Edward George Harman.

Edmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon online

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of nature. The spirits or pneumaticals, that are in all
tangible bodies, are scarce known. Sometimes they take
them for vacuum, whereas they are the most active of
bodies. Sometimes they take them for air . . . some-
times they will have them to be the virtues and qualities
of the tangible parts which they see ; whereas they are
things by themselves. And then, when they come to
plants and living creatures, they call them souls. And
such superficial speculations they have. , . . Neither is
this a question of words, but infinitely material in nature.
For spirits are nothing else but a natural body, rarified to
a proportion, and included in the tangible parts of bodies,
as in an integument. And they be no less differing one
from the other than the dense or tangible parts ; and they
are in all tangible bodies whatsoever, more or less ; and
they are never (almost) at rest ; and from them and their
motions principally proceed arefaction, colliquation, con-
coction, maturation, putrefaction, vivification, and most of
the effects of nature ; for, as we have figured them in our
Sapientia Veterum ^ in the fable of Proserpina, you shall
in the infernal regiment hear little doings of Pluto, but
most of Proserpina : for tangible parts in bodies are
stupid things ; and the spirits do (in effect) all" (i. 98).^

The spiritus vitalis (" living spirit ") is regarded as
" preying upon the body," " like a subtle flame," and
when this process can no longer be arrested, by " alimenta-
tion " and other means described, death ensues. With
this idea, however, is inextricably mixed up the idea of
the "desire" of "spirit" to escape from confinement in
gross bodies. The distinction between " lifeless spirits "
and " the living spirit " is, of course, an arbitrary one, and
the expedient of the " living spirit " (which appears to
be adopted to escape from logical difficulties) begs the
question. The ideas are in some respects very primitive.
While insisting on the one hand that the " spirits " are

' Wisdom of the Ancients : " Proserpine, or Spirit. Explained of the
spirit included in natural bodies." '^ Spedding, M'orks, ii. 3 So.



nothing but material substances, the writer attributes to
them desires and feelings.^ Professor Fowler" observes
that in these ideas there are "curious survivals of a
primitive fetichistic era, when men literally believed that
every object around them was animated or possessed by
a soul or agent." But since this was written science has
been changing its views as to the nature of matter, and
the primitive man does not now appear in so foolish a
light as he did. Bacon's reasoning may often be faulty,
and his ideas fantastic even in relation to the best thought
of his age, but his imagination enabled him to make
guesses which seem to come surprisingly near the truth
as subsequently ascertained by experiment.

Returning to the chapter " De anima " {De Augm. iv. 3),
we find that all the qualities of the mind are attributed
to the sensible soul, or " spirits." The wording might be
regarded as ambiguous, but, for reasons already given,
this is probably intentional, and, read with the passages
given above, there can be no question that the passage is
not confined in any particular to the " rational soul."

" The faculties of the soul are well known : under-
standing, reason, imagination,'' memory, appetite, will,
in short all with which the logical and ethical sciences
deal. But in the doctrine concerning the soul the origins
of these faculties ought to be handled, and that physical ly,*"'
as they are innate and inherent in the soul ; the uses
only and objects of them being deputed to those other arts."
What, then, under this scheme is the function in the
individual of the rational soul {spiraciiluni)} On this

1 Another example of this occurs in the Natural History : " Putre-
faction is the work of the spirits of bodies, which ever are unquiet to get
forth and congregate with the air, and to enjoy the sunbeams." Works ^ ii. 451.

2 Introduction to the Noz'ion Organtitn (1888), to which the reader is
referred. ^ isee page in for llic reference.

* In this Bacon is following Aristotle ; see p. 109 above and footnote.

6 "VVill" in Baconian terminology means the natural passions or inclina-
tions, and is frequently used, more particularly of sexual desire, in opposition
to "wit," the intellectual and rational faculty, which is regarded as the
source of self-control.

