The Rest of the Equipment
The author of the Plays was equipped, beyond every other man of his time, with wisdom, erudition, imagination, capaciousness of mind, grace, and majesty of expression. Everyone one had said it, no one doubts it. Also, he had humor, humor in rich abundance, and always wanting to break out. We have no evidence of any kind that Shakespeare of Stratford possessed any of these gifts or any of these acquirements. The only lines he ever wrote, so far as we know, are substantially barren of them — barren of all of them.
Good friend for Iesus sake forbeare To digg the dust encloased heare: Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones And curst be he yt moves my bones.
Ben Jonson says of Bacon, as orator:
His language, WHERE HE COULD SPARE AND PASS BY A JEST, was nobly censorious. No man ever spoke more neatly, more pressly, more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness, in what he uttered. No member of his speech but consisted of his (its) own graces. . . . The fear of every man that heard him was lest he should make an end.
He continued to distinguish himself in Parliament, particularly by his exertions in favor of one excellent measure on which the King’s heart was set — the union of England and Scotland. It was not difficult for such an intellect to discover many irresistible arguments in favor of such a scheme. He conducted the great case of the POST NATI in the Exchequer Chamber; and the decision of the judges — a decision the legality of which may be questioned, but the beneficial effect of which must be acknowledged — was in a great measure attributed to his dexterous management.
While actively engaged in the House of Commons and in the courts of law, he still found leisure for letters and philosophy. The noble treatise on the ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING, which at a later period was expanded into the DE AUGMENTIS, appeared in 1605.
The WISDOM OF THE ANCIENTS, a work which, if it had proceeded from any other writer, would have been considered as a masterpiece of wit and learning, was printed in 1609.
In the mean time the NOVUM ORGANUM was slowly proceeding. Several distinguished men of learning had been permitted to see portions of that extraordinary book, and they spoke with the greatest admiration of his genius.
Even Sir Thomas Bodley, after perusing the COGITATA ET VISA, one of the most precious of those scattered leaves out of which the great oracular volume was afterward made up, acknowledged that “in all proposals and plots in that book, Bacon showed himself a master workman”; and that “it could not be gainsaid but all the treatise over did abound with choice conceits of the present state of learning, and with worthy contemplations of the means to procure it.”
In 1612 a new edition of the ESSAYS appeared, with additions surpassing the original collection both in bulk and quality.
Nor did these pursuits distract Bacon’s attention from a work the most arduous, the most glorious, and the most useful that even his mighty powers could have achieved, “the reducing and recompiling,” to use his own phrase, “of the laws of England.”
To serve the exacting and laborious offices of Attorney–General and Solicitor–General would have satisfied the appetite of any other man for hard work, but Bacon had to add the vast literary industries just described, to satisfy his. He was a born worker.
The service which he rendered to letters during the last five years of his life, amid ten thousand distractions and vexations, increase the regret with which we think on the many years which he had wasted, to use the words of Sir Thomas Bodley, “on such study as was not worthy such a student.”
He commenced a digest of the laws of England, a History of England under the Princes of the House of Tudor, a body of National History, a Philosophical Romance. He made extensive and valuable additions to his Essays. He published the inestimable TREATISE DE AUGMENTIS SCIENTIARUM.
Did these labors of Hercules fill up his time to his contentment, and quiet his appetite for work? Not entirely:
The trifles with which he amused himself in hours of pain and languor bore the mark of his mind. THE BEST JEST-BOOK IN THE WORLD is that which he dictated from memory, without referring to any book, on a day on which illness had rendered him incapable of serious study.
Here are some scattered remarks (from Macaulay) which throw light upon Bacon, and seem to indicate — and maybe demonstrate — that he was competent to write the Plays and Poems:
With great minuteness of observation he had an amplitude of comprehension such as has never yet been vouchsafed to any other human being.
The ESSAYS contain abundant proofs that no nice feature of character, no peculiarity in the ordering of a house, a garden, or a court-masque, could escape the notice of one whose mind was capable of taking in the whole world of knowledge.
His understanding resembled the tent which the fairy Paribanou gave to Prince Ahmed: fold it, and it seemed a toy for the hand of a lady; spread it, and the armies of the powerful Sultans might repose beneath its shade.
The knowledge in which Bacon excelled all men was a knowledge of the mutual relations of all departments of knowledge.
In a letter written when he was only thirty-one, to his uncle, Lord Burleigh, he said, “I have taken all knowledge to be my province.”
Though Bacon did not arm his philosophy with the weapons of logic, he adorned her profusely with all the richest decorations of rhetoric.
The practical faculty was powerful in Bacon; but not, like his wit, so powerful as occasionally to usurp the place of his reason and to tyrannize over the whole man.
There are too many places in the Plays where this happens. Poor old dying John of Gaunt volleying second-rate puns at his own name, is a pathetic instance of it. “We may assume” that it is Bacon’s fault, but the Stratford Shakespeare has to bear the blame.
No imagination was ever at once so strong and so thoroughly subjugated. It stopped at the first check from good sense.
In truth, much of Bacon’s life was passed in a visionary world — amid things as strange as any that are described in the ARABIAN TALES . . . amid buildings more sumptuous than the palace of Aladdin, fountains more wonderful than the golden water of Parizade, conveyances more rapid than the hippogryph of Ruggiero, arms more formidable than the lance of Astolfo, remedies more efficacious than the balsam of Fierabras. Yet in his magnificent day-dreams there was nothing wild — nothing but what sober reason sanctioned.
Bacon’s greatest performance is the first book of the NOVUM ORGANUM . . . . Every part of it blazes with wit, but with wit which is employed only to illustrate and decorate truth. No book ever made so great a revolution in the mode of thinking, overthrew so may prejudices, introduced so many new opinions.
But what we most admire is the vast capacity of that intellect which, without effort, takes in at once all the domains of science — all the past, the present and the future, all the errors of two thousand years, all the encouraging signs of the passing times, all the bright hopes of the coming age.
He had a wonderful talent for packing thought close and rendering it portable.
His eloquence would alone have entitled him to a high rank in literature.
It is evident that he had each and every one of the mental gifts and each and every one of the acquirements that are so prodigally displayed in the Plays and Poems, and in much higher and richer degree than any other man of his time or of any previous time. He was a genius without a mate, a prodigy not matable. There was only one of him; the planet could not produce two of him at one birth, nor in one age. He could have written anything that is in the Plays and Poems. He could have written this:
The cloud-cap’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like an insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Also, he could have written this, but he refrained:
Good friend for Iesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare:
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones
And curst be he yt moves my bones.
When a person reads the noble verses about the cloud-cap’d towers, he ought not to follow it immediately with Good friend for Iesus sake forbeare, because he will find the transition from great poetry to poor prose too violent for comfort. It will give him a shock. You never notice how commonplace and unpoetic gravel is until you bite into a layer of it in a pie.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00