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Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

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Is it not marvelous that he, living in an age of great
deeds, of adventures in far-off lands and unknown seas,
in a time of religious wars, in the days of the Armada,
the massacre of St. Bartholomew, the Edict of Nantes,
the assassination of Henry III, the victory of Lepanto,
the execution of Marie Stuart did not mention the name
of any man or woman of his time? Some have insisted
that the paragraph ending with the line :

" The imperial votress passed on in maiden meditation fancy free,"
referred to Queen Elizabeth; but it is impossible for me



SHAKESPEARE 633

to believe that the daubed and wrinkled face, the small
black eyes, the cruel nose, the thin lips, the bad teeth,
and the red wig of Queen Elizabeth could by any possi-
bility have inspired these marvelous lines.

It is perfectly apparent from Shakespeare's writings
that he knew but little of the nobility, little of kings and
queens. He gives to these supposed great people great
thoughts, and puts great words in their mouths and makes
them speak not as they really did but as Shakespeare
thought such people should. This demonstrates that he
did not know them personally.

Some have insisted that Shakespeare mentions Queen
Elizabeth in the last scene of Henry VIII. The answer
to this is that Shakespeare did not write the last scene
in that play. The probability is that Fletcher was the
author.

Shakespeare lived during the great awakening of the
world, when Europe emerged from the darkness of the
Middle Ages, when the discovery of America had made
England, that blossom of the Gulf Stream, the centre of
commerce, and during a period when some of the greatest
writers, thinkers, soldiers, am 1 discoverers were produced.

Cervantes was born in 1547, dying on the same day
that Shakespeare died. He was undoubtedly the great-
est writer that Spain has produced. Rubens was born in
1577. Camoens, the Portuguese, the author of " Lusiad,"
died in 1597. Giordano Bruno greatest of martyrs
was born in 1548, visited London in Shakespeare's time,
delivered lectures at Oxford, and called that institution
" the widow of learning." Drake circled the globe in 1 580.
Galileo was born in 1564 the same year with Shake-
speare. Michelangelo died in 1563. Kepler he of the
Three Laws born in 1571. Calderon, the Spanish
dramatist, born in 1601. Corneille, the French poet, in
1606. Rembrandt, greatest of painters, 1607. Shake-
speare was born in 1564. In that year John Calvin died.
What a glorious exchange !

Seventy-two years after the discovery of America
Shakespeare was born, and England was filled with the
voyages and discoveries written by Hakluyt, and the won-
ders that had been seen by Raleigh, by Drake, by Fro-
bisher, and Hawkins. London had become the centre of



634



ROBERT GREEN INGERSOLL



the world, and representatives from all known countries
were in the new metropolis. The world had been doubled.
The imagination had been touched and kindled by dis-
covery. In the far horizon were unknown lands, strange
shores beyond untraversed seas. Toward every part of
the world were turned the prows of adventure. All these
things fanned the imagination into flame, and this had
its effect upon the literary and dramatic world. And yet
Shakespeare the master spirit of mankind in the midst
of these discoveries, of these adventures, mentioned no
navigator, no general, no discoverer, no philosopher.

Galileo was reading the open volume of the sky, but
Shakespeare did not mention him. This to me is the
most marvelous thing connected with this most marvel-
ous man.

At that time England was prosperous was then lay-
ing the foundation of her future greatness and power.
When men are prosperous, they are in love with life.
Nature grows beautiful, the arts begin to flourish, there
is work for painter and sculptor, the poet is born, the
stage is erected ; and this life with which men are in love
is represented in a thousand forms. Nature, or Fate, or
Chance prepared a stage for Shakespeare, and Shake-
speare prepared a stage for Nature.

Famine and faith go together. In disaster and want
the gaze of man is fixed upon another world. He that
eats a crust has a creed. Hunger falls upon its knees,
and heaven, looked for through tears., is the mirage of
misery. But prosperity brings joy and wealth and leisure
and the beautiful is born.

One of the effects of the world's awakening was
Shakespeare. We account for this man as we do for the
highest mountain, the greatest river, the most perfect
gem. We can only say: He was.

" It hath been taught us from the primal state,
That he which is was wish'd until he were."