" Higher up the writer says : " For of what service are such terms as
ultimate act, form of the body, and such toys of logic, to the doctrine concern-
ing the substance of the soul ? "




point Bacon is silent, and it will be observed that he has
nothing even to say about the moral sense. Two reasons
(though I do not profess that they are exhaustive) may
be given for this. In the first place it would not have
escaped Bacon's acute mind that any prospect of a
heavenly condition, or even of the realisation of the
higher states of mind in this life, is confined, under the
doctrine of the No/is, to philosophers or their hearers,
and, apart from his quarrel with Aristotle, Bacon disliked
philosophers, if only because he detected in them " vanity "
and " ostentation." ^ The doctrine even excluded poets,
whom Plato, to all intents and purposes, banished from
his republic. Therefore Bacon would not, if he could
avoid it, say anything which might have the appearance
of countenancing their view. I know it is said that
Bacon did not understand Aristotle ; no doubt he did
him less than justice as the foremost among the Greeks
who were the creators of the instruments of exact
thought ; but I should be afraid to assert that he did
not understand him, at least in essentials. The second
reason is to be sought in Bacon's temperament and in his
passion for scientific research. As in the consideration
of the place of deity in relation to the universe and to
human life, so in the inquiry concerning the nature and
functions of the soul, his object would be to rescue all
he could from the region of the unexplainable and
forbidden, while at the same time leaving a causa causans
which would preclude vain speculation, and give com-
pletion and finality in the region of whatever the senses,
aided by instruments, were found ultimately incapable of
explaining by physical causes. On this subject the
reader is referred to what has been already said in the

1 Cf. " Socrates, Aristotle, Galen, were men full of ostentation " (" Of Vain
Glory") — and similarly passim. Bacon also regarded himself as protagonist
in the battle against the schools, which were still dominated by Aristotle.
Moreover, the scholars of the day were, as a class, poor and depressed, and
for the most part narrow and quarrelsome, whereas Bacon had been brought
up about the English and French courts, and had a larger human outlook.
lie was more ambitious to shine as a man of the world than to pass for a
man of learning, an ambition for which most of his countrymen are perhaps
hardly in a position to throw stones at him.


section on the rational soul. My general conclusion is
that in spite of what may appear, at first sight, to be the
" gross " materialism of Bacon's theory, he did, in his own
mind, regard the divine soul as participating in the higher
forms of judgment, and probably, so far as he thought
about it, as being the source, by virtue of its heavenly
origin, of the highest feelings in man. It is evident
also that he believed in its immortality, and that it was
not resolved, like the " spirits," or sensible soul, into the
physical elements ; but on the question of its relation to
the individual experience after the death of the body he
is silent, regarding that as a question which must be
relegated to the province of revelation.

These ideas belong to Bacon's scheme for the " inter-
pretation of Nature," which he adumbrated in a paper (in
Latin), the purpose of which was (in the words of Spedding)
" to explain the method of arriving by degrees at axioms, or
general principles in nature ; thence by the light of those
axioms proceeding to new experiments ; and so finally to
the discovery of all the secrets of nature's operation —
which would include the command over her forces." ^
The interpretation of nature was referred to by Bacon
as the " kingdom of man." The paper is entitled " De
Interpretatione Naturae Prooemium," and it is attributed
by Spedding to the year 1603. It was never published,
but the general material of it was incorporated in the
Novum Organum, which appeared in its final shape in
1620, that portion of it which is autobiographical being
replaced, as Spedding observes, " by a simple De nobis
ipsis silemus." In the course of it Bacon explains why
he deferred philosophic inquiry, which had attracted him
as a youth, and for which he found he had a natural
aptitude (" a kind of familiarity and relationship with
truth "), and applied himself to " the arts of civil life."
" When I found however that my zeal was mistaken for
ambition, and my life had already reached the turning-

' .See Spediling's account and translation of this paper in Life, iii. 82 sq.,
and cf. his preface to the latin original in Works, iii. 507 sq.


point, and my breaking health reminded me how ill I
could afford to be so slow ... I put all those thoughts
aside, and (in pursuance of my old determination) betook
myself wholly to this work." ^ Bacon was born in
January 1561, and was therefore over forty when
this was probably written. His life, to all appearances,
had been a desultory one, owing to lack of prefer-
ment, and it was not till June 1607, when James I.
made him his Solicitor-General, that he obtained any
regular appointment under the Crown. His greatest
literary activity was, in my belief, between the ages of
sixteen and forty ; thereafter I think he devoted his
leisure more, but not wholly, to his philosophic
writings. At some time between the date of this
paper and the publication of the Organum, The Tempest
of Shakespeare (which, it has been suggested, was first
acted at the Court in 161 i or 161 3) was probably
composed. I do not myself agree that it was the
last of Shakespeare's plays, and I consider that it was
placed, with intention, by the author himself, at the
beginning of the collected edition, known as the " First
folio," which appeared in 1623. This play reflects, in my
opinion, the philosophic ideas which I have endeavoured
to summarise, and is only properly intelligible with
reference to them.

