his great peril, sharing his imprisonment. To Drummond, Jonson merely said that he “beat Marston and took away his pistol.” Of Sir John Beaumont, brother of the dramatist, Ben had written a most hyperbolical eulogy in verse; luckily for Sir John, to Drummond Ben did not speak of him. Such was Ben, in panegyric verse hyperbolical; in conversation “a despiser of others, and praiser of himself.” Compare Ben’s three remarks about Donne, all made to Drummond. Donne deserved hanging for breaking metre; Donne would perish for not being understood: and Donne was in some points the first of living poets.
Mr. Greenwood’s effort to disable Jonson’s evidence rests on the contradictions in his estimates of Shakespeare’s poetry, in notices scattered through some thirty years. Jonson, it is argued, cannot on each occasion mean Will. He must now mean Will, now the Great Unknown, and now — both at once. Yet I have proved that Ben was the least consistent of critics, all depended on the occasion, and on his humour at the moment. This is a commonplace of literary history. The Baconians do not know it; Mr. Greenwood, if he knows it, ignores it, and bases his argument on facts which may be unknown to his readers. We have noted Ben’s words of 1619, and touched on his panegyric of 1623. Thirdly, about 1630 probably, Ben wrote in his manuscript book Discourses an affectionate but critical page on Shakespeare as a man and an author. Always, in prose, and in verse, and in recorded conversation, Ben explicitly identified Shakspere (William, of Stratford) with the author of the plays usually ascribed to him. But the Baconian Judge Webb (in extreme old age), and the anti-Shakespearean Mr. Greenwood and others, choose to interpret Ben’s words on the theory that, in 1623, he “had his tongue in his cheek”; that, like Odysseus, he “mingled things false with true,” that THEY know what is true from what is false, and can undo the many knots which Ben tied in his tongue. How they succeed we shall see.
In addition to his three known mentions of Shakespeare by name (1619, 1623, 1630?), Ben certainly appears to satirise his rival at a much earlier date; especially as Pantalabus, a playwright in The Poetaster (1601), and as actor, poet, and plagiarist in an epigram, Poet–Ape, published in his collected works of 1616; but probably written as early as 1602. It is well known that in 1598 Shakespeare’s company acted Ben’s Every Man in His Humour. It appears that he conceived some grudge against the actors, and apparently against Shakespeare and other playwrights, for, in 1601, his Poetaster is a satire both on playwrights and on actors, whom he calls “apes.” The apparent attacks on Shakespeare are just such as Ben, if angry and envious, would direct against him; while we know of no other poet-player of the period to whom they could apply. For example, in The Poetaster, Histrio, the actor, is advised to ingratiate himself with Pantalabus, “gent’man parcel-poet, his father was a man of worship, I tell thee.” This is perhaps unmistakably a blow at Shakespeare, who had recently acquired for his father and himself arms, and the pleasure of writing himself “gentleman.” This “parcel-poet gent’man” “pens lofty, in a new stalking style,”— he is thus an author, he “pens,” and in a high style. He is called Pantalabus, from the Greek words for “to TAKE UP ALL,” which means that, as poet, he is a plagiarist. Jonson repeats this charge in his verses called Poet–Ape —
“HE TAKES UP ALL,” makes each man’s wit his own,
And told of this, he slights it.”
In a scene added to The Poetaster in 1616, the author (Ben) is advised not
“With a sad and serious verse to wound
Pantalabus, railing in his saucy jests,”
and obviously slighting the charges of plagiarism. Perhaps Ben is glancing at Shakespeare, who, if accused of plagiary by an angry rival, would merely laugh.
A reply to the Poetaster, namely Satiromastix (by Dekker and Marston?), introduces Jonson himself as babbling darkly about “Mr. Justice Shallow,” and “an Innocent Moor” (Othello?). Here is question of “administering strong pills” to Jonson; THEN,
“What lumps of hard and indigested stuff,
Of bitter SATIRISM, of ARROGANCE,
Of SELF-LOVE, of DETRACTION, of a black
And stinking INSOLENCE should we fetch up!”
This “pill” is a reply to Ben’s “purge” for the poets in his Poetaster. Oh, the sad old stuff!
