Edward George Harman.

Edmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon online

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to Essex ^) was, I think, qualified by a genuine personal
sympathy and attraction. In ideas the two men had
much in common, and I think they were frequently
together, and that their minds reacted on each other.
Francis Osborne, writing of the representative men of
Elizabeth's reign, couples their names : " Bacon, Rawleigh,

* A reference to treatises of antiquity, written under other social

2 «' I humbly desire your Lordship, before you give access to my poor
advice, to look about, even jealously a little if you will, and to consider, first,
whether I have not reason to think that your fortune comprehendeth mine "
(1596). — Spedding, life, ii. 40.


and divers incomparable spirits more." I think it
probable that Bacon's feelings towards Ralegh were some-
thing like those of Hamlet towards Horatio,^ and that he
saw in him the qualities in which he felt himself to be
most deficient. But, with all his gifts, Ralegh, I feel sure,
was no artist, and I believe that the poems which, for the
most part on very doubtful authority, pass under his
name were written by Bacon, either for him or by
" impersonation."

The point to which I wish to direct attention in this
chapter, and before coming to the " Ralegh " poems, is
that the material for such an impersonation was available
in the circumstance that Bacon and Ralegh offended the
Queen about the same time, and were both, for some
years, excluded from access. This will be best shown in
Bacon's case by extracts from his correspondence, which
will, at the same time, throw light on his temperament
and character.

Bacon was early oppressed with the sense of getting
old. Thus writing to his uncle, the Lord Treasurer,
about the delay in his advancement, he says : " I wax now

' Ham. Horatio, thou art e'en as just a man
As e'er my conversation coped withal.

Hor, O, my dear lord, —

Hani. Nay, do not think I flatter ;

For what advancement may I hope from thee
That no revenue hast but thy good spirits,
To feed and clothe thee ? Why should the poor be flatter'd ?
No, let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp.
And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee
Where thrift may follow fawning. Dost thou hear ?
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice.
And could of men distinguish, her election
Hath seal'd thee for herself; for thou hast been
As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing ;
A man that fortune's buffets and rewards
Hast ta'en with equal thanks : and blest are those
Whose blood and judgement are so well commingled,
That they are not a pipe for fortune's finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him
In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.

Hamlet, iii. 2.



somewhat ancient ; one and thirty years is a great deal
of sand in the hour glass." ^ At the age of thirty-nine
he talks about " my last years ; for so I account them,
reckoning by health not by age." " Weak health had no
doubt something to do with this feeling, but it is evidently
also attributable to distress of mind under the strain of
thwarted ambition, aggravated by debt.

In March 1593 Bacon, who was then being recom-
mended for the post of Attorney, made a speech in
Parliament against a triple subsidy which gave offence to
the Queen. In a letter to Burghley he expresses regret
and defends his action : " I spake simply" — and he asks
his uncle's good offices " in drawing her Majesty to accept
of the sincerity and simplicity of my heart." ^

In a letter to his cousin, Sir Robert Cecil, of April
1593, he refers to the subject as "the impediment which
you mention," * and Cecil, in his reply, alludes to the same
thing as " the veil now covering you." ^

In the same year, in a letter probably written to the
Earl of Essex, Bacon says : " It is a great grief unto me,
joined with marvel, that her Majesty should retain a hard
conceit of my speeches in Parliament."" At the same
time he addresses a letter to the Queen, diplomatically
concealing his anxiety : " Your Majesty's favour indeed,
and access to your royal person, I did ever, encouraged
by your own speeches, seek and desire ; and I would be
very glad to be reintegrate in that." "

In April 1593 Lady Ann Bacon writes a letter of
anxious inquiry to her son Anthony : " for the state of
want of health and of money and some other things [she
said] touching you both ovk ia /xe evSeiv " ® ; a letter which
was crossed on the road by one from Anthony as to his
brother's embarrassed finances. In the course of it he
alludes also to his brother's health, " which I know by
mine own experience to depend not a little upon a free

' Spedding, Li/l; i. io8.
3 /did. i. 233, 234.

6 /fi/,/. i. 238.

7 /did. i. 241.

2 I/>id. ii. 162.

•• /did. i. 237.

® Ii>id. i. 240.

