Edward George Harman.

Edmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon online

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The scene between Hamlet and the players is enough, by
itself, to throw doubt on this theory.^

It is unnecessary to quote examples from Shakespeare's
plays of his attitude towards the crowd, as they are
familiar to everybody. The habit of thought, and the
language in which he expresses it, are similar in all
respects to what is found in Spenser and Bacon. Perhaps
the best summary of his attitude in his most dispassionate
mood is to be found in the lines put into the mouth of
the Duke in Measure for Measure :

I love the people.
But do not like to stage me to their eyes ;
Though it do well, I do not relish well
Their loud applause and Aves vehement ;
Nor do I think the man of safe discretion
That does affect it.

Bacon's sense of order, and apprehension of social
change, is reflected in the speech of Ulysses on "degree"
(the Baconian style of which has frequently been noticed)
in Troilus and Cressida (i. 3).

I should like to say a word here (though it be a
digression) about the late Count Tolstoi's hatred ot
Shakespeare. An article by him appeared in one of
the London Reviews some years ago, in which he
maintained that Shakespeare had hypnotised the world,
but that in reality he was inexpressibly tedious and
trivial, and frequently repulsive. His method of showing
this took the form of relating certain passages in King
Lear in the feeblest possible language, and then pointing
out their absurdity or other objections. For so great
a man the performance seemed rather a barren one.
On the other hand, the violent hostility of the writer
required an explanation, and I came to the conclusion
that it was mainly due to Shakespeare's attitude towards
the crowd, and to his slender recognition of the spiritual

* e.g. "the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing
but inexplicable dumb-shows and noise."


feelings and aspirations of man. It was also evidently
partly due to the fact that Tolstoi did not understand
the language, and that from concentration on spiritual
problems he had lost the sense of proportion in other
matters. At the same time it appeared to me interesting
evidence of the antagonism which seems to exist between
the spiritual and mundane order. Shakespeare, however,
dealt with the world and with man in the world, and
if he did not do more, and probably was incapable of
doing more, he at least did this, that he showed man
himself in a way and on a scale which had never
been done before. In this region he did for the
English-speaking and modern world what Homer did
for antiquity. Whether Shakespeare is widely read or
not is perhaps not very material, for his writings, through
those who read him, must have profoundly affected the
world, and to throw the searchlight of his vision over
it and send back to us the results in a form which
astonishes and delights the mind, and at the same time
enables us to learn more to know ourselves and others,
seems to have been his special work. Yet, in spite
of its prejudice and exaggeration, I have always felt
that Tolstoi's attitude was illuminating and a corrective
of unreasoning idolatry.

I come now to the use made by these three writers
of the word " spirits." The meaning of the term will
not be understood unless reference is made to Bacon's
ideas as to the soul. I say " ideas " rather than theory,
because on this subject it is difficult to disentangle from
his writings what as a philosopher he regarded as
probable from what he adhered to as determined by
Christian doctrine, for which I think he had undoubtedly
great reverence. It must also be remembered that men
wrote on such subjects at that time at their peril, and
therefore we can never be quite sure to what extent
they are conciliating orthodoxy. But it may be safely


said that the Italian writers (whom Bacon studied) were
under greater compulsion in this matter than were the
English, at any rate in the latter part of the sixteenth
century. Moreover, Bacon's dexterity in the turn of a
sentence was such that he was able to say anything
he really wished without much risk of offence. Allow-
ance must also be made for changes or modifications of
view on such subjects which take place in the minds
of thoughtful people, especially where the imagination
is strong, during the course of a life of normal period.
Such often pass through a period of rejection of received
ideas, to return to them again on a different or more
individual basis. In illustration I need only cite Bacon's
famous saying, which points probably to some such
experience in his own case : " It is true, that a little
philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism ; but depth
in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion." ^
Lastly, Bacon's philosophic attitude must be considered
with reference to the times and his purpose. His
purpose was to promote scientific inquiry by true
methods, and to show, in a popular way, which would
appeal to men outside as well as inside the schools, that
this was not inconsistent with adherence to Christian
truth as received in the Church ; in other words, to
separate philosophy from religion, the commixture of
which, in his own words, produced " an heretical re-
ligion and an imaginary and fabulous philosophy." His
method of effecting this, on the religious side, is expressed
in his favourite maxim : " Da fidei quae fidei sunt " ;
though he did not seem to see (or, if he did, he ignored
it) that the phrase begged some of the questions which
to the world of that day seemed the most important.

