Reprinted from Studies in Literary Imagination. The Legacy of Francis Bacon; April, 1971; Vol. I. Published by Department of English, Georgia State University.
"This lord was religious,"(1) reports Rawley, chaplain and first biographer of Lord Chancellor Bacon. It was a fact neither to be taken for granted nor underestimated. Being, then, in Rawley's phrase, "conversant with God," (2) Bacon after his disgrace and fall in 1621, examined his conscience and recorded his findings in the form of A Prayer or Psalm, which he did not publish but left among his papers.
Remember, O, Lord, how thy servant hath walked before thee: remember what I have first sought and what hath been principal in mine intentions. I have loved assemblies, I have mourned for the divisions of thy Church, I have delighted in the brighteness of thy sanctuary. This vine which thy right hand hath planted in this nation, I have ever prayed unto thee that it may have the first and the latter rain: and that it might stretch her branches to the seas and the floods. The state and bread of the poor and oppressed have been precious in mine eyes: I have hated all cruelty and hardness of heart : I have (though in a despised weed) procured the good of all men.(3) (Italics mine)
Here we have a chance to look with Bacon's own eyes into the state of his mind at this crisis. Since we shall be more concerned in this paper with what he was than what he accomplished, the opportunity is priceless.
What I have first sought, and what hath been principal in mine intentions : these two things are not identical. The first recalls the scriptural injunction. Seek ye first the kingdom of God, a text repeated over and over again as the governing principle of all his endeavors. What hath been principal in mine intentions has a narrower reference, namely to the new philosophy of works, which he calls in his Masculine Birth of Time "my only earthly wish." (4) The Vine is the reformed church already established in Britain, hopefully planted in Ireland, and poised for flight to the new American colonies. As George Herbert, Bacon's close friend, put it :
Religion stands on tiptoe in our land
Ready to pass to the American Strand. (5)
The state and bread of the poor reminds us of what R. E. Ellis, Spedding's collaborator, wrote :
"A deep sense of the misery of mankind is visible throughout his writings........ Herein we see the reason why Bacon has often been called a utilitarian: not because he loved truth less than others, but because he loved men more."
One field in which Bacon could serve this cause was parliament, where his zeal brought him into trouble. I have (though in a despised weed) procured the good of all men: this phrase I find obscure. I can only interpret it as a reference to the theatre, the "despised weed" being the actor's garb.
With this multiplicity of interests it is not suprising that Bacon regarded his dismissal from office as a blessing in disguise. At the close of his Prayer he regrets that he has "misspent his talent in things for which he was least fit, and remarks, not for the first time, that while in office his "soul had been a stranger." (7) In this mood he began at once to make the best use of whatever time was still left to him. "The last five years of his life [1621-1626]," says Rawley, "being withdrawn from civil affairs and from an active life, he employed wholly in contemplation and studies..... in which time he composed the greater part of his books and writings." (8)
Of these works, the History of Henry VII stands by itself as the only work on civil history completed by Bacon. It is a tour de force, written immediately after his fall in the space of some three or four months, from June to October 1621. Obviously the work had been long meditated. As early as 1605 in his Advancement Bacon had picked out the period from the union of the Roses to the union of the Crowns as the key to the understanding of the emergence of England as a great power, and within that period the reign of Henry VII was the decisive moment. Others, also had broken the soil. To help him he had Edward Hall's Chronicle and the work of Polydore Vergil, whom Henry VII had himself commissioned to write the history of England, not to mention the source materials in Robert Cotton's library. But the real preparation had been his long meditation on the history of his country and the many state papers he had prepared. Moreover, Bacon had the kind of poetic genius that could see the larger design in the world of concrete action. As Anne Righter observes, his style is " much less elaborate and implacably written style than many of the period, and it possesses some of the directness and immediacy of dramatic speech," for "Bacon seems to have adjusted his English style anew in every major work, fitting it as perfectly as possible to the subject matter, the purpose and the audience addressed." (9) By some coincidence Bacon's history fills the empty space in the series of Shakespeare's history plays."(10) Before he put pen to paper Bacon had pondered the character of the King and of the times in which he lived, and how, in his own words, " his fortune wrought upon his nature, and his nature upon his fortune."(11) Like a Sophoclean hero, or heroine, Henry is introduced in the moment of making a crucial decision, and the whole action is determined by his choice.