« " Will not let me sleep."


mind." ^ Lady Ann Bacon's reply and her letter which
follows are of great interest to the student of Bacon's life
and character. Partial biographers have affected to make
light of them, but no fair-minded person can read her
letters without perceiving the justice of Rawley's remark
that she was " a choice lady, and eminent for piety, virtue
and learning." No doubt she belonged to the " precise "
school and her temper was difficult and irritable. Such
things set up barriers in human intercourse, and perhaps
they account in her case, to some extent, for the extreme
formality and coldness of Francis Bacon's letters to her.
There seems to be no doubt, however, that in his heart
he had a real regard for her. She was evidently rather
afraid of him, for she writes by preference, even when he
is the subject of the letter, to his brother. On this
occasion Anthony had asked her to help his brother out
of debt by the sale of an estate for which her consent
was required. She replies in great exasperation, and
denounces in vivid and impetuous language the retainers
by whom Francis had surrounded himself The following
is an extract from her letter :

. . . surely I am utterly discouraged and make a conscience
further to undo myself to maintain such wretches. ... It is
most certain till first Enney (?), a filthy wasteful knave, and his
Welshmen one after another — for take [one] and they will still
swarm ill-favouredly — did so lead him as in a train, he was a
towardly young gentleman and a son of much good hope in
godliness. But seeing he hath nourished most sinful proud
villains wilfully I know not what other answer to make. God
bless you both with his grace and good health to serve him with
truth of heart.-

To this Francis appears to have replied (or he had
written to her in the meantime), for she writes a letter on
the next day to Anthony, from which the following is an
extract :

I send herein your brother's letter. Construe the interpre-
tation. I do not understand his enigmatical folded writing.^

' Spedding, Life, i. 243. * Ibid. i. 244.

3 i.e. involuted sentences.


Oh that by not hearkening to wholesome and careful good
counsel, and by continuuig still the means of his own great
hindrance, he had not procured his own early discredit ; but had
joined with God that hath bestowed on him good gifts of natural
wit and understanding. But the same good God that hath given
them to him will I trust and heartily pray to sanctify his heart by
the right use of them to glorify the Giver of them to his own
inward comfort. The scope of my so called by him circumstance,
which I am sure he must understand, was not to use him as a
ward, — a remote phrase to my plain motherly meaning — and yet,
I thank the Lord and the hearing of his word preached, not void
of judgment and conceiving. My plain proposition was and is
to do him good.

After further protest about his " riotous men " she closes
the letter in a gentler spirit :

He perceives my good meaning by this, and before too. But
Percie had winded him. God bless my son. What he would
have me do and when for his own good, as I now write, let him
return plain answer by Fynch. He was his father's first choice (?) ^
and God will supply if he will trust in him and call upon [him]
in truth of heart ; which God grant to mother and sons.

I send the first flight of my doves to you both, and God bless
you in Christ. A. B.'^

The noble and true nature underlying these letters is
apparent, though the point of view at the time might
preclude forbearance and understanding. I quote these
extracts for the light they throw on Bacon's existence at
this time. Both then and for a long time after he was in
great straits for money, and it has always been difficult to
account for this.

A word may be added as to Lady Bacon's letters.
She writes not only as a religious woman but as a woman
of the world, and though she is very plain with her sons,
she takes their part loyally in dealing with others. Her
account of an interview with her nephew, Sir Robert
Cecil, about the delay in the advancement of Francis,
written to Anthony in January i 595, is evidence of this —

' " The word is written so close to the edge of the paper that I cannot
make it out. It looks like chis." (Note by Spedding. )
2 Spedding, I.i/c, i. 245.


a shrewd and (in spite of its pathos) most entertaining
letter. I can only quote some of it :

Well (inquam) the eldest of my but two in all sons is visited
by God,^ and the other methinks is but strangely used by man's
dealing : God knows who and why. I think he is the very first
young gentleman of some account made so long such a common
speech of: this time placed, and then out of doubt, and yet
nothing done. Enough to overthrow a young and studious man,
as he is given indeed, and as fit by judgment of wiser both for
years and understanding to occupy a place as the Attorney. The
world marvels in respect of his friends and his own towardness.
— Experience teacheth that her Majesty's nature is not to resolve,
but to delay. — -But with none so seen, quod I. — Why (inquit) she
is yet without officers of three white staffs together : seldom seen :
But, saith he, I dare say my Lord would gladly have had my
cousin placed ere this. — I hope so myself, inquam : but some
think if my Lord had been earnest it had been done.^

