Edward George Harman.

Edmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon online

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soul, and that his work therefore is necessarily " auto-
biographical." The difference in this respect between
Gascoigne and Shakespeare, or, to take a modern
illustration, between Burns and Dickens, or Burns and
Scott, is one of appearance only, and lies in the power
of " feigning." That power largely depends on range of
experience and reading, and on memory, " the mother
of the muses." ^ The range of Gascoigne is extremely
limited, and he is frankly autobiographical. The same

■ Aeschylus, Prom. Vtiut. 469.


is true of Burns, and is the condition of the directness of
his appeal. But the wider the author's range, the greater
are the resources of self-expression at his command, and
imaginative writers like Scott and Dickens take advantage
of this power to shield themselves from too curious
identification. Yet it is well known and fully authenti-
cated that, under various disguises, those two writers gave
expression to their own feelings and experiences. This
is surely a law of life, and must be true, in varying
degrees, of every writer of fiction, of every poet, painter,
musician, or artist in any medium whatsoever. Shake-
speare is supposed to be an exception, a man whose
writings had no relation to his circumstances, an artist,
so to speak, bombinans in vacuo. In my belief there is
here no exception ; Shakespeare is just as autobiographical
as Gascoigne. The difference lies in the immensity of
his range and the vastness of his resources. In a greater
or less degree he is in all his characters, but he is identified
with none. He had also every reason for concealing his
identity, which was not the case with Gascoigne.

In the little play which we are discussing the " auto-
biographical " element is very evident. The work, like
everything else which this author wrote, is the natural
outcome of his experience, reading and reflection at the
time. The characters, though lightly drawn, and largely
used as vehicles for sermons, are nevertheless individualised
to a considerable extent. The two fathers represent
the patria potest as of the time. The four sons are an
expression of the author's "self" under several aspects,
a dispersal of personality which is a special characteristic
of this writer, and the one by which he most eludes
identification. One of them, however, Philomusus, rather
than the others, expresses his more intimate self (as does
Biron, for instance, in Loves Labours Lost). In the
treatment of the two elder and the two younger brothers
we see the germs of that conflict, which is so strongly in
evidence in the later writings, between " will " and " wit,"
the flesh and the spirit, ambition and conscience ; and in
the defence of ambition in the two younger brothers there


is the early consciousness of the problem of the antagonism
between the active and the contemplative life. The play
is religious in tone, but religion is regarded rather as an
instrument of government than as a spiritual principle,
and the confident dogmatism is what might be expected
from a precocious child brought up in a high position
under the influence of the Reformers. An abnormal,
but not unpleasant, self-esteem pervades the whole work,
and the writer evidently finds a keen satisfaction in his
performance, both as an expression of himself and as
a means of inculcating his views. This is a notable
characteristic of all Bacon's productions.

These few general remarks will be better understood
by reference to particular passages, and I will proceed
to mention some points in the play which support or
illustrate my argument. The references are to the pages
in Mr. Cunliffe's second volume.

P. 9. One of the fathers discussing the future of
his sons :

Neither yet would I have you conceive hereby that I am
ambicious. But if I be not deceyved, Al desire of prmnotion
{by veriue) is godly and Lawful!, whereas ambition is commonly
nestled in the brestes of the envious.

Compare p. 45, where Philotimus and Philomusus
praise the ready wit of their elder brothers but censure
their faults :

Phylomusus. It may be that his minde is much geven to other
plesures and delights, which do so continuallie possesse his
brayns, as they suffer not any other conception to be emprinted
in his memorie : for my brother Phylautus doth in a manner
meditat nothing els but setting forth of him selfe. . . .

Phylotimus. To bee opinionate of him selfe is vitious, but
surely I am of opinnion, that it is commendable for a young
man in all his actions to regard his owne advauncement, and
with all to have (resonably) a good opinion of him selfe, in
exempting of such thinges as he undertaketh, for if he which
coveteth in the latyne tung to be eloquent shoulde so farre
embase his thoughts as to conceive that he spake or wrot like
olde Duns or Scottis, surely (in my judgement) it would bee verie
hard for him to excell or to become a perfect Rethoritian, or if


hee which employeth his time in the exercise of ryding, should
imagine with himselfe that he sat not comely on his horse backe,
it would be long before hee shoulde become a gallant horseman :
for in all humaine actions we delight so much the more, and
sooner attayne unto theyr perfections, wheneas we thinke in our
minde that in deede the exercise thereof doth become us.

