Bacon's Thought Found in The Winter's Tale


Nature and Art

Excerpt from

Shakespeare Studies in Baconian Light , 1901,
Robert Theobald


We in the this nineteenth century are accustomed to think of the works or effects of Art as being merely the result of bringing human faculties to work in the moulding or application of the matter and force supplied by Nature. But Bacon tells us that up to his time, Art and Nature had been contrasted as different from one another : and when he set down the "History of the Arts" as a species of Natural History, he considered that he was running counter to prevalent opinion.

" I am the rather induced to set down the history of arts as a species of natural history, because it is the fashion to talk as if art were something different from nature, so that things artificial should be separated from things natural, as differing totally in kind.......Whereas men ought on the contrary to have a settled conviction, that things artificial differ from things natural, not in form or essence, but only in the efficient; that man has in truth no power over nature except that of motion.......the rest is done by nature working within." (Intellectual Globe. Works V. 506)

This theory, which Bacon claims as original, is most exactly expressed by Shakespeare:

Nature is made better by no mean
But nature makes that mean; so over that art
Which you say adds to Nature, is an art
That nature makes;.....this is an art
Which does mend nature, change it rather, but
The art itself is nature.
Winter's Tale IV. 89

This is the only passage in Shakespeare where this axiom is formally expressed, and it is all the more significant because it is placed in immediate relation with the remarkable list of flowers which is so curiously identical with the same list, similiarly grouped, and similiarly classified in Bacon's Essay of Gardens, published in 1625. James Spedding was the first to draw attention to this striking coincidence. It has been repeatedly referred to since the publication of his Edition of Bacon's works. His language is worth quoting :

"The scene in the Winter's Tale where Perdita presents the guests with flowers suited to their ages, has some expressions, which, if this Essay had been contained in the earlier edition, would have made me suspect that Shakespeare had been reading it. As I am not aware that the resemblance has been observed, I will quote the passages to which I allude in connection with those which remind me of them."

Spedding has no explantion to offer; certainly some is required. This Baconian garland is so well known that I need not reproduce it.


Excerpt from

The Authorship of Shakespeare 1887,

Nathaniel Holmes

"This work undertakes to demonstrate, not only that William Shakespeare did not, but that Francis Bacon did, write the plays and poems. It presents a critical view of the personal history of the two men, their education, learning, attainments, surroundings, and associates, the contemporaneousness of the writings in question in prose and verse, an account of the earlier plays and editions, the spurious plays, and "the true original copies." It gives some evidence that Bacon was known to be the author by some of his contemporaries. It shows in what manner William Shakespeare came to have the reputation of being the writer. It exhibits a variety of facts and circumstances, which are strongly suggestive of Bacon as the real author. A comparison of the writings of contemporary authors in prose and verse, proves that no other writer of that age, but Bacon, can come into any competition for the authorship. It is recognized that the evidence drawn from historical facts and biographical circumstances. are not in themselves alone entirely conclusive of the matter however suggestive or significant as clearing the way for more decisive proofs, or as raising a high degree of probability; and it is conceded, that, in the absence of more direct evidence, the most decisive proof attainable is to be found in a critical and thorough comparison of the writings themselves, and that such a comparison will clearly establish the identity of the author as no other than Francis Bacon." -- NATHANIEL HOLMES 1884, The Authorship of Shakespeare, Bibliography of the Bacon-Shakespeare Controversy, ed. Ivy- man, p. 28.

Now, in the year 1611, we find Sir Francis Bacon in full possession of Gorhambury and the beautiful gardens there, always a student and lover of Nature and a curious observer of her ways, in gardens or elsewhere, now diligently experimenting upon the natures of plants, flowers, and fruits, marshalling in their proper seasons rosemary and rue, primrose, violets, cowslips, hyssop and germander,

" Hot lavender, mints,savory, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed with th' sun,
And with him rises, weeping; "

practising in the art of grafting and the art of manipulation for producing new varieties,

"carnations of several stripes" (Natural History 501, 507,510)


"streak'd gilliflowers"(Winter's Tale,Act IV sc.3.)


