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Edmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon online

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goes to show (for what it may be worth) that it was first
seriously debated about 1576, when Frobisher made his
first voyage for the discovery of such a passage.^ The
account is as follows :

At this time [1576] some studious heads, moved with a
commendable desire to discover the more remote regions of the
World, and the secrets of the Ocean, excited well-money'd men,
no less inflamed with a desire of profit, to discover whether there
were any strait in the North part of America, through which
men might sail to the rich country of Cathay, and so the wealth
of the East and West might be conjoined by a mutual commerce.
Those studious men probably argued that there was a strait open
on that part, taking it for granted that the nearer the shore a
man comeih the shallower are the waters. But they which sail
to the West Coast of Iceland find by experience the sea to be
deeper. . . . Then they argued, that whereas the Ocean is carried
with the daily motion of Prinmm Mobile [or the uppermost
heaven], being beaten back by the opposition of America it
runneth Northward to Cabo Fredo, that is, the Cold Cape or
Promontory, about which place it should be emptied through
some Strait into the Sea Del Sur : otherwise it v/ould be beaten
back with the like violence upon Lapland and Finmark, as it is
in the South part of the world beaten back from the Strait of
Magellan (a strait full of isles, and by reason of the narrowness
of the strait, being so full of isles, uncapable of so great a quantity
of waters) along the Eastern coast of America to Cabo Fredo.
For witnesses they bring Anthony Jenkinson an Englishman,
than whom no man had fuller knowledge of the North part of
the World . . . also Bernard le Torr a Spaniard. . . . Herewith
these money'd men being persuaded, sent Martin Frobisher with
nine pinnaces to discover this strait. ^

This passage appears to be taken from Chapter II.
§§ 7, 8, 9 of Gilbert's " Discourse," of which the following
paragraph is a summary.

' Frobisher started on his first voyage for the discovery of a North-West
passage rather less than two months after the publication of Gilbert's " Dis-
course." He made two further attempts in 1577 and 1578, but was turned
back by ice. The last voyage involved him and others in a great disappoint-
ment, as (in the nither caustic words of Camden) he brought back "a great
quantity of stones " which he took for gold : which since " we have seen
cast forth to mend the high-ways.''

'^ Camden, tr. " K. N." 1C35. revised.



XII GILBERTS VOYAGE 301

Following the diurnal motion of Primum Mobile, the
sea must run, circularly, from east to west. Arriving at
the Straits of Magellan, the waters are forced, owing to
the narrowness of that channel, up along the east coast
of America to Capo Fredo ; and so the current, being
continually maintained, "as Jaques Cartier affirmeth,"
must either pass through a passage to Cathay, or strike
back upon the coasts of Norway, etc., with even greater
force, " which it doth not." The like course of the water
is observed in the Mediterranean Sea, which coming from
the Euxine, etc., along the coast of Europe, is impeded
by the Straits of Gibraltar, and flows back, in consequence,
along the African coast. Another current comes from
the north-east " from the Scythian sea (as M. Jenkinson
. . . told me) which runneth Westward towardes
Labrador," and must find a way through, or meet the
other current coming from the south ; but " no such
conflictes of streames " are found " about any parte of
Labrador or Terra Nona, as witnesse our yerely fishers
and other saylers that way, but is there disgested, as afore-
said, and founde by the experience of Bernard de la
Tore, to fall into Mare del Sur."

Why should not Camden have given Gilbert the
credit for this speculation, if it was really his ? The
publication of the " Discourse " can hardly have been the
occasion for these discussions, as that was too near
Frobisher's departure, and therefore the " money'd men "
(if Camden's account is correct) must have been approached
earlier. It is curious, however, that Gilbert's initiative, if
it was really his, should not have been mentioned.
Camden must have known both Gilbert and Ralegh, and he
was certainly intimately acquainted with Bacon and other
leading men of the time. On this ground alone I find it
very difficult to believe that Gilbert's theory — which
apparently produced such important results when divulged
— was held back by him for ten years.

