Bacon as a Concealed Poet : His Own Admissions

Chapter IV
pp16-23

From the book,
Enter Francis Bacon

By

Bertram Theobald

 

We now come to one of the vital issues of our problem. Modern thinkers agree that Bacon possessed all the essential qualifications of a poet. Why is it, then that we discover no important poetical works attributed to him? The truly poetical temperament can seldom refrain from expressing itself in verse; and when to this temperament we add, in Bacon's case, the magnificent intellectual endowment which was his, then the question becomes insistent, and we feel tempted to say, He must have written poetry, whether lyrical, dramatic, or of any other type; where is it? Has it all been lost? Surely not. Considering the care with which he revised his prose works over and over again, until they the standard of perfection which he deemed right, he would certaintly have left some beautifully polished gems in verse as a fitting legacy to posterity and a worthy memorial to himself. Whey are they?
And then we think again of those long years of seeming inactivity at Gray's Inn, and the jealous care with which he guarded his doings from inquisitive eyes. Of his private life no records are available; we have nothing but fragments of information from which to build up any reasonably accurate picture of "the hermit's" occupations. And so once more we exclaim, What was he doing? What was he hiding?

There are two courses open to us. First we must search his writings for any stray hints which might give the desired information; secondly, we must search the writings of all his contemporaries. With regard to himself, it is clear that if he wished to conceal any portion of his literary output, he was just the man to do this effecually. Not only would his nimble mind quickly devise ingenious methods, but his powerful friends at Court and in high places would enable him to see tht the secret was well protected; so that few would dare, even if they wished, to betray his identity. Besides this, it is needful to bear in mind that the Law was always distasteful to him, and he only adopted it as a means of livelihood. He confesed himself "more fitted to hold a book than to play a part" in State affairs; and it was only his passionate longing to serve his country, and still more to serve mankind at large, which induced him to apply for some official position of responsibility, so that he might possess greater power and freedom to pursue these ends. He even spoke approvingly of the habit of cultivating a seasonable amount of secrecy, though he was careful not to commend any unrestrained use of dissembling. In his Essay Of Simulation and Dissumulation he says , for example :

"So that no man can be secret, except he give himself a little Scope of Dissumulation; which is, as it were, but the Skirts or Traine of Secrecy....... The best composition, and Temperature is, to have Opennesse in Fame and Opinion; Secrecy in Habit; Dissimulation in seasonable use; and a power to fainge, if there be no remedy."

From all this, and much more which cannot be included, it is manifest :
(1) That Bacon was secretive by nature and commended this habit.
(2) That during his early years he lived almost the life of a hermit, the exact nature of his occupations being unknown
(3)That this work was of a literary nature.
(4) That he wrote in guarded terms in his acknowledged works about addressing himself to varying types of readers.
(5) That he had a very high opinion of th value of the theatre as a factor in educating the masses.
(6) That in the opinion of the great commentator Gervinus, a body of dramatic literature such as the Shakespeare plays, is the best illustration of the missing fourth part of Bacon's Great Instauration. He (Bacon) virtually states that this had been written.

This last is a consideration of such vital importance that I must pause here to explain and emphasize its significance.
In the plan of the six parts of this Great Instauration we find that the second part is called The New Organon; and of this he says that to it "belongs the doctrine concerning the better and more perfect use of human reason......." In other words, it is the Science of the Mind . Of the fourth part, which he calls The Ladder of the Intellect, he says that it is "an application of the second part in detail and at large"; but his description of it is so veiled and involved, besides being surprisingly brief, that our curiosity is aroused as to his real meaning. I will quote this preface to the fourth part in full, giving Spedding's translation of the Latin :

"And now that we have surrounded the intellect with faithful helps and guards, and got together with most careful selection a regular army of divine works, it may seem that we have no more to do but to proceed to philosophy itself. And yet in a matter so difficult and doubtful there are still some things which it seems necessary to premise, partly for convenience of explanation, partly for present use. Of these the first is to set forth examples of inquiry and invention according to my method, exhibited by anticipation in some particular subjects; choosing such subjects as are at once the most noble in themselves among those under inquiry, and most different one from another; that there may be an example in every kind. I do not speak of those examples which are joined to these several precepts and rules by way of illustration (for of these I have given plenty in the second part of the work); but I man actual types and models, by which the entire process of the mind and the whole fabric and order of invention from beginning to the end, in certain subjects, and those various and remarkable, should be set asit were before the eyes. (My italics) For I remember that in the mathematics it is easy to follow the demonstration when you have a machine beside you; whereas without that help all appears involved and more sublte than it really is. To examples of this kind--being in fact nothing more than an application of he second part in detail and at large--the fourth part of the work is devoted."

Remembering that the second part is the science of the mind, and that this fourth part is "an appication of the second part in detail and at large," we can surely see the hidden meaning of the words I have italicised. For what are these "actual types and models" by which the processes of the mind are "set as it were before the eyes?" What can they be human beings, displaying before our eyes these mental processes? And what is this but drama? If Bacon wished to conceal the fact that he had written plays from the casual reader, but to convey covert meaning to the seeker after truth, he could hardly have wrapped up his message more cleverly.

Now note that

"the fifth part is for temporary use only," and includes "such things as I have myself discovered, prove or added--not however according to the true rules and methods of interpretation, but by the ordinary use of the understanding in inquiring and discovering."

