IN MEMORY OF DELIA BACON
FEBRUARY 2ND, 1811 TO SEPTEMBER 2ND, 1859
". . . . . . . a true pioneer in that mind
of truth which Anaxagoras said lay so deep."
(Martin Pares was President of the Bacon Society from 1956-1962).
Entered in electronically and edited by Juan Schoch for educational research purposes of that which is contained in my library. Please leave this notice intact. -> email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Refs. http://www.enlightenment-engine.com, http://members.tripod.com/~pc93, http://www.egroups.com/list/gnosis284. Currently seeking assistance for the acquirement and ultimate sharing of texts for further research.
If anyone is interested in a rare First editon of Delia Bacon's The Philosophy of The Shakespeare Plays Unfolded 1857(excellent condition)inquiries can be sent to Lawrence Gerald
(From a daguerreotype taken in May, 1853)
". . . . . Yet because she was of rare intellectual force and acuteness, of absolute sincerity and truthfulness, of self-annihilating earnestness and devotion in whatever work she entered upon; and because the world is determined that it will speak of her as if it knew her, supplying its lack of knowledge with conjecture or with fable, I purpose to tell it something of Delia Bacon; of what she was, from inheritance and environment; and what she did."
"I have held up a light in the obscurity of philosophy, which will be seen centuries after I am dead". (Francis Bacon).
TABLE OF CONTENTS
VII. Philosophy Itself
The reason for horse races, according to Mark Twain, is a difference of opinion; the Shakespeare controversy arises from the same cause. It is a matter to be decided on evidence, and not as an article of faith. It is not one of those great problems of religion which require to be treated as sacrosanct; though now, alas, even this distinction is sadly confused. Today ideologies and political creeds are pursued with religious fanaticism, while religion itself becomes a subject for profane investigation.
If the philosophy and political wisdom stored within the Shakespearean drama had been examined more "scientifically", as Delia had pleaded, the demand for a second edition of this short study would not have arisen. As it is, harmony will come through conflict and synthesis; as Lord Bacon expresses it "there is no worse omen than complete unanimity".
Dramatic entertainment is still one of many roads to enlightenment. It was a road well trodden by the Ancients, and was re-introduced by Bacon as his method of "lively representation". For those who can see beyond the art of delivery, beyond figures pedantical, there is in the works of Bacon and Shakespeare a consistent purpose and plan. Whether the luckless Delia, or we who are proud to follow her trail, are a step nearer or a step further from the truth, is a question we leave to future time. The two great pillars which form the frontispiece to the Novum Organum are still before us; under them is the prophecy of Daniel, so beloved by Francis Bacon, "Many shall pass through, and Knowledge shall be increased".
In commemorating Delia I have tried to convey something of her "peculiar memory", that thin rarefied air from the Mysteries which Bacon thought had fallen into the trumpets and flutes of the Greeks, and which Delia was convinced she had found in the instruments of the English Renaissance. This book is no more than a fragment; in the words of A.E. . . . .
The well I digged you soon shall pass:
You may but rest with me an hour:
Yet drink, I offer you the glass,
A moment of sustaining power . . . . . .
This well of truth, so it seems, must be dug anew by every seeker, and the best I can wish him is that, like myself, he may find pleasure in the seeking.
"The Dionysian Procession"
"You go not, till I set you up a glass
Where you may see the inmost part of you."
A century it is since the readers of Putnam's Monthly, then a leading American Magazine, were stirred by a brilliant opening article on the origin and purposes of the Shakespearean drama. This was Delia Bacon's first attempt to advance her theory. From her modest lodgings in Spring Street, Sussex Gardens, near Paddington, she had been corresponding with Emerson in Concord, Massachusetts, on the relative merits of publishing her work in serial form, or as a completed book.
Emerson had strongly recommended a finished book. But on the eve of his departure to the Mississippi on a lecture tour ("through dire necessity", as he confesses in a letter to Delia) he seems to have submitted a first installment to the magazine. The news of its publication in January of 1856 by Messrs. Dix and Edwards (at the rate of their most valued contributors, five dollars a page) came as a welcome relief to Delia Bacon, then surviving the damp and fog of her fourth winter in England on very slender means.
The Publishers of Putnam's Monthly had promised, and had even announced to their readers, the continuation of this serial; but alas, the January article was destined to remain unique. Although the February installment had been set up in print, it was withheld on the grounds that, in the form adopted, the development of the main proposition was too slow.
Now anyone who has attempted Delia's book will realize at once the force of this argument. The book in fact shows us what the succeeding articles would have been like. In long, perplexing and crowded sentences, overcharged with new and provoking thought, it develops with great insight those philosophical arguments in the Advancement of Learning which provide an external key to the authorship and real purpose of the Shakespearean Plays, albeit written under the cloak of popular entertainment. The book in fact is a laborious, profound, but quite remarkable and valuable piece of literary criticism, which in the hands of a skilful editor might almost have become a classic.
It was curious that, with no knowledge of each other's works, Delia Bacon and W. H. Smith should have published their theories of the authorship of the Shakespeare Plays in the same year, 1857. These, in the modern and restricted sense of the word, were the first two "Baconian" books The Philosophy of the Shakespeare Plays Unfolded by Delia Bacon, and Bacon and Shakespeare by W. H. Smith. But whereas the former deals with the philosophic plan of a group of authors of whom Bacon is taken to be the chief, the latter deals mainly with external evidence of Baconian authorship. One relates to the Philosophy, the other to the Controversy ; yet there was enough common ground to lead Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his preface to Miss Bacon's book, to accuse Smith of plagiarism. This accusation, since it was generously withdrawn, is also printed in the preface to the second issue of Mr. Smith's book.
It would be hard to find two writers of more opposite characteristics: Smith terse, matter-of-fact, unemotional: Delia Bacon (in spite of a greater intellectual range) impassioned, rhetorical and in some ways quite un-Baconian. But notwithstanding the vortex into which Delia was drawn, I believe it is she who has filed a key which may some day unlock one of the greatest of historical problems.
A few weeks before her forty-seventh birthday Delia broke down completely, and for the last twenty months of her life she dwelt in the dark caverns of a disordered mind. Light returned to her for a few days only on her death bed, when the curtain was falling. Her mental collapse, the penalty of genius manifesting through a body under-nourished and strained to breaking point had led opponents of the theory to make the unworthy assertion that she was always insane. This is unwarrantable, and is shown to be untrue by the great personal impression she made on such men as Emerson, Carlyle and Hawthorne. We shall raise the curtain however, by allowing her, after a century of mis-representation, to speak for herself. The first essay in Putnam's Monthly contains so much of her peculiar mercury that I have chosen and strung together some of its most memorable passages. These will show, better than any biographical details, her great intellectual gifts. . . . .
"The material which nature must have contributed to the Shakespearean result could hardly have remained inert, under any weight of social disadvantages. . . Look over the story of all the known English poets and authors of every kind, back even to the days of the Anglo-Saxon Adhelm and Cædmon, and no matter how humble the position in which they are born, how many will you find among them that have failed to possess themselves ultimately of the highest literary culture of the age they lived in? How many, until you come to this same Shakespeare?
"If the Genius of the British Isles when she would make her 'Shakespeare' retreats into a green-room and sends him forth furnished as we find him pull down, we say, pull down those old gray towers, for the wisdom of the Great Alfred has been laughed to scorn. If not Juliet only, but her author, and Hamlet's author too, and Lear's, and Macbeth's, can be made without 'philosophy' then we are for Romeo's verdict 'Hang up Philosophy'. If Julius Caesar, and Coriolanus, and Anthony, and Henry V, and Henry VIII if the
'Midsummer Nights Dream' and 'The Merchant of Venice' and 'Twelfth Night' if Beatrice and Benedict and Rosalind and Jaques and Iago and Othello and all their immortal company, can be got out of 'Plutarch's Lives' and 'Holinshed' and a few other ballads and novels then let him that can be convicted of corrupting the youth by erecting a Grammar School, be consigned to his victims for mercy. 'Long Live Lord Mortimer!' 'Down with the paper-mills!' 'Throw learning to the dogs! we'll none of it!'
"Condemned to refer the origin of these works to the illiterate man who kept the theatre, compelled to regard them as merely the result of an extraordinary talent for pecuniary speculation, condemned to look for the author of Hamlet the subtle Hamlet of the university, the courtly Hamlet 'the glass of fashion and the mould of form in that doggish group of players who came into the scene summoned like a pack of hounds to his servicehow could we understand the enigmatical Hamlet, with the thought of ages in his foregone conclusions? For 'your courtier' must be in fact 'your picked man of countries' he must 'get his behaviour everywhere', he must be literally the man of the 'world'.
"In that daring treatment of court-life which this single play of Hamlet involves, in the entire freedom with which its conventionalities are handled, how could we have failed to recognize the touch of one habitually practiced in its refinements? He carries the court perfume with him unconsciously wherever he goes . . . . into the ranks of 'greasy citizens' and 'rude mechanicals'; into country feasts and merry-making, among 'pretty low-born lasses''the queens of curds and cheese'. He looks into Arden and into Eastcheap from the Court stand-point, not from these into the Court. He is as much a prince with Poins and Bardolph as when he throws open to us, without awe, the most delicate mysteries of the royal presence.
"Compelled to refer the origin of these works to the sordid play-house, who can teach us to distinguish between the bombast, the mercenary appeal to the passions of the audience, and those 'dozen or sixteen lines' which 'Hamlet', for some purpose of his own, and with the consent and privity of ONE of the players, will cause to be inserted.
"Thus blinded we shall not perhaps distinguish that magnificent whole with which this author will replace his worthless originals that whole in which we shall one day see, not the burning Illium, not the old Danish court of the tenth century, but the yet living, illustrious Elizabethan age, with all its momentous interests still at stake.
"How could the player's mercenary motive and the player's range of learning and experiment give us the key to this new application of the human reason to the human life? How could we understand, from such a source, this new, and strange, and persevering application of thought to life . . . . . . In vain the shrieking queen remonstrates, for it is the impersonated reason whose clutch is on her, and it says, you go not hence till you have seen 'the inmost part of you.' But does all this tell on the thousand pounds? Is the ghost's word good for that? No wonder that 'Hamlet' refused to speak, or to be commanded to any utterance of harmony while this 'illiterate performer' who knew no touch of that divine music of his was still sounding him and fretting him.
"We are by no means insensible to the difference between this 'Shakespearean' drama and that on which it is based. Indeed we already pronounce that difference in our word 'Shakespeare'; its historical development is but the next step in our progress. There were men in England then who had heard somewhat of those masters of the olden time, Æschylus and Sophocles and Aristophanes men who had heard, not only of Terence, but of his patrons, of Plato too and of his master. There were men in England who knew well enough what kind of instrumentality the drama had been, and with what voices it had spoken. And where else had this mighty instrument for moving and moulding the multitude its first origin, if not among men initiated in the profoundest religious and philosophic mysteries of their time the joint administrators of the government of Athens, when Athens sat on the summit of her power?
"The Dionysian Procession must enter the Temple"
(This Title Page shows Bacon with his right hand pointing to a passage in the open book of his Philosophy while, as if in illustration, his left manipulates a human figure dressed in goatskins. Resembling the tragic muse, this figure is in turn offering a book to the world and to the Temple. On the book is the symbol of the "Mirror").
"Yes, Theseus, and Solon and Cleisthenes and Pythagoras must be its antecedents there, for it could not be produced till Athena had been for ages in all, till three centuries of Olympiads had poured the Grecian life-blood through it, from Byzantium to Sicily. The gay summits of Homer's 'ever-young' Olympus must be reached and overlaid anew from the earth's central mysteries; the Dionysian procession must enter the temple.
"And there were men in England, in the age of Elizabeth, who hadmastered the Greek and Roman history (and the history of their own institutions too) who knew precisely what kind of crisis in human history they were born too occupy. They had seen the indigenous English drama struggling up through the earnest but childish exhibitions, through 'Miracles' and 'Moralities', when all that had made its life was suddenly abstracted from it. The royal ordinances, which excluded from it all the vital topics that a timorous despotism could interdict, found it already expelled from the religious sanctuaries in which all that we now call 'art' had had its birth. And that was the crisis in which the pulpit began to open its new drain upon it, having only a vicious play-house where once the priestly authority had summoned all the soul to its spectacles, in long-drawn aisle and fretted vault where once, as of old, the Athenian Temple had pressed its scene into the heart of the Athenian Hillthe holy hill and had opened its subterranean communication with Eleusis.
"There were men in England who knew what latent capacities that debased instrument of genius yet contained within it. These men knew well enough the proper relation between the essence of the drama and its form. 'Considering poetry in respect to the verse, and not to the argument:' says one, 'though men in learned languages may tie themselves to ancient measures; yet in modern languages it seems to me as free to make new measures; as to make new dances. And in these things the sense is a better judge than the art.'* Surely a Schlegel himself could not have given us a truer Shakespearean rule than that!
"Yes, there was one moment in that nation's history, wherein the costume, the fable, the scenic effect, and all the attractive appliances of the stage, even the degradation into which it had fallen, its known subserviency to the passions of the audience, all combined to furnish freer instrumentalities than the book, the pamphlet, the parliament, or the pulpit. There was a time when all alike were subject to a despotic censorship, when all alike were forbidden to meddle with their own proper questions, when cruel maimings and tortures, life-long imprisonment, and death itself, awaited, not a violation, but even a suspicion of an intention.
"There was one moment in that history, in which the ancient drama had, in new forms, its old power; when, stamped and blazoned on its surface with the badges of servitude, it had yet leaping within the indomitable heart of its ancient freedom, which Magna Charta had only recognized the freedom to the new ages that were then beginning 'the freedom of the chainless mind'. There was one moment in which all the elements of the national genius, were held together in their first vigour, pressed from without into their old Greek conjunction. That moment there was; it is chronicled; we have one word for it; we call it 'Shakespeare'. Has the time come at last, or has it not yet come, in which this message of the new time can be laid open to us?
* Francis Bacon. A of L Bk. II.
"If we had but gone far enough in our readings of these works to feel the want of that aid from exterior (Baconian) sources, there would not have been presented to the world, at this hour, the spectaclet he stupendous spectacle of a nation referring the origin of its drama more noble, and learned, and subtle than the Greek to the invention the accidental, unconscious invention of a third-rate play-actor.
"The true Shakespeare would not have been now to seek. In the circle with which this player's fortunes brought him in contact in that illustrious company of wits and poets we need not have been at a loss to find the philosopher who writes, in his prose as well, and over his own name also,
We should have found one furnished for that last and ripest proof of learning which the drama must constitute in which philosophy returns from history with the secret of the creative synthesis with the secret and material of Art. With this direction, we should have been able to identify, ere this, the Philosopher who is only the Poet in disguise the Philosopher who calls himself the New Magician the Poet who was toiling and plotting to fill the 'Globe' with his Arts, and to make our common, every-day human life poetical who would have all our life (and not only a part of it) learned, artistic, beautiful, religious.
"We should have found one, with learning deep enough, and subtle enough, and comprehensive enough, one with nobility of aim and philosophic and poetic genius enough, to be able to claim his own, his own immortal progeny undwarfed, unblinded, undeprived of one ray or dimple of that all-pervading reason that informs them; one who is able to reclaim them, even now, 'cured and perfect of their limbs, and absolute in their numbers, as he conceived them.' §
It would be difficult, even with the evidence that has since come to light, to equal the skill and eloquence with which these philosophical arguments were originally propounded in this remarkable essay. The question posed by Delia still stands . . . . "Has the time come at last, or has it not yet come, when the message of the new age can be laid open to us?" Is the time even approaching, when the philosophy of the new age, of the New Atlantis that Philosophia Secunda which was planted by the men who planted the first colony in Virginia can begin to be understood?
