W. Lansdown Goldsworthy
In this book an attempt is made to describe and explain what is probably the inner meaning of one of the most interesting and (from a literary point of view) valuable of Ben Jonson's later topical plays--"The Staple of News".
The name given to this play suggests that it may have dealt in some hidden manner with current topics of general interest when it appeared; and, as it was played before King Charles I., there seems a great probability it appealed to him and those surounding him--his courtiers--because of its actually giving "News" of an unusually striking and important character.
Many of the old plays written prior to the
outbreak of the Civil War seem greatly to resemble the modern
detective story because, to understand them, it becomes necessary to
follow-up the clues--more or less obvious--they give.
In doing this it must, however, be remembered that in the old topical, satirical dramas no explanation was furnished at the end, such as is always to be found in the modern story. The unravelment of the mystery, if such there were, the dramatists left to the ingenuity of the reader, who had to decide for himself whether the solution he found was correct; unless, indeed, the Star Chamber discovered the inner meaning--to the discomfiture of the unhappy dramatist, as sometimes happened.
The inner meaning of "The Staple of News" seems ascertainable on account of its being-- as we are told in it--a literary play. In the years 1623-25 there were but few matters of extreme literary interest for Ben Jonson to touch upon, and to these, it is suggested, his play refers; chief amongst them being William Shakespeare's immortal First Folio and Francis Bacon's great work, De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientarum, both published in 1623.
Ben Jonson probably felt doubly interested in those works, since it is said he helped to edit the former, and to translate into Latin the latter.
THE FIRST FOLIO
Amongst the band of brilliant writers who made the reign of Queen Elizabeth for ever famous in the annals of English literature Ben Jonson occupies one of the foremost places.
He seems to have stepped into this
position almost at a bound on account of some very striking features
to be looked for in a few of his early plays, and yet, at the present
day, those plays seem to be little read, and to be subjected to
considerable adverse criticism. This is probably due to the different
point of view from which stage plays were regarded when Ben Jonson
wrote ; for the place now filled by the newspaper was then very
largely taken by the drama.
In those days leading politicians were freely represented on the stage and libelled under feigned names, whilst their doings were satired in allegory with a frankness which would have brought upon their authors severe penalties (from which they--Ben Jonson in particular--did not always escape) had they been uttered in any other manner.
A number of Ben Jonson's works are to be classed as amongst these satirical, allegorical, topical plays, and these now appear to be largely unintelligible unless regarded from that point of view; but if we read them in the light thrown upon them by a careful study of the leading persons and events of his time, so as to ascertain who and what he satired, their meaning at once becomes revealed. It is suggested that the Elizabethan period is in itself so extremely interesting that the trouble which may be spent in searching out Ben Jonson's hidden meaning will amply repay the investigator by the pleasure he will derive from the better understanding of those clever topical plays.
Ben Jonson's Masque, "Neptune's Triumph for the Return of Albion," was produced on Twelfth Night, 1624, before King Jams, to celebrate, as its name suggests, the safe return, shortly before that date, of Prince Charles from his romantic, but fruitless, voyage to Spain.
When, however, we read the Masque it at once appears that another important object, which will presently be mentioned, may have been in its authors mind, for it must have been written, at any rate within a few months, but possibly within a few weeks, after the appearance in 1623 of William Shake-speare's immortal First Folio, in the editing and production of which Ben Jonson is said ot have taken a leading part.
The Masque divides itself
into two parts which seem to have little or no connection with one
another, since whilst the first touches upon the arts of Cookery and
Poetry, in the second, congratulations on the return of the Prince
It appears possible that the first part was, in reality, intended by Ben Jonson either to form what might now almost be looked upon as a "review" of the First Folio, or to advertise it.
King James died on the 27th of
March, 1625, at a time when the First Folio and Francis Bacon's two
great works, "The Advancement of Learning," which had appeared in the
same year as the First Folio, and the Novum Organum of
1620 were all still on sale, and doubtless forming important topics
of discussion amongst the literary men of those days.