In Shakespeare's time the actor was a vagabond, the
dramatist a disreputable person; and yet the greatest
dramas were then written. In spite of law, and social
ostracism, Shakespeare reared the many-colored dome
that fills and glorifies the intellectual heavens.



SHAKESPEARE 635

Now the whole civilized world believes in the theatre,
asks for some great dramatist, is hungry for a play worthy
of the century, is anxious to give gold and fame to any
one who can worthily put our age upon the stage ; and
yet no great play has been written since Shakespeare died.

Shakespeare pursued the highway of the right. He
did not seek to put his characters in a position where it
was right to do wrong. He was sound and healthy to the
centre. It never occurred to him to write a play in which
a wife's lover should be jealous of her husband.

There was in his blood the courage of his thought.
He was true to himself and enjoyed the perfect freedom
of the highest art. He did not write according to rules;
but smaller men make rules from what he wrote.

How fortunate that Shakespeare was not educated at
Oxford; that the winged god within him never knelt to
the professor. How fortunate that this giant was not
captured, tied and tethered by the literary Lilliputians of
his time.

He was an idealist. He did not, like most writers of
our time, take refuge in the real, hiding a lack of genius
behind a pretended love of truth. All realities are not
poetic, or dramatic, or even worth knowing. The real
sustains the same relation to the ideal that a stone does
to a statue, or that paint does to a painting. Realism
degrades and impoverishes. In no event can a realist
be more than an imitator and copyist. According to the
realist's philosophy, the wax that receives and retains an
image is an artist.

Shakespeare did not rely on the stage-carpenter, or
the scenic painter. He put his scenery in his lines.
There you will find mountains and rivers and seas, valleys
and cliffs, violets and clouds, and over all " the firmament
fretted with gold and fire." He cared little for plot, little
for surprise. He did not rely on stage effects, or red fire.
The plays grow before your eyes, and they come as the
morning comes. Plot surprises but once. There must
be something in a play besides surprise. Plot in an
author is a kind of strategy that is to say, a sort of
cunning, and cunning does not belong to the highest
natures.

There is in Shakespeare such a wealth of thought that



636 ROBERT GREEN INGERSOLL

the plot becomes almost immaterial; and such is this
wealth that you can hardly know the play there is too
much. After you have heard it again and again, it seems
as pathless as an untrodden forest.

He belonged to all lands. " Timon of Athens" is as
Greek as any tragedy of ^Eschylus. " Julius Caesar " and
" Coriolanus " are perfect Roman, and as you read, the
mighty ruins rise and the Eternal City once again be-
comes the mistress of the world. No play is more Egyp-
tian than " Antony and Cleopatra." The Nile runs
through it, the shadows of the pyramids fall upon it, and
from its scenes the Sphinx gazes forever on the out-
stretched sands.

In " Lear " is the true pagan spirit. " Romeo and
Juliet " is Italian. Everything is sudden, love bursts into
immediate flower, and in every scene is the climate of the
land of poetry and passion. The reason of this is, that
Shakespeare dealt with elemental things, with uni-
versal men. He knew that locality colors without chang-
ing, and that in all surroundings the human heart is sub-
stantially the same.

Not all the poetry written before his time would make
his sum : not all that has been written since, added to all
that was written before, would equal his.

There was nothing within the range of human thought,
within the horizon of intellectual effort, that he did not
touch. He knew the brain and heart of man the
theories, customs, superstitions, hopes, fears, hatreds,
vices, and virtues of the human race.

He knew the thrills and ecstacies of love, the savage
joys of hatred and revenge. He heard the hiss of envy's
snakes and watched the eagles of ambition soar. There
was no hope that did not put its star above his head, no
fear he had not felt, no joy that had not shed its sunshine
on his face. He experienced the emotions of mankind.
He was the intellectual spendthrift of the world. He gave
with the generosity, the extravagance, of madness.

Read one play, and you are impressed with the idea
that the wealth of the brain of a god has been exhausted ;
that there are no more comparisons, no more passions to
be expressed, no more definitions, no more philosophy,



SHAKESPEARE 637

beauty, or sublimity to be put in words ; and yet, the next
play opens as fresh as the dewy gates of another day.

The outstretched wings of his imagination filled the sky.
He was the intellectual crown of the earth.