Now, as to Bacon's views on the soul : he is said
probably to have taken them from Telesius, an Italian
writer of the same century (i 509-1 588). This may be
true to some extent, but, in their general aspect, they are

1 "Of Atheism." This essay did not appear until the second edition


as old as Plato and Aristotle, and probably very much
older. It is considered doubtful whether Bacon was
very familiar with Aristotle at first hand ; perhaps,
like other men in those days, he had his knowledge of
^him mainly through Latin and Italian sources ; but it
can never be correct to say that a great and original
mind " takes " its views from any particular writer ; it
takes them from anywhere and everywhere, and makes
them its own. There are few things in any department
of thought in which absolute originality is possible. In
writing on this, as on other branches of philosophic in-
quiry, I think Bacon had the views of Aristotle mainly
in mind. These were developed from the speculations of
Plato and earlier philosophers, and were formed upon the
theory that there was more than one form of soul. Aristotle's
argument on this subject is contained in the book De
Aniina. It can be easily read in Grote, but unless read
in extenso it cannot be fully understood. Very briefly,
however, the theory is that there are three souls, the
Nutritive, which is the lowest, and concerned with all the
automatic processes of life ; the Sentient, which, broadly
speaking, is consciousness, and includes the practical or
working intelligence, imagination,^ memory, perception
and sensation ; and the Noetic (the Noils), which is
pure intelligence, a capacity with regard to truth by which
the individual is enabled to apprehend and judge in terms
of the abstract and universal. The first of these souls is
common to plants, animals and man ; the first and second
are in animals ; and all three are in man. The two first
are communicated in the act of generation ; the third enters
later " from without," and operates without any bodily
organ. The Notts is alone immortal, and from this
statement (which is found in summaries) it might be
supposed that Aristotle maintained what is generally
known as the immortality of the soul. But though the
whole argument appears to be leading up to that conclusion,

1 "Phantasy belongs to the sentient soul . . . not identical with the
movement of sense, but continued from and produced by that alone." So
also Memory. Grote's Aristotle, " De Anima," chap. xii.


he apparently feels compelled at the last moment to
abandon it in deference to certain logical conceptions
which at that point obtrude themselves, with the result
that though the Noils (the celestial particle) cannot perish
(as the sentient and nutritive souls do with the death of,
the body), it nevertheless ceases to have any more relation
to the individual experience after separation than it had
before incorporation. It simply rejoins the celestial body
from which it emanated. Therefore the intellectual man
is no more immortal than the sentient man : the species
alone continues. It seems hardly worth while that the
whole machinery of the physical and metaphysical uni-
verse should be invoked to produce such a result. The
interest of Aristotle's argument, however, is now only
relative, as it rests primarily on a fabulous conception of
the nature of the universe.

Bacon used these ideas, and while refusing (at first
contemptuously and later with less confidence) to admit
the validity of the new astronomical theory (of Copernicus),
which by that time had been placed beyond reasonable
doubt by Galileo, he endeavoured to bring them into
relation with Christian revelation. He asserts the duality
of the human soul. Man, according to his doctrine, has
two souls, one peculiar to himself, the rational soul,
" springing from the breath of God " {e Spiraailo Dei) ;
the other, shared in common with the brutes, the irrational
soul, which comes from the " wombs of the elements " (e
Matricibus Elevientoriini). The latter (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." Accordingly the first part of the general doctrine
concerning the human soul he terms " the doctrine concern-
ing the Breath of Life ; the other the doctrine concerning
the Sensible or Produced Soul." He continues: "The
doctrine concerning the breath of life, as well as the
doctrine concerning the substance of the rational soul,
includes those inquiries touching its nature, — whether it
be native or adventive, separable or inseparable, mortal
or immortal, how far it is tied to the laws of matter, how


