George Stronach.

Mr. Sidney Lee and the Baconians : a critic criticised online

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"the heights of classic knowledge climbed by Shake-
speare were not scaled by any grammar-school prodigy
of the sixteenth or any other century in England."

Then Mr. Lee explains the marvellous and accurate law
knowledge of Shakspere in the plays by "the many legal
processes in which his father was involved, and in part to
early intercourse with members of the Inns of Court "
[Bacon, probably, among the number]. Let him study
the law in Sonnets XLVL and LXXXVIL, and he will,
possibly, change his mind. Of the former Lord Campbell
said, " Without a considerable knowledge of English
forensic procedure, it cannot be fully understood." A
certain Mr. Fiske once wrote in the Atlantic Monthly
that Shakspere could easily have got all his know-
ledge of law "from an evening chat with some legal
friend at an ale-house." This is quite as probable as
Mr. Lee's suggestion.

On page 33 of the Life in which "conjecture"
is almost entirely abjured (according to its author), the
following passage occurs: — "Shakespeare's friends [at
Stratford] may have called the attention of the strolling
players [on a visit to Stratford] to the homeless lad,
rumours of whose search for employment about the
London theatres had doubtless reached Stratford. From
such incidents seetns to have sprung the opportunity


Avhich offered Shakespeare fame and fortune.* His
intellectual capacity, and the amiability with which he
turned to account his versatile powers [up to that time,
be it noted, all that is related of Shakspere was that he
had been a poacher and a butcher's apprentice] were
probably soon recognised, and thenceforth his promotion
was assured." This is quite affecting — this lively non-
conjectural Barnardo-like interest Shakspere's friends
in Stratford must have taken in the "homeless lad,"
who, according to Sir Theodore Martin and Mrs.
Stopes, fled from Stratford after his deer-stealing
exploits with the manuscript of Venus and Adonis "in
his pocket. "t Can Shaksperean " faith " such as
this find its parallel in any item of the Baconian creed ?
Then a few years afterwards "the homeless lad" pro-
duces his first play. Love's Labour's Lost, "so learned, so
academic, so scholastic in expression and allusion, that
it is unfit for popular representation."

Next we have the following personal history : " It was
probably in 1596 that Shakespeare returned to his native
town . . . thenceforth the poet's relations with
Stratford were uninterrupted. . . . Until the close
of his professional career he paid the town at least an
annual visit." There is no evidence whatever to show
that Shakspere ever visited Stratford from the time he
left it (date unknown) to the time he returned to it (date
unknown). It is not even known that he was at the

*C/. Mrs. Stopes' statement : — " Evcntuallv he went to London,
probably with introductions to many people supposed to be able
and willing to help him. There were both Ardens and Shake-
speares in London and many Warwickshire men, and they
thought that some place might be found even for him, the
landless, unapprenticed, untrained son of a straitened father."
How pathetic !

f Mr. Churton Collins and others give the date of the composition
of Venus and Adonis as 1585, be/ore Shakspere left Stratford.


funeral of his father or mother or of his son Hamnet or
at the marriage of his daughter Susanna !

Mr. Lee says : " The poet's mother was buried in
the parish church." Nobody knows where Shakspere's
father or mother or son lies buried, as he forgot to mark
their graves — wealthy man though he was. He made
provision, however, for his own slab, for which he left
the famous " curse," debarring (as he had " barred her
dower ") his wife from the grave in which he was buried
only seventeen feet deep, although, as Mr. Lee says
(p. 273), the widow "expressed a desire to be buried
beside her husband." Shakspere's marriage must, after
all, have been one of "love," as his admirer Rolfe
maintains ! [See Note, p. g.]

How conveniently Mr. Lee twists out of his
difficulties with regard to Shakespeare's universal know-
ledge of the life of a soldier, the life of a courtier, the
life of a sailor, — the life of everybody ! It was all
accomplished by his " intuitive power of realising life
under almost every aspect by force of his imagination."
There is no proof that Shakspere climbed the tree of know-
ledge. According to Mr. Lee, there was no necessity
for such a feat. He stood below the tree with his mouth
open, and the fruit dropped into it intuitively. Lucky
Shakspere ! Yet Dr. Johnson declared — "Shakespeare,
however favoured by nature, could impart only what he
had learned." Mr. Lee knows differently, however.

