Edward George Harman.

Edmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon online

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deal with good compositions ; and not the Paracelsians, that
deal with these fine separations : and in music, I ever loved easy
airs, that go full all the parts together ; and not these strange
points of accord and discord. This I write not, I assure your
Honour, officiously \ except it be according to Tully's Offices ;
that is, honestly and morally.^

With the above examples from Bacon's acknowledged
works compare the following from Spenser :

my simple lines testimonie. — Teares of the Muses: Dedication.

this simple remembrance. — Ibid.

a simple present to you of these my idle labours. . . .
Simple is the device, and the composition meane, yet carrieth
some delight, even the rather because of the simplicitie and
meannesse thus personated. — Mother Hubberds Tale : Dedication.
[These expressions are designed to cover up the real bearing of
the piece.]

• Spedding, Life, vi. 171. * Ibid. vi. 246. ^ /j,v/ i. 356.


I make you a present of this simple pastorall. . . . The
which I humbly beseech you to accept . . . and with your
good countenance protect against the malice of evill mouthes,
which are alwaies wide open to carpe at and misconstrue my
simple meaning. — Colin Clout: Dedication to Sir Walter Ralegh.

in simple eie. — Colin Clout.

simple honestie. — Ibid.

That hers I die . . .

This simple trophe of her great conquest. — Ibid.

See how the stubborne damzell doth deprave
My simple meaning with disdainfull scorne.

Sonnet xxix.
one mans simple head.

Sonnet xxxiii.

in my simple wit.

Sonnet xl.

Till then, dread Lord, vouchsafe to take of me
This simple song, thus fram'd in praise of thee.

Hymne in Hotiour of Love.

Next him Tenantius raignd ; then Kimbeline,
What time th'eternall Lord in fleshly slime
Enwombed was, from wretched Adam's line
To purge away the guilt of sinfull crime.
O joyous memorie of happy time,
That heavenly grace so plenteously displayd !
(O too high ditty for my simple rime !)

Faerie Queene, IL x. 50.

Two examples may be quoted from Shakespeare. In
the first the writer, in a humorous passage, is referring
(as I think) to the working of his own genius, and makes
light of it, as is the habit of men living in the world, to
avoid offence, envy, or a reputation for peculiarity :

Holofernes. This is a gift that I have, simple, simple ; a
foolish extravagant spirit, full of forms, figures, shapes, objects,
ideas, apprehensions, motions, revolutions : these are begot in
the ventricle of memory, nourished in the womb of pia mater,
and delivered upon the mellowing of occasion. But the gift
is good in those in whom it is acute, and I am thankful for it. —
L.L.L. iv. 2.

In the second the author seems to me to be
describing his own character, as he believed it to be,


and as, at its best, and in intention, it probably was.
The speech has little reference to the situation as
between Troilus and Cressida, and is an example, among
many others, where the author, in my opinion, uses a
character as a means of self-expression :

Ores. My lord, will you be true ?

Tro. Who, I ? alas, it is my vice, my fault :
Whiles others fish with craft for great opinion,
I with great truth catch mere simplicity ;
Whilst some with cunning gild their copper crowns,
With truth and plainness I do wear mine bare.
Fear not my truth : the moral of my wit
Is ' plain and true ' ; there 's all the reach of it.

Troilus and Cressida^ iv. 4.

The following instances of the same mannerism come
from the anonymous Arte of Poesie :

a feat of mine owne simple facultie. — Address purporting to
be by the Printer (" R. F." — Richard Field), but obviously in
the style of the author.

the ancient guise in old times used at weddings (in my simple
opinion) nothing reproveable. (i. 26.)

but hereunto serveth a reason in my simple conceite. (iii. 5.)

" William Webbe," referred to in Chapter I., opens
his book with the same trick of style, and other
examples of it occur in the course of the book, e.g: :

Thus farre foorth haue I aduentured to sette downe parte
of my simple judgement concerning those Poets.

I will now offer some remarks on the " inaccuracy "
of Shakespeare. This is always brought forward in
controversy as a reason why the plays could not have
been written by a man who had received a classical
education. It is perhaps not realised by those who
make use of the argument that both Spenser and
Bacon betray the same habit. I will not ask the
reader to accept this on my own statement, but refer


him to two writers of autliority, who report on this
subject, in each case, as follows :
Spenser :

His classical learning, whether acquired there [at Cambridge]
or elsewhere, was copious, but curiously inaccurate. — Dean
Church, Spenser, p. 17.