far exempted from them ; and the Hke. Which questions
though even in philosophy they admit an inquiry both
more diligent and more profound than they have hitherto
received, yet I hold that in the end such must be handed
over to religion to be determined and defined. Otherwise
they will be subject to many errors and illusions of the
sense. For since the substance of the soul in its creation
was not extracted or produced out of the mass of heaven
and earth/ but was immediately inspired from God ; and
since the laws of heaven and earth are the proper sub-
jects of philosophy ; how can we expect to obtain from
philosophy the knowledge of the substance of the rational
soul ? It must be drawn from the same divine inspiration,
from which that substance first proceeded." ^ Bacon has
been frequently charged with materialism, and, in connec-
tion with this extract, two grounds for the charge may be
mentioned, that he appears to wish to confine philosophy
to the business of scientific investigation, and that he does
not give due weight to the idea of moral responsibility as
the concern of the rational soul. I think both criticisms
are justified, but to conclude that Bacon was therefore a
materialist would, in my opinion, be unsound, because
(as has been often pointed out) he is not a consistently
logical thinker. For that he is too much under the
influence of his imagination, and he trusts for his con-
clusions more to a certain innate instinct for truth than
to any chain of reasoning, sometimes with most convincing
results, at others with results as disconcerting from their
arbitrary and fanciful character. I think it can hardly be
doubted that, as Macaulay said. Bacon was " a sincere
believer in the divine authority of the Christian revelation."
On the other hand, his philosophic habit and his tempera-
ment militated against this belief fructifying in his mind
as an active principle. His reverence for the order of
nature (which, in my opinion, finds expression in the
personification of it in the " Mutabilitie" cantos of Spenser
to which I have alluded) made him feel that philosophy

^ This is a reference to the doctrine of Aristotle.
'^ De Aiigtnentis, bk. iv. 3, trans. Ellis and Spedding ; Works, iv. 396 sq.


was ennobled rather than debased by being brought back
from the pursuit of what he regarded as vain speculations
and confined to the study of natural processes. This
attitude is summarised in a sentence of a letter to Father
Beranzano written in 1622: " De Metaphysica ne sis
sollicitus. Nulla enim erit post veram Physicam inventam;
ultraquam nihil praeter divinam." (" Be not troubled
about the metaphysics. When true physics have been
discovered, there will be no metaphysics. Beyond the
true physics is divinity only.") ^ But grand as this con-
ception is, if it be accepted as a complete statement of
the order of the world, not only in relation to mechanical
processes but also to human life, it does not necessarily
imply any advance on the position reached long ago by
philosophers of antiquity, of which the lines of Lucretius
are, in effect, the final summary :

Omnis enim per se divom natura necessest
immortali aevo summa cum pace fruatur
semota ab nostris rebus seiunctaque longe ;
nam privata dolore omni, privata periclis,
ipsa suis pollens opibus, nil indiga nostri,
nee bene promeritis capitur neque tangitur ira.'^

In English the lines may perhaps be thus rendered :

For what is God [he •' thought] must, under fate,
And in its nature, keep a timeless state,
Removed in utter distance where no sound
From world of ours disturbs the peace profound,
Needing us not, immune from fears or cares.
Untouched by anger and unmoved by prayers.

Bacon, however, appears to me, even on the philosophic

> Spedding, Life, vii. 375.

2 Lucretius, De reniin natura, ii. 646-651. A distinguished modern
writer has described these lines as " plangent," and to a present-day reader
no doubt they are, especially if read apart from the context. But the context
shows clearly that the poet is not animated (consciously at least) by any such
feeling, for he is discussing the popular mythology, which, he says, however
beautifully it may be set forth by the poets, is yet widely removed from true
reason. " For the nature of gods," etc. And he continues that if any one
thinks proper to call the sea Neptune and corn Ceres, etc., let him do so,
provided he forbears in earnest to stain his mind turpi religione.