P. 1 2. Though the scene is laid at Antwerp the
author no doubt has London in mind when he alludes
to " schooles in the City " :

Phylocalus. You shall understand sir that my neighbour here
and I have foure Sonnes, of equall age and stature, the eldest
exceedeth not twenty yeares and the youngest is about nineteene
yeares old, they have ben already entred in grammer at such
schooles as we have heere in the City, and if we be not abused
by reportes they have shewed themselves forward enough to take
enstructions : so that we are partly perswaded to send them unto
some university,

P. 14. The pedagogue, Gnomaticus, leaves the
question of his stipend to the parents, as he " would be
lothe to make bargaines in this respect, as men do at
the market or in other places, for grasing of Oxen or
feeding of Cattle." In this remark the author betrays
his simplicity as well as a zeal for reform which (as
frequently with Bacon) ignores practical conditions.

P. 16. An interesting passage as to the course of
study in the grammar schools :

Gnomaticus. . . . tell me therefore what you have redde. . . .

Phylmitus. Sir, my Brother here, and I have bene taught first
the rules of the grammer, after that wee had read unto us the
familiar communications called the Colloquia of Erasmus^ and
next to that the offices of Cicero, that was our last exercise.

Gnomaticus. It hath bene well done, and have you not also
ben taught to versify?

Phylautus. Yes truly sir, we have therein bene (in maner)
dayly enstructed.

Gnomaticus. And you Phylosarchus : how have you passed
your time?

Phylosarchus. Sir : my Brother and I have also bene taught
our grammer and to make a verse, we have redde certaine
Comedies of Terence, certaine Epistles of Tulh\ and some parte
of Virgin, we were also entred unto our greeke grammer.


P. 1 7. Gnomaticus thereupon unfolds his scheme of
education, not illiberal, but more in consonance with the
views of Protestant reformers :

For although Tully in his booke of dewtyes doth teach
sundry vertuouse preceptes, and out of Terence may also be
gathered many morall enstructions amongst the rest of his
wanton discourses, yet the true christian must direct his steppes
by the infallible rule of Gods woord, from whence as from the
hedde spring, he is to draw the whole course of his lyfe. I
would not have you thinke hereby that I do holde in contempt
the bookes which you have redde heretofore, but wee will (by
Gods grace) take in assistance such and so many of them as may
seeme consonant to the holy scriptures, and so joyning the one
with the other, we shalbe the better able to bring our worke
unto perfection.

Gnomaticus opens his discourse by a reference to the
nature of God, in which, it will be observed, special stress
is laid on the attribute of power. The style of the
discourse has an easily recognisable affinity with Bacon's
mature writings on such subjects, and the opening
sentence is peculiarly characteristic :

You shall well understand, my well beloved schollers, that as
God is the author of all goodnesse, so it is requisite that in all
traditions and morall preceptes we begin firste to consider of
him, to regard his majestic, and to search the soveraigne poyntes
of his Godhead. The Heathen Philosophers (although they had
not the light to understand perfect trueth) were yet all of them
astonyed at the incomprehensible majesty and power of God,
some of them thought the ayre to be God, some other the earth,
some the infinitenesse of things, some one thing, some another,
whose opinions I shall passe over as things unmeete to be
much thought of. . . .



p. I 8. After giving a i^w instances of pagan thought,
he states his own conclusion, in language which corre-
sponds entirely with Bacon's attitude in his acknowledged
philosophical writings :

'J'ruly to leave y<= heathen opinions and to come unto the
very touchestone I thinke it not amisse to content our selves to
thinke that God is omnipotent, and yet his power unsearchable,
and his goodncs unspeakable.


From God Gnomaticus descends to man and the
various departments of conduct, just as Bacon does in
the Advancement of Learning :

And to be briefe, I wil deliver unto you the summe of your
dutyes in four Chapters, the first chapiter shalbe of God and his
ministers, the second of the King and his Officers, the third shall
conteyne the duties that you owe unto your Countrey and the
Elders thereof, and lastly you shal be put in remembraunce of
your dutyes towardes your Parentes, and what you ought to be of
your selves. In these foure chapters I trust (by Gods help) to
enclude as much as shalbe necessary for the perfect government
of a true Christian.