There are also further reasons for doubting the story
of the Gascoigne epistle. I drew attention to one in the
last chapter, in the inconsistency of the dates. There is



302 SPENSER AND THE BACON IMPERSONATIONS chap.

another in the occupations of Gilbert himself. He was
not a sailor, and would therefore — unless he was an
ingenious theorist and practised writer (of which there is
no evidence) — have been incapable of producing a treatise
on Navigation, with various nautical inventions, as
announced (see below, p. 311). Also in 1566 he was
serving as a soldier in Ireland under Sir Henry Sidney,
and the main purpose of the petition which he presented
in that year to the Queen, on coming over from Ireland
with dispatches in November, was evidently north-western
colonisation, which seems to have been his object through-
out his life — for he was a poor man, and hoped to
establish his fortunes in another country.^

In the article on Gilbert in the Dictionary of National
Biography the writer states that "on 6 Nov. 1577
Gilbert set forth another ' discourse ' : How Her Majesty
might annoy the King of Spain by fitting out a fleet of
war-ships under a pretence of a voyage of discovery, and
so fall upon the enemy's shipping, destroy his trade in
Newfoundland and the West Indies, and possess both
Regions {State Papers, Dom. cxviii. 12)." This docu-
ment, which is in the Record Office, is a short paper
in manuscript, apparently a memorial, or the draft of a
memorial, to the Queen (with the above description and
date), which may be by Gilbert, but which cannot be stated
with any certainty to be by him. As the Calendar says,
" This has been signed, but the signature has been
obliterated with a pen. It is, however, conjectured to
be ' H. Gylberte.' " This conjecture obtains support from
the fact that in the following year (June 1578) Gilbert
received a patent for the occupation and settlement of

1 Since this chapter was first written I have had the benefit of reading the
Life of Sir Iliimphrey Gilbert, by Mr. W. G. Gosling (of Newfoundland),
Constable & Co., 191 1. A copy of Gilbert's petition of 1566, and of the
objections to it raised by the Cor juration of Merchant Adventurers, will be found
on p. 69 sq. of that book. The petition was for a licence " for the discovery of a
passage to Cathay, and all the other rich parts of the world, hitherto not found,"
and a concession to occupy countries " as shall be discovered . . . towards
any part of the north and west as shall be by us chosen." The Company,
while expressing willingness to confer with Gilbert, claimed the sole right of
such trading and occupation.



XII GILBERTS VOYAGE 303

Newfoundland. One thing, however, may, in my judg-
ment, be stated with absolute certainty, that the writer
of the MS. memorial of 1577 was not the author of the
" Discourse " published with the Gascoigne epistle in i 576.
The style of the memorial, however, is perhaps compatible
with Gilbert's character. The memorialist says :

First yo highnes owght undoubtedly to seeke the kingdome of
heaven, and upon that foundason to beleeve that there can never
bee constant and firme league of amytie betwene those princes
whose division is planted by the woorme of thier conscience.

What follows is interesting from the light it throws
on the methods of " unofficial " warfare which prevailed
under the aegis of Queen Elizabeth. The policy to pursue,
says the writer, is to make the enemy spend money and
diminish his power at sea, either by open hostility or by
some colourable means : " The way to work the feat is to
set forth under such like colour of discovery certain ships
of war to the Newfound Land which with your good
licence I will undertake without your Majesty's charge." ^
These may be left "to pretend it as done without your
privity either in the service of the Prince of Orange or
otherwise." The ships of France, Spain and Portugal to
be met at Newfoundland, where they would take the best
and burn the worst, " and those that they take to carry
into Holland and Zealand, or as piratts to shroud them-
selves for a small time upon your Majesty's coasts under
the friendship of some certain vice-admiral of this realm,
who may be afterwards committed to prison as in dis-
pleasure for the same." The writer concludes : " I hold it
as lawful in Christian policy to prevent a mischief betimes
as to revenge it too late, especially seeing that God
himself is a party in the common quarrels now afoot, and
his enemy's malicious disposition towards your highness

1 Spelling modernised, and so in the quotations which follow. The
document has been printed by Mr. Gosling (see note on previous page). The
facsimile, however, of Gilbert's signature, which is printed at the end of
it (p. I39)> bears no resemblance to the erased signature in the original
document, which Mr. Gosling himself admits "is not in Gilbert's hand-
writing" (p. 127). The reproduction, therefore, of a signature by Gilbert in
that place is rather misleading.



