Edward George Harman.

Edmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon online

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same collection :

Most miserable man, whom wicked fate
Hath brought to Court, to sue for had ywist,
That few have found, and manie one hath mist !
Full little knowest thou, that hast not tride,
What hell it is in suing long to bide :
To loose good dayes, that might be better spent ;
To wast long nights in pensive discontent ;
To speed to day, to be put back to morrow ;
To feed on hope, to pine with feare and sorrow ;
To have thy Princes grace, yet want her Peeres ;
To have thy asking, yet waite manie yeeres ;
To fret thy soule with crosses and with cares ;
To eate thy heart through comfortlesse dispaires ;
To fawne, to crowche, to waite, to ride, to ronne,
To spend, to give, to want, to be undonne.
Unhappie vvight, borne to desastrous end,
That doth his life in so long tendance spend I


A similar complaint occurs in the Prothalamion,
which was written and published during Spenser's
supposed visit to London in 1596 :

When I, (whom sullein care,

Through discontent of my long fruitlesse stay

In Princes Court, and expectation vayne

Of idle hopes, which still doe fly away.

Like empty shaddowes, did afflict my brayne,)

Walkt forth to ease my payne

Along the shoare of silver streaming Themmes.

With these may be compared Hamlet's complaints
of a precisely similar character, and the story of Bacon's
early " suit," and long failure, in his correspondence,
where he describes himself, in a letter to Lord Burghley
written early in 1595, as "a tired sea-sick suitor."^

The 33rd and 34th stanzas indicate that the author's
early patron was Leicester, " his Colin " being Leicester's
Colin. At that point the author begins to find difficulty
in saying what he has to say through the feigned
character of the " woman," and, by one of those almost
imperceptible transpositions to which I have already
alluded, he appears to put the speech into his own
mouth (st. 35). We are surprised, therefore, to find at
the end (" Thus having ended all her piteous plaint ")
that the " woman " is supposed to have been speaking
all the time. But the confusion is evidently intentional,
and it enables the author to speak his mind without
appearing too clearly to be doing so. The burden of
the poem is " mutability," and, in particular, the loss
by death of a number of people who had been associated
with the author's youth : his early patron, Robert
Dudley, Earl of Leicester (d. 1588); Leicester's brother,
Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick (d. Feb. 1590); Sir
Henry Sidney and his wife (sister of the Earls of
Warwick and Leicester), who both died in 1586; Philip
Sidney, who died from his wound received at Zutphen
later in the same year; Francis Russell, second Earl of
Bedford (father of the two sisters, Countess of Warwick

• Spedding, Life, i. 12, 358-9, etc.


and Countess of Cumberland, to whom the Foivre Hyvins
are addressed), who died in 1585.

The lines in the stanza following those about
Burghley quoted above —

Let them behold the piteous fall of mee,
And in my case their owne ensample see

— are presumably self- regarding, and allude to some
incident in the author's early career, when, from over-
confidence and some offence given, he appears to have
lost the favour of Leicester, and, not having won that
of Burghley, he had found himself without place or
prospects. This incident, whatever it was (evidently a
critical one in the author's early career), is more
specifically alluded to in Virgils Gnat and Muiopotinos,
to which I shall come.

The Teares of the Muses is written in the same
pessimistic vein, and seems to belong to the same period,
but perhaps about a year earlier. The dedication, which,
from its terms, is evidently written with a view to the
publication of the poem, refers to it as " this last
slender meanes," etc., and the theme of the poem is
the contrast, in the author's mind, between the present
and the past. It is, in fact, the theme of disillusionment
which comes with the passing of youth, especially for
those whose imagination is strong. The picture of the
age which the writer draws will hardly be recognised by
those who have their ideas of it solely from biographical
romances, but it was probably not so bad as he painted
it by contrast with the ideal of his imagination. The
general features described are perhaps most in evidence
in periods of new material prosperity. The poem
contains several notable instances of Spenser's aristocratic
standpoint to which I have already alluded.

The poem is best known for the lines about the
theatre, containing the description which every one would
like to think was intended for Shakespeare. It seems,
however, to be generally agreed that he {i.e. Shakespeare


of Stratford) must be ruled out, as he is not supposed
to have come to London till 1587 at the earliest, and
would not therefore have had time to justify this eulogy
before 1591, when the piece was published. The lines
to which I refer are the lament of the Muse Thalia :

Where be the sweete delights of learnings treasure
That wont with Comick sock to beautefie
The painted Theaters, and fill with pleasure
The listners eyes and eares with melodie ;
In which I late was wont to raine as Queene,
And niaske in mirth with Graces well beseene ?

