miniature cameo of a young Francis Bacon 18 years of age, by Nicholas Hilliard, resides now at Belvoir Castle, Grantham, reproduced by kind permission of His Grace the Duke of Rutland.(For the history of this painting see Roy Strong in the Burlington Magazine, 106 (1964), 337.) Hilliard was so swept off his feet by Bacon's intellectual genius that he wrote round the miniature in latin, (transcribed) "Would I could paint his mind."
excerpt from the book
and His Shakespeare
......To grasp and to delineate accurately and comprehensively the essential qualities and distinctive characteristics of Bacon's style and mode of thought we refer to Hippolyte Taine, whose History of English Literature is universally recognized as a masterpiece of literary criticism. A somewhat extended quotation is perhaps admissible; both on account of the interest of the subject, and because of the keen insight displayed by this singularity acute, penetrating, and comprehensive critic. Of Bacon he says :
"In this band of scholars, dreamers, and enquirers, appears the most comprehensive, sensible, originative of the minds of the age, Francis Bacon, a great and luminous intellect, one of the finest of this poetic progeny, who, like his predecessors, was naturally disposed to clothe his ideas in the most splendid dress. In this age, a thought did not seem complete until it had assumed a form and color: but what distinguishes him from the others is, that with him an image only serves to concentrate meditation. He reflected long, stamped on his mind all the parts and joints of his subject; and then, instead of dissipating his completed idea in a graduated chain of reasoning, he embodies it in a comparison so expressive, exact, transparent, that behind the figure we perceive all the details of the idea, like a liquor in a fair crystal vase. Judge of his style by a single example :
""For as water, whether it be the dew of heaven or the springs of the earth, easily scatters and loses itself in the ground, except it be collected into some receptacle, where it may by union and consort comfort and sustain itself (and for that cause, the industry of man has devised aqueducts, cisterns, and pools, and likewise beautified them with various ornaments of magnificience and state, as well as for use and necessity) : so this excellent liquor of knowledge, whether it descend from divine inspiration or spring from human sense, would soon perish and vanish into oblivion, if it were not preserved in books, traditions, conferences, and especially in places appointed for such matters, as Universities, Colleges, schools, where it may have both a fixed habitation, and means and opportunity of increasing and collecting itself." ' The greatest error of all the rest, is the mistaking or misplacing of the last or farthest end of knowledge :
........as if there were sought in knowledge a couch whereupon to rest a searching and restless spirit; or a terrace, for a wandering and variable mind to walk up and down with a fair prospect; or a tower of state, for a proud mind to raise itself upon; or a fort or commanding ground, for strife and contention; or a shop, for profit or sale; and not for a rich storehouse, for the glory of the Creator, and the relief of men's estate.' "
"This is his mode of thought, by symbols, not by analysis; instead of explaining his idea, he transposes and translates it,translates it entire, to the smallest details; enclosing all the majesty of a grand period, or in the brevity of a striking sentence. Thence springs a style of admirable richness, gravity, and viguor, now solemn and symmetrical, now concise and piercing, always elaborate and full of color. There is nothing in English prose superior to his diction. Thence is derived also his manner of conceiving of things.. He is not a dialectician, like Hobbs or Descartes, apt in arranging ideas, in educing one from another, in leading his reader from the simple to the complex by an unbroken chain. He is a producer of conceptions and of sentences. The matter being explored he says to us : 'Such it is; touch it not on that side; it must be approached from the other.' Nothing more; no proof, no effort to convince : he affirms, and does nothing more; he has thought in the manner of artists and poets, and he speaks after the manner of prophets and seers. Cogita et Visa, this title of one of his books might be the title of all. The most admirable, the Novum Organum, is a string of aphorisms, a collection, as it were, of scientific decrees, as of an oracle who forsees the future and reveals the truth. And to make the resemblance complete, he expresses them by poetical figures, by engimatic abbreviations, almost in Sibylline verses : Idola species, Idola tribus, Idola fori, Idola theatri, every one will recall these strange names , by which he signifies the four kinds of illusions to which man is subject.