§ From "Putnam's Monthly" of January, 1856.
Is there any scholar of repute and today that means one of recognized position in the hierarchy of orthodoxy who is capable of studying the Baconian rhetoric with the same insight as Delia Bacon? There are many excellent writers and interpreters of "Shakespeare" but they all lack her courage. They cannot face the veto on this subject. To doubt the sordid Stratford legend, to reject or even to question the national idol is (if we may use a favourite cliché of the orthodox) equivalent to saying that "Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare". By this meaningless phrase the whole question of a pseudonym is deftly avoided. It was with a similar frame of mind among the "orthodox" that Galileo had to contend!
It is no longer the Holy Inquisition, nor the "Star-Chamber", nor the menace of the "Tower" which forbid true candour. It is the immense and oppressive power of vested interest. This has almost converted the Stratford tradition into an article of faith. It is the "cult of Shakespeare", and the identification of the informing spirit with its mask, that still raises a barrier between the learned world and what Bacon would have called the "greater form" of our National Drama.
A comedy of errors of his own devising still prevents the renovator, Lord Bacon whom Shelley once recognized as the greatest philosopher poet since Plato*from reclaiming his own immortal progeny, "absolute in their numbers as he conceived them." It was Delia's apprehension of this comedy of errors that became her tragedy and her triumph. Her story is like a gossamer thread linking modern America with its progenitor, Elizabethan England. It is an early and brilliant attempt of the outgrowing American mind, whilst rejecting much of the old world, to seize and hold the ancestral voices to press once more into the heart of the Athenian hill to re-open its subterranean communication with Eleusis.
* Translator's preface to The Banquet, Percy Bysshe Shelley.
"The Virtue of Adversity is Fortitude"
Whether Delia's mission failed or succeeded will be for posterity to judge. Certainly it is not for those who have never read her treatise. The Philosophy of the Shakespeare Plays Unfolded is one of the most extraordinary and most unreadable books. As often as one lays it aside bewildered by the declamatory style and never-ending sentences, one picks it up again to light upon some new gem of Shakespearean interpretation. Even from its place on the shelf the book seems to exercise a strange fascination. Is there an element of prophecy in it? Did the author live before her time? Or did she merely bring to the business of philosophy too much of the nature of the religious devotee? Perhaps there was an element of both these things; and perhaps this may be largely accounted for by her parentage, childhood and upbringing.
For the biographical extracts which follow we are indebted to the very interesting and moving sketch by Theodore Bacon,* and also to the recollections of Nathaniel Hawthorne published in a book called "Our Old Home". It is thanks to these that the real truth about Delia has been preserved. For most of her life she was well known to her friends in America as an extremely intelligent, charming and rather reserved person.
Of New England stock, her family may be traced as far back as 1640, to one Michael Bacon, living at Dedham in the colony on Massachusetts Bay. Although no definite connection with the family of the great Elizabethan was ever claimed, this was not impossible, for Michael was a man of property and a captain of the Yeomanry. In 1764 Joseph, great-great-grandson of the first Michael, went to live in Woodstock in Connecticut where, into the wandering life of a missionary and a preacher, was born David Bacon, father of Delia.
It was at David Bacon's rude log cabin, some thirty miles south of the present great city of Cleveland, that on February 2nd, 1811, there came into the world this strange gifted child who was later to combine the fervour of the missionary and knight errant with a most unusual aptitude for philosophy. Her impressions of the wilderness which surrounded her childhood were recorded many years later in an unpublished paper on Sir Walter Raleigh. Of that newly discovered continent she writes in her peculiar involved style:
"The new power of Religious Protestantism would
begin ere long to pierce the great inland forest; with its patient
strength, sprinkling it with bright spots of European culture . . . .
where the mission hut pursed the tomahawk, the "Great Trail" from the
Northern Lakes to the Southern Gulf went by the door, and wild Indian
faces looked in one the young mother, and wolves howled . . . . and
the wild old forest echoed with Sabbath hymns and sweet old English
nursery songs, and the children of the New World awoke . . . . "
* Delia Bacon (Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1888).
In his 46th year David Bacon died, leaving a large family without inheritance. It is not recorded how his young widow contrived to feed, clothe and educate her six children, enabling her two sons to pass through Yale College into learned professions. But it became necessary to find a home for Delia when she was six years old, where she evidently received much kindness "of a grim, puritanical kind." In Hartford she went to a school for girls founded by Catharine Beecher who recognized, and years later recorded, the promising qualities of her pupil:
"If the writer were to make a list of the most gifted minds she had ever met, male or female, among the highest would stand five young maidens then grouped around the writer in that dawning experience of a teacher's life . . . Of this number was the homeless daughter of a Western Missionary."
In May, 1826, Delia was obliged to look for a means of earning her own living. With a sister but little older acting as her subordinate she made three unsuccessful ventures in running a village school; first at Southington, Connecticut, then at Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and finally at Jamaica in Long Island with better prospects. But this too came to an end in the summer of 1830 in disappointment, sickness and insolvency. Thereafter she seems to have maintained herself by teaching in the schools of others, and in taking private classes.
In 1831, in spite of the duties of teaching, she obtained anonymous publication of her first book Tales of the Puritans. And in the years that followed she seems to have made great efforts to extend her own education by intensive reading. Perhaps the next phase of her life is best described in the words of one who thought it a privilege to have been her pupil and who writes thus of her teaching:
"She imparted to them new ideas; she systemized for them the knowledge already gained; she engaged them in discussion; she taught them to think . . . Herpupils had no booksonly a pencil and some paper. All they learned was received from her lips. She sat before them, her noble countenance lighted with enthusiasm, her fair white hands now holding a book from which she read an extract, now pressing for a moment the thoughtful brow. She knew both how to pour in knowledge and how to draw out thought . . .
"Graceful and intellectual in appearance, eloquent in speech, marvellouslywise, and full of inspiration, she looked and spoke the very muse of history. Of those lectures she wrote out nothingnot even notes. All their wisdom came fresh and living from the depth of her ready intellect. And for that very reason there is now no trace of what would be so valuable.
"No one could know and appreciate Delia Bacon without placing her in his estimation among the most highly endowed women whom he ever saw or heard of. Was philosophy the subject of her discourse? She dealt with abstract truth as but one woman does in generations. Weighing, balancing, analyzing and comparing, she knew all systems, and had their resemblances and their differences clearly defined, distinctly remembered, and ready at her call. Her mastery of the subject astonished you; you were sure she had given her chief time and thought to that alone.
"So with poetry and art. By her own originality and genius she set forth each with new thoughts, or with old ones in new combinations. And a deep veneration for what is good, a clear recognition of God and his providence underlay all her teachings."
It seems that for a number of years her courses of instruction were much esteemed. In New Haven, where her brother was a minister connected with Yale College, she had certain advantages of introduction. In Boston, in Cambridge, in New York and Brooklyn she continued, up to the years of 1852-53 her work of oral instruction. In the closing chapter of her Recollections of Seventy Years (1865) Mrs. E. Farrer completes the picture:
"She spoke without notes, entirely from her well stored memory; and she would so group her facts as to present to us historical pictures calculated to make a lasting impression . . . . In these she brought down her history to the time of the birth of Christ, and I never forget how clear she made it to us that the world was only then made fit for the advent of Jesus . . .
"In her Cambridge course she had maps, charts, models, pictures, and everything she needed to illustrate her subject. All who saw her then must remember how handsome she was and how gracefully she used her wand in pointing to the illustrations of her subject . . . "
and here a suggestion of what was to come:
"More and more indeed, through all this period of exhausting toil for self-support, under the burden of sickness and penury and debt, her interest and her inclination were turning toward pure literature and literary criticism; so that when, in 1852, her historical lectures in Cambridge and Boston were ended for the season, she seems to have hoped they would never be, as in fact they never were, resumed."
Before adverting to the main work of her life, Delia's biographer mentions a prolonged period of acute personal distress in the years 1846 and 1847, the exact nature of which is not disclosed. Thereafter we are told that, in studying and teaching history and literary criticism for many years, her mind became gradually fixed upon the greatest age of English Lettersthe Elizabethan and Jacobean ages. After a prolonged period of consideration she first began to doubt, and finally to reject the title of Will Shakespeare to the authorship of the Plays, and to the Plays themselves, she attached a deeper meaning than usual.
The course of her life, never calm nor easy, had reached the cross-roads. It would seem that she now deliberately gave up pursuit of subjects in which she was proficient to seek entry into that greater Kingdom of Knowledge into which in Bacon's noble words, "no entry is conceded except as a little child".
Let us now see what kind of a person she was, and what was her outlook on life, in those latter days when her book was finished, and she was trying to recover her health in the homely lodgings of Mrs. Terrett at College St., Stratford-on-Avon. The following letter gives us a glimpse of a rather charming person. It is certainly the letter of a very sick woman but in no sense that of a mad woman.
"My dear Mrs. Hawthorne
Twenty-four hours after I left London alone and fearfully ill not knowing hardly whither I wentI found myself lying on the sofa in the most perfect little paradise of neatness and comfort that you can possibly conceive of. If it had been invented on purpose, and dropped down out of the clouds to receive me at the end of my journey, it could not have been more exactly the place I wanted with a dear, good, motherly lady to nurse me and take care of me, and no other creature in the house but her little servant, who is all of a piece with it.
"It is not a lodging house. The owner of it lives on her rents and never took a lodger in her life before; but some person had heard that she thought a taking a friend of hers for company, and something had happened to prevent it, and she thought if she could find a lady to her mind, perhaps she would take one. I had stipulated for a place near the church, and this was mentioned in that connection.
"The only objects to be seen from my window as I write are the trees on the banks of the Avon and the church directly before me only a few yards from here though I shall have to go about some to find access to it, I suppose. I took the old lady by storm. She was not at home when I arrived here. I had come in a "fly" from the "Red 'Orse" for I could have just as soon forded the Atlantic Ocean as to have walked the short distance from my inn to this place.
"You must know I was so deadly ill that I could not get taken in at an ordinary lodging house. They thought from my appearance that I was going die and that it would not be worth the trouble . . . . The moment I looked into this house I saw that it was the place appointed for me, and ordered the porter to take off my luggage. The little handmaid seemed to have some misgivings, and once she came to the door and said timidly "Do you know Mrs. Terrett?" I told her she need not give herself any trouble and that I would take all the blame for it.
"The kitchen was what finally decided me to stop. I walked into it and thought it was the prettiest place I ever saw. The walls were painted cerulean blue, and everything in it shone like gold. The little servant kept running upstairs and putting her head out of the window, and finally she reported that her mistress was coming. The moment I saw her kind countenance I was sure that I had not made a mistake. She was very much surprised of coursesaid that she had thought of such a thing but was not aware that she had named it to anyone. She saw that I was very ill, and that I think decided her not to send me away at least until I was better.
"We talked about the price. Two very nice rooms, good-sized and well furnishedthe front room over it. She asked me if I thought, if she provided linen, etc.if seven shillings would be too much for rent and attendance . . . . . So all was settled, and she made me lie down on the sofa and covered me up like a mother, and went off to prepare some refreshment for me immediately. And there I lay at two o'clock (the hour I left London on the day before) looking out on that church spire and those trees on the Avon, so near, so very near, and yet doubtful whether my feet would ever take me there . . .
"I have scarcely had a thought or an emotion since I left London. I am only an automaton obeying some further purpose, obeying rather the Power above that is working beneficently in all this. I have no anxiety, no care about it. I love to be here. Those beautiful trees and that church spire look a little like dreamland to me . . . . I lie here as quiet and as helpless as a baby waiting on the Power that has brought me here, with no fear now that anything will fail which the opening of this new fountain of blessings for men requires to be done. I shall be here perhaps for months to come. To recover my health is now my only object. If that can be done, this I think is the place for it. The air is as pure as heaven and the calm after that noise for twenty months soothes me every moment.
"I expect help and direction from a power which is not limited to the sphere of my consciousness and volitions. I expect it to work in other minds as well as my own if that should be required . . . . Till now my mind has instinctively excluded all thoughts of my work and everything connected with it . . . There was no vitality to spare, and I suppose it will take many days yet to put me back where I was in health when I planned my journey here."
Most truly yours,
There is in this letter a deep and ominous sense of mission, but it is so refreshing, so sane, that it deserves to be recorded. It is a charming glimpse of nineteenth century England through the eyes of an exiled American lady who had been living among the streets of London far too long. That Delia became distraught after her work was done, ought not to detract from her previous achievement. The conquest of a virgin mountain peak is not discounted by a later fall, and unbalance is a risk that all who climb the heights must take. Those who worship only the calculating faculty may consign all poets and mystics to the consulting room of the psychiatrist! But in the saner vision of the great master to whom Delia devoted her life:
She seems in any case to have quite captured the Carlyles, who at once made her welcome at their house in Cheyne Walk. "I pray you be not so shy of us", wrote the sage of Chelsea. Perhaps if she had been able to cultivate such friendship more closely, the end would have been different. Carlyle's worldly wisdom, though it blinded him to the merits of her cause, gave him a clearer apprehension of the inevitable disappointments which lay in store. "As for Miss Bacon", he writes to Emerson, "we find her, with her modest shy dignity, with her sound character and strange enterprise, a real acquisition, and we hope we shall now see more of her . . . . I have not in my life met anything so tragically quixotic as her Shakespeare enterprise; alas, there can be nothing but sorrow and utter disappointment in it for her. I do cheerfully what I can, which is far more than she asks, for I have not seen a prouder silent soul . . . . . . . she must try the matter to the end, and charitable souls must further her so far."
It was from the Carlyles that Delia was to receive the only real friendliness and "cosiness" in London beyond her own threshold. They were as much charmed by her modesty and integrity of character as they were impressed by her mind; and they were more than anxious to offer her their homely hospitality. But she appears to have "rationed" herself most carefully with their company, much as she enjoyed it. Seclusion seems to have been vital to her, and providence at least granted her that.
It was a pity that Delia could not have been given more scope. She was in advance of her time, and had surpassed previous commentators in penetrating the hidden motives social and philosophical, underlying the Shakespearean plays. But she found no appropriate art-form to popularise her ideas, no way to "sell" her discovery. The world was not ready to consider a book on the philosophy of the English Renaissance which challenged most of the conventional beliefs of the day, but which did not (as did Lord Bacon in the Shakespeare Plays) come down to the level of ordinary mortals. Being by nature more orator than writer, why did she not follow his advice and also "pray in aid of similes?" Why did she bury the jewels she had found in such a mass of abstruse verbiage?
"Motley's the only wear!"
Mark Twain in the autobiographical sketch "Is Shakespeare dead?" recalls bright days on the Mississippi when Delia Bacon's book first led him to reject the traditional authorship of the Plays. Certainly her book did more than raise doubts. It was the first attempt at a consistent and rational solution, and it gained her a powerful convert in Mark Twain. But if any credit is due for being the first person to question the orthodox canon, it cannot be accorded to Delia.