O ! all is gone ; and all that goodly glee,
Which wont to be the glorie of gay wits,
Is layd abed, and no where now to see ;
And in her roome unseemly Sorrow sits,
With hollow browes and greisly countenaunce,
Marring my joyous gentle dalliaunce.

And him beside sits ugly Barbarisme,

And brutish Ignorance, ycrept of late

Out of dredd darknes of the deepe Abysme,

Where being bredd, he light and heaven does hate :

They in the mindes of men now tyrannize,

And the faire Scene with rudenes foule disguize.

All places they with follie have possest.
And with vaine toyes the vulgare entertaine ;
But me have banished, with all the rest
That whilome wont to wait upon my traine,
Fine Counterfesaunce, and unhurtfuU Sport,
Delight, and Laughter, deckt in seemly sort.

All these, and all that els the Comick Stage

With seasoned wit and goodly pleasance graced.

By which mans life in his likest image

Was limned forth, are wholly now defaced ;

And those sweete wits, which wont the like to frame.

Are now despizd, and made a laughing game.

And he, the man whom Nature selfe had made
To mock her selfe, and Truth to imitate.
With kindly counter under Mimick shade.
Our pleasant Willy, ah ! is dead of late :
With whom all joy and jolly meriment
Is also deaded, and in dolour drent.


In stead thereof scoffing Scurrilitie,
And scomfull Follie with Contempt is crept,
RolHng in rymes of shameles ribaudrie
Without regard, or due Decorum kept ;
Each idle wit at will presumes to make,
And doth the Learneds taske upon him take.

But that same gentle Spirit, from whose pen
Large streames of honnie and sweete Nectar flowe,
Scorning the boldnes of such base-borne men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashlie throwe.
Doth rather choose to sit in idle Cell,
Than so himselfe to mockerie to sell.

So am I made the servant of the manie.
And laughing stocke of all that list to scorne ;
Not honored nor cared for of anie.
But loath'd of losels as a thing forlorne :
Therefore I mourne and sorrow with the rest,
Untill my cause of sorrow be redrest.

It seems to be supposed by some writers that these
lines refer to one and the same person, and they explain
that " dead of late " is metaphorical (a strained interpreta-
tion at best), because in the following stanza but one
retirement only from the world is indicated. But this is
to read " that same " in the sense of " the aforesaid,"
which I feel sure is wrong. I consider that " same "
is redundant, put in for the metre, and strengthening the
demonstrative " that." The sense then is " the gentle
spirit, from whose pen," etc., namely, a different personage
to " our pleasant Willy," who " is dead of late." I agree
with those who think that the first person alluded to,
" our pleasant Willy," is Tarlton. The second, the
" gentle spirit," who from the language used might well
be " Shakespeare," is, in my opinion, the author himself.
The self-praise which the lines involve under such an
interpretation is one of the peculiar characteristics of
this writer, as I have already said.

In the line " So am I made the servant of the manie,"
the writer identifies the " Muse," as he does more or less
throughout, with himself, and the description tallies
exactly with the circumstances and state of mind of


Francis Bacon at the time. It refers, in my belief, to
the necessity under which he found himself of following
private practice at the Bar, and to the fact that owing to
the general indifference to letters he was unable to find
an audience except by sinking below what he regarded
as the best.^ The poem seems to have been written in
a mood of depression, possibly (as I shall show in a
moment) in consequence of the death of Tarlton, which
took place in September 1588. The state of the public
stage is denounced, and other conditions, presumably
those of Leicester House, when the great lord of it was
alive, and the writer was still young, are looked back
to with regret. The person referred to as " that same
gentle spirit " (as a writer for the stage, if words mean
anything) is represented as sitting " in idle Cell," namely,
in the seclusion of his own habitation. That this is
intended for the author himself is made still clearer by
the similar expressions in the Rtdnes of Time, where
Colin Clout (who is, admittedly, the author) is bidden to
rouse himself, " at length awake for shame." ^ That
poem bears evidence of being the later one of the two.