Strong in the abundant but unsifted learning of his day,
a style of learning which in his case was strangely inaccurate. —
Ibid. p. 135.

Bacon :

Mr. S. H. Reynolds, in his Introduction to Bacons
Essays, writes as follows :

For accuracy in detail Bacon had no care whatever, and
this again may be set down as probably a part of his craft.
Carelessness of detail is certainly one of the characteristics of
Bacon's Essays. Laboured and elaborate as they are in parts,
and claiming to be written for all time as long as books shall
last, they are none the less crowded with errors and misquota-
tions, or are borne out in parts by manufactured evidence
distorted from its original sense.

The same writer notes that Spedding admits Bacon's
inaccuracy, but thinks (quoting Rawley) it was deliberate
for the sake of presenting the substance in a better
form, or a form better suited to the particular occasion.
He also observes that it seems certain that Bacon
frequently quoted from memory.

While revising the present work I noticed a review
of the late Mr. Andrew Lang's book on the Shakespeare
question, in the course of which the usual argument
appeared. As it is typical of others of a similar
character I append an extract :

Is it likely that Bacon would have made the kind of
mistakes in history, geography and mythology which occur
in A Winter's Tale or Troilus and Cressida} Shakespeare
accommodated prehistoric Athens with a duke. He gave
Scotland cannon three hundred years too early, and made
Cleopatra play at billiards. Look at his notion of the "very
manners" of early post-Roman Britain in Cynibeline and
King Lear ! A playwright with a good smattering of knowledge
and a supreme genius might do these things, but surely not
Bacon. — Spectator, Jan. 18, 19 13.


This is a class of thought by which I think we are
somewhat oppressed at the present day. Does any one
seriously suppose that at the time when Shakespeare
wrote, and for long after, people had any regard for
" early post-Roman " manners, or any other manners
belonging to the past ? In point of fact the writer has
made an error (no doubt inadvertently) in the instance
of Lear, who was one of the mythical sovereigns of
" Brutus' sacred progeny," who is said to have reigned
in Britain before " Ferrex and Porrex," and within 700
years of the sack of Troy, whenever that may have been
{F. Q., II. X., and Geoffrey of Monmouth). In selecting
this character for the story of the play the author was
following the example of the Greeks in using native
legend as a vehicle for presenting great examples. He
also follows them in mixing up the past with contemporary
life and making the characters speak in contemporary
language, though it is true that he was more indifferent
in the way he did this ; but he was not writing under
the strict and semi-religious conventions of the Attic
theatre. If Shakespeare accommodates prehistoric Athens
with a " duke," Spenser furnishes the more ancient
infernal regions with a " prince " of mediaeval chivalry —
"the Stygian Princes boure " (Faerie Queene, IV. x. 58) ;
and as to Cleopatra and her " billiards," Shakespeare
was representing her as a light, cruel and worthless
woman, and Spenser, in his youth at any rate, disap-
proved of billiards and other time-wasting games for
people in such a position — " halliards farre unfit " {MotJier
Hubberds Tale). But if we are to exercise our minds
about anachronisms in Shakespeare's plays let us at
least do so about the real ones — I mean the anachronisms
in the thought — and find an explanation, if we can, for
such a speech as the following in the mouth of a semi-
barbarous chieftain :

Lear. No, no, no, no ! Come, let's away to prison :
We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage :
When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness : so we'll live,


And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news ; and we'll talk with them too.
Who loses and who wins ; who 's in, who 's out ;
And take upon 's the mystery of things.
As if we were God's spies : and we'll wear out,
In a wall'd prison, packs and sects of great ones,
That ebb and flow by the moon. (v. 3.)

I will suggest an explanation : that the expression
" God's spies " comes from Epictetus, who says that
philosophers are the spies and messengers of God, and
the " mystery of things " is rerum causas, the quest of
philosophy. The same thought occurs in the draft for a
pardon after Bacon's fall, written, no doubt, as Spedding
says, by himself :

Cum praedilecto consanguineo nostro Francisco Vicecomite
St. Alban propositum sit deinceps vitam degere quietam et
tranquillam in studiis et contemplatione rerum, atque hoc mode
etiam posteritati inservire, cujus rei per scripta sua jampridem
edita specimen de se praebuit non vulgare. . . . — Life, vii. 307.

