John Thomas Looney Speaks from the Grave

Posted By on October 27, 2011

J. Thomas Looney: schoolteacher, scholar, and friend to Sigmund Freud and Leslie Howard.

In 1948 Columbia Professor O.J. Campbell, a much more formidable and substantive intellect than either Mr. Marche or Professor Shapiro, at long last reviewed J. Thomas Looney’s Shakespeare Identified (1920) in the page of Harper’s.

It was an event of some importance.  How many books do you know that are “reviewed” with the aim to refute them twenty-eight years after-the-fact? But  the good professor from Columbia felt the need to castigate Looney for his apostasy, even if he was a bit late to the party and didn’t seem to understand what the fun was all about. There were to be no cakes or ale in Shakespeare.

Not having the advantage of playing for the team from the Birthplace Trust, Looney was never given the opportunity to reply in a widely known public forum like Harpers (a problem that Lewis Lapham, many years later, has gone out of his way to rectify).

Looney replied in the pages of the Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly:

I accuse him of setting [the case]  forth so flimsily, even grotesquely, that hardly anyone but an imbecile would believe in it if it rested on nothing more substantial…This is the kind of argumentation one associates with political manuevering rather than a serious quest for the truth on great issues and it makes one suspect that [Campbell] is not very easy in his own mind about the case.

Sixty years later, the words still ring true. Anyone with an ear for the shrill tones of an embattled orthodoxy that has run out of real arguments can detect between the lines of the tired rhetoric of Professor Shapiro and his allies, the same kind of  desperation — only to the cubed degree — to which Mr. Looney was responding in 1948.

Reviewing the history of the subsequent scholarship, in the writings of such independent scholars as Eva Turner Clarke, Charles Wisner Barrell, Dorothy Ogburn, or Charlton Ogburn, Jr. — to name only some of those from 1948 to 1984 — one can only wonder where professors like Shapiro have been all those years, and stand agape at how little they have learned.

About the author

Roger Stritmatter is a native liberal humorist who lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Contrary to rumor, he does not live on North Avenue. He does, however, work on North Avenue. A pacifist by inclination, one of his heroes is John Brown. But he thinks that Fredrick Douglass, another of his heroes, made the right decision. Stritmatter's primary areas of interest include the nature of paradigm shifts, the history of ideas, forensic literary studies, MS studies, renaissance literature, and the history of the Shakespearean question, the latter a field in which he has published extensively.


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