The plays of Shakespeare show so much knowledge,
thought, and learning, that many people those who
imagined that universities furnish capacity contend that
Bacon must have been the author.

We know Bacon. We know that he was a scheming
politician, a courtier, a time-server of church and king,
and a corrupt judge. We know that he never admitted
the truth of the Copernican system, that he was doubtful
whether instruments were of any advantage in scientific
investigation, that he was ignorant of the higher branches
of mathematics, and that, as a matter of fact, he added
but little to the knowledge of the world. When he was
more than sixty years of age, he turned his attention to
poetry, and dedicated his verses to George Herbert. If
you will read these verses you will say that the author of
" Lear " and " Hamlet " did not write them.

Bacon dedicated his work on the " Advancement of
Learning, Divine and Human," to James I, and in his
dedication he stated that there had not been, since the
time of Christ, any king or monarch so learned in all
erudition, divine or human. He placed James I before
Marcus Aurelius and all other kings and emperors since
Christ, and concluded by saying that James I had " the
power and fortune of a king, the illumination of a priest,
the learning and universality of a philosopher." This
was written of James I, described by Macaulay as a
" stammering, slobbering, trembling coward, whose
writings were deformed by the grossest and vilest super-
stitions witches being the special objects of his fear, his
hatred, and his persecution."

It seems to have been taken for granted that if Shake-
speare was not the author of the great dramas, Lord
Bacon must have been.

It has been claimed that Bacon was the greatest phi-
losopher of his time. And yet in reading his works we
find that there was in his mind a strange mingling of
foolishness and philosophy. He takes pains to tell us, and
to write it down for the benefit of posterity, that " snow



638 ROBERT GREEN INGERSOLL

is colder than water, because it hath more spirit in it, and
that quicksilver is the coldest of all metals, because it is
the fullest of spirit."

He stated that he hardly believed that you could con-
tract air by putting opium on top of the weather-glass,
and gave the following reason :

" I conceive that opium and the like make spirits fly
rather by malignity than by cold."

This great philosopher gave the following recipe for
stanching blood:

" Thrust the part that bleedeth into the body of a
capon, new ripped and bleeding. This will stanch the
blood. The blood, as it seemeth, sucking and drawing
up by similitude of substance the blood it meeteth with,
and so itself going back."

The philosopher also records this important fact:

" Divers witches among heathen and Christians have
fed upon man's flesh to aid, as it seemeth, their imagina-
tion with high and foul vapors."

Lord Bacon was not only a philosopher, but he was a
biologist, as appears from the following:

" As for living creatures, it is certain that their vital
spirits are a substance compounded of an airy and flamy
matter, and although air and flame being free will not
mingle, yet bound in by a body that hath some fixing,
will."

Now and then the inventor of deduction reasons by
analogy. He says:

" As snow and ice holpen, and their cold activated by
nitre or salt, will turn water into ice, so it may be it will
turn wood or stiff clay into stone."

Bacon seems to have been a believer in the transmuta-
tion of metals, and solemnly gives a formula for changing
silver or copper into gold. He also believed in the trans-
mutation of plants, and had arrived at such a height in
entomology that he informed the world that " insects
have no blood."

It is claimed that he was a great observer, and as evi-
dence of this he recorded the wonderful fact that " tobacco
cut and dried by the fire loses weight " ; that " bears in
the winter wax fat in sleep, though they eat nothing";
that " tortoises have no bones " ; that " there is a kind of



SHAKESPEARE



639



stone, if ground and put in water where cattle drink, the
cows will give more milk " ; that " it is hard to cure a hurt
in a Frenchman's head, but easy in his leg; that it is
hard to cure a hurt in an Englishman's leg, but easy in his
head"; that "wounds made with brass weapons are
easier to cure than those made with iron"; that "lead
will multiply and increase, as in statues buried in the
ground " ; and that " the rainbow touching anything
causeth a sweet smell."

Bacon seems also to have turned his attention to
ornithology, and says that " eggs laid in the full of the
moon breed better birds," and that "you can make swal-
lows white by putting ointment on the eggs before they
are hatched."

He also informs us " that witches cannot hurt kings as
easily as they can common people " ; that " perfumes dry
and strengthen the brain " ; that " any one in the moment
of triumph can be injured by another who casts an envious
eye, and the injury is greatest when the envious glance
comes from the oblique eye."