304 SPENSER AND THE BACON IMPERSONATIONS chap.



and his church manifestly seen although God's merciful
providence not yet fully felt." An appeal of this kind
was much more likely to find favour with Elizabeth than
the longer and more speculative " Discourse " which was
published in 1576. It is also more in keeping with
what can be gathered as to Gilbert's temperament and
experience. I doubt, however, whether it is his, and
it is impossible to say how far Gilbert's charter to
discover and colonise in the North -West of America,
which was granted in June 1578, was attributable to
this writing.

It appears that towards the end of i 578 the expedition
started, Ralegh, Gilbert's half-brother, being one of the
company, and that fears of the Spanish fleet, and other
difficulties, led to its return without reaching the coast of
America ; also that Gilbert and Ralegh reached home
separately, some time in 1579. The renewal of the
voyage was prohibited by the Council, no doubt owing
to fears of trouble with Spain, and Gilbert and Ralegh
proceeded to Ireland, where the former had served under
Sir Henry Sidney from 1566 to 1570.^ In 1581 Gilbert
was again in London, trying to raise money for a further
expedition to Newfoundland, as his charter would have
otherwise expired in 1584. He appears at that time
to have been in great want. At last, after many diffi-
culties, and, as appears from the relations, with inadequate
supplies for effecting a settlement in America, he sailed to
Newfoundland from Plymouth on iith June 1583, and
after formally taking possession of the country on behalf
of the English Crown, was compelled to return, and met
his death on the homeward voyage in a storm at sea on
9th September i 583. His was the fate of many pioneers,
whose work seems a failure to their own generation.
Camden, in an allusion to the event, describes him as
" vir acer et alacer," ^ a " keen and active," or " keen and
enterprising," man ; also as "belli pacisque artibus clarus"
(" renowned in the arts of war and peace ") ; but that these

' Ralegh may also have been there before, but this is uncertain,
2 The translations give "quick (or sharp) and lively-spirited."



XII GILBERTS VOYAGE 305

attainments extended to the power of writing such a paper
as the " Discourse " of 1576 seems to me very improb-
able, and some letters of Gilbert's printed by Mr. Gosling
have, from their style, still more confirmed my doubts on
this point.

There is one other piece which is without any doubt by
Gilbert : a proposal for setting up a school in London
for the better training of the sons of the nobility and
gentry in arms and other public services, described as
" Queene Elizabethes Achademy." It is written in a plain
and practical style, and is based on the view that for such
purposes a merely scholastic education was useless, and
that " by erecting this Achademie there shalbe hereafter,
in effecte, no gentleman within this Realme but good for
somewhat, whereas now the most part of them are good
for nothinge." It is thought that this was probably
written when Gilbert was living in retirement (after a
brief expedition, which proved unsuccessful, to the
Netherlands) in Limehouse in 1573.

To come now to the contents of the " Discourse " of
I 576. It is a treatise in ten short chapters, from which the
following extracts are given in illustration (as will be
explained) of my view as to the authorship.

Chapter I. — " To prooue by authoritie a passage to
be on the Northside of America, to goe to Cataia, China,
and to the East India."

At the opening of the chapter, the writer reveals
himself as a student of geography of unusual reading and
speculative imagination :

When I gaue my self to the studie of Geographie, after I had
perused and diligently scanned the descriptions of Europe, Asia,
and Afrike, and conferred them with the Mappes and Globes both
Antique and Moderne : I came in fine to the fourth part of
the worlde commonly called America^ which by all descriptions
I founde to be an Ilande environed round about with the
Sea. . , .

He recalls the fact that " Plato in Timeo, and in the
Dialogue called Critias, discourseth of an incomparable

X



306 SPENSER AND THE BACON IMPERSONATIONS chap.

great Ilande, then called Atlantis. . . ." ; mentions, with
many references to ancient and modern authorities, the
tradition of its subsidence, and affirms that America was
a part of it, and was therefore an island, and that there
was great hope, in consequence, of navigability by a
North-West passage ; mentions Ochter's northern voyage
in the time of King Alfred,' and gives a passage from
his account translated from the Anglo-Saxon " by Mr.
Nowel, Servaunte to Maister Secretarie Cecill,"

In Chapter II., in suggesting reasons for believing
that America was an island, the writer shows a desire to
discuss the causes of the tides :

Also it [America] appeareth to be an Hand, insomuche as the
Sea runneth by nature circularly, from the East to the West,
following the Diurnal motion of Primum Mobile, and carrieth
with it all inferiour bodies moveable, as well celestial, as elemental :
which motion of the waters is most evidently seene in the Sea,
which lieth on the Southside of Afrik, where the currant that
runneth from East to West is so strong (by reason of such
motion) . . .

