Edward George Harman.

Edmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon online

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is placed only in heaven, where God of his mercie hath
appointed it for him to be found, and not here on earth."

Bryskett admits this and excuses himself, alleging that
he had used the general word instead of the particular,
and his aim was by the " study of Morall Philosophie to
compass, so farre forth as my endeavours could prevaile,
that humane practicke felicitie which of all men in all
ages hath bene so highly esteemed." He " durst not
presume to the studie of Divinitie, which (I well under-
stood) required a particular calling."

This is evidently the author's device for protecting
himself in what follows from a charge of unorthodoxy.

Bacon was greatly addicted to taking medicine, and
his writings show that he made a study of it. " The
secret operations and effects of nature " is a typically
Baconian phrase.

The writer continues that he earnestly desires the
shortest way to compass the study of moral philosophy,
and would think himself happy if he could find

any man whose knowledge and learning might help me to
direct my study to that end ; because I know right well how hard
it is for a man by his owne labour to search out the ready way
to understand those precepts, which have bin set downe in the
learned writings of Philosophers that have treated of that matter,


especially in the Greeke and Latine tongues, in which it hath
been substantially handled. For although I cannot truly pretend
ignorance in Latine, in which the workes of Plato and Aristotle
are to be read : yet I confesse that I do not find that facilitie in
the conceiving of their writings as I could wish, or as the greedi-
nesse of my desire to apprehend might overtake. For Plato hath
couched his sense thereof so dispersedly in his dialogues, as I
think he must be a man of great learning and exact judgement
that shall picke them out, and sever them from the other parts
of Philosophic, which he indeed most divinely discourseth upon.
And Aristotle is not to me so cleare nor so easily understood
without deepe study, as my meane capacitie would require ;
especially without the interpretation of some better scholer than
myselfe. And herein do I greatly envie the happinesse of the
Itahans, who have in their mother-tongue late writers that have
with a singular easie method taught all that which Plato or
Aristotle have confusedly or obscurely left written. Of which,
some I have begun to reade with no small delight, as Alexatider
Piccolomini, Gio. Baptista Giraldi, and Guazzo, all three having
written upon the Ethick part of Morall Philosopie both exactly
and perspicuously. And would to God that some of our
countrimen ^ would shew themselves so wel affected to the good
of their countrie (whereof one principall and most important part
consisteth in the instructing of men to vertue) as to set downe
in English the precepts of those parts of Morall Philosophy,
whereby our youth might without spending of so much time, as
the learning of those other languages require, speedily enter into
the right course of vertuous life. In the meane while I must
struggle with those bookes which I understand. . . .

It is quite clear, to my mind, from this remarkable
passage, and from the general substance of the book,
that the profession of inability is a pretence, made in
order to sustain the character under which the author is
writing. Only a man who had some acquaintance with
the originals, and was of exceptional independence of
mind, could have presumed to pass a judgment of this
sort on writers of such authority as Plato and Aristotle.
A similar confidence of judgment in dealing with the
philosophic thought of antiquity is found throughout the

Many passages occur in Bacon's acknowledged works

' Note ayain that the writer expresses himself as an Englishman.


in which this quarrel with the ancients, and especially
with Aristotle, finds expression ; but there is one passage
in the Advancement of Learning -which, contains the same
charge of obscurity and confusion as in the foregoing
extract, and follows in other respects the lines of Bryskett's
" Discourse." Bacon is dealing with the question of the
" nature of good," and mentions the " infinite disputations
which were touching the supreme degree thereof, which
they term felicity, beatitude, or the highest good." These,
he says, are " by the Christian faith discharged," and he
proceeds :

Freed therefore and delivered from this doctrine of the philo-
sophers heaven, whereby they feigned an higher elevation of man's
nature than was ... we may with more sobriety and truth receive
the rest of their inquiries and labours : wherein for the nature
of good, positive or simple, they have set it down excellently, in
describing the forms of virtue and duty, with their situations and
postures, in distributing them into their kinds, parts, provinces,
actions, and administrations, and the like ; nay farther, they
have commended them to man's nature and spirit with great
quickness of argument and beauty of persuasions ; yea, and
fortified and entrenched them (as much as discourse can do)
against corrupt and popular opinions. Again, for the degrees
and comparative nature of good, they have also excellently
handled it in their triplicity of good ; in the comparisons
between a contemplative and an active life ; in the distinction
between virtue with reluctation, and virtue secured ; in their
encounters between honesty and profit ; in their balancing of
virtue with virtue, and the like ; so as this part deserveth to
be reported for excellently laboured.