Referring to Jonson’s Poetaster, and to Satiromastix, the counter~attack, we find a passage in the Cambridge play, The Return from Parnassus (about 1602). Burbage, the tragic actor, and Kempe, the low-comedy man of Shakespeare’s company, are introduced, discussing the possible merits of Cambridge wits as playwrights. Kempe rejects them as they “smell too much of that writer Ovid, and that writer Metamorphosis . . . “ The purpose, of course, is to laugh at the ignorance of the low-comedy man, who thinks “Metamorphosis” a writer, and does not suspect — how should he? — that Shakespeare “smells of Ovid.” Kempe innocently goes on, “Why, here’s our fellow” (comrade) “Shakespeare puts them all down” (all the University playwrights), “aye, and Ben Jonson too. O that Ben Jonson is a pestilent fellow, he brought up Horace” (in The Poetaster) “giving the poets a pill, but our fellow Shakespeare hath given him a purge . . . ”
The Cambridge author, perhaps, is thinking of the pill (not purge) which, in Satiromastix, might be administered to Jonson. The Cambridge author may have thought that Shakespeare wrote the passage on the pill which was to “fetch up” masses of Ben’s insolence, self~love, arrogance, and detraction. If this be not the sequence of ideas, it is not easy to understand how or why Kempe is made to say that Shakespeare has given Jonson a purge. Stupid old nonsense! There are other more or less obscure indications of Jonson’s spite, during the stage-quarrel, against Shakespeare, but the most unmistakable proof lies in his verses in “Poet–Ape.” I am aware that Ben’s intention here to hit at Shakespeare has been denied, for example by Mr. Collins with his usual vigour of language. But though I would fain agree with him, the object of attack can be no known person save Will. Jonson was already, in The Poetaster, using the term “Poet–Ape,” for he calls the actors at large “apes.”
Jonson thought so well of his rhymes that he included them in the Epigrams of his first Folio (1616). By that date, the year of Shakespeare’s death, if he really loved Shakespeare, as he says, in verse and prose, Ben might have suppressed the verses. But (as Drummond noted) he preferred his jest, such as it was, to his friend; who was not, as usually understood, a man apt to resent a very blunt shaft of very obsolete wit. Like Moliere, Shakespeare had outlived the charge of plagiarism, made long ago by the jealous Ben.
Poet–Ape is an actor-playwright “THAT WOULD BE THOUGHT OUR CHIEF”— words which, by 1601, could only apply to Shakespeare; there was no rival, save Ben, near his throne. The playwright-actor, too, has now confessedly
To a little wealth and credit in the scene,”
of no other actor-playwright could this be said.
He is the author of “works” (Jonson was laughed at for calling his own plays “works”), but these works are “the frippery of wit,” that is, a tissue of plagiarisms, as in the case of Pantalabus. But “told of this he slights it,” as most successful authors, when accused, as they often are, of plagiarism by jealous rivals, wisely do — so did Moliere. This Poet–Ape began his career by “picking and gleaning” and “buying reversions of old plays.” This means that Shakespeare DID work over earlier plays which his company had acquired; or, if Shakespeare did not — then, I presume — Bacon did!
THAT, with much bad humour, is the gist of the rhymes on Poet–Ape. Ben thinks Shakespeare’s “works” very larcenous, but still, the “works,” as such, are those of the poet-actor. I hope it is now clear that Poet–Ape, who, like Pantalabus, “takes up all”; who has “grown to a little wealth and credit in the scene,” and who “thinks himself the chief” of contemporary dramatists, can be nobody but Shakespeare. Hence it follows that the “works” of Poet–Ape, are the works of Shakespeare. Ben admits, nay, asserts the existence of the works, says that they may reach “the after-time,” but he calls them a mass of plagiarisms — because he is in a jealous rage.
But this view does not at all suit Mr. Greenwood, for it shows Ben regarding Shakespeare as the “Ape,” or Actor, and also as the “Poet” and author of the “works.” Yet Ben’s words mean nothing if not that an actor is the author of works which Ben accuses of plagiarism. Mr. Greenwood thinks that the epigram proves merely that “Jonson looked upon Shakspere (if, indeed, he refers to him) as one who put forward the writings of others as his own, or, in plain English, an impostor.” “The work which goes in his name is, in truth, the work of somebody else.” 206 Mr. Greenwood put the same interpretation on Greene’s words about “Shakescene,” and we showed that the interpretation was impossible. “The utmost we should be entitled to say” (if Shake-scene be meant for Shakspere) “is that Greene accuses Player Shakspere of putting forward, as his own, some work or perhaps some parts of a work, for which he was really indebted to another.” 207 We proved, by quoting Greene’s words, that he said nothing which could be tortured into this sense. 208 In the same way Ben’s words cannot be tortured into the sense that “the work which goes in his” (Poet–Ape’s) “name is, in truth, the work of somebody else.” 209 Mr. Greenwood tries to find the Anti–Willian hypothesis in Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit and in Ben’s epigram. It is in neither.
Jonson is not accusing Shakespeare of pretending to be the author of plays written by somebody else, but of “making EACH MAN’S wit his own,” and the MEN are the other dramatists of the day. Thus the future “may judge” Shakespeare’s work “to be his as well as OURS.”
It is “we,” the living and recognised dramatists, whom Shakespeare is said to plagiarise from; so boldly that
“WE, THE ROBBED, leave rage, and pity it.”
Ben does not mean that Shakespeare is publishing, as his own, whole plays by some other author, but that his works are tissues of scraps stolen from his contemporaries, from “us, the robbed.” Where are to be found or heard of any works by a player-poet of 1601, the would-be chief dramatist of the day, except those signed William Shak(&c.). There are none, and thus Ben, at this date, is identifying Will Shakspere, the actor, with the author of the Shakespearean plays, which he expects to reach posterity; “after times may judge them to be his,” as after times do to this hour.
