Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I've had a chance over summer to look through "The Truth Will Out", the recent book by Brenda James and Prof. William Rubinstein putting forward Sir Henry Neville as the real Shakespeare. Puh-lease, as they say. I was tempted to consider that the book is intended as a clever literary joke, a send-up of the authorship genre, but after listening to Prof Rubinstein on a recent podcast interview, it was dismayingly clear that they are serious. Oh dear. Things have come to this. All it takes apparently now is a few biographical points of identity between a life and the plays, and presto, a new candidate steps forward out of the pack to even further muddy the waters.

The book is, frankly, a disgrace, to have come from the pen of academically competent scholars in English Literature. The entire work can be despatched on their treatment of Bacon alone, which casually displays not only their ignorance, but an appalling disregard for due diligence.

It's as simple as this: James and Rubinstein are content to repeat the claim made by John Michell in Who Wrote Shakespeare? that Francis Bacon never travelled to Italy. This is a critical point; as they rightly point out, any candidate who can be proved never to have set foot in Italy can be considered a non-starter. The problem is that Bacon most definitely travelled to Italy, on at least two separate occasions. The proofs of this are exact, and detailed, and contained in several Baconian books, most notably in William Smedley's The Mystery of Francis Bacon, where an entire chapter is devoted to demonstrating conclusively this very point from contemporary documentation.

John Michell is quite wrong to make this claim in Who Wrote Shakespeare, and on it's own this error is sufficient to ruin the book. It indicates that Michell has failed to read even the basic Baconian texts, because these facts are discussed widely within this literature. OK, well, Michell made a mistake and thereby revealed his lack of background reading on the Baconian case. He's human, and he's not a professor of English. I might add that he has conceded the error in private communication.

But it is inexcusable for James and Rubinstein to simply repeat this bald mis-statement of fact. Not only does it show that they are content to use amateur paperbacks as primary sources, and not only does it show that they also have failed to spend the time reading even a basic Baconian book like Alfred Dodd FB's Personal Life Story, but they hinge their dismissal of the Bacon case on this point. From a problem-solving perspective, this is sloppy work of the worst kind. It gets worse.

James and Rubinstein are content to claim that no substantial brief of evidence for Bacon has been put forward in recent years. Astonishingly though, they actually mention Nigel Cockburn's near-unobtainable work ("The Bacon Shakespeare Question: The Baconian Theory Made Sane"; review here) in passing. It cannot be that they have actually read this book though, because if they had, they certainly would not be able to claim that there is no evidence to be found for the Bacon case. Cockburn's book is encyclopedic, erudite, even-handed and turns over every stone. It is far and away the best book ever written on the authorship question by a country mile. It settles the question beyond any shadow of doubt. It's a pity that it is almost impossible to obtain a copy and that no one has read it, but that does not excuse James and Rubinstein. They got close enough to a copy to know it exists, yet could not muster the curiousity or the time, it seems, to open the covers and learn about the case for Bacon.

If they had, this book The Truth Will Out would never have been written. By rejecting the case for Bacon on erroneous grounds without even reviwing the evidence, they render the case for Nevil dead in the water before it has begun.

What of the case they present? It is laughably weak. I reread six or seven times the extracts from the so-called Tower Notebook and for the life of me could not spot the parallels to Henry VIII which seem so convincing to the authors. Clearly, they do not know what a convincing parallel might look like. Cockburn's chapter on parallels is over 100 pages long, and even then, represents only a slice of the available evidence. Many of the parallels on their own are sufficient to prove the case beyond any reasonable doubt. I will present one such in a subsequent post here to demonstrate.

Nevil does come close to the Shakespeare mystery in one significant place, and that is on the cover of the Northumberland Manuscript. Again, the authors' treatment of this evidence is pitiful. They entirely ignore all the known writings on the cover which explicitly attribute the referenced Shakespeare works to Bacon. Naturally, they are not even aware of the discovery announced on sirbacon recently of the words "in heling" on the cover. In these two words the matter is settled: here is a contemporary, manuscript, eye-witness testimony of the precise nature of the relationship between William Shakespeare and Francis Bacon: Shakespeare's name is being used "in heling" or as a "cover" for Bacon's true authorship. No other conclusion is possible, but you won't read about this in The Truth Will Out.

I suppose we can't blame Rubinstein and James for failing to read up on the Bacon case, or for uncritically rehashing John Michell's howler, or for failing to inspect carefully the Northumberland Manuscript cover page with a bright light and high resolution pdf. They are victims of the Baconians poor handling of the material. While we fail, they can get away with this kind of pure rubbish. Meanwhile, The Truth Will Out will convince a whole new crop of readers who themselves have never been exposed to the Bacon case properly put. Meanwhile the authorship puddle gets muddier and muddier. Nevil did not write Shakespeare and not a scrap of evidence can be brought to show that he did. Francis Bacon is the true author. Give me a break.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

After a short hiatus, while my obsession took other forms, I return to take up yet again the cudgels for Bacon is Shakespeare. The break has been worthwhile, and given some much needed space and perspective from which to re-think the entire topic. It has become clear to me that the Baconian enterprise has essentially ground to a halt. The well-worn arguments have become encrusted with the dead weight of time. Absent an entirely fresh set of narrative facts, the movement threatens to fade away. Nothing could illustrate this better than the most recent edition of the venerable publication Baconiana, which put its recent issue on-line for the first time. It is a depressing read, full of tired, overblown, underwhelming pieces which do little to inspire newcomers or old-hands. Pomposity jostles for space with ridiculousity, if they be words. It's time to shut down Baconiana, disband the societies, throw out the jaded old arguments and start again. Let's face it: the Baconians have botched it. We have never really recovered from the blow dealt by Friedman to the writings on codes and ciphers which muddied the stream of early twentieth century Baconian writings. Meanwhile, despite the best book ever on the authorship crisis being written and published (Cockburn), it remains unknown and virtually unobtainable. The intellectual argument has been won, but the public relations battle has been comprehensively lost. We have the keys to the riddle, but have rendered ourselves mute and unable to give coherent voice to it anymore.

There is only one answer. It is pointless rehashing the same tired old narratives. It is time for an entirely fresh injection of material into the debate, and a complete recasting of the terms on which it has been fought. The Bacon enterprise 2.0 begins here, now, today.