About twenty years ago a very clever article,
entitled "The Philosophy of Shakspeare's Plays
Unfolded," appeared in Putnam's Magazine.
The writer, afterward ascertained to be Miss De-
lia Bacon, advanced the theory that the plays
were written by Lord Bacon, and supported her
view by many ingenious but specious arguments.
By most readers the article was taken for a rath-
er ponderous jeu d'esprit, designed to see how
far the public could be taken in. It soon ap-
peared, however, that the lady was in dead ear-
nest; her reasoning had convinced herself, if few
others could accept her theory. The essay was 
afterward enlarged to a volume, but the author
simply extended her first arguments without
adding a single new item of proof, and the sub-
ject gradually dropped out of sight, greatly to
the relief of sensible people. Miss Bacon vis-
ited England in the prosecution of her inquiries,
and tried to obtain permission to have Shaks-
peare's tomb opened, in the hope of finding
therein documentary evidence of her theory. Her
request was of course refused. It is a little sin-
gular that simultaneously with the publication
of Miss Bacon's essay a book appeared in Lon-
don, written by a Mr. Smith, on the same the-
ory. Each author appears to have written in
complete ignorance of the other's speculations.
The Baconian theory received the support of
very able minds both in England and this coun-
try. It found a firm believer in the late Lord
Palmerston, who used to maintain that Bacon
wrote the plays, and passed them off under the
name of an actor for fear of compromising his
professional prospects and philosophic gravity,
actors and play-writers being in rather low re-
pute in his time. But the most ponderous and
perhaps the most ingenious contribution to the
literature of this controversy was furnished by the
Hon. Nathaniel Holmes, of Cambridge, Massa-
chusetts, who, in 1866, published an octavo
volume of 600 pages, in which he sought toprove the claim made for Bacon. The work made but
little impression, either in England or
this country, and had sunk entirely out of sight,
when attention was again called to it and to
the general subject by an interesting article in a
late number of Fraser's Magazine, which gave a
very readable analysis of the author's argument.
The book seeks to ground the belief in the the-
ory that Bacon and not Shakspeare wrote the
plays upon scientific rather than circumstantial
evidence. Stripped of digressive verbiage, the
gist of the argument is that Shakspeare, a man
of little school learning could not have written
plays abounding with evidence of familiarity
with husbandry, farming, gardening, and do-
mestic economy, military and nautical affairs,
the fine arts, trade, politics, and government,
handicraft, horses, and field sports, and even the
language and arts of thieves and rogues. This
conceded, the question was, Who did write these
superhuman plays? Who among all the writers
of Shakspeare's age fulfilled all the conditions?
The only person whom Miss Bacon and Mr.
Smith could find to answer these requirements
was Francis Bacon. Their theory received some
slight contemporary corroboration from a sup-
posed allusion to SHAKSPEARE as an upstart
crow decorated in feathers that were not his own, 
which occurs in a pamphlet written by Robert Greene.  They also laid great stress upon the
fact that Bacon in his writing made use of the sentiment that the best method of teaching
history was by means of the drama, and on the circumstance that the gaps in Bacon's fragmentary
history of England are exactly filled by Shaks-
peare's plays, while what Shakspeare has
omitted is found in the history. Judge Holmes
adduces in support of the theory a number of
parallelisms in thought and expression which
occur in the dramas and in Bacon's works.

  On the other hand, those who support the Ba-
conian theory overlook the all-important fact
that in all Bacon's acknowledged works there is
not a single trace of the poetic and creative fac-
ulty, not a trace of imagination, which is the
soul of poetry, none of that play of humor and
fancy that flashes through the comedies of
Shakspeare. Surely some trace of these traits
must have appeared had he possessed them.
Bacon's acknowledged verse -- for he wrote what
he considered poetry -- is of the dreariest kind.
Here and there may be found a vigorous line
and felicitous expression, but these only serve to
set the rest in a still worse light. The great
philosopher cuts a sorry figure when he "drops
into poetry." It is rather too much to be asked
to believe that Bacon would allow his name to
go down to posterity as the author of wretched
doggerel, and not assert his claim to the "Son-
nets," if they were his and not Shakspeare's;
for thoug opprobrium might attach to the name
of a play-writer, there was no degradation in
writing sonnets.

  But, after all is said, it is impossible to get
over the fact that Shakspeare's contemporaries
knew and acknowledged him to be the author of
the play that bear his name. It is indeed dif-
ficult to explain the vast and comprehensive
knowledge evinced by the dramatist; but, as the
learned Shakspearean scholar, Mr. Furness, has
well said, "Who shall define the limits of the
powers of assimilation possessed by so great
a genius? A stray hint, a passing allusion,
dropped in conversation by the learned men of
the time at meetings on social evenings at the
`Mermaid,' may have been sufficient to bear
such fruit as we see displayed in his works." It
is unfortunate for the "Baconians" that after
Shakspeare died the muse of Bacon produced
no more dramas. Was Shakspeare the only
man in England whom he could trust in carry-
ing out the deception?

  A lively interchange of views in the columns
of a daily contemporary has revived interest in
this discussion, the humorous side of which is
presented in our illustration on page 824. Our
large engraving represents the youthful Shaks-
peare before the justices on the charge of poach-
ing. He has apparently been caught in the act,
and the evidence of his misdemeanor lies before
him in the shape of the dead deer.

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