Edward George Harman.

Edmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon online

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22nd October i 580, of which the following is a translation,
it appears that Sidney informed Languet that he had
written the letter by the order of others, who, from the
words used and the known facts, were, without much doubt,
Sir Henry Sidney, Leicester, and perhaps Pembroke.

I am glad you have told me how your letter about the Duke
of Anjou has come to the knowledge of so many persons ; for it
was supposed before that you had made it known to show that
you despised him, and cared nothing for his dislike, which
appeared to me by no means a safe proceeding, and inconsistent
besides with your natural modesty. . . . Since, however, you
were ordered to write as you did by those whom you were
bound to obey, no fair-judging man can blame you for putting
forward freely what you thought good for your country, nor even
for exaggerating some circumstances in order to convince them
of what you judge expedient.

The letter, in the opinion of Hume, is written " with
an unusual elegance of expression and force of reading,"
and there is no doubt that this is so. In this respect it is
in most marked contrast to Sidney's style as displayed in
his letters, and in a longer piece, unquestionably written
by him, and attested by his brother and nephew as in
Sidney's " own hand," in reply to the anonymous writer
of Leicester s Commonwealth} Nor could the letter have

' See Collins, Letters attd Memorials of State, 1746, and below, p. 193.


been written by Leicester, as the simple and direct style
of his letters shows. The style is that of Francis Bacon,
figurative, overloaded with ideas and reading, and, at that
early date, somewhat involved. But the letter happens
also to contain a striking and characteristic metaphor,
which appears also (after the habit of Bacon, who makes
use again and again of certain phrases and expressions) in
his Observations on a Libel, 1592-93, and in his Discourse
in Praise of his Sovereigti, which Spedding thinks was
composed about 1592.

The Sidney Letter to the Queen :

But in so rare a government, where neighbours fyres gives us
light to see our owne quietnes, where nothing wants, that trew
adminestracion of justice brings forth. . . .

Obse) vations on a Libel :

considering that the fires of dissension and oppression in
some parts of Christendom may serve us for lights to show us
our happiness. — Spedding, Life and Letters, i. 163 (spelling

Discourse in Praise of the Queen :

and that the fyres of trebles abrode have bene ordayned to be
as lights and tapers to make her vertew and magnanimitie more
apparant. — Spedding, Life and Letters, i. 132, and "Northumber-
land MS." subsequently discovered.

The " Most feared and beloved, most sweete and
gratious soveraigne " of the opening address of the Sidney
" Letter " is, in my opinion, the " dearest dread " of
Spenser : see address to the Queen at the beginning of
the Faerie Queene and elsewhere in the poem.

Philip Sidney was a man who thirsted for action and
suffered from depression at the lack of opportunities for
men of his class at that period in England. There is no
evidence in his correspondence that he had any literary
ambitions or desire to use such attainments forany other
purpose than the service of the State. Moreover, there is
no mention in his correspondence of any of the writings
attributed to him, or of his supposed friend Spenser, and


even the dedication to him by Spenser of the Shepheards
Calender claims no personal knowledge. Those writings,
or some of them, were in private circulation when Sidney
died, but his will is silent about them. He bequeaths
" all my Books " to " my dear friends Mr. Edward Dyer
and Mr. Fulke Grevile," and to the Countess of Pembroke
" my best Jewell beset with Diamonds." On his death-
bed, however, he expressed a wish that the Arcadia should
be burned, which is a very curious fact. A modern writer
(Mr. Percy Addieshaw) observes that it is " hard to read,
and not very pleasant coming from the hand of so pious
a man. In fact some of it is muddy enough." There
are grounds for this criticism, and they may account for
Sidney's action. But in that case his action would have
been the same whether he had written the book himself
or been persuaded (as I believe he was) to lend the pro-
tection of his name to it in the cause of letters.^

That Sidney was not, either by inclination or practice,
a writer seems to me evident from the style of his letters.
I quote, for example, the following, being a translation
from a Latin letter to Languet written in 1578 :

And the use of the pen, as you may perceive, has plainly

^ The advantage in those days of a great name for a book is amusingly
shown in Sir John Harington's remarks (1591) about the writer of the
anonymous Arte of English Poesie, in the preface to his translation of Orlando
Furioso : " nor to dispute how high and supernatural the name of a Maker
[poet] is, so christned in English by that unknowne Godfather that this last
yeare saue one [1589] set forth a book called the Art of English Poetrie " ;
and he then proceeds to speak with admiration of Sidney's Apologie, where
the same views, only at less length, are expressed about the poet as a " maker "
in almost the same language.