To Ben Jonson as a poet and dramatists, the First Folio must, very naturally, have seemed of the greater importance, and, evidently in order to make his review of it more emphatic and complete, "Neptune's Triumph" was, in 1625, expanded by him, with various omissions and alterations, into the play called "The Staple of News," and produced before King Charles in that year, a few months after his accession to the throne. In the Masque, Cookery and Poetry were both merely said to be derived from the kitchen :
"Cook....For there is a palate of the understanding, as well as of the senses. The taste is taken with good relishes, the sight with fair objects, the hearing with delicate sounds, the smelling with pure scents, the feeling with soft and plump bodies, but the understanding with all these; for all which you must begin at the kitchen. There the art of poetry was learn'd , and found out, or nowhere; and the same day with the art of Cookery."
On the other hand, in the play, as well shall presently see, Cookery adn Poetry were emphatically stated to be identical. It must also be noted, as a guide to Ben Jonson's meaning, that in the Masque we find the Cook promising:
"I'll fit you with a dish out of the kitchen,
Such , as I think, will take the present palates,
A metaphorical dish!"(Ib.)
With one remarkable exception, to be found towards the close of this volume, it appears needless to give any further quotations from the Masque, and consequently " The Staple of News," almost alone, will thereafter be considered, this also, like the Masque, evidently offering "a metaphorical dish" to its readers.
Admirers of "Rare Ben Jonson" must often have
wondered why King Charles I ceased to patronise him, notwithstanding
the long years of favour he had enjoyed under King James; and it is
proposed in the following pages, specially to call attention to some
The Staple of News" which may have caused that play, not unreasonably, to be regarded as somewhat insulting to the memory of King James, and consequently , likely to furnish an explanation of the mystery.
"The Staple of News" possesses two Prologues, of which the second is specially addressed to the Court, and therefore would not have been spoken when, if ever, after its performance before the King, the play was publicly produced. This reads :
(For the Court)
"A work not smelling of the lamp, to-night,
But fitted for your Majesty's disport,
And writ to the meridian of your Court,
We bring; and hope it may produce delight,
The rather being offered as a rite,
To schollars, that can judge, and fair report
The sense they hear, above the vulgar sort
Of nut-crackers, that only come for sight.
Wherein although our title, sir, be News,
We yet adventure here to tell you none,
But shew you common follies, and so known,
That though they are not truths, the innocent
Hath made so like, as phant'sy could them
Or poetry, without scandal, imitate."
("The Staple of News.")
This clearly appears intended to inform either
spectator or reader that a hidden meaning is to be found in the play,
and that, whilst its homely scenes might perchance tickle the ears of
the "vulgar sort of nut-crackers"--the "groundlings," this inner
meaning, evidently of a literary nature, deals mainly, not with very
recondite matters, but with "common follies" closely associated with
London-- " the meridian of "the Court," which those well acquainted
with the literature of the period would scarcely regard even as
"News"-- it was all far too well-known, especially in Court
If this interpretation of the meaning of the Prologue should prove correct, and it seems difficult to suggest any other, we evidently should look for more or less disguised references to the three important works above mentioned, of which the "Shakespeare" First Folio, from its connection with the stage, comes within the description "common follies," for as such stage plays were regarded when Ben Jonson wrote; whilst The Advancement of Learning and the Novum Organum appealed to "scholars" only.
Moreover, the neglect by writers upon Ben Jonson's works to draw the attention of their readers to this broad hint as to the inner meaning of "The Staple of News," has resulted in its being perhaps the least understood of all his plays, and this although it is in reality one of the easiest to follow, because of its treating very largely of "common follies," and not, like some of his earlier plays, almost wholly of political matters, to understand which we require a rather close acquaintance with the leading politicians and political affairs of those days, many of them now almost forgotten; although, indeed, political matters are to some extent touched upon in the play now being considered.
A curious instance well illustrating the unfortunate results of this remarkable neglect occurs in Charles Knight's illustrated edition of Shakespeare, in which in the "Illustrations to Act IV" of Romeo and Juliet, he drew attention to old Capulet's order (to be found in the Scene of that Act) :
"Sirrah, go hire me twenty cunning cooks,"
and cited the eloquent passage from "The Staple of News" describing "A Master-Cook " presently to be quoted. Knight failed, however, to point out the all important fact that, in the last-named play, the terms "Master-Cook" and "Master-Poet" are made interchangeable--that, as Ben Jonson in that play expressed it, with reference to Lickfinger, the Cook:
Another book which Ben Jonson apparently intended
in "The Staple of News" to link up with the author of
"Shakespeare"was "The Art of English Poesie"--a celebrated
anonymously published work which had appeared in 1589, and was
subsequently attributed to a nebulous and uncertain "Puttenham." The
late Rev. Walter Begley, M.A., in Volume I of his Bacon's Nova
Resuscitatio, very ably and successfully attempted to identify
this work as having in reality been written by Francis Bacon.
