Edward George Harman.

Edmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon online

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certainely is more doctrinable the fained Cirus of Xenophon then
the true Cyrus in Justine : and the fayned Aeneas in Virgil^
then the right Aeneas in Dares Fhrigius. . . .

So then the best of the Historian, is subiect to the Poet ; for
whatsoeuer action, or faction, whatsoeuer counsell, pollicy, or
warre stratagem, the Historian is bound to recite, that may the
Poet (if he list) with his imitation make his own ; beautifying
it both for further teaching, and more delighting, as it pleaseth
him : hauing all, from Dante his heauen, to hys hell, vnder the
authoritie of his penne. Which if I be asked what Poets haue
done so, as I might well name some, yet say I, and say againe,
I speak of the Arte, and not of the Artificer.

Extract from the Advancement of Learning (written in
English), 1605 :


Poesy ^ is a part of learning in measure of words for the
most part restrained, but in all other points extremely licensed,
and doth truly refer to the Imagination ; which, being not tied
to the laws of matter, may at pleasure join that which nature
hath severed, and sever that which nature hath joined, and so
make unlawful matches and divorces of things : Pictoribus atque
poetis, &c. [Painters and Poets have always been allowed to
take what liberties they would.] It is taken in two senses, in
respect of words or matter. In the first sense it is but a character
of style, and belongeth to arts of speech, and is not pertinent
for the present. In the later, it is (as hath been said) one of
the principal portions of learning, and is nothing else but Feigned
History, which may be styled as well in prose as in verse.^

The use of this Feigned History hath been to give some
shadow of satisfaction to the mind of man in those points
wherein the nature of things doth deny it ; the world being in
proportion inferior to the soul ; by reason whereof there is
agreeable to the spirit of man a more ample greatness, a more
exact goodness, and a more absolute variety, than can be found
in the nature of things. Therefore, because the acts or events
of true history have not that magnitude which satisfieth the
mind of mind, poesy feigneth acts and events greater and more
heroical ; because true history propoundeth the successes and
issues of actions not so agreeable to the merits of virtue and
vice, therefore poesy feigns them more just in retribution, and
more according to revealed providence ; because true history
representeth actions and events more ordinary and less inter-
changed, therefore poesy endueth them with more rareness, and
more unexpected and alternative variations. So as it appeareth
that poesy serveth and conferreth to magnanimity, morality, and
to delectation. And therefore it was ever thought to have some
participation of divineness, because it doth raise and erect the
mind, by submitting the shews of things to the desires of the
mind ; whereas reason doth buckle and bow the mind into the
nature of things. And we see that by these insinuations and
congruities with man's nature and pleasure, joined also with the
agreement and consort it hath with music, it hath had access

1 " De Aug. ii. 13. The arrangement is partly altered in the transla-
tion, and much new matter introduced : among the rest, a whole paragraph
concerning the true use and dignity of dramatic poetry, as a vehicle of moral
instruction ; which is connected in a striking manner with the remark that
men in bodies are more open to impressions than when alone." (Note by
Spedding. )

2 The doctrine that poetry is not necessarily confined to verse is also
enunciated in Sidney's Apologie.


and estimation in rude times and barbarous regions, where
other learning stood excluded. — JVoris, iii. 343-4.

Extract from Spedding's translation of the Latin De
AugmentiSy which itself is a translation, made under
Bacon's supervision (with sundry additions and alterations),
of the Advancement :

Now Poesy (as I have already observed) is taken in two
senses ; in respect of words or matter. In the first sense it is
but a character of speech ; for verse is only a kind of style and
a certain form of elocution, and has nothing to do with the
matter ; for both true history may be written in verse and feigned
history in prose. But in the latter sense, I have set it down
from the first as one of the principal branches of learning, and
placed it by the side of history ; being indeed nothing else but
an imitation of history at pleasure. And therefore, endeavouring
as I do in these divisions to trace out and pursue the true veins
of learning, without (in many points) following custom and the
divisions which are received, I dismiss from the present discourse
Satires, Elegies, Epigrams, Odes, and the like ; and refer them
to philosophy and arts of speech. And under the name of
Poesy, I treat only of feigned history.

