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11

It was in the eighteenth century, so often arraigned for its low appreciation of Shakespeare, that there arose the conception of him as a master not only of his own tongue but of Latin and Greek; and that opinion, albeit much shaken by the powerful criticism of Dr. Richard Farmer in 1767, continues to be zealously maintained from generation to generation. Latterly it has been affirmed with equal confidence by two internecine groups, the maintainers of Bacon's authorship of the plays, and the traditionally orthodox Shakespeareans who most vehemently oppose them. One recent writer on the orthodox side, it is true, sees a danger in the conflict. “Shakespeareans," writes Mr. Gervais, “will do well not to ridicule the Baconian claims, . . . for we certainly owe the Baconians a debt of gratitude for insisting on the learning with which the plays abound.”? That thesis is,

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i On this theme see the Introduction to the present volume, and pp. 75-76, 82-83, 85-86, 97-104, 119-131 above. : F. P. Gervais, Bacon not Shakespeare, 1901, p. 4.

indeed, the foundation of the Baconian case, which, as Mr. Gervais notes, runs thus: “The plays show wide learning. William Shakespeare the actor, with his education and opportunities, could never have acquired that learning. We find it in Bacon's works. Therefore Bacon was the author.' And the Baconians further have this point in common with some of their “dearest foes,” for instance, the late Professor Churton Collins, that they assign to Shakespeare all the plays ascribed to him in the first folio, attempting no critical discrimination. It is significant, then, that a rational critical method is found to involve conflict with the two positions alike.

One of the orthodox school to whom the advice of Mr. Gervais might fitly have been administered was the late Professor John Fiske, who in a vigorous article? affirmed with equal confidence the learning of the author of the plays and the folly of the Baconians who turn to Bacon in the effort to account for that learning. Holding the views he did, Professor Fiske necessarily failed to appreciate the measure of real excuse for the first resort to the Baconian hypothesis, as apart from persistence in the claim that it is proved.

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1 F. P. Gervais, Bacon not Shakespeare, 1901, p. 1.

2 The Atlantic Monthly, November 1897.

With Professor Ten Brink, he acknowledged explicitly enough that the idolatrous methods of many of the commentators prepared the way for the denial that the man Shakespeare could have produced the works which bear his name. Yet he held confidently by a belief which belongs to the idolatrous conception of Shakespeare ; and he

; avowed it without any critical reference to the countervailing evidence and arguments. At the same time, he omitted to note the radically important change set up in the critical conception by the knowledge that Shakespeare not only had little or no share in the historical plays long ago seen to reveal other hands, but had wrought upon and partly embodied other men's work in some of the greater tragedies, and had in yet other cases merely interpolated, adapted, and partly revised other men's plays. True, these points of the higher or lower criticism are still more or less in reasonable dispute, and their thorough handling would carry us far from the simple issue as to the alleged Baconian authorship ; so that, though a critic who lays such stress as did Professor Fiske on the argument from style in Homer might be expected to face them, he did not exactly impair his answer to the Baconians by ignoring them. But when, thus ignoring such considerations, he endorsed a

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