Edward George Harman.

Edmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon online

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' Attributed at a subsequent date to " Puttenham."


Sir John Daw. Why, every man that writes in verse is not
a poet ; you have of the wits that write verses, and yet are no
poets : they are poets that Hve by it, the poor fellows that live
by it.

Dauph. Why, would you not live by your verses, Sir John ?

Clerimont. No, 'twere pity he should. A knight live by his
verses ! He did not make them to that end, I hope.

Dauph. And yet the noble Sidney lives by his, and the noble
family not ashamed.

Cler. Ay, he profest himself; but Sir John Daw has more
caution : he'll not hinder his own rising in the State so much.
Do you think he will ? Your verses, good Sir John, and no

Sir Philip Sidney was dead when this was written,
and the word " lives " is therefore used in a punning
sense (" survives ").

A further illustration of the point occurs in the
anonymous play " Sir Thomas More," ^ in one of the
scenes which some authorities attribute (in my opinion
rightly) to Shakespeare :

Sir Thomas More. Erasmus preacheth gospell against
My noble poet.

Earl of Surrey. Oh, my lord, you tax me
In that word poet of much idlenes :
It is a studie that makes poore our fate ;
Poets were ever thought unfitt for state.

The third passage is from a letter by Donne, whose
position and circumstances resembled those of Bacon.
They were, no doubt, very different men, but, of the two,
Donne is in some ways the more representative of the
thought of the particular age. The passage comes from a
letter dated 1 4th April 1 6 1 2, when Donne was about forty :

Of my Anniversaries, the fault that I acknowledge in myself
is to have descended to print anything in verse, which, though
it have excuse even in our times, by men who profess and
practise much gravity ; yet I confess I wonder how I declined
to it and do not pardon myself.^

1 See Tke Shakespeare Apocrypha, collected and edited by C. F. Tucker

2 Cited by E. K. Chambers in the "Muses Librarj' " edition of Donne's



And lastly, the stately and very diplomatic sonnet
addressed to Burghley among the " Verses by the Author
to Various Noblemen, etc.," prefixed to the first portion
( I 5 90) of the Faerie Queene :

To the right honourable the Lo. Burleigh, Lo. high
Treasurer of England

To you, right noble Lord, whose carefull brest

To menage of most grave affaires is bent :
And on whose mightie shoulders most doth rest

The burdein of this kingdomes governement,
As the wide compasse of the firmament

On Atlas mightie shoulders is upstayd,

Unfitly I these ydle rimes present,

The labor of lost time, and wit unstayd :
Yet if their deeper sence be inly wayd.

And the dim vele, with which from commune vew

Their fairer parts are hid, aside be layd.

Perhaps not vaine they may appeare to you.
Such as they be, vouchsafe them to receave,
And wipe their faults out of your censure grave.

E. S.

Tradition has made Burghley the " villain of the
piece " in Spenser's life, and there are passages in the
poems which bear out this view, but which no one has
ever succeeded in explaining in relation to Spenser's
circumstances. The passages in question are eloquent
and vivid expressions of disappointment and a querulous-
ness peculiar to this writer. In my opinion, as I shall
further endeavour to show, they are an expression of
Francis Bacon's feelings in the early days of frustrated
ambition. But they are often more in the nature of
artistic self-expression than as representing any permanent
and deep personal feeling. Francis Bacon had a very
sanguine and buoyant temperament. At the same time
he was, I believe, responsive to every impression, direct
or reflected, and while most reserved in personal inter-
course he expressed himself with extraordinary candour
and naivct^ on paper. I think he could hardly resist the
impulse of self-expression, and the methods of secrecy
which he devised enabled him to indulge it with


impunity. Even when his attacks take an atrocious
form — and they are in places atrocious, however brilliant
artistically — the artistic sense always predominates, and
there is a marked and curious absence of personal
animus. This is due, to my mind, to Bacon's detachment
from what, for want of a better term in brief, I may call
the individual tie, which, again, was due to the slenderness
of his emotions.