The precise authorship of these plays has been a matter of dispute since the date of the First Folio itself. When that extraordinary book was printed in 1623, seven years after the death of the actor, Will Shakspere, it contained no less than nineteen new plays. Yet while the editors claimed to supply a complete collection "all the rest, absolute in their numbers" they ignored many plays which had already appeared under the actor's name during his life. Now if William didn't write these somebody else did; so that failing a single manuscript, or even a letter written by the actor to anyone, the possibilities for dispute are endless.
This complete lack of manuscript evidence has not unnaturally attracted the attention of the forger. During the last century a host of counterfeit signatures appeared on old documents, most of which have happily been exposed. Some enthusiasts even went so far as to favour the public with whole plays and extensive textual alterations; of these the most notable were the Ireland forgeries and those promulgated by Mr. Payne Collier, both of whom subsequently confessed.
Needless to say the Shakespearian manuscripts have not yet been found, nor is there any concrete evidence that the actor, unassisted, could write a letter. All we have are six signatures of varied spelling in what seems to be a "guided" hand, and three of these occur in a Will which makes no mention of the ownership of plays or books, published or unpublished, or indeed of literature in any form.
Ben Jonson, who knew Bacon personally, compares him to Homer and Virgil; Shelley declares him to be a poet of the highest order; Gervinus devotes several pages to the remarkable similarities of thought, philosophy and diction in Bacon and Shakespeare. Lord Chief Justice Campbell draws attention to Shakespeare's profound legal acquirements; Coleridge is frankly sceptical, and Emerson could not "marry" the sordid record of the actor's life with the sublimity of his verse. We even find the great Prince Bismarck confirming these doubts from a statesman's point of view; for he could not understand how anyone in the actor's position could possess the inside knowledge of kings and courts and the conduct of great affairs.
Now these technical difficulties, as Delia Bacon recognized, cannot be explained by repeating the simple word "genius." To be learned and to be a genius are two different things, and the author of these plays was both. In his preface to Shakespeare Dr. Johnson writes thus:
"Nature gives no man Knowledge . . . . Shakespeare, however favoured by Nature, could only impart what he had learned."
In these circumstances it is surely idle to pretend that there is no mystery or problem.
The Baconian theory was discussed on a certain summer evening in London, just over a hundred years ago. There was a small tea party at the Carlyles' house in Cheyne Row, for Chelsea has been a home and haunt of many writers since the days of Sir Thomas More. On this occasion a meeting between two very different disciples of Lord Bacon , James Spedding and Delia Bacon had been suggested by Emerson in a letter to Carlyle, and had been duly arranged, "to deliberate", as their host put it, "on the Shakespeare affair". Of these deliberations more may come to light in Spedding's letters; meanwhile I quote from correspondence published by Theodore Bacon:
To Miss Delia Bacon
"My dear Madam,
"Will you kindly dispense with the ceremony of being called on (by sickly people in this hot weather) and come to us on Friday evening to tea at 7. I will try to secure Mr. Spedding at the same time; and we will deliberate what is to be done in your Shakespeare affair. A river steamer will bring you within a gunshot of us. You pronounce 'Chainie Row' and get out at Cadogan pier, which is your first landing place in Chelsea . . . except Mrs. C. and the chance of Spedding there will be nobody here.
Yours very sincerely,
To her sister some weeks later Delia Bacon writes of this meeting as follows:
"My visit to Mr. Carlyle was very rich. I wish you could have heard him laugh. Once or twice I thought he would have taken the roof of the house off. At first they were perfectly stunned and the gentleman he had invited to meet me. They turned black in the face at my presumption.
'Do you mean to say . . . ' said Mr. Carlyle, with his strong emphasis; and I said that I did, and they both looked at me with staring eyes . . . At length Mr. Carlyle came down on me with such a volley! I did not mind in the least. I told him he did not know what was in the plays if he said that; and no one could know who believed that that booby wrote them. It was then that he began to shriekyou could have heard him a mile. I told him too, that I should not think of questioning his authority in such a case if it were not with me a matter of knowledge. I did not advance it as an opinion. They began to be a little moved at my coolness at length, and before the meeting was over they agreed to hold themselves in a state of readiness to receive what I had to say on the subject. I left my introductory statement with him. In the course of two or three days he wrote to ask permission to show my paper to Mr. Monkton Milne . . . inviting me to come there very soon . . He also enclosed to me a letter of introduction to Mr. Collier . . . I have not sent it yet. That was five weeks ago."
One readily can imagine the embarrassment of Spedding the "gentleman he had invited to meet me.". . He was by that time an "authority" on Bacon. The Works followed by the Letters and Life, fourteen volumes in all, were in due course to come out year by year. Much work still lay ahead of Spedding, but the line he was to take, and never to change, had already been laid down in "Evenings with a Reviewer." It was a line of "extenuation" rather than "exoneration", a sitting-on-the-fence line which he was not even to alter or reconsider in 1861, when Hepworth Dixon found, in hitherto inaccessible State Papers, the very information regarding Lord Bacon's arraignment and the "Fee-system" which Spedding's defence of Bacon lacked.
With the jovial incredulity of Carlyle on one side and Spedding's repugnance for new-fangled ideas on the other, Delia Bacon was to find herself in opposition to the whole Victorian world of Letters. Perhaps if Emerson's hopes had been realised, and that Chelsea summer evening had put her in closer touch with Spedding, she might have gained a friend in Lord Bacon's biographer. And, more important still, Spedding's eyes might have been opened to a deeper meaning in the Shakespeare Plays which he also much affected. Who knows? The dry bones of his biography might have become articulate might have stood up and walked in a more "living" history! But Spedding, alas, is to vanish from our story; the real meaning of these things was not for him.
In a long and delightful letter to E. B. Cowell, Edward Fitzgerald, ranging from the delights of his own garden to those of old Khayyam, writes of Spedding as follows:
"Spedding has been here in near three months. His Bacon keeps coming out: his part the Letters, etc., of Bacon has not yet come, so it remains to be seen what he will do with this: but I can't help feeling he has let the pot boil too long . . . "
The whole failure of Spedding to perfect his vindication of Lord Bacon seems to be foreshadowed in this joking criticism the pot had boiled too long. In earlier days, when occupied with "Evenings with a Reviewer" he could sometimes be diverted, as we see from another letter from Fitzgerald to Tennyson:
". . . I have never yet heard the famous Jenny Lind, whom all the world raves about. Spedding is especially mad about her; and, after that, is it not best for weaker vessels to keep out of her way?
Night after night is that bald head seen in one particular position in the Opera House, in a stall! The miserable man has forgot Bacon and Philosophy and goes after strange women!"
It was a pity, that, five years later, an even more strangely gifted woman could not inspire the unimaginative Spedding with her enthusiasm for the living philosophy of his master.
Delia Bacon's hypothesis has to be considered with the following questions in mind: Was she justified in suspecting the author of the Plays of a deeper artistic purpose than is usually recognised, under cover of his "cap and bells"?
Is it conceivable that the author could have been indifferent to gain or glory or to cash or credit where these plays were concerned, and commanded by a loftier motive? Are these expressions of undoubted poetical genius free of all control, or do they bear evidence of being shaped and moulded to drive home some lesson in psychology, or to raise some social problem? Is not the very buffoonery shaped to yield a lesson? Is there not ample evidence within many of these plays to sustain the view that, while the author lived, they were continually metamorphosed and frequently tortured and forced to carry a treble portion of his dramatic purpose?
These questions are to some extent answered for us by the reactions of two great thinkers, Leo Tolstoy and Robert Bridges, both of whom considered the Shakespearean Plays to be a prostitution of art. The opinions of these two men are admirably discussed by Professor Wilson Knight; Tolstoy tried hard . . . .
"My perplexity was increased by the fact that I have always keenly felt the beauties of poetry in all its forms: why then did Shakespeare's works, recognised by the whole world as works of artistic genius, not only fail to please me but even seem detestable?"
Bridges, complains that Macbeth presents no clear motives for the crime, and that the author's method is not so much to reveal as to confuse "Now this veiled confusion of motive is so well managed that it must be recognised as a device intended to escape observation." These misgivings are ample proof that there is something in the Plays which is unaccounted for in Shakespearean criticism. It is a clear recognition by two great sensitive minds that the plays are often manipulated, even at risk of violation, in order to exaggerate some danger or to carry out some purpose which is not explained. It is only the Baconian hypothesis which can square these facts, and compass the author's design, which is hinted at as follows:
"I have, though in a despised weed, procured the good of all men."
(Shake-speare Sonnet 76)
The poet, in fact, was giving to posterity, within the framework of an imagined dramatic universe, a wider field of mental experience, a field for exercising his Georgics of the Mind. It was indeed a revolutionary kind of poetry, which aimed to influence the future of the whole human race by reflecting, as in a mirror, the wills and passions of men and nations in all ages. For it is the temporary nature of earthly dominion, which is always stressed, and in King Lear it reaches its reductio ad absurdam
"Change places, and handy dandy, which is the Justice and which is the thief?"
This great play, which Shelley described as the most perfect specimen of the dramatic art, is a continuous tale of "authority" dethroned and personal relationships reversed. It is as much a sermon against parental tyranny as it is against filial impiety. Almost every natural relationship is rudely outraged, even that of host and guest. The play even begins with an unnatural and indecent boast from an otherwise noble character. To such an extent is the theme of "outrage" enforced and exaggerated, that both Tolstoy and Bridges accused the author of bad art. Tolstoy considers him to be "a man quite devoid of the sense of proportion and taste" and "having nothing in common with art or poetry": Bridges thought that the plays "were written to please the foolish, the filthy, the brutal for the brutal", and that to admire or even tolerate such things was "to degrade ourselves to the level of his audience."
If the real author, from some Elysian field, can contemplate these criticisms, from the highest praise of Shelley to the deepest censure of Tolstoy and Bridges, it will be with a smile; for his hidden purpose is most surely working out, and his answer is given in the authentic voice of Francis Bacon:
"With regard to the meanness or even filthiness of particulars, for which, as Pliny observes, some apology is due . . . the Sun enters the palace and the privy alike, and is not polluted thereby . . .
For whatsoever deserves to exist deserves to be known, and Knowledge is the image of existence.
"Now the mean and the splendid alike exist: and just as the sweetest odours may be distilled from putrid matter, such as musk or civet, so may valuable light come from mean and sordid instances."
(Novum Organum I, 120)
In the play of King Lear with its brutal extravagances, the mean and the splendid alike exist; and sometimes, as when Cornwall's servants turn upon him, or the Fool rebukes the King, it is the meanest and humblest which becomes the teacher. From beginning to end this play is shaped and moulded to a pre-conceived pattern which can be sensed though not explained in the very first act. Later it reveals itself as a social problem and is thus partly summarised by Delia Bacon (allowing her the poetic licence of a Duke for an Earl!)
"With one Duke in the stocks and another wandering blind in the streets, with a Dukeling in the form of mad Tom to lead him, with a King in a hovel calling for straw, and a Queen hung by the neck till she is dead; with mad Tom on the bench ('thou robed man of justice') and the Fool ('his yoke fellow of equity') at his side; with the inquiry as to which is the Justice and which is the Thief openly started one would almost fancy that the subject had been exhausted, or would be if these indications should be followed up. What is it in the way of social alterations which the author's imagination could conceive of, which his scruples have prevented him from suggesting here?"
But perhaps the most charming mockeries of Authority noticed by Delia are reserved for the lips of the King himself:
"Ay, every inch a King;
When I do stare, see how the subject quakes."
"I here take my oath before this honourable assembly
she kicked the poor King her father."
"Thou hast seen a farmer's dog bark at a beggar? . . .
And the creature run from the cur? There thou
mightest behold the great image of Authority: a
dog's obeyed in office . . ."
As one turns over the pages of Delia Bacon's book one comes upon instance after instance of social and ethical questions brought up for examination on Bacon's "table of inquiry" in the Shakespeare Plays. How discreetly must that author have had to feel his way forward evading Tudor despotism, flattering Jacobean pedantry! There was that row over Richard the Second, which shows that Her Majesty's ears were much too sharp for anything as bold as King Lear, or Coriolanus or Julius Caesar.
The simple truth is that from time immemorial plays, myths, and parables have been devised with two main objects:
The diffusion of important ideas by means of Entertainment.
The ideas and sympathies to be diffused were usually conventional and orthodox. Morality plays, for instance, were intended to foster and preserve existing loyalties and sympathies, rather than to redirect them. But the authors of the Utopias, Sir Thomas More, Campanella and Bacon had begun to look ahead to a promised land, of which Bacon's New Atlantis is the happiest and most serene example. Many years later great novelists such as Dickens, Tolstoy and Hardy continued to broaden the popular outlook by raising moral and social problems. The modern Novel, as good judges now tell us, is striving to go further. It is even less concerned with "received opinions," and often aims to lead the sympathies of its readers into entirely new channels, to implant new conceptions of right and wrong, to become in very deed "the mould of fashion and the glass of form".
Now this also was a large part of the artistic purpose of the Shakespeare Plays. For, like Delia Bacon, we hold to the belief that there was a purpose, and a more lofty one than that of putting the author in easy circumstances! But we have to remember that the very democratic ideas inculcated in these plays (which have gradually transformed the basic tenets of Magna Carta into practical rules of conduct in our own day) were not considered politic or practicable in the days of Tudor despotism. The torture chamber and the stake were then considered quite a normal part of governmental equipment.
Terrorism still exists, but we have made a notable advance in as much as it is now generally admitted to be an evil thing, and those who practise it have to pretend they are not doing so. Flagrant and unabashed cruelty is no longer openly tolerated. This gradual change in men's outlook, this civilizing influence, is reflected in the Shakespearean universe. The Duke of Cornwall, prior to performing the most diabolical act of cruelty in all Shakespeare before with his own fingers plucking out the eyes of the bound Earl of Gloucesteris able to look forward to this satanic pleasure with relish and pride:
"Leave him to my displeasure. Edmund, keep you your sister company: the revenges we are bound to take upon your traitorous father are not fit for your beholding."
But the haunted and conscience-struck Macbeth, who is a more valiant warrior, is depicted as regretting the older, freer and more savage times:
"Blood hath been shed ere now i' the olden time,
Ere human Statute purged the general Weal:
Ay, and since too, murders have been perform'd
Too terrible for the ear: the time hath been
That when the brains were out, the man would die
And there an end: but now they rise again."
Times have now changed still more, so much that it is hard to realize that, when these plays were written, they were quite revolutionary. Under cover of re-furbishing older plays from the Gesta Romanorum or the Decameron, or of re-writing Holinshed's Chronicles in the form of those "living" histories so strongly advocated by Bacon, the author manages to introduce his democratic ideas, ideas which clearly no philosopher, statesman or scholar would dare openly profess.
Social question after social question, loyalty after loyalty, passion after passion, are brought up to this "table of invention," in the Shakespeare Plays. And just as Bacon himself so often approaches his point under a barrage of classical quotations to which no one could object, so does the author of the plays make excellent use of the Classics by putting his most revolutionary ideas into the mouths of historical characters who were safely in their graves long before the Tower of London was built!
Spedding seems to have opposed the Baconian theory of authorship largely on grounds of style. This is a weak argument. Adaptability in style is a prerogative of great art. After all Shelley's styles in prose and poetry are quite distinct, and Lewis Carroll on Mathematics would be different from Alice in Wonderland! We may perhaps put it this way: that although identities of style and diction are useful factors in tracing an author, the demonstration they afford is greatly enhanced if a deeper identity, like that of original thought or philosophy, can also be shown to exist.