•* i.e. Lucretius. The words in brackets were inserted by the translator,
as this passage was being quoted in another connection.


side, to have accepted the Christian revelation, but rather
as a means of satisfying his sense of order, and stopping
the void of infinity in which philosophy has always
lost itself, than as supplying a motive for devotion and
conduct. On that side, like Machiavelli, whose writings
he had studied in his youth, he was more appealed to by
the Roman standards of " virtue," ^ " magnanimity," and
" the few." I believe he had a strong sense of attach-
ment for the institutions of the Church, and was quite
without the hardness and smallness of self-satisfaction.
But the idea of the Christian revelation as a means by
which the individual may be brought, through personality
and the emotional appeal, into close relations with the
divine, is one of which I can find no trace in Bacon's
writings, though Christian theology was a subject on
which he thought and wrote well. Revelation, in
relation to practical life, is regarded by him mainly as a
means of securing order and finality, by providing, as it
were, a permanent overlord, who is referred to by Bacon
in terms which are indistinguishable, in feeling or form,
from those which he applies to the earthly sovereign : " his
majesty," " his divine majesty," " his excellent majesty." "

Two of Bacon's sayings, which (if he had the dis-
tinction in mind) refer to the rational soul, imply the
recognition of it as the source of all that is noble and
magnanimous in conduct, though they carry no inference
as to his ideas on the persistence of the individual

* "Virtus," the primary meaning of which was "courage," in action
and habit.

2 The following passage from his speech in the House of Commons in
favour of general naturalisation of the Scotch (probably revised as a literary
document) is an illustration : " Do we not see (Mr. Speaker) that in the
administration of the world under the great monarch, God himself, that his
laws are divers," etc. Spedding, Life, iii. 314.

Spenser's habit of thought on this subject is marked by a similar primitive
spiritual feeling. Thus, in the Hymue of Heavenly Beautie, he apparently
sees no incongruity in describing Sapience, whom he represents as enthroned
in the bosom of the Almighty, under terms which are obviously intended to
apply to Queen Elizabetli ; and when in imagination (in the same poem) he
himself approaches the footstool of the Deity, the language suggests nothing
so much as an audience with the Sovereign on the part of a minister who is
apprehensive of embarrassing revelations. At the same time the writing is
evidently natural.



consciousness after death. First, in the Essay " Of
Atheism " :

They that deny a God destroy man's nobility ; for certainly
man is of kin to the beasts by his body ; and if he be not of
kin to God by his spirit, he is a base and ignoble creature. It
destroys likewise magnanimity, and the raising of human nature.^

The second comes from the Advancement of Learning :

So certainly, if a man meditate much upon the universal frame
of nature, the earth with men upon it (the divineness of souls
except) will not seem much other than an ant-hill, where some
ants carry corn, and some carry their young, and some go empty,
and all to and fro a litde heap of dust.

We come now to Bacon's ideas about the sensible or
produced soul." He held that this soul is wholly physical,
resolved, like the body, at the death of the body, into
the elements (the " quantum of nature "). It is " in brutes
the principal soul, the body of the brute being its
instrument ; whereas in man it is itself only the instru-
ment of the rational soul, and may be more fitly termed
not soul, but spirit." This " spirit " was, in his view,
a " corporal and material substance," the nature and
operations of which are fully discussed in the Historia
Vitae et Mortisf the strangest of all Bacon's compositions.
Its purpose is to suggest means for the prolongation of
human life, which he regarded as the "noblest" of the
functions of medicine. This is to be effected by physical
methods, which are imagined as acting on the " spirits."
"Spirits" are in "all tangible bodies," and in "animate
bodies " there are two kinds, " lifeless spirits, such as are
in bodies inanimate, and in addition to them a living
spirit." " There are diffused in the substance of every
part of the human body, as the flesh, bones, membranes,
organs and the like, during lifetime, spirits of the same

' Compare also the Essay "Of Goodness and Goodness of Nature," where
the writer says that without the ha1)it of Goodness (" Piiilanthropia ") " man is
a busy, mischievous, wretched thing, no better than a kind of vermin."