The danger of public expression of opinion was also
another motive for secrecy and disguise. It must not be
overlooked that, after Whitgift's " Star Chamber Decree "
(January 1586), for many years no manuscript could be
set up in type without the licence of the Archbishop or
the Bishop of London. The penalties, where they were en-
forced, involved the printer in ruin : the destruction of his
press, six months' imprisonment, and prohibition to trade.
Similar precautions, in the interests of morality as well
as public policy, were maintained on the oral side, players
being licensed to a few leading men with great establish-
ments ; otherwise they were treated as rogues and
vagabonds. In Bacon's lifetime the Italian Giordano
Bruno, who appears to have resembled him in many ways
in intellect and aims, was burned at the stake for his
opinions. Ket, a clergyman, sometime a fellow of a
college in Cambridge, was burned at Norwich in 1589 for
alleged unitarian and otherwise eccentric opinions. A
reference to the French marriage cost Stubbs and his
publisher the loss of their right hands. Under James, Ben
Jonson and two other playwrights narrowly escaped the
pillory and mutilation for a reference to the Scotch which
gave offence to the king. In these circumstances is it
conceivable that any printer could have been induced to
publish Mother Hubberds Tale unless he was assured
of powerful protection ? No doubt the licence would
protect him up to a point, but how could a man like
Spenser, or the " Printer " in his absence, have got such
a piece past the censor ? It is of course conceivable that
the official who read it failed to understand its significance,
and that in the case of the Ruines of Time, where a


similar and more open attack on Burghley occurs, he
may have overlooked the stanza. But this seems very
improbable in the circumstances. With Bacon, however,
the case was different. He was an old pupil and friend
of Whitgift ; he was generally in sympathy with his
views of Church government, or at least was always ready
to support them as representing the policy of constituted
authority ; his pen was employed officially in connection
with the "Martin" controversy (1588-89V and I have
no doubt myself that it was placed at Whitgift's service
unofficially in some of the brilliant pamphlets, in the vein
of popular ridicule, which appeared in reply to the
Martinist press.^ In that case there were confidences, for
mutual advantages, between the Archbishop and his old
pupil, and a request from the latter to let a book pass the
censorship would be acceded to on trust. The safety of
the printer would lie in the fact that Burghley could not
take proceedings without exposing his nephew, the son of
his old friend and ally, and disgracing his wife's family.
Spenser, whose name (as I consider) was used, was
protected by his obscurity and the inaccessibility of his

I have not entered much into the question of social
feeling, and the aversion which is commonly felt — or has
been in the past — by men of rank or position from being
identified as writers by profession. The stories in this
connection about Congreve and Gibbon are well known.
In the time of Queen Elizabeth class opinion was pre-

• See Spedding, Life, i. : " Advertisement touching the Controversies ol
the Church of England" (p. 70 S(j.). Letter to Whitgift (p. 96). Letter of
Sir Francis Walsingham to an official of the French Government, which
Spedding regards (I have no doubt rightly) as Bacon's work (p. 97).

* Since this wns written I have noticed a statement by Simpson that at
this time Greene and Nashe were employed by Bancroft to lampoon Martin
Marprelate (The School 0/ Shakspere, 1 878, p. 363). I see it also stated in
the Dictionary of National Bioi^rapky, under " Bancroft," that it was " mainly
through his vigilance that the printers of the Marprelate tracts were detected.
. . . He is also said to have originated the idea of replying to the tracts in
a like satirical vein, as was done by Thomas Nash and others (see Pappe
■with a Ilatchett, An Almond for a Parrot, etc.) with considerable success."
It could be shown, I think, with much greater probability that Bacon was
the originator of this idea. Bancroft was Whitgift's right-hand man.


sumably not less sensitive, and though Bacon was not
a man of " family," he was born in a high social position,
and was ambitious to shine in the great world. A man
who is openly engaged in spiritual work is disliked in a
position of authority or social eminence, and is, indeed,
unsuited for it. Moreover, in such circumstances, there
is a decency in reticence. Bacon's interests, however,
were too wide, and his mind was too active, for him to
accept the isolation of the contemplative life ; therefore,
on that side, he devised means of concealment ; or rather
concealment was, with him, a second nature, because, as
I shall endeavour to show in the following pages, he
began to practise it as a boy. I am inclined to think
also that, in the case of great genius, either from its
sensitiveness, or from a consciousness of ill-adaptability
to human surroundings, there is an instinct of self-