Lord Bacon also turned his attention to medicine, and
he states that " bracelets made of snakes are good for cur-
ing cramps " ; that " the skin of a wolf might cure the colic,
because a wolf has great digestion " ; that " eating the
roasted brains of hens and hares strengthens the mem-
ory " ; that " if a woman about to become a mother eats a
good many quinces and considerable coriander seed, the
child will be ingenious," and that " the moss which grow-
eth on the skull of an unburied dead man is good for
stanching blood."

He expresses doubt, however, " as to whether you can
cure a wound by putting ointment on the weapon that
caused the wound, instead of on the wound itself."

It is claimed by the advocates of the Baconian theory
that their hero stood at the top of science ; and yet " it is
absolutely certain that he was ignorant of the law of the
acceleration of falling bodies, although the law had been
made known and printed by Galileo thirty years before
Bacon wrote upon the subject. Neither did this great
man understand the principle of the lever. He was not
acquainted with the precession of the equinoxes, and as
a matter of fact was ill-read in those branches of learning



640 ROBERT GREEN INGERSOLL

in which, in his time, the most rapid progress had been
made."

After Kepler discovered his third law, which was on
May 15, 1618, Bacon was more than ever opposed to
the Copernican system. This great man was far behind
his own time, not only in astronomy, but in mathematics.
In the preface to the " Descriptio Globi Intellectualis," it
is admitted either that Bacon had never heard of the cor-
rection of the parallax, or was unable to understand it.
He complained on account of the want of some method
for shortening mathematical calculations ; and yet " Na-
pier's Logarithms" had been printed nine years before
the date of his complaint.

He attempted to form a table of specific gravities by a
rude process of his own, a process that no one has ever
followed; and he did this in spite of the fact that a far
better method existed.

We have the right to compare what Bacon wrote with
what it is claimed Shakespeare produced. I call attention
to one thing to Bacon's opinion of human love. It is
this :

" The stage is more beholding to love than the life of
man. As to the stage, love is ever matter of comedies and
now and then of tragedies, but in life it doth much mis-
chief sometimes like a siren, sometimes like a fury.
Amongst all the great and worthy persons there is not
one that hath been transported to the mad degree of love,
which shows that great spirits and great business do keep
out this weak passion."

The author of " Romeo and Juliet " never wrote that.

It seems certain that the author of the wondrous Plays
was one of the noblest of men.

Let us see what sense of honor Bacon had.

In writing commentaries on certain passages of Scrip-
ture, Lord Bacon tells a courtier, who has committed some
offense, how to get back into the graces of his prince or
king. Among other things he tells him not to appear
too cheerful, but to assume a very grave and modest face ;
not to bring the matter up himself; to be extremely in-
dustrious, so that the prince will see that it is hard to get
along without him ; also to get his friends to tell the prince
or king how badly he, the courtier, feels; and then he



SHAKESPEARE 641

says, all these failing, "let him contrive to transfer the
fault to others."

It is true that we know but little of Shakespeare, and
consequently do not positively know that he did not have
the ability to write the Plays ; but we do know Bacon, and
we know that he could not have written these Plays.
Consequently, they must have been written by a compara-
tively unknown man that is to say, by a man who was
known by no other writings. The fact that we do not
know Shakespeare, except through the Plays and Son-
nets, makes it possible for us to believe that he was the
author.

Some people have imagined that the Plays were written
by several ; but this only increases the wonder, and adds a
useless burden to credulity.

Bacon published in his time all the writings that he
claimed. Naturally, he would have claimed his best. Is
it possible that Bacon left the wondrous children of his
brain on the doorstep of Shakespeare, and kept the de-
formed ones at home ? Is it possible that he fathered the
failures and deserted the perfect?

Of course, it is wonderful that so little has been found
touching Shakespeare ; but is it not equally wonderful, if
Bacon was the author, that not a line has been found in
all his papers, containing a suggestion, or a hint, that he
was the writer of these Plays? Is it not wonderful that
no fragment of any scene no line no word has been
found ?