' Bacon had no taste for private practice at the Bar, the detail probably
proving irksome to him ; also it was not work which was held in the same
repute as it is now. Cf. Donne, Satire 2, where men who choose " law-
practice for mere gain " are denounced. Donne himself read law in Lincoln's
Inn, but gave it up for secretarial work. In a letter to Lord Keeper Egerton
in 1597 Bacon writes: "I know very well . . . that in practising the law
I play not my best game ; which maketh me accept it with a nisi quod potitis" \
to Essex he wrote in 1595, after his failure to obtain the Solicitorship, " For
means, I value that most ; and the rather because I am purposed not to
follow the practice of the law . . . and my reason is only because it drinketh
too much time, which I have dedicated to better purposes " ; and to his uncle.
Lord Burghley, in 1580. at the very outset of his career, he sent a letter "to
commend unto your Lordship the remembrance of my suit," adding that
" although it must be confessed that the request is rare and unaccustomed,
yet if it be observed how few there be which fall in with the study of the
common laws, either being well left or friended, or at their own free election,
or forsaking likely success in other studies of more delight and no less pre-
ferment, or setting hand thereunto early without waste of years ; upon such
survey made, it may be my case may not seem ordinary, no more than my
suit, and so more beseeming unto it."

All this disposes of the statements which are sometimes made that Bacon
was too much occupied with professional duties to have had time for literary
work on a large scale.

2 Cf. the title of Greene's Menaphon, published in 1589, "Camilla's
alarum to slumbering Euphues in his melancholia Cell at Silexedra."


To come to Tarlton. Tarlton, as every one knows,
enjoyed an extraordinary popularity as a comedian and
jester, and was a great favourite of Queen Elizabeth.
The writer of the article about him in the Dtctionaiy of
National Biography states that, on the authority of an
annotated copy of the 1 6 1 i edition of the Teares of the
Aluses, Tarlton has been identified with the " pleasant
Willy " of the poem, and that the name " Willy " was
used at the time as an appellation implying affectionate
familiarity. The writer further states that tradition
asserts that Tarlton was dissipated, poor though regularly
earning money, that he died at Shoreditch in the house
of Emma Ball, a woman of bad reputation, and was
buried in St. Leonard's Church on the same day [from
which it has been inferred that he died of the plague],
that his wife, Kate, was unfaithful to him, and that by
her he left an only child, a boy of about six years. I
mention these particulars as they seem to me to furnish
the basis for Harvey's extraordinary account (in my
opinion fictitious) of Robert Greene's death.

After Tarlton's death, a book, without date, printed in
or before 1590 and after September i 588, was published
by one styling himself " an old companion of his, Robin
Goodfellow," entitled " Tarletons Newes out of Purgatorie."
It was followed, in 1590, by a book entitled "The Cobler
of Canterburie, or An Invective against Tarltons Newes
out of Purgatorie." The former and part of the latter
were reprinted for the Shakespeare Society by J. H.
Halliwell in 1 844. The authors are unknown, but it
has, apparently, been suggested, though only as a con-
jecture, that the author of the first may be Nashe.
From " Greene's Vision," a work attributed to Greene,
but of uncertain authorship, it appears that the Cobler of
Canterburie had been attributed to him, which made him
" passing melancholy." In the dialogue with Chaucer
and Gowcr, whom he sees in a vision, the author gives
the following description of the book :

But now of late there came foorth a booke called the " Cobler
of Canterburie," a merry work, and made by some madde fellow.


containing pleasant tales, a little tainted with scurrilitie, such,
reverend Chawcer, as yourselfe set foorth in your journey to

This is a correct description of the book (the title being
deceptive), except that Chaucer's " scurrilitie " is less
deliberate than that of this book, which was probably
written with a view to making some money. Greene
adds that it was incerti authoris, but from the way he
discusses it (apart from other indications) it is evident, to
my mind, that the author of the " Vision " was also the
author of this book.

