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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

“It Hath the Excuse of Youth”

By Horace Howard Furness (1833–1912)

[From A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare.—Vol. VII. The Merchant of Venice. 1888.]

IN Dixon’s Story of Lord Bacon’s Life, p. 98, Lady Anne Bacon tells her son Anthony that she sends him “xij pigeons, my last flight, and one ringdove beside, and a black coney taken by John Knight this day, and pigeons, too, to-day.” This incident I am sure that I have seen, in some attempted proof that Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays, cited (in conclusive answer to C. A. Brown’s question) as the genuine dovecote whence issued Gobbo’s doves. I mistrust the fitness of spending any time in search for it. My editorial conscience is rendered placid by the simple allusion; merely begging to be allowed to remark that if Bacon wrote this passage, I fully respond to Pope’s estimate of Bacon’s baseness, and find herein even a lower depth, in thus introducing his Mother as a prototype of old Gobbo. One is sometimes inclined to say to those who dispute the authorship of these plays, as the Cockney did to the eels, “down, wantons, down!” but a little calm reflection reveals to us that this attempt to dethrone Shakespeare, so far from being treason, or lèse majesté, is, in fact, most devout and respectful homage to him. In our salad days, when first we begin to study Shakespeare, who does not remember his bewildering efforts to attribute to mortal hand these immortal plays? Then follows the fruitless attempt to discern in that Stratford youth, the Emperor, by the grace of God, of all literature. In our despair of marrying, as Emerson says, the man to the verse, we wed the verse to the greatest known intellect of that age. Can homage be more profound? But, as I have said, this we do when we are young in judgment. The older we grow in this study, and the further we advance in it, the clearer becomes our vision that, if the royal robes do not fit Shakespeare, they certainly do not, and cannot, fit any one else. Wherefore, I conceive that we have here a not altogether inaccurate gauge of the depth, or duration, or persistence of Shakespearian study, and, measuring by a scale of maturity, or growth, in this study, I have come to look upon all attempts to prove that Bacon wrote these dramas, merely as indications of youth, possibly, of extreme youth, and that they find their comforting parallels in the transitory ailments incident to childhood, like the chicken-pox or the measles. The attack is pretty sure to come, but we know that it is neither dangerous nor chronic, that time will effect a cure, and that, when once well over it, there is no likelihood whatever of its recurrence.