The author then proceeds to deliver himself at
great length in two discourses (through the mouth of
Gnomaticus) on these topics, in the manner of one who
was accustomed to excel and who looked forward con-
fidently to being the chief adviser to the Sovereign.
The advice is all given from that high standpoint.
Similarly in Bacon's writings.

P. 28. At the beginning of the second discourse
Gnomaticus expresses a fear that he may have been
" over longe in my first division," to which one of the
studious youths replies :

Sir, our desire is such, to beare away perfectly your enstruc-
tion, that your prolixity seemeth to us very compendious.

an instance of ambition in the use of language.

On the same page occurs one of Bacon's favourite
openings, " Salamon sayth."

P. 25. Eccho. . . . If I be not much deceyved, I saw a frosty
bearded scholemaster instructing of four lusty young men ere-
whyle as we came in.

The same picturesque phrase occurs in " G. T.'s " letter
in the 1573 edition of the Posies — "frosty bearded
philosopher " (see p. 2 1 4).

P. 34. The young men discuss the teaching of
Gnomaticus. The author already shows his dramatic
versatility, for he has no difficulty in taking the other
side against his own considered opinions :


Phylautus. Ah sirha, I see wel the olde proverbe is true,
which saith : so many men so many mindes, this order of teaching
is farre contrary to all other y' ever I have heard, and shal I tell
you ? it hath in it neither head nor foote.

Phylomusus. Truly brother it hath in it great reason and
vertue, and though it be at y*^ first unpleasant in comparison to
Terences Commedies and such like, yet ought we to have good
regarde therunto, since it teacheth in effect the summe of our

Phylotitnus. Yea, and that very compendiously.

Phylosarchus. Surely I am of Phylautus opinion, for who is
ignorant that God is to be feared above all things? or who
knoweth not that the Kinge is appointed of God to rule here on
earth ?

Phylautus. Is there any man so dull of understanding, that
he knoweth not that in all countreys elders must (or will) be
reverenced? and see we not daily, that all parents challenge
obedience and love ?

Phylosarchus. Yes, and more to, for some parentes are never
contented what dutie soever the childe performeth, they forget
what they once were themselves : But to the purpose, I looked
for some excellent matter at this newe Schoolemasters handes, if
this be all that he can say to us, I would for my part that we
were in some Universitie, for here we shall but loose our time, I
have (in effect) all this geare without booke already.

Phylautus. And I lacke not much of it.

It must be admitted that this is good writing, and there
is nothing like it in the works which can be attributed with
certainty to Gascoigne.

P. 37. And geve her the . . . Bezo las manos.

This phrase occurs in the "Adventures of Master F. J."

P. 47. Gnomaticus sets the young men the task of
putting his instructions as to their duty into verse ; a most
peculiar conception for a play, and evidence of inexperi-
ence. Parallels for the reasons given, as well as for the
performance, will be found in the Spenser-Harvey letters.

Gnomaticus. Well, to the ende that you shall the better imprint
them in your memorie, beholde, I have put them briefly in
wryting as a mcmoriall, and here I deliver the same unto you, to
be put in verse everie one by him self and in sundrie device, that
you may therein take the greater delight, for of all other Artes
Poetrie giveth greatest assistaunce unto memorie, since the verie



terminations and ceasures doe (as it were) serve for places of
memorie, and helpe the mynde with delight to carry burdens,
which else would seeme more grievous : and though it might
percase seem unto you, that I do in maner overlode you with
lessons and enterprises, yet shall you herein find rather comforte
and recreation, than any encomberance : let me nowe see who
can shewe himselfe the pleasantest Poet, in handeling thereof, and
yet you must also therein observe decorum, for tryfling allegories
and pleasant fygures in serious causes are not most comely. God
guide you nowe and ever.

Philosarchus, who has now been ensnared by Lamia,
wishes he had " the vayne which Virgill had in writing of
a delectable verse," not, however, " as they thinke, God
knoweth, to convert our tedious traditions there into : for
a small grace in a verse wil serve for such unpleasant
matter, but it was to furnish me with eloquence, for the
better obteyning of this heavenly dame."