Bacon was in great financial difficulties at this time.
It appears that he was doing very little in the way of
private practice at the Bar, though he may have earned
something, so far as that was possible in those days, by
his pen. The two books, Tarletons Newes and TJie Cobler
of Canterbtirie, which are collections of tales, are, in my
opinion, certainly by the same hand, and I am equally
certain that the hand is Bacon's. The name of Tarlton
is used to secure attention, and advantage is taken of the
popularity of the first book to hang another on to it,
under the pretext of getting up a controversy. There
was no public press at that time, books were rigorously
censored, and it is my belief that Bacon invented
opponents in order to find scope for writing on both
sides of a question, and for the pleasure of controversial
satire.^ He also took such opportunities to " advertise "
and " review " his own work, sometimes in the spirit of
burlesque, sometimes of dispassionate criticism, often in
strains of eloquent and even prodigious eulogy, which,
for the most part, was probably seriously intended. My
view as to the authorship of these two books is based
mainly on the similarity of style, a style which is abso-
lutely individual and unlike that of any other writer,
except those (and there are many of them) who can be
recognised as " Prosopopeias," or impersonations, under
which Bacon came before the world.

^ Cf. the motto at the end of the first of the Harvey Foure Letters (1592) :
" Miserrima Fortuna, quae caret inamico."


As regards The Cobler of Canterburie I may cite the
following remarkable parallel :

In Spenser's Sonnet 5 3 we read :

The Panther, knowing that his spotted hyde

Doth please all beasts, but that his looks them fray,

Within a bush his dreadfull head doth hide.

To let them gaze, whylest he on them may pray.

In " The Old Wives Tale " in The Cobler of Canterburie
occurs the following :

In a farre country there dwelled sometime a Gentleman of
good parentage, called Signer Mizaldo, who had to his wife a
very faire and beautifuU Gentlewoman. And as the beasts most
greedily gaze at the Panthers skin, and the birds at the Peacocks
plumes : so every faire feminine face is an adamant to draw ye
objects of mens eyes to behold the beauties of women.

In Lilly's Euphues (^Anatomy of Wif) reference is made
to the same curious notion :

Howe frantick are those louers which are carried away with
the gaye glistering of the fine face? ... of so little value
with the wise, that they accompt it a delicate baite with a deadly
hooke : a sweet Panther with a deuouring paunch, a sower poyson
in a silver potle. — Arber Reprint, p. 54.

[Of flatterers who prey on young gentlemen.] Wherefore if
ther be any Fathers that would haue his children nurtured and
brought vp in honestie, let him expell these Panthers which haue
a sweete smel, but a deuouring mind. — Ibid. p. 49.

Compare the following examples, among others, from
Greene :

The Panther with his painted skin and his sweet breath. —

The Panther, which having made one astonished with his faire
sight, seeketh to devoure him with bloudy pursute. — Arhasto.

I come now to Tarletofis Ncwes out of Purgatorie.
The book consists of amusing tales from Italian and, I
suppose, other sources, in a setting which begins thus :


Sorrowing, as most men doo, for the death of Richard Tarlton
. . . the woonted desire to see plaies left me, in that although
I saw as rare showes, and heard as lofty verse, yet I injoyed not
those wonted sports that flowed from him, as from a fountaine of
pleasing and merry conceits. For although he was only super-
ficially scene in learning, having no more but a bare insight into
the Latin tung, yet he had such a prompt wit, that he seemed to
have that sakm ingenij, which Tullie so highly commends in his
Oratorie. Well, howsoever, either naturall or artificiall, or both,
he was a mad merry companion, desired and loved of all, amongst
the rest of whose wel wishers myselfe, being not the least, after
his death I mourned in conceite, and absented myselfe from all
plaies, as wanting that merrye Roscius of plaiers, that famosed
all comedies so with his pleasant and extemporall invention.

The author falls asleep in a field by the " Theatre "
and sees Tarlton's ghost, who tells him tales. The last
one, " The Tale of the Two Lovers of Pisa," is an accom-
plished piece of writing, and, in some of the incidents, it
resembles TJie Merry Wives of Wi7idsor. The book ends
as follows :

Faith, and because they knew I [Tarlton] was a boone com-
panion, they appointed that I should sit and play jigs all day on
my tabor to the ghosts without cesing, which hath brought me
into such use, that I now play far better than when I was alive ;
for proof thou shalt hear a hornpipe ; with that, putting his pipe
to his mouth, the first stroke he struck I started, and with that
I waked, and saw such a concourse of people through the fields,
that I knew the play was doon ; whereupon, rising up, and
smiling at my dream, after supper took my pen, and as neer as
I could set it down, but not halfe so plesantly as he spoke it ;
but, howsoever, take it in good part, and so farewell.