Again, in Antony and Cleopatra, what relevancy to
Cleopatra's character or the situation is there in the words,

My desolation does begin to make
A better life. (v. 2.)

and similarly of the lines in the same scene :

Be it known, that we, the greatest, are misthought
For things that others do ; and, when we fall,
We answer others' merits in our name.
Are therefore to be pitied.

Similarly, also, the lines at the close of Scene 2 of the
fourth Act of Cymbeline :

Be cheerful ; wipe thine eyes ;
Some falls are means the happier to arise.

With these expressions may be compared Bacon's
correspondence immediately after his fall and release
from the Tower (Spedding, Life, vii. 280-97, etc.).

Let us now consider the problem of Bacon's " in-
accuracy," as described (quite justly) in the quotation



from Mr. Reynolds's introductory essay given above. It
is to be attributed in part to a system deliberately
adopted, and in part to the peculiarities of his tempera-
ment. It was Bacon's ambition to supersede the writings
of antiquity, and to supply a body of literature and
philosophy, freed from " terms of art," which would find
access to the minds of people of average intelligence who
could not, or would not, acquire learning in the difficult
paths of scholarship. The students in his school, men,
that is, and women in the active world, were not asked to
know anything about the past or expected to pore over
its documents. He had done that for them, and he
claimed the right to use the material as he thought best
for their instruction. It must be remembered also that
ideas about " literature " as a body of thought, and as a
calling entailing mutual obligations, hardly existed, that
there was little or no means of obtaining exact informa-
tion about the past, and that there was no historical
sense, and no publicity. If, therefore, Bacon deliberately
misquoted or handled material in ways which would now
be considered dishonest, we must not, in judging such
practices, lose sight of the standards and conditions of the
age. Lastly (as I have said in other places). Bacon's
quest of " universality " and habit of generalisation tended
to make him indifferent to the particular, and the slender-
ness of his emotions, owing to their dispersal in a general
sensibility, was such that the sense of the individual tie
and human obligation was not sufficiently active to
prevent this indifference extending to persons as well as
things and incidents. In short, to come to " plain
English," he was unscrupulous, and to an extent which is
not, in his case, to be wholly accounted for by the very
unscrupulous character of the age. In saying this I am
not passing judgment on him ; I am merely applying the
standards of common humanity, which it is idle to pretend
that his conduct on many occasions satisfies. At the
same time we must not forget to make full allowance for
the effect on character of the constant habit of " imitation "
which dramatic work on a large scale involves. This


question is discussed at length in the third and tenth
books of the Republic of Plato, where it is concluded
that the habit of imitating the bad as well as the good
(in which the writers of tragedy and comedy are
particularly referred to), and being concerned in every-
thing rather than keeping to one thing, cannot but react
unfavourably on a man's character. Plato's ideal of a
State is not ours, being conceived under conditions of
physical danger and violence from without which are no
longer present from day to day. On the other hand, in the
modern State, owing to the absence of a caste of slaves,
and the greater pressure and complexity of life, the
internal conditions are much more strenuous. Under the
conditions present in the mind of Plato the individual is
regarded as existing for the State instead of the State
existing for the individual, and there is very little room
for the idea of individual self-development. But though
the considerations which lead Plato to banish the
imitative poet (Sidney's " right poet ") from his ideal
Republic are felt to rest upon a view of social life which
is no longer applicable, psychologically his observations
on this subject are weighty, and especially deserve
attention from those who are interested in the nature of
what is called the " artistic temperament." The pecul-
iarities of Bacon's character, and the so-called " imperson-
ality" of Shakespeare, are probably closely connected.
My own view is that the writer of the plays had no strong
personality, but was capable of assuming any in the pro-
cesses of invention and imitation. It seems to me quite
certain that a man of strong character, whose emotions
run in a deep and consistent channel, is incapable of
expressing the feelings of other people, and indeed has no
desire to do so, being engrossed in his own. I should
extend this explanation also to the absence of " passion "
which has been noted in Spenser, and the still more
marked " bloodlessness " of the semi-narrative work of
the same writer, as, for instance, the Arcadia, which I
attribute to him. The nearer he gets to speech in his
own person the more the detachment of his nature from