Notwithstanding if before they had come to the popular and
received notions of virtue and vice, pleasure and pain, and the
rest, they had stayed a little longer upon the inquiry concerning
the roots of good and evil, and the strings of those roots, they
had given, in my opinion, a great light to that which followed ;
and specially if they had consulted with nature, they had made
their doctrines less prolix and more profound : which being by
them in part omitted and in part handled with much confusion,
we will endeavour to resume and open in a more clear manner.

There follows the passage about Spenser and the
Faerie Qi/eene, to which I have alluded above :

Yet is there a gentleman in this company, whom I have had


often a purpose to intreate, that as his leisure might serue him,
he would vouchsafe to spend some time with me to instruct me
in some hard points which I cannot of myselfe understand ;
knowing him to be not onely perfect in the Greek tongue, but
also very well read in Philosophic, both morall and natural).
Neuertheless such is my bashfulnes, as I neuer yet durst open
my mouth to disclose this my desire unto him, though I have
not wanted some hartning thereunto from himselfe. For of his loue
and kindnes to me, he encouraged me long sithens to follow the
reading of the Greeke tongue, and offered me his helpe to make
me vnderstand it. But now that so good an oportunitie is offered
vnto me, to satisfie in some sort my desire ; I thinke I should
commit a great fault, not to myselfe alone, but to all this company,
if I should not enter my request thus farre, as to moue him to
spend this time which we have now destined to familiar discourse
and conuersation, in declaring unto us the great benefits which men
obtaine by the knowledge of Morall Philosophic, and in making
us to know what the same is, what be the parts thereof, whereby
vertues are to be distinguished from vices ; and finally that he
will be pleased to run ouer in such order as he shall thinke good,
such and so many principles and rules thereof, as shall serue
not only for my better instruction, but also for the contentment
and satisfaction of you al. For I nothing doubt, but that euery
one of you will be glad to heare so profitable a discourse, and
thinke the time very wel spent wherin so excellent a knowledge
shal be reuealed unto you, from which euery one may be assured
to gather some fruit as wel as myselfe. Therefore (said I)
turning myselfe to J/. Spe?iser, It is you sir, to whom it pertaineth
to shew yourselfe courteous now unto us all, and to make vs all
beholding unto you for the pleasure and profit which we shall
gather from your speeches, if you shall vouchsafe to open unto
vs the goodly cabinet, in which this excellent treasure of vertues
lieth locked up from the vulgar sort. And thereof in the behalfe
of all as for myselfe, I do most earnestly intreate you not to say
vs nay. Vnto which wordes of mine euery man applauding
most with like words of request, and the rest with gesture and
countenances expressing as much, M. Spenser answered in this
maner. Though it may seeme hard for me, to refuse the request
made by you all, whom, euery one alone, I should for many
respects be willing to gratifie ; yet as the case standeth, I doubt
not but with the consent of the most part of you, I shall be
excused at this time of this taske which would be laid vpon me.
For sure I am, that it is not vnknowne unto you, that I haue
alreedy vndertaken a work tending to the same effect, which is in
heroical verse, vnder the title of a Faerie Queene, to represent all