This, I feel sure, is the " pleasant Willy " whom the
poet in the Teares of tJie Muses laments as " dead of late,"
and for whom he " mourned in conceite," i.e. in the world
of his imagination. He could not write for sorrow.
Compare Hamlet's lament for Yorick : " Alas, poor
Yorick ! I knew him, Horatio : a fellow of infinite jest,
of most excellent fancy : he hath borne me on his back a
thousand times " (v. i ).

The next of the " Complaints " bears the title of


Virgils Gnat, which is illusory, the poem being entirely
self-regarding, and referring to the disaster, whatever it
was, which had made shipwreck of the author's early
prospects. In some way he had offended his patron, the
Earl of Leicester, and under an allegory he defends his
motives. So far as it is possible to understand it, he
had warned the Earl against some proceedings of Lord
Burghley, and had incurred the Earl's displeasure for his
pains. Leicester is apparently the " Shepheard," Burghley
the " Serpent," and the author is the " Gnat." The poem
bears evidence of being a youthful production, and it is so
described by the author, viz. " Virgils Gnat : long since
dedicated to the most noble and excellent lord, the Earle
of Leicester, late deceased." The words " late deceased "
evidently refer, not to the time of writing, but to the time
when the collection of " Complaints " was put together,
viz. subsequently to 1588. The dedication is as follows:

Wrong'd yet not daring to expresse my paine,
To you (great Lord) the causer of my care.
In clowdie teares my case I thus complaine
Unto yourselfe, that onely privie are :

But if that any Oedipus unware
Shall chaunce, through power of some divining spright,
To reade the secrete of this riddle rare,
And know the purporte of my evill plight,
Let him rest pleased with his owne insight,
Ne further seeke to glose upon the text ;
For griefe enough it is to grieved wight
To feele his fault, and not be further vext.

But what so by my selfe may not be shovven,
May by this Gnatts complaint be easily knowen.

It has been suggested that the offence given to
Leicester was some officious advocacy on the part of the
poet that he should marry the Queen, a match to which
Burghley was strenuously opposed, to the extent even of
favouring the unpopular French marriage as a means of
preventing it (as well as for reasons connected with
foreign diplomacy). There is some evidence, to which I
shall come,^ which bears out this suggestion. Another

1 See Chapter LX.


suggestion is that the cause of offence was some advocacy
on behalf of Grindal in a case in which he had opposed
Leicester's wishes.

My view of the situation is that Leicester took a liking
to Francis Bacon as a boy/ and that some time in the
year 1579, after Bacon's return from France in March
of that year, the Earl invited him to form part of his
establishment (not necessarily in residence). He would
thus definitely become his " patron," and Bacon would
gain the advantage of a position in London, which, owing
to his father's death, was no longer available for him at
York House. But his restless genius would never allow
him to be content with a courtier's life, and I suppose he
paid court to Burghley at the same time, and thus " fell
between two stools." Leicester and Burghley belonged to
different worlds, and were not on cordial terms, and the
attractions of Leicester House would not be regarded by
the minister as a good school for the service of the State.
The petulant attacks on Burghley, and the regretful
allusions to early days in or about Leicester House, bear
out these suggestions. Thus in the Ruines of Time the
author refers to Leicester's bounty :

And who so els did goodnes by him gaine,
And who so els his bounteous minde did trie,

and again in the beautiful Prothalamionl" written in 1596,

when Bacon was at the lowest ebb of his fortunes.^ The

allusion occurs in the eighth stanza, which may be read

with the first :

Calme was the day, and through the trembling ayre

Sweete-breathing Zephyrus did softly play

A gentle spirit, that lightly did delay

Hot Titans beames, which then did glyster fayre ;

When I, (whom suUein care.

Through discontent of my long fruitlesse stay

In Princes Court, and expectation vayne

Of idle hopes, which still doe fly away.

Like empty shaddowes, did afflict my brayne,)

* Cf. Chapter X. ^ For two daughters of the Earl of Worcester.

^ Bacon had at this time been for some years in great pecuniary difficulties,
and he was arrested for debt in 1598.


Walkt forth to ease my payne

Along the shoare of silver streaming Themmes ;

Whose rutty Bancke, the which his River hemmes,

Was paynted all with variable flowers,

And all the meades adornd with daintie gemmes,

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