Edward George Harman.

Edmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon online

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Fit to decke maydens bowres,

And crowne their Paramours,

Against the Brydale day, which is not long :
Sweete Themmes runne softly, tell I end my Song.

At length they all to mery London came,

To mery London, my most kyndly Nurse,

That to me gave this Lifes first native sourse.

Though from another place I take my name,

An house of auncient fame :

There when they came, whereas those bricky towres,

The which on Themmes brode aged backe doe ryde.

Where now the studious Lawyers have their bowers.

There whylome wont the Templer Knights to byde.

Till they decayd through pride :

Next whereunto there standes a stately place,

Where oft I gayned giftes and goodly grace

Of that great Lord, which therein wont to dwell,

Whose want too well now feeles my freendles case ;

But ah ! here fits not well

Olde woes, but joyes, to tell

Against the bridale daye, which is not long :
Sweete Themmes runne softly, till I end my Song.

These stanzas are utterly unintelligible in the case
of Spenser, who is supposed at this time to have been
enjoying a second brief visit to London from his exile in
Ireland, and had only the year before published, in Colin
Clouts Come Home Again, an effusive account of his
previous visit in 1590.

I have already alluded to the attack on Burghley in
the Ruines of Tivie. The well-known passage in MotJier
Htibberds Tale, though less open, is even more daring :

But the false Foxe^ most kindly plaid his part ;
For whatsoever mother-wit or arte

* The false Foxe. That this was taken to be an allusion to Burghley is
shown by a reference to it in a pamphlet entitled " A Declaration of the
True Causes," etc. (1592), containing a violent attack on him from the
Catholic standpoint. In the course of it the writer states that there is matter
enough against Cecil "in plain proof," "which is not extracted out of


Could worke, he put in proofe : no practise slie,

No counterpoint of cunning policie,

No reach, no breach, that might him profit bring.

But he the same did to his purpose wring.

Nought suffered he the Ape to give or graunt.

But through his hand must passe the Fiaunt.

All offices, all leases by him lept.

And of them all whatso he likte he kept.

Justice he solde injustice for to buy.

And for to purchase for his progeny.

Ill might it prosper that ill gotten was ;

But, so he got it, little did he pas.

He fed his cubs with fat of all the soyle,

And with the sweete of others sweating toyle ;

He crammed them with crumbs of Benefices,

And fild their mouthes with meeds of malefices :

He cloathed them with all colours, save white.

And loded them with lordships and with might,

So much as they were able well to beare.

That with the weight their backs nigh broken were :

He chaffred Chayres in which Churchmen were set,

And breach of lawes to privie ferme did let :

No statute so established might bee,

Nor ordinaunce so needful), but that bee

Would violate, though not with violence.

Yet under colour of the confidence

The which the Ape repos'd in him alone,

And reckned him the kingdomes corner stone.

This poem, according to the author's statement in
the dedication, was " long sithens composed in the raw
conceipt of my youth," and the statement is borne out
by the line, " But his late chayne his Liege unmeete
esteemeth," which, Grosart observes, evidently points to
the Earl of Leicester's marriage in 1578 with Lettice
Knollys, widow of the Earl of Essex (Walter Devereux),
which drew down upon him the wrath of Queen
Elizabeth. The following is the passage in which it
occurs :

Mother Hubberds tale of the false fox and his crooked cubbes." In the
margin is printed, " Prosopopoia or Mother Hubberds tale." The last words
in the sentence quoted refer, of course, to Robert Cecil, whom the writer
reviles as follows : " He is friendly to none but for his owne profit. He is
not welcome to his peeres, nor of affection followed by his inferiors : but
resembleth a storme in the aire, which all creatures do feare and shun, and
none do love or desyre." For a further account of this pamphlet see Chapter
Vni. p. 209.


But tell us (said the Ape) we doo you pray,
Who now in Court doth beare the greatest sway,
That, if such fortune doo to us befall.
We make seeke favour of the best of all ?
Marie, (said he) the highest now in grace
Be the wilde beasts, that swiftest are in chase ;
For in their speedie course and nimble flight
The Lyon now doth take the most delight ;
But chieflie joyes on foote them to beholde,
Enchaste with chaine and circulet of golde :
So wilde a beast so tame ytaught to bee.
And buxome to his bands, is joy to see ;
So well his golden Circlet him beseemeth.
But his late chayne his Liege unmeete esteemeth ;
For so brave beasts she loveth best to see
In the wilde forrest raunging fresh and free.
Therefore if fortune thee in Court to live.
In case thou ever there wilt hope to thrive,
To some of these thou must thy selfe apply ;
Els as a thistle-downe in th' ayre doth flie,
So vainly shalt thou too and fro be tost,
And loose thy labour and thy fruitles cost.