The Tempest is clearly, to some extent, an allegory,
which invites inquiry as to its meaning. On the surface
it is, no doubt, a beautiful entertainment, but read, not
merely seen as a spectacle, the impression it produces
on the mind is very different. Here, however, I wish to
say that I am no advocate of far-fetched interpretations.
Those who seek for them in Shakespeare are, in my
belief, certain to go wrong, as he not only keeps in
view the audience, the generality of mankind, for which
he is writing, but his mind is naturally opposed to

* Spedding's translation. This, of course, was not what actually occurred.
It is necessary to read what Bacon writes with caution, owing to his tendency
to represent himself in the part which dominated his mind, or as he would
like to be, or as he washed posterity to think of him.


vagueness and subtlety. The reader, however, who has
followed what has been said above as to Bacon's theory
of " spirits," will, I think, see that there is nothing
far-fetched or fanciful in the suggestion that in the
relations between Prospero and Ariel there is an allusion
to that theory. That, at any rate, is my view, as I will
proceed to explain.

It is a natural conclusion from the play that in
*' Ariel " the poet is representing his own genius, and
before I had read Bacon's philosophic works I took
this for granted. After reading them I formed the
opinion that Ariel was intended for the " sensible " or
" produced " soul {spiritns vitalis)^ under the theory
which we have been considering. As under that theory
the imagination is regarded as a faculty of the " sensible "
soul, I still thought that the conception in the play
had reference mainly to the creative genius of the
author, with some reference incidentally to his scientific
speculations and to the relations of the human soul
with unseen conditions. But the more I considered
Bacon's attitude towards questions relating to the soul,
the less likely it seemed to me to be that he would
make them the subject of popular allegory. In the
first place I think he would have regarded it as little
short of profanity to bring such a subject on the stage.
In the second place a writer would only choose for
such a serious presentment of his views as is obviously
intended in TJie Tempest the subject in which, above
all others, he was actively interested. In the case of
Bacon (as we have seen) this was certainly not the
nature or destiny of the soul, a question which involved
the inquirer in metaphysics, which he regarded as vain,
or in religious doctrine, which was, in his opinion, not
a matter for discussion at all. Similarly in the case of
Shakespeare, regarded solely as the author of the plays :
there is nothing in them to show that his attitude
towards such questions was different from that of Bacon ;
on the contrary, in my opinion the evidence from the
plays all points to the conclusion that their habit of


thought was in all respects identical. Hence I came
to the conclusion which I now hold, that in T/ie
Tempest Bacon (whom I believe to be the author) has
represented under the figures of " Prospero " and " Ariel "
the cherished dream of his life, namely, the power which
man is to obtain over the forces of nature through
scientific experiment and discovery. In " Prospero " the
author sees an idealised presentment of himself. In
" Ariel " is represented " spirit," i.e. the " spirit in all
tangible bodies," which, in Bacon's peculiar theory, has
been " captured " by gross matter, and whose desire
is to escape. The witch " Sycorax " represents gross
matter. The liberation of this " spirit " and its temporary
arrest and employment by Prospero is a poetical allegory
of what we now term the " harnessing of the forces of
nature." Once used, the force escapes, and, like Ariel,
is rendered back, in a free state, to the elements.
" Ariel and all his quality " are the " spirits " generally.
I do not deny that there may be incidental allusions
to the poet's genius ; it is of the nature of poetry to
give rise, through the presentation of ideas by concrete
images, to varied trains of thought. But the main
purpose of the writer, in my opinion, was to leave
behind him a parable (like the concealed knowledge of
ancient times) of his scientific theory, and of the results
to the human race which he expected from it when it
had been applied in practice.^

