Bacon As A Poet : Modern Views

Chapter III


from the book

Enter Francis Bacon


Bertram Theobald


It seems a little strange that one should have to discuss the question whether Bacon was a poet or not; since those who have anything more than a bowing acquaintance with his writings will at once acknowledge that he possesed every gift which contributes to the make-up of a poet, even though nearly all his known works are in prose. I need only quote the views of a few modern thinkers, in order to bring home this truth to those who have not yet made any study of his works--apart from the Essays, which of course everyone knows.

Perhaps it will be fitting that we should hear what a typical English poet has to say on this subject, and so I will refer to some words by Shelley, as follows : 

"Lord Bacon was a poet. His language has a sweet and majestic rhythm which satisfies the sense, no less than the almost super-human wisdom of his philosophy satisfies the intellect."

And here is Bulwer Lytton's testimony :

"We have only to open The Advacement of Learning to see how the Attic bees clustered above the cradle of the new philosophy. Poetry pervaded the thoughts, it inspires the similes, it hymned in the majestic sentences of the wisest of mankind."

And Charles Knight speaks of

"that high poetical spirit which gleams out at every page of his philosophy."

More recently, Prof. Craik wrote as follows :

"To The Advancement of Learning he brings every species of poetry by which imagination an elevate the mind from the dungeon of the body to the enjoying of its own essence.... Metaphors, similes, and analogies make up a great part of his reasoning....Ingenuity, poetic fancy and the highest imagination cannot be denied him."

If further evidence be required, one might quote Alexander Smith :

 "He seems to have written his essays with the pen of Shakespeare."

And here is what Spedding said :

" I infer from this sample that Bacon had all the natural faculties which a poet wants-- a fine ear for metre, a fine feeling for imaginative effect in words, and a vein of poetic passion."

From time to time in our own day, carping critics have objected that the verse translations of certain Psalms made by Bacon are of such inferior quality that he could not have been a great poet. But this criticism is both unfair and unsound; unfair because these translations were made in his old age while on a bed of sickness ; unsound because it is common knowledge that almost all great writers, like great artists and musicians, have produced poor work at some period of their lives. But this does not prove that they were incapable of anything better. Not only so, but if these translations be compared with similar ones made by Milton, it is indisputable that Bacon's efforts in this difficult task are superior to those of Milton. Yet we do not argue that because Milton produced such inferior stuff he could not have written Paradise Lost. The argument will not bear examination.