CHAPTER VI. BACON AND SENECA
From the Book :
Phantom Captain Shakespeare
The Rosicrucian Mask BY
W. F. C. WIGSTON _______
Thomas Powell to Bacon
To Trve Nobility and Tryde Learning- Beholden Francis, Lord Verulam, and Viscount St Albanes. giue me leaue to pull the curtaine by, That clouds thy Worth in such obscurity ; Good Seneca, stay but a while thy bleeding, T'accept what I receiued at thy Reading : Here I present it in a solemne strayne : And thus I plucke this curtayne backe againe. (From "The Attovrney's Academy," by Thomas Powell : 3rd edition, 1630.)It seems to us these lines were indited, by a knower of Bacon's real dramatic disguise and concealment, behind the curtain of the Shakespeare Theatre. The reference to Seneca is striking. Be- cause Gervinus affirms the author of the plays was thoroughly acquainted, and profoundly imbued, with the writings of both Seneca and Plautus. Gervinus maintains Plautus and Seneca were Shakespeare's ideals."If Shakespeare had had occasion at any time to name his ideal, and to denote the highest examples of dramatic art which lay before him, he would have named none but Plautus and Seneca."The line--Let me lodge Lichas on the horns o' the moon, (" Antony and Cleopatra," act iv. sc. 10),was supposed by Warburton to be taken from Seneca's "Her- cules." Certain it is, Seneca's works were an especial study of Bacon's, and it is just in the Seventh Book of the "De Augmentis," which treats of Ethic, that he frequently cites from him. For example :---"Vere magnum habere fragilitatem hominis secm"itatem Dei." "Vita sine proposito languida et vaga est" (" Senec. in Epistles"). " De Partibus vitse quisque de- liberat, de summa nemo " (" De Brev. vitse ") (pages 336, 343, 351, "Advancement of Learning," 1640).In the Sixth Book of the "Advancement of Learning" (1623 and 1640), we find Bacon giving us a collection of "Antitheta," which are forty-seven in number, with each a "pro" and "contra." Bacon writes :" A collection of this nature we find in Seneca, but in
Suppositions only or Cases of this sort (in regard we have many ready prepared),
we thought good to set down some of them for example ; these we call Antitheta Rerum" (Book VL, p. 300, "Advancement of Learning," 1640).In a collection of the third group of Essays, published 1612, we find one "Of Love," which was altered in the 1625 (British Museum copy) edition. The 1612 Essay opens,"Love is the argument always of Comedies, and many times of Tragedies."In the 1625 Edition this is changed into,"The Stage is more beholding to Love than the life of man. For as to the Stage, Love is ever matter of Comedies and now and then of Tragedies."In this Essay we read : "It is a poor saying of Epicurus, ' Satis magtnum alter alteri Theatrum sumus ' " (we are a sufficiently great Theatre, the one to the other). Seneca quotes this in his Epistle (i. 7), ascribing it to Epicurus. Seneca is repeatedly quoted by Bacon in the " Essays," and thirteen times in the 1640 "Advancement of Learning" (see Index). Directly we recall the Comedies of the Folio, we find them dealing mostly with Love, but it is not so apparent in the Tragedies except in " Othello," " Troilus and Cressida," and " Antony and Cleopatra." It is the main theme of the "Two Gentlemen of Verona," of the "Merry Wives," of "Measure for Measure," of " Much Ado about Nothing," of "Love's Labour's Lost," of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," of "The Merchant of Venice," of " As You Like It," of "The Taming of the Shrew," of " All's Well that Ends Well," of "Twelfth Night," and of "The Winter's Tale," but in the chronicle plays it is only incidentally introduced. In "Timon of Athens," "Julius Caesar," "Macbeth," "Hamlet," "Lear," it plays hardly any role at all, so that Bacon's distinction is pretty correct, and where he studied the differences between Comedy and Tragedy in this respect we should like to know? In "Hamlet" Polonius makes the speech :--"The best actors in the world, either for Tragedy, Comedy, History, Pastoral, Pastoral-Comical, Historical-Pastoral, Tragical-Historical, Tragi- cal-Comical-Historical-Pastoral, scene