2 De Augmentis (trans. E. and S.), bl<. iv. 3 (reference at p. III).

3 History of life and Death (trans. E. and S.), IVorks^ v. pp. 224, 268,
321 sq.


kind as those which exist in the same things, flesh, bones,
membranes and the rest, when separated and dead ; such
likewise as remain in the corpse. But the Hving spirit,
though it governs them and has some agreement with
them, is very different from them, being integral and self-
subsisting." " The lifeless spirits are nearly of the same
substance as the air ; the vital spirits more akin to the
substance of flame." " The spirit has two desires ; one
of multiplying itself, the other of going forth and con-
gregating with its connaturals." " This rule is understood
of the lifeless spirits. For with regard to the second
desire, the vital spirit has a special abhorrence of leaving
the body, seeing it has no connaturals near at hand. It
may perhaps rush to extremities of the body, to meet
something that it loves, but as I said before, it is loth to
go forth. But the lifeless spirits, on the other hand, are
possessed by both these desires. For as to the former,
every spirit seated amongst the grosser parts dwells
unhappily, and being in such solitude, where it finds
nothing like itself, it the more strives to make and create
something similar ; and to increase its quantity, it works
hard to multiply itself, and prey upon the volatile part
of the grosser bodies." " The living spirit perishes im-
mediately when it is deprived either of motion, or of
refrigeration or of aliment." " The fabric of the parts
[of the body] is the organ of the spirit, as the spirit is
the organ of the reasonable soul, which is incorporeal and

The theory is also stated in the Novum Organuin ' :
" Every tangible that we are acquainted with contains an
invisible and intangible spirit, which it wraps and clothes
as with a garment. Hence that three-fold source, so
potent and wonderful, of the process of the spirit in a
tangible body. For the spirit in a tangible substance,
if discharged, contracts bodies and dries them up ; if
detained, softens and melts them " ; if neither wholly dis-
charged nor wholly detained, gives them shape, produces

^ Bk. ii. Aph. 40 (trans. E. and S. ). IVorks, iv. 195.
'^ As in iron heated.


limbs, assimilates, digests, ejects, organises and the like.^
And all these processes are made manifest to the sense
by conspicuous effects." ^

In Rawley's Life of Bacon there is an interesting
personal note bearing on the subject : " And for physic,
he did indeed live physically, but not miserably ; for he
took only a maceration of rhubarb, infused into a draught
of white wine and beer mingled together for the space of
half an hour, once in six or seven days, immediately
before his meal (whether dinner or supper), that it might
dry the body less ; which (as he said) did carry away
frequently the grosser humours of the body, and not
diminish or carry away any of the spirits, as sweating doth."

Still more interesting is the following report noted
by Aubrey {Brief Lives), which presumably, from the
words underlined, completely puzzled him : " In April,
and the spring time, his lordship would, when it rayned,
take his coach (open) to receive the benefit of irrigation,
which he was wont to say was very wholesome because
of the nitre in the air and the universall spirit of the
world." Compare with this the Essay on " Proserpine, or
Spirit " ( Wisdom of the Ancients).

In the Natural History (written in English) occurs
a further statement on the subject, which is noteworthy
as proving (if further proof were needed) that Bacon
identified the " soul " (apart from the divine particle,
which he excludes from the inquiry) with these " spirits."
The opening words of the passage are also a good
example of Bacon's insight when not misled by his fancy.
" The knowledge of man (hitherto) hath been determined
by the view or sight ; so that whatsoever is invisible,
either in respect of the fineness of the body itself, or the
smallness of the parts, or of the subtlety of the motion,
is little inquired. And yet these be the things that

' The spirit is conceived as " making trials and experiments within its
prison house," and when it " meets with tangilile parts tliat are obedient
and ready to follow," " whithersoever the spirit leads they go along with it, and
then ensues the forming of an organic body, and the development of organic
parts, and all the other vital actions as well in vegetable as in animal
substances." "^ e.g. diminution of weight.


govern nature principally ; and without which you cannot
make any true analysis and indication of the proceedings

Online LibraryEdward George HarmanEdmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon → online text (page 11 of 55)