the moral vertues, assigning to euery vertue a Knight to be the
patron and defender of the same, in whose actions and feates of
arms and chiualry the operations of that vertue, whereof he is the
protector, are to be expressed, and the vices and unruly appetites
that oppose themselues against the same, to be beaten down and
ouercome. Which work, as I haue already well entred into, if
God shall please to spare me life that I may finish it according
to my mind, your wish (J/. Brysketi) will be in some sort ac-
complished, though perhaps not so effectually as you could desire.
And the same may very well serue for my excuse, if at this time
I craue to be forborne in this your request, since any discourse,
that I might make thus on the sudden in such a subject would
be but simple, and little to your satisfactions. For it would
require good aduisement and premeditation for any man to
vndertake the declaration of these points that you have proposed,
containing in effect the Ethicke part of Morall Philosophic.
Whereof since I haue taken in hand to discourse at large in my
poeme before spoken, I hope the expectation of that work may
serue to free me at this time from speaking in that matter, not-
withstanding your motion and all your intreaties. But I will
tell you how I thinke by himselfe he may very well excuse my
speech, and yet satisfie all you in this matter. I haue scene (as
he knoweth) a translation made by himselfe out of the Italian
tongue of a dialogue comprehending all the Ethick part of
Moral Philosophy, wTitten by one of those three he formerly
mentioned, and that is by Giraldi, vnder the title of a dialogue of
ciuil life. If it please him to bring us forth that translation to
be here read among vs, or otherwise to deliuer to us, as his
memory may serue him, the contents of the same ; he shal (I
warrant you) satisfie you all at the ful, and himselfe wil haue no
cause but to thinke the time well spent in reuiewing his labors,
especially in the company of so many his friends, who may there-
by reape much profit, and the translation happily fare the better
by some mending it may receiue in the perusing, as all writings
else may do by the often examination of the same. Neither let
it trouble him that 1 so turne ouer to him againe the taske he
wold haue put me to ; for it falleth out fit for him to verifie
the principall of all this Apologie, euen now made for himselfe ;
because thereby it will appeare that he hath not withdrawne
himselfe from seruice of the State, to liue idle or wholly prinate
to himselfe, but hath spent some time in doing that which may
greatly benefit others, and hath serued not a little to the better-
ing of his owne mind, and increasing of his knowledge, though
he for modesty pretend much ignorance, and pleade want in
wealth, much like some rich beggars, who either of custom, or


for couetousnes, go to begge of others those things whereof they
haue no want at home. With this answer of Al. Spensers it
seemed that all the company were wel satisfied, for after some
few speeches whereby they had shewed an extreme longing after
his worke of the Fairie Queene, whereof some parcels had been by
some of them scene, they all began to presse me to produce my
translation mentioned by M. Spenser, that it might be perused
among them ; or else that I should (as near as I could) deliuer
unto them the contents of the same, supposing that my memory
would not much faile me in a thing so studied and aduisedly
set downe in writing as a translation must be.^

Bryskett then proceeds to read his translation, which
is interspersed with interruptions, and observations in
reply by the author in his own person, which show wide
knowledge and classical reading. He explains here
and at the end of the book that he has used freedom in
dealing with his original, omitting some things and adding
others. In other words, he has constructed a treatise
which represents his own philosophic views, and they
are those which will be found in Bacon's acknowledged
works. They are also couched in his style, with that
attractiveness of style and sense of authority which is the
special feature of his work in the region of intellectual

The following extracts, with comments, are given in
order to illustrate this view :

Of the child :

. . . expedient that care be had to make him conceive a knowledge
of that simple, pure and omnipotent nature, the most high and
ever-living God. . . . For he that is void of religion, and of that
feare of God, which is in effect but a due reverence unto his
Majesty, can never in all the whole course of his life do anything
worthy prayse or commendation.

We have already noted a similar habit of referring to
the Deity by Spenser and Bacon.

There is a passage in the " second day " of unusual
interest, in which it seems to me probable that Bacon is

' The "u" used for " v " in the original has heen retained in this


giving an account of his early education. The passage
has no point unless it is autobiographical, and regard
being had to the facts ascertained about Bryskett the
Irish ofificial (as noted above), it obviously cannot apply
to him. On the other hand, it would apply in every
particular to the circumstances of Francis Bacon.