But King Henry, in the very entrance of his reign and the instant of time when the kingdom was cast into his arms, met with a point of great difficulty and knotty to solve, able to trouble and confound the wisest king in the newness of his estate; and so much the more because it could not endure a deliberation, but must be at once deliberated and determined.(12)
The situation showed Henry gifted with the insight to extricate himself from his immediate predicament but not with the foresight to avoid the remoter consequences of his choice, "which did spin him a thread of many seditions and troubles."(13) Thus the stage is set, and we are prepared to accompany a wise and sufficient but not supremely great king through the varied labors and fortunes of his reign, to wit, the enactment of many wise laws and the pursuit of some foolish policies; rebellion in York and revolt in Cornwall; and the high comedy of the two pretenders to the throne. Analysis is varied with narrative. The rotund oratory of Archbishop Morton contrasts with the abrupt, soldierly eloquence of the King, who, in the final analysis, is praised but not flattered. He is ranked with Louis the Eleventh of France and Ferdinand of Spain as one of "the tres magi of those ages,"(14) but there is added the dry final verdict : "If this king did no great matters, it was long of himself : for what he minded he compassed."(15)
When the manuscript was finished it was submitted to the King, who sent it to Fulke Greville for his approval before passing it for the printer. It was dedicated to Prince Charles; and a copy of the book, when it appeared, was sent to the King's daughter, Elizabeth of Bohemia, a special favorite of with Bacon, who ten years earlier had spent much time and money contriving and producing the plays and masques which had graced her marriage to the Elector Palatine. The letter which accompanied the gift would be worth quoting for its own sake, as a tribute to the intelligence of the young and beautiful queen; but it has also the interest of giving us Bacon's own judgment on his work "
Having written the reign of your majesty's ancestor, King Henry VII, and it having passed the file of his majesty's judgment, and been graciously also accepted of the Prince, your brother, to whom it is dedicate, I could not forget my duty so far to your excellent Majesty (to whom, for what I know and have heard, I have been at all times so much bounden as you are ever present with me in affection and admiration) as not to make unto you in all humbleness a present thereof, as now being able to give you tribute of any service. If King Henry VII were alive again, I hope verily he could not be so angry with me for not flattering his as well-pleased in seeing himself so truly in colours that will last and be believed.(16)
Bacon knew what he intended to do. He was also pretty sure that he had done it, as witness the exquisite conclusion of the history itself :
He was born at Pembroke Castle, and lieth buried at Westminster, in one of the stateliest and daintiest monuments of Europe, both for the chapel and the sepulchre. So that he dwelleth more richly dead in the monument of his tomb than he did alive in Richmond or any of his palaces. I could wish he did the like in this monument of his fame. (17)
By way of contrast let us know pass from Henry VII to New Atlantis; from the world as it is to " the world as it might be if we did our duty by it," (18) to quote Spedding's perceptive phrase. For Bensalem is emphatically not simply a technological paradise; it is a moral one. It imagines what Christendom might have been if it had followed the Hebrew tradition rather than the Greek. Its central institution, Saloman's House or The College of the Six Days' Works, "the noblest foundation that ever was upon the earth," 19 is the creation of a people which had "sought first the Kingdom of God. " 20 Having got their priorities right the men of Bensalem had avoided the sin of intellectual pride, which was the rock on which Greek philosophy had foundered; they had, like little children, taken the alphabet of nature into their hands; they had governed their quest for knowledge by the law of charity, thus making science the servant, not the master, of man; and as their reward, they had won their utopia.
This theme is expounded many times by Bacon but nowhere more simply and more passionately than in the Preface to the History of the Winds, another work written after his fall. Here Bacon lists the names of no less than eighteen philosophers, twelve Greek and six modern, each of whom, driven by intellectual pride, had committed the folly of spinning a system of philosophy out of his own head, thus obstructing the creation of a genuine natural philosophy. He then rams the lesson home :
Without doubt, we are paying for the sin of our first parents and repeating it. They wanted to become like gods; we still more so. We create worlds. We prescribe laws to nature and lord it over her. We want to have all things as suits our fatuity not as fits the Divine Wisdom, not as they are found in nature. We impose the seal of our image on the creatures and works of God on things. Therefore not undeservedly have we again fallen from our dominion over the creation; and, though after the Fall of man some dominion over rebellious nature still remained--to the extent at least that it could be subdued and controlled by true and solid arts--even that we have for the most part forfeited by our pride, because we wanted to be like gods and follow the dictates of our own reason. (21)
Having seen how closely New Atlantis and the History of the Winds cohere, we can now better understand what Bacon was about when, at this time after his fall, he devoted the enforced leisure of a severe illness to making a rhymed version of eight of the Psalms. The Governor of Salomon's House, concluding his recital of their activities, adds :
"We have certain hymns and services, which we say daily, of laud and thanks to God for his marvellous works: and forms of prayer, imploring his aid and blessing for the illumination of our labours and the turning of them into good and holy uses."(22)
Bacon saw himself in the role of the Governor. Indeed, at this period of his life, he earnestly sought the headship of some school, like Eton or Winchester, or of a college at Oxford or Cambridge, not, of course, in order to perpetuate the old education, but to inaugurate the new. Appropriate to this purpose are the Student's Prayer and the Writer's Prayer found among his papers,(23) imploring God's blessing on their researches. " Control of wits and pens," (24) was a need expressed much earlier in a letter to his uncle, Burleigh. For such an institution, we may suppose, the version of the Psalms was also made. They should read in connection with the Prayers.