"what natures do accomplish what colours, for by that you shall have light how to induce colours by produicing those natures,"


"several scions upon several boughs of a stock";


" the excellent dew of knowledge, distilling and contriving it out of particulars natural and artificial, as the flowers of the field and garden." (Advancement of Learning, Book II)

He has lately published the Wisdom of the Ancients, and learned from the fable of Atalanta as well as from his own experience, that art is swifter than nature, yet cannot outstrip nature.

The nuptials of the young Princess Elizabeth, afterwards Queen of Bohemia, are about to be celebrated at Court, with masques, triumphs, and stage-plays for many months. The succession to the Attorney-General's place as well as fables and gilliflowers, the art of politics as well as the art of nature, is constantly running in his mind. He is now in the mood for attempting another model, and the Winter's Tale shortly makes its appearance. As ususal he snatches up any old romance that will serve for the germ of the story, so much the better if it be well-known and popular; and the popular tale of "Dorastus and Fawnia" is laid hold of for the present occasion. Perdita, the lost child of the King of Sicily, is cast away upon " the deserts of Bohemia,"his Bohemia will have shores if need be; why not?and the young Perdita shall be brought up in a cottage among clowns as the daughter of an old shepard; and this "gentler scion," growing upon " the wildest stock," will furnish a happy instance of the grafting art in the higher kind. But at sweet sixteen, this "bud of nobler race" shall be clearly distinguishable still from " a bark of baser kind," at least to a king's son Florizel; but " the rule is certain, that plants for want of culture degenirate to be baser in the same kind," though

"Wholesome berries thrive and ripen best,
Neighbour'd by fruit of baser quality." Sonnet

As is his wont, he will himself put on the mask, and slip into the scene in all characters, more especially, here, in the character of Polixenes, King of Bohemia, and, into the mouth of this blooming child of nature, returned fresh from her "rustic garden," with whole handfuls of the "fairest flowers o' the season, rosemary and rue,

"Carnations,and streak'd gilliflowers,
Which some call Nature's bastards,"—

he will put the best results of his latest meditations upon the art and mystery of Nature. For even Perdita had

Per. For I have heard it said
There is an art which in their piedness shares
With great creating nature.

Pol. Say there be;
Yet nature is made better by no mean
But nature makes that mean: so, over that art,
Which you say adds to nature, is an art
That nature makes. You see, sweet maid, we marry
A gentler scion to the wildest stock,
And make conceive a bark of baser kind
By bud of nobler race: this is an art
Which does mend nature, change it rather, but
The art itself is nature.
Per. So it is.
Pol. Then make your garden rich in gillyvors,
And do not call them bastards.
Winter's Tale Act IV. Sc. 3

In the "Natural History," identical ideas, words, and expressions occur, if indeed any possible doubt could remain of the identity of the philosopher and the poet here; as for instance: —

" First, therefore, you must make account, that if you will have one plant change into another, you must have the nourishment overrule the seed".....
"This I conceive also, that all esculent and garden herbs, set upon the slopes of hills, will prove more medicinal, though less esculent than they were before.".......
"The second rule shall be, to bury some few seeds of the herb you would change amongst other seeds;""In which operation the process of nature still will be (as I conceive) , not the herb you work upon should draw the juice of the foreign herb (for that opinion we have formerly rejected), but there will be a new confection of mould, which perhaps will alter the seed, and yet not to the kind of the former herb.".....
"The sixth rule shall be, to make plants grow out of the sun or open air; for that is a great mutation in nature, and may induce a change in the seed.".....
"Some experiment would be made, how art to make plants more lasting than their ordinary period."Natural History (527, 531, 587)

Here, the identity of the idea is clear enough, and the same use of the words change, baser, kind, and art, is quite palpable; and especially the outcropping of the same word conceive is one of those singular instances of the manner in which the vocabulary of the same author will pass into writings of a very different nature, but upon kindred topics,all unconsciously, perhaps, to the author himself.

We know from many parts of Bacon's writings, as well as from his personal biography, that he took great delight in gardens and flowers. The Essay on Gardens is alone sufficient to show that he had a delicate appreciation of this kind of beauty, as well as an exquisite taste in the art, of which he was himself a great master. He begins by saying,

"God Almighty first planted a garden;"

and he speaks of it as

"the purest of human pleasures."