Thus Ben expresses, in accordance with his humour on each occasion, most discrepant opinions of Will’s works, but he never varies from his identification of Will with the author of the plays.
The “works” of which Ben wrote so splenetically in Poet–Ape, were the works of a Playwright–Actor, who could be nobody but the actor Shakespeare, as far as Ben then knew. If later, and in altered circumstances, he wrote of the very same works in very different terms, his “utterances” are “not easily reconcilable” with each other — WHOEVER the real author of the works may be. If Bacon, or Mr. Greenwood’s anonymous equivalent for Bacon, were the author, and if Ben came to know it, his attitudes towards the WORKS are still as irreconcilable as ever.
Perhaps Baconians and Mr. Greenwood might say, “as long as Ben believed that the works were those of an Actor–Playwright, he thought them execrable. But when he learned that they were the works of Bacon (or of some Great One), he declared them to be more than excellent”— BUT NOT TO DRUMMOND. I am reluctant to think that Jonson was the falsest and meanest of snobs. I think that when his old rival, by his own account his dear friend, was dead, and when (1623) Ben was writing panegyric verses about the first collected edition of his plays (the Folio), then between generosity and his habitual hyperbolical manner when he was composing commendatory verses, he said — not too much in the way of praise — but a good deal more than he later said (1630?), in prose, and in cold blood. I am only taking Ben as I find him and as I understand him. Every step in my argument rests on well-known facts. Ben notoriously, in his many panegyric verses, wrote in a style of inflated praise. In conversation with Drummond he censured, in brief blunt phrases, the men whom, in verse, he had extolled. The Baconian who has not read all Ben’s panegyrics in verse, and the whole of his conversations with Drummond, argues in ignorance.
We now come to Ben’s panegyrics in the Folio of 1623. Ben heads the lines,
“TO THE MEMORY OF MY BELOVED
MR. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
WHAT HE HATH LEFT US.”
Words cannot be more explicit. Bacon was alive (I do not know when Mr. Greenwood’s hidden genius died), and Ben goes on to speak of the Author, Shakespeare, as dead, and buried. He calls on him thus:
“Soul of the Age!
The applause! delight! the wonder of our Stage!
My Shakespear rise: I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie
A little further, to make thee a room:
Thou art a monument, without a tomb,
And art alive still, while thy book doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.”
Beaumont, by the way, died in the same year as Shakespeare, 1616, and, while Ben here names him with Chaucer, Spenser, and Shakespeare, his contemporaries have left no anecdotes, no biographical hints. In the panegyric follow the lines:
“And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek,
From thence to honour thee I would not seek
For names, but call forth thund’ring AEschylus,”
and the other glories of the Roman and Attic stage, to see and hear how Shakespeare bore comparison with all that the classic dramatists did, or that “did from their ashes come.”
Jonson means, “despite your lack of Greek and Latin I would not shrink from challenging the greatest Greek and Roman tragedians to see how you bear comparison with themselves”?
Mr. Greenwood and the Baconians believe that the author of the plays abounded in Latin and Greek. In my opinion his classical scholarship must have seemed slight indeed to Ben, so learned and so vain of his learning: but this is part of a vexed question, already examined. So far, Ben’s verses have brought not a hint to suggest that he does not identify the actor, his Beloved, with the author. Nothing is gained when Ben, in commendatory verses, praises “Thy Art,” whereas, speaking to Drummond of Hawthornden (1619), he said that Shakespeare “wanted art.” Ben is not now growling to Drummond of Hawthornden: he is writing a panegyric, and applauds Shakespeare’s “well-turned and true-filed lines,” adding that, “to write a living line” a man “must sweat,” and “strike the second heat upon the Muses’ anvil.”
To produce such lines requires labour, requires conscious “art.” So Shakespeare HAD “art,” after all, despite what Ben had said to Drummond: “Shakespeare lacked art.” There is no more in the matter; the “inconsistency” is that of Ben’s humours on two perfectly different occasions, now grumbling to Drummond; and now writing hyperbolically in commendatory verses. But the contrast makes Mr. Greenwood exclaim, “Can anything be more astonishing and at the same time more unsatisfactory than this?” 210
Can anything be more like Ben Jonson?
Did he know the secret of the authorship in 1619? If so, why did he say nothing about the plays of the Great Unknown (whom he called Shakespeare), save what Drummond reports, “want of art,” ignorance of Bohemian geography. Or did Ben NOT know the secret till, say, 1623, and then heap on the very works which he had previously scouted praise for the very quality which he had said they lacked? If so, Ben was as absolutely inconsistent, as before. There is no way out of this dilemma. On neither choice are Ben’s utterances “easy to reconcile one with the other,” except on the ground that Ben was — Ben, and his comments varied with his varying humours and occasions. I believe that, in the commendatory verses, Ben allowed his Muse to carry him up to heights of hyperbolical praise which he never came near in cold blood. He was warmed with the heat of poetic composition and wound up to heights of eulogy, though even NOW he could not forget the small Latin and less Greek!