A word may be said here as to Spenser's literary
remains, or, rather, the absence of them. In this matter we
find the same phenomenon as in the case of Shakespeare.
According to the writers of the article in the Dictionary
of National Biography, " Eight documents among the
Irish State Papers, dating between 1581 and 1589,
bear Spenser's signature, and one, his reply to the
inquiries of the Commissioners appointed in 1589 to
report on the plantation of Munster, is a holograph."
Beyond this, there is not a line of correspondence or
manuscript of any kind. Considering who the people were
whom Spenser knew, and apparently knew intimately,
and that he regarded his residence in Ireland as an exile,
he had every inducement to keep up a correspondence
with London, so far as such a thing was then possible.
Moreover he was a most facile writer, the Faerie Queene
being said to be the longest poem in the world.^

' According to Prof. Craik (S/>enser and his Poetry, 1845) it contains
npproximately 35,000 lines, being "nearly as long as the Iliad and Odyssey
both, with the Acfteid io boot."



There seems nothing more certain about the human
mind than that it depends on the senses for the material
on which it works. No amount of imagination will supply
the place of facts. Its function in art is to present them
in new combinations, by the aid of which the reasoning
faculty draws and illustrates its conclusions. This limita-
tion is best seen in the work of the greater poets, the
medium of whose art lies largely in phantasms, expressed
in speech. Great art is a product of self-knowledge, and
is a spiritual effort, which lays under contribution a man's
whole spiritual experience and intellectual acquisition,
and that experience comes to him primarily through
contact with life, partly in the form of books, and, in its
deeper effects, through persons and activity. There is no
better example of the limitations imposed by nature on
genius than the case of Chatterton. Great as his genius
undoubtedly was, the medium in which he expresses
himself is strictly confined within the limits of his reading
and social experience. Burns, another notable example,
is only great in what he knows ; as soon as he steps
outside his experience his genius cannot save him from
insipidity. Dante furnishes his Inferno with people of
his own acquaintance. Milton takes the risk of incongruity
in drawing Cromwell's portrait in the Parliament of Hell.
Dickens, in places, is notoriously autobiographical, and
even his invention fails to sustain his art outside certain
clearly defined limits, which are largely determined by
his social experience. And so on ; there is no exception



to the rule, except, apparently, in the case of Shakespeare.
There we are asked to believe that his genius was all-
sufficient, not only to supply him with the combinations,
but, to a large extent, with the facts. Similarly, though
it can be clearly demonstrated that all the great poets
and artists have worked with a sense of purpose and with
an interest in their fellow-creatures, Shakespeare alone,
we are told, had no care for the fate of his productions,
and his work was of an unconscious order and the
" irresponsible play of poetic fancy." ^ I believe that it
will be realised in time that these ideas are not only
unscientific, but based on a misconception of the facts,
arising out of the concealment by the real author of his
identity. In the case of Spenser, at any rate, purpose
and a standard of moral responsibility, towards which the
author moves or from which he recedes, according to the
mood, are notable characteristics of his work, and in
presenting the Faerie Queene he himself states his purpose,
which, though it may not be on the high spiritual plane
which is sometimes claimed for his poetry, will be found
consistent (as it must be) with his nature at that stage of
his development : " The generall end therefore of all the
booke is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in
vertuous and gentle discipline." We may expect to find
that in developing and illustrating this theme the author
will give some indications of his circumstances and
character. The fact that he desires to conceal his identity
may render such indications more difficult to trace, but,
in such a large and varied body of work, it cannot wholly
obliterate them.

It will be acknowledged, I suppose, that this is a very
unusual claim — indeed an extraordinary one for a writer
on his first public appearance under his own name. But
what are we to think of it in the case of Spenser, having
regard to the circumstances of his life to which I have
alluded ? Could such a claim be made to-day, with all
our equalisation of social conditions ? Suppose, for
example, the case of a young man, whose parents were

' See A Life of William Shakespeare, by Sidney Lee, pp. 256, 257.