He holds that

" there ought to be gardens for all the months of the year; in which severally things of beauty may be then in season"

and he proceeds to name the flowers proper to each month and season. Now, the flowers named in the cottage scene of the fourth act of the Winter's Tale appear to have been drawn from one and the same calendar, and in about the same order as those of the Essay, as thus:

"For December, and January, and the latter part of November, you must take such things as are green all winter : holly, ivy;.........rosemary; lavender;.........germander; and myrtles, if they be stoved; and sweet marjoram warm set: "Bacon's Essay on Gardens

Per. Reverend sirs,
For you there's rosemary and rue; these keep
Seeming and savour all the Winter long :
...... Shepherdess,
(A fair one are you,) well you fit our ages
With flowers of Winter."
Winter's Tale

"And trial would be made of grafting of rosemary, and bays, and box, upon a holly-stock; because they are plants that come all winter." Natural History, 592
"There followeth, for the latter part of January and February, the mezereon-tree, which then blossoms,......primroses, anemones; the early tulippa;.... For March, there come violets, specially the single blue, which are the earliest; the yellow daffodil; the daisy;.....sweet briar. In April follow the double white violet; the wall flower; the stock gilliflower; the cowslip; flower-de-luces, and lilies of all natures; rosemary-flowers; the tulippa; the double piony; the pale daffodil;"...........Essay on Gardens


Per. Out, alas!
You’d be so lean, that blasts of January
Would blow you through and through. Now, my fair’st friend,
I would I had some flowers o’ the spring that might
Become your time of day; and yours, and yours,
That wear upon your virgin branches yet
Your maidenheads growing: O Proserpina!
For the flowers now that frighted thou let’st fall
From Dis’s waggon! daffodils,
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty; violets dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno’s eyes
Or Cytherea’s breath; pale prime-roses,
That die unmarried, ere they can behold
Bright Phœbus in his strength, a malady
Most incident to maids; bold oxlips and
The crown imperial; lilies of all kinds,
The flower-de-luce being one!

Winter's Tale IV. Sc. 3


"In May and June come pinks of all sorts, specially the bluish pink roses of all kinds, except the musk which comes later;.......the French marigold;..........lavender in flowers..............In July come gilliflowers of all varieties;....

Essay on Gardens


Per. Sir, the year growing ancient,
Not yet on summer’s death, nor on the birth
Of trembling winter, the fairest flowers o’ th' season
Are our carnations, and streak’d gilliflowers
Which some call nature’s bastards: of that kind
Our rustic garden’s barren, and I care not
To get slips of them.......

Here's flowers for you;
Hot lavender, mint, savory, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed with th' sun:
And with him rises,weeping: these are flowers
Of middle Summer, and I think they' re given
To men of middle age." Act IV. Sc.3

And as another instance of the source of Bacon's metaphors, it may be noted that in a letter to Burghley he uses this expression : 

"though it bear no fruit, yet it is one of the fairest flowers of my poor estate; (Letter ;1597, II. Spedding, 52)

which is repeated in another letter of the same year thus :

" I will present your Lordship with the fairest flower of my estate, though it yet bear no fruit." (Letter to Egerton , 1597, Spedding 62)

Mr. Spedding notices these resemblances, and observes, that if this Essay had been contained in the earlier edition, some expressions would have made him suspect that Shakespeare had been reading it (Spedding, Works, XII. 235) and well they might. But it was not printed until 1625 and , of course, William Shakespeare could never have seen it. Nor is it all probable that Bacon would have anything to learn of William Shakespeare concerning the science of gardening. In short, when the Essay on Gardens and the play, the Winter's Tale are read together, written as they both are, in that singular style of elegance, brevity, and beauty, and depth of science, which is so markedly characteristic of this author, whether in verse or prose, it becomes next to impossible to doubt of his identity.


The Authorship of Shakespeare by Judge Nathaniel Holmes 






 - Sir Francis Bacon's New Advancement of Learning