Friends, we have seen, supplied Shakspere with his
knowledge of law, so we are not surprised to learn from
Mr. Lee that " he doubtless obtained all his knowledge
of Northern Italy from the verbal reports of travelled
friends or from books, the contents of which he had a
rare power of assimilating and vitalising." The names
of the books are not mentioned, but probably they were
early editions of Baedeker or Murray, none of which are
extant in any public or private library.


We are informed that " Shakespeare's accurate
reference in Macbeth to the 'nimble' and 'sweet
climate ' of Inverness, and the vivid impression he con-
veys of the aspects of wild Highland heaths . . . can
be satisfactorily accounted for by his inevitable inter-
course with Scotsmen in London and the theatres."
Obliging Scotsmen ! I wonder how many London
(or Scotch) Scotsmen of the period had ever been so far
north as Inverness in the days of Queen Bess.

" It was doubtless," also, we learn, " to Shakespeare's
relations with men and women of the Court that his
Sonnets owed their existence," and probably where he
obtained his marvellous knowledge of Court ceremonial.
The actor and playwright hobnobbed probably with the
nobility at the Court of Elizabeth and James, flirted
with the Queen (incog.) on the stage of the " Globe,"
and the King wrote him a letter, with which probably he
lit his pipe, as it has never since been forthcoming.
Probably, it was also through these " personal relations "
that we are to account for the author of the plays being
a thorough aristocrat — "a Tory and a gentleman," as
Hartley Coleridge calls him, — although he was hounded
from Stratford for stealing an aristocrat's deer. The
masses he detested — "tag-rag people," "disordered
rabble," " beastly plebeians," etc., he calls them — not a
good word for, or a scrap of sympathy with, the
" toiling masses " is to be found in Shakespeare, but
then Shakspere held aristocrats' horses at the stage
door, and associated with Raleigh at the " Mermaid."
I am under the impression that Bacon was an aristocrat,
and a persona grata at Court ; but then Mr. Lee tells
us that Bacon could have had nothing to do with the
plays, and that is, of course, conclusive.

Then, probably, Shakspere obtained his medical
knowledge — including the anticipation of Harvey's dis-
covery of the circulation of the blood — from his son-in-



law, **Dr." Hall, who believed in the curative proper-
ties of "frog-spawn water, juice of goose-excrements,
powdered human skulls, and restoratives made from
snails, earth-worms, and swallows' nests ! "

In conclusion, may I ask Mr. Lee how he accounts
for the fact that two such diverse men in Elizabethan
literature used the same expressions, aired the same
ideas, the one the counterpart in prose of the other in
verse — " the one an aristocrat, the other a plebeian; the
one the first subject of the realm, the other an actor;
the one highly educated, the other uneducated; the one
the son of scholarly parents, the other the son of
illiterates, who could not write their names " ? The
positions and circumstances of Shakspere and Bacon
were as wide apart as the poles, and yet their thoughts,
their expressions, their mistakes are identical. "There
is an understanding," says Carlyle, "manifested in the
construction of Shakespeare's plays equal to that in
Bacon's Novum Organuui." " The wisdom displayed
in Shakespeare," says Hazlitt, " was equal in profound-
ness to the great Lord Bacon's Novum Organum.'" Well
might Lowell speak of "the apparition known to
moderns as Shakespeare ; " and Coleridge write :
" What ! are we to have miracles in sport ? . . .
Does God choose idiots by whom to convey divine truth
to man ? " According to Mr. Lee, the answer is in the
affirmative, and he quotes with approval Pope's contemp-
tible couplet :

" For !^ain uof glory ivingcd his roving fiighi,
And grew immortal in his own despite."