people of the working class. By public assistance and
his own industry he passes from school to a university,
where he develops literary powers. Having no means of
his own, he enters for the examination for the Civil Service,
at the age of, say, twenty-two, and obtains a post in a
minor department in London, where he spends two or
three years, supplementing his income by writing for the
magazines, and thereby coming under the notice of a
few influential people with literary tastes. In order to
better himself, he then gets himself transferred to a Govern-
ment office in Dublin, where the interest he has made
in London assists him in obtaining a private secretaryship.
A change of Government occurs, and the Minister, on
quitting office, bestows on him an inspectorship, and he
settles down in the south-west of Ireland to local duties
and the founding of a family. In ten years' time he comes
over to London with an important work of imagination,
replete with allusions to life in the metropolis, which is
published with an introductory letter in which he announces
that the general object of his book is to show how people
should best conduct themselves under the burden of newly
acquired wealth. Such people might be quite ready to
hear what he had to say, though they would wonder
what experience he had of their circumstances. But it
is unnecessary to pursue the analogy, as it is impossible
to conceive such a situation in fact ; and yet, as it seems
to me, it is a fair parallel to the case of Spenser which
we are asked to accept. I write this in no spirit of
burlesque ; but we are entitled in these matters to make
some use of common-sense and the general experience
of life. Such incongruities occur throughout Spenser's
work, and I shall indicate in this chapter a few which
present themselves in the Faerie Queene, asking the reader
to keep in mind what has been said as to Spenser's
circumstances and bringing up.

The prodigious length of the poem probably prevents
many people reading it through, and they take for granted
the view which is commonly expressed, that it represents
a sort of unreal dream-world. The late Bishop Creighton,


for instance, writes : " Away from the tumult of the world
. . . the poet peopled his ideal world with the creatures
of his own fancy." ^ But this I believe to be a delusion,
or rather it is a view which arises from a failure to realise
the meaning and point of view of the author. There is
nothing " dreamy," in the sense of vagueness of thought,
in Spenser. The figures are often those of dreams, but
they are always in relation with reality. Until I realised
this I found (as I suppose most people do) that the poem
as a whole (apart from its many fine passages) was
hard reading, and I could not conceive how any human
being could have written it. As it is, I do not profess to
have made out the meanings of all the characters and
incidents, but I can offer the reader some interpretations
(so far as I am aware not hitherto recognised) which will
throw light on the times as well as on the author. If I do
this at the present stage somewhat categorically, it is not
from a desire to be dogmatic, but for the sake of brevity
of statement. The reader will, in this way, have an
opportunity of seeing what he may expect as the subject
is further developed in this work ; and if the views
expressed are not to his mind, he can close the book at
this chapter. I am not writing for controversy, but in
order to try to get at the truth on a subject (not bounded,
by any means, by Spenser's works) which appears to me
to be of the deepest spiritual significance and importance.
First as to the author (solely as revealed in the work).
His mind is stored with a vast amount of reading,
especially classical and Italian, and his fancy is so
exuberant that it constantly "takes control." His per-
ceptions and ear for rhythm are exquisitely delicate, and
when writing at his best he shows a marvellous artistic
sense ; but he has little sense of the artistic " whole " of
a composition, or, if he had, he was indifferent to it.
More probably, however, the concentration required for
its attainment was repugnant to him and interfered with
the plasticity of his fancy. He is careless of accuracy,
using his material as it happens to suit him. His work

' The Age of Elizabeth.


is largely instinctive, and as unequal and variegated as
that of nature herself. He writes, evidently, at a great
speed, and pours out his thoughts as they come with the
utmost naivete of self-expression. This often gives the
effect of lack of humour, but when he is in the mood,
and is not writing about himself, a strong sense of humour
appears. There is a marked absence of personal feeling.
Where he cannot readily get a rhyme he invents or alters
words (under the pretext of antiquity) to make one. The
effect is often singularly pleasing to the ear. His genius
flags heavily towards the close of the poem, but there is
one thing of which he never tires, the giving of instruction
in morals and manners. His attitude is that of a superior
being imparting information to people who are in great
need of it. By a division of personality which is very
marked he includes himself among his pupils, confessing
and admonishing himself freely under the guise of
character and dialogue. Similarly he treats his genius
as something apart from himself, and refers to its per-
formance in language of superlative eulogy. It is hard
to say he was wrong, but it presents a very strange
phenomenon, because, rightly understood (as I conceive),
the self-praise is not due to immodesty of character. The
impulse to express himself, and to refer to the people
whom he knows and the occurrences in their lives which
interest him, is so strong, that he adopts the most curious
and ingenious devices for gratifying it without exposing
himself or them to public view. After his own personality
the great object of his thoughts is the Queen. Round
her, as the source of favour and power, the whole poem
centres. So dominant are these ideas in his mind that
she is a sort of obsession, and he refers to her under
various disguises, and addresses her in the language not
only of love, but of religious worship. This is partly, no
doubt, flattery, after the habit of the time, but it goes far
beyond this, and can only rationally be accounted for by
the peculiarities of the author's nature.

