Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Boy Nicknamed Monkey

Not long after the Town had been set right, in regard to the foregoing Particular, a Boy, about four Years old, arriv'd in this City, from a very distant Part of the Country, where he had been nursed and brought up with great Privacy, but was now carried to the House of VANITY, who undertook the Care of him (as she said) for a Relation, whose Child he was. The Boy was exceeding lively and active, and with-all play'd so many comical Tricks, that she gave him the nick-name of Monkey, tho' his real Name (as it afterwards turn'd out) was HUMOUR--He had something so inexpressibly ridiculous in his Countenance, that no one could behold him without Laughing. In short, every Body was fond of the Boy, my Father in particular (who was an old Acquaintance of VANITY's) grew so enamour'd of him, that the Neighbours began to suspect something, which GENIUS who was privy to all my Father's Secrets, soon put out of all Dispute. For one Day playing with the Boy as usual at one End of the Room, without perceiving that there were three Ladies at the Other, he fays to him, my little Man, you're more like your Father than your Mother—-Ay, says the Boy--pray who is my Father? why WIT is your Father and VANITY is your Mother, Child. The Discovery was made—the Ladies burst out laughing, the Town feasted upon it for a Fortnight, and what was best of all, VANITY durst not shew her Face Abroad for a Month.

Herbert Lawrence (?), The Life and Adventures of Common Sense: A Historical Allegory (1769), pp. 49-50.

This is a very funny book, well worth reading. The narrator is Common Sense, whose mother was Truth and whose father was Wit -- Truth had originally been engaged to Wisdom, but Wit managed to trick her into a marriage. Common Sense is born around the time that Athena and Poseidon argued over who should be the patron of Athens, and the story then follows his life and career as a physician through the history of the Western world. In this particular passage, fairly early in the story, Vanity had recently engaged in some malicious slander of Truth (namely, that she was committing adultery with Wisdom) out of a malice that had developed when she tried to seduce Wisdom (attachment to whom would improve her reputation) but failed. So Lady Vanity gets her comeuppance. Both the style and the humor of the allegory hold up extraordinarily well.

The book, incidentally, is famous for launching the Baconian theory of Shakespearean authorship, which it does not actually do. The book clearly attributes the works of Shakespeare to Shakespeare. What it does say is that Shakespeare was a thief and con-man who fell in with Wit and his friends, and by pretending that they had been informed against to Queen Mary, thus causing them to flee, managed to steal their effects: Wit's common-place book, which was a collection of infinite ways to express human sentiment, Genius's eye-glass, which could look into the human heart, and Humour's mask, which made the sentences spoken by its wearer naturally pleasant. With these "and with good Parts of his own" he wrote his plays. Sir Francis Bacon is never even mentioned. There is no reasonable way to read the allegory except by interpreting it to mean that the name of the person who wrote Shakespeare's plays was Shakespeare, who did so with means that showed wit, genius, and humor.

What can explain this baffling attribution? Ah, well, here we see how the Shakespeare wars are conducted. You see, Sir Francis Bacon had a common-place book. Therefore Wit must represent Sir Francis Bacon. This is quite literally the argument used by some early Baconians (although they usually confuse Wit and Wisdom: Wit is Common Sense's father, not Wisdom, and it was Wit's common-place book that was stolen); later Baconians just take their word for it in claiming that it attributes Shakespeare's work to Bacon. Then everyone just takes their word for it, and it ends up in introductions to Shakespeare and the like.

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