Shakespeare's Expostulation

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          Masters, I sleep not quiet in my grave,
     There where they laid me, by the Avon
          shore,
     In that some crazy wights have set it forth
     By arguments most false and fanciful,
     Analogy and far-drawn inference,
     That Francis Bacon, Earl of Verulam
     (A man whom I remember in old days,
     A learned judge with sly adhesive palms,
     To which the suitor's gold was wont to
     stick) —
     That this same Verulam had writ the plays
     Which were the fancies of my frolic brain.
     What can they urge to dispossess the crown
     Which all my comrades and the whole loud
          world
     Did in my lifetime lay upon my brow?
     Look straitly at these arguments and see
     How witless and how fondly slight they be.
          Imprimis, they have urged that, being
            born
     In the mean compass of a paltry town,
     I could not in my youth have trimmed
          my mind
     To such an eagle pitch, but must be found,
     Like the hedge sparrow, somewhere near
            the ground.
          Bethink you, sirs, that though I was
            denied
     The learning which in colleges is found,
     Yet may a hungry brain still find its fo
     Wherever books may lie or men may be;
     And though perchance by Isis or by Cam
     The meditative, philosophic plant
     May best luxuriate; yet some would say
     That in the task of limning mortal life
     A fitter preparation might be made
     Beside the banks of Thames.   And then
            again,
     If I be suspect, in that I was not
     A fellow of a college, how, I pray,
     Will Jonson pass, or Marlowe, or the rest,
     Whose measured verse treads with as
          proud a gait
     As that which was my own? Whence did
          they suck
     This honey that they stored?   Can you
          recite
     The vantages which each of these has had
     And I had not?   Or is the argument
     That my Lord Verulam hath written all,
     And covers in his wide-embracing self
     The stolen fame of twenty smaller men?
          You  prate  about  my  learning.   I
            would urge
     My want of learning rather as a proof
     That I am still myself.   Have I not traced
     A seaboard to Bohemia, and made
     The cannons roar a whole wide century
     Before the first was forged?   Think you,
          then,
     That he, the ever-learned Verulam,
     Would have erred thus?   So may my very
          faults
     In their gross falseness prove that I am true,
     And by that falseness gender truth in you.
     And what is left?   They say that they
          have found
     A script, wherein the writer tells my Lord
     He is a secret poet.   True enough!
     But surely now that secret is o'er past.
     Have you not read his poems?   Know
          you not
     That in our day a learned chancellor
     Might better far dispense unjustest law
     Than be suspect of such frivolity
     As lies in verse?   Therefore his poetry
     Was secret.   Now that he is gone
     'Tis so no longer.   You may read his verse,
     And judge if mine be better or be worse:
     Read  and pronounce!   The  meed  of
          praise is thine;
     But still let his be his and mine be mine.
          I say no more; but how can you for-
            swear
     Outspoken Jonson, he who knew me well;
     So, too, the epitaph which still you read?
     Think you they faced my sepulchre with
          lies —
     Gross lies, so evident and palpable
     That every townsman must have wot of it,
     And not a worshipper within the church
     But must have smiled to see the marbled
          fraud?
     Surely this touches you?   But if by chance
     My reasoning still leaves you obdurate,
     I'll lay one final plea.   I pray you look
     On my presentment, as it reaches you.
     My features shall be sponsors for my fame;
     My brow shall speak when Shakespeare's
          voice is dumb,
     And be his warrant in an age to come.


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