In the play of Cymbeline we find Guiderius and Arviragus (Castor and Pollux) discussing Imogen(1.)
"Arv, : How angel-like he sings!
Gul: But his neat cookery! He cut our roots in characters,
And sauc'd our broths as Juno had been sick
And he her dieter."
1. The Spirit of the Dawn :Francis Bacon's secret "Tenth Muse." Vide W.L. Goldsworthy, "Shakespeare's Heraldic Emblems ; their Origin and Meaning." H.F. & G. Witherby, London. 1928. This grand "Tenth Muse" apparently disguised herself by putting on the garb of Player Shakspere. In Chapter VIII of that work attention was drawn to a very curious circumstance relating to "The Arte of English Poesie," which confirms Mr. Begley.
This evidently greatly amused Ben Jonson, and probably suggested to him the mixing up, first, in the above mentioned Masque, and afterwards, in "The Staple of News," of cookery and poetry as though they were the same, to enable him to put forward a thinly veiled, but extremely friendly, criticism of "Shakespeare" and the concealed Author who had made us of that nom de- plume, and thus draw attention to the First Folio.
In " The Arte of English Poesie" (Book I, Chap.V) its author speaks of
"marchants and travellers who by late navigation have surveyed the whole world, and discovered large countries and strange peoples wild and savage, affirming that the American, the Perusine and the very Canniball, do sing and also say, their highest and holiest matters in certaine riming versicles, and not in prose."
This passage also seems to amused
Ben Jonson, and it is proposed presently to give some quotations from
"The Staple of News" apparently written in order to quiz it. He did
this, however, in a most kindly and friendly spirit, and not in the
vitriolic manner in which, in some of his earlier plays, he had
attacked and metaphorically "killed" the Stratford-on Avon player,
A principle part in "The Staple of News" is played by a character to whom the name "Lickfinger " is given, and who is described in the table of dramatis personae as "Lickfinger, Master-Cook and Parcel Poet," his name being very obviously drawn from "The Arte of English Poesie," in which we find :
This afforded yet another opportunity to Ben Jonson for making fun of the author of "Shake-speare's plays under the charcacter of Lickfinger, the Cook, but mingled also with the highest possible praise of his great work.
Ben Jonson had a very crafty custom of satirizing in his topical plays two or more persons under the same character, as this possessed for him the great advantage of making it difficult, when proceedings for libel were taken against him, to prove with any certainty whom he had meant to attack. This course he adopted in the play we are now considering with the character : "Pennyboy, Richer, the Uncle, the Usurer," or, as he is called, "Pennyboy Senior." In the earlier part of the play whom he was intended to represent it is difficult to discover, but, in the later, this character enabled a severe criticism to be made by Ben Jonson upon King James; and it should not suprise us to find that King Charles, although he seems at first to have ignored the matter, was secretly deeply offended, and that it was in consequence of this the old dramatist ultimately lost his Court employment.
Lickfinger, too, had cause for complaint, since in Act II we find him addressed as : "mine old host of Ram-Alley"--then a rough court off Fleet Street, London, adjoining the Temple, and ever famous for "Ram Alley meditations," these evidently not of too refined a description.
This suggests a perhaps slightly
malicious desire on the part of Ben Jonson to retaliate upon the
unnamed author (Puttenham?) for the attack contained in one of the
eight added pages to be found only in the copy, now in the British
Musuem, of "The Arte of English Poesie" formerly belonging to Ben
Jonson, wherein his old occupation of a bricklayer was rudely
satirized; although, indeed, those added pages containing the satire
were apparently never published--they were for Ben Jonson's ear
The parts played by the other characters --Pennyboy, the Canter; Pennyboy, the Son; Alamanac; Shunfield; Madrigal, the Poetmaster; Pecunia, and the rest-- seem mainly intended to form a framework to carry the allusions to "Shake-speare" and "Puttenham," and it is in consequence quite immaterial for present purposes to ascertain who the persons, if any (other than Pennyboy, the Canter), were whom those characters represented, and it is not proposed here to attempt any lengthy inquiry as to this.