^ The following passage from the Preface to The Wisdom of the Ancients
should be read with particular attention in this connection :

"Men have proposed to answer two different and contrary ends by
the use of parable ; for parables serve as well to instruct or illustrate as
to wrap up and envelop, so that though, for the present, we drop the
concealed use, and suppose the ancient fables to be vague, undeterminate
things, formed for amusement, still the other use must remain, and can
never be given up. And every man of any learning, must readily allow
that this method of instructing is grave, sober, or exceedingly useful, and
sometimes necessary in the sciences, as it opens an easy and familiar
passage to the human understanding, in all new discoveries that are abstruse
and out of the road of vulgar opinions. Hence, in the first ages, when
such inventions and conclusions of the human reason as are now trite
and common were new and little known, all things abounded with fables,
parables, similes, comparisons, and allusions, which were not intended to
conceal, but to inform and teach, whilst the minds of men continued rude


To turn to the relevant passages in the play : the
reader will recollect that Prosper© summons Ariel in the
words " Come away, servant, come " ; and Ariel enters
with the reply :

All hail, great master ! grave sir, hail ! I come

To answer thy best pleasure ; be't to fly.

To swim, to dive into the fire, to ride

On the curl'd clouds, to thy strong bidding task

Ariel and all his quality.

To which Prospero answers :

Hast thou, spirit,
Perform'd to point the tempest that I bade thee ?

" Impressions of the air and raising of tempests " is
one among the discoveries of a difficult or extraordinary
character which Bacon entitles " Magnalia Naturae " in a
paper relating to scientific inquiries of the future appended
to the unfinished Nezv Atlantis, which was published by
Rawley in 1627, the year after Bacon's death (Spedding,
Works, iii. 167, 168).

In Ariel's complaints and longing for liberty is the
idea of the natural desire of " spirits " to escape from the
tangible bodies by which they have been captured and
enclosed. Sycorax is, in my belief (as I have said), a
poetical representation of gross matter. The following is
the leading passage of the allegory :

and unpractised in matters of subtilty and speculation, or even impatient,
and in a manner uncapable of receiving such things as did not directly
fall under and strike the senses. For as hieroglyphics were in use before
writing, so were parables in use before arguments. And even to this day,
if any man would let new light in upon the human understanding, and
conquer prejudice, without raising contests, animosities, opposition, or
disturbance, he must still go in the same path, and have recourse to the
like method of allegory, metaphor, and allusion.

"To conclude, the knowledge of the early ages was either great or
happy ; great, if they by design made this use of trope and figure ; happy,
if, whilst they had other views, they afforded matter and occasion to such
noble contemplations. Let either be the case, our pains, perhaps, will not
be misemployed, whether we illustrate antiquity or things themselves."

Cf. Sidney's Apologie : " To beleeue with me, that there are m.iny
misteries contained in Poetrie, which of purpose were written darkely, least,
by prophane wits, it should bee abused,"


Art. Is there more toil ? Since thou dost give me pains,
Let me remember thee what thou hast promised,
Which is not yet perform'd me.

Pros. How now ? moody ?

What is't thou canst demand ?

Ari. My Hberty.

Pros. Before the time be out ? no more !

Ari. I prithee,

Remember I have done thee worthy service ;
Told thee no lies, made thee no mistakings, served
Without or grudge or grumblings : thou didst promise
To bate me a full year.

Pros. Dost thou forget

From what a torment I did free thee .?

Ari. No.

Pros. Thou dost, and think'st it much to tread the ooze
Of the salt deep.

To run upon the sharp wind of the north,
To do me business in the veins o' the earth
When it is baked with frost.

Ari. I do not, sir.

Pros. Thou liest, malignant thing ! Hast thou forgot
The foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envy
Was grown into a hoop ? hast thou forgot her ?

Ari. No, sir.

Pros. Thou hast. Where was she born ? speak ; tell me.

Ari. Sir, in Argier.