Another interesting example of this occurs in an essay of literaiy criticism
entitled Hypercritica, jjublished in 1 61 8 (?), where the writer, Edmund
Bolton, says that "the Tractate which goeth under the name of the Earl of
Essex his Apology was thought by some to be Mr. Anthony Bacon's : but as
it bears that E. name, so do I also think that it was the Earl's own, as also his
Advices for Travel to Roger Earl of Rutland ; then which nothing almost can
be more honourably uttered, nor more to the Writer's Praise, so far as belong
to a noble English Oratour."

The latter piece (at least the important Letter I.) is now generally admitted
to be by Francis Bacon : see Spedding, Life, ii. 6, and p. 191 below. The
same writer quotes Sir Henry Savile as saying, " our Historians being of the
Dregs of the common People . . . have stained and defiled it with most
fusty Foolerys."


fallen from me ; and my mind itself, if it was ever active in any-
thing, is now beginning, by reason of my indolent ease, imper-
ceptibly to lose its strength, and to relax without any reluctance.
For to what purpose should our thoughts be directed to various
kinds of knowledge, unless room be afforded for putting it into
practice, which in a corrupt age we cannot hope for.

The following letter to Lord Burghley is a fair
example of Sidney's style, which, in his earlier days at .
any rate, always shows evidence of the difficulty he found
in expressing himself on paper :

Right honorable, my singular good Lord — I have from my
childhood been much bownd to your Lordship, which as the
Meanes of my Fortune keeps me from Hability to requite, so
gives it me daily Caws to make the Bond greater, by seeking and
using your Favor towards me.

The Queen, at my Lord of Warwicks Request, hath bene moved
to joine me in his Office of Ordinance, and, as I learne, her
Majesty yeeldes gratious heering unto it. My Suit is, yowr
Lordship will favour and furdre it ; which I truly affirme unto
your Lordship, I much more desyre, for the being busied in a
Thing of some serviceable Experience, then for any other
Commodity; which I think is but small that can arise of it.
(27th January 1582.)

The best examples, however, are in the extracts given

by Mr. Fox Bourne from Sidney's dispatches as Governor

of Flushing in 1585-86, when, like his father before him,

he was proving the trials, under Elizabeth's government,

of having to make bricks without straw. They reveal

him in his true character as a man of action, but there

is no more evidence in them of a formed literary style

than there is in the dispatches of Sir Henry Sidney. In

character and counsel Sidney was evidently a man who

created a great impression. But I maintain that, except

under the impulse of action, he wrote with difficulty and

disinclination, and could not have written the works which

appeared in his name (some years after his death), such

as the Arcadia, of which it has been said by the writer

mentioned above, quite truly, that " the author's pen must

have travelled with miraculous rapidity."

Sidney appears to have been a man of noble presence,


good address, and of a higher general culture than most
Englishmen of his rank at that time. He was also a
man of serious temperament, and regarded as a convinced
and faithful champion of the reformed religion. In his
position as probable heir to the powerful Earl of Leicester,
and in high regard with the Queen, he was looked up to
by a large portion of the nation as a coming leader, at
a time when the future of England, both in Church and
State, was most critical, in view of the uncertainty as to
the succession. The sense of national loss at his untimely
death was, in my opinion, due mainly to these considera-
tions.^ Sidney was evidently more remarkable for good
sense than for originality. His correspondence with
Languct shows this. When it began he was a youth of
about nineteen, and great genius (for the author of the
Astrophel and Stella sonnets had no less) at that age is
not disposed to sit at the feet of any one ; rather is it
given to self-assertion. Yet Fulke Greville refers to this
episode of Sidney's life as " this harmony of a humble
hearer to an excellent teacher." The principal tribute to
Sidney's character as a man of letters, namely, Spenser's
Astrophel^ is suspect, for reasons to be explained later,^
among them being the fact that the poem is dedicated to
his widow, Frances Walsingham, then the wife of Robert
Devereux, Earl of Essex, and sister-in-law, therefore, of
Penelope Rich, the supposed object of Sidney's devotion.