Lady Bacon's latter years were sad. She lived on till
1 6 10, and Spedding notes that nothing is heard of her
since 1600, when "her health was worn," ^ and she is
alluded to in Goodman's Court of King James the First in
these words : " But for Bacon's mother, she was but little
better than frantic in her age." '^ Indeed she appeared to
one of Anthony's servants to be approaching this condition
in 1594.^ Her son Anthony died in 1601 : "Anthony
Bacon died not long since, but so far in debt that I think
his brother is little the better by him." " It appears, how-
ever, that he allowed his brother to draw on him freely in
his lifetime.

In August 1593 Essex writes to Francis Bacon that
he had been pressing the Queen to restore him to favour
— " an absolute afMvrjaTia, and an access as in former
times" — but so far without success. He reports her as
saying that " if it had been in the King her father's time,
a less offence than that would have made a man be
banished his presence for ever," and that "she should

' Anthony Bacon's health was completely broken at this time.

- Speckling, Lr/e, i. 346.

^ Petition of Francis Bacon to the Queen, tiid. iv. 217.

* Goodman (ed. Brewer), i. 285. ^ Spedding, Life, i. 310-312.

^ Chamberlain to Carleton, 27th May 1601, t'dtci. iii. 5.

2 D


precipitate too much from being highly displeased with
you to give you near access. . . . Her humour is yet to
delay." ^

In the same month Lady Bacon received a discour-
aging letter from her brother-in-law (Lord Burghley)
professing his goodwill towards her two sons, " though I
am of less power to do my friends good than the world
thinketh,"'- and he refers to them as " being so qualified in
learning and virtue as if they had a supply of more health
they wanted nothing." ^

In September 1593 Robert Cecil advises Bacon to
keep in evidence, " for, as I ever told you, it is not likely
to find the Queen apt to give you an office, when the
scruple is not removed of her forbearance to speak with
you. This being not yet perfected . . ." ^

By March 1594, in spite of all the efforts of Essex, it
was understood that Coke was to be Attorney, and Essex
now begins to sue for Bacon's appointment as Solicitor.
He writes to Bacon : " I find the Queen very reserved,
staying herself from giving any kind of hope, yet not
passionate against you till I grew passionate for you.
Then she said that none thought you fit for the place
but my lord Treasurer and myself . . . and therefore
in passion bade me go to bed if I would talk of nothing
else. Wherefore in passion I went away. . . ." ^

In reply to a further letter to the same effect. Bacon
writes to Essex : " And I must confess this very delay
hath gone so near me, as it hath almost overthrown my
health." He then bitterly complains (after calling his
father to memory, etc.) that when he considers that he
was "voiced with great expectation, and (though I say it
myself) with the wishes of most men, to the higher place ;
that I am a man that the Queen hath already done for ;
and princes, especially her Majesty, loveth to make an
end where they begin. ... I cannot but conclude with
myself that no man ever received a more exquisite disgrace."
" And therefore truly, my Lord," he continues, " I was

' .Speckling, Lijc, i. 254. 2 q^ Froude, History^ xii. 133, note.

' Spedding, Life, i. 255. ' Ibid. i. 257. ^ Ibid. i. 289.


determined, and am determined, if her Majesty reject me,
this to do. My nature can take no evil ply ; but I will
by God's assistance with this disgrace of my fortune . . .
retire myself with a couple of men to Cambridge, and
there spend my life in my studies and contemplations,
without looking back." ^ It is characteristic that when
the final rejection came in 1595 Bacon did nothing of
the kind. This letter was, presumably, intended to be
shown to the Queen, and was an effort to bring her round
by threat of spoiling or losing a good servant.

In May 1594 Robert Cecil writes to his cousin: "I
protest I suffer with you in mind that you are thus yet
gravelled." "^

In the same month Essex reports two interviews with
the Queen. The account of the first is very attractive,
and told with the simplicity which characterises Essex.
The Queen, he says, came to him, and when he began to
speak for Bacon for " that place which all the world had
named you to," " her answer in playing jest was that she
came not to me for that ; I should talk of those things
when I came to her, not when she came to me ; the term
was coming and she would advise. I would have replied,
but she stopped my mouth " ^^ — which, in Elizabethan
language, no doubt means that she gave him a kiss (cf.
Benedick to Beatrice at the end of Much Ado About
Nothing: "Peace! I will stop your mouth").