The division of Poesy which is aptest and most according to
the propriety thereof, besides those divisions which it has in
common with History (for there are feigned Chronicles, feigned
Lives, and feigned Relations), is into Poesy Narrative, Dramatic,
and Parabolical. Narrative Poesy is a mere imitation of History,
such as might pass for real, only that it commonly exaggerates
things beyond probability. Dramatic Poesy is as History made
visible ; for it represents actions as if they were present, whereas
History represents them as past. Parabolical Poesy is typical
History, by which ideas that are objects of the intellect are
represented in forms that are objects of the sense.

As for Narrative Poesy, — or Heroical, if you like so to call
it (understanding it of the matter, not of the verse) — the founda-
tion of it is truly noble, and has a special relation to the dignity
of human nature. For as the sensible world is inferior in dig-
nity to the rational soul. Poesy seems to bestow upon human
nature those things which history denies to it ; and to satisfy the
mind with the shadows of things when the substance cannot be
obtained. For if the matter be attentively considered, 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. And therefore, since the acts
and events which are the subjects of real history are not of
sufificient grandeur to satisfy the human mind, Poesy is at hand
to feign acts more heroical ; since the successes and issues of
actions as related in true history are far from being agreeable to
the merits of virtue and vice, Poesy corrects it, exhibiting events
and fortunes as according to merit and the law of providence ;
since true history wearies the mind with satiety of ordinary
events, one like another, Poesy refreshes it, by reciting things
unexpected and various and full of vicissitudes. So that this
Poesy conduces not only to delight but also to magnanimity and
morality. Whence it may be fairly 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. And by these charms, and
that agreeable congruity which it has with man's nature,
accompanied also with music, to gain more sweet access, it has
so won its way as to have been held in honour even in the
rudest ages and among barbarous peoples, when other kinds of
learning were utterly excluded.

Dramatic Poesy, 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 of
corruptions in this kind we have enough ; but the discipline has
in our times been plainly neglected. And though in modern
states play-acting is esteemed but as a toy, except when it is too
satirical and biting ; yet among the ancients it was used as a
means of educating men's minds to virtue. Nay, it has been
regarded by learned men and great philosophers as a kind of
musician's bow by which men's minds may be played upon.
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 together than when they are
alone. — Works, iv. 315-16.

The last paragraph is the new one to which Spedding
refers in his note (given on p. 152 above), and under the
Latin original of it (^De Augmentis, ii. 13) he has a further
note beginning as follows :

There is nothing in the Advancement of Learnin^^ corresponding
to this paragraph.

It is a curious fact that these remarks on the character of the
modern drama were probably written, and were certainly first


published, in the same year which saw the first collection of
Shakespeare's plays ; of which, though they had been filling the
theatre for the last thirty years, I very much doubt whether
Bacon had ever heard. — Works, i. 519.

This extraordinary conclusion is based on the paucity
of contemporary notices as to the publication or acting of
the plays, and the general indifference of the public as to
the authorship of a successful drama.

Another very significant allusion to the practical uses
of poetry occurs in the Advancement, where the writer is
discussing the diseases of the mind of man and the
methods to be sought for curing them. For this purpose
he says we must first distinguish the various dispositions
of men, and he adds :

For the distinctions are found (many of them), but we conclude
no precepts upon them : wherein our fault is the greater, because
both history, poesy, and daily experience, are as goodly fields
where these observations grow ; whereof we make a few posies
to hold in our hands, but no man bringeth them to the con-
fectionary, that receits might be made of them for the use of
life. — Works, iii, 435.