Pros. O, was she so .-' I must

Once in a month recount what thou hast been.
Which thou forget'st. This damn'd witch Sycorax,
For mischiefs manifold and sorceries terrible
To enter human hearing, from Argier,
Thou know'st, was banish'd : for one thing she did
They would not take her life. Is not this true ?

Ari. Ay, sir.

Pros. This blue-eyed hag was hither brought with child

And here was left by the sailors. Thou, my slave,
As thou report'st thyself, wast then her servant ;
And, for thou wast a spirit too delicate
To act her earthy and abhorr'd commands.
Refusing her grand bests, she did confine thee,
By help of her more potent ministers
And in her most unmitigable rage,
Into a cloven pine ; within which rift
Imprison'd thou didst painfully remain
A dozen years ; within which space she died
And left thee there ; where thou didst vent thy groans
As fast as mill-wheels strike. Then was this island —


Save for the son that she did litter here,

A freckled whelp hag-bom — not honour'd with

A human shape.

AH. Yes, Caliban her son.

Pros. Dull thing, I say so ; he, that Caliban
Whom now I keep in service. Thou best know'st
What torment I did find thee in ; thy groans
Did make wolves howl and penetrate the breasts
Of ever angry bears : it was a torment
To lay upon the damn'd, which Sycorax
Could not again undo : it was mine art,
When I arrived and heard thee, that made gape
The pine and let thee out.

Ari. I thank thee, master.

Pros. If thou more murmur'st, I will rend an oak
And peg thee in his knotty entrails till
Thou hast howl'd away twelve winters.

Ari. Pardon, master ;

I will be correspondent to command
And do my spiriting gently.

Pros. Do so, and after two days

I will discharge thee.

Ari. That's my noble master !

What shall I do .'' say what ; what shall I do .-'

The liberation of Ariel by Prospero at the end of the
play in the words —

then to the elements
Be free, and fare thou well !

is, in my opinion, not a mere poetical fancy, but represents
the physical idea of the resolution of " spirit," on its escape
from " tangible bodies," into the general body of matter
in a free state.

The sexlessness and potency of Ariel correspond to
Bacon's ideas as to the nature of " spirit " in the passages
from his writings quoted above. There are other ex-
pressions in the play having similar significance :

My spirits, as in a dream, are all bound up. (i. 2.)

their great guilt,
Like poison given to work a great time after.
Now 'gins to bite the spirits, (iv. i.)

These our actors.
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air. {Ibid.)


It may be asked what part " Caliban " plays in this
train of ideas. None, in my opinion ; the conjunction of
this character with Ariel being only for the purposes of
the plot, and possibly by way of contrast. But in Caliban's
relations with Prospero I consider that there is a second
allegory, and that under this representation the author is
expressing his feelings about the lower and more primitive
strata of humanity in relation to the higher developments
of intellect and power. I have already given examples
of Bacon's feelings towards the multitude, and will only
quote here one passage from the Essays which bears on
the ideas in the play :

Praise is the reflection of virtue ; but it is as the glass or body
which giveth the reflection. If it be from the common people,
it is commonly false and naught, and rather foUoweth vain
persons than virtuous : for the common people understand not
many excellent virtues : the lowest virtues draw praise from
them, the middle virtues work in them astonishment or admira-
tion ; but of the highest virtues they have no sense or perceiving
at all ; but shows and species virtutibus sitiiiles serve best with
them.— (" Of Praise.")

In other words the "people" are an impediment to
progress, and must be controlled and amused in order
to prevent them interfering in the higher branches of
activity. In this Bacon's attitude represents philosophic
conviction rather than class prejudice, and, in his view
of the world, it is difficult to say that he was wrong,
especially in an age when a man could not be seen
reading a book of mathematics without risk of being
charged with dealing in magic, and worse if he was known
to make scientific experiments.^ The intensity, amount-
ing at times to " animus," which Bacon imparts to his
expressions on this subject is, to a great extent, the
measure of his enthusiasm for material and social improve-
ment. No doubt this habit of thought is pagan, and
since the supersession of paganism as the orthodox view
of the world, it has become more and more ihe practice

^ For example, Earl Percy, known as the "Wizard Earl," Harriot, and


Online LibraryEdward George HarmanEdmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon → online text (page 12 of 55)