And he says further,

" they are conclusions by which.... I do not at all mean to bind myself."

In other words, they are, just his own casual and personal observations. Of the sixth part, "The New Philosophy, or Active Science," he says :

"The completion however of the last part is a thing both above my strength and beyond my hopes. I have made a beginning of the work--a beginning, as I hope, not unimportant...."

As he distinctly says that the sixth part was begun but not completed; and also that the fifth part was "for temporary use only, pending the completion of the rest" ; and, further, that the first part is wanting, though some account of it is in Book II of The Advancement of Learning, we are bound to conclude that the fourth part was completed; for he does not say that it is unfinished. He simply says :

"To examples of this kind...... the fourth part is devoted."

Had it not been written, or only partially written, he would certaintly have informed us definitely, as he did in the case of the first and sixth parts.
If, then, this fourth has been written, where and what is it? Gervinus himself almost gives the answer when he says that dramatic literature such as the Shakespeare plays would be the best illustration of theis fourth part. Unquestionably that is the solution. The Shakespeare plays are this fourth part. Needless to say, other students besides myself have already pointed this out.
Reverting now to the six points I mentioned in connection with Bacon's apparent leisure in early life, and his retiring habits, we may feel more confident than ever that during those eventful years when he was a needy barrister, waiting for employment and often hard pressed for money, he was engaged upon literary work to supplement his scanty income, part of this literary work being the Shakespeare plays assignable to that period.

We now adavance another step in the argument. As examination of the extant correspondence of Anthony Bacon in the Lambeth Public Library shows that the brothers evidently had much information to impart to each other on all kinds of subjects, and that in many cases there are signs of a wish to do this in such a manner as not to reveal the real thing, if by chance the letters should fall into unfriendly hands. To a limited extent this may be explained by the fact that Anthony was frequently engaged in political missions abroad, and had to be very careful how he reported the results of his observations in the Courts of Europe. Moreover, both he and Francis were experts in cipher, and, like all those engaged in such work, they regularly employed cipher codes to transmit important messages. At one time, the two brothers acted as honorary secretaries to Essex and did a large amount of the deciphering of his correspondence. But apart from all this, one finds traces of secrecy in matters where one would not expect it. The same thing may be noticed in a more marked degree with the correspondene between Francis and his intimate friend, Sir Tobie Mathew. This was the friend whom he calls his "kind inquisitor," and to whom he was in the habit of submitting his works in manuscript before publication, so great was his regard for Sir Tobie's judgment. In many of these letters names and dates are erased, and other means taken to ensure that no third person should be able to understand their full import.

Naturally, Francis Bacon's own personal letters are not allowed to reveal secrets of this nature. Yet, by a happy dispensation of Providence, there was one occasion on which he forgot himself; and most fortunately too, the recipient of the letter omitted to destroy it. This one letter lets the cat out of the bag! After the death of Queen Elizabeth, and when James I was journeying southwards to take up the reins of government, Sir John Davies, the courtier and poet, went to meet him. Before he started, Bacon wrote him a little note, asking Sir John to be good enough to commend him to the new monarch, and he concludes the note with these remarkable words :

"So, desiring you to be good to concealed poets, I continue...."

Here is indeed a confession of the utmost importance ; for Bacon would never have expressed himself thus, had he been merely a dilettante. The phrase unmistakably implies that he was writing poetry as a serious business, and presumably for money. He does not ask Davis "to be good to needy barristers," as he might well have done! He does not describe himself as a barrister, a politician, or a courtier, though he was all these. He refers to himself as a poet, and this is highly significant. Spedding cannot understand it, nor can any editor ; but once again the Baconian theory provides the obvious explanation. Editors are only puzzled because they refuse to consider this theory. They cannot extract any occult meaning out of these simple words, and so they give it up, since to take them at their face value would be a fatal admission! Well,well ; none so blind as those who won't see.

Besides this clear revelation of his secret, there is another passage from his works which points in the same direction. It occurs in the Apologie , written at the command of Queen Elizabeth as a justification of her action in regard to the treasonable plot by which Essex lost his life. The passage in question runs thus :

"It happened a little before that time {1599} that Her Majesty had a purpose to dine at Twickenham Park, at which time I had--- though I profess not to be a poet--prepared a sonnet directly tending and alluding to draw on Her Majesty's reconcilement to my Lord {Essex} ; which I remember I also showed to a great person."

We must not jump to conclusion that this phrase contradicts what Bacon said to Sir John Davis, because if we take the two together and also remember his habit of using words in the meaning of their original Latin, it is clear that he says : "though I do not make open profession of being a poet" ; and this exactly tallies with his remark to Davis that he was a concealed poet. Besides, in an important pamphlet like this, published with his own name to it, he would necessarily express himself cautiously on such a subject. But the revelation is quite clear enough.

I might also quote from a letter written in January 1595 to Essex, in which he says:

"Desiring your good Lordship nevertheless not to conceive out this my diligence in soliciting this matter that I am either much in appetite or much in hope. For as, for appetite, the waters of Parnassus are not like the waters of the Spaw, that give a stomach ; but rather they quench appetite and desires."

This reference to the mythological waters of Parnassus shows plainly that Bacon had been drinking of these waters himself ; in other words, that he had been inspired by the Muses to write poetry in one form or another.

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