If such was their purpose, if they were intended for congregational use, Bacon may be allowed here also to have made a suitable adjustment of his style. He himself was obviously satisfied with them, as may be seen both by his haste to get them into print and by his selection of his esteemed friend, George Herbert, for the dedication. The psalms chosen were determined by this end. Psalm CIV, the supreme Hebrew hymn to the Creation, was foreordained as the most appropriate vehicle of "thanks to God for his marvellous work." (25) Psalm XC is, by the zeal of the translator, made more appropriate to his purpose than it really is. Where the Book of Common Prayer says simply : Show thy servant thy works and their children thy glory, Bacon in his paraphrase, expands and points it up into a prophetic foreshadowing of the success of the Great Instauration :
Begin thy work, O Lord, in this our age,
Show it unto thy servants who now live:
But to our children raise it many a stage,
That all the world to thee may glory give. (26)
It was characteristic of the age to search the Scriptures for prophecies: the verse from Daniel printed on the title page of Instauration Magma is the most conspicuous example of Bacon's conformity with this practice. But it is worth saying that there is nothing in his works to be compared with the extravagance of Newton's interpretation of Daniel. On this subject Bacon shows all his usual caution. Prophecy, both pagan and Christian, had a long history which, he thought, deserved study. This study, he adds, "I find deficient," but it is to be done with great wisdom, sobriety, and reverence, or not at all." (27)
In turning now to consider Bacon's greatest book, De Augmentis Scientiarum, my first concern must be with the ethical theories Bacon derived from the Bible. There was, to quote a phrase of Arnold Toynbee's, "a hallow place at the heart of Hellenic culture. (28) This the Reformation filled up when it dethroned Aristotle and put the Bible in the empty place. "Judaism," writes a modern authority, " is not a science of nature, but a science of what man ought to do with nature. "(29)
Bacon's conception of this ethic of science is one of the great themes of De Augmentis. The error of the Greeks, according to him, lay in their most general conception of the relation between God, Man, and Nature. They supposed the universe (or macrocosm) to be an image of the divine, and Man (the microcosm) to be an image of the universe. Man was thus subordinate to Nature and his highest perfection was to live according to Nature. This view Bacon sets aside. "The heathen opinion," he writes, "differs from the sacred truth; for they supposed the world to be the image of God, but only the work of his hands; but man they directly term the image of God."(30)
This Biblical doctrine of Man as the image of God carries with a distinction between the human or rational soul and the animal or irrational soul,which is fundamental for Bacon's system of thought. The rational soul springs :
.....from the breath of God, the other from the womb of the elements. For touching the first generation of the rational soul, the Scripture says, He hath made man of the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; whereas the generation of the irrational soul, or that of the brutes, was effected by the words : Let the water bring forth; let the earth bring forth. Now this soul, the irrational, as it exists in man is only the instrument of the rational soul, and has its origin, like that of the brutes, in the dust of the earth.... But yet, as hitherto I handle philosophy only, I would not have borrowed this division from theology, if it were not consonant with the principles of philosophy also. For there are many and great excellences of the human soul above the souls of the brutes, manifest even to those who philosophise according to the sense. Now, wherever the mark of so many and great excellences is found, there also a specific difference ought to be constituted; and therefore I do not much like the confused and promiscuous manner in which philosophers have handled the function of the soul; as if the human soul differed from the spirit of brutes in degree rather than in kind: as the sun differs from the stars, or gold from the metals.(31)
In our age, say in the last hundred years there have been two contradictory developments in the conception of the nature of man. Evolutionary biology has had the effect of plunging man more deeply, and fixing him more firmly, in the animal kingdom. On the other hand, archaeology and anthropology tell a different story. They tend to widen the gap between man and animal. Francis Bacon would be in the second camp.