This passage was dropped out of the De Augmentis,
and in place of it there is a passage recommending the
drawing up of a sort of analysis of the characters of
historical personages found in " the wiser sort of historians."
These are preferred for this purpose to the poets on the
ground that the representations of character by the
latter are generally " exaggerated and surpassing the
truth." ^ What was the cause of the modification of the
complaint made in 1605 and the emendation of 1623?
It would be entirely in accordance with Bacon's character
that he should consider no one capable of again taking
up the ground occupied by the Shakespeare plays, and
should wish the world to be content with them, and for
further illustrations of character confine themselves to

The last extract which I need give in illustration of
Bacon's method of handling material is the address

' Works, V. 21-22 (Spedding's translation).


accompanying a fragment entitled Of the Colours of Good
and Evil. The passage is not only interesting as showing
Bacon's habit of mind in regard to the work of his pre-
decessors, but is characteristic in other ways :

To the Lord Mountjoye

I send you the last part of the best book of Aristotle of Stagira,
who, as your Lordship knoweth, goeth for the best author. But
saving the civil respect which is due to a received estimation, the
man, being a Grecian, and of a hasty wit, having hardly a dis-
cerning patience, much less a teaching patience, hath so delivered
the matter, as I am glad to do the part of a good house-hen, which
without any strangeness will sit upon pheasant's eggs. And yet,
perchance, some that shall compare my lines with Aristotle's
lines will muse by what art, or rather by what revelation, I could
draw these conceits out of that place. But I, that should know
best, do freely acknowledge that I had my light from him ; for
where he gave me not matter to perfect, at the least he gave me
occasion to invent. Wherein as I do him right, being myself
a man that am as free from envying the dead in contemplation as
from envying the living in action or fortune : so yet nevertheless
still I say, and I speak it more largely than before, that in perus-
ing the writings of this person so much celebrated, whether it
were the impediment of his wit, or that he did it upon glory and
affectation to be subtile, as one that, if he had seen his own
conceits clearly and perspicuously delivered, perhaps would have
been out of love with them himself; or else upon policy, to keep
himself close, as one that had been a challenger of all the world,
and had raised infinite contradiction : to what cause soever it is
to be ascribed, I do not find him to deliver and unwrap himself
well of that he seemeth to conceive, nor to be a master of his
own knowledge. Neither do I for my part also, though I have
brought in a new manner of handling this argument, to make it
pleasant and lightsome, pretend so to have overcome the nature
of the subject, but that the full understanding and use of it will
be somewhat dark, and best pleasing the taste of such wits as are
patient to stay the digesting and soluting unto themselves of that
which is sharp and subtile. Which was the cause, joined with
the love and honour which I bear your lordship, as the person
I know to have many virtues, and an excellent order of them,
which moved me to dedicate this writing to your lordship after
the ancient manner ; choosing both a friend, and one to whom
I conceived the argument was agreeable. — Works, vii. 70.


There were, however, other motives in Bacon's methods,
which may, to some extent, be attributed to his social
surroundings and public ambitions. The very remarkable
passages in the Arte of English Poesie (1589), which I
quote below, refer, in my belief, to such motives, and in
general describe the nature of Bacon's genius and art :

These and many such like disguisings do we find in mans
behauiour, and specially in the Courtiers of forraine Countreyes,
where in my youth I was brought vp, and very well obserued
their maner of life and conuersation, for of mine owne Countrey
I haue not made so great experience.^ Which parts, neuerthelesse,
we allow not now in our English maker, because we haue geuen
him the name of an honest man, and not of an hypocrite : and
therefore leauing these manner of dissimulations to all base-
minded men, and of vile nature or misterie, we doe allow our
Courtly Poet to be a dissembler only in the subtilties of his arte :
that is, when he is most artificiall, so to disguise and cloake it as
it may not appeare, nor seeme to proceede from him by any
studie or trade of rules, but to be his naturall : nor so euidently
to be descried, as euery ladde that reades him shall say he is a
good schoUer, but will rather haue him to know his arte well,
and little to vse it. (iii. 25.)