The plot of the play mainly turns upon the opening of an office for the collection and dissemination of News, which perhaps may be regarded as an intelligent anticipation of the famous "Press Association" of London; for we are told it was:
One of the most curious items of News supposed to have been collected by the office is the description of what was said to be a then newly-invented submarine, and this seems to anticipate in a remarkable manner all claims to the invention of the "screw," now almost universally used in steamships:
"Thomas :They write here one Cornelius-Son Hath made the Hollanders an invisible eel
To swim haven at Dunkirk, and sink
The shipping there.
Pennyboy, Jun : But how is't done?
Cymbal : I'll show you sir,
It is an automa, runs under water,
With a snug nose, and has a nimble tail
Made like an auger, with which tail she
Betwixt the costs of a ship, and sinks it
(Ib., III. i.)
The play now begins to couple Lickfinger, the Cook, with poetry and the passage from "The Arte of English Poesie" above quoted.
"2Customer : Have you any news from the Indies? Any miracle Done in Japan by the Jesuits,or in China?
Nathaniel : No, but we hear of a colony of cooks
To be set ashore on the coast of America,
For the conversion of the cannibals,
And making them good eating Christians,
Here comes the Colonel that undertakes it.
3Customer : Who , Captain Lickfinger?
Lickfinger : News, news, my boys!
I am to furnish a great feast to-day,
And I would have what news the office
Nathaniel : We were venting some of you,
of your new project."
(Ib., III. i.)
Was the "great feast" here spoken of, and which, later on, we learn, was held at The Apollo, meant by Ben Jonson to suggest that provided by "William Shakespeare" in 1623 by the publication in that year of the First Folio?
" Pen., Jun. : what Lickfinger! wilt thou convert the cannibals,With spit and pan divinity?
Lick : Sir, for that
I will not urge, but for the fire and zeal
To the true cause; thus I have undertaken
With two lay brethren, to myself, no more,
One of the broach, the other of the boiler...."(Ib.)
Who were these "two lay
Considering what follows it may be suspected that Ben Jonson alluded to the Earls of Montgomery and Pembroke, to whom the First Folio had been dedicated, and who, although not themselves poets, but merely "lay brethren," yet took a great interest in poetry, and probably bore a part of the cost of publication of that great work.
.....And then we are gradually led up to a remarkable passage--"a metaphorical dish" [see it's reference p.12-13] --which seems unmistakably intended as descriptive of the real Author of the great First Folio :
Do eat together to-day, in town, and where?
Thomas : Yes, there's a gentleman, the brave heir, young Pennyboy,
Dines in Apollo.
Madrigal: Come, let's thither then,
I have supped in Apollo.
Almanac : With the Muses?
But with two gentlewomen call'd the Graces.
Alm. : They were ever three in Poetry.
Mad. : This was truth, sir.
Thomas : Sir, Master Fitton's (1)
Shunfield : All the better.
Alm. : We may have a jeer, perhaps.
Tho. :If he dines there, he's sure to have
For Lickfinger provides the dinner.
The glory of the kitchen! that holds cookery
A trade from Adam, quotes his broths and salads,
And swears he is not dead yet, but translated
In some immortal crust, the past of almonds!(Ib, III.i.)
(1) Was this name here introduced to suggest the famous Mistress Mary Fitton--the "Dark Lady" of the Sonnets? "We may have a jeer, perhaps."
This admirably clever description
of what "Rare Ben Jonson" evidently very rightly considered the
Master-piece of the "Master-Cook and "Master-Poet" can have but one
meaning--it must be regarded as an ungrudgingly appreciative tribute
to the excellencies of the First Folio, the most famous
literary production of that, or perhaps of any other day.It should
once and for all dispose of the legend that Ben Jonson "depreciated"
the Author of the "Shake-speare plays and poems.