Before I finish, I would ask Mr. Sidney Lee's authority
for the following personal history : " Shakespeare, it
it should also be remembered, must have been a regular
attendant at the parish church, and may at times have


enjoyed a sermon." * Is this free from "conjecture? " It is
not unlike the statement of Judge WiUis: " Shakespeare
was, I am inclined to think, present frequently at St.
Clement Danes Church." Only a change of t^mwe .' And
what scrap of authority has Mr. Lee for maintaining —
"The copy for the press, the manuscripts of the plays, the
publishers obtained from the managers of the acting
company with whom Shakespeare was long connected
as both author and actor " ? If Mr. Lee's authorities for
this detail are Heminge and Condell, he should turn to
the best edition of Shakespeare's plays ever produced —
the Cambridge edition — when he will find that the
statements of the professed editors of the First Folio,
which recently Mr. Lee has taken under his wing, are
by their own confession entirely contradictory and
untrustworthy. "In short, the authority of the Folio
is uniformly rejected, . . . the assertions of its editors
[are] discredited," by the editor, Mr. Aldis Wright.

I am sorry I am precluded by the length of this letter
to take up other points, e.g., Mr. Lee's account of the
First Folio, but this has been very ably done by Mr. Walter
W. Greg, who calls attention to Mr. Lee's numerous
bibliographical errors in an article in The Library, July,
1903, where it is stated: " In these cases even the expert
is apt to be misled by Mr. Lee's cheerful confidence of
assertion. He is equally dangerous when committing
himself unreservedly to statements which require quali-

* Stratford-on-Avon (1885), p. 72. This revelation is worth con-
trasting with the statement {Life, p. 177) : — " The creator of
Falstaff could have been no stranger to tavern life, and he
doublless took part with zest in the convivialities of men of
letters." Shakspere seems to have been equally at home in
" church " or " tavern," not forgetting court and palace. But if
Shakspere attended church, it is more than his father did, as
Mr. Lee tells us (p. 186) he was " 'presented' as a recusant for
absenting himself from church." Not much encouragement this for
young William !


fication or explanation." And of other Lee "facts" Mr.
Greg maintains : " Here I am afraid Mr. Lee has been
drawing upon his imagination ; it is at best pretty
fiction." And Mr. Greg proves his case, with regard to
Mr. Lee's statements regarding the First FoHo.

I find also that Mr. Lee has no better acquaintance
with the Quartos. On page 299 he says : — " At the time
of his death in 1616 there had been printed in quarto
seven editions of his 'Venus and Adonis,' and five
editions of his 'Lucrece.'" Mr. Lee ought to have
known that only the first two editions of " Venus and
Adonis," and only the first edition of " Lucrece " were
"printed in quarto."

Mr. Lee has abused Baconians, but he has never argued
with them. Mr. Edwin Reed challenged him to a public
debate in America, but he would not take it up. I have
not atitheofthe knowledge and ability of Mr. Reed, but I
am willing to thrash out the subject with Mr. Lee when
and where he pleases. I may not support the claim
of Bacon, but I shall certainly take Mr. Lee's Lije of
Shakespeare in my hand, and ask him where he ob-
tained the "facts" for his "personal history." Till
he does this, Baconians may be excused for maintain-
ing that Mr. Lee has unconsciously invented " a
fictitious biography " to sustain a fictitious character,
a biography " full of fanciful might-have-beens," with-
out which, according to Mr. F. G. Fleay, a Life of
Shakespeare cannot apparently be compiled.

It must have been the author of this "standard"
Life of Shakespeare whom Mr. Asquith had in his eye
when he said: — " Few things are more interesting to
watch than the attempts of scholars and critics to
reconstruct the life of a man at once so illustrious and
so obscure as the greatest of our poets," and that the
work of a Shakespeare biographer is " not so much an
essay in biography as in the more or less scientific use


of the biographic imagination." The "less" applies
admirably to Mr. Sidney Lee's so-called Lije of William

George Stronach.


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Online LibraryGeorge StronachMr. Sidney Lee and the Baconians : a critic criticised → online text (page 2 of 2)