Of the next interview the Earl says : " I had long
speech with her of you ; wherein I urged both the point
of your extraordinary sufficiency . , . and the point of
mine own satisfaction, which I protested to her should
be exceeding great, if for all her unkindnesses and dis-
comforts past she would do this one thing for my sake.^

" To the first she answered, that the greatness of your
friends, as of my Lord Treasurer and myself, did make
men give a more favourable testimony than else they
would do, thinking thereby they pleased us. And
that she did acknowledge you had a great wit, and an

1 Spedding, Life, i. 290. - Ibid. i. 296. ^ ji)i^^ ;. 297.

* Cf. Chapter XIV". on the Ainorctti.


excellent gift of speech, and much other good learning.
But in law she rather thought you could make show to
the uttermost of your knowledge, than that you were
deep. To the second, she said she had showed her
mislike of the suit as well as I had done my affection in
it ; and that if there were a yielding, it was fitter to be
of my side." " She did in this," he adds, " as she useth
in all ; went from a denial to a delay, and said when the
Council were all here she would think of it ; and there
was no haste in determining of the place. To which I
answered, that my sad heart had need of hasty comfort,
and therefore her Majesty must pardon me if I were
hasty and importunate in it." ^

Essex made the fatal mistake of mixing up business
and sentiment, which the Queen knew well how to keep
apart. But this was his nature, which was unsophisticated
and wilful.

In June 1594 Bacon is found in "Tower" employ-
ment, assisting in the examination of prisoners charged
with plots against the life of the Queen. Spedding finds
evidence in this that " though the Queen still refused to
speak with him she had at last relented so far as to
employ him," ^ But I have no doubt this was under
the instructions of Burghley or the Secretaries, a gloomy
business enough, but one from which Bacon could hardly
shrink in connection with a career as a Crown lawyer. Nor
do I think he would, as Crown service was held by him to
supersede all personal considerations. He appears to have
been frequently employed in such work about this time.

In the same month Foulke Greville writes to him
about an interview he had had with the Queen, at which
he took occasion to tell her " how you lamented your
misfortune to me, that remained as a withered branch of
her roots, which she had cherished and made to flourish
in her service." ^ For reasons which will appear in the
next chapter I draw particular attention to these words,
which were evidently those used by Bacon himself

In August he writes to his brother, " I hear nothing

' Spedding, Life^ i. 297. ^ jfjifj \ ^p•^ 3 ji^i^^ \ ^02.


from the Court in mine own business," and he speaks
of going down for the day to Twickenham, where he
spent much of his time at this period.^ Writing from
there to his brother in October he says, " One day drawcth
another and I am well pleased in my being here ; for
methinks solitariness collecteth the mind, as shutting the
eyes doth the sight. I pray therefore advertise me what
you find by my Lord of Essex. . . ." -

It has been argued (I think with every probability)
that Bacon was employing himself at this time in imagina-
tive writing, for not long afterwards (Spedding suggests
January 1595) in a letter to Essex, putting him in mind
of his suit, he writes, " desiring your good Lordship never-
theless not to conceive out of this my diligence in soliciting
this matter that I am either much in appetite or much in
hope. For as for appetite, the waters of Parnassus are
not like the waters of the Spaw, that give a stomach ;
but rather they quench appetite and desires." ^

It was at this time (December 1594) that he com-
menced his " Promus of Formularies and Elegancies," ^ a
commonplace book for literary purposes, and he drew
up the speeches for the Christmas device at Gray's Inn,
which will be found printed in Spedding's volume. Lady
Bacon's alarm is characteristic : " I trust," she wrote to
her son Anthony on 5th December, "they will not mum
nor mask nor sinfully revel at Gray's Inn. Who were
sometime counted first, God grant they wane not daily,
and deserve to be named last." ^ The last sentence refers
especially to Francis, as the letters from her to Anthony
referred to above indicate.