We now turn to Mr. Greenwood’s views about the commendatory verses. On mature consideration I say nothing of his remarks on Ben’s couplets about the bad engraved portrait. 211 They are concerned with the supposed “ORIGINAL bust,” as represented in Dugdale’s engraving of 1656. What the Baconians hope to make out of “the ORIGINAL bust” I am quite unable to understand. 212 Again, I leave untouched some witticisms 213 on Jonson’s lines about Spenser, Chaucer, and Beaumont in their tombs — lines either suggested by, or suggestive of others by an uncertain W. Basse, “but the evidence of authorship seems somewhat doubtful. How the date is determined I do not know . . . “ 214 As Mr. Greenwood knows so little, and as the discussion merely adds dust to the dust, and fog to the mist of his attempt to disable Ben’s evidence, I glance and pass by.
“Then follow these memorable words, which I have already discussed:
“‘And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek . . . ‘” 215
In “these memorable words,” every non-Baconian sees Ben’s opinion about his friend’s lack of scholarship. According to his own excellent Index, Mr. Greenwood has already adverted often to “these memorable words.”
(1) P. 40. “ . . . if this testimony is to be explained away as not seriously written, then are we justified in applying the same methods of interpretation to Jonson’s other utterances as published in the Folio of 1623. But I shall have more to say as to that further on.”
(2) P. 88. Nothing of importance.
(3) P. 220. Quotation from Dr. Johnson. Ben, “who had no imaginable temptation to falsehood,” wrote the memorable words. But Mr. Greenwood has to imagine a “temptation to falsehood,”— and he does.
(4) P. 222. “And we have recognised that Jonson’s ‘small Latin and less Greek’ must be explained away” (a quotation from somebody).
(5) P. 225. Allusion to anecdote of “Latin (latten) spoons.”
(6) Pp. 382, 383. “Some of us” (some of whom?) “have long looked upon it as axiomatic . . . that Jonson’s ‘small Latin and less Greek,’ if meant to be taken seriously, can only be applicable to Shakspere of Stratford and not to Shakespeare,” that is, not to the Unknown author. Unluckily Ben, in 1623, is addressing the shade of the “sweet Swan of Avon,” meaning Stratford-on-Avon.
(7) The next references in the laudable Index are to pp. 474, 475. “Then follow these memorable words, which I have already discussed:
“‘And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek,’
words which those who see how singularly inappropriate they are to the author of the PLAYS and POEMS of Shakespeare have been at such infinite pains to explain away without impeaching the credit of the author, or assuming that he is here indulging in a little Socratic irony.”
I do not want to “explain” Ben’s words “away”: I want to know how on earth Mr. Greenwood explains them away. My view is that Ben meant what he said, that Will, whose shade he is addressing, was no scholar (which he assuredly was not). I diligently search Mr. Greenwood’s scriptures, asking How does he explain Ben’s “memorable words” away? On p. 106 of The Shakespeare Problem Restated I seem to catch a glimmer of his method. “Once let the Stratfordians” (every human and non-Baconian person of education) “admit that Jonson when he penned the words ‘small Latin and less Greek’ was really writing ‘with his tongue in his cheek.’ . . . ”
Once admit that vulgarism concerning a great English poet engaged on a poem of Pindaric flight, and of prophetic vision! No, we leave the admission to Mr. Greenwood and his allies.
To consider thus is to consider too seriously. The Baconians and Anti–Willians have ceased to deserve serious attention (if ever they did deserve it), and virtuous indignation, and all that kind of thing, when they ask people who care for poetry to “admit” that Ben wrote his verses “with his tongue in his cheek.” Elsewhere, 216 in place of Ben’s “tongue in his cheek,” Mr. Greenwood prefers to suggest that Ben “is here indulging in a little Socratic irony.” Socrates “with his tongue in his cheek”! Say “talking through his throat,” if one may accept the evidence of the author of Raffles, as to the idioms of burglars.
To return to criticism, we are to admit that Jonson was really writing “with his tongue in his cheek,” knowing that, as a fact, “SHAKESPEARE” (the Great Unknown, the Bacon of the Baconians) “had remarkable classical attainments, and they, of course, open the door to the suggestion that the entire poem is capable of an ironical construction and esoteric interpretation.” 217
So this is Mr. Greenwood’s method of “explaining away” the memorable words. He seems to conjecture that Will was not SHAKESPEARE, not the author of the plays; that Jonson knew it; that his poem is, as a whole, addressed to Bacon, or to the Great Unknown, under his “nom de plume” of “William Shakespeare”; that the address to the “Swan of Avon” is a mere blind; and that Ben only alludes to his “Beloved,” the Stratford actor, when he tells his Beloved that his Beloved has “small Latin and less Greek.” All the praise is for Bacon, or the Great Unknown (Mr. Harris), the jeer is for “his Beloved, the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare, And what he hath left Us.”