"We must observe,"
"that the light of nature is used in two several senses: the one, as far as it springs from sense, induction, reason, argument, according to the laws of heaven and earth: the other, as far as it flashes upon the spirit of man by an inward instinct, according to the law of conscience, which is a spark and relic of his primitive and original purity." (32)
The notion of a primitive and original purity may
be out of fashion; nevertheless many would agree with Bacon's
pronouncement in the Advancement that "a great part of the
moral law is that of perfection, whereunto the law of nature cannot
I dwell on this point because ignorance of Bacon's position is now so common.
End of Part I
1. The Works of Francis Bacon, ed. James Spedding, Robert
Leslie Ellis , and Douglas Denon Heath, 14 vols. (London 1858-74), I,
14. Hereafter cited as Works
2. Works, I, 14.
3. Works, XIV, 227-30.
4. Benjamin Farrington, The Philosophy of Francis Bacon (Liverpool, 1964), p. 62
5. The Works of George Herbert, ed. F. E. Hutchinson (Oxford, 1941), p. 197.
6. Works. I, 58.
7. Works, XIV, 230.
8. Works, I, 8-9.
9. Anne Righter, "Francis Bacon", The English Mind : Studies in the English Moralists.Presented to Basil Willey, ed. Hugh Davies and George Watson (Cambridge 1964) pp. 29,30.
10. Righter, "Francis Bacon," p. 24
11. Works, VI, 244.
12. Works, VI ,29.
13. Works, VI, 31.
14. Works, VI, 244.
15. Works, VI. 244
16. Works, XIV, 365.
17. Works, VI, 245.
18. Works, III, 122.
19. Works, III, 145.
20. Works, III, 137.
21.Works, V, 132.
22. Works, III, 166.
23. Works, VII, 259-60
24. Works, VIII, 109
25. Works,VIII, 283.
26. Works, VII, 280
27. Works, IV, 313.
28. Arnold Toynbee, Civilization on Trial (New York, 1948) p. 84.
29. Abraham Heschel, God in Search of Man (New York, 1955), p. 292
30. Works, IV, 341
31. Works, IV, 396-7.
32. Works, III, 479.
33. Works, III, 479.
For C.S. Lewis, Bacon was a mere empiricist, virtually a magician, with a contempt for all knowledge that is not utilitarian. (34) Professor Danby follows suit, telling us that, Bacon's plan was to study nature " in order to discover how he ought to behave,"(35) unaware of Bacon's formal declaration that
"if any man shall think by view and enquiry into these sensible and material things to attain to any light for the revealing of the nature and will of God, he shall dangerously abuse himself."(36)
He accuses Bacon of "making his account of Nature's internal structure almost crudely rational, "(37) in defiance of Bacon's general dictum that logic cannot deal with the subtlety of nature. (38) He speaks of Bacon's "naive hypostasis of the logical method (39), ignoring Bacon's warning
"It is a false assertion that the sense of man is the measure of all things. On the contrary, all perceptions both of the sense and of the mind are according to the measure of the individual, not of the universe." (40)
And all this Lewis-Danby business rests on the assumption that their intellectual operations are conducted at a depth unplumbed by Bacon. Danby is more suave than Lewis, but equally contemptuous :
"Bacon is brisk and efficient. He always sounds like the new manager descending on the old firm. We hear the swish of his new broom, and are constantly suprised to recognize the familiar bric-a-brac cleaned up and offered as a new line."(41)
This general examination of the works written after Bacon's fall will disprove, I hope, such assertions. But there are better means to challenge such critics.