indivisible, or Poem un- limited. Seneca cannot be too heavy, nor Plautus too light."In the Seventh Book of the "De Augmentis"(translation by Gilbert Wats, 1640), which (mark it) treats of Ethic, and the "diverse characters of men's natures or dispositions" (p. 352), we find a decided parallel to this passage :--"So among the Poets, Heroical, Satyrical, Tragedians, Comedians, you shall find everywhere the images of wits, although commonly with excess, and beyond the bounds of truth "(p. 352). On the next page (353), "For we see Plautus makes it a wonder to see an old man beneficent, Benignitas quidem hujus oppido ut adolescentuli est" ('Mil Glo.").Bacon evidently was studying character in Plautus pretty closely. How Bacon's observation upon excess finds its parallel in Hamlet's speech to the Players :--"Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance : that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature."The spirit of Seneca's "morals" is to be refound in Bacon's " Advancement of Learning," "De Augmentis" (Book VII.), and in the Essays. Seneca gives a series of Essays upon " Anger," consisting of twelve characters, and Bacon gives us an Essay also upon "Anger." How much Bacon was indebted to Seneca's "Epistles" is evident from the identity of subjects and even terms which he reproduces. For example, one of Seneca's epistles is upon "Custom." Another is "Every Man is the Artificer of his Own Fortune." Bacon's treatment of "Custom," both in his Essay and in the Seventh Book "De Augmentis," shows he had deeply taken to heart Seneca's writings. Another Essay (also introduced in the "De Aug- mentis") is upon "Fortune," and it seems Sir Nicholas Bacon was fond of quoting the following line :-- "Faber quisque fortune proprise" ("Advancement of Learning," Book II., p. 93, 1605). For in " Fragmenta Regalia," by Naunton, we read (under Sir Nicholas Bacon) he was fond of saying :-- "Unus quisque sufe fortune faber." Seneca's "Epistles" are wonderfully close to the spirit, if not even the style, of much of Bacon's wisdom, and Seneca's entire teaching is self-sacrifice and philanthropy, inculcated in just the same religious and philosophical way by Bacon."It is often objected to me, that I advise people to quit the world, to retire and content themselves with a good conscience. But what becomes of your precepts then (say they) that enjoin us to die in action ? To whom I must answer. That I am never more in action than when I am alone in my study; where I have only lock'd up myself in private, to attend the business of the public. I do not lose so much as one day ; nay, and part of the night too I borrow for my book. When my eyes will serve me no longer, I fall asleep, and till then I work. I have retired myself, not only from men, but from business also : And my own in the first, to attend the service of Posterity, in hope that what I now write may, in some measure, he profitable to future generations "(Epistle VI., "The Blessings of a Virtuous Retirement." "How we come to the Knowledge of Virtue."Seneca's "Morals," 1678).Everyone acquainted with Bacon's writings must recognise in these last words what Bacon is perpetually repeating for himself."Born for the service of mankind,"writes Bacon. And it is always for" After Ages,"
"Posterity,"he writes. In his preface to the "Instauration" :--"Some demonstration of his sincere and propense affection to promote the good of mankind"(p. 3, "Advancement of Learning," 1640)
"Truly he esteemed other ambition whatsoever inferior to the business he had in hand : for either the matter in consultation, and thus far prosecuted, is nothing, or so much as the conscience of the merit itself, ought to give him contentment, without seeking a recompense from abroad" (p. 3, "Advance- ment of Learning," 1640).This is thoroughly in the style of Seneca. Bacon writes :--"I take Goodness in this sense the affecting of the weal of men, which is that the Graecians called Philanthropia ; and the word
Humanity (as it is used) is a little too light to express it.
Goodness I call the habit, and Goodness of Nature the inclination.