There is one letter which, in part, presents an excep-
tion, namely, the often-quoted one to his brother, Robert
Sidney, written in October 1580 from Leicester House,
advising him as to his studies on the Continent, which
reflects a similar train of ideas to those expressed at
greater length in the Apologie for Poetrie. The passage,
however, which begins " For the method of writing

' Cf. the following tributes to Sidney's character :

"He is so wise, virtuous and godly" (Walter Devereux, ist Earl of

" His heart and tongue went one way."

" Above all he made the religion he professed the firm basis of his life "
(Fulke Greville).

2 See Chapter XHI.


Historic," is quite unlike the opening portion of the
letter, the writer passing suddenly from small personal
detail, and breaking off as abruptly towards the end of
the letter into the style of the beginning : " This I write
to yow in greate Hast, of Method without Method . . .
my Time exceedingly short, will suffer me to write no
more leisurely ; Stephen can tell yow who stands with me
while I am writing." Farther on there is an exhortation
to practise music and horsemanship, and " have a care
of your Dyet, and consequently of your Complexion " —
with advice as to play at weapons. " Lord how I haue
babied, once againe farewell deerest Brother." And
among these directions he interpolates, *' I would by the
way your Worship would learne a better Hand, you write
worse then I, and I write evell enough." This part of
the letter seems to me to be the real Sidney, and I think
the reflections about the " historiographer " and the " poet "
have been adopted by him, without a very clear idea of
the point of them, from another source. They appear
again, in similar language, in Spenser's introductory letter
to the Faerie Queene.

There is one more supposed letter by Sidney, which
is to be found in a book published in 1633 entitled
" Profitable Instructions for Travellers, by Robert Earl
of Essex, Sir Philip Sidney and Secretary Davison."
The letter attributed to Essex in that book is now ad-
mitted to be by Bacon, and, from the style and the train
of thought, I am certain that he was also the author
of the Sidney (though not of the Davison) letter. The
following is an extract :

And for Italy — for the men you shall have there, although
indeed some be excellently learned, yet are they all given to
counterfeit learning, as a man shall learn among them more
false grounds of things than in any place else that I know ; for
from a tapster upwards they are all discoursers. In fine, certain
matters and qualities, as horsemanship, weapons, painting and
such, are better there than in other countries ; but for other
matters, as well, if not better, you shall have them in nearer
places. . . .

But if you shall say, how shall I get excellent men to take


pains to speak with me ? truly in few words, either by much
expense or much humblenesse.

[The letter here breaks off.] ^

I must now leave the subject of "Sidney" to pursue
the " Leicester " connection. And here I come to a
very ungrateful part of my task. In 1584 a frightful
attack on Leicester was printed in Antwerp anony-
mously and circulated in England. The book is known
as Leicester's Conwiomvealth, and was attributed to Father
Parsons, but evidently without foundation, as is now
generally agreed. The author, in my opinion, is Francis
Bacon, and the poem known as " Leicester's Ghost,"
which appeared for the first time in the 1641 edition,
is also clearly (or, as I think, clearly) by the same hand.
In arriving at this conclusion I base myself primarily
on the style, and were I not satisfied on this point, I
should have no hesitation in rejecting the other evidences
of Baconian authorship, strong as they are. But as I
cannot expect others to accept a judgment founded on
what is a matter of opinion, I will endeavour briefly
to set out the other considerations which point to the
same conclusion.

The book appeared as " The Copie of a Leter, wrytten
by a master of Arte of Cambridge to his friend in London
concerning some talke past of late between two wor-
shipful and grave men, about the present state, and some
proceedings of the Erie of Leycester and his friendes
in England." It was known, from the green -edged
leaves of the original edition,^ as " Father Parson's Green

The Dictionary of the Anonymous and Pseudonymous
Litej-ature of Great Britain (Ilalkett and Laing) cites
the following MS. note by Malone in the Bodleian copy :

' An original copy of this book is in tlie British Museum, but this
extract is given in Pears, Correspoiidein-c of Sir Philip Sidney and
Hubert Langtiet.

