網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

that an old copy had been found which contained an autograph of William Shakespeare; but Mr. Halliwell is compelled to reject the story as not authentic. Nevertheless, it is reasonable enough to suppose that so notable a book as this was may have fallen into his hands.

The author was skilled in natural science. He pursued a scientific rather than the common method of observation, though the scientific observation of that day had in it something of poetic vagueness and generality as compared with modern methods. This is visible in the nature of his illustrations, metaphors, and allusions; and it is clear that he had made some study of the medical science and materia medica of his time. Pope did not fail to notice that he had a taste for “natural philosophy and mechanics." He understood the whole machinery of astrology, alchemy, witchcraft, and sorcery, not merely as it stood in the popular traditions, but in the sense of the written literature of that day; and he had a philosophy of spirits, ghosts, witches, dreams, visions, and prophecies, so subtle and profound as to be beyond the reach of uninitiated and uninstructed genius. The spontaneous and merely natural man does not proceed in that manner. He will see things in a certain general, vague, and common way, as it were, in the gross and complex only, and rather in merely fanciful relations than in that accurate manner of close and deep analysis, which also discovers the scientific form and real nature of things, as seen in all true poetry ; and such must have been the habit and manner of this author. This accords with the known history of Bacon's earlier as well as his later years; for he was always a close observer of nature, and pursued in private his experimental researches, never losing sight of his great work, the instauration of natural history and physical science, as the surest foundation for philosophy itself, and the safest road into the higher realm of metaphysics. It would indeed be a wonder, as Pope said, if a man could know the world by intuition, and see through nature at one glance.

He was a lawyer too. His use of legal terms and phrases, in the sonnets as well as the plays, and his representations of legal proceedings, are of such a kind and character, that it is at once apparent to the mind of a lawyer, that the writer had been educated to that profession. Mr. Collier and Lord Campbell were not the first to observe this very important fact. Neither the long list of examples cited by Malone, nor the learned essay of Lord Campbell, by any means contains them all ; they pervade these writings with that peculiar use which is familiar to the lawyer only, and they flow from him as unconsciously as his very soul. Such learning, most certainly, does not come by instinct, though we admit, with Dogberry, that “to read and write comes by nature”; and no acquaintance which William Shakespeare could have had with the law, consistently with the known facts of his life, can reasonably account for this striking feature in the plays. It was not to be had in the office of a bailiff; and the considerations referred to by Lord Campbell, though of the nature of negative evidence, ought to be taken as satisfactory, that he could never have been a regular student at law at Stratford-on-Avon ; especially since his Lordship did not become a convert to this unavoidable and very necessary theory of Mr. Collier.

The speech of the Archbishop on the Salic law, in the “ Henry V.," as Dr. Farmer observed, was evidently taken, and almost literally versified, from a passage in Holinshed's Chronicles, together with a quotation from the Book of Numbers, to the effect that when a man dies without a son, the inheritance descends to the daughter. And it is at least singularly curious, that in the "Apothegms ” of Bacon there are two anecdotes, based, the one upon the same doctrine with regard to the Salic law as that maintained in this speech, viz., that in France itself males claimed by women, with a repetition of the French “gloss” of Holinshed; and the other upon a quotation from Scripture, as in

1 Chron. Order of Shakes. Plays. 2 Chron. of Eng. III. 65.

both Holinshed and the speech. It is, of course, possible that Shakespeare might make plays, and Bacon, apothegms, out of Holinshed; but when numerous instances of the same kind occur (as will be shown), it may well furnish an indication that the transition took place through the same mind in both cases. He was in the habit of making apothegms of his own wit; that concerning the “ seditious prelude” of Dr. Hayward (as supposed) and his own facetious attempt to avert the anger of the Queen, who thought there was treason in it, may be taken as one instance; and perhaps we have another in the apothegm of the fellow named Hogg, who importuned Sir Nicholas Bacon to save his life, claiming that there was kindred between Hog and Bacon. “ Aye,” replied the judge, “ you and I cannot be kindred, except you be hanged; for Hog is not Bacon until it be well hanged.”1 And the same jest appears in the “ Merry Wives of Windsor,” thus : Evans. Accusitivo, hing, hang, hog.