Marginal note to the foregoing :

The Sea hath three motions :

1. Motum ab oriente in occidentem.

2. Motum fluxus et refluxus.

3. Motum circularem.

Ad caeli motum elementa omnia (excepta terra) moventur.

The conclusion of the author is :

So that it resteth not possible (so farre as my simple reason ^
can comprehend) that this perpetual currant can by any means
be maintained, but only by continual re-accesse of the same water,
which passeth thorow the fret, and is brought about thither
againe, by suche Circular motion as aforesaid.

Marginal note to the foregoing :

The flowing is occasioned by reason that the heate of the
moone boyleth, and maketh the water thinne by way of rarefac-
tion. And the ebbing conieth for wante of that heate, which
maketh the water to fal again by way of condensation.



» See Ilakluyt. 2 See Chapter V.



xii GILBERTS VOYAGE 307

Regard being had to the state of knowledge at the
time, and to the fact that these conclusions are obviously
tentative, they are not so fantastic as they may appear
at first sight. They represent, in my belief, the early
ideas (gathered probably from various sources) for the
conclusions which appeared later in Bacon's Latin treatise
on the " Ebb and Flow of the Sea." ^ The following
abstract of the argument in that treatise (as translated by
Spedding ") will enable the reader to see the bearing of
it on my argument for the Baconian authorship of the
"Discourse" of 1576.

Discussing the possible causes of the " rising " of the
water, " if the flow of the tide be set down as a rising,"
Bacon says : " For the swelling must be caused either by
an increase in the quantity of water, or by an extension
or rarefaction of the water in the same quantity, or by
a simple lifting up in the same quantity and the same
body." He rejects the last hypothesis "absolutely" on
the fanciful ground that " if the water be lifted up as it is,
there must of necessity be a vacuum between the ground
and the bottom of the water, since there is no body to
take its place." But he admits : " Certainly this, whether
it be ebullition or rarefaction, or agreement of the waters
with some one of the higher bodies, does not appear
incredible, if it be in a moderate quantity, and a tolerable
length of time likewise be allowed for the swelling or
increase of the water to collect and rise." This, he thinks,
miiiht account for " the excess of water observable between
the ordinary tide and the half-monthly which is fuller, or
even the half-yearly which is fullest of all " ; but that " so
great a mass of water should burst forth, as to account
for the difference between the ebb and flow ; and that
this should be done so quickly, namely twice a day ; as if
the earth, according to the foolish conceit of Apollonius,
were taking respiration, and breathing out water every
six hours and then taking it in again ; is a very great

1 Galileo also wrote on the subject, and Bacon was in touch with him and
saw his work in MS. ; see Spedding, Life, vii. 35-37. See also Preface to
Bacon's treatise by Ellis — Spedding, Works, iii. 39.

'•* Spedding, Works, v. 443 sq.



3o8 SPENSER AND THE BACON IMPERSONATIONS chap.

difficulty." He concludes, therefore, subject to further
evidence being obtained as to the synchronism of tides in
different parts of the world, that the ebb and flow of the
sea is a " progressive motion " from east to west, and
that " there is at any given hour an ebb in some parts of
the globe equal to the flow in others."

He then inquires into the cause of these motions,
which, as regards " the half-monthly motion of increase and
the monthly motion of restoration, appear to correspond
with the motion of the moon " ; but, as regards the daily
ebb and flow, he finds no correspondence with " any of
the conditions of the moon." " Therefore," he says, " dis-
missing the moon let us inquire of other correspondences."

Taking into account the fact that " of all celestial
motions the diurnal is plainly the shortest," and that the
daily motion of the waters is " so distributed as to
correspond to the divisions of the diurnal motion," he finds
himself persuaded, and takes it "almost for an oracle that
this motion is of the same kind as the diurnal motion."