In other words "Shake-speare"--"not dead yet"--had shone out again in the First Folio--that "immortal crust, the paste of almonds" containing the immortal plays! The "Broths and Salads" were evidently introduced to make fun of the passage in Cymbeline describing Imogen :
Arv. :How angel-like he sings!
Gul: But his neat cookery! He cut our
roots in characters,
And sauc'd our broths as Juno had
And he her dieter."(Cymbeline, IV. ii.)
Shakespearians will, of course, remember that in that play the heroine, Imogen,
flies the Court, and takes refuge in a Cave with Belarius, the latter apparently representing Apollo--"When on my three-foot stool I sit"--with whom she finds he unknown brothers, Guiderius or Polydore and Arviragus or Cadwal-- Castor and Pollux-- they having been taken from the Court , brought up and trained by him in the Mountains of Pembrokeshire; that is to say, in the wilds, amidst Nature.
If the brothers represent Castor and Pollux, who, it was suggested in the writer's above mentioned book, were adopted by Francis Bacon as his literary Emblem, their sister, Imogen-- or Imorgen-- "The Spirit of the Dawn" as her name seems to suggest--represents the "Tenth Muse" of "Shake-speare."
And in that Cave, arrayed in Pisanio's garb--" Tis in my cloak-bag--doublet, hat, hose, all......" --Imogen sang, and with roots provided by Nature cooked those dainty, metaphorical dishes suggestive of "the Poet of Nature."
The passage doubtless appealed very strongly to the imagination of Ben Jonson, and inspired him to write of the feast given by Lickfinger at The Apollo, and of the wonderful dishes provided by him, and to link together cookery and poetry.
But gorgeous as was the language in which Ben Jonson celebrated the dainties--especially that "immortal crust, the paste of almonds"--enjoyed at The Apollo, yet it was entirely eclipsed in grandeur by those two or three wonderful lines in Cymbeline describing the Feast prepared by Imogen, of which we are told it was suited to sick Juno, the patroness of the ancient Galli, thus suggesting that the Cave was in reality upon Olympus! that it was an Olympian Banquet!--the fare produced in Britain!
We are also told that Lickfinger "holds cookery a trade from Adam," because, in "The Arte of English Poesie," "Puttenham" says : "The profession and us of Poesie is most ancient from the beginning, and not as manie suppose, after, but before any civil society among men." (lib. I.ch. iii.)
Before quoting Lickfinger's reply to what, considering it is addressed directly to the Cook, must be regarded as Madrigal's most injurious assetion, it is necessary to point out that the reference to the "quick cellar" was apparently intended to suggest that "the vain Oracle of the Bottle," Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the possessor in right of his hereditary office of Lord High Chamberlain of the very famous and well known bottle badge (vide drawing) [see "The Handbook of Heraldry." John E. Cussans, ed 1869. p. 125]
De Vere's Bottle Badge
was the real author of the "Shake-spare" plays and poems, and thus to provide Lickfinger with an opportunity of emphatically repudiating de Vere's unfounded claims.
When, early in 1625, Ben Jonson was engaged upon the first draft of the play we are now considering, every courtier whose memory went back to 1604, the year of de Vere's death, must still have remembered that well known Bottle Badge, then to be seen displayed upon the livery buttons of the Earl's "few foggy retainers," and without which the true meaning of the play, with remarkable attack upon "the vain Oracle of the Bottle," and its emphatic assertion of the superior claim of the "Master-Poet," Lickfinger, might have been entirely lost. At all events, Lickfinger's, and therefore Ben Jonson's repudiation of de Vere's claims to the authorship of the famous plays seems unmistakable ; and it must be remembered that, but for that claim, "the vain Oracle of the Bottle" (not the Bottle itself or its contents, be it noted, was introduced,but its owner --"the vain Oracle" himself) would never have been introduced, as his introduction would then have been entirely without meaning, nor would Lickfinger have needed to be given such an obivous opening either for attacking and repudiating the claim of de Vere, or of asserting his own.
For a professor! he designs, he
He paints, he carves, he builds, he fortifies,
Makes citadels of curious fowl and fish,
Some be dry-dishes, some motes round
Mounts marrow bones, cuts fifty-angled
Rears bulwark pies, and for his outer works,
He raiseth ramparts of immortal crust;
And teacheth all the tactics,(2)
at one dinner:
What ranks, what files, to put his dishes in;
The whol art military. Then he knows
The influence of the stars (3) upon his meats,
And all their seasons, tempers, qualities,
And so to fit his relishes and sauces.
