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to a circle of friends and perchance a few enemies; for, in 1599, when he interceded with the Queen for his dear friend Essex, then under arrest on account of a treasonable pamphlet being dedicated to him, her Majesty flung at Bacon “a matter which grew from him, but went after about in others' names,” being in fact the play of “Richard II,” which, in that and the preceding year, had a great run on the stage, and had gone through two editions, but, for prudential reasons, with the scene containing the deposition of the king left out. But even in the “Sonnets” the fact appears that the author has been writing for the stage: “Alas, 'tis true I have gone here and there, And made myself a motley to the view, Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear, Made old offenses of affections new ; Most true it is that I have looked on truth Askance and strangely; but by all above,
These blenches gave my heart another youth,
“O, for my sake do you with Fortune chide, The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds, That did not better for my life provide Than public means which public manners breeds. Thence comes it that my name receives a brand, And almost thence my nature is subdued To what it works in, like the dyer's hand : Pity me then and wish I were renewed.” Here is not only a private confession of being compelled to produce plays for subsistence, but a sorrowful acknowledgment that thereby his “name receives a brand.” Yet it must not be supposed that Bacon was publicly known at any time as a play writer. His first
publication, the “Essays,” was in 1597, and Shakspere's name first appeared on the title page of a Play in 1598, by which time nearly half of the Plays had been written or sketched, and six had been printed, all without the author's name. And when the first collection was published in the “Folio” of 1623, (seven years after Shakspere's death,) it included some Plays never before heard of, and eighteen never before printed. Lord Coke, who was Bacon's most jealous rival and adversary, seems never to have suspected him of play writing. Nor did the watchful Puritanic mother of the two bachelors of Gray's Inn ever dream that her studious younger son was engaged in such sinful work. In Sonnet 76 the writer deplores his want of variety of style, and fears that this fault will almost disclose his secret authorship : “Why is my verse so barren of new pride, So far from variation or quick change? Why with the time do I not glance aside, To new-found methods and to compounds strange 2 Why write I still all one, ever the same, And keep invention in a noted weed, That every word doth almost tell my name, Showing their birth and where they did proceed 2" Bacon having begun to produce plays for Shakspere's theater before 1590, the authorship of which was afterward assumed by the actor and proprietor, it became necessary also to avoid being publicly known as a writer of sonnets. Therefore, in view of the circulation and ultimate publication of this poem, he facetiously disguised the identity of the writer by calling himself “Will.” Three years later he dedicated a published poem to his young friend Southampton under the name of “William Shakespeare,” and again another in 1594. But the “Sonnets” were not published until 1609, when Essex had been dead eight years, and his widow had been married six years to a third husband. It would never do for the SolicitorGeneral to be known as the author of such a poem; so when it came out in print it was dedicated to “Mr. W. H.” by “T. T.,” and no one until a few years ago ever seems to have suspected that Bacon wrote the poem, nor, so far as we are aware, has any one ever suspected until July 31, 1883, that “W. H.” was the accomplished and famous Earl of Essex. The young widow Sidney was the only daughter of the Queen's principal secretary, Sir Francis Walsingham, for whom Bacon drafted an important state paper in 1588 on, the conduct of the government toward Papists and Dissenters. And that Bacon was intimate with the Secretary's daughter, aye, even one of her lovers, appears from many of the Sonnets addressed to her. He describes her playing on the harpsichord, envies the keys “that nimbly leap to kiss her hand,” and says: “Since saucy jacks so happy are in this, Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.” And from other passages it is quite evident that he had often kissed her. No fact has been found incompatible with Bacon's authorship of the “Sonnets.” The following line might seem to indicate a writer past the age of 29: “Although she knows my days are past the best.” But in 1599, when Shakspere was only 35, this very verse was published as his in the “Passionate Pilgrim,” where Sonnet 138 appears as number one.
But again, we have a letter written in 1592 by Bacon to his uncle, Lord Treasurer Burleigh, in which he says:
“I wax somewhat ancient; one and thirty years is a great deal of sand in the hour-glass.”
At the age of 31 he thinks himself “somewhat ancient :” two years earlier he apprehends that forty winters will entirely deface the youthful Earl's beauty; and to the lovely young widow he says: “My days are past the best.”
This misconception therefore, whether pretended or real, becomes a strong proof of Bacon's authorship.
It has been boldly alleged by some that Bacon was no poet. Such, however, was not the judgment of his biographer, the late James Spedding. Before he could have heard it claimed that Shakspere did not write the plays he said that Bacon might have taken the highest rank as a poet. And that judgment was based upon the versification of a few Psalms by the old man on a sick bed. Since 1867 the substantial proofs of Bacon's secret authorship have been adduced. Aside from innumerable parallels in the works of Bacon and Shakspere there is much external evidence. For example:
We know that Bacon wrote Sonnets to Queen Elizabeth and excused himself by saying: “I profess not to be a poet.”
We know that he composed Masques anonymously before Shakspere's name appeared as a play writer, and that those Masques were essentially poetical compositions, in the nature of plays, and sometimes contained verses in rhyme equal in merit to the average of Shakspere's.
In one of those Masques a speaker is made to say: “The monuments of wit survive the monuments of power; the verses of the poet endure without a syllable lost, while states and empires pass many periods.” Two years later, in 1596, the composer of that speech, writing to Sir Fulke Greville on his studies, said: “For poets I can commend none, being resolved to be ever a stranger to them.” Greville (1554–1628) was a poet, and wrote the life of Sir Philip Sidney. In 1603 Bacon wrote a private letter to the poet John Davies, begging him to speak a good word for the writer to the incoming King James I., and closing. with these words: “So, desiring you to be good to concealed poets, I continue.” Bacon's most intimate friend, Toby Matthew, in a letter with cancelled date, but as late as 1605, acknowledged the receipt of some work by Bacon, and added this postScript: “I will not return you weight for weight, but Measure for Measure.” “Mesur for Mesur,” by “Shaxberd,” was played before King James, at Whitehall, December 26, 1604. Again, about the time of the publication of the Shakespere Folio, 1623, Matthew acknowledged in a letter without date, the receipt of a “great and noble favor,” and added the following: “P. S.—The most prodigious wit that ever I knew, of my
nation and of this side of the sea, is of your Lordship's name, though he be known by another.”