Also in that which the Poet speakes or reports of another
mans tale or doings, as Homer of Priamus or Vlisses, he is as
the painter or keruer that worke by imitation and representation
in a forrein subiect, in that he speakes figuratiuely, or argues
subtillie, or perswades copiously and vehemently, he doth as the
cunning gardiner that vsing nature as a coadiutor, furders her
conclusions and many times make her effectes more absolute and
straunge. But for that in our maker or Poet, which restes onely
in deuise and issues from an excellent sharpe and quick inuention,

* It is impossible, reading this book, to believe that this statement is true.
There are many others in the book of a similar character, which, in my belief,
were inserted for purposes of concealment. It is possible that they were
intended to apply to an assumed personality, which would be that of some
person living at the time, and that the writer was prevented from using the
name, and therefore published the book anonymously. The fact that the
book begins and ends with a personal address to the Queen, and that the
printer pretends that it came into his hands (long and elaborate as it is)
without any author's name or address, supports this view. If this were so,
who would pay the expenses of publication ? The book is a work full of wit
and wisdom, but also of strangeness and extravagance, quite out of the
common road. It might, indeed, be cited as an example of the eccentricity
of genius.


holpen by a cleare and bright phantasie and imagination, he is
not as the painter to counterfaite the naturall by the like effects
and not the same, nor as the gardiner aiding nature to worke
both the same and the Hke, nor as the Carpenter to worke effectes
vtterly vnUke, but even as nature her selfe working by her owne
pecuHar vertue and proper instinct and not by example or medi-
tation or exercise as all other artificers do, is then most admired
when he is most naturall and least artificiall. And in the feates
of his language and vtterance, because they hold aswell of nature
to be suggested and vttered as by arte to be polished and reformed.
Therefore shall our Poet receaue prayse for both, but more by
knowing of his arte then by vnseasonable vsing it, and be more
commended for his naturall eloquence then for his artificiall, and
more for his artificiall well disembled, then for the same ouer-
much affected and grossely or vndiscretly bewrayed, as many
makers and Oratours do. — Ibid.

Among the volumes which have been written on the
genius and art of Shakespeare, I doubt if anything has
been said which is so appropriate and illuminating as this.



Spenser, according to the story, came over from Ireland
at the end of 1589 to publish his Faerie Queene, but
had to return to look after his affairs in that country
perhaps towards the close of 1590, or, as some suggest,
after the award of his pension in February i 591. Works,
however, from his pen continued to appear, and early in
I 591 a volume entitled ^^ Complai?iis : containing sundrie
small poems of the Worlds Vanitie " was published, as by
" Ed. Sp.," with an address by the Printer, who speaks of
"his departure over Sea":

The Printer to the Gentle Reader

Since my late setting foorth of the Faerie Queene, finding that
it hath found a favourable passage amongst you, I have sithence
endevoured by all good meanes (for the better encrease and
accomplishment of your delights,) to get into my handes such
smale Poemes of the same Authors, as I heard were disperst
abroad in sundrie hands, and not easie to bee come by, by him-
selfe ; some of them having bene diverslie imbeziled and purloyned
from him since his departure over Sea. Of the which I have,
by good meanes, gathered togeather these fewe parcels present,
which I have caused to bee imprinted altogeather, for that they
al seeme to containe like matter of argument in them ; being
all complaints and meditations of the worlds vanitie, verie grave
and profitable. To which effect I understand that he besides
wrote sundrie others, n^ineWt Ecclcsiastes and Canticum cantkomm
translated, A senights slumber. The hell of lovers, his Furgalorie,
being all dedicated to Ladies ; so as it may seeme he ment them
all to one volume. Besides some other Pamphlets looselie
scattered abroad : as The dying Ffllicati, The howers of the Lord,



The sacrifice of a sifiner, The seven Psahnes^ &c. which when I
can, either by himselfe or otherwise, attaine too, I meane Hke-
wise for your favour sake to set foorth. In the meane time,
praying you genthe to accept of these, and graciousHe to
entertaine the new Poet, / take leave.

The fact that this book was licensed for publication
under date 29th December 1590 led Grosart to the con-
clusion that the " Printer " was " really Spenser himself
speaking with that kind of blind or mystification found
later in Pope or Swift." I agree, and I think also that the
titles of some of the " sundry other " works were probably
an invention with the object of conciliating the prejudice
which existed against poetry.