He has nature in a pot,(4) 'bove all the
Or airy brethren of the Rosie-cross.
He is an architect, an engineer,
A soldier, a physician, a philosopher,
A general mathematician.
Mad. : It is granted.
Lick : And that you may not doubt him for a poet--
Alm. : This fury shews, if there were nothing
And 'tis divine! I shall for ever hereafter
Admire the widsom of a cook.
Band : And we , sir."
(Ib., IV. i.)
1. He was therefore a concealed poet!
2. i.e. Comedy, History and Tragedy; all in one volume --the First Folio
3. Francis Bacon's literary emblems, Castor and Pollux.
4. A wonderful description of "the Poet of Natue"!
Ben Jonson, having ascribed to Lickfinger the above most emphatic repudiation by him of the claim put forward by Madrigal on behalf of de Vere-- "the vain Oracle of the Bottle"--continues his speech with that brilliant description of the Master-Cooke and his productions which, we find, is considered by Almanac a divine "fury," or afflatus. What were those productions ? Were they actually those of the kitchen, or was Ben Jonson in reality speaking of poetry?
We are given two guides which, taken together, seem so strong that they can scarcely be regarded as merely hints-- they appear rather to have been put forward as plain intimations of a fact--that Ben Jonson was in reality in metaphor describing a then living poet and his poetry, and also to inform us that for both he had an intense admiration.
The first of these hints is to be found in Madrigal's speech, in which, alluding to Lickfinger, he tells us :
"He holds no man can be a poet,
That is not a good cook, to know thepalates,
And several tastes of the time. He drawsall arts
out of the kitchen, but the art of poetry,
Which he concludes the same with cookery."(Ib., IV. i.)
The other is that furnished by the second Prologue above quoted. But apart, indeed, from these hints, and notwithstanding also that Lickfinger's speech may, at first sight, appear to describe an actual cook and the wonderful culinary productions he was capable of serving up, yet the language put in his mouth would be absolutely ridiculous if it related soley to such commonplace trivialities as pies and puddings, or roast and boiled meats; and it is not conceivable that so brilliant a writer as Ben Jonson would have wasted his time on thus elaborately describing them.
In a previous page, when pointing out that most of the earlier portion of "Neptune's Triumph" containing the allusions to the First Folio was repeated in "The Staple of News," it was mentioned that a small portion at the end of that part was not so repeated. The omitted portion contains this passage :
"Cook : And whom for mutton, and kid?
Boy : A fine laced mutton,
Or two; and either has her frisking
That reads her the Corranto, every week.
Grave master Ambler, news-master of Paul's
Supplies your capon; and grown captain
His emissary, under-writes for turkey;
A gentleman of the Forest presents
And a plump poulterer's wife, in Grace's
Plays hen with eggs in the belly, or a
Choose which you will.
Cook : But where's the bacon, Tom?
Boy : Hogrel the butcher, and the sow his
Are both there.
Cook : It is well, go dish them out."
It will be noticed that the
Cook (who was given no name but that in the Masque) asks
the pointed question : "But
where's the bacon, Tom?" thus
giving "bacon" a whole line, which Ben Jonson further emphasized by
making the rest of the above quoted speeches of Cook and Boy merely
nonsensical. On the other hand, the closing Scene in "The Staple of
News" seems closely to agree by ascribing to Pennyboy Senr.
words which must have been understood by King Charles and many
others amongst those present at the performance, to allude to Francis
Bacon and the common belief then held, that he as Attorney-General or
Lord Chancellor--"my learned Counsel"--had been responsible by his
advice for the unconstitutional imprisonments of Members of
Parliament and Puritans by Kings James. It is certaintly a remarkable
thing that in the Masque "bacon" should be named, and in the Play
Bacon, as though to identify him with Lickfinger, the
be alluded to. Did Ben Jonson desire to give
Francis Bacon, in the character of Lickfinger, an opportunity of
defending himself, as he does, form an accusation which Ben Jonson
well knew to be both false and unjust? The name Cooke itself
very strongly suggests Francis Bacon ; for he was a son of Lady Anne
Bacon, herself the second of the five very learned daughters of Sir
Anthony Cooke, the tutor to King Edward VI, who had himself given to
those daughters an education similar in all respects to that given by
him to the young King : and, it may be mentioned, translations by
Lady Anne Bacon of Italian and Latin works were actually published.