The poem therefore was presumably written (at any
rate in its first state) sometime after the summer of 1579,
when the Queen came to hear of Leicester's marriage
through Simier.^ But Spenser was then a man of twenty-
seven or twenty-eight, an age to which the phrase in the
dedication is quite inappropriate. Bacon, however, was
eighteen or nineteen, when the rawness of youth may,
at least without absurdity, be pleaded in extenuation of
indiscretions. It is significant that in a book published
under the name of Gabriel Harvey in 1592 an admission
occurs that the attack was overdone :

Invectives by favour ^ have been too bolde : and satyres
by usurpation too presumptuous : I overpasse Archilochus,
Aristophanes, Lucian, Julian, Aretine, and that wholly venomous
and viperous brood of old and new Raylers : even Tully and
Horace otherwhiles over reched : and I must needs say, Mother

* This is said to have occurred in August 1579, but Froude has a note
which indicates that it was before July : " Leicester and Ilatton are married
secretly, which hath so offended this Queen. . . ." — The Queen of Scots to
the Archbishop of Glasgow, July 4, 1579. {History of England, xi. 154.)

2 The words " by favour " may refer to the lack of censorship. See
Chapter II. p. 51 sq.


Hubberd, in heat of choller, forgetting the pure sanguine of her
sweete Faery Queene, wilfilly ^ overshot her malcontented selfe.^

This was written in reference to the publication of
the piece (1591). It is said that it was called in, and
the lines at the end of Book VI. of the Faerie Queene
(1596) may allude to this incident :

Ne may this homely verse, of many meanest,
Hope to escape his venemous despite,
More then my former writs, all were they cleanest
From blamefull blot, and free from all that wite
With which some wicked tongues did it backebite,
And bring into a mighty Peres displeasure,
That never so deserved to endite.
Therefore do you, my rimes, keep better measure,
And seeke to please ; that now is counted wise mens threasure.

Or the stanza may allude to the old trouble with

Further evidence of the early period of the poem lies
in the fact that the hero of it, under the figure of the
Lion, is Leicester, and that the author is advocating his
cause against Burghley, who is evidently represented in
the Fox. They were in opposition on the question of the
Alen9on marriage, and I shall bring forward reasons in
the next chapter for thinking that Bacon's pen was
employed in drawing up the letter of protest about the
marriage which Sir Philip Sidney presented in January
I 580 (probably at the instance of his father and Leicester)
to the Queen. In the poem the State is represented as
pillaged by the Fox and the Ape (which may possibly
be intended for Hatton, but which, in any case, represents
some ally of Burghley), and the Lion is represented at
the end as rousing himself from sleep and executing
judgment on the usurpers of his authority. The piece is
very brilliant, and draws a gloomy picture (if literally
intended) of the conditions prevailing at Court and in
the country, but the wit is so obviously sharpened by
interested feelings that the poem fails to carry weight as
a serious effort, and is, in fact, from that point of view,

' I.e. through passion. 2 Pourc Letters.



unpleasant. The lines about the miseries of the suitor,
quoted at p. 162 above, are supposed to have been added
by Spenser on revision during his visit to London in
1590, but, at whatever period they were written, they are
wholly inapplicable, as has already been said, to Spenser's
case ; and, as regards the London visit, they are in direct
conflict with the description of the good reception of the
poet in Colin Clout, which is dated the same year as the
Complaints, and with the story of the pension granted in
that year.

[In point of fact I have no belief in the date " from
Kilcolman " for Colin Clout. The internal evidence
indicates that the poem was written in 1595, the year
when it was published. The theory is that it was
" revised " and references to later events inserted ; but it
purports to have been sent to Ralegh from Ireland in
December 1591, and it was published in 1595 when
Spenser was still in Ireland, and Ralegh (from February to
August) was on the Guinea voyage. The inconsistency
between its tone and that of the Complaints is naturally
to be explained by lapse of time and change of mood,
but perhaps more by its purpose, which, in my belief, was
to prepare the way at the Court for the second instal-
ment of the Faerie Queene, which appeared in the fol-
lowing year. The compliments to distinguished people,
principally ladies, which it contains can only be described
as prodigious, and the flattery of the Queen reaches a
point of extravagance which perhaps goes beyond every-
thing else of that kind in Spenser's poems :

Her thoughts are like the fume of Franckincence,
Which from a golden Censer forth doth rise,
And throwing forth sweet odours mounts fro thence
In rolling globes up to the vaulted skies, etc.]