The author's remarks about his representations of
the Queen, in his explanatory letter to Ralegh at the


beginning of the poem, give the doe to his method,
though without them it wcu.f be quite easy to ?ee 'r.'.s
meaning in her case. T r : . t :^ ?' :t .. : _-
however, is difficult, ar. d inLeutiorL .n ^a^

character the wr::er strs, under :;:.:.- - "rs, an

idealisation of h:rr:; : He sajrs, :r. : t l-^-^- letter,
that his book ^ :3ntinued A! e^ory, or darke

conce : th a : : A : : ^ H :~ e r , VirgH, Ariosto, " and
lately Tais:. ht his ;l::_:v; to pofutra.:: ::: A::>.-:-r.
before r.z ir -ir^ : ;t ;~l^± A^. iri.t l^night, Crrfr::ti
in the : \r 7.-:vi:e rr.:rL.! v .:_e E.f ..ristotie hath
devised ; ..e rich is the purpose oi .rtie "-st twehre
bookes, - ir. :he ir-iA'e A.- ; ctr e y t:-~::'e'
is "more c::d:i: ; ;^ i rri-:.:_- :d.t" i. :_ r .t -£.5

a::er ...s .:,::^ ti:.:=.\.i:: ly ..rr.:r :: •■.-:".
bv Merlin delivered :: de ;::.;.: _i i: ;;:;\
wai borne cf the Lidy A-ray:.e :: di-.e :rt
dream or viiion the Faery ^-tf:.. v,;:d v.-iie t
beauty rav:A.ti, he :^ . a'-:::;^ :e: lived :: ieehe d
He ::r.:-:-.aes: "I" Faery i__eer.e I r::ea:
in rr.-.- re::erih inteiiti ::: z:.: '.r. ~y c^rhtjiL: \
the i^^t ex:e::ent a - ri::;-, zt:.:?. ::' ;_r i

considering she dearerd f.v: ::t:r:::r :i;e ;: e :f
royall Oueene or Ent^reise, \:.-z I'.'r.t: :;' -. r::r.
and beautiful: Ladv, this latter cart '■.:: -:r.z
doe expre=se in iBelphodie. . . . S; i: :i.e ;
Prince Arthure I s^tte forth majrid.e: :e ir. ;. .-.
This, of course, is a turn sequ:::,.r. To be c
with the method announced in the case of th:
he should have written "in general," and the:
Prince Arthur stood for * in particular " ; ** magiu

^ The author wntes as thoogh these veie oomplete, and asBoor :
oo his title-page, but at this time (1590) he had only iiiueu three
finally coiD|detiiig six. Bacon's philosophic cntciprise siaiilariy
short at what, in oompansoa with the scheme floating m his Biad.
mate than an exovdiBm. Spenser, in ths letter, umlr m pla tes s.
poem dealing with the "poDiticke TCftnes in his [Aithor^] per;.:
that hee came to be king."


being the Aristotelian virtue " magnanimity," which, he
says, " is the perfection of all the rest." The practice,
however, which he follows in the poem is this. He
has no consistent method, but, writing as the impulse
prompts him, he shows the Queen in a variety of
characters, and conversely he uses a character to re-
present more than one person. There are no characters
among the principal actors in the poem representing
only abstract qualities. The genius of the poet is too
objective for this, and he drifts inevitably into the region
of actual personality and incident. Even Una, who is
the spirit of truth in simplicity, is made, in places, to
take up the personality of Queen Elizabeth. And so
of the other leading characters : in a general way they
are supposed to represent an abstract quality, but the
writer soon tires of this, and we find them concealing
under a more or less thin disguise some contemporary
person, and frequently the author himself It is with
these significations (the " particular " of the Ralegh
letter) that I am concerned in this chapter.

From a purely literary standpoint the dissertations
on the Faerie Queene of the eighteenth-century writers ^

Online LibraryEdward George HarmanEdmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon → online text (page 6 of 55)