Francis Bacon was consequently, by descent a Cooke-- a descent,
moreover, from a very learned Cooke, of which it looks as though he
were very proud; and it should therefore not suprise us to find him,
with his quite irrepressible tendency to jesting, occasionlly
alluding to matters connected with the kitchen and the Cooke.
For this reason that curious passage from Cymbeline already
quoted--"but his neat cookery!" reads as though it must have fallen,
and that very naturally, from his pen.
In 1621 the career of Francis Bacon as Lord Chancellor had come to its melancholy termination, under circumstances which it is not within the scope of this book to consider. Yet it must be remarked that Sir Henry Hallam, perhaps the most impartial of historians, is disposed to acquit him of all blame, although he finally relies upon the "general disesteem of his contemporaries" as speaking "forcibly against him." In this, however, Hallam appears to have been unconsciously unfair, through his having ovrlooked, or at all events failed to point out, that the extremely important matters actually quoted by him in Bacon's justification were, from their very nature, absolutely unknown to those contemporaries. For instance, that most admirable letter of "Advice to the Duke of Buckingham, containing instructions for his governance as Minister," was entirely unknown, except, of course, to Buckingham himself, and possibly to Ben Jonson. If, like Hallam, Bacon's contemporaries had possessed the advantage of being acquainted with this, in particular with the passage quoted by the historian, their opinion might have been altogether changed, in Bacon's favour. For there is little which can be said against one who, under such circumstances, could write-- as Francis Bacon secretly did--to Buckingham :
"As far as it may be in you , let no arbitrary power be intruded : the people of this Kingdom love the laws thereof, and nothing will oblige them more than a confidence of the free enjoyment of them; what the nobles upon an occasion once said in Parliament, Nolumus leges Anglia mutari, is imprinted in the hearts of people."
Francis Bacon in 1625, as Ben Jonson evidently
well knew, had changed little in his noble love of freedom and of
independence since, in 1593, he had uttered that famous speech in the
House of Commons against subsidies being levied by Queen Elizabeth
without the authority of Parliament.
The protest put in the mouth of Lickfinger, evidently intended to be understood as a protest by Francis Bacon against the unjust accusations made against him, seems perfectly to harmonize with Hallam's views, so far as the latter was content to rely upon his own study of those times.(Hist. of England, I.p.359)
The Scene proceeds :
"Pen. Cant.: Peace,
Pen.Senr.: Next, I restore these servants to their lady,
With freedom, heart of cheer and countenance;
It is their year and day of jubilee.
Omnes : We thank you Sir."("The Staple of News," V. ii.)
Ben Jonson must have fully believed that King
Charles was as much opposed to the undue exercise of arbitrary power
as were both he and Francis Bacon, but he was soon to be woefully
deceived, for that King almost at once, with the aid of Strafford and
Laud, started upon the unfortunate course of "Thorough," which
ultimately ended by depriving him of the Throne of England.
Macaulay tells us that Bacon was a sincere Christian, but one who did not meddle with religious controversy :
"He loved to consider that religion as the bond of charity, the curb of evil passions.........In what he wrote on Church Government he showed, as far as he dared, a tolerant and charitable spirit."
But Ben Jonson disliked Puritans, as his
"Bartholomew Fair" amply proves, and he had at one time been a Roman
Catholic, so that he was in all probability what would now be called
a High Churchman; yet it is evident that, like Bacon, in Church
matters he had a strong desire for peace.
There was nothing in "Neptune's Triumph" to which either of the two Kings or Francis Bacon could have taken exception; but with "The Staple of News" the case was different, and Bacon (if indeed, he ever witnessed the play) must have been somewhat annoyed at seeing his old master, King James, to whom he was, as is well known, intensely and affectionately loyal, apparently placed upon the stage, or even alluded to, in such an undignified character as that of Pennyboy Senr., and there can be little doubt that had he heard of the play before its production he would have done his utmost to stop it.