P. 53. The two fathers, hearing of the goings on of
the two elder sons, are for taking strong measures ; but
Gnomaticus counsels moderation :

. . . you are to consider, that the hartes of young men are
oftentimes so stout, that they can not abid publiquely to heare of
a faulte, the which (being privatlie and gentlely admonished) they
woulde peradventure willingly amend.

P. 54. In the meantime the excellent younger brothers
get to work on the verses, and each produce a copy
(Philotimus of forty lines, and Philomusus of seventy-four
lines) which they read to each other. At the end of his
recitation Philotimus uses one of Bacon's favourite phrases,
" Thus have you now scene Phylomiisus, my simple skill in
poetry " — in affectation of absence of premeditation or
special skill.^ Philomusus, at the end of his more elaborate
version, says, with a consciousness of superiority, which
perhaps indicates the author's satisfaction, " Thus may you
see Phylotimus, that one selfe same thing may be handled
sundrie wayes."

P. 60. Gnomaticus now discovers that, while Philomusus
and Philotimus had done their task well, " Phylosarchus

1 See Chapter V.


had spent the time in wryting- of loving sonets, and
Phylaiitus had also made verses in praise of marshiall
feates and pollycies," and he urges their being sent off to
the University. They are sent accordingly, and the
parasites follow them.

P. 68. Gnomaticus soliloquises on the education of
youth. The following passage is strikingly similar in
thought and manner to passages in the Advancement of
Learning, and is marked by the wisdom and sanity which
characterise Bacon's discourses :

Even so y^ mindes of yong men being onely trained in
knowledge of artes, and never persuaded in points of moral
reformation, become often times so prowde and so headie,
that they are caried rather away with a vaine imagination of
their owne excellency, then setled in y^ resolutions which might
promoote them unto dignitie : and wandring so in a vayne
glorious opinion of their owne wit, they do (as it were) founder
and cast them selves in their own halter. Such have sundrie
philosophers bin in time past, who have so far gone on
pilgrimage in their owne peevish conceits, y' they have not
shamed, by a vaine shew of learning to defend such propositions,
as seeme most rediculous and estranged from reason. . . .

For the mind of man is so heavenlie a thing and of
such rare excellencie,^ that it alwaies worketh and can not be
idle.2 And if with the quicknes of conceyt it be tempred by
a modest moderation, to have regard unto vertue, and moralitie,
then proveth it both goodly and godly : wheras if it run on
hedlong, only led by natural considerations of causes, it may
prove admirable for some passing qualitie, but it seldome is
scene commendable or allowed for perfection. The consideration
whereof hath often moved me rather to enstruct youth by a
prescribed order out of gods own word, then to nuzzle them
over deepely in philosophicall opinions. And yet is the mind
of young men so prone and prompt to vanitie and delight, that
all proveth not as I would have it. . . .

One of the reasons why Bacon's writings are so
interesting is that he draws his observations of life largely
from his own experience, and this probably accounts
for the glaring inconsistency between many of his finest

' Compare Hamlet, ii. 2 : "What a piece of work is a man," etc.
2 Queen Elizabeth called Bacon her "watch candle,'' "because it
pleased her to say I did continually burn.'' — Spedding, Life, iv. 280.


utterances and his conduct on certain occasions. In
his grave and impartial attitude of demonstration,
extenuation and censure, which produces the impression
that the writer is criticising different types of men, he
is undoubtedly frequently thinking of himself, his own
ambitions, doubts, shortcomings, etc. This can easily
be traced throughout the Essays.

P. 75. Philautus and Philosarchus come to grief at
the University, but the parents have comfort in the
success of the younger sons :

Phylocalus. ... Of himselfe [Phylotimus] I have good
newes, for he wryteth unto me that the Palsgrave hath written
unto the chauncellour of the university for a secretary, and that
he standeth in election.

Fhylopces. And my Sonne Phylomusus is entered into the
ministrie, and hath preached in the University, and meaneth
shortly to go unto Geneva, such comfort we have yet unto
our calamity.

