Why Bacon Suppressed His Name

by Roderick L.Eagle

 

This article appeared in Baconiana, issue 170. Special thanks to Steven Marble for his assistance.

 

"Tis ridiculous for a Lord to print verses; 'tis well enough to make them to please himself, but to make them publicke is foolish."-John Selden (1584-1654)

 "Discretion in speech is more than eloquence."- Francis Bacon

 

The orthodox Shakespearean considers it beyond dispute that as the name William Shakespeare (or as on the title-page and page -headings throughout the Sonnets in 1609, merely Shake-speare) is appended to the works during the lifetime of the Stratford player, the authorship presents no problem. Where he goes wrong is in his failure to view the situation as in the sixteenth and the first half of the seventeenth century. The plays, poems, and sonnets, reveal the author as a man of the highest culture and conversant with the ways of persons of rank and even of kings, princes and courts, even in the earliest of his writings. His superb command of language, beyond any other writer of his time or since, is universally admitted. Such was the variety of his knowledge and wisdom that all quote him as an authority to illustrate and aid argument.

All this is the reverse of what would reasonably be expected from the pen of one who, up to the age of about twenty-three, had never left his small and remote country town, with its crude native dialect and rustic population, where only seven of the nineteen members of the Corporation of Stratford could sign their names. At a time when dialects differed from county to county, and militia were unable to understand their orders unless given by an officer from their own district, it is a mystery to me how a young man brought up in an illiterate home could have made himself understood in London. It is inconceivable that he could have written Venus and Adonis as "the first heir of my invention", dedicated in courtly prose to the young Earl of Southampton.

For a man in high station in those days to publish a play was unthinkable. No one who aspired to office in the Stage or Court would have ventured to do such a thing. In 1589 the anonymous Arte of English Poesie was published. The author records: "I know many notable gentleman in the Court that have written commendably and suppressed it again, or suffered it to be published without their own names to it, and goes on to say that, "the scorn and disgrace offered unto poets at these days is cause why few gentlemen do delight in the art." Sidney, writing about 1580, laments that "poor poetry is failen to be the laughing stock of children."

There is a letter written by Ben Jonson to the Earl of Salisbury in 1605 when he was in prison with Chapman as a consequence of his share in the composition of a play called Eastward Ho! which forcibly illustrates the low esteem in which playwriting was held.... ..." I am here, my most honoured lord, unexamined and unheard, committed to a vile prison..... The cause (would I could name some worthier, though I wish we had known none worthy our imprisonment) is ( the words irke me that our fortune hath necessitated us to so despised a course) a play, my lord." The "offense" was some comparatively harmless reflections on the Scots.

Jonson has a significant passage on the publication of verse by titled persons. This occurs in The Silent Woman ( Act II, Scene 2)Sir John Dawe mentions "the poor fellows that live by it." Whereupon Dauphine asks: " Why, would you not live by your verses, Sir John?" upon which Clerimont remarks: "No, 'twere pity he should. A knight live by his verses! He did not make them to that end, I hope." (A reason given for his not publishing his verses, is that "he'll not hinder his rising in the State.") The Silent Woman was acted in 1609.

Even at a much later date, the learned John Selden (1584-1654) wrote, as follows, in his Table Talk , written at an unknown date, since it was first printed thirty-four years after his death....."Tis ridiculous for a Lord to print verses; 'tis well enough to make them to please himself, but to make them publicke is foolish."

In such low estimation was the publication of poetry held at that period that is clear enough that had Bacon ( son of a Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, and a nephew of Lord Treasurer Burleigh) written poems and plays, he would not have been so foolish as "to make them publick" with his own name attached to them. None of the writings of Sir Philip Sidney was published during his lifetime. He ordered his poems to be burnt after his death. Some survived, perhaps through copies, but if his translation of certain Psalms into verse had been destroyed completely there would have been no loss to English literature. Even Milton failed miserably in the impossible task of versifying them. In his Apologie jour Poetrie, printed nine years after his death, he laments " that poesy thus embraced in all other places should only find a hard welcome in England. I think the very earth laments it.... Poor poetry is fallen to be the laughing stock of children." Spenser in The Teares of the Muses endorses this:

Ignorance the Muses doth oppress....

And those sweet wits which wont the like to frame

Are now despised and made a laughing stock.

 

No period of history has been misjudged to a greater extent, and the learned professors of literature and history are guilty of misleading the public through their ignorance. As Mr. Harold Bayley observed in The Shakespeare Symphony ( 1906):

The current impression that the spacious times of great Elizabeth were a period of high moral and intellectual development is not endorsed by history, nor is it deducible from the evidence of men who were then living.

The period is not confined to that of Queen Elizabeth, it extended a long time after.

See : Background circumstances why Bacon chose to be anonymous

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