Originator of the Shakespeare-Bacon Theory: Delia Bacon Part 3

The conclusion of the life of Delia Bacon, proponent of the Shakespeare-Bacon theory, her grip on reality lessened.

DELIA BACON (1811-1859). Originator of Shakespeare-Bacon theory.

While waiting for its publication, Delia became more and more obsessed with the idea of opening Shakespeare's tomb. Sometimes, at night, lantern in hand, she entered the Stratford church, and for hours stood bemused before the altar. Beneath the church floor, before the altar, the key to the enigma lay in a wooden coffin. He had rested there since 1616, with the following warning, possibly written by himself, engraved on the slab above--

Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,

To digg the dvst encloased heare!

Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones,

And curst be he yt moves my bones.

Nevertheless, Delia persisted. The vicar of the Stratford church wavered, actually considered permitting her to open the grave. Then, suddenly, ill again, Delia backed down. She withdrew her request. As Hawthorne later wrote: "A doubt stole into her mind whether she might not have mistaken the depository and mode of concealment of those historic treasures. And after once admitting the doubt, she was afraid to hazard the shock of uplifting the stone and finding nothing. She examined the surface of the gravestone, and endeavored, without stirring it, to estimate whether it were of such thickness as to be capable of containing the archives of the Elizabethan club. She went over anew the proofs, the clues, the enigmas, the pregnant sentences, which she had discovered in Bacon's letters and elsewhere, and now was frightened to perceive that they did not point so definitely to Shakespeare's tomb as she had heretofore supposed."

Her quest ended, she had to talk to someone. There was no one. Hawthorn had left England. Her brother in Hartford--who had written Hawthorne, "in my opinion her mind has been verging on insanity for the last 6 years"--begged her to come home. She refused, writing, "I do not want to come back to America. I can not come."

As she fought to hold on to reality, she awaited the publication of her book. The 682-page volume appeared in April, 1857. It established the battle lines for the modern-day Shakespeare-Bacon controversy. It alleged that Shakespeare was ignorant and unlettered, that he lacked the knowledge of sports, law, court usages displayed in the plays, that lines in the dramas themselves paralleled the authorship of Spenser, Oxford, and others. Few read the book. According to the Dictionary of American Biography, "Hawthorne in later years averred that he had met one man who had read it through; there is no record of another." Although Mark Twain and Ignatius Donnelly were later to be impressed by it--and in the years to follow Walt Whitman, Henry James, Sigmund Freud would subscribe to her theory--most of the critics and public at the time the book appeared heaped ridicule upon it. Delia's mind was already unhinged. Now she completely lost her reason.

She was placed in a private asylum at Henley-in-Arden, 8 mi. from Stratford. In 1858, a young nephew, returning from China, picked her up and took her home to Hartford. There, a year later, she died, "clearly and calmly trusting in Christ," as her brother recorded, "and thankful to escape from tribulation and enter into rest."


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