There is apparently a reference in the opening lines
of MotJier Hubbcrds Tale to a time when the plague was
prevailing in London, and the period of the year alluded to
is the hot weather. The poem is, as usual, written from
the aristocratic standpoint.


The shipwreck of the author's early hopes through
some offence given to Leicester, to which I have alluded,
forms the subject of another of the " Complaints," Muio-
potmos, or the Fate of the Butterfiie^ a poem of incompar-
able delicacy and freshness of invention, and of unique
interest autobiographically. To be appreciated it must be
read as a whole, but as it is probably little known, and
less understood, I will endeavour to give an account of
it through extracts. It must be obvious, on the most
careless reading, that this poem is an allegory ; in other
words, that it is intended to convey a hidden meaning ; also
that in the butterfly, " Clarion," the author is represent-
ing himself Without such an intention the poem (for all
its beauty) would be a fantastic and incoherent jumble.
Personages and imagery having no natural consistency are
mixed up with what appears at first sight to be the most
negligent carelessness and lack of fitness, and it is only
under the purpose of allegory that they are seen to assume
a reasonable relativity. To any one who refuses to admit
this contention, from a general survey of the poem, I would
point to the use of the personal pronoun " us " in the last
stanza but three ^ — one of those sudden and easily over-
looked transformations in Spenser's method on which I
have already commented.

Like Virgils Gnat, the poem takes its origin from
some error or fault committed by the author, owing, as
he represents, to incaution or over-confidence, which has
brought him into disfavour. Under the allegory of the
Butterfly he describes how he set out with high hopes and
innocent confidence, flying at will over the "champain "
and taking his pleasure in " gay gardins," till he was
entrapped by an envious and accursed spider, who, after
watching his prey like "a wily Foxe," rushes upon him,
when caught, " like a grimme Lyon," and —

with fell spight,
Under his left wing stroke his weapon slie

' " For loe ! the drerie stownd is now arrived,
That of all happines hath us deprived."


Into his heart, that his deepe-groning spiight
In bloodie streames foorth fled into the aire,
His bodie left the spectacle of care.

To work up to this conclusion, " Arachne," who is a
feminine personality, has to be changed into " AragnoU,"
a male creation. The " Lyon " is presumably an allusion
to Leicester, and the " Foxe " is probably brought in in
order to indicate that the trouble came from an enemy
in the household of Cecil. This is rendered practically
certain from the indication in the first stanza that Clarion's
" sad decline " had its origin in the strife " betwixt two
mightie ones of great estate," which I take to mean
Leicester and Burghley.^ Though outwardly they appear,
as a rule, to have kept on good terms, Leicester was a
thorn in Burghley's side, a state of things which suited the
peculiar methods of the Queen, who perhaps knew in-
stinctively that the character of a man, even the best, is
liable to deteriorate as soon as he finds no check on
his power.

Under the veil of allegory the poet describes his early
promise :

Of all the race of silver-winged Flies
Which doo possesse the Empire of the aire.
Betwixt the centred earth and azure skies,
Was none more favourable, nor more faire,
Whilst heaven did favour his felicities.
Then Clarion, the eldest sonne and haire
Of Muscaroll ; and in his fathers sight
Of all alive did seeme the fairest wight.

With fruitfuU hope his aged breast he fed
Of future good, which his yong toward yeares,
Full of brave courage and bold hardyhed.
Above th' ensample of his equall peares.
Did largely promise, and to him fore-red,
(Whilst oft his heart did melt in tender teares)
That he in time would sure prove such an one,
As should be worthie of his fathers throne.

' Compare :

*' Between the pass and fell incensed points
Of mighty opposites."

Hamlet, V. 2.


The fresh yong flie, in whom the kindly fire
Of lustfull yongth began to kindle fast,
Did much disdaine to subject his desire
To loathsome sloth, or houres in ease to wast,
But joy'd to range abroad in fresh attire,
Through the wide compas of the ayrie coast ;
And, with unwearied wings, each part t' inquire
Of the wide rule of his renowmed sire.