The pieces included were :

1. The Ruines of Time.

2. The Teares of the Muses.

3. Virgils Gnat.

4. Prosopopoia, or Mother Hjibberds Tale.

5. The Ruines of Rome : by Bellay.

6. Muiopotmos, or the Fate of the Butterflie.

7. Visions of the Worlds Vanitie.

8. Bellay es Visions.

9. Petr arc lies Visions.

I, 2, 3, 4 have all carefully prepared dedications in a
style indistinguishable from the Printer's address.

The Ruines of Time is dedicated to Mary, Countess of
Pembroke, Sir Philip Sidney's sister, who is referred to as
" the Patron of my young Muses," and speaking of the
death of her brother (1586) the author says that he had
" conceived this small Poeme " " sithens my late cumming
to England," which is difficult to reconcile with the
Printer's alleged difficulties in collecting the poems,
apparently at the identical time. In the dedication of
Mother Hubberds Tale to Lady Compton, the author, in
speaking of his " humble affection and faithfull duetie "
to the house from which she sprang, says : " I have at
length found occasion to remember the same, by making a
simple present to you of these my idle labours ; which
having long sithens composed in the raw conceipt of my


youth, I lately amongst other papers lighted upon, and
was by others, which liked the same, mooved to set them
foorth." I am aware that it is held that these poems
were first circulated in manuscript, but there would be
no sense in the words quoted except in relation to
publication in print, and the author has forgotten, or has
not thought it worth while to trouble about, their incon-
sistency with the version that the printer was responsible
for the publication. Similarly also in the case of the
dedication for the Teares of the Muses, where the writer
uses the words " to make the same universallie knowen
to the world."

Internal evidence confirms the evidence of the dedi-
cation that the Ruines of Time was composed, or com-
pleted, in 1590. The poet is described as seeing an
apparition of a woman representing the ancient city of
Verulam, and lamenting its decay :

It chaunced me on day beside the shore
Of silver streaming Thamesis to bee,
Nigh where the goodly Verlame stood of yore,
Of which there now remaines no memorie ;

and subsequently, as Old Verulam was not situated on
the Thames, she is made to say that the river had left it :

Seemes that the gentle River for great griefe

■ • • • •

From my unhappie neighborhood farre fled,
And his sweete waters away with him led.

With such geographical difficulties to be overcome,
why should Spenser have gone out of his way to place
the scene of his lament over people who had flourished, as
he had, in London — Leicester, Sidney, and others — at Old
Verulam ? In the case of Francis Bacon it is intelligible,
as it was his father's home, and by his will he directed
that he should be buried in St. Michael's church near
St. Albans, both because his mother was buried there,
and because it was " the only Christian church within
the walls of Old Verulam."

In the same poem occurs the well-known reference
to Lord Burghley :



Those two be those two great calamities,
That long agoe did grieve the noble spright
Of Salomon with great indignities,
Who whilome was alive the wisest wight :
But now his wisedome is disprooved quite ;
For he, that now welds all things at his will.
Scorns th' one and th' other in his deeper skill.

O griefe of griefes ! O gall of all good heartes !
To see that vertue should dispised bee
Of him, that first was raisde for vertuous parts,
And now, broad spreading like an aged tree,
Lets none shoot up that nigh him planted bee.
O let the man, of whom the Muse is scorned,
Nor alive nor dead be of the Muse adorned !

There is no known fact in Spenser's life to justify
this complaint ; on the contrary, as I have said before,
he had been singularly fortunate. Grosart mentions a
very curious thing about these lines, that in the edition
of 1 6 1 I two of them were changed to —

For such as now have most the world at will

O let not those of whom the Muse is scorned.

Robert Cecil was then in power and Bacon was

Even more unintelligible in Spenser's case is the
well-known complaint in Mother Hubberds Tale, in the

Online LibraryEdward George HarmanEdmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon → online text (page 15 of 55)