As far as I presume to understand this theory of the “tongue in the cheek,” of the “Socratic irony,” this is what Mr. Greenwood has to propose towards “explaining away” the evidence of Ben Jonson, in his famous commendatory verses. When we can see through the dust of words we find that the “esoteric interpretation” of the commendatory verses is merely a reassertion of the general theory: a man with small Latin and less Greek could not have written the plays and poems. Therefore when Ben explicitly states that his Beloved, Mr. Shakespeare of Stratford, the Swan of Avon DID write the plays, and had small Latin and less Greek, Ben meant that he did NOT write them, that they were written by somebody else who had plenty of Greek and Latin. It is a strange logical method! Mr. Greenwood merely reasserts his paradox, and proves it, like certain Biblical critics of more orthodoxy than sense, by aid of his private “esoteric method of interpretation.” Ben, we say, about 1630, in prose and in cold blood, and in a humour of criticism without the old rancour and envy, or the transitory poetic enthusiasm, pens a note on Shakespeare in a volume styled “Timber, or Discoveries, made upon men and Matter, as they have flowed out of his daily Readings; or had their reflux to his peculiar Notion of the Times.” Ben died in 1637; his MS. collection of notes and brief essays, and reflections, was published in 1641. Bacon, of whom he wrote his impressions in this manuscript, had died in 1626. Ben was no longer young: he says, among these notes, that his memory, once unusually strong, after he was past forty “is much decayed in me . . . It was wont to be faithful to me, but shaken with age now . . . (I copy the extract as given by Mr. Greenwood. 218) He spoke sooth: he attributes to Orpheus, in “Timber,” a line from Homer, and quotes from Homer what is not in that poet’s “works.”
In this manuscript occurs, then, a brief prose note, headed, De Shakespeare nostrati, on our countryman Shakespeare. It is an anecdote of the Players and their ignorance, with a few critical and personal remarks on Shakespeare. “I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare that (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, ‘Would he had blotted a thousand,’ which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this but for their ignorance who chose that circumstance to commend their friend by (that) wherein he most faulted; and to justify mine own candour, for I loved the man, and do honour his memory on this side idolatry as much as any. He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent phantasy, brave notions and gentle expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped. ‘Sufflaminandus erat,’ as Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was in his own power; would the rule of it had been so too! Many times he fell into those things could not escape laughter, as when he said in the person of Caesar, one speaking to him, ‘Caesar, thou dost me wrong.’ He replied, ‘Caesar did never wrong but with just cause’; and such like, which were ridiculous. But he redeemed his vices with his virtues. There was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned.” Baconians actually maintain that Ben is here speaking of Bacon.
Of whom is Ben writing? Of the author of Julius Caesar — certainly, from which, his memory failing, he misquotes a line. If Ben be in the great secret — that the author was Bacon, or Mr. Greenwood’s Great Unknown, he is here no more enthusiastic about the Shadow or the Statesman, than about Shakespeare; no less cool and critical, whoever may be the subject of his comments. Whether, in the commendatory verses, he referred to the Actor–Author, or Bacon, or the Shining Shadow, or all of them at once, he is now in a mood very much more cool and critical. If to be so cool and critical is violently inconsistent in the case of the Stratford actor, it is not less so if Ben has Bacon or the Shadow in his mind. Meanwhile the person of whom he speaks IS HERE THE ACTOR-AUTHOR, whom the players, his friends, commended “wherein he faulted,” namely, in not “blotting” where, in a thousand cases, Ben wishes that he HAD blotted. Can the most enthusiastic Baconian believe that when Ben wrote about the players’ ignorant applause of Shakespeare’s, of their friend’s lack of care in correction, Ben had Bacon in his mind?
As for Mr. Greenwood, he says that in Ben’s sentence about the players and their ignorant commendation, “we have it on Jonson’s testimony that the players looked upon William Shakspere the actor as the author of the plays and praised him for never blotting out a line.” We have it, and how is the critic to get over or round the fact? Thus, “We know that this statement” (about the almost blotless lines) “is ridiculous; that if the players had any unblotted manuscripts in their hands (which is by no means probable) they were merely fair copies . . . ”
Perhaps, but the Baconians appear to assume that a “fair copy” is not, and cannot be, a copy in the handwriting of the author.
As I have said before, the Players knew Will’s handwriting, if he could write. If they received his copy in a hand not his own, and were not idiots, they could not praise him and his unerring speed and accuracy in penning his thoughts. If, on the other hand, Will could not write, in their long friendship with Will, the Players must have known the fact, and could not possibly believe, as they certainly did, “on Jonson’s testimony” in his authorship.
To finish Mr. Greenwood’s observations, “if they” (the players) “really thought that the author of the plays wrote them off currente calamo, and never” (or “hardly ever”) “blotted a line, never revised, never made any alterations, they knew nothing whatever concerning the real Shakespeare.” 219
Nothing whatever? What they did not know was merely that Will gave them fair copies in his own hand, as, before the typewriting machine was invented, authors were wont to do. Within the last fortnight I heard the error attributed to the players made by an English scholar who is foremost in his own field of learning. He and I were looking at some of Dickens’s MSS. They were full of erasions and corrections. I said, “How unlike Scott!” whose first draft of his novels exactly answered to the players’ description of Will’s “copy.” My friend said, “Browning scarcely made an erasion or change in writing his poems,” and referred to Mr. Browning’s MSS. for the press, of which examples were lying near us. “But Browning must have made clean copies for the press,” I said: which was as new an idea to my learned friend as it was undreamed of by the Players:— if what they received from him were his clean copies.