Delia Bacon, so Hawthorne tells us in his preface to her book, preferred to rest her theory on this underlying identity of purpose and plan in Bacon and the Shakespeare Plays rather than on an historical demonstration which was to come later. Her own words confirm this:
"External evidence, of course, will not be wanting . . . But the author of this discovery was not willing to rob the world of this great question; but wished rather to share with it the benefit which the true solution of the problem offers . . . It seemed better to save to the world the power and beauty of this demonstration, its intellectual stimulus, its demand on the judgment. It seemed better that the world should acquire it also in the form of criticism, instead of being stupefied and overpowered by the mere force of an irresistible, external historical proof. Person incapable of appreciating any other kind of proof those who are capable of nothing that does not "directly fall under and strike the senses", as Lord Bacon expresses it,will have their time also; but it was proposed to present the subject first to minds of another order."
What a disappointment it must have been to this sensitive person to find that neither Carlyle nor Spedding could understand her point of viewthat neither of them possessed those "minds of another order."
The Art of Delivery, according to Bacon, contained two distinct methods; one was "magistrall," the other was "initiative." The magistrall methoda kind of "I'm telling you" is necessarily used in biography and criticism, but according to Bacon it was often unconvincing. It was not enough, in his opinion, to be "magistrall," a "new method" had to be found to enter men's minds "obliquely". Since those times playwrights, novelists and historians have turned instinctively more and more to the "initiative" method. They too assume Bacon's "helmet of invisibility," and avoid hanging about in their own plays and books! Whatever needs to be said "magistrally" is much more effective when delegated to the dramatis personnae. The high priest of any true Art or Religion can do more by being "initiative" from the altar than by being "magistrall" from the pulpit. Those who recognise this have understood Bacon's meaning.
Delia Bacon, better than all her contemporaries, understood this distinction. Her best teaching that in which she could be most "initiative" was delivered orally and therein she excelled. But her discoveries in Shakespearean criticism had to be transmitted to posterity in book form, a form of delivery which cramped her particular style. With all the great understanding of her subject, it was on grounds of art that her book failed to get "across." What a pity it was that her most "initiative" thoughts and intuitions could not have been delivered in the clear and lucid style of Spedding!
The Baconian Philosophy, in its concentrated form, was not expected to reach the crowd. Some are destined to find it by the force of a clear reason unclouded by convention, and others by intuition. It was framed that way, "to select its own readers." All that it concerns the multitude to know is given out obliquely in the Shakespeare Folio. This is the medicine of Jacques which was intended "to cleanse the foul body o' the infected world." But those who insist on taking their medicine only out of this bottle are welcome, if they so wish, to swallow the label too!
Delia attributed the extraordinary outpouring of Elizabethan and Jacobean literature to a group of worthy men whom Francis Bacon became the chief. In its earlier phases this movement towards enlightenment and "the relief of man's estate" had been sustained by such men as Michel de Montaigne, Sir Philip Sidney, and later by Sir Walter Raleigh. The frequent references to Montaigne in Bacon's English works and the fact that Anthony Bacon lived in France with him for a considerable time, lend support to this view; and Delia's reading of Montaigne was certainly profound.
In France, the renaissance of letters had slightly preceded ours, being largely the work of a group calling itself "Les Pléiades", of whom Ronsard, Du Bellay and Jodelle were members. Their works had included the development and enrichment of the French language, but the first great original work of the new philosophy the philosophy of opening of men's eyes "obliquely"was the famous book of essays by the Gascon philosopher. According to Delia Bacon this was one of the earliest productions of a secret school in which a scientific plan was concealed under a gay and popular "art of delivery". The book aimed to be popular in form, but was so interwoven with latent meanings, that it was hard to see how it could have been read at all without occasioning the inquiry which it was so important to avoid.
In Montaigne Delia finds bold anecdotes and vivid illustrations brought in with superb irrelevance. Yet the author, in one of those "nooks of discourse", which he is never at a loss to create when the purpose of his essai requires it, actually beckons the reader aside to explain his method . . .
"Neither these stories, nor my allegations do always serve simply for example, authority, or ornament. I do not only record them for the use I make of them; they carry sometimes (besides what I apply them to) the seeds of richer and bolder matter and sometimes, collaterally a more delicate sound both to me myself and to others who happen to be of my ear."
Of Montaigne's "delicate and collateral sound" Delia Bacon has much to say. It chiefly concerned a small minority who happen to be of his "ear", as the author himself made clear . . .
"I write my book for few men and few years. Had it been a matter of duration, I should have put it into a better language . . . Who can expect that the present form of language should be in use fifty years hence? . . . We say that it is now perfect; every age says the same of the language it speaks; I shall hardly trust to that so long as it runs away and changes as it does . . . It is for good and useful writings to nail and rivet it to them, and its reputation will go according to the fortunes of our state. For which reason I am not afraid to insert herein several private articles that concern the particular knowledge of some, who will see further into them than the common reader . . . "
We know of course who held similar views on the transience of modern languages who took steps to have the living body of his philosophy preserved and embalmed in the Latin tongue who thought these modern languages would "play the bankrupt with books", and who seems to have underestimated the latent vitality of the language he was then forging in his works of "recreation" those "works of the Alphabet" which he kept sending to Sir Toby Matthew, and concerning which Spedding is at a loss.
But to return to Montaigne. It seems that, apart from the "few men" for whom he wrote he expected posterity would mis-judge him . . .
"Now as much as decency permits, I here discover my inclinations and affections. If any observe he will find that I have either told, or designed to tell ALL. What I cannot express I point out with my finger."
It was reserved for the author of the Shake-speare Plays, by fathering revolutionary ideas on imaginary historical characters, to point with an even longer finger at what he could not openly express. Montaigne, Bacon and the "author" of the Shake-speare folio, were clearly of one mind in many things. Delia had very good grounds for her belief that a new philosophical plan was then in the making, and that it was sponsored by a group of writers, among the first of whom was that "idle, tattling, rambling old Gascon", from whose irrelevant yet profound criticisms our present Spectators and Tattlers together with many other monthlies and quarterlies trace their descent. A motley coat, then as now, was always a sound investment!
"The Double Nature of Goodness"
Satire, when applied with a rapier and not with a bludgeon, has often a stimulating quality. It is sometimes good to see an aspect of ourselves in a curved mirror. But to be condemned to this perpetually is intolerable; and in the case of Delia Bacon it was the resentment which her discoveries were bound to provoke in the orthodox mind that exposed her to this fate.
Even at its best satire has a de-vitalizing side to it. Sometimes a master in the art can out-balance this lethal quality by a double quality of goodness. The author of Don Quixote gave more than a death blow to out-moded forms of mediaeval chivalry, and more than a tonic. The gaunt knight, the fat squire, and the faithful Rosinante awake in us emotions which are far from being derisive and scornful. Mingled with the sharp and eager air of the world's greatest satire, there rises a breath of toleration and compassion. The author did not despise the puppets of his own creation, he loved them. The very word "quixotic" has come to mean something not only laughable but lovable.
It is with similar feelings that we read the story of Delia, as told by Hawthorne and Theodore Bacon; another tilting at the windmills; or was it perhaps the sheep? Her plea was unacceptable for the reason that Shakespearean orthodoxy had already become an article of faith. All, therefore, that she could expect to see in the eyes of the faithful was a distorted image of herself as an unprincipled vandal. After the most diligent researches on this great literary problem, she was met with a bland half-pitying assurance that there was really no problem at all. On the rare occasions when she was persuaded to speak frankly, she was only to find reflected in the eyes of her listeners a mixture of incredulity, indignation, and perhaps even a vague fear of lunacy. In this atmosphere one which Bacon would have described as "intellectual night"it is small wonder that she was driven to write her book in solitude and seclusion.
The only people who could really exchange with her the comfort of human understanding, were those who had no concern whatever with her work; people like the Londoner Mr. Walker, with whom she lodged and who would take no rent; Mrs. Terrett and her little maid at the house on the banks of the Avon, and perhaps the kindly vicar at Stratford. But the intellectual and literary friends who tried so hard to help her were never quite at ease. Hawthorne certainly recognised her talents and did all and more than was required of him. Emerson, aloof and free from embarrassment, probably went nearer to her theories than anybody; and if a man of that stature countenances a theory, its inventor may surely feel encouraged.
To Carlyle, although he was charmed by her personality, Delia's theory seemed utterly incredible. But he and his wife never allowed their sense of the ridiculous to damp her enthusiasm; and they offered her more companionship than all the others, for in her they could see and respect the eternal knight-errant, who always puts service before self. It was a pity she could not accept more of their hospitality, for she found no bitterness in Carlyle's immoderate laugh. But an unseen barrier was always present; behind the kindly humorous disposition there was non-comprehension, and a complete rejection of the philosophy which was all to her.
A few extracts from correspondence will serve to show how they both felt . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
(Carlyle to D.B.)
"We are very glad to hear of you again, and that you are doing well, and getting that wild jungle of sticks victoriously tied into fagots. That is a right success, due to all faithful workers, and which nobody can deprive one of. . . . . . . . . .
Whenever you decide on a removal you are simply to leave your things all packed at St. Albans, and come off at once to the vacant room I told you of as waiting to welcome you herethere from to institute whatever search your fancy and judgment points to, under the favourablest auspices. This really is the wisest, and also the easiest; Confess that it is, O you of little faith, and do it.
Yours very truly, dear Miss B.,
(D.B. to Emerson)
"Carlyle has been to see me, though I am miles from him, to invite me to his house. I was out when he came, but he left word with the servant, and there was no alternative but for me to go, and it was very, very pleasant. I went at five o' clock and stayed to dinner and tea, till eleven, and Carlyle spent all the time with us, though he is extremely busy now, finishing his Life of Frederick the Second, and refuses all invitations. I have real cosy pleasant times when I go there, but I am most heartily glad I have no other acquaintances here; they would torment me to death. . . . "
(Carlyle to D.B.)
"I am greatly pleased to hear of you again: my thoughts about you have been many. . . . . . . . . . . . . . My incredulity of your thesis I have never hidden from you: but I willingly vote, and have voted, that you should be heard on it to full length; and this whatever further come of it, will be a profit to the world and to yourself--I need not say what profit it will be . . . . . . . . . . When you return to London let us, so soon as possible, see you again . . . .'
But however fantastic were Delia's hopes of converting Shakespearean Orthodoxy to a new theory, we are left by her biographers with a feeling that her ideas were reasonable. Hawthorne admits that her intepretations of the Shakespeare plays "certainly sprang from no inconsiderable depth somewhere". He refers to "criticisms which quite take the pungency and colour out of other people's critical remarks on Shakespeare"; and he laments the fact that these gems were not separated from the rubbish "which any competent editor would have shovelled out of his way". He regards her work as one of the greatest compliments ever paid the Bard, whoever he may have been. Her mistake was in being so utterly in earnest as to attempt, single-handed, a headlong quixotic assault on the windmills of the Stratford tradition, without even the help of an editor. Very different had been the more "oblique" approach of her master, Francis Bacon, to the scholars and philosophers of his own day.
In interpreting the ancient myths, Bacon himself refers more than once to the vanity of preaching above people's heads or beyond their hearts. It was, as he points out, only in the abject and miserable form of a bedraggled cuckoo that Jupiter was able to prevail upon Juno. It was useless to address people in terms beyond their understanding; even the sacrifice of personal pride involved in "obsequiousness" was to be willingly accepted when a greater good was at stake. The peculiar lesson which he wrests from this fable supports Delia's theory; it also throws an interesting side light on the difficulties which beset the path of a courtier and would-be reformer in those days of Tudor despotism. By rebelling against authority Essex fell, accomplishing nothing but his own ruin and the execution of his friends. By respecting authority, and by a more correct estimate of its power, Bacon was able to influence it, even at risk of being thought "obsequious" by those who had no conception of what was at stake. And so, by this multiple, protean nature of goodness, he was able to accomplish much.
It was for toleration in all beneficent forms that the author of the New Atlantis had toiled. The mortifications of the friars were approved only in so far as they were needed to establish a mastery, whereupon they were to be discontinued. Even the body deserved its rightful heritage, and each vesture of man, including what Bacon termed "the affections", must of necessity seek its own "apparent" good. It was the supreme function of Art to provide that background of reconciliation wherein each separate "apparent good" could become merged in the "greater good" of the whole.
"There is formed in everything a double nature of good, the one as everything is a total or substantive in itself, and the other as it is a part or member of a greater body, whereof the latter is in degree the greater and worthier because it tends to the conservation of a more general form".
(Advancement of Learning)
Delia was one of those interesting characters who are strong enough to sacrifice the good of what Bacon called the "private and particular nature" for what they assume to be the good of all. Such people are not always a social success. It is Pompey the Great, who in words which held a strange fascination for Lord Bacon, has given us her maxim. While engaged in relieving a famine, and advised by his friends not to hazard himself at sea, he had replied in the memorable words Necesse est ut eam, non ut vivam.*
But while duty was more precious to Delia than any private satisfaction she was not simply a dull and devoted slave. She could follow the eagle mind of Lord Bacon in some of its highest flights, especially in those distinctions between the good which is "communicative" and the good which is "private". She reminds us that he calls the private nature no hard names but simply urges us to treat it more scientifically. . . . . .
"As to man, his approach or assumption to Divine and Angelical nature is the perfection of his form, the error or false limitation of which is the tempest of human life."
Probably it was the integrity of Delia's character
which drew the admiration of men like Hawthorne and Emerson; the hack
critics of the periodical press, as Hawthorne calls them, were less
kind. Many were the kicks and few the ha'pence which her labours
earned for her. But before those kicks could find their mark
Providence had placed her beyond their reach, for by then she had
suffered a complete mental collapse. As might have been expected,
this was hailed by her critics as a kind of judgment. But in fact it
was due to a life of continued frustration, over-work and
* It is necessary that I go, not that I live."
Hawthorne with an obvious respect for the memory of the brilliant, thoughtful and passionate creature who had confided in him, and in wise and generous words, records Delia's failure from the point of view of literary craftsmanship:
"Without prejudice to her literary ability, it must be allowed that Miss Bacon was wholly unfit to prepare her own work for publication, because, among many other reasons, she was too thoroughly in earnest to know what to leave out. Every leaf and line was sacred, for all had been written under so deep a conviction of truth as to assume, in her eyes, the aspect of inspiration. A practised bookmaker, with entire control of her materials, would have shaped out a duodecimo volume full of eloquence and ingenious dissertation criticisms which quite take the colour and pungency out of other people's critical remarks on Shakespeare philosophic truths which she imagined herself to have found at the roots of his conceptions, and which certainly come from no inconsiderable depth somewhere. There was a great amount of rubbish, which any competent editor would have shovelled out of the way. But Miss Bacon thrust the whole bulk of inspiration and nonsense into the press in a lump, and there tumbled out a ponderous octavo volume, which fell with a dead thump at the feet of the public, and has never been picked up. A few persons turned over one or two of the leaves, as it lay there, and essayed to kick the volume deeper into the mud;* for they were the hack critics of the minor periodical press in London, than whom, I suppose, though doubtless excellent fellows in their way, there are no gentlemen in the world less sensible of any sanctity in a book, or less likely to recognize an author's heart in it, or more utterly careless about bruising, if they do recognize it. It is their trade. They could not do otherwise. I never thought of blaming them. It was not for such Englishmen as one of these to get beyond the idea that an assault was meditated on England's greatest poet. From the scholars and critics of her own country, indeed, Miss Bacon might have looked for a worthier appreciation, because many of the best of them have higher cultivation, and finer and deeper literary sensibilities, than all but the very profoundest and brightest of Englishmen. But they are not a courageous body of men; they dare not think a truth that has an odor of absurdity, lest they should feel themselves bound to speak it out. If any American ever wrote a word in her behalf, Miss Bacon never knew it, nor did I. Our journalists at once republished some of the most brutal vituperations of the English press thus pelting their poor countrywoman with stolen mud, without even waiting to know whether the ignominy was deserved. And they never have known it, to this day, and never will. . . . . . "
* In a recent B.B.C. broadcast entitled "The Consul and the Gifted Woman", Delia was treated with much condescension as a brilliant but "psychological" case. Her book, however, was kicked still deeper into the mud.