human passions makes itself felt ; whereas, at the other
extreme, where the author is entirely immersed in a
" projected personality " he displays all its qualities in
just proportion. It is noticeable that even the most
intense plays of Shakespeare, such as Macbeth and Lear,
appear to leave the author's serenity quite undisturbed.
The play of Hamlet seems to me to present an exception,
perhaps more apparent than real, to this ; but that play
is, in the main, concerned, through the person of
" Hamlet," with the author's own complaints. Spenser's
work is full of similar complaints, and they appear to arise
out of two causes — frustrated ambition, and want of
harmony between the writer's spirit and the mundane
conditions in which it finds itself.

As regards Bacon's habit of quotation and reference,
viewed as part of a system of art deliberately adopted,
the explanation of it is to be found in his theory of
poetic art, first announced by him, in my belief, in the
Apologie for Poetrie published under the name of Sidney ^
i" 1595 (though written much earlier), and re -stated
more summarily in the Advancement of Learning,
published in 1605, ^"d later (with an important
addition) in the De Augmentis, published in 1623.
From the extracts from these works which I proceed to
give, the reader can form his own opinion as to the
identity of authorship, and in any case he will see the
relevance of the theory to the features of inaccuracy
which are found, in varying degrees (in my opinion
depending largely on the nature of the audience
addressed), in the works alike of Spenser, Shakespeare
and Bacon.

Extracts in illustration of the foregoing paragraph
from An Apologie for Poetrie:

There is no Arte deliuered to mankinde, that hath not the

' Some writers have suggested (I think with reason) that this work was
based on the supposed lost work of Spenser referred to by " E. K." in the
argument to the "October" Eclogue of the Shepheards Caletider as "The
English Poete," which, he says, " being lately come into my hands, I mynde
also ... to publish." See p. 14 above.


workes of Nature for his principall obiect, without which they
could not consist, and on which they so depend, as they become
Actors and Players as it were, of what Nature will haue set foorth.

The writer runs through various arts by way of example,
and continues as follows :

And the Metaphisick, though it be in the seconde and
abstract notions, and therefore be counted supernaturall : yet
doth hee indeede builde vpon the depth of Nature : onely the
Poet, disdayning to be tied to any such subiection, lifted vp
with the vigor of his owne inuention, dooth growe in effect,
another nature, in making things either better then Nature
bringeth forth, or quite a newe formes such as neuer were in
Nature, as the Heroes, Demigods, Cyclops, Chimeras, Furies, and
such like : so as hee goeth hand in hand with Nature, not
inclosed within the narrow warrant of her guifts, but freely
ranging onely within the Zodiack of his owne wit.

Nature neuer set forth the earth in so rich tapistry, as diuers
Poets haue done, neither with plesant riuers, fruitful trees, sweet
smelling flowers : nor whatsoeuer els may make the too much
loued earth more louely. Her world is brasen, the Poets only
deliuer a golden : but let those things alone and goe to man,
for whom as the other things are, so it seemeth in him her
vttermost cunning is imployed, and knowe whether shee haue
brought foorth so true a louer as Theagines, so constant a friende
as Pilades, so valiant a man as Orlando, so right a Prince as
Xerwphons Cyrus ^ : so excellent a man euery way, as Virgils
Aeneas : neither let this be iestingly conceiued, because the
works of the one be essensiall : the other, in imitation or fiction,
for any vnderstanding knoweth the skil of the Artificer : standeth
in that Idea or fore-conceite of the work, and not in the work
it selfe. And that the Poet hath that Idea, is manifest, by
deliuering them forth in such excellencie as hee hath imagined
them. Which deliuering forth also, is not wholie imaginatiue,
as we are wont to say by them that build Castles in the ayre :
but so farre substantially it worketh, not onely to make a Cyms,
which had been but a particuler excellencie, as Nature might
haue done, but to bestow a Cyrus vpon the worlde, to make
many Cyms's, if they wil learne aright, why, and how that
Maker made him.