'^ Two copies are in tlie British Museum, one with the green edges
(much faded).


Leicester's Commonwealth was written by Parsons, the
Jesuit, from materials with which he is said to have been
furnished by Lord Burghley. It was first published abroad in
8vo in 1584, under the title of "A dialogue between a scholar,
a gentleman and a lawyer " ; and was previously handed about
in England under the name of Parsons' Black Book.

It is stated, however, in the Dictionary of National
Biography that "some letters in Cole's MSS. xxx. 129
show clearly that Father Parsons was not the author,
but that it was the work of a courtier who endeavoured
to foist responsibility on to Parsons," ^

The " Parsons " story was, no doubt, good enough
for the uncritical and credulous public of that day, but
it did not satisfy Sir Philip Sidney. In his reply to
the attack on his uncle, which was written at the time
when it first appeared (though only first printed in
Collins's Letters and Memorials of State, 1746), he ends
by a challenge to the anonymous author, concluding
with the words : " and this which I wryte I woold send
to thyne own Handes, if I knew thee ; but I trust it
can not bee intended, that he should be ignorant
of this printed in London, which knows the very
Whispringes of the Prive- Chamber." And above he
writes : " and which is more base (if any Thing can be
more base then a diffamatori Libeller) he counterfaites
him self, in all the Treatis, a Protestant ; when any Man,
with Haulf an Ey, may easili see he is of the other
Parti." In this statement Sidney was certainly at fault ;
he was blinded partly by indignation at the frightful
attack on a member of his family, and partly by his
strong Protestant convictions, which would probably pre-
vent him understanding the plea for greater toleration of
the Catholics which is found in this book. The book
is written from the point of view of " uniformity," based
on a liberal Protestantism, as always in the case of

^ I find that this is a copy of a letter by Dr. Ashton (an eighteenth-century
scholar), in which he expresses this opinion for reasons similar to those which
I have given, i.e. from the internal evidence ; the concealment of the author
being "to cover himself from the Bear's fury." In a note on the back his
correspondent, Dr. Mosse, agrees with him.



Bacon's writings. Sidney's manuscript is endorsed by
his brother Robert, and by his nephew, Robert's son,
who writes : "In my uncles own Hand, worthy to be
better known to the world." The book was suppressed,
so far as it could be, and the Queen in Council wrote
in 1585 to the Magistrates of Cheshire : "Her Highness
not only knoweth to assured certainty the books and
libels against the said Earl to be most malicious, false
and scandalous, but such as none but an incarnate devil
himself could dream to be true."

At the time when this book was written Leicester was
at the height of his power, and the possibility that the
Queen might still marry him was always present to the
mind of Burghley and other leading men.^ To this
Burghley was always bitterly opposed, and he had spoken
of Leicester on one occasion as " infamed by his wife's
death," in spite of the fact that he had been cleared of
complicity at the inquest. The writer of the book adopts
the same view, that " Amy Robsart " (as she is best
known) was murdered by Leicester's orders. He also
charges him with many other murders and enormities,
and, in doing so, he was, to some extent, only giving
expression to popular opinion." As to the truth or

' Leicester was at this time married to Lettice Knollys, widow of Walter
Devereux, ist Earl of Essex. But there probably would have been little
difficulty in setting the marriage aside, as it was believed by many that he
was already married to Lady Sheffield, by whom, he had a son. Leicester,
however, was also entertaining a project for bringing the Crown of England
into his family by the marriage of his infant son by his wife Lettice to Arabella
Stuart. He had further suggested that one of his step-daughters would make
a good wife for James VL of Scotland. The appointments about the Court
were also largely in his hands. For these facts and other information the
reader is referred to the excellent article in the Diet. Nat. Biogr, I think,
however, there is good reason for some qualification of the view there ex-
pressed that " the piety with which he has been credited in later life does
not merit serious attention." Such contradictions were common in those
days, when human life was held cheap by those who were in a position to
take it with impunity. No one, for instance, has suggested that Hawkins
was a deliberate hypocrite, yet he combined atrocious violence with strong
expressions of religious feeling, after the manner of the age.