On the other hand, King Charles evidently had a
great charm of manner, and Ben Jonson, who must have seen a good deal
of him in connection with the production of various Masques at
Court, probably had a liking for him somewhat resembling that felt by
Bacon for King James. He had probably heard amongst the people much
discontent expressed with regard to the actions of King James, and
consequently, greatly daring, he loyally ventured, in his own blunt
manner, in "The Staple of News," to give to King Charles a hint as to
the dangers to the Church, to himself, and to his country, likely to
arise from his continuance in the arbitrary steps of his father. How
much better it might have proved for all concerned had the hint been
The inquiry as to the interpretation to be place upon the character, Pennyboy Senr., and his treatment of his two Dogs-- in particular the imprisonment of the latter--has, at a first view, led us very far from the consideration of the First Folio itself. It must, however, be remembered tht the most striking feature of "The Staple of News" was the evident attempt, first to identify the Author of the First Folio, and apparently also the Author of "Puttenham's " "The Arte of English Poesie," with Lickfinger , the "Master-Cook" and "Master-Poet," and then to identify Lickfinger himself, by means of Pennyboy Senr. and his treatment of his Dogs, with Francis Bacon. It may be remarked that since the Play apparently had this principal aim, it is hardly believable Ben Jonson would have confused the main issue by making so much use of Puttenham's book-- in particular, by giving Lickfinger a name so obviously taken from that book-- unless he knew that the Author of "The Arte of English Poesie"--the so called "Puttenham" --and the Author of the First Folio were one and the same--King Jame's famous, but unfortunate, Lord Chancellor, Francis Bacon; who, as Ben Jonson elsewhere remarked,
"hath filled up all numbers, and performed that in our tongue, which may be compared or preferred either to insolent Greece or haughty Rome"--"my learned counsel....my cook."
How could the description "my learned counsel"
apply to Player Shakspere? --who was left quite unnoticed in the
play; who had been dead nine years when that play was written; and
who could scarcely have been credited by any one with having, from
his retirement in Stratford-on-Avon, giving advice of any kind,
either good or bad, to King James upon legal points arising as to the
exercise of the Royal Prerogative. This Bacon undoubtedly could, for
to give such advice was a most important part of the Chancellors
How, too, could it aply to de Vere? --for he was, of course, never the King's counsel, and he had been dead twenty years, having died in extemely impoverished circumstances in the second year of he reign of King James, when the important political matters touched upon in "The Staple of News"--the imprisonment of the Members of Parliament and Puritans--had not yet arisen.
Morevoer, de Vere, although identified in the play, was dealt with, as we have seen, in such a manner as to give Lickfinger an opportunity to discredit any claims he might have put forward with regard to "Shake-speare's plays.
In "The Staple of News" the brilliant old dramatist has left so many clues to his meaning that it seems hardly possible to go astray with regard to it. Foremost amongst these comes the all disclosing Prologue "For the Court," followed-up, as it is, by the mixing together of Cookery and Poetry in so ingenious a manner that, in the mind of an unreflective person (as was doubtless intended), a doubt is left as to whether wedding cake, or the First Folio of "Shake-speare," was, in the years 1624 and 1625, the more likely to have been in the thoughts of Ben Jonson when he was writing of "ramparts of immortal crust"--"the paste of almonds."
Then we have the allusion to "the vain Oracle of the Bottle" --de Vere, which at once suggests that "Shak-speare" is under discussion; the various parodies of, and allusions to, "Shake-speare" and Puttenham's works; the names given to the two Dogs--Block and Lollard,
which seem to tell their own tales : and many others, some very obvious--fro instance :
"Lickfinger : Have you no news of the stage?
They'll ask me about new plays at dinner time,
And I should be as dumb as a fish."("The Staple of News," III. i.)
To my readers it must, however, be left to decide, upon the evidence which has been placed before them for consideration in this volume, as to the correctness or otherwise of the explanation of the inner meaning of "The Staple of News" here suggested, and consequently between the three alleged claimants to Shakespeare's First Folio--Player Shakespere, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford; and Francis Bacon, fortunately under the able guidance of Ben Jonson himself, who apparently felt little doubt as to the verdict likely to be returned by those who ( in his own words) "can judge and fair report the sense they hear."