For he so swift and nimble was of flight,

That from this lower tract he dared to stie

Up to the clowdes, and thence with pineons light

To mount aloft unto the Cristall skie.

To view the workmanship of heavens hight :

Whence, down descending, he along would flie !

Upon the streaming rivers, sport to finde ;

And oft would dare to tempt the troublous winde.

So on a Summers day, when season milde
With gentle calme the world had quieted.
And high in heaven Hyperions fierie childe
Ascending did his beanies abroad dispred.
Whiles all the heavens on lower creatures smilde,
Yong Clarion, with vauntfull lustie-head,
After his guize did cast abroad to fare :
And theretoo gan his furnitures prepare.

This description corresponds in every particular to
the circumstances and character of Francis Bacon in his
early youth. " Muscaroll " ^ would stand for his father, Sir
Nicolas Bacon, who was the Lord Keeper ; hence " his
fathers throne," " the wide rule of his renowmed sire. "
The son was the younger child of a second marriage,
hence " his aged breast." The precocity, quickness of
mind, and industry of Francis Bacon as a child are
recorded, and further unsuspected evidence of this is, I
believe, to be found in some writings to which I shall
come in due course. The delicacy of his perceptions,
his self-esteem, and insatiable ambition are matters of
common knowledge, and they are all described in this
passage ; also the working of the young mind, which
gave his face in those days the look of gravity and
absorption which is to be seen in the bust made when

' From jHnsca, a fly, and perhaps some of the letters in " Nicolas."


he was a boy of twelve : see the picture of it in Spedding,
Works, vol, vi.

The last two of the stanzas above quoted prepare
the way for the butterfly's flight which follows, and fill
the poem, as it were, with sunlight.

The variety of the author's tastes and accomplishments
are indicated under the figure of the fly's accoutrements,
and in the description of the wings the poet's genius
is evidently alluded to, of which the feminine element
(which seems to be always more or less present in genius)
is signified under the fable of the nymph " Astery." ^
This may have been more intuitive than deliberate, and
on that account is all the more interesting. He speaks
of the envy of the ladies of the Court, who —

Beholding them, him secretly envide,

And wisht that two such fannes, so silken soft

And golden faire, her Love would her provide ;

the envy being that of women for the grace and beauty

of one of their own sex.

The author's usual carelessness in writing, due probably

to rapidity, is shown in the imperfect connection between

the story of Astery and the origin of Clarion's wings ;

but having provided the little episode, he hurries on

without troubling about this, and in the lines of the

butterfly's flight, which follow, the poet becomes entirely

identified with the creature, so natural and vivid is the

description :

Thus the fresh Clarion, being readie dight.
Unto his journey did himselfe addresse.
And with good speed began to take his flight.
Over the fields, in his franke lustinesse.
And all the champain o're he soared light ;
And all the countrey wide he did possesse,
Feeding upon their pleasures bounteouslie.
That none gainsaid, nor none did him envie.

The woods, the rivers, and the medowes green,
With his aire-cutting wings he measured wide,
Ne did he leave the mountaines bare unseene,
Nor the ranke grassie fennes delights untride.

1 "Star." Cf. "Astrophel and Stella" (Sidney and Spenser) and
" Hermes Stella" (Bacon).


But none of these, how ever sweete they beene,
Mote please his fancie, nor him cause t' abide :
His choicefull sense with every change doth flit :
No common things may please a wavering wit.

To the gay gardins his unstaid desire
Him wholly caried, to refresh his sprights :
There lavish Nature, in her best attire,
Powres forth sweete odors and alluring sights ;
And Arte, with her contending, doth aspire
T' excell the naturall with made delights ;
And all, that faire or pleasant may be found,
In riotous excesse doth there abound.

There he arriving round about doth flie.
From bed to bed, from one to other border,
And takes survey, with curious busie eye.
Of every flowre and herbe there set in order :
Now this, now that, he tasteth tenderly.
Yet none of them he rudely doth disorder,
Ne with his feete their silken leaves deface,
But pastures on the pleasures of each place.

And evermore, with most varietie

And change of sweetnesse, (for all change is sweete)

He casts his glutton sense to satisfie,

Now sucking of the sap of herbe most meete.

Or of the deaw which yet on them does lie,

Now in the same bathing his tender feete ;

And then he pearcheth on some braunch thereby.