2 As, for instance, in the following passage in the I'raditiottal Memories
of Erancis Osborne : " . . . the Queen's affection, from whence Leicester,
that terrestrial Lucifer, was cast, for abusing his Sovereign's favour to pride
and murder " ; and again : " Leicester was hated by the people for the death
of many."


falsehood of the main charges it is impossible at this date
to be certain ; the presumption seems to be that there
was justification for them, or for some of them ; but as
regards many of the details, it is evident, from their
extravagance and inherent improbability, and still more
from the manner in which they are presented (often
by insinuation or on reported conversations, many of
which seem to be deliberate inventions), that they were
false and that the writer did not believe them himself.
These personal charges, however, which bulked so largely
in the eyes of contemporaries, were evidently, in the
purpose of the writer, only a means to an end. The real
object of the book was to advocate the succession of
James of Scotland, and, with this end in view, to break
the dangerous power of Leicester. The author did his
work with terrible effect, and with total disregard for
human feeling or personal obligation. The book is a
" philippic," in which every resource of rhetoric is employed
(probably in emulation of ancient models in this style)
with the object of rendering Leicester odious to the
people and incensing the Queen against him. His
execution even is advocated as the only means of saving
the country from ruin and a renewal of the wars of
succession. Among other things he is charged with
having secured the rejection of proposals for the marriage
with the Due d'Anjou ^ in the interests of himself and
his own family. All this is in accord with the views of
Burghley, and the tradition mentioned by Malone, in the
note quoted above, may have been correct in attributing
complicity to that minister. He would find in his
nephew a ready instrument, who, in his anxiety for State
employment, and with his peculiar temperament, would
put out all his powers on such a task. Bacon was
evidently frequently employed by Burghley in the under-
ground business of Government ; see the references in
his correspondence to " Tower work." - On the whole,

' Alen9on.

2 Cf. Spedding, Life, i. 316, ii. 106, and Bacon's vindication, in the
Observations on a Libel, of Government methods in cases of treason, i. 204.


however, I think it more probable that Bacon acted
independently in this matter. He had, as we have seen,
incurred the displeasure of his early patron, and the pen
which produced Mother Hubberds Tale some four years
earlier is now turned against Leicester and employed on
Burghley's side. It was, in short, a desperate bid for
employment when other means had, so far, failed ; for
a man who could wield such a pen would be worth
securing, or at least disarming. And this would account
for the intensity of effort which is a feature of the book.
But the writer over-reached himself, as he probably had
done in Leicester's cause, being carried away by excess
of imagination and through deficiency in " common sense."
One thing is quite certain, that no one could have written
this book who was not a lawyer, and also, as Sidney said,
intimate with the life of the Court. He must also have
had an exceptional memory and imagination, and been a
practised writer. There is no one, except Bacon, known
to history in that time who combined these qualifications.

One of the most significant features of the book is the
absence of personal feeling. This is seen in the absurdity
of many of the charges, and in the irony and a certain
mischievous humour which plays over the surface, as
though the author were amusing himself with his own
performance. The tone entirely changes when he comes
to the legal argument about the succession, and similarly
in the early portion of the book, where he uses the
dialogue (the book being in that form) to put forward,
in very cautious language (an expression, evidently, of
the writer's private opinion), a plea for the extension of
greater toleration towards Catholics who were loyal to
the Government.

The same ironical humour is still more noticeable in
" Leicester's Ghost," a long ballad-like poem, in rhymed
seven-line metre, which first appeared in print in 1641,
and was suppressed by order of the Privy Council. The
style of the poem indicates that it was deliberately
written for popular reading, and it was evidently intended
to be a sort of palinode, or measure of justice, to the


memory of the dead Earl (d. 1588). But the author,
who, in my opinion, is, and could only be, the author of
the pamphlet of 1584, lets himself go, just as he did
before, when he comes to the description of Leicester's
alleged enormities, and is unable to resist the temptation

Online LibraryEdward George HarmanEdmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon → online text (page 18 of 55)