This, of all virtues and dignities of the mind, is the greatest, being the character of the Deity.'* 'And without it Man is a busy, mischievous, wretched thing, no better than a kind of vermin" ("Of Goodness and Goodness of Nature "). Again, "The inclination to Goodness is imprinted deeply in the nature of man, insomuch that, if it issue not towards men, it will
take unto other living creatures : as it is seen in the Turks, a
cruel people, who, nevertheless, are kind to beasts, and give alms
to dogs and birds : insomuch as Busbechius reporteth, a Christian
boy in Constantinople had like to have been stoned, for gagging in
a waggishness a long-billed fowl" ("Goodness and Goodness of Nature"). * Earthly power doth then show likest God's When mercy seasons justice. (" Merchant of Venice," act iv. sc. 1.)See how all this is re-echoed in "Titus Andronicus":---Wilt thou draw near the nature of the Gods ? Draw near them in being merciful. Sweet mercy is nobility's true badge. (Act i. sc. 1.)Seneca's letters upon "Cruelty" and upon "Clemency" (or Mercy) are re-echoes of all this. Seneca writes :--- " Though Mercy and Gentleness of Nature keeps all in peace and tran- quillity, even in a cottage, yet is it much more beneficial and conspicuous in a palace. Clemency does well with all, but best with Princes." Compare with this the clemency of the Prince to Shylock, and the lines :---The quality of mercy is not strained, &c.In 1591, when Bacon was thirty-one, he writes to Lord Bur- leigh :"This, whether it be curiosity or vain glory, or nature, or if one take it favourably, Philanthropia is so fixed in my mind as it cannot he removed" ("Letters").With this should be coupled Bacon's deeply religious spirit, as evinced in his writings and the testimony of Doctor Rawley ("this lord was religious") to the same effect. Bacon's life had (we suggest) two distinct ends and two distinct phases. One was the real Bacon himself (as Dr Abbott puts it), alone like Seneca in his study, writing for Posterity and the service of mankind. This was the contem- plative looker on, the true man. The other phase was the man of action, playing a part as means to his great ends. Bacon in his dedicatory epistle to Andrews (Bishop of Win- chester) accompanying his "Holy War," compares himself to Demosthenes, Cicero, and Seneca. Bacon was the first Orator of his age, as Ben Jonson testifies."The fear of every man that heard him was, lest he should make an end."And so the comparison with Demosthenes is exact. Cicero was a great Orator also, and a great lawyer like Bacon, also a writer and Philosopher; but Seneca was a great Dramatist, and it is not so easy to see the parallel except in the point of Fortune." Only one specimen of the talents of the Romans for Tragedy has come down to us. These are the ten tragedies which pass under the name of Seneca " (Donaldson's, 'Theatre of the Greeks," p. 357). It is well worthy study to ask ourselves if Bacon in this comparison of himself with Seneca does not give us a profound hint as to his dramatic side. Gervinus (as already quoted by us) declares Seneca to have inspired Shakespeare. And here is the alter ego of Shakespeare confessing to self-comparison with this Latin author. " Seneca, indeed, who was condemned for many corruptions and crimes, and banished into a solitary island kept a mean ; and though his pen did not freeze, yet he abstained from intruding into matters of business ; but spent his time in writing books of excellent argument and use for all ages ; though he might have made better choice (sometimes) of his dedications. These examples confirmed me much in a resolution to spend my time wholly in writing, and so to put forth that poor talent, or half talent, or what it is, that God luith given me, not as heretofore to particular exchanges, hut to banks or mounts of perpetuity which will not break."There is a vast deal in Seneca's morals that we refind in Bacon's works in more ways than one. Seneca :"I could never hear Attalus upon the vices of the age, and the errors of life without a comparison for mankind" (ch. v. "Of a Happy Life").In the "New Atlantis" we read of the Tirsan,"who had an aspect as if he pitied men."
"For Ave ourselves are our own greatest flatterers" (ch. vi. "Of a Happy Life," Seneca). "It hath been well said, that the Arch-flatterer with whom all the petty flatterers have intelligence, is a man's self" (Essay, " Love "). "It is every man's duty to make himself profitable to man- kind" (ch. vii. "Happy Life"). "The passage to virtue is fair, but the way to greatness is craggy, and it stands not only upon a precipice, but upon ice too : and yet it is a hard matter to convince a great man that his station is slippery" (ch. xii. "Happy Life").
The art o'the court, As hard to leave as keep ; whose top to climb Is certain falling, or so slippery that The fear's as bad as falling.("Cymbeliiie," act iii. sc. 3.)