"Our Old Home" by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Hawthorne speaks feelingly. Alone of her countrymen he realised how little deserved this ignominy was, and he was generous enough to make a record of the fact. As to helping her editorially, he knew the hopelessness of this, for she would scarcely have tolerated the alteration of a single line. The preface to her book which he did write makes him in a sense her one and only champion, and he was not one to have undertaken this lightly. It is beautifully and fluently written, but apart from paying a tribute to her profound scholarship, he skilfully avoids the controversial issue. A further extract from the chapter already quoted will serve to illustrate his attitude. . . . . .
"I believe that it has been the fate of this remarkable book never to have had more than a single reader. I myself am acquainted with it only in insulated chapters and scattered pages and paragraphs. But since my return to America, a young man of genius and enthusiasm, has assured me that he has positively read the book from beginning to end, and is completely a convert to its doctrines. It belongs to him therefore, and not to me whom in almost the last letter that I received from her, she declared unworthy to meddle with her work it belongs surely to this one individual, who has done so much justice as to know what she wrote to place Miss Bacon in her due position before the public and posterity".*
If the shade of Delia Bacon could ask a boon of those who wrote in memory of her, it would be that they should put her work "The Philosophy of the Shakespeare Plays Unfolded"before herself. But there are great obstacles to the fluent reading of her book; one of these is her habit of referring to historical characters and authors, not by name, but by a sort of flippant post-impressionism. Montaigne is referred to variously as the "Gascon Philosopher," the "Philosopher of the Mountain", "Michael of the Mount," or "the Mayor of Bordeaux". Shakspere is "the old player", "the manager of the Globe theatre" and sometimes "Lord Leicester's Groom"!
To the reader whose knowledge of contemporary literature and Elizabethan history does not enable him to jump with Delia, the going is extremely hard. . . . . . . .
"Of course, it was perfectly competent for a Gascon whose gasconading was understood to be without any motive beyond that of vanity and egotism, and without any incidence to effects, to say, in the way of mere foolery many things which an English statesman could not then so well endorse. And in case his personality were called in question, there was the mountain to retreat to, and the saint of the mount, in whose behalf the goose is annually sacrificed by the English people, the saint under whose shield and name the great English philosopher sleeps."
By making us fly in this fashion from a small mountain in France to St. Michael's Church, St. Albans, Delia tends to obscure the real point of the paragraph, which is important. For Montaigne really does give us a clue to the Baconian rhetoric. The advantages which he seems to have enjoyed as a self-appointed gossip the "cap and bells" which he apparently assumed for discussing revolutionary ideas these things bring home to us the far more delicate position of Francis Bacon at the court of Elizabeth or James.
* Unfortunately this gentleman died young before attempting to fulfil the charge laid upon him.
They indicate what sort of disguise he would have to assume in order to avoid any direct collision with Authoritywhat kind of "weeds" he would need to wear, so that he could later confess:
"I have, though in a despised weed, procured the good of all men".
Now the good of all men, or Philanthropia, as he called it, was the mainspring of Bacon's life and peaceful purpose. But there is little to indicate what could have been this "despised weed", unless perchance it was the motley coat of Jaques. But do we really need to go to that solitary humorist (or to the Mayor of Bordeaux!) to see what sort of "Art or Delivery" would be required by men in the position of Bacon? "Motley's the only wear". The common touchthat was the only channel, by which philosophy could be brought down from the clouds, by which plain men could be reached. Self-appointed "do-gooders" were suspect even in Bacon's day; the play was the thing. Ariel was to be sent off on an errand to round up the actors.....
It was only by means of an art-form which would be intelligible to the crowd that any real progress could be made in philosophy. It was not that high ideals were lacking; they had been in the world for many ages. What was lacking, according to Bacon, was "the husbandry thereunto"a way of introducing and diffusing these idealsa way by which all men could share vicariously the joys, sufferings and experience of a Hotspur, a Falstaff or a Macbeth.
Books could only speak to those who could read. They could not bring the rabble here to this place. To do this it was necessary for all emotions, passions and mental states, all abstract principles such as rage, fear, cruelty, jealousy, ambition, honour, love, to be incarnated upon the stage. The "apparent" good of entertainment was to be the means of bringing men to the real good of their souls.
The Novum Organum, as Delia reminds us, was not invented simply for the purpose of examining such things as spiders' legs, although the author himself . . . . . . . .
"would not have disdained to put it to such use if he had had the time, and if his intention had not been so much distracted by the habits and history of that nobler kind of vermin which he found feeding on the commonweal and eating the heart out of it".
In those days, quite apart from the obvious need of useful scientific discoveries, there was an even greater need for the re-establishment of an Exemplar. The great religion of love had taken a disastrous slant, and the standards of human conduct were badly confused. The highest ministers and executives of the Holy Church were indulging in unrestrained cruelty, and neither protestants nor infidels were above such enormities. There was need to rebuild and re-establish a "Platform and Exemplar of Goodness".* There was imperative need for a system by which private benefit could be identified with service for the good of all. There was a requirement for a yardstick or pattern by which the self-regarding emotions could be judged, by which "Virtue herself could be seen." *
Bacon himself had reported this deficiency. Did he do anything more? It was Delia who saw, two and a half centuries later, that an attempt had actually been made to supply a small part of it with a Folio of thirty-six stage plays. It was not a bad start. It was not a bad way of holding up a mirror to the world,a graded series of Histories, Tragedies, Comedies, and Mysteries. And all these were no longer in the form of chronicles to be read only by the few, but transfigured into a form which could be witnessed by the many.
The double nature of goodness runs like a silver thread through the Shakespeare Plays, they are twice blessed. Rascals like Jack Falstaff, Fluellen, Pistol, Edmund, and Caliban, and even villains like Iago, Macbeth, and Richard III, can teach us more about our lesser selves than all the sermons in the world.
In the story of Delia Bacon we witness a surrender of all that life could offer for the sake of what she supposed to be a greater good. Whether this good existed only in her imagination, or whether it will one day become manifest, is a question we must leave to the reader. The answer will depend on his view of the purpose, if any, of the Shakespeare Plays. Were they written as a business propositiona private good or is it conceivable that the author, whoever he was, may have been commanded by a loftier motive? Were they the product of "untutored carefree genius", or were they written and re-written, twisted and altered for half a life-time to keep pace with the all-embracing mind of the greatest poet-philosopher since Plato?
To us there can be but one answer and it is that which Delia, after years of study succeeded in ravelling out. For she sought and found in this one great enterprise, not only the platform but the pattern of Goodness, and it became her guiding star. And when in order to follow it and complete her work, it became clear that she must leave her native America and live in penury and discomfort abroad, her independent New England spirit must have answered in some such words as those of Pompey the Great. "It is necessary that I go, not that I live".
* Advancement of Learning.
* Advancement of Learning.
"The Statesman's Notebook"
The political undercurrent of the Shakespeare Plays is seldom penetrated. With the exception of Delia Bacon, whose chapters "The Statesman's Notebook" and "The Popular Election" will repay study, few commentators seem to be concerned with the real purpose behind many of the plays, other than entertainment.
In 1817 Hazlitt hovered near the truth . . . . . . . .
"Coriolanus is a storehouse of political commonplaces. Anyone who studies it may save himself the trouble of reading Burke's reflections or Paine's rights of Man, or the debates in both houses of Parliament since the French Revolution or our own."
But Hazlitt offers no suggestion as to how the Stratford actor could have gained this experience, though this was to be the question which led a great statesman, Bismarck, to reject the orthodox tradition of authorship.
The authenticated facts of the actor's life throw no light whatever on this problem. The story of his life as we have it, obliges his admirers to admit that he wrote for "business" reasons, and that his art was sublimely unconscious, a simple out-pouring of genius, "the native warbling of woodnotes wild". Any services to Civilisation or to the evolution of the human mind are therefore regarded as incidental rather than deliberate. Thus, at a recent international gathering at Stratford, the "political thinking" in the plays is naïvely attributed to "the early influence of Stratford-on-Avon", while the "human" content of the Roman plays is referred to the actor's "private experience of organic life in a small community". One can almost hear the contemptuous grunt of Bismarck at this view of the Statesman's Notebook!
Commentators of a more aesthetic turn of mind are sometimes repelled by the idea of "intentions" in Art; although one intention certainly does emerge from the actor's biography and is quite inescapable. If he wrote the plays at all, he wrote them for gain, and when he had made enough he started business as a small trader. Returning to his native village he seems to have occupied himself for a good many years in "cornering" malt and in suing impoverished neighbours for small sums "lent," like the good business man he was!
To Delia Bacon (as to others, among whom are numbered Lord Palmerston, Disraeli, Cardinal Newman, Walt Whitman, John Bright, A. P. Sinnett, Emerson and Bismarck) all this did not "add up". It was impossible to marry these unfortunate facts to the supposed authorship of some thirty-six plays clearly exhibiting the qualities of statesman, lawyer, philosopher and poet. On the contrary, the facts rather suggest that the actor's consent to a certain subterfuge was bought for cash, and that he probably drove a hard bargain. Greene's "upstart crow"* plainly suggests that he profited by the work of others, and was probably a play-broker. It is also credibly reported that he "was indeed honest". But none of these qualities account for the ripeness of political experience exhibited in the plays, quite apart from the poetry and philosophy. So a host of conjectures as to his "probable" education have been included in his biography without supporting evidence of any kind.
Every student of Shakespeare is sooner or later confronted with these anomalies and must make his choice. Accepting the unwelcome life story of the actor because he must, he can either accept or reject him as author of the plays. Delia Bacon felt compelled to reject him, and to look among his contemporaries for this elusive master-mind. It was the political sagacity expressed in the plays which, more than anything else, lead her to adopt Lord Bacon as the principal author. She found Coriolanus to be a deliberate and pre-meditated lesson in politics and sociology, crowded from first to last "with a political learning which has no match in letters, or the world would be in better case than it is". She found in it the "new philosophic statesman's ripest lore, the patient fruits of observation strange".
When a popular idol or a vested interest is called in question, there are bound to be differences of opinion. The same differences existed among the men of letters with whom Delia Bacon originally discussed her theory. The kindly and personally sympathetic Carlyle was quite unable to relinquish his "Idol of the Theatre". Emerson, on the other hand, faced the facts coolly, and his dictum that of a very profound thinkeris not far from that of Bismarck . . . . . "an obscure and profane life . . . . . I cannot marry this fact to his verse". This is the candour of the true critic, but when will such candour prevail?
There are signs that this may happen before long. At the recent gathering at Stratford, Mr. H. J. Oliver of Sidney, in a most interesting paper, described the real theme of Coriolanus as . . . . . "the proper place in a democratic or would-be democratic society of the pure aristocrat who, rightly or wrongly, will never compromise"a theme which, as he points out, required a considerable deviation from Plutarch. This is a very searching criticism because it implies a deliberate alteration to a classical story to meet the needs of a new dramatic purpose. It comes close to Delia Bacon's interpretation of a century ago, but takes no account of the strong compelling motive necessary to force such a theme on to the stage or into print in those despotic days.
* "Groatsworth of Wit".
As it happens Coriolanus was neither printed nor acted until the actor had been dead seven years. Whoever wrote it had become so steeped in the theory of the blood-circulation (cf . . . . . the Harvey Lectures 1616/8) as to be able to write it into the speech of Menenius Agrippa in Act I. in illustration of a political theory:
". . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Note me this, good friend;
Your most grave belly was deliberate,
Not rash like his accusers, and thus answered;
'True it is, my incorporate friends' quoth he,
'That I receive the general food at first
Which you do live upon; and fit it is,
Because I am the store-house and the shop
Of the whole body: but, if you do remember,
Even to the court, the heart, to the seat o' the brain;
And, through the cranks and offices of man,
From me receive that natural competency
Whereby they live . . . . . . . . . . ."
This speech, and the context which so carefully frames it, is quite a curiosity of literature. It usually arouses the interest of medical men, whatever their private views as to the authorship. But if Bacon wrote the play, not only would he have made it such a repository of political wisdom, garnered in half a life-time in the House of Commons (thus satisfying Hazlitt's criticism), but his friendship with Harvey as Court Physician would have placed him in the best position to illustrate his political and social thinking in this technical and picturesque way.
Let it not be thought that by stressing these underlying intentions of the author we seek in any way to disparage the excellent work of modern critics. The Prefaces of Granville-Barker and the interpretations of Colin Still, Wilson Knight, and Mark van Doren, do much to deepen our interest in Shakespeare. On Coriolanus both latter critics draw attention to the "political thinking", but without attempting any explanation of the authorship, which is discreetly left in the air. The candour, the quixotry, and perhaps even the courage of Delia Bacon are lacking. Nevertheless these are criticisms of a high order, and indirectly they support her theory. Thus Mark van Doren:
"The political 'meaning' of the play is considerably less simple than it may seem. If it has to do with the difference between the many and the one, that difference is viewed from both directions. The many, the Roman mob, are criticised without mercy, but so is Coriolanus as the one. The Tribunes of the people are convicted of his pride, and there is something in Volumnia's charge that it is they, rather than he, by whom the rabble become incensed. Certainly they are represented as dishonest demagogues, and their complete wrongness with respect to the possibility of an attack from Aufidius renders them as statesmen contemptible. The mob, as usual in Shakespeare, behaves badly, and even permits one of its members to castigate its many-headedness."
" . . . . . . Aufidius presents the summary . . . . . . . but the fact that it is not especially characteristic of the speaker, reminds us that Shakespeare has been writing the kind of play which needs such anomalies. The kind of play which calls on its characters to say what it meansto do in other words the author's workmay be admirable, as Coriolanus is, but it cannot be attractive".
It is hard to believe that, in writing these words, Mark van Doren had not detected in this play a political instrument of the kind discerned by Delia Bacon. A shorter passage from Granville-Barker's interesting Preface to "Julius Cæsar" confirms the view that something is still left unexplained . . . . . .
"But Shakespeare will never be too sure that he understands these Romans. He does not instinctively know their minds as he knew Henry's or Hotspur's or Falstaff's. He is even capable of transcribing a fine-sounding passage from Plutarch and making something very like nonsense out of it . . . . . . . Casca, raw from Plutarch, has mettle enough to ride off with a scene or two. Decius Brutus, Ligarius, Lucilius are lifted whole from his pages . . . . . . . But Brutus, Cassius and Anthony, though he found them alive, he must set out to re-create on his own terms . . . . . . . Collaborating with Plutarch he can be critic and creator too . . . . . "
The critic here discreetly begs the question. To say that Shakespeare understood the English mind better than the Roman mind is very probably true, but it is beside the point. The real point is that some of his Romans are lifted whole from the pages of Plutarch while others (usually the most important ones) are deftly manipulated so as to embody the underlying purpose of the play.