In the De Augmentis of these last years, Bacon divides the whole field of learning into three parts : History, Philosophy, and Poetry, with reference, as he says to the three intellectual faculties of Memory, Reason, and Imagination. In all three fields Bacon was himself a practitioner. He was historian, philosopher, and, in Sidney's and in Shelley's sense, a poet, that is to say, an imaginative writer, not necessarily a writer in verse. Indeed, using the word in this sense, we may say Bacon's career as a writer began with poetry, since even before the publication of his Essays in 1597 he was known at Gray's Inn and in Court circles as a writer of masques. The first mention of his name in this connecion is in 1588, when the title of his contribution is unknown. But two extant writings, Mr. Bacon in Praise of Knowledge and Mr. Bacon's Discourse in Praise of his Sovereign, are thought to have formed part of the masque presented to the Queen in 1592. The latter is a panegyric full of substance and fire in which the roles in world affairs of Spain and England are contrasted with passion and imagination. The former, the first formal publication by Bacon of the reform of knowledge which was later to become The Great Insaturation, is an effort by Bacon to enlist the support of the Queen for the new project forming in his mind. Such was the fanfare which inaugurated the campaign to win the support of the Sovereign for what Bacon always considered Regium Opus (King's Business), the restoration of a reformed mankind to his promised dominion over nature.
The story of Bacon's masques does not end here. In the masque called The Prince of Purpoole, presented at Gray's Inn in 1594, six counsellors addressed their Prince on the subjects of War, Philosophy, Buildings and Foundations, Reform of the Administration, the Education of a Good and Virtuous Prince and finally Pastimes and Sports. The speeches were all written by Francis Bacon. The last is in a vein of humor which recalls Love's Labour's Lost. "What! Nothing but tasks," protests the speaker," nothing but working days? No feasting, no music, no dancing, no triumphs, no comedies, no love, no ladies? (42) The next masque, produced probably in the same year, and known as the Philautia Device, takes the masque a long step nearer drama, but is too elaborate for description here. Too little attention has, it seems to me, been directed to the fact that up until the death of the Queen, when Bacon was forty-two, he was known to the public only as the author of a slim volume of essays, but to the select circles of the Royal Court and the Inns of Court as a writer and contriver of masques. Masques, presented on occasions when royalty would be present, were the only form in which Bacon had yet publicized the cherished philosophic project which we know from his letters and unpublished writings was his chief concern.
These considerations may help us to solve a problem on which Spedding said he could throw no light. When King James was on his way from Edinburgh to London to mount the English throne Francis Bacon had occasion to write to Sir John Davies, who had gone some way from London to meet and escort the new King. Sir John Davies, already known as the author of Orchestra ( a poem to which Bacon makes graceful allusion in his History of the Winds), was, like Fulke Greville, a friend of Francis Bacon. They had all been strong adherents of the Essex faction before it turned to treasonable courses. We cannot, therefore dismiss the significance of the fact that Bacon concludes his letter to Sir John with the phrase :
"So, desiring you to be good to concealed poets......."(43)
The phrase, "concealed poet," seems to have been current at the time. John Aubrey in his Brief Lives applies it again to Bacon :
His Lordship was a good Poet, but conceal'd, as appeares by his Letters." (44)
In assigning a meaning to the phrase I suggest we should bear in mind Bacon's long devotion to the art of the masque, which won him a high reputation in a restricted circle. But to this it should be added that, if we look about us, it is easier to find evidence of the poetry than of the concealment. Thomas Campion (Epipgrammatum II) writes
Quantus ades, seu te spinosa volumina juris,
Seu schola, seu dulcis Musa (Bacone) vocat!
And Sir John Davies of Hereford, poet, and calligrapher, also celebrates the lawyer-poet. Of Bacon and his Muse he writes in his Scourge of Folly :
For thou dost her embosom; and doth use
Her company for sport twixt grave affairs:
So utterest Law the livelier through thy Muse:
And for that all thy notes are sweetest Aires,
My Muse thus notes thy worth in every line,
With ink which thus she sugars, so to shine.
I concern myself with Bacon's reputation as a poet, not in order to involve myself in the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy, but in order to protest against the systematic depreciation of the poetical side of Bacon's genius now current. By a fashionable school he is denied the most ordinary sensibility to the appeal of poetry. "There is never any indication," writes L.C. Knights in his Explorations," that Bacon has been moved by poetry or that he attaches any value to its power of deepening and refining in the emotions."(45)
The notion that Bacon was interested only in facts, and in facts only insofar as they could be turned to multiply vulgar satisfactions, makes impossible any fruitful study of his observations on poetry and ethics. For this, if for no other, reason it is pertinent to recall that Bacon in the eyes of his contemporaries was himself a poet, and a good one.
For Bacon, poetry, the medium of expression of the imagination, is an essential activity of man. In the De Augmentis of these last years, Bacon defined this activity.