Neyther let it be deemed too sawcie a comparison to ballance
the highest poynt of mans wit with the efficacie of Nature : but

• This example (Xenophon's Cyrus) is used by Spenser to illustrate the same
doctrine in the introductory epistle to the Faerie Queene. Cf. p. 105 ;/. 2.


rather giue right honor to the heauenly Maker of that maker :
who hauing made man to his owne likenes, set him beyond and
ouer all the workes of that second nature, which in nothing hee
sheweth so much as in Poetrie : when with the force of a diuine
breath, he bringeth things forth far surpassing her dooings, with
no small argument to the incredulous of that first accursed fall
of Adam : sith our erected wit, maketh vs know what perfection
is, and yet our infected will, keepeth vs from reaching vnto it.
But these arguments wil by fewe be vnderstood, and by fewer
granted. . . .

Poesie therefore is an arte of imitation, for so Aristotle
termeth it in his word Mimesis^ that is to say, a representing,
counterfetting, or figuring foorth : to speake metaphorically, a
speaking picture : with this end, to teach and delight ; of this
haue beene three seuerall kindes. The chiefe both in antiquitie
and excellencie, were they that did imitate the inconceiuable
excellencies of GOD. Such were, Dauid in his Psalmes. . . .

In this kinde, though in a full wrong diuinitie, were Orpheus,
Amphion, Homer in his hymes, and many other, both Greekes
and Romaines. . . .

The second kinde, is of them that deale with matters
Philosophicall ; eyther morrall, as Ttrteus, Phocilides and Cato,
or naturall, as Lucretius and Virgils Georgicks : or Astronomical),
as Manilius, and Pontanus : or historical, as Lucan : which who
mislike, the faulte is in their iudgements quite out of taste, and
not in the sweet foode of sweetly vttered knowledge. But
because thys second sorte is wrapped within the folde of the
proposed subiect, and takes not the course of his owne inuention,
whether they properly be Poets or no, let Gramarians dispute :
and goe to the thyrd, indeed right Poets, of whom chiefly this
question ariseth ; betwixt whom, and these second is such a
kinde of difference, as betwixt the meaner sort of Painters, (who
counterfet onely such faces as are sette before them) and the
more excellent : who hauing no law but wit, bestow that in
cuUours vpon you which is fittest for the eye to see : as the
constant, though lamenting looke of Lucrecia, when she punished
in her selfe an others fault.

Wherein he painteth not Lucrecia whom he neuer sawe,
but painteth the outwarde beauty of such a vertue : for these
third be they which most properly do imitate to teach and
delight, and to imitate, borrow nothing of what is, hath been,
or shall be : but range onely rayned with learned discretion, into
the diuine consideration of what may be, and should be. . . .

Nowe therefore it shall not bee amisse first to waigh this
latter sort of Poetrie by his works, and then by his partes ; and


if in neyther of these Anatomies hee be condemnable, I hope
wee shall obtaine a more fauourable sentence. This purifing
of wit, this enritching of memory, enabling of iudgment, and
enlarging of conceyt, which commonly we call learning, vnder
what name soeuer it com forth, or to what immediat end soeuer
it be directed, the final end is, to lead and draw vs to as high a
perfection, as our degenerate soules made worse by theyr clayey
lodgings, can be capable of. . . .

But now may it be alledged, that if this imagining of matters
be so fitte for the imagination, then must the Historian needs
surpasse, who bringeth you images of true matters, such as
indeede were doone, and not such as fantastically or falsely may be
suggested to haue been doone. Truely Aristotle himselfe in his
discourse of Poesie, plainely determineth this question, saying,
that Poetry is Philosophoteron and Spoudaioteron, that is to say,
it is more Philosophicall, and more studiously serious, then
history. His reason is, because Poesie dealeth with Katholou,
that is to say, with the vniuersall consideration ; and the history
with Kathekastofi, the perticuler ; nowe sayth he, the vniuersall
wayes what is fit to bee sayd or done, eyther in likelihood or
necessity, (which the Poesie considereth in his imposed names,)
and the perticuler, onely mark's, whether Aldbiades did, or
suffered, this or that. Thus farre Aristotle : which reason of his,
(as all his) is most full of reason. For indeed, if the question
were whether it were better to haue a perticular acte truly or
falsly set down : there is no doubt which is to be chosen, no
more then whether you had rather haue Vespasians picture right
as hee was, or at the Painters pleasure nothing resembling. But
if the question be for your owne vse and learning, whether it be
better to haue it set downe as it should be, or as it was : then

Online LibraryEdward George HarmanEdmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon → online text (page 14 of 55)