Wilson Knight concentrates more on the artistic construction of the plays. The great charm of his essays is in their vivid reminders of the different forms of imagery employed for different effects, moral, political, or erotic. On Coriolanus he writes as follows:
"Notice the metallic suggestion; the 'city gate', the 'din' which pierces 'sense' . . . . . . and a fine hyperbole of Coriolanus 'striking' the whole town with planetary impact . . . . . . . This is our grim protagonist. So he charges through the action like a steel-headed spear".
"Nature-images point us to the same thought. They both contrast with our metallic images, preparing us for the love-victory later, and point the natural excellence of our hero . . . . . Thus there is a continual contrast between the strong and weak things in nature . . . . . . . directly or indirectly related to the Coriolanus-Plebeian opposition".
"The play does not emphasise directly the conflict of parties, but rather the birth of conflicting individual prides dragging parties asunder".
The last sentence, which I have italicised, is a wonderful commentary not only on this play, but on the international and industrial problems of to-day. What greater barrier than that of "conflicting prides" comes between employers and unions? Only when this egocentric emotion is raised to the table of inquiry of the mind and successfully counter-balanced by a more altruistic emotion, will there by any lasting peace.
Much of Delia Bacon's work consists in indicating how social and political problems were raised and discussed in the Shakespeare Plays without becoming a subject of official inquiry. It was "contact" work of a most ingenious kind. For however revolutionary the ideas expressed, it was hard to institute proceedings against an elusive playwright whose reading of Roman history was so profound that he could draw these novel ideas so glibly from the lips of his dramatis personae. And if, as Delia Bacon suggests, these profound speculations came from a master-mind controlling a group of "good pens", it was all the more difficult to lay the author by the heels.
A charming story recorded by Bacon himself leads us to suppose that Queen Elizabeth may have recognised this when she fenced with him over the authorship of Richard II, to which she most strongly objected. The story leaves us in the dark as to what finally happened; though if her Majesty saw through the "Tacitus" mystification,* she apparently took no action against Bacon, who was probably too useful, nor apparently against his mask. But Hayward, who wrote the prose version of Richard II, was imprisoned in the Tower for many years, and henceforward the Plays were no longer anonymous, except in a few re-prints.
The name "Shakespere", which had been used four years earlier as signing the dedications of the two classical poems,* re-appeared in 1598 on the title-pages of the second editions of Richard II and Richard III, as "William Shake-speare", and also on the first edition of Love's Labour's Lost as "W. Shakespere". The latter play, with its clear reference to the court of Navarre, must have left the Queen in no doubt as to the author, for had she not sent the young Francis Bacon into that glittering company at an age when he was in revolt against the philosophy of Aristotle? In Love's Labour's Lost pedantry is satirized and classical philosophy humanized by the delights of living and loving in France. In Mark van Doren's words, it is Shakespeare's most artificial play, but it ends with his most natural song.
But it is from the Roman plays of Julius Caesar and Coriolanus, and from King Lear, that Delia Bacon draws most of the "instances" which support her theory. Coriolanus as an example of Bacon's "Predominant Instances" seems to be a remarkable good shot. In this play she sees represented the inevitable collision between Civil Interests (as we understand them to-day) and "those more personal interests which the heroic ages had enthroned"; the collision between that kind of government which the unlearned masses will always re-create, if power is placed in their hands, and the kind of government which enlightened man "in a better hour" will always demand.
We can see the continuation of this struggle in its later stages to-day. The struggle between real democracy and totalitarianism; between democratic law and dictatorship, whether by one man or by a "union." For, as the author of Coriolanus so clearly foresaw, it is the "popular election" which can so easily become the "Monster of the multitude", usurping the seat of the ancient tyrant.
* See Bacon's Apophthegms, No. 58 (22).
* Venus and Adonis 1593 and Tarquin and Lucrece 1594.
"When daisies pied and violets blue ."
All great Unions and Communities in the world to-day are learning the lesson of Coriolanus. Despotism, when disguised as the many-headed monster of the masses, can show itself to be more tyrannical, more cruel and unforgiving, than the ancient military chieftain. The free expression of individual thought ought never to be inhibited. We owe this to our Elizabethan forebears who, scorning the block, the stake, and the gallows (as Delia so constantly reminds us), contrived to raise so many questions to the "Table of Inquiry". The Police State, pursued to its logical conclusion, becomes the ant-hill; a magnificent piece of organization no doubt, but one in which evolution must slow down and cease, because the evolutionary principle itself has been sacrificed. This is the blind alley which eternally threatens civilisation. The automatism of all self-perpetuating forms of government spread like a cancer; and sharp surgery is sometimes necessary. The dictator and the "union" must alike be prepared to go, cap-in-hand, like Coriolanus to the market, cost what it may to their pride. Only thus can the "popular election" become purged and re-dedicated.
To Delia Bacon it seemed obvious that the author of the Folio had looked into the future of the race and had seen how much violence could be avoided if men could be brought to "weigh and consider". As the Poet of the New Age, he had tried to draw up the Agenda for the New Age in a series of unique stage plays. Through his method of "lively representation,"* he hoped people would learn something of the nature of desires and emotions, controlled or uncontrolled by the mind . . . . . .
"Therefore brave conquerors for so you are
That war against your own affections
And the huge army of the world's desires".
(Love's Labour's Lost)
If the words of this poet had been truly heeded this lesson might have been more harmlessly and bloodlessly learnt by the method of "literate experience," within the framework of an imagined dramatic universe, instead of so painfully on the field of battle.
In the play of Coriolanus the whole question of dictatorship is scientifically treated, be it the dictatorship of the warrior or the dictatorship of the proletariat. Under the guise of an historical impersonation, "under the mask of an old Roman hero," it is really the heroic forms of our own Elizabethan age which steal upon the stage. In Delia Bacon's charming phrase, "The Theatre is indeed the Globe"even the great globe
Coriolanus II, 3.
* Advancement of Learning.
cf. Bacon's "Experientia Literata."
itself while these dim foreshadowings of a more enlightened rule are beginning to take shape.
". . . . . . . . . . . . . . so our virtues
Lie in the interpretation of the times".
It was only under the cover of that "old rusty Roman helmet" that these revolutionary thoughts could be uttered. It was not simply the distinction between aristocracy and democracy, it concerned a far more radical distinction, the difference between "the Civil magistracy which represented the Roman people", and that "unconstitutional popular power which the popular tyranny will always re-create", once the power is placed in its hands. This is the substance of Delia Bacon's most searching criticism, and it vitally concerns the industrial and national troubles of to-day. In her own words,
"No plea at the bar was ever more finely and eloquently laboured . . . . . It was at the bar of Foreign Nations and the Next Ages that this defence was prepared. And the speaker who speaks so pressly is the lawyer, so there is nothing left unsaid at last".
So does Delia find her way to the author, to the speaker who speaks so "pressly",as Ben Jonson wrote of Francis Bacon. The play of Coriolanus shows the aristocrat in every line. But it is an aristocrat who had served a life apprenticeship in the Commons; one who, while holding the commonweal at heart, could still express the nobler and finer feelings of a prince. For here on the stage is the struggle of pride and selfish ambition ranged against the common weal; but here also (as Delia points out) is the aristocrat who contends for the commonweal, against "the narrowness and short-sightedness of the multitude".
To Delia the Spirit of English Renaissance expresses itself through two pens, outwardly labelled Bacon and Shakespeare. But when both are studied together the identity of purpose makes it impossible to believe that these two pens were unacquainted with one another, that the right hand did not know what the left was doing.
Even Gervinus recognizes this identity . . . . . .
"Scarcely can anything be said of Shakespeare's position generally with regard to mediæval poetry which does not bear upon the position of the Renovator Bacon with regard to mediæval philosophy. Neither knew nor mentioned the other, although Bacon was almost called upon to have done so in his remarks upon the theatre of his day . . . . . . ."
Just as Shakespeare went from instance to instance in his judgment of moral actions, and never founded a law on single experience, so did Bacon in Natural Science . . . . . . ."
How is it possible to penetrate this identity of plan and purpose, and still be content to believe that Bacon and Shakespeare living in Elizabethan London at the same time did not know each other? But perhaps Gervinus, as a foreigner, may be credited with treating this dilemma with silent tact.
Although modern Shakespearean criticism is making advances, it is not yet attempting to come closer to the author. Rather is it postponing that inevitable recognition. The gold in the plays is becoming understood as never before as it was never understood by more than a handful of the author's contemporaries. But the mine from which that gold is quarried from the Ancient Wisdom to the House of Commons only reveals itself to the true Pioneer, to such a one as Delia.
"Tragedy or Comedy?"
The great gift of civilisation, the relief of man's estate on earth the "commonweal" as Francis Bacon liked to call itwas the inspiration and peaceful purpose of his life. So also was it the inspiration of Delia, working alone in her self-chosen isolation. She too was possessed of a prophetic soul, dreaming on things to come, but it was geared to an over-sensitive mind which shrank from practical politics. As long as her book could be preserved for posterity, it was no concern of hers to make it more intelligible to the ordinary reader. Unlike her master, she made no concessions at all, no relief, no effort to enter the mind "obliquely", no effort to avoid splintering her lance on the towers of convention, credulity and vested interest. Her theory was indeed a legitimate challenge to orthodox scholarship; but her book, marred by a missionary zeal which could find no other outlet, became almost unreadable. Nevertheless, there is to be found in it a vein of pure gold.
The distinction between a visionary who was compelled to work in solitude, and one like Bacon who went forth boldly to fashion the world in the time of his vision, may be noted in their letters . . . .
(From Bacon to Lord Burleigh, circa 1592)
"Lastly, I confess that I have as vast contemplative ends, as I have moderate civil ends; for I have taken all knowledge to be my province; and if I could purge it of two sorts of rovers, whereof the one with frivolous disputations and verbosities, the other with blind experiments and auricular traditions and impostures, hath committed so many spoils I hope I should bring in industrious observations, grounded conclusions, and profitable inventions . . . This is so fixed in my mind as it cannot be removed. And I do easily see, that PLACE of any reasonable countenance doth bring commandment of more wits than of a man's own; which is the thing I greatly affect."
Here are the indications of political savoir faire, of executive ability and leadership, of getting the best out of others, which Delia in her solitude was in no position to exercise. During the years 1851 to 1857 when writing her book, she seems to have been living in a prolonged state of meditation, quite oblivious of personal discomforts and shabby surroundings for months on end. Some of the letters she wrote during this period show how great was the reward of peace and calm while this meditative state persisted and her research was going forward . . . .
From D.B. (at St. Albans) to Emerson.
"I am enabled to stay here so long, in consequence of having reduced my expenses as soon as I resolved upon this course. The money that I brought with me, which was supposed to be only enough for the first summer, was spun out by this process till the close of the second; and now that I have begun to encroach upon the very ample sum allotted for my return, I am more prudent than ever . . . . . . and as I think only of finishing my work, and have no other future, and this is enough and more than enough for that purpose, I do not see why I should spend so large a sum merely for the sake of being in America. . . . . . I have some beloved friends there, but my life was finished some time ago in every other respect but this; and as this is the world's work and not mine that I am doing, I suppose the expense of it will have to be paid in some way.
"So I do not trouble myself about it, and am as happy as the day is long, and only wish I lived in Herschel or Jupiter or some of those larger worlds, where it would not be time to go to bed just as one gets fairly awake, and begins to be in earnest a little. I have lived here nearly a year, and have not spoken to one of the natives yet, except by accident; but I have not felt my solitude. It has been a year of sunshine with me; the harvest of many years of toil and weeping. I cannot tell you what pleasures I have had here. This poor perturbed spirit, that had left its work undone, and would not leave me alone till it had brought me here, seems satisfied at last. My work has ceased to be burdensome to me; I find in it a rest such as no one else can ever know, I think, except in heaven. But that is not saying that the world will be pleased with it. I hope it will not disappoint the expectation of those who have made themselves responsible for it, in any manner; and, above all, I hope that you will like it, and will have no occasion to regret it.
"It has been a great and constant help to me to have two such friends as yourself and Carlyle interested in it. Carlyle is as good and kind as he can be. He is very much troubled about my being here so long alone."
--D.B. to Hawthorne.
"If it were anything in the world but what it is is a science that the world is waiting for, I could not do and suffer what I have done and suffered on its behalf. I ought not to hesitate at all to ask for all the help I need in it, for it is a work which the Providence of the world has imposed on me, and I have cast into its treasury not only all the living that I had, such as it was, but my life also . . . . . "
But she did hesitate to ask for the help she needed; and although she cast her life into the scales, that momentous "science"that science of the soul and affections which the author of The Great Instauration had mapped out, and for the recognition of which she had laboured so devotedly that science was to lie untouched and rejected for at least another century. This mercifully she was not to know. But after her work was finished, and when she was utterly exhausted, a terrible ordeal was to come upon her. From her sick-bed in the comfortable lodgings of Mrs. Terrett, where she might have slowly recovered her health, she rose too soon and went forth recklessly to face the midnight hour in the old church at Stratford-on-Avon, imbued with some vague notion of raising the stone of Will Shaxpere's grave. No more vivid description of this last scene, and of the dreadful onset of doubt and indecision which then assailed her, can be given than in the words of Hawthorne himself . . . . .
"Months before that (the publication of the book) happened, however, Miss Bacon had taken up her residence at Stratford-on-Avon, drawn thither by the magnetism of those rich secrets which she supposed to have been hidden by Raleigh, or Bacon, or I know not whom, in Shakespeare's grave, and protected there by a curse, as pirates used to bury their gold in the guardianship of a fiend. She took a humble lodging and began to haunt the church like a ghost. But she did not condescend to any stratagem or underhand attempt to violate the grave, which, had she been capable of admitting such an idea, might possibly have been accomplished by the aid of a resurrection-man. As her first step, she made acquaintance with the clerk, and began to sound him as to the feasibility of her enterprise and his own willingness to engage in it. The clerk apparently listened with not unfavourable ears; but as his situation (which the fees of pilgrims, more numerous than at any Catholic shrine, render lucrative) would have been forfeited by any malfeasance in office, he stipulated for liberty to consult the vicar. Miss Bacon requested to tell her own story to the reverend gentleman, and seems to have been received by him with the utmost kindness, and even to have succeeded in making a certain impression on his mind as to the desirability of the search. As their interview had been under the seal of secrecy, he asked permission to consult a friend, who, as Miss Bacon either found out or surmised, was a practitioner of the law. What the legal friend advised she did not learn; but the negotiation continued, and certainly was never broken off by an absolute refusal on the vicar's part. He, perhaps, was kindly temporizing with our poor countrywoman, whom an Englishman of ordinary mould would have sent to a lunatic asylum at once. I cannot help fancying, however, that her familiarity with the events of Shakespeare's life, and of his death and burial (of which she would speak as if she had been present at the edge of the grave) and all the history, literature and personalities of the Elizabethan age, together with the prevailing power of her own belief, and the eloquence with which she knew how to enforce it, had really gone some little way toward making a convert of the good clergyman. If so, I honour him above all the hierarchy of England.