To weather him, and his moyst wings to dry.

And then againe he tumeth to his play.
To spoyle the pleasures of that Paradise ;
The wholesome Saulge, and Lavender still gray,
Ranke-smelling Rue, and Cummin good for eyes,
The Roses raigning in the pride of May,
Sharpe Isope, good for greene wounds remedies,
Faire Marigoldes, and Bees-alluring Thime,
Sweet Marjoram, and Daysies decking prime :

Coole Violets, and Orpine growing still,
Embathed Balme, and chearfuU Galingale,
Fresh Costmarie, and breathfull Camomill,
Dull Popple, and drink-quickning Setuale,
Veyne-healing Verven, and hed-purging Dill,
Sound Savorie, and Bazil hartie-hale.
Fat Colworts, and comforting Perseline,
Colde Lettuce, and refreshing Rosmarine


This passage has been interpreted as an expression of
the pleasure which Spenser found in the society of the
ladies of the Court. But when he came to London he
was past the age for such enthusiasm, and wholly un-
qualified by his condition from indulging in the liberties
of the courtier. Such an interpretation also is obviously
too limited and material. The sensations described are
those of a boy, or at any rate of a youth, at the opening
out of his nature in its first contact with the world, and
the allegory covers the varied range of a kindled imagina-
tion over the whole field of knowledge and of nature and
art. This is further indicated in the lines which follow :

What more felicitie can fall to creature

Then to enjoy delight with libertie.

And to be Lord of all the workes of Nature,

To raine in th'aire from th'earth to highest skie,

To feed on flowres and weeds of glorious feature,

To take what ever thing doth please the eie ?

He then gives the other side of the picture, harping on
the strain which runs through all these poems :

But what on earth can long abide in state ?

and so concludes with the account of the disaster which
forms the burden of the Complaint.

The poem is dedicated to Lady Carey, eldest of the
three daughters of Sir John Spencer of Althorpe, and
wife of Sir George Carey, then Governor of the Isle of
Wight. His father, whom he succeeded in the title, was
the first Lord Hunsdon, first cousin, on the mother's side,
to the Queen.



It will be convenient at this point to say something about
Sir Philip Sidney, to whom Spenser is supposed to have
owed his introduction to his uncle, the Earl of Leicester,
and to the Court. And here, perhaps, I had better make
my confession at once that I do not believe that Sidney
wrote a line of the principal works which are attributed
to him ^ ; but I can only touch for the present on some
of the points which bear on this question, and I will
begin with the well-known address presented to the
Queen by Sidney in 1580 deprecating the French
marriage. With two exceptions, to which I shall come,
the published letters of Sidney are so little distinguished
by any literary skill, that it is incredible that he could
have written this address to the Queen himself Nor,
if he did not, is there anything unusual or extraordinary
about it, as the art of expression on paper was at that
time very rare. It has been suggested that the " Apology "
of the able Prince of Orange was composed by Languet,
and Walsingham used the hand of Bacon to vindicate
Elizabeth's proceedings towards the Catholics on the one
hand and the Puritans on the other, in his letter to
"Monsieur Critoy, secretary of France," circ. 1589. The
greater part of that letter is reproduced in Bacon's Observa-
tions 071 a Libel, and an unfinished copy of it was found in
the "Northumberland Manuscript" in 1867. There is
therefore no doubt about the authorship.- The copy in

^ The Arcadia, Asti-ophel and Stella, and the Apolo^e for Poetrie.
2 Spedding, Life, i. 97, and A Confereuce of Pleasure, 1S70.



that collection is headed " translated out of french into
English by W. W.," a class of ruse frequently adopted by
Bacon to conceal the authorship, in this case no doubt
from motives of prudence or reasons of State. It is a
masterly composition, and the style is quite unmistakable.
The style of the letter presented by Sidney to the Queen
in 1580 is the same, though, being earlier, it is cruder.
Moreover a copy of it appears among the " Northumber-
land " collection, with the entry on the outside sheet,
" Philipp against Monsieur." In his little book on that
collection ("A Conference of Pleasure," 1870) Spedding
refers to the letter as " commonly attributed to Sir Philip
Sidney," but hazards no opinion as to the authorship.
From a Latin letter written by Languet to Sidney, dated

Online LibraryEdward George HarmanEdmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon → online text (page 17 of 55)