A sound argument may be drawn from poesy, to show that there is agreeable to the spirit of man a more ample greatness, a more perfect order, and a more beautiful variety than it can anywhere (since the Fall) find in nature......So that this poesy conduces not only to delight but to magnanimity and morality. Whence it may fairly be thought to partake somewhat of a divine nature; because it raises the mind and carries it aloft, accommodating the shows of things to the desires of the mind, not (like reason and history) buckling and bowing down the mind to the nature of things.(46)
This imaginative quality of poetry is at its highest in Parabolic Poesy, which is used by religion "as a means of communication between divinity and humanity."(47) As a method of teaching, parabolic poetry is found in all ages, whether as ancient mythology or modern allegory.
"Poesy seems to bestow upon human nature those things which history denies it", 48
but it is not for this reason false or illusory.
"We see that in matters of faith and religion our imagination raises itself above our reason; not that divine illumination resides in the imagination : its seat being rather in the very citadel of the mind and understanding."(49)
Such sentences, one trusts, will be remembered when Explorations is forgotten.
In order to confute such critics as Knights, therefore, and to show the further effect of these last works of Bacon, one should speak of dramatic poetry as defined in the De Augmentis. Here we are at once aware of a change of atmosphere. Of the two aims of the De Augmentis, to describe the existing state of knowledge or to alert us as to its deficiencies, the latter now comes to the fore. Bacon's concern is not so much with the history of dramatic literature as with the defects of the contemporary stage.
Dramatic poetry, which has the theatre for its world, would be of excellent use if well directed. For the stage is capable of no small influence both of discipline and of corruption. Now for corruption in this kind we have enough; but the discipline in our time has been plainly neglected......Yet among the ancients it was the means of educating men's minds to virtue....And certainly it is most true, and one of the great secrets of nature, that the minds of men are more open to impressions and affections when many are gathered than when they are alone. (50)
The topic recurs, and gets even fuller treatment
in the seventh book of the De Augmentis, which is devoted to
ethics. Here Bacon observes that the moral philosophers have
succeeded well in describing the virtues, but have failed in teaching
us how to cultivate them. The branch of knowledge, which he calls the
Georgics of the Mind, requires a much richer knowledge of the
permanent characters and transient dispositions and affections of men
than the moralists provide. With some scorn Bacon remarks that the
psychology of the astrologers, who distinguish men's nature's and
dispositions according to the predominance of the planets, is much
richer in observation than the moral theory of the philosophers.
To supplement this defect in moral theory, and to show how characters may be overborne or strengthened as the dispositions and affections are excited in the strain and stress of actual life, Bacon calls in the aid of the historians proper and also of the dramatic poets, whose province is "feigned history"; which, as Bacon knew from Aristotle, is even more philosophical than history. As the best source for this kind of knowledge, Bacon directs our attention first to "the wiser sort of historians,"(51) and not so much to the brief character sketches usually inserted on the death of an illustrious personage, but much more to the narrative itself as often as such a personage enters upon the stage; "for a character so worked into the narrative gives a better idea of the man"(52) than any other formal review can. Such historians are Livy, Tacitus, Philip de Comines, and Guicciardini. Attention should also be directed to the modifications in the natural character produced by such individual circumstances as sex, age, habitat, sickness or health , beauty or deformity, kingship, nobility or obscrity, riches or want, magistracy or private station, prosperity or adversity. When he gets to this point, Bacon seems to realize that the dramatists will be needed to supplement the historians proper. He therefore concludes :
But to speak the real truth, the poets and writers of history are the best doctors of this knowledge, where we may find painted forth with great life and dissected, how affections are kindled and excited, and how pacified and restrained, and how again contained from act and further degree; how they disclose themselves, though repressed and concealed; how they work; how they vary; how they are enwrapped one within another; how they fight and encounter one with another; and many other particularities of this kind.(53)
It is historically of interest to bear in mind
that this splendid assessment of the contribution of the drama to
morality was published in 1623, the same year as the First
Folio of Shakespeare.