Taking this " as a foundation," he puts three questions,
the first two of which are :

" First, does this diurnal motion confine itself to the
limits of the heaven, or does it descend and reach to
lower bodies ? "

" Secondly, do the seas move regularly from east to
west as the heavens do ? "

The answer he gives is interesting, as illustrating the
processes of thought under the pre-Copernican hypothesis
of the heavens revolving round the earth as a fixed point,
which Bacon was never willing to abandon :

" With regard to the first inquiry, I judge that the
motion of rotation or conversion from east to west is not
properly a celestial but quite a cosmical motion ; a motion
primarily belonging to the great fluids and found from
the summits of heaven to the depths of the water ; the
inclination being always the same, though the degrees of
velocity vary greatly ; varying, however, in regular order,
so that the swiftness of the motion diminishes the nearer
the bodies approach the earth." If this motion were not



XII GILBERTS VOYAGE 309

continuous throughout space, two inconveniences would
follow (a proof that it is continuous) : " For as it is
manifest to the sense that the planets perform a diurnal
motion, we must necessarily, unless this motion be set
down as natural and proper to all planets, take refuge
either in the violence of prmiuin mobile, which is directly
contrary to nature, or in the rotation of the earth — a
supposition arbitrary enough, as far as physical reasons
are concerned." ^

As therefore this motion is found in the heavens, he
concludes it is " not extinguished " on the earth's surface ;
and in a subsequent passage he suggests " that this
tendency or motion is truly cosmical, and penetrates
everything from the heights of heaven to the depths of
the earth."

He then comes to the second question, whether the
" waters move regularly and naturally from east to west ?
meaning by waters those collections or masses of water,
which form portions of nature large enough to have a
correspondence with the fabric and structure of the
universe." He concludes that they do, but that the
motion is slower than that in the air.

He gives what he regards three " demonstrations " in
proof of this. The first only is relevant to my purpose,
and I wish to direct special attention to it :

The first is that there is found a manifest motion and flow of
waters from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, and that swifter
and stronger towards the Straits of Magellan, where there is an
outlet to the west ; and also a great motion in the opposite part
of the world from the German Ocean into the British Channel.
And these courses of water manifestly revolve from east to west.
Wherein it is to be especially observed, that in these two places
only the seas are open and can perform a complete circle ;

' Here, as I take it. Bacon rejects the crude expedient of the primum
mobile, mentioned as the catisa causans in the early treatise, and substitutes a
"cosmical motion." His dislike of the Copernican theory, then gaining
ground, was, I think, mainly due to a feeling that it impaired the dignity of
man. Cf. Advancement of Learning: " So we may see that the opinion of
Copernicus touching the rotation of the earth, which astronomy itself cannot
correct, because it is not repugnant to any of the phenomena, yet natural
philosophy may correct."



310 SPENSER AND THE BACON IMPERSONATIONS chap.



whereas on the contrary in the middle regions of the world they
are cut off by the two obstacles of the Old and New World, and
driven (as into the mouths of rivers) into the two channels of the
Atlantic and Southern Ocean, which stretch from north to south,
and therefore do not interfere with the order of motion from
east to west. The true motion therefore of the waters is most
properly taken from these extremities of the world which I have
mentioned, where they are not obstructed, but pass through.

I take it that by the time this was u^ritten Bacon had
lost faith in the practicability of the North-West passage,
and that he substitutes for " the fret " in that part of the
globe, which was useful for the early theory of a circular
motion, the British Channel.

The other extracts which I shall give from the
" Discourse " may be placed together, and call for little
comment. In the first we have, as I think, an early
instance of Bacon's philosophic observation ; in the second,
a real or supposed traveller's tale, with the author's
" simple judgement " on the conclusion based upon it ; in
the next, a characteristic passage as to the condition of
some of the people in England ; and the three last are
examples of the idiomatic and picturesque style in which
Bacon excelled. The last, about Columbus, is a good
instance of the heightening power of imagination, and
expresses, with a felicity only given to a born writer, the
intrepid spirit of the great navigator. The following are
the extracts to which these remarks relate : —

Chapter IV. — " The diuersity betwene bruite beastes
and men, or betwene the wise and the simple, is that
the one judgeth by the sense only, and gathereth no
suertie of anye thing that he hath not sene, fealt, heard,
tasted or smclled : And the other not so onely, but also
findeth the certaintie of things by reason, before they
happen to be tryed."

Chapter VIII. gives "the reasons of a worthy Gentleman,
and a great traveller " who advocated a North-East passage,
" whom I haue not named in this place, because I seeke



Online LibraryEdward George HarmanEdmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon → online text (page 28 of 55)