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|JOHN THOMAS LOONEY (1870-1944)
John Thomas Looney, who first attributed the authorship of the "Shakespearean" plays and sonnets to Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, was a master at an elementary school in Low Fell, Gateshead, County Durham. As my father and he were close friends in personal and intellectual interests, our families met in close intimacy for several years. In my student period I came to know Looney as a philosopher and guide. I am therefore able to say something of the man himself and of his search for a solution of the authorship problem.
Looney, who came of Manx origin, was a person of broad philosophical, religious and literary interests. He was deeply impressed by greatness in the past of the European tradition, and he felt it his calling to transmit an appreciation of this greatness to the younger gneration. For some years he belonged to a group of English followers of Auguste Comte, the French philosopher and social thinker, who started the original intellectual system known as Positivism. Comte later founded a religious society known as theistic beliefs, called the Church of Humanity. Comte was a progressive intellectually in the 19th century, but socially a conservative of the counter revolution in France. Looney derived from Comte a strong sense of the continuity of history and of the community basis of individual enterprise. Looney eventually loosened his connection with the Positivist movement and latterly became drawn again to the Church of England, with considerable respect for Catholicism. Looney’s reading included English poets from Chaucer to Wordsworth, Tennyson, Byron and Burns; writers like Carlyle, Emerson, John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer; novelists like Walter Scott and Thackeray. He was also at home with Homer, Dante and, of course, Shakespeare. He presented to me a copy of Carlyle’s works with a special injunction to read "Heroes" before I was twnety. Another present of his to me was George Tyrrell’s Lex Orandi.
I would describe Looney as a sage. He was not in the least like many supporters of minority movements with a cause, going about with a chip on the shoulder and an obsessional neurosis. One would never know from his general conversation that he was producing a shattering contribution to the authorship question. He was not by temperament an anti-conformist, nor did he preen himself for the role of espousing an unpopular view. The appearance of Shakespeare Identified in 1920 surprised his acquaintances. He had dropped hints to me towards the end of the 1914-18 war, that the Stratfordian authorship was impossible to hold, and that he was setting about deliberately to find, if possible, the true author. This was all the result of a conviction borne upon his mind after years of teaching Shakespearean plays to schoolboys, some of the plays were studied over and over again. He has described this process in his introduction to "Shakespeare" Identified.
Even after the publication, Looney never brought up the "Shakespeare" question spontaneously in my conversations with him. But when I asked he was ready to answer questions and explain. Two phases of his thinking I remember quite well. There was first the negative conviction that what we know of William Shakespeare is quite incompatible with the author revealed through the plays and sonnets. This was not a matter of social class, or education or even of ideas. It concerned the unconscious attitudes of the world and life. Quite early on Looney had to meet the criticism that his was a "snob" view, holding that a man who had not been to a university and was of bourgeois origin could not be a literary giant. Looney somewhat resented the stupidity of this criticism. Certainly, he maintained, genius arises in any social milieu and is quite independent of formal education (witness Burns). But some background and peculiar personal attitudes indeliberately colour a man’s work, and another man without them cannot produce counterfeits. Then, secondly and positively, Looney looked around the large mass of Elizabethan lyrical poetry to find evidence elsewhere of the same mentality and style used by the author of Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays. This put Looney on the track of Edward de Vere, some of whose poems have survived under de Vere’s own name or initials E. O. (Earl of Oxford). Further when Looney was asked how such a deception as to the authorship could be carried through and maintained, he would expound the peculiar literary atmosphere of the Elizabethan age and then enumerate, from cultural and literary history, several examples of what had been successful literary hoaxes for a long time.
Thomas Looney had embarked upon his task with a restrained but determined sense of literary responsibility. He was the last man to try to be merely clever. I recall his tall figure, his scholar’s air given by the poise of his shoulders, his gently aquiline nose and his trimmed beard, his benign and dignified bearing, and the frequent sparkle in his eyes. I would say of Looney: here was a man who commanded confidence in the authorship question because he was not one-eyed about that, but wise in other fields as well.
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|"Shakespeare" Identified in Edward de
Vere & Poems
of Edward deVere
|Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare's Plays||A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres||Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford's Letters||Seventeenth Earl of Oxford|
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