In the passages we have quoted from the fourth and seventh books of De Augmentis we have found Bacon viewing the theatre from two different angles. First, he is interested in the stage as a uniquely effectvie means of popular education, owing to "the great secret of nature"(54) that men are more receptive to moral influences when gathered together than when alone. In the second place, he considers the drama and history as the best sources of material for an improved science of ethics. Making ethics more scientific was an old concern of his. In Novum Organum he had written :
It may be asked whether I speak of natural philosophy only, or whether I mean that the other sciences, logic, ethics, and politics, should be carried on by this method. Now I certainly mean what I have said to be understood of them all....For I form a history and tables of discovery for anger, fear, shame, and the like; for matters political; and again for the mental operations of memory, composition and division; judgment and the rest; not less than for heat and cold, or light, or vegetation, or the like.(55)
Here it should be pointed out that Bacon did not
share the modern opinion that the study of animal behaviour is a
reliable source of ethical theory. He was not interested in"the
hairless ape." His intention was to make ethics more scientific by
the examination of the relevant material, namely human behaviour. His
originality in the De Augmentis was to include dramatic
literature among the fruitful fields of research in his endeavour to
"form a history and tables of discovery"(56) for human emotions and
In conclusion, we may ask ourselves how much Bacon was able to accomplish in his last five years. In 1620, The Great Instauration, as we learn from its Distributio Operis, was to consist of Six Parts, and we shall consider the achievement of Bacon in each after his fall in 1621.
First : A panormic view of the whole field of human knowledge with special emphasis on the defective parts. This was completed and published in De Augmentis Scientiarum in 1623 with its list at the end of no less than fifty important desiderata. If he were alive today Bacon would rejoice that so many have been struck off the list. Another smaller, but yet very important, desideratum can be briefly described, namely, the collection and publication of a corpus of the fragments of the Pre-Socratic philosophers. Bacon was the first to see that, without this, the whole history of Western philosophy is distorted. Two hundred years later the lack was supplied.
Second : A new logic. This was
accomplished, so far as it was then necessary that it should be
accomplished, with the publication of Novum Organum in 1620.
For this work, brilliant though it is, remains a fragment and
contains the announcement that Bacon has now come to understand the
greater urgency of a new aspect of his logical reform. He had carried
the reform of the inductive process as far as the times required :
what was now needed was a more ample store of information on which
the new logic could be set to work.
Third : This more ample store of information was described by Bacon as an Encyclopedia of Nature and of Art, and it now came to occupy the first place in Bacon's mind. It's novelty was the combination in one great collection of the products both of nature and of art, that is, the products of Nature when left to herself (natura libera) and those of Nature coerced by man (natura vexata) . Bacon thought of it as a work about six times as big as Pliny's Natural History. But all that he managed to complete of it before he died, serving, as he said to King James, like a hodman when he might have hoped to be an architect,(57) was a collection of one thousand items, partly at second-hand, from Aristotle, Pliny, Porta, Cordan, and partly from his own observation. Yet if one will forget all he learned at school about Mechanics, and Heat, Light and Sound, and the elements of Physics and Chemistry, which the world did not then know, the modern reader will find much to admire in Bacon's patient toil. Let him choose a limited portion of the book, say Century II, which is concerned with music and sounds, and concentrate on that. He will not only have the pleasure of learning something of Bacon himself, but he will be suprised at the range and perceptiveness of the observations and the shrewdness of the lines of fresh enquiry suggested.
Fourth : A work provisionally called The
Ladder of the Intellect. This was to be a theoretical work
desgined to show how the mind, even before the completion of the
Encyclopedia, could arrive at soundly-based axioms in certain
selected fields. Bacon had not time to put such a volume together,
but he left a number of what he called legitimate enquiries,
examples of which are his papers On Motion, On Heat and Cold, On
Sound and Hearing. These do not show him a gifted experimentalist
but he did arrive at some sound insights, e.g., that heat is a form
Fifth : A work provisionally called Forerunners or Anticipations of the New Philosophy. In this he intended to go beyond the purely theoretical level of Part Four by including fruitful applications of his results to practical ends. The best examples of this class are (i) History of the Winds, in which practical applications to sailing and milling are included with theoretical researches, and (ii) History of Life and Death, a medical work, of which the purpose is, not to make Methuselahs of all us (although there is an interesting study of longevity), but to ensure that our three-score years and ten should be healthy and active and death not too difficult when it comes.
Sixth : Of this Bacon says : "The Sixth Part of my work (to which the rest is subservient and ministrant) discloses and sets forth that philosophy which by the legitimate, chaste, and severe course of enquiry which I have explained and provided is at length developed and established. The completion, however, of this last part is a thing both above my strength and beyond my hopes. (58) By these words, however, Bacon did not imagine that he was postponing the fulfillment of his hopes until the millennium. In one place (Paraceve) he is optimistic enough to expect that "the investigation of nature and of all sciences will be the work of a few years. "(59)
This expectation of a vast and imminent change in the fortunes of the human race was shared by many of his contemporaries. It is best expressed, with all its religious overtones, in Cowley's Ode
From these and all long errors of the way
In which our wandering predecessors went,
And like the Old Hebrew many years did stray
In deserts of but small extent,
Bacon, like Moses, led us forth at last....
