Francis Bacon and the English Language

by Sir Edwin Durning Lawrence

Edwin Durning Lawrence was born in 1837 when Queen Victoria ascended the throne. In 1885 he first visited Stratford on- Avon and began to study the question, three years later becoming a Baconian and in due time a pillar of Baconian cause. He spent large sums in acquiring original editions of Bacon and Shakespeare, and eventually became President of of the Bacon Society. He died in 1914 bequeathing almost his entire library to the University of London which is still available to the public. He is the author of "Bacon is Shakespeare." 


   

This article originally appeared from his book,"The Shakespeare Myth."

 

We owe our mighty English tongue today to Francis Bacon and to Francis Bacon alone. The time has come when this stupendous fact should be taught in every school, and that the whole of the Anglo- Saxon speaking peoples should know that the most glorious birthright which they possess their matchless language, was the result of the life and and labors of one man, viz.--Francis Bacon, who, when as little more than a boy, he was sent with our ambassador, Sir Amyas Paulett, to Paris, found there that "La Pleiade" ( the Seven) had just succeeded in creating the French language from what had before been as they declared "merely a barbarous jargon." Young Bacon at once seized the idea and resolved to create an English language capable of expressing the highest thoughts. All writers are agreed that at commencement of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, English as a literary language did not exist. They also agreed that what is known as the Elizabethan Age was the most glorious period of English literature. All writers agreed that our language today is founded upon the English translation of the Bible and upon the Plays of Shakespeare while every word of each of these was undoubtedly written by, or under the direction of Francis Bacon.

 

Max Muller, in his "Science of Language," Vol. 1, 1899, p. 278,says:

"A well educated person in England who has been at a public school and at the university.... seldom uses more than about 3,000 or 4,000 words.... Shakespeare, who probably displayed greater variety of expression than any writer in any language, produced all his plays with about 15,000 words."

This is an underestimate. There are about 22,000 different words in the plays, of which 7,000 are new words, introduced-- as Murray's Oxford Dictionary tells us-- into the the language for the first time. Neither Dickens nor Thackeray made use of more than 7 or 8,000 words. Does anyone suppose that any master of the Stratford Grammar School, where Latin was the only language used, knew so many as 2,000 English words, or was the illiterate householder of Stratford, known as William Shakespeare knew half or a quarter so many?

 

But to return to the Bible-- we mean the Bible of 1611, known as the Authorized Version, which J. A. Weisse tells us contains about
15,000 different words. It was translated by 48 men, whose names are known, and then handed to King James I. It was printed about one and a half years later. In the preface which is evidently written by Bacon, we are told " we have not tyed ourselves to an uniformitie of phrasing, or to an identitie of words." This question of variety of expression is discussed in the Preface at considerable length(compare with Max Mueller's references to Shakespeare's extraordinary variety of expression) and then we read:

" Wee might also be charged....with some unequall dealing towards a great number of good English words.... if we should say, as it were, unto certain words, stand up higher, have a place in the Bible alwaies, and to others of like qualitie, Get ye hence, be banished for ever."

This means that an endeavor was made to insert all good English words into this new translation of the Bible, so that none might be deemed to be merely "secular."

 

Is it possible that any intelligent person can really read the Bible as a whole, not now a bit and now a scrap, but read it straight through like an ordinary book and fail to perceive that the majestic rhythm that runs through the whole cannot be the language of many writers, but must flow from the pen, or at least from the editorship of one great master mind?

A confirmation of this statement that the Authorized Version of King James I, was edited by one masterhand is contained in the "Times" newspaper of March 22nd , 1912, where Archdeacon Westcott, writing about the revised Version of 1881, says , the revisers," were men of notable learning an singular industry..... There were far too many of them; and successful literary results cannot be achieved by syndicates."

Yes, the Bible and Shakespeare embody the language of the great nester, but before it could be so embodied, the English tongue had to be created, and it was for this great purpose that Bacon made his piteous appeals for funds to Bodley, to Burleigh, and to Queen Elizabeth.

Observe the great mass of splendid translations of the Classics after second -hand from the French, ( as Plutarch's Lives" by North) with which England was positively flooded at that period. Hitherto no writer seems to have called attention to the fact that certain of these translations were made from the French instead of from the original Greek or Latin, not because it was easier to take them from the French, but because in that way the new French words and phrases were enabled to be introduced to enrich the English tongue. These translations could not possibly have paid any considerable portion of their cost.

Thus Bacon worked. Thus his books under all sorts of pseudonyms appeared. No book of the Elizabethan Age of any value proceeded from any source except from his workshop of those "good pens" over whom Ben Jonson was foreman.

In a very rare and curious little volume, published anonymously in 1645, under the title of "The Great Assises holden in Parnassus by Apollo and his Assessours," Ben Jonson is described as the "Keeper of the Trophonian Denne," and in Westminster Abbey his medallion bust appears clothed in a left-handed coat to show us that he was a servant of Bacon.

O, rare Ben Jonson--what a turncoat grown!

Thou ne'er wast such, till clad in stone;

Then let not this disturb thy spirite,

Another age shall set thy buttons right.

--Stowe ii . p 512-13

 

In this same book, we seen on the leaf following the title page of the name of Apollo in large letters in an ornamental frame, and below it in the place of honour we find Francis Bacon placed as "Lord Verulam Chancellor of Parnassus."

 

This means that Bacon was the greatest of poets since the world began. This proud position is also claimed for him by Thomas Randolf in a Latin poem published in 1640, but believed to have been written immediately after Bacon's death in 1626. Thomas Randolf declared that Phoebus ( i.e., Apollo) was accessory to Bacon's death because he was afraid that Bacon would some day come to be crowned king of poetry or the Muses. George Herbert, Bacon's friend who had overlooked many of his works, repeats the same story, calling Bacon the colleague of Sol. i.e., Phoebus Apollo.

Instances might be multiplied, but I will only quote the words of John Davies, of Hereford, another friend of Bacon's, who addressed him his "Scourge of Folly," published about 1610, as follows :

As to her Bellamour

the Muse

is wont;

For thou, dost her embozom;

and dost use,

Her company for sport twixt grave affaires.

 

Bacon was always recognized by his contemporaries as among the greatest poets. Although nothing of any poetical importance bearing Bacon's name had been up to that time published, Stowe (in his Annales, printed in 1615) places Bacon seventh in his list of Elizabethan poets.

See Coined by Shakespeare

*********