Did Mr. James Spedding
"Everything" about Francis
from the Book:
Francis Bacon's Cryptic Rhymes
For myself, I found that I was fitted for nothing so well as for the study of truth; as having a Mind nimble and versatile enough to catch the Resemblances of Things (which is the chief point) and at the same time steady enough to fix and distinguish their Subtler Differencies; as being gifted by Nature with Desire to seek, patience to Doubt, fondness to Meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to consider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and as being a man that neither affects what is new nor admires what is old, and that hates every kind of Imposture. So I thought my Nature had a kind of familiarity and Relationship with Truth. : Francis Bacon, "Of the Interpretation of Nature" 1603-4
Mr. James Spedding was the editor of the latest
and most complete edition of Bacon's works, and has earned for
himself the eternal gratitude of the world as well as mine. Almost
everything connected with, or relating to, the name of Bacon he
carefully collected; his painstaking calls for our admiration; to him
we owe the first detailed compilation of Bacon's letters.
But shall we, as a great part of the English literary world does, esteem Mr. James Spedding an oracle on "everything" concerning Bacon?
To edit the works of an author and to pronounce a final verdict upon him, are two very different things. In my opinion, the mind of any one undertaking to edit the writings of such a man as Francis Bacon must be far too much absorbed in the task, to allow of his entering, at the same time, into the subject matter, and fathoming the depths of the writings themselves. He has to compare the various editions hitherto published, he has to rummage among archives and collections, he has to copy manuscripts, the deciphering of which is frequently a matter of difficulty, he has to superintend the reading of the proof sheets. How can he, whose attention is necessarily thus divided in detail work, retain a clear idea and view of the writings as a whole?
But as I traverse the above raised question as to whether Mr. James Spedding knew "everything" about Bacon, it is my duty to state the reasons.
Those reasons are manifold, various, and some of them are of great moment.
1. On the
title-page of every volume we may read : "The Works of Francis Bacon,
Collected and Edited by James Spedding, Robert Leslie Ellis, and
Douglas Denon Heath."
Thus we see that Mr. Spedding had two collaborators; consequently several of the chief works were not published and furnished with notes by him, but by Ellis or Health.
2. Mr. James Spedding takes upon himself to correct(!) Bacon, where it is entirely out of place. The instance to which I am about to quote in proof of my statement has something of the ludicrous about it for the German. In his "Notes on the Present Christendom," 1582, Bacon names "Julius, Duke of Brunswick, at the strong castle of Wolfenbettle on Order," and Mr. Spedding adds to the word "Order" the note "Occar in MS." Pray, tell me, Mr. Spedding, since "Occar" was was the name contained in the manuscript, why did you not leave it? Wolfenbettle is really situated on the "Oker (Occar), and was there even in 1582, and not on the Odor. Bacon, the youth of twenty-one, knew that three hundred years ago. But Mr. Spedding thought he knew it better , as he probably remembered having once heard in his geography lessons something of a river going by the name of "Oder" in Germany. This involuntary joke is contained in vol. viii.p.24.
3. In 1870 Mr. Spedding published the so called Northumberland Manuscript which had been re-discovered in the London Palace of the Dukes of Northumberland, as a supplement to the complete edition of Bacon's works. The book is entitled "A Conference of Pleasure." This little "Device," couched in a learned tone, was written by Bacon in 1592. But Mr. Spedding added to his publication a facsimile of the cover of the manuscript, from which it is evident that, besides other Bacon manuscripts, those of the tragedies of Richard the Second and Richard the Third had also lain between the same book covers. The first part of the manuscripts themselves has been preserved, the second part, tht containing the Tragedies, has been burnt. These facts Mr. Spedding established in the introduction, adding the names "Francis Bacon' and "William Shakespeare" are scribbled something like a dozen times on the cover, but he omits to state the principal fact, viz., that the two names are so arranged above the two titles of the Dramas as to show clearly that the writer first intended to designate "Francis Bacon" as the author of those two plays, but finally wrote the name of "William Shakespeare" (the pseudonym). The entry reads :
By Mr. Francis William ShakespeareRychard the second
Bacon Rychard the third.
The word "Francis" is emphasised by being again
written in a reversed direction over the word "Francis."
This fact, the most important feature of the page, is the very one which Mr. Spedding overlooked or disregarded, representing the whole matter as an accident. An accident that two tragedies (which an actor is said to have written) should be found among the written work of the scholar Bacon and between the covers of the same work, before the printing of the tragedies! The result did not fit in with his account, and Mr. Spedding, or the Duke of Northumberland, inhibited the further sale of the book, so that it became exceedingly scarce and was but little known, until it was reproduced in facsimile by Mr. F. J. Burgoyne in 1904.