The affair certainly looked very hopeful. However erroneously, Miss Bacon had understood from the vicar that no obstacles would be interposed to the investigation, and that he himself would sanction it with his presence. It was to take place after nightfall; and all preliminary arrangements being made, the vicar and clerk professed to wait only her word in order to set about lifting the awful stone from the sepulchre. So, at least, Miss Bacon believed; and as her bewilderment was entirely in her own thoughts, and never disturbed her perception or accurate remembrance of external things, I see no reason to doubt it, except it be the tinge of absurdity in the fact. But, in this apparently prosperous state of things, her own convictions began to falter. A doubt stole into her mind whether she might have mistaken the depository and mode of concealment of those historic treasures; and after admitting the doubt, she was afraid to hazard the shock of uplifting the stone and finding nothing. She examined the surface of the gravestone, and endeavored, without stirring it, to estimate whether it were of such thickness as to be capable of containing the archives of the Elizabethan "club". She went over anew the proofs, the clues, the enigmas, the pregnant sentences which she had discovered in Bacon's letters and elsewhere, and now was frightened to perceive that they did not point so definitely to Shakespeare's tomb as she had heretofore supposed. There was an unmistakably distinct reference to a tomb, but it might be Bacon's, or Raleigh's, or Spenser's; and instead of the "Old Player", as she profanely called him, it might be either of those three illustrious dead, poet, warrior, or statesman, whose ashes, in Westminster Abbey, or the Tower burial ground, or wherever they sleep, it was her mission to disturb. It is very possible, moreover, that her acute mind may always have had a lurking and deeply latent distrust of its own fantasies, and that this now became strong enough to restrain her from a decisive step.
But she continued to hover around the Church, and seems to have had full freedom of entrance in the day time, and special license on one occasion at least, at a late hour of the night. She went thither with a dark lantern, which could but twinkle like a glow-worm through the volume of obscurity that filled the great dusky edifice. Groping her way up the aisle and towards the chancel, she sat down on the elevated part of the pavement above Shakespeare's grave. If the divine poet really wrote the inscription there, and cared as much about the quiet of his bones as its deprecatory earnestness would imply, it was time for those crumbling relics to bestir themselves under her sacrilegious feet. But they were safe. She made no attempt to disturb them; though, I believe, she looked narrowly into the crevices between Shakespeare's and the two adjacent stones, and in some way satisfied herself that her single strength would suffice to lift the former, in case of need. She threw the feeble ray of her lantern up towards the bust, but could not make it visible beneath the darkness of the vaulted roof. Had she been subject to superstitious terrors, it is impossible to conceive of a situation that could better entitle her to feel them, or, if Shakespeare's ghost would rise at any provocation, it must have shown itself then; but it is my sincere belief, that, if his figure had appeared within the scope of her dark-lantern, in his slashed doublet and gown, and with his eyes bent on her beneath the high, bald forehead, just as we can see him in the bust, she would have met him fearlessly and controverted his claims to the authorship of the plays to his very face. She had taught herself to contemn "Lord Leicester's groom" (it was one of her disdainful epithets for the world's incomparable poet) so thoroughly, that even his disembodied spirit would hardly have found civil treatment at Miss Bacon's hands.
Her vigil, though it appears to have had no definite object, continued far into the night. Several times she heard a low movement in the aisles; a stealthy dubious footfall prowling about in the darkness, now here, now there, among the pillars and ancient tombs, as if some restless inhabitant of the latter had crept forth to peep at the intruder. By and by the clerk made his appearance, and confessed that he had been watching her ever since she entered the church.
About this time it was that a strange sort of weariness seems to have fallen upon her; her toil was all but done, her great purpose, as she believed, on the very point of accomplishment, when she began to regret that so stupendous a mission had been imposed on the fragility of a woman. Her faith in the new philosophy was as mighty as ever, and so was her confidence in her own adequate development of it, now about to be given to the world; yet she wished, or fancied so, that it might never have been her duty to achieve this unparalleled task, and to stagger feebly forward under her immense burden of responsibility and renown. So far as her personal concern in the matter went, she would gladly have forfeited the reward of her patient study and labor for so many years, her exile from her country and estrangement from her family and friends, her sacrifice of health and all other interests to this one pursuit, if she could only find herself free to dwell in Stratford and be forgotten. She liked the slumbrous old town, and awarded the only praise that ever I knew her to bestow on Shakespeare, the individual man, by acknowledging that his taste in a residence was good, and that he knew how to choose a suitable retirement for a person of shy but general temperament. And at this point, I cease to possess the means of tracing her vicissitudes of feeling any further. In consequence of some advice which I fancied it my duty to tender, as being the only confidant, whom she now had in the world, I fell under Miss Bacon's most severe and passionate displeasure, and was cast off by her in the twinkling of an eye. It was a misfortune to which her friends were always particularly liable; but I think that none of them ever loved, or even respected, her most ingenuous and noble, but likewise most sensitive and tumultuous character, the less for it."
Here is a tragedy with almost a touch of the grotesque. As Hawthorne laconically observes, even the ghostly apparition of the "Old Player" would have quite failed to shake Delia's controversion of its claims. Her story, like that of King Lear, recalls that intriguing double entry in Francis Bacon's notebook of 1594.*
Delia's self-sacrifice is bound to seem senseless to those who, for conventional reasons, decline to recognise that a great problem of literature and philosophy is still unsolved. Her critics have seldom read her book, and it is doubtful if they possess the same intimate knowledge of the subject. It cannot therefore be required of her to submit to
* Promus: Folio 93. British Museum.
"Ijsdem e'literis efficitur tragaedia et comedia . . .
Tragedies and Comedies are made of one alphabet".
the judgment of the very Court which she herself called in question. All who knew her were impressed by her knowledge and command of her subject. Hawthorne, in his preface to her book, closes on a note of genuine admiration . . . . .
" . . . . after listening to the author's interpretation of the Plays, and seeing how wide a scope she assigns to them, how high a purpose, and what richness of inner meaning, the thoughtful reader will hardly return againnot wholly, at all eventsto the common view of them and their author. It is for the public to say whether my countrywoman has proved her theory. In the worst event, if she has failed, her failure will be more honorable than most people's triumphs; since it must fling upon the old tombstone, at Stratford-on-Avon, the noblest tributary wreath that has ever lain there."
In later life Hawthorne expands the same happy thought . . . . .
"What she may have suffered before her intellect gave way, we had better not try to imagine. No author had ever hoped so confidently as she; none ever failed more utterly.
A superstitious fancy might suggest that the anathema on Shakespeare's tombstone had fallen heavily on her head in requital of even the unaccomplished purpose of disturbing the dust beneath, and that the 'Old Player' had kept so quietly in his grave, on the night of her vigil, because he foresaw how soon and terribly he would be avenged. But if that benign spirit takes any care or cognizance of such things now, he had surely requited the injustice that she sought to do him the high justice that she really did by a tenderness of love and pity of which only he could be capable. What matters it though she called him by some other name? He had wrought a greater miracle on her than on all the world besides. This bewildered enthusiast had recognized a depth in the man whom she decried, which scholars, critics, and learned societies devoted to the elucidation of his unrivalled scenes, had never imagined to exist there. She had paid him the loftiest honor that all these ages of renown have been able to accumulate upon his memory. And when, not many months after the outward failure of her life long object, she passed into the better world, I know not why we should hesitate to believe that the immortal poet may have met her on the threshold and led her in, reassuring her with friendly and comfortable words, and thanking her (yet with a smile of gentle humor in his eyes at the thought of certain mistaken speculations) for having interpreted him to mankind so well."
It is hard to be critical of so fine a passage as this. But while it pays tribute to the exceptional talents and insight of Delia it covers and smooths over with a kindly and well-intended veneer the very cracks and flaws in the popular tradition which she had tried so hard to expose. The real author of the plays, in whom she had recognised so great a depth, was not "the man she decried". Hawthorne, if he had ever read her book, had not quite understood it. On the possibility of an Elizabethan secret brotherhood, led by such men as Bacon, Raleigh and Sidney, he has no comment to make. It is to the "Old Player" that he automatically returnsa dummy that he must invest with that "smile of gentle humour" at the thought of Delia's mistaken speculations.
The persistence of the Stratford legend is proverbial; it is now almost a secular creed. It was hopeless for Delia, in the middle of the Victorian age, to suggest that tradition might be wrong. Tradition was not then a matter to be discussed upon evidence, it was sacrosanct, and to challenge it was an affront to polite society.
There is a very good psychological reason why orthodox scholarship is so concerned to repudiate any suggestion of Lord Bacon's connection with Shake-speare. This is to protect the Bard (whom all admire, whoever he was) from the stigma of Lord Bacon's supposed corruption, which they in their ignorance take for granted. It matters not that he was beloved and respected by the greatest of his time, that Raleigh admired him, that Ben Jonson reverenced him as "the greatest man that had been in many ages" and that Falkland and Herbert loved him. It suffices for his detractors that Edward Coke envied and hated him, that D'Ewes, Weldon, Wilson and Macaulay (discredited witnesses all) have traduced and libelled him. The difficulty in which men of letters, jealous of their professional honour, were placed in accepting or rejecting Bacon, did not escape the discerning eye of Delia . . . .
"But a great man, consciously great, who knows that his most trifling letter is liable to publication; a man of fame, writing letters expressly for publication, and dedicating them to the far-off times; a man of poetic sensibilities, alive to the finest shades of moral differences; one of unparalleled dignity and grandeur of aims pursued from youth to age, without wavering, to their successful issue; a man whose aim in life it was to advance, and ennoble, and enrich his kind; such a one sending down along with the works in which the nobility and grandeur of his ends are proved, memorials of himself which exhibit on the surface of them, the most odious character in history; this is the phenomenon which our men of learning have found themselves called upon to encounter here."
"To separate the man and the philosopher to fly out upon the man, to throw him overboard with every expression of animosity and disgust, to make him out as bad as possible, to collect diligently every scrap of evidence against him, and set it forth with every conceivable aggravation this has been the recourse of an indignant scholarship, bent on uttering its protest in some form."
Those who must still continue monotonously to thump the big drum of Macaulay, should read these lines. For there have been men in the world who, in seeking all knowledge were content to remain relatively unknown, and who undetected by all but a few, constantly sought the sacrifice before the feast. Of this great company was Francis Bacon.
In his service to the Commonweal Lord Bacon had made good use of both masks, tragic and comic, but always with an inclination to the more benign extreme. Delia, also with much humour at her command seems to have been impelled rather towards the tragic; and the last scene of this tragi-comedy was, in the words of Theodore Bacon, as dramatic as any . . . .
"There came to England late in March, on his rapid way homeward by what was called the "Overland Route," from a two years' cruise in an American frigate in the China Seas, one of the sons the one best beloved by all who knew him of her eldest brother. He was a young man not yet twenty-two years of age; and as he hurried in the eagerness of youthful home-sickness, unwilling to spare an hour even for the delights of the England which he had never seen, he remembered nevertheless the relative whom he had heard to be somewhere there, alone, but of whose sickness and distraction he had heard nothing. Finding that she had been at Stratford, he hastened there, and was shocked to learn where she was, and in what condition. Without opportunity to consult those who had authority to act or advise, the young man assumed the responsibility which rested nowhere else in England. He surrendered the passage homeward already engaged for himself; delayed his departure a week, and took with him, when he embarked for home, the unhappy woman who had known him in childhood, and to whom when he appeared to her at Henley, a thousand pleasant recollections of her earlier years came up to dispel the hallucinations which had possessed her."
Admittedly she was then a helpless case, in a private mental home in the Forest of Arden. But up to the time of her breakdown, she had been as charming and as sane as any single minded and devoted person could be. The delightful letter, full of quiet humour, written to Mrs. Hawthorne in August 1856* bears ample witness to this. How else could she have commanded the respect and admiration of Emerson, Carlyle, Hawthorne, and the kindly vicar of the Stratford Church? These were men of discernment, each of whom was willing to befriend and encourage her, and to respect her knowledge and erudition. So certain was she of the importance of her discovery, and of the overwhelming evidence which would one day support it, that she could write such intensely Baconian words as these in the conclusion to her book . . . .
"The demonstrated fact must stand. The true mind must receive it. Because our learning is not equal to the task of reconciling it with that which we know already, or with that which we believe we knew, we must not on that account reject it. That is to hurt ourselves. That is to destroy the principle of integrity at its source . . . . The truth of history is, in its least particular, of a universal quality, and is much more potent than anything that the opinion and will of man can oppose to it."
"To the mind which is able to receive under all conditions the demonstrated truth, and give to it its full weight to the mind to which truth is religion this book is dedicated."
In writing these eloquent words Delia Bacon, to whom truth was clearly religion, intended no disparagement of those to whom some degree of make-believe is necessary, to whom the truth is often less important than the story. For it was our poet-philosopher himself who had recourse to make-believe, who taught spiritual and philosophical truth by means of "feigned histories". For he well knew the particular value of fiction, he well knew that this same truth, of which Delia speaks so fervently, "is a naked and open daylight that doth not show the masks, and mummeries, and triumphs of the world, half so stately and daintily as candlelights."
And if, peradventure, he still sits as he used to sit, chin in hand, gazing into some New Atlantis of the future, and watching with a smile the masks and mummeries and triumphs of his greatest fiction of all that colossal "idol of the theatre" at Stratford it may be that he will forgive those whose academic position demands allegiance to popular tradition and vested interest. Policy, wrote Bacon, is of all things the most "immersed".
The Stratford Memorial Theatre, now adorning the slumbrous old town that Delia knew, is a product of policy and finance. But our national drama has earlier progenitors, earlier even than the "Bard". It is to restore an awareness of its real antecedentsthe Ancient Mysteriesthat we raise the curtain once more on Delia. For whatever we may
* Quoted in Chapter II.
think of her over-complicated "Whodunnit", there is a deeper message here. A whisper wakes; a faint zephyr from Eleusis blows down the ages at her beckoning. No one who has tested this rarefied air can return, not whole-heartedly at least, to the bank-side player who made his pile, and chose usury as the hobby of his retirement.
While the comedy continues, the writer of this memoir seeks to supplement on the mental plane the rescue work begun a century ago by a young Lieutenant of the United States Navy returning west-about from Japan. It was thanks to him that his extraordinary Aunt returned to America instead of ending her days in an asylum at Henley-in-Arden. It was due to him that a cross of brown stone in the old burial ground at New Haven marks the point at which for Delia, compounds were resolved. And just as Lieutenant George Blagden Bacon, U.S.N., restored the failing body of his distraught relative to her native land, so does the present writer desire to restore the unique quality of the mind to the consideration of those to whom it belongs. For it is a part of the Divine Comedy that vital truth shall often become entangled with laughable absurdity, and that those who aspire to disentangle the same themselves be laughed at Tragedies and Comedies are made of one alphabet.
It is questionable whether more than a tithe of the real meaning, scope and purpose of Lord Bacon's great effort for civilization has yet been understood. King James I, a man of considerable erudition, and others as well informed as Spedding have confessed themselves baffled. Spedding seems to have been shy of approaching the kernel of the matter. Of Bacon's Instauration he writes as follows . . . . .
"We no longer look for any great treasure . . . . His peculiar system of philosophy that is to say the peculiar method of investigation, the "organum", the "formula", the "clavis", the "ars ipsa interpretandi naturam", the "filum Labyrinthi", or by whichever of its many names we choose to call that artificial process by which alone he believed that man could attain a knowledge of the laws and a command over the powers of natureof this philosophy we can make nothing. If we have not tried it is because we feel confident that it would not answer".
