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regard it both as a degradation and a disgrace to the literature of the day, being nothing less than an attempt to destroy the good name of the greatest poet the world ever saw.
The truth is, that an irreverent spirit has got abroad; and a certain class of writers deem nothing sacred from assault. Reference has already been made to the manner in which this predatory warfare is generally conducted, and but few authors of merit have escaped the unwarrantable attacks of some of these critical hornets. Only a short time since Sir Walter Scott's memory was wantonly assailed, and most triumphantly vindicated.* Yet, bad the fray been postponed until those able to speak with certainty in the great novelist's defence were removed from the scene, the author of the “Waverley Novels ” might have suffered therefrom in general esteem.
Had Mr. William Henry Smith, in his profound wisdom and extended philosophy, thought fit to challenge the almost unanimous verdict of mankind respecting the merits of Shakespeare's plays ; had he declared that he deemed these much overrated, and that he could by no means allow them to be such masterpieces as certain critics chose to represent, nobody would have complained. Mr. William Henry Smith possesses as much right to cavil as others to praise; and might even publish such opinions in any form that he deemed most expedient.
There is no act of parliament in existence to prevent men from making absurd exhibitions of themselves; nor can those that have a fancy for the thing be hindered from taking up a position on the great high-roads of literature, arrayed in a gaudy fool's cap of their own construction. He would not be the only delinquent that has carried his own rod to the place of punishment; nor the first to discover that the hardest blows are generally those inflicted by the whip that folly places in one's own hands.
These and other absurdities Mr. William Henry Smith
* See Notes and Queries, 1st Series, vol. xii.
might have perpetrated without giving offence to any save himself; but the private character of William Shakespeare, as well as that of Francis Bacon, ought not to be used as a target for his roving bolts. The reputation of these great men, that have now been in their graves for more than two centuries, forms one of the richest treasures of the commonwealth ; and those who dare to cast a slur upon it must be dealt with as offenders against decency and common sense.
Had such an accusation been brought against Shakespeare during his lifetime, in the courts of law, he would have found means for vindicating his character and chastising the aggressor. Were any person to hazard the assertion that Earl Stanhope had not penned one line of the “ History of England,” published with his name, at the same time adding that it had been written by Mr. Hallam, the noble author would be able to punish his traducer through the agency of the legal institutions of the land. We can well fancy how a jury would treat a culprit who pleaded in justification, that, in the first place, Lord Stanhope was unequal to the task of historical composition; that, secondly, Mr. Hallam had not noticed Lord Stanhope in his works, nor Lord Stanhope Mr. Hallam ; and, therefore, thirdly, the last-mentioned gentleman must be the author of the history in question.
This is precisely the course that has been adopted by Mr. William Henry Smith with reference to Shakespeare; and if the living author has a protection against such scandalous attacks, why should the dead be left exposed to all their bitterness ? It is for this reason that we call upon the English people to become the defenders of Shakespeare and Bacon. We appeal to that love of justice and fair play which has long been a distinguishing characteristic of the nation, convinced that it is high time to put a stop, at once and for ever, to these outrages upon the memories of the mighty dead, these unseemly exhibitions that cause so much scandal.
Were the matter properly taken up, meetings would be summoned, and a memorial prepared, containing a forcible expression of the indignation of the English people at this wanton attempt to fix a stain of deepest dye upon the fair fame of Francis Bacon and William Shakespeare. Much good might be achieved by the publication of such a memorial in the newspapers and periodicals of the day. The example would serve as a salutary warning to discontented critics, and for the future deter them
from attacking private character ; whilst we feel assured that any expense might be defrayed by a penny subscription, to which thousands of all classes would joyfully contribute.
Another, and perhaps even a better plan, would be to gibbet the offender. We inscribe the names of public benefactors and philanthropists in gilt letters upon marble monuments in churches and public edifices, why not adopt a similar system in dealing with delinquents of this description? If they voluntarily become scarecrows, they cannot grumble at being nailed, with outstretched wings, in some place of general resort. The new reading-room of the British Museum seems to be the proper arena for the punishment of those who offer violence to our great literary heroes. Let a large black board be erected in this new temple of learning, on which the names of all those condemned by a fairly-constituted jury, of wanton and wicked assaults upon the reputations of the illustrious dead, and other literary misdemeanours, may be inscribed. We doubt not that first and foremost upon the list will appear the name of William Henry Smith, found guilty of traducing the characters of Bacon and Shakespeare.
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