To a remark of Sir Robert Dillon, that the advance-
ment of the child depended much on the care and diligence
of the parents, Bryskett replies :

That is (said I) most true, and I can verifie it in myself; for
such was my fathers care (who not only in the education of his
children, but also in the ordering of his household, was second to
no man of his degree that ever I knew) as before I was full five
yeares of age, I had gone through mine Accidence, and was sent
to schoole to Tunbridge, 20 miles from London, and if either the
aire of the place, or some other disposition of my body had not
hindered my health by a quartaine ague that tooke me there,
I might have bin a forward scholer in my grammer at 6 yeres
old, and have bin ready to have accompanied my learning with
those corporall exercises which by some are set downe as fit to be
used by children betweene the yeares of five and ten, as well to
harden their bodies and to make them apt for the wars (if their
disposition be thereunto) as for health. But by that unhappie
accident, not only the health and strength of my body, but my
learning also met with a shrewd checke, which I could never
sithens recover sufficiently. Neverthelesse as much as my father
could performe, he omitted not to have me trained both to my
booke and to other exercises agreeable to his calling and abilitie,
following (as I suppose) such precepts as he had found set downe
by some worthy authors treating of that matter. The exact forme
of which education perhaps is hard to be observed, but by such
as have together with a fatherly and vigilant care, wealth and
meanes answerable to finde in their owne houses schoole-masters
to instruct and fashion their children according to those rules and
precepts. For by them, before the child attaine the age of
14 yeares, he should not only have learned his Grammer, but
also Logike, Rhetorike, Musike, Poetrie, drawing and perspective,
and be skillfull at his weapons, nimble to runne, to leape and to
wrestle, as exercises necessary upon all occasions where fortitude
is to be employed for the defence of his countrey and Prince, his
friends, and of his faith and religion.


Here, it seems to me, is the precocious and delicate



child, the son of a father known for sagacity and wit,
who had raised himself in the service of the State to a
great position, and who desired to bring his youngest son
up to the same calling. York House was his London
residence, and it was there that Francis Bacon, as he
tells us, was born. Tonbridge School was one of the
new " free grammar schools " of the Reformation, and
was the kind of school (where a liberal education was
given) to which a man like Sir Nicolas Bacon would
naturally send his son. It was founded in 1553 by Sir
Andrew Judde, a merchant adventurer who acquired
great wealth and became Lord Mayor of London. The
school was conveyed in 1561, under the will of the
founder, to the Skinners' Company, of which he was a
member.^ The old school was pulled down, to make
place for the present one, in the middle of the last century.
The effect of the loss of young companionship and the
discipline of school teaching which the writer regrets
perhaps accounts, to some extent, for Bacon's lack of the
" sensus communis " (to which I have before adverted)
and for the looseness of scholarship which is noticeable
in his writings. On the other hand, the illness here
referred to evidently had the result of isolating the boy
from his fellows, and giving his genius opportunities of
a freer development than would have been possible
at a school. This would account also for the very early
age (twelve years and three months) at which Bacon
was sent to Cambridge. He left the University in his
fifteenth year, and thenceforward he educated himself.
By the time he returned to England from France, when
he was just eighteen, it is probable that he had a general
acquaintance with continental as well as classical literature,
and his extraordinary memory enabled him to use his
reading without apparent effort. At first he is largely
dominated by it and lets it appear in excess, but by
degrees it becomes subservient to compositions of an
entirely original and native type. In this view Shake-
speare's lack of scholarship is seen to be more apparent

' Rivington's Histoty of Toubridge School.


than real, and to arise largely from the indifference of the
writer to historical accuracy, under a considered theory
of art.