In January 1595 Bacon writes from Twickenham to
his brother : " The Queen seemeth to apprehend my travel
[a threat of retiring abroad, communicated by Essex] ;
whereupon I was sent for by Sir Robert Cecil in sort
as from her Majesty." He then gives the following
amusing account of what the Queen had said, as he
understood from Cecil :

» Spedding, Life, i. 315. ^ Ibid. i. 321. 3 /(i/,/. i. 345.

* Ibid. i. 325. ^ Ibid. i. 326.


" The Queen's speech is after this sort. Why ? I
have made no Solicitor. Hath anybody carried a Soh'citor
with him in his pocket ? But he must have it in his own
time (as if it were but yesterday's nomination) or else I
must be thought to cast him away. Then her Majesty
sweareth that if I continue this manner, she will seek all
England for a Solicitor rather than take me. Yea she
will send for Houghton and Coventry tomorrow next
(as if she would swear them both). Again she entereth
into it, that she never dealt so with any as with me {in
hoc errattim non est) ; she hath pulled me over the bar
(note the words, for they cannot be her own), she hath
used me in her greatest causes. But this is Essex ; and
she is more angry with him than with me ; and such-like
speeches, so strange, that I should leese myself in it, but
that I have cast off the care of it. My conceit is, that
I am the least part of mine own matter. But her Majesty
would have a delay, and yet would not bear it herself. . . ."
At the end of the letter he recurs to the project of going
abroad, with an allusion to some writings : " And to be
plain with you, I mean even to make the best of those
small things I have with as much expedition as may be
without loss ; and so sing a mass of requiem I hope
abroad ; for I know her Majesty's nature, that she neither
careth though the whole surname of the Bacons travelled,
nor of the Cecils neither." ^

He goes, however, to Twickenham, his favourite retreat
at this time, and on the 7th March his brother reports to
Lady Bacon that he "has not seen him looking better." "
Probably he was engaged in writing, and had abstracted
his mind for the time being from the anxieties of the
suitor. I think this accounts for the unwonted want of
caution which he shows in a letter written about this
time to his cousin Robert Cecil. He takes off the gloves
and lets him know that he thinks he is intriguing against
him ; adding " but I think my fortune will set mc at liberty,
who am weary of asserviling myself to every man's
charity." ^ He repents, however, soon afterwards, and

' Spedding, Life, i. 347 sq. * Ibid. i. 353. ^ /^/^_ \ ^56.


expresses regret to Lord Burghley in a letter renewing
his suit for the SoHcitor's place : "... if I did show
myself too credulous to idle hearsays in regard of my
right honourable kinsman and good friend Sir Robert
Cecil (whose good nature did well answer my honest
liberty), your Lordship will impute it to the complexion
of a suitor, and of a tired sea-sick suitor, and not to mine
own inclination." ^

To Sir Foulke Greville he expresses his discontent in
stronger terms :

"My matter is an endless question. I assure you I
had said Requiesce anivia men : but I now am otherwise
put to my psalter ; Nolite confidere . . . And now
whether invidus homo hoc fecit ; or whether my matter
must be an appendix to my Lord of Essex suit ; or
whether her Majesty, pretending to prove my ability,
meaneth but to take advantage of some errors which, like
enough, at one time or other I may commit ; or what it
is ; but her Majesty is not ready to dispatch it. . . . This
is a course to quench all good spirits, and to corrupt every
man's nature ; which will, I fear, much hurt her Majesty's
service in the end. I have been like a piece of stuff
bespoken in the shop ; and if her Majesty will not take
me, it may be the selling by parcels will be more gainful.
For to be, as I told you, like a child following a bird,
which when he is nearest flieth away and lighteth a little
before, and then the child after it again, and so in
infinitum^ I am weary of it ; ^ as also of wearying my
good friends. . . . And so, not forgetting your business, I
leave to trouble you with this idle letter, being but justa
et moderata querimonia ; for indeed I do confess, primus
amor will not easily be cast off. And thus again I
commend me to you." ^

Note the sudden change of mood at the end. His pen
has carried him away and he recalls himself. It is all

^ Spedding, Life, i. 358.

■■^ Compare the account of the child following the butterfly in Coriolanus,
i. 3 : "and when he caught it, he let it go again ; and after it again ; and
over and over he comes, and up again," etc.

3 Spedding, Life, i. 359.


wonderful writing, but reveals how little adapted Bacon

Online LibraryEdward George HarmanEdmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon → online text (page 36 of 55)