Bacon As A Concealed Poet : Posthumous Eulogies

Chapter VI
pp. 28-32

From the Book

Enter Francis Bacon


Bertram Theobald


According to the custom of the times, when any great man died, the poets of the day did homage to his memory in verses of eulogy. When Will Shakspere died, not a solitary eulogy was published, because most of the intellectuals knew perfectly well that he was no author. When Ben Jonson died, copious in memoriam verses were poured forth from his friends and admirers. Similarly when Francis Bacon died, his associates joined in a chorus of praise of his wonderful achievements, and his chaplain, Dr. Rawley, published a selection of thirty-two of these in 1626 under the title Manes Verulamiani.

As most of the writers were University men, some being from Trinity College, Cambridge, Bacon's own college, it is highly probable that some of them were cognisant of his secret authorship and were assisting in his plans for the spreading of knowledge, or, to use his own words, for The Advancement of Learning. Therefore they would be bound to conceal his identity with "Shakespeare." But even so, several of them let fall hints which confirm the utterances of those who proclaimed him a poet while he was still alive. Let me quote a few of these by way of illustration. In order not to run any risk of straining a point in favour of the Baconian theory, I will not give my own translation of the Latin, but that of Professor E. K. Rand of Harvard University, who published a scholarly version in 1904 (Boston : privately printed)

One of these admirers speaks of him as

"a Muse more choice than the nine Muses,"

Another describes him as

"the Sinews of Wit, the Marrow of Persuasion, the Tagus (golden stream) of Eloquence, the Precious Gem of Recondite Letters."

The Latin of this last phrase is "reconditarum literarum," which may mean simplly "recondite literature," i.e. his philosophical works, as Prof. Rand thinks; but it might also mean "concealed literature," i.e. his pseudonymous writings, if the eulogist wished to convey a double meaning. Again, Bacon is called

"Apollo, the master of our choir,"

which suggests that he was the inspirer and leader of a group of literary men. Another says :

"Ah, fallen is the tenth Muse, the glory of the choir......"

A more remarkable one runs as follows :

"so did Philosophy, involved in scholars' riddles, call Bacon to her rescue; so by his touch entranced, she reared her crest; and as she crept along the ground in comic sock, he did not succour (lit. 'patch') her with some new device (lit. 'undertaking') that gossips would approve, but made her wholly new. Then with more polished art he rose in higher buskin, and the Stagerite, another Virbius, lives again in a new Organum."

(Thus says the translator, Bacon is an Aristoleles redivivus).

Here we may justly claim that the writer is note merely speaking metaphorically of the renovation of philosophy, but was actually telling us that Bacon introduced his philosophical concepts first into comedy, later into tragedy, which is precisely what "Shakespeare" did, and finally into his prose work The Novum Organum.

Still more significant, and confirmatory of this last, is the tribute of an anonymous eulogist, who writes thus :

"The Day star of the Muses has fallen ere his time! Fallen, ah me, is the very care and sorrow of the Clarian god {Phoebus Apollo}, thy darling, Nature, and the world's--Bacon : aye ---passing strange--the grief of very Death. What privilege did not the cruel Destiny claim?
Death would fain spare, and yet she would not. Melpomene, chiding, would not suffer it, and spake these words to the stern goddess :

'Never was Atropos truly heartless before now; keep thou all the world, only give me Phoebus back.' Ah me, alas! nor Heaven nor Death nor the Muse of Bacon, nor my prayers could bar the fates."

It is impossible to overlook this allusion to Melpomene, the goddess of tragic poetry; and there is no avoiding the inference that, on the authority of this writer, Bacon was the author of noble tragedies. Where, then, are they? Were they anonymous, or put forth under a pseudonym?

Two more of these tributes call for comment, namely one by James Duport of Trinity College and one by C.P. of King's College, Cambridge. The former says :

"While the hero of Verulam desired much to write, and showered the age with frequent volumes, death looked upon the careful books with hate, nor could that accursed one tolerate so many works."

The latter says : "Thou hast filled the world with thy works and the ages with thy fame....."

This is very remarkable; for if we consider that, out of the fourteen volumes of Spedding's edition of Bacon's works, by far the larger part is taken up with translations of the Latin ones, editorial notes, commentary, letters and biography, so that Bacon's own works would not occupy more than about four thickish quartos, the statements of these two writers appear to be wildly inaccurate. Even granted some degree of exaggeration, it is manifest that Bacon must have been the author of a vast quantity of literature of some kind, besides the works to which his name is attached. In support of this view I may quote the following passage from so unimpeachable a witness as Archbishop Tenison, in his Baconiana, 1679 :

"And those who have true skill in the Works of the Lord Verulam, like great Masters in Painting, can tell by the Design, the Strength, the way of colouring, whether he was the author of this or the other Piece, though his Name be not to it."

Here is a categorical assertion that Bacon was the author of works which were either anonymous or pseudonymous. Coming from such a source, this statement is of the utmost importance. Indeed it is sufficient to establish once and for all that he did put forth a part of his literary work secretly. Again we ask, Where is this secret literature? It was evidently of large dimensions, as the above scholars of Cambridge testify. Was it prose, or poetry, or drama, or of what nature?

When sceptics are confronted with this evidence, they are apt to pooh-pooh it by saying that the posthumous eulogies of those times were always extravagant, and so these tributes cannot be taken too seriously. But what these aplolgists forget is that it is not a question of exaggeration, which we can and do allow for, but of statements which do not fit the accepted views of Bacon's work. Outwardly he lived the life of a lawyer, statesman, and philosophical writer ; yet directly after his death (as, indeed, during his life) unmistakable hints are given that he was a poet and dramatist; and not a mere dilettante, but a poet of great distinction. It is which demands explanation and has never been accounted for.

In the present chapter, and in the three preceding ones I have adduced proof that Francis Bacon is admitted by modern thinkers to have possessed all the essential attributes of the poetic temperament, that he referred to himself as a concealed poet, that several of his contemporaries so described him, and finally that by some of his posthumous eulogists he was alluded to in a similar sense. This proof is so clear and so striking, that no room is left for doubt. The plain historical facts are in print, and they are of unquestioned authority. Yet, almost without exception biographers ignore them. So intent are they on his career as a lawyer (which he cordially disliked) and as a statesman (which he became from a sense of duty) and as a scientist (which he was not, in a modern sense) and as a philosopher (which he certaintly was) that they barely notice the most prominent feature of his whole make-up, namely his supreme gift for poetry.

They might have called to mind the many sided Leonardo da Vinci, or the poet-philosopher scientist Goethe, and realised that from time to time great men are born whose intellecutal endownment is that of three or four, distinguished in different spheres, combined in one man. They admit that his prose writings teem with fancey and imagination ; yet, when they come up against the testimony of his compeers that he was actually a poet, they are afflicted with mental blindness. This conception is so contrary to all their estimates of his character that they seem unable to cope with it. Instead of investigating this strange fact, they weakly ignore it. But facts cannot be ignored for ever, and the truth in this case is gradually coming to light.