4. Strange things seem to have happened between Mr. Spedding and "Shakespeare " anyhow. The learned editor has read Shakespeare far too little and has sounded far too shallowly the depths of a mind and genius like Bacon's to have ever felt or discovered the association and relationship of thought which links the science shown in his prose writings to the poetry of his plays. How rarely does he remark that this or that passage or thought reminds him of Shakespeare! But the naivete of Mr. Spedding's words (vol. i. p. 519) :
Shakespeare's plays, of which, though they had been filling the theatre for the last thirty years, I very much doubt whether Bacon had ever heard....
is enough to make one's hair bristle.
Although the Shakespeare Plays had been filling the London theatres for thirty years, Mr. Spedding doubts whether Bacon had ever heard of them! Is not that equivalent to saying that Bacon was more ignorant than any London schoolboy of his day? And how came he to make this astonishing remark? Simply because Mr. Spedding nowhere discovered the name of Shakespeare in Bacon's works.*
*(In the same manner, Mr. Spedding might also have proved that Bacon had never heard of Ben Jonson and Ben Jonson's plays; for neither is the name of Ben Jonson anywhere to be discovered in Bacon's works and letters, though Ben Jonson was his friend and collaborator and had dwelt with him for five years.)
The reader of this book can account for that; but
Mr. Spedding was strangely misled through his superficial and hurried
manner of reading. Let us just for a moment try to realise the actual
meaning of Mr. Spedding's words. The plays had been performed for
decades in the public theatres, and Bacon knew London life better
than any other living being. The plays had been performed for decades
at Court on festive occasions, and Bacon was a constant attendant at
Court. The words "theatre" and "stage" are constantly occurring in
Bacon's writings. Bacon took a delight in everything connected with
the theatre, and wrote in glowing terms of praise on the art of
poetry. And you mean to say that the same Bacon knew nothing of
"Shakespeare?" It is impossible to acknowledge that man an ideal
editor, who so misunderstands, so misrepresents his author, as Mr.
Spedding does Bacon.
5. And now of the passage in which Mr. Spedding himself confesses that there is something--I may here at once add something "very important"-- which he does not know.
The short, momentous sketch of Bacon's life, written by his secretary Rawley, was not published till 1657, as introduction to the compilation entitled "Resuscitatio." In the year following, Rawley published that sketch as introduction to a little Bacon volume printed in Holland, "Opuscula Philosophica," in Latin, and reprinted it in another little book, "Opuscula Varia Posthuma Francisci Baconi," Amsteledami, 1663." This "Vita Baconi," a highly important document, as it deviates in the Latin version in many respects from the English original, Mr. Spedding omits from his fourteen-volumed edition, thus only furnishing us with a "Life of Bacon" in the English version, as it first appeared in London in 1657.
Those Dutch editions terminate with the sentence :
But howsoever his Body was mortal, yet no doubt his Memory and Works will live, and will in all probability last as long as the World lasteth. In order to which I have endeavor'd (after my poor Ability) to do this Honour to his Lordship, by way of enducing to the same.
So that, whereas the English version merely says that the Memory and Works of Bacon will "last as long as the World lasteth," the Latin editions published in Holland end with an allusion to the Theatre :
"They will not yield to fate, until the theatrical machinery of the globe is dissolved."
"Machina," in Greek signifies the theatrical, or
stage-machinery, upon which the gods, in tragedy, descended (were let
down) from above on to the stage, hence the saying : "Deus ex
machina." The English edition then adds the above mentioned stilted
sentence, from which all we can gather is that Rawley would have very
much liked to say more, but did not dare to do so.
In vol. xiv. p. 524 however, Mr. Spedding, in speaking of this passage added by Rawley, says :
In a book published in France about the end of of the last (18th) century, a passage on this subject is quoted as if Rawley, about which there must certainly be some mistake. The book is entitled "Le Christianisme de Francois Bacon, Chancelier d'Angleterre, on Pensees de ce grand homme sur la Religion. A Paris, an. VII." The passage in question occurs in a note, vol. i. p. 174 I do not know where this passage is to be found.
Didn't he indeed know where to look for those
words of Rawley's? Well then, as the editor of a complete edition
of all Bacon's works he does indeed expose his ignorance in a manner
fatal to his reputation, for he might easily have found them!
In 1665, the first real "Complete edition of Francis Bacon's Works" in Latin (1324 Folio columns) appeared in Frankfort on the Main (not in London, not in England). In 1694, the second, still completer edition of the "Opera Omnia" (1584 Folio columns) appeared in Leipzig(not in England this time either, nor in London ).
Mr. Spedding never as much as looked at either of those two important editions! He does not even know what is on the first pages of those two books.
"For my name and memory, I leave it to foreign nations."
In accordance with those words in the Last Will, Rawley had the first part of his revised and completed biography of Bacon printed in Holland, the other part in Germany, not in England. The second part, the conclusion, appears never to have been printed in England, and is not known to the English.