The Players’ testimony, through Jonson, cannot be destroyed by the “easy stratagem” of Mr. Greenwood.
Mr. Greenwood now nearly falls back on Bacon, though he constantly professes that he “is not the advocate of Bacon’s authorship.” The author was some great man, as like Bacon as one pea to another. Mr. Greenwood says that Jonson looked on the issue of the First Folio 220 “as a very special occasion.” Well, it WAS a very special occasion; no literary occasion could be more “special.” Without the Folio, badly as it is executed, we should perhaps never have had many of Shakespeare’s plays. The occasion was special in the highest degree.
But, says Mr. Greenwood, “if we could only get to the back of Jonson’s mind, we should find that there was some efficient cause operating to induce him to give the best possible send-off to that celebrated venture.” 221
Ben was much in the habit of giving “sendoffs” of great eloquence to poetic “ventures” now forgotten. What could “the efficient cause” be in the case of the Folio? At once Mr. Greenwood has recourse to Bacon; he cannot, do what he will, keep Bacon “out of the Memorial.” Ben was with Bacon at Gorhambury, on Bacon’s sixtieth birthday (January 22, 1621). Ben wrote verses about the Genius of the old house,
“Thou stand’st as if some mystery thou didst.”
“What was that ‘mystery’?” asks Mr. Greenwood. 222 What indeed? And what has all this to do with Ben’s commendatory verses for the Folio, two years later? Mr. Greenwood also surmises, as we have seen, 223 that Jonson was with Bacon, helping to translate The Advancement of Learning in June, 1623.
Let us suppose that he was: what has that to do with Ben’s verses for the Folio? Does Mr. Greenwood mean to hint that BACON was the “efficient cause operating to induce” Ben “to give the best possible send-off” to the Folio? One does not see what interest Bacon had in stimulating the enthusiasm of Ben, unless we accept Bacon as author of the plays, which Mr. Greenwood does not. If Mr. Greenwood thinks that Bacon was the author of the plays, then the facts are suitable to his belief. But if he does not — “I hold no brief for the Baconians,” he says — how is all this passage on Ben’s visits to Bacon concerned with the subject in hand?
Between the passage on some “efficient cause” “at the back of Ben’s mind,” 224 and the passage on Ben’s visits to Bacon in 1621–3, 225 six pages intervene, and blur the supposed connection between the “efficient cause” of Ben’s verses of 1623, and his visits to Bacon in 1621–3. These intercalary pages are concerned with Ben’s laudations of Bacon, by name, in his Discoveries. The first is entirely confined to praise of Bacon as an orator. Bacon is next mentioned in a Catalogue of Writers as “HE WHO HATH FILLED UP ALL NUMBERS, and performed that in our tongue which may be preferred or compared either to INSOLENT GREECE OR HAUGHTY ROME,” words used of Shakespeare by Jonson in the Folio verses.
Mr. Greenwood remarks that Jonson’s Catalogue, to judge by the names he cites (More, Chaloner, Smith, Sir Nicholas Bacon, Sidney, Hooker, Essex, Raleigh, Savile, Sandys, and so on), suggests that “he is thinking mainly of wits and orators of his own and the preceding generation,” not of poets specially. This is obvious; why should Ben name Shakespeare with More, Smith, Chaloner, Eliot, Bishop Gardiner, Egerton, Sandys, and Savile? Yet “it is remarkable that no mention should be made of the great dramatist.” Where is Spenser named, or Beaumont, or Chaucer, with whom Ben ranked Shakespeare? Ben quoted of Bacon the line he wrote long before of Shakespeare as a poet, about “insolent Greece,” and all this is “remarkable,” and Mr. Greenwood finds it “not surprising” 226 that the Baconians dwell on the “extraordinary coincidence of expression,” as if Ben were incapable of repeating a happy phrase from himself, and as if we should wonder at anything the Baconians may say or do.
Another startling coincidence is that, in Discoveries, Ben said of Shakespeare “his wit was in his own power,” and wished that “the rule of it had been so too.” Of Bacon, Ben wrote, “his language, where he could spare or pass by a jest, was nobly censorious.” Thus Bacon HAD “the rule of his own wit,” Bacon “COULD spare or pass by a jest,” whereas Shakespeare apparently could not — so like were the two Dromios in this particular! Strong in these convincing arguments, the Baconians ask (not so Mr. Greenwood, he is no Baconian), “were there then TWO writers of whom this description was appropriate . . . Was there only one, and was it of Bacon, under the name of “Shakespeare,” that Ben wrote De Shakespeare nostrati?