Bryskett brings a further charge of " obscurity "
against Aristotle, here again speaking in his own person,
not as the " translator " :

But before we enter into that matter you must understand
that Plato and Aristotle have held a several! way each of them
in their teaching. For Plato from things eternall descended to
mortall things, and thence returned (as it were by the same way)
from the earth to heaven againe ; rather affirming than prooving
what he taught. But Aristotle from earthly things (as most
manifest to our senses) raised himselfe, climing to heavenly
things, using the meane of that knowledge which the senses give,
from which his opinion was that al humane knowledge does
come. And where sensible reasons failed him, there failed his
proofes also. Which thing, as it hapned to him in divine matters,
so did it likewise in the knowledge of the soule intellective (as
some of his interpreters say) : which being created by God to his
owne likenesse, he hath written so obscurely thereof, that his
resolute opinion in that matter cannot be picked out of his

The two following passages (spoken apparently in the
author's own person) contain the same ideas as to the
nature of the soul (adapted in a similar way from
Aristotle) as those expressed by Bacon and Spenser :

For doubtlesse the vegetative and sensitive soules, which
cannot use their vertues and operations but by meane of the
body, die with the body. But the intellective soule, which is
our onely true forme, not drawne from the materiall power, but
created and sent into us by the divine majestic, dieth not with
the body, but remaineth immortal and everlasting.

Let us therefore conclude with Aristotle that both the passable
\J.e. " the cogitative or imaginative "] and the possible under-
standings are vertues of the Intellective soule,^ insomuch as she
is the particular and proper forme of every man, and that as a
humane soule she is everlasting, impassable, not mingled with

' The "possible" is tlie "intellective" from one point of view. The
argument here is an attempt to show that Aristotle's doctrine did not imply
the existence of " two scverall soules" in man, "a manifest heresie as well
in Philosophic as in Christianitie " (p. 276).


the bodie,but severed from the same, simple and divine, not drawne
from any power of matter, but infused into us from abroade, not
ingendred by seede : which being once freed from the bodie
(because nature admitteth nothing that is idle) is altogether bent
and intent to contemplation, being then (as Philosophers call it)
actus purus, a pure understanding, not needing the bodie either
as object or as a subject.

The following passage indicates the writer's view that
true knowledge is only to be obtained through self-
knowledge. This is, no doubt, a view of great antiquity,
being an instinctive feeling which grows with spiritual

Which things he weighing and considering, he reacheth not
onely to the knowledge of himselfe but of other men also.

The thought is carried further in the following (spoken
by the Lord Primate) as to the end of the soul :

The contemplation of his divine majestie, who is the onely
true and perfect good and happinesse. The perfection of which
divine majestie is the knowledge of himselfe ; and knowing him-
selfe to know all things by him created and produced.

Like Spenser, the writer denounces contemporary
scribblers who profess to be poets, and he approves of
Plato's suggestion that there should be a " magistracy "
over their productions (p. 150):

Which regard if it were had nowadays, we should not see so
many idle and profane toyes spred abroade by some that think
the preposterous turning of phrases, and making of rime with
little reason, to be an excellent kinde of writing, and fit to breed
them fame and reputation. . . . But to men of judgement, and
able to discerne the difference betweene well writing and pre-
sumptuous scribling, they minister matter of scorne and laughter.^

^ Compare, for instance, the following from the sayings of the ancient
Chinese philosopher Lao-tsze : " He who has a knowledge of other men is
intelligent, he who has a knowledge of himself is enlightened,"

' Cf. pp. 8, 12, above. This passage contains a good example of that habit
of quotation in Bacon alluded to in Chapter V., of distorting an author's mean-
ing (whether intentionally or from carelessness) to suit his own argument :
"For Plato condemned not Poesie, but onelie those Poets that abused so
excellent a facultie, scribling either wanton toyes, or else by foolish imitation
taking upon them to expresse high conceits which themselves understood
not." See as to this at p. 147 above.


The writer takes the same view as Bacon about the
myths :

But to make an end with Poets, he that niarketh those fictions
which Homer hath written of their Gods, Hke as those of Virgil,
and other of the heathen Poets, though at the first they seeme
strange and absurd, yet he shall find under them naturall and
divine knowledge hidden to those that are not wise and learned :
which neither time nor occasion would that I should here insist

Bacon's view was that the myths were much older
than Homer, and that " a concealed instruction and
allegory was originally intended in many of the ancient

Online LibraryEdward George HarmanEdmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon → online text (page 52 of 55)