Delia Bacon could not dismiss this problem with the same complacency. In the words quoted above Spedding "gets out", but Bacon's admonitions admit of no compromise . . . . . . .
"The labour we lose by not succeeding is nothing to the chances we lose by not trying. In the one we sacrifice a little human labour, in the other we hazard a mighty good".
(Novum Organum, Book I/114.)
"Whosoever would come to an understanding of this our work . . . . . . . . will not try to do so cursorily while attending to other business, but will . . . . . himself attempt the course which we prescribe . . . . . . . . ."
(Novum Organum, Preface)
These are strongly worded expressions and, taken in their context, they suggest that Bacon's "Ars ipsa interpretandi naturam" may have been intended to cover more subjects than physical science alone.
However it must be remembered that Bacon's own utterances concerning what precisely was to be "tried" are extremely guarded. His exhortations to "try" are as much in earnest as his emphasis on the policy and morality of "secrecy", "secret and reserved writings", and "oral traditions". We must therefore regard him as unable or unwilling to be more explicit. Not everything could be made plain to everybody at once; it was better that men should be enlightened by degrees that we should "proceed by line and level". In one of his most intimate writings, "The interpretation of Nature, XII sentences"* this idea is well expressed. A translation of it appeared in Basil Montague's edition, accessible to Delia Bacon, but not unfortunately in Spedding which in any case came too late for her. Bacon is here apostrophising his "sons" on the question of teaching through the medium of Art .
* First printed posthumously by Gruter in 1653.
"But which (thou wilt say) is that legitimate mode of delivery? Dismiss all art and circumstances and exhibit the matter naked to us that we may use our own judgement. Would that you were in a condition, dearest son, to admit of this being done! . . . . . . A new method must be entered upon by which we may glide into minds most obstructed . . . . . . so that knowledge thus delivered (like a plant full of life's freshness) may be spread daily and grow to maturity . . . . . . . . And whether I shall have accomplished all this or not, I appeal to future time."
Unlike Spedding, Delia found it impossible to believe that the great advocate of the experimental method had never applied it to those greater and nobler questions affecting the commonweal such as statecraft, leadership, government, justice and a practical philosophy of life. Where, she asks, are the evidences of this "oblique" approach to men's minds, concerning which Bacon distinctly says that he is not "a vain promiser?" Where are those "examples" in which Bacon said that this new experimental method would be applied in "Certain subjects of the noblest kind?" Where are those "tables of invention for anger, Fear and Shame?" Where is the "filthiness of particulars" for which Bacon apologises on the grounds that "valuable light may come from mean and sordid instances"? Where indeed is that promised FOURTH PART of the great Instauration, which is generally supposed to be missing? These are legitimate questions and Delia's hypothesis certainly deserves a hearing; even Carlyle admitted that.
To-day we would be inclined to answer that this elusive FOURTH PART this "ladder of the mind"*has been growing ever since the first Shakespeare folio was given to the world; that it refers to all means of enlightenment by imaginative art, and that it would nowadays include the novel, the stage, the cinema, the television and even grand ceremonial. With many people whose daily life is restricted, it is only by entering the imaginative world of fiction (which Bacon called "feigned history") that experience can be extended. The reading of even one book can change a person. Whatever Bacon's original plan may have been, there is only one contemporary work which can be regarded as supplying his promised "examples", and that is the 1623 Shakespeare folio, with all its studious and thoughtful revisions of the "quarto" texts and its nineteen completely new plays.
* Bacon's own definition was "Scala Intellectus".
In those days a high degree of reticence was necessary concerning any claims to admit more light to the human mind. It was not part of Tudor despotism to educate the masses, and even in King James' reign no one could easily forget the dark shadow of the Tower and the depressing sight of human heads impaled on spikes. Great souls were indeed beginning to project on the mental plane, but outwardly all heads must bow in submission to King and favourite. Thought alone was free.
It was obviously impossible to get out a scheme for general enlightenment without at once coming into collision with the doctrine of arbitrary power and privilege. Whoever dared handle these forbidden subjects must, to use Bacon's own phrase, "pray in aid of similes". But perhaps Delia's sublime view of the real purpose behind the Great Instauration is best expressed in her own words . . . . . .
"Considering who the author of it is, and that it is, on the face of it . . a new method of obtaining axioms of practice from history in general, and not a specific method of obtaining them from that particular department of history from which the instances are taken;* and considering that the author was deeply aware of the whole sweep of its implications, and that he has taken pains to include the assertion, the deliberate assertion, that it is capable of being applied as efficiently to "those nobler departments of human need" in which he was known to be so interesteddid it never occur to the scholar to inquire why he did not so apply it himself to those very subjects, instead of keeping so steadfastly to the physical forces in his illustration of its powers?"
* i.e. Natural History.
"Has anyone ever read the plan of this man's works? Has anyone seen the scheme of that great enterprise? . . . . . And if it has been seen, what is the reason there has been no enquiry made for those works in which the author openly proposes to apply his organum in person to those very subjects; and that too when he takes pains to tell us that he is not a vain promiser!"
"There is a pretence of supplying that new kind of history which is put down as the Third Part of the Instauration, though the natural history produced for that purpose is very far from fulfilling the promise . . . . . . . . . . But where is the FOURTH PART of the Great Instauration? . . . . . . . . Where is that so important part for which all that precedes it is a preparation? Where is that part which consists of EXAMPLES? Where are the works in which he undertakes to show it in operation, with its new "grappling hooks on the matter of human life", applied by the inventor himself "to the noblest subjects"? Where (in Bacon's words) is "that part of our work which enters upon PHILOSOPHY ITSELF?"
Here is a problem which has not been solved, certainly not by Lord Bacon's biographers; a problem so courageously apprehended by Delia with all the world against her that we have re-stated it here in her own breathless, passionate and involved sentences, because she was the true pioneer who first reached it by a process of pure literary criticism. She set to work without help of ciphers, emblems and all the external corroborative evidence which has since been collected. She worked as a solitary without benefit of discourse, and without initiation into the records of some secret society which would of course have bound her to silence. In a word, she blazed the trail alone.
This trail, which leads into the innermost courts of our English literature, is less difficult to follow today. Relevant books are now available, and although much may have to be rejected or set aside, we are led to the point where, in Bacon's own words, his writings were intended "to select" his readers. But looking back over a century to the year 1857, it seems to me most extraordinary that this charming lonely and impecunious New Englander could have learned so much and travelled so far in advance of her Age.
If we may, for a moment, set aside the painstaking but inconclusive notes of Spedding and review the substance of Delia's argument it seems clear that Bacon really did come to a point where he felt compelled to pause in this theoretical work in order to provide "examples" to "pray in aid of similes". It was useless to go further without giving an inkling of the harvest he expected. The audience, if not shown something more tangible something that would "strike the senses"would soon fall asleep. So, like a lecturer in chemistry who revives interest by producing a bang or a smell or a green-coloured gas, Bacon now draws our attention to "examples", in successive phases of thought physical, emotional and spiritualin the crude physics of the Sylva, the still cruder outrages and extravagances of human beings in the Shakespeare Plays, and lastly in that most serene of all visions of the future, the majestic unhurried grace of the New Atlantis.
* * * *
It may be suggested that in all this there is nothing really new, that poets and prophets from time immemorial had clothed their visions in the flesh and blood of fables and mysteries, and that the incarnation of "principles" in the mythical persons of gods and goddesses was almost as old as Mount Olympus itself. And certainly Delia herself reminds us that this idea the idea of dramatising some lesson for the sake of those who could be reached in no other waywas not a new idea but had been used "by men of the gravest learning and accomplishments" some two thousand years earlier.
But Bacon himself admitted all this. In his treatise on the Wisdom of the Ancients he even went further, and traced the ancient myths and fables as coming "like a thin rarefied air" from a remote prehistoric and more enlightened past, as sacred relics from a more golden age . . . .
"whence they fell like faint whisperings into the trumpets and flutes of the Greeks."
It was the break in continuity, the curtain of darkness which had fallen between ancient times and our own, that he most regretted. For it was a darkness that had seldom been illuminated and often deepened, by argumentative logic and the barren disputations of the mediæval Church.
In support of Delia's contention that Lord Bacon did in fact provide an actual beginning to the supposed missing FOURTH PART of his philosophy, we have the following deliberate statements by him which are otherwise unintelligible . . . . .
1. In describing his method of enforcing hope by bringing men to "particulars", he not only refers to those "instances" which, as we know, are examined and digested in the SECOND PART (i.e. in the Novum Organum), but "principally" to those "examples" which are the subject of the FOURTH PART, and which relate to . . . . .
"Certain subjects of the noblest kind, but greatly differing from each other, that a specimen may be had of every sort. By these EXAMPLES we mean not illustrations of rules and precepts, but perfect models which EXEMPLIFY THE SECOND PART . . . . . . . . and represent to the EYE the whole progress of the mind . . . . . in the more chosen subjects; after the same manner as globes and machines facilitate the more abstruse and subtle demonstrations in mathematics.
2. In the Wisdom of the Ancients, while ridiculing the use of poetry in physical science as attempted by the alchemists, Bacon tells us that the dramatic, poetic or allegorical demonstration is the most useful in certain chosen subjects, because it opens an easy and familiar road to the human understanding, without arousing opposition.
3. He openly proposes to apply his new method in person to these very subjects, and is at some pains to inform us that he is not a "vain promiser." And finally he very discreetly "raises a question" in order to forestall an "objection."
"Some may raise this question rather than objection, whether we talk of perfecting natural philosophy alone according to our method, or the other sciences such as Ethics, Logic, Politics. We certainly intend to comprehend them all. For we form a history and tables of invention for ANGER, FEAR AND SHAME AND ALSO FOR EXAMPLES IN CIVIL LIFE . . . . . . . . As well as for Heat, Cold, Vegetation and the Like".
Since little that Bacon wrote was idle, and all was subject to continual revision, these statements must be taken at their face value. Everything which flowed from his pen in his younger years (even stage-plays if he wrote them) was perpetually under review, and gradually shaped to some undisclosed purpose.* Even the famous Essays were not exempt from this evolutionary process, the final versions being among the most perfect. The "Two Books" of the 1605 Advancement of Learning were greatly expanded to the Nine Books of the 1623 De Augmentis. The Novum Organum began in the early "Cogitata et Visa" and went though twelve successive revisions, according to his chaplain Rawley.
Now it so happens that, over precisely the same period of time, the Shakespeare Plays (apparently never once mentioned by Bacon!) went through a similar metamorphosis, the most striking changes occurring after the death of the actor Shakespere in 1616, and principally in the First Folio of 1623.
Here then is a means of testing Delia Bacon's hypothesis. If the authorship of the 1623 Folio and the 1623 De Augmentis was identical, and if this person had been engaged in perfecting both books for many years, we should expect to find some indication of a parallel change of personal opinion in the gradual evolution of both works, even though the subjects are dissimilar. And so it is. Mr. Bertram Theobald has traced several of those instances which are most instructive, and we select the following . . . . . . . .
In the 1604 quarto of Hamlet there appears this line:
". . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sense sure you have
Else you could not have motion."
* cf. Bacon's letter to Father Fulgentio "nothing is finished till all be finished".
cf. Macaulay's essay on Lord Bacon.
"Enter Francis Bacon", Cecil Palmer, 1932.
This has been a stumbling block to commentators, and various explanations have been suggested. Turn to Bacon's works and the solution is found. In 1605 he published the first edition of the Advancement of Learning, in which he still held the ancient doctrine that everything which has motion must have sense or sensibility. But in the De Augmentis of 1623 he frankly renounces this view, saying that it was an error on the part of some of the old philosophers. Thus from 1605 or earlier, till 1623 he retained his original belief and in 1623 changed it. So did the author of the plays already in his grave! The quartos of 1604, 1605, 1611 and the undated quarto all preserve this notion, but in the Folio of 1623 it is revised because it no longer fitted with the opinions of the true author."*
This certainly suggests that the real author was still alive! Now these thoughtful revisions in the Folio text were not always dramatic improvements, nor are they all a credit from the scientific point of view; but they do bear witness to a care for literature and the careful integration of both works. I quote again from Theobald . . . .
"In the 1604 Hamlet the author gives expression to the popular belief in the moon's influence upon the tides of the sea. Bacon also held this view, certainly in 1594, and for all we know in 1604. Every quarto edition of Hamlet contains this same idea; but in the 1623 Folio it was omitted. Why? Because meanwhile, in 1616, Bacon had written his investigation on the subject entitled De Fluxo et Refluxu Maris, in which he withdrew his support of that view. Yet the supposed deceased author of the Plays still danced to his tune!"
Further instances reflecting the changing opinions of the author can be given; but what we have quoted above will serve as a strong corroboration of Delia Bacon's hypothesis.
It has been said with some justification that experience is the food of the soul. If this be in any way true, the value of imaginative fiction can hardly be over-estimated. For this is a great experimental field of the mind, in which personal experiences may be extended, and afterwards weighed and considered. It is par excellence the field in which ideas can be developed and desires and emotions balanced and counter-balanced. In resorting to fiction Bacon was simply adopting the method of all Utopians from Plato to Sir Thomas More. For as he himself tells us in the Wisdom of the Ancients . . . . . . .
"Now just as Hieroglyphics were before letters, so were parables before arguments. And even now if anyone wishes to bring new light into the human mind without harshness of offence, he must still go the same way and avail himself of similitudes."
* N.B. Readers who wish to check this point should make sure that their "Shakespeare" gives the "Folio" text of Hamlet and not the "Quarto" text which is often substituted.
Possibly it was just as well that King James affected not to "understand" the Instauration, and that neither he nor his ministers could see the potential "dynamite" in the First Folio. It was perhaps better that only a few trusted friends, like Ben Jonson, Rawley, Meautys, Tobie Mathews, Bishop Lancelot Andrews, Father Fulgentio, and certain trusted Frenchmen, should actually know what was at stake.
On the other hand it must have been with a heavy heart that Bacon, because of the King's indifference, felt compelled to write the first ten "Centuries" of the Natural History by himself. The Architect had to become the bricklayer, as he jokingly said to Rawley. Yet if Delia is right, not only did this serve as a most useful "blind", but he had other consolations too.
In the quiet seclusion of Gorhambury or Canonbury Tower or Gray's Inn, he could often turn with a lighter heart to the wider screen of an imagined dramatic universe. There he could manipulate, like puppets, the human embodiments of all principles, affections, virtues and passions worthy to be used as steps in his "ladder of the mind". Thence, in those borrowed historical forms which were to grow to the stature, the gigantic statue of a Lear, a Macbeth, an Othello or a Timon, he could begin to enter men's minds "obliquely".
Peradventure it is in this settingin the seclusion of his garden or study that one of the most devoted of his disciples has found him. And, whether her vision of him be true or no, surely so merciful and discerning a judge will not have trampled upon her homage. For it is not on the pinnacle of his outward fame that she would rest him, but on the seat of an inward and spiritual learning, chin in hand, deep in contemplation. There, laying aside the great Seals of England, laying aside his reputation, laying aside his "hat and rapier", and assuming the magic robe of Prospero, he could enter that part of the Great Instauration which relates to Philosophy Itself.
If anyone is interested in a rare First editon of Delia Bacon's The Philosophy of The Shakespeare Plays Unfolded 1857(excellent condition)Comments can be sent to Lawrence Gerald
SirBacon.org - Sir Francis Bacon's New Advancement of Learning