P. 85. Only ten pages later a curious transposition
takes place, where Fidus, the servant, returning from
Doway, reports that " Phylomusus was sent by the whole
consent of the university unto the Palsgrave to be his
secretary . . . and Phylotimus was gone unto Geneva,
moved with an earnest zeale and spirit, and there he is
in singuler commendation and much followed." Mr.
Cunliffe has a note on this : " Gascoigne has apparently
forgotten, and reversed the names." The play is so
carefully written, however, that I cannot help thinking
that the transposition is not an accident. These two
young men stand for the ambition of the author on
two sides, statecraft and studies, the active and the
contemplative. He is incapable of limiting himself to
the sole pursuit of either, and it is in consonance with
all Bacon's acknowledged writings that he should indicate
by the transposition that contemplation and action
should go together, and that the standard of excellence
which he set before himself could never be reached by
devotion to one to the exclusion of the other. His
failure, or apparent failure, in life was largely due to


the impossibility, even with his powers, of doing justice
to both, as well as to the inevitable conflict between
them as soon as a certain point is reached. At that
age, however, it is easy to see that both Lambeth and
Whitehall had attractions for him, and he amuses
himself (as I understand the passage) by evading the
choice between them. But by putting Philomusus (who
most nearly expresses himselQ into the business of State
service, he indicates his preference for that calling, with
the desire to compass both. Of course it may be a
slip of the pen, but the fact that the transposition is
maintained to the end of the play renders this very

P. 86. The judgments meted out to the two profligate
brothers are exemplary and characteristic of the times.
Philautus (Fidus reports) was executed, on a sentence
of the Palsgrave's Court, " for a robbery with Dicke
Droom, yea even in the sight of his Brother, and not-
withstanding the favour that hee is in there, such severe
execution of justice is there administred." As to
Philosarchus, Fidus, having " crossed over the Countrey
towards Geneva^' found that, for immorality, he had been
" whipped openly three severall dayes in the market,
and was banished the Towne with great infamie, not-
withstanding that his Brother Phylotinms was an earnest
suter unto the congregation for him " — an interesting
reference to Calvin's government.

The play concludes with the punishment of the
seducers of youth :

Severus [the Markgrave]. Well Master Gnomatici^s, since
only this fellow \^Arnbtdexier\ is recovered, I think nieete to hold
this course of justice, he together with Master Eccho shall bee
whyped aboute the Towne three severall market dayes, with
papers declaring their faults set upon their heds, and afterwards
they shalbe banished the Citie, uppon payne of death never to
returne, and Mistresse Lamia with her Aunt shall likewyse be
set on the Cucking stoole in publique three market daies, and
then to be banished the Towne also.

This, with the Epilogue of sixty-three lines in verse


which follows, pointing the moral, was written, I have
no doubt, with an eye to the denouncers of stage plays,
and to show them what an instrument for reformation
they could be made. Later on Bacon takes up his
parable on this important question in ways to which I
shall hope to refer in another connection.



Let us now turn to The Steele Glas, the piece by which
Gascoigne is best known. This piece bears the stamp
of Gascoigne's individuality on every line, and its
authenticity admits of no question. The dedication is
dated 15th April 1576, and we learn from the dedication
for The Complaint of Philometie, dated i6th April 157S.
that the poem was begun in that month (April 1575).
We are also told, in an unsigned tail-piece, that The
Complaint of Philomene was finished on 3rd April 1576.

As we have seen, the revised edition of the Posies
was published in January 1575, evidently shortly after
Gascoigne's return from the Low Countries, and the cast of
his thoughts at that time is shown in The Fruit es of Warre,
included in the volume. The Steele Glas, which was
begun within three months after the publication of that
piece, reflects the same tone of thought, one of regret for
the past and serious resolutions, in spite of depressing
circumstances, for the future. The writing is interesting
from its sincerity and effort, but far from brilliant, and
bears no resemblance, either in style, tone, or matter, to
The Glasse of Governetnent, which was dedicated on
26th April 1575, the same month in which The Steele Glas
was begun. How could Gascoigne have found time to
produce such a piece as The Glasse of Governeifient by that
date, and how is such a piece to be accounted for as the
work of a man with so limited a range of ideas, and such
experiences and preoccupations, as The Fniites of Warre
and The Steele Glas disclose ? Gascoigne's point of view



Online LibraryEdward George HarmanEdmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon → online text (page 22 of 55)