Read it again, substituting “Bacon” for “Shakespeare.” “I remember the players,” and so on, and what has Bacon to do here? “Sometimes it was necessary that BACON should be stopped.” “Many times BACON fell into those things could not escape laughter,” such as Caesar’s supposed line, “and such like, which were ridiculous.” “BACON redeemed his vices with his virtues. There was ever more in BACON to be praised than to be pardoned.”
Thus freely, according to the Baconians, speaks Ben of Bacon, whom he here styles “Shakespeare,”— Heaven knows why! while crediting him with the players as his friends. Ben could not think or speak thus of Bacon. Mr. Greenwood occupies his space with these sagacities of the Baconians; one marvels why he takes the trouble. We are asked why Ben wrote so little and that so cool (“I loved him on this side idolatry as much as any”) about Shakespeare. Read through Ben’s Discoveries: what has he to say about any one of his great contemporary dramatists, from Marlowe to Beaumont? He says nothing about any of them; though he had panegyrised them, as he panegyrised Beaumont, in verse. In his prose Discoveries he speaks, among English dramatists, of Shakespeare alone.
We are also asked by the Baconians to believe that his remarks on Bacon under the name of Shakespeare are really an addition to his more copious and infinitely more reverential observations on Bacon, named by his own name; “I have and do reverence him for the greatness that was only proper to himself.” Also (where Bacon is spoken of as Shakespeare) “He redeemed his vices by his virtues. There was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned . . . Sometimes it was necessary that he should be stopped . . . Many times he fell into those things that could not escape laughter.”
These two views of Bacon are, if you like, incongruous. The person spoken of is in both cases Bacon, say the Baconians, and Mr. Greenwood sympathetically alludes to their ideas, 227 which I cannot qualify in courteous terms. Baconians “would, of course, explain the difficulty by saying that however sphinx-like were Jonson’s utterances, he had clearly distinct in his own mind two different personages, viz. Shakspere the player, and Shakespeare the real author of the plays and poems, and that if in the perplexing passage quoted from the Discoveries he appears to confound one with the other, it is because the solemn seal of secrecy had been imposed on him.” They WOULD say, they DO say all that. Ben is not to let out that Bacon is the author. So he tells us of Bacon that he often made himself ridiculous, and so forth — but he PRETENDS that he is speaking of Shakespeare.
All this wedge of wisdom, remember, is inserted between the search for “the efficient cause” of Ben’s panegyric (1623), in the Folio, on his Beloved Mr. William Shakespeare, and the discovery of Ben’s visits to Bacon in 1621–3.
Does Mr. Greenwood mean that Ben, in 1623 (or earlier), knew the secret of Bacon’s authorship, and, stimulated by his hospitality, applauded his works in the Folio, while, as he must not disclose the secret, he throughout speaks of Bacon as Shakespeare, puns on that name in the line about seeming “to shake a lance,” and salutes the Lord of Gorhambury as “Sweet Swan of Avon”? Mr. Greenwood cannot mean that; for he is not a Baconian. What DOES he mean?
Put together his pages 483, 489–491. On the former we find how “it would appear” that Jonson thought the issue of the Folio (1623) “a very special occasion,” and that perhaps if we could only “get to the back of his mind, we should find that there was some efficient cause operating to induce him to give the best possible send-off to that celebrated venture.” Then skip to pp. 489–491, and you find very special occasions: Bacon’s birthday feast with its” mystery”; Ben as one of Bacon’s “good pens,” in 1623. “The best of these good pens, it seems, was Jonson.” 228 On what evidence does it “seem”? The opinion of Judge Webb.
Is this supposed collaboration with Bacon in 1623, “the efficient cause operating to induce” Ben “to give the best possible send-off” to the Folio? How could this be the “efficient cause” if Bacon were not the author of the plays?
Mr. Greenwood, like the Genius at the birthday supper,
“Stands as if some mystery he did.”
On a trifling point of honour, namely, as to whether Ben were a man likely to lie, tortuously, hypocritically, to be elaborately false about the authorship of the Shakespearean plays, it is hopelessly impossible to bring the Baconians and Mr. Greenwood (who “holds no brief for the Baconians”) to my point of view. Mr. Greenwood rides off thus — what the Baconians do is unimportant.
“There are, as everybody knows, many falsehoods that are justifiable, some that it is actually a duty to tell.” It may be so; I pray that I may never tell any of them (or any more of them).
Among justifiable lies I do not reckon that of Scott if ever he plumply denied that he wrote the Waverley novels. I do not judge Sir Walter. Heaven forbid! But if, in Mr. Greenwood’s words, he, “we are told, thought it perfectly justifiable for a writer who wished to preserve his anonymity, to deny, when questioned, the authorship of a work, since the interrogator had no right to put such a question to him,” 229 I disagree with Sir Walter. Many other measures, in accordance with the conditions of each case, were open to him. Some are formulated by his own Bucklaw, in The Bride of Lammermoor, as regards questions about what occurred on his bridal night. Bucklaw would challenge the man, and cut the lady, who asked questions. But Scott’s case, as cited, applies only to Bacon (or Mr. Greenwood’s Unknown), if HE were asked whether or not he were the author of the plays. No idiot, at that date, was likely to put the question! But, if anyone did ask, Bacon must either evade, or deny, or tell the truth.