It helps us to understand the urgency with which
Bacon pursued his goal; and, also, if we look closer, the singleness
of purpose, which underlies the apparent dispersal of his energies.
All were parts of the one great plan. Even the new version of the
Psalms was meant to take its place, along with the Students Prayer
and the Writers Prayer, in the research institute he hoped to
guide. His New Atlantis is an encouraging anticipation of what
our world might be, or even already might have been, if we consented
to put first things first. Henry VII is a study of the power
and responsibilities of kingship, the study of a wise king who yet
plundered his subjects; a king who declared in his will "that his
mind was, that restitution should be made of those sums which has
been justly taken by his officers", (60) a monarch whom, in a mixture
of praise and rebuke, Bacon calls "this Solomon of England, for
Solomon also was too heavy upon his people."(61)
As for the Essays, especially the new ones written for the last edition, they too have their place in the plan. Number XXIX (Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Estates), translated into Latin, probably by Hobbes, was actually incorporated in De Augmentis. Others (XV, Of Seditions and Troubles; XXXIII, Of Plantations ; and XLI, Of Usary) might equally well have been. For his aim was not simply a reform of natural philosophy but of society, a truth obscured if we suppose the foundation of the Royal Society to have been a fulfillment of more than a fraction of his plan, but illuminated if we think of Comenius, or Boerhaave, or Vico, or Rousseau, or Milton, or Coleridge, or Shelley, whose minds had been enlarged by the Baconian conception of a possible new way of life.
It is a modern notion that Bacon ended his days in disgrace. In the midst of his troubles, some public, some private, he seems to have been a happy man.
"He that dies in an earnest pursuit is like one that is wounded in hot blood; who, for the time, scarce feels the hurt....But above all, believe it, the sweetest canticle is Nunc dimitis, when a man hath obtained worthy ends and expectations."(62)
"All that were great and good loved and honoured him," (63)
reports Aubrey, who had his picture of Bacon from Hobbes, whose life spanned generations. Ben Jonson, a seasoned and candid friend and helper, remained on his old footing,
"knowing no accident could do harm to virtue, but rather help to make it manifest."(64)
To George Herbert, Bacon remained a unique figure, "mundique et animarum sacerdos unicus,"(65) the priest who had brought about the marriage between the universe and men's souls. Indeed, Rawley, in his biography published just after Bacon's death, in 1627 wrote,
"I have been induced to think that if there were a beam of knowledge derived from God upon any man in these modern times, it was upon him."(66)
34. C. S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama (Oxford, 1954), pp. 3, 14, 525.
35. John F. Danby, Shakespeare's Doctrine of Nature : A Study of King Lear (London, 1949) pp. 20-4.
36. Works, III. 218.
37. Danby, Shakespeare's Doctrine of Nature, p.23.
38. Works, IV, 51.
39. Danby, Shakespeare's Doctrine of Nature, p.24.
40. Works, IV, 54.
41. Danby, Shakespeare's Doctrine of Nature, p. 21.
42. Works, VIII, 341.
43.Works, X, 65.
44. John Aubrey, "Francis Bacon : Viscount St. Albans", Aubrey's Brief Lives, ed. Oliver L. Dick (London, 1949), p. 10.
45. L.C. Knights, "Bacon and the Seventeenth-Century Dissociation of Sensibility,"Explorations : Essays in Criticism Mainly on the Seventeenth Century (New York, 1947), p.122.
46. Works, IV, 315-16.
47. Works, IV. 316.
48. Works, IV, 315.
49. Works, IV, 406.
50. Works, IV, 316.
51. Works, V. 21.
52. Works, V, 21.
53. Works, V, 23-24.
54. Works, IV, 316.
55. Works, IV, 112.
56. Works, IV, 112.
57. Works, V, 4.
58. Works, IV, 32.
59. Works, V, 133.
60. Works, V, 237.
61. Works, V, 237.
62. Works, V, 380.
63. Aubrey, Brief Lives, p. 9.
64. Ben Jonson, Timber or Discoveries Made upon Men and Matter, ed. Felix E. Schelling (Boston, 1892), p. 32.
65. Herbert, Works, p. 436.
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