What Mr. Spedding discoverd in a French book is
nothing else than the two final sentences of the "Vita Francisci
Baconi" as it was printed in Frankfort and Leipzig in the seventeenth
century. But it does not constitute the most important part of the
conclusion of the German editions. For that is printed between the
end of the Dutch-English edition and the words quoted in the French
book. They are the sentences that justify Bacon's doings and defend
him against his English opponents.
Here is the real conclusion to the "Vita Francisci Baconi," of which the edition of Mr. Spedding offers us but a meagre fragment, and even that has been tampered with :
(1) The final sentence of the Dutch edition (which Mr. Spedding knew of, and and yet omitted from his "Complete edition")
(2) The sentences in the two German editions (fully unknown to Mr. Spedding)
(3) The two final sentences in the German editions (known to Mr. Spedding through the French book, but incorrectly quoted in his modern "Complete edition")
We reproduce the English translations :
(1) But what though his body be mortal, doubtless, his memory and his works will live, and, in all probability, not perish until all the theatrical machinery of this globe be dissolved.
(2)But there were also those who by all kinds of malevolent prosecution, sought, though in vain, to stigmatise the name of the great hero. For, albeit he had been disposed of office by the King and by Parliament, this was done from no other cause than jealousy which was the motive. He personally consoled himself with those words of the Scripture : "There is nothing new!" Truly, he shared the fate of Cicero at the hands of Octavian, of Callisthenes a the hands of Alexander, of Seneca under Nero, of whom history relates that they were banished or put to death or cast to the lions. However that may be, as such great men are above all fate, and as their masters usually repent their deeds later on, so we also know that whenever a particularly difficult and complicated matter presented itself, King James is said to have exclaimed : Would my Bacon, my former Chancellor, had remained with me, how easily I would now extricate myself.
(3) Nor is there anybody, who, after his resignation, could reproach him in any way in private affairs. For it has been proved that afterwards naught of tht was wanting which had contributed towards the grandeur of his position, but that, in spite of all, he lived so, that it seemed as though he would enter into an argument on Fate with Jove himself, an example of virtue, piety, love of humanity and patience. That is the conclusion of Rawley's "Vita Baconi."
We know from history that upon his disposition he was put into the tower pro forma for four or five days, and obliged to avoid London for a time, but that eventually he was pardoned and might have returned to Parliament, and, a we have just heard, that his King, surrounded by incapable counsellors, sighed for him.
But Bacon scorned the idea of ever returning to a post in which he had met with such hatred and jealousy. He lived exclusively to write his literary works for the benefit of mankind. He lived for us!
6. And yet Mr. Spedding disregards the most important confession contained in the Last Will, viz., that Francis Bacon wrote "curiously rhymed" books. He seems to take it for granted that an English Chancellor, at his death, should leave curiously rhymed books behind. Neither Mr. Spedding, nor all those gentlemen who would still hold him up as an absolute authority on Bacon, has the remotest idea that there are rhymed verses concealed in Bacon's prose works. In his Essay, "Of Studies," Bacon recommends us to read certain books (among which, first and foremost, his own must be counted) with attention, slowly, "curiously." This Mr.Spedding has, in most cases, neglected to do.
But now we are coming to a
point in which Mr. Spedding must not only admit carelessness, but
must plead guilty of having concealed one of the most important facts
from us in an inexcusable manner.
About the year 1825, Basil Montagu published the complete edition of Bacon's Works, which served Spedding, Ellis and Heath as the most natural model to go by. That edition contains, among other letters, the one written by Sir Toby Matthew to Bacon, showing the important, the all important post postscriptum. MR. SPEDDING SUPPRESSED THAT LETTER. And why did not Mr. Spedding, who otherwise collected every scrap, include that letter in his edition, a letter, the authenticity of which no one can, no one ever did, doubt? We know of one reason only. It did not suit Mr. Spedding, after all the trouble he had gone to, in publishing a goodly number of Bacon's works, to hunt for the famous pseudonym to which Matthew alludes. The truth revealed by the Northumberland Manuscript (Richard the Second and Richard the Third, by Francis Bacon) did not fit in with Mr. Spedding's calculations; the truth revealed by Matthew's letter did not fit in with his calculations either. He regretted having published the former, and omitted the latter altogether from his edition. But an edition of the Life and Works of Francis Bacon without the Northumberland Manuscript, and without Toby Matthew's letter with the postscriptum, is not a complete edition. We are indebted to Mr. Spedding for a great deal, but it is to Mr. Basil Montagu that we owe the publication of the words :
"The most prodigious wit is of your Lordship's name, though he be known by another."
In suppressing that all-important letter, Mr. Spedding had made himself guilty of a great crime. He tried to do away with something which did not suit him and many others. Why else should it have been that very letter and no other?
Francis Bacon's Cryptic Rhymes
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