On the parallel of Scott, Bacon could thus deny, evade, or tell the truth. But the parallel of Scott is not applicable to any other person except to the author who wishes to preserve his anonymity, and is questioned. The parallel does not apply to Ben. HE had not written the Shakespearean plays. Nobody was asking HIM if he had written them. If he knew that the author was Bacon, and knew it under pledge of secrecy, and was asked (per impossibile) “Who wrote these plays?” he had only to say, “Look at the title-page.” But no mortal was asking Ben the question. But we are to suppose that, in the panegyric and in Discoveries, Ben chooses to assert, first, that Shakespeare was his Beloved, his Sweet Swan of Avon; and that he “loved him, on this side idolatry, as much as any.” There is no evidence that he did love Shakespeare, except his own statement, when, according to the Baconians, he is really speaking of Bacon, and, according to Mr. Greenwood, of an unknown person, singularly like Bacon. Consequently, unless we can prove that Ben really loved the actor, he is telling a disgustingly hypocritical and wholly needless falsehood, both before and after the death of Bacon. To be silent about the authorship of a book, an authorship which is the secret of your friend and patron, is one thing and a blameless thing. All the friends, some twenty, to whom Scott confided the secret of his authorship were silent. But not one of them publicly averred that the author was their very dear friend, So-and-so, who was not Scott, and perhaps not their friend at all. That was Ben’s line. Thus the parallel with Scott drawn by Mr. Greenwood, twice, 230 is no parallel. It has no kind of analogy with Ben’s alleged falsehoods, so elaborate, so incomprehensible except by Baconians, and, if he did not love the actor Shakspere dearly, so detestably hypocritical, and open to instant detection.
It is not easy to find a parallel to the conduct with which Ben is charged. But suppose that Scott lived unsuspected of writing his novels, which, let us say, he signed “James Hogg,” and died without confessing his secret, and without taking his elaborate precautions for its preservation on record.
Next, imagine that Lockhart knew Scott’s secret, under vow of silence, and was determined to keep it at any cost. He therefore, writing after the death of Hogg of Ettrick, and in Scott’s lifetime, publishes verses declaring that Hogg was his “beloved” (an enormous fib), and that Hogg, “Sweet Swan of Ettrick,” was the author of the Waverley novels.
To complete the parallels, Lockhart, after Scott’s death, leaves a note in prose to the effect that, while he loved Hogg on this side idolatry (again, a monstrous fable), he must confess that Hogg, author of the Waverley novels, often fell into things that were ridiculous; and often needed to have a stopper put on him for all these remarks. Lockhart, while speaking of Hogg, is thinking of Scott — and he makes the remarks solely to conceal Scott’s authorship of the novels — of which, on the hypothesis, nobody suspected Scott to be the author. Lockhart must then have been what the Baconian Mr. Theobald calls Mr. Churton Collins, “a measureless liar,”— all for no reason.
Mr. Greenwood, starting as usual from the case, which is no parallel, of Scott’s denying his own authorship, goes on, “for all we know, Jonson might have seen nothing in the least objectionable in the publication by some great personage of his dramatic works under a pseudonym” (under another man’s name really), “even though that pseudonym led to a wrong conception as to the authorship; and that, if, being a friend of that great personage, and working in his service” (Ben worked, by the theory, in Bacon’s), “he had solemnly engaged to preserve the secret inviolate, and not to reveal it even to posterity, then DOUBTLESS (‘I thank thee, Jew’ (meaning Sir Sidney Lee), ‘for teaching me that word’!) he would have remained true to that solemn pledge.” 231
To remain “true,” Ben had only to hold his peace. But he lied up and down, and right and left, and even declared that Bacon was a friend of the players, and needed to be shut up, and made himself a laughing-stock in his plays — styling Bacon” Shakespeare.” All this, and much more of the same sort, we must steadfastly believe before we can be Baconians, for only by believing these doctrines can we get rid of Ben Jonson’s testimony to the authorship of Will Shakspere, Gent.
205 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 453.
206 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 466.
207 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 313.
208 Supra, p. 143.
209 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 466.
210 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 482.
211 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, pp. 467, 471.
212 See chapter IX on The Later Life of Shakespeare.
213 Ibid., pp. 472, 474.
214 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 473.
215 Ibid., p. 474.
216 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 475.
217 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 106.
218 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 478.
219 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 480.
220 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 483.
221 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 483.
222 Ibid., pp. 489–490.
223 See chapter XI, The First Folio.
224 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 483.
225 Ibid., pp. 489–491.
226 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 486.
227 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 488.
228 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 491.
229 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 295, cf. p. 499.
230 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, pp. 295, 499.
231 The Shakespeare Problem Restated, p. 499.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57