Quick. Hang hog is Latin for bacon, I warrant you."- Act IV. Sc. 1. A passage in the second part of the “Henry IV.” (Act III. Sc. 2) would seem to render it highly probable that the writer himself had seen somebody " fight with one Sampson Stockfish, a fruiterer, behind Gray's Inn." There are allusions also in the first part of the “Henry IV.,” from which it may be inferred that St. Albans was a familiar name and a favorite place with the author; and Gorhambury near St. Albans had been the country residence of his father, and, after his father's death, of his mother, and subsequently, his own country-seat. He was several times elected to Parliament for the borough of St. Albans, which was the site of the ancient Verulamium, whence were taken his titles of Baron Verulam and Viscount St. Albans; and he directed by his will that his remains should be buried in “ St. Michael's Church, near St. Albans." And after his fall from power, when he had returned to his lodgings in

1 Bacon's Apothegms.

Gray's Inn, and his “labours were now most set to have those works,” which he had formerly published, “made more perfect,” in a proposal which he was making to the King for a “Digest of the Laws,” he says: “ As for myself, the law was my profession, to which I am a debtor; some little helps I have of other arts, which may give form to matter."

Moreover, this writer was a philosopher. “ He was not only a great poet, but a great philosopher," says Coleridge. These words from such a man may be presumed to mean something. And when such judges of the matter as Schiller, Goethe, and Jean Paul Richter also agree in finding that he was a philosopher, no one need be amazed at the assertion, that he was master of all the learning of the Greeks, and had sounded the depths of Plato. For the mass of readers, it can no more be expected, that they should comprehend, in any adequate manner, what this really means, than that they should understand, without more, what was meant by the Philosophia Prima of Bacon, or “ Philosophy itself.” But it can never mean less than one who has carried his studies into the highest realms of human thought and culture; and that was never the work of a day, nor often of a whole life. Nor was it ever the work of intuition merely. It is at least conceivable, that a man who was capable of taking a critical survey of all previous learning, and pointing out the way for the advancement of human knowledge, who wrote civil and moral essays upon all phases of life and character, which still live as fresh as ever, and who could venture to undertake the instauration, not of physical science merely, but of philosophy itself, might, by possibility, be able to write such dramas as the “Romeo and Juliet," the “ Midsummer Night's Dream,” the “ As You Like It,” the “ Measure for Measure,” the “Cymbeline,” the “Hamlet,” the " Lear,” the “ Macbeth,” the “Timon of Athens,” the “Troilus and Cressida," and the “ Tempest”; but, for such a man as we

know for William Shakespeare, it would appear to be a thing next to impracticable, if not wholly impossible. It would probably be of no sort of use or effect to declare here that this consideration, duly weighed, ought to be taken as conclusive of the whole matter. In fact, it will not; and the inquiry must proceed.

A well-marked difference may be looked for between the earlier and the later works of any writer. More striking evidence of growth does not exist in the works of Schiller, or Goethe, which were produced before, and those produced after, they respectively became initiated into the mysteries of the higher philosophy, than is manifest in the earlier and later plays of Shakespeare. In either case, the collegiate erudition of the tyro is, at length, lost in the comprehensive learning of the finished scholar, and the exuberant fancy of the spontaneous poet and inexperienced youth becomes subdued into the matured strength and breadth, the depth of feeling, and the prophetic insight of the seer and the philosopher. We know that Francis Bacon had practiced those “ Georgics of the Mind” on which all critical thinking and high art depend. He comprehended that “ Exemplar or Platform of Good,” the “ Colours of Good and Evil,” and that " Regiment or Culture of the Mind," 1 whereby alone the highest excellence may be reached ; and he had attained to that noble philosophy, whereby only the soul of man is to be “raised above the confusion of things to that height of Plato, where, situate as upon a cliff, he may have “a prospect of the order of nature and the errours of men.” 2

In Francis Bacon, we have a man three years older than William Shakespeare, and, when the latter came to London, already ten years from the University and some four years an utter barrister of Gray's Inn, and well prepared, by the best possible advantages of early education, finished classical scholarship, foreign travel, and residence at royal 1 Adv. of Learning.

2 Works (Montagu), I. 252.

« 上一頁繼續 »