Some have insisted that Bacon kept the authorship
secret, because it was disgraceful to write Plays. This
argument does not cover the Sonnets. And, besides, one
who had been stripped of the robes of office, for receiving
bribes as a judge, could have borne the additional dis-
grace of having written " Hamlet." The fact that Bacon
did not claim to be the author, demonstrates that he was
not. Shakespeare claimed to be the author, and no one
in his time or day denied the claim. This demonstrates
that he was.

Bacon published his works, and said to the world:
This is what I have done.

Suppose you found in a cemetery a monument erected
to "John Smith, inventor of the Smith-churn," and sup-



642 ROBERT GREEN INGERSOLL

pose you were told that Mr. Smith provided for the mon-
ument in his will, and dictated the inscription, would it be
possible to convince you that Mr. Smith was also the
inventor of the locomotive and telegraph?

Bacon's best can be compared with Shakespeare's com-
mon, but Shakespeare's best rises above Bacon's best,
like a domed temple above a beggar's hut.

Of course it is admitted that there were many drama-
tists before and during the time of Shakespeare ; but they
were only the foothills of that mighty peak the top of
which the clouds and mists still hide. Chapman and Mar-
lowe, Heywood and Jonson, Webster, Beaumont, and
Fletcher wrote some great lines, and in the monotony of
declamation now and then is found a strain of genuine
music. All of them together constituted only a herald of
Shakespeare. In all these Plays there is but a hint, a
prophecy, of the great drama destined to revolutionize the
poetic thought of the world.

Shakespeare was the greatest of poets. What Greece
and Rome produced was great until his time. " Lions
make leopards tame."

The great poet is a great artist. He is painter and
sculptor. The greatest pictures and statues have been
painted and chiseled with words. They outlast all others.
All the galleries of the world are poor and cheap com-
pared with the statues and pictures in Shakespeare's
book.

Language is made of pictures represented by sounds.
The outer world is a dictionary of the mind, and the
artist called the soul uses this dictionary of things to ex-
press what happens in the noiseless and invisible world
of thought. First a sound represents something in the
outer world, and afterwards something in the inner, and
this sound at last is represented by a mark, and this mark
stands for a picture, and every brain is a gallery, and the
artists that is to say, the souls exchange pictures and
statues.

All art is of the same parentage. The poet uses words,
makes pictures and statues of sounds. The sculptor ex-
presses harmony, proportion, passion, in marble ; the com-
poser, in music; the painter in form and color. The
dramatist expresses himself not only in words, not only



SHAKESPEARE 643

paints these pictures, but he expresses his thought in
action.

Shakespeare was not only a poet, but a dramatist, and
expressed the ideal, the poetic, not only in words, but in
action. There are the wit, the humor, the pathos, the
tragedy of situation, of relation. The dramatist speaks
and acts through others his personality is lost. The
poet lives in the world of thought and feeling, and to this
the dramatist adds the world of action. He creates char-
acters that seem to act in accordance with their own
natures and independently of him. He compresses lives
into hours, tells us the secrets of the heart, shows us the
springs of action how desire bribes the judgment and
corrupts the will, how weak the reason is when passion
pleads, and how grand it is to stand for right against the
world.

It is not enough to say fine things: great things,
dramatic things, must be done.

Let me give you an illustration of dramatic incident
accompanying the highest form of poetic expression :
Macbeth, having returned from the murder of Duncan,
says to his wife :

" Methought I heard a voice cry, Sleep no more !
Macbeth does murder sleep ; the innocent sleep ;
Sleep, that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great Nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast."

" Still it cried : ' Sleep no more ! ' to all the house ;
Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor
Shall sleep no more Macbeth shall sleep no more."

She exclaims :

" Who was it that thus cried ? Why, worthy Thane,
You do unbend your noble strength, to think
So brain-sickly of things. Go get some water,
And wash this filthy witness from your hand.
Why did you bring these daggers from the place?"

Macbeth was so overcome with horror at his own deed,



644 ROBERT GREEN INGERSOLL

that he not only mistook his thoughts for the words of
others, but was so carried away and beyond himself that
he brought with him the daggers, the evidence of his
guilt the daggers that he should have left with the dead.
This is dramatic.

In the same play, the difference of feeling before and
after the commission of a crime is illustrated to perfec-
tion. When Macbeth is on his way to assassinate the
king, the bell strikes, and he says, or whispers:



Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 5) → online text (page 22 of 38)