"Shakespeare and the Seers do not contain more vigorous or expressive condensations of thought, more resembling inspiration, and in Bacon they are to be found everywhere. In short, his process is that of the creators; it is intuition, not reasoning. When he has laid up his store of facts, the greatest possible, on some vast subject, on some entire province of the mind, on the whole anterior philosophy, on the general condition of the sciences, on the power and limits of human reason, he casts over all this a comprehensive view, as it were a great net, brings up a universal idea, condenses his idea into a maxim, and hands it to us with the words,' Verify and profit by it.' "
Here is a clear presentation, by a critic of unquestioned ability,
of the workings of the creative faculty in a colossal intellect;
which, indeed, appears to him, in its various phases, as the very
personification of this mighty power.
But another suprise awaits us. When afterwards, Taine comes to consider the characteristics of the author of the Shakespeare, as revealed in his works, his clear insight discerns in him substantially the same peculiarities noted in his description of Bacon's mode of thought and his style of expression. It is perfectly obvious that this was done unconscioulsy; and it is the more significant, since it could hardly be expected, so great are the differences between prose and poetry, both in style and thought.
After groping around in the dim light afforded by tradition and conjecture regarding William Shakespeare, Taine turns gladly to the study of the author in his works. He says "
"Of all this we can but conjecture : If we would see the man more closely, we must seek him in his works. Let us then look for the man, and in his style. The style explains the work; whilst showing the principal features of the genius, it infers the rest. When we have once grasped the dominant faculty, we see the whole artist developed like a flower.
Shakespeare imagines with copiousness and excess; he spreads metaphors profusely over all he writes; every instant abstract ideas are changed into images; it is series of paintings that is unfolded in his mind. He does not seek them; they come of themselves; they crowd within him, covering his arguments; they dim with their brightness the pure light of logic. He does not labor to explain or prove; picture on picture, image on image, he is forever copying the strange and splendid visions which are engendered one within another, and we are heaped up within him.....if he speaks thus, it is not from choice, but of necessity; metaphor is not his whim, the form of his thought....... Whatsoever involuntarily and naturally transforms a dry idea into an image, has his brain on fire: true metaphors are flaming apparitions, which are like a picture in a flash of lightening.....We pause stupefied before these convulsive metaphors, which might have been written by a fevered hand in a night's delirium, which gather a pageful of ideas and pictures in half a sentence, which scorch the eyes they would enlighten....... In Shakespeare there is no preparation, no adaptation, no development, no care to make himself understood. Like a too fiery and powerful horse, he bounds, but cannot run. He bridges in a couple of words an enormous interval; is at the two poles in a single instant. The reader vainly looks for the intermediate track; confounded by these prodigious leaps, he wonders by what miracle the poet has entered upon a new idea the very moment when he quitted the last, seeing perhaps between the two images a long scale of transitions, which we pace painfully step by step, but which he has spanned in a stride. Shakespeare flies, we creep.....All that I have said may be compressed into a few words. Objects were taken into his mind organized and complete; they pass into ours disjointed,decomposed, and fragmentarily. He thought in the lump, we think piecemeal; hence his style and our styletwo languages not to be reconciled. We, for our part, writers and reasoners, can note precisely by a word each isolated fraction of an idea, and represent the due order of its parts by the due order of our expressions. We advance gradually; we affiliate, go down to the roots, try and treat our words as numbers, our sentences as equations; we employ but general terms, which every mind can understand, and regular constructions into which every mind can enter; we attain justness and clearness, not life. Shakespeare lets justness and clearness look out for themselves, and attains life. From amidst his comlex conception and his colored semi-vision, he grasps a fragment, a quivering fibre, and shows it; it is for you from this fragment, to divine the rest. He, behind the word, has a whole picture, an attitude, a long argument abridged, a mass of swarming ideas; you know them, these abbreviative, condensive words And again :
"This creative power is Shakespeare's great gift, and it communciates an extraordinary significance to his words. Every word pronounced by one of his characters enables us to see, besides the idea which it contains and the emotion which prompted it, the aggregate of the qualities and the entire character which produced itthe mood, physical attitude, bearing, look of the man, all instantaneous, with a clearness and force approached by no one......He had the prodigious faculty of seeing in a twinkle of an eye a complete character, body, mind, past and present, in every detail and every depth of his being, with the exact attitude and the expression of the face, which the situation demanded. A word here and there of Hamlet or Othello would need for its explanation three pages of commentaries; each of the half-understood thoughts, which the commentator may have discovered, has left its trace in the turn of the phrase, in the nature of the metaphor, in the order of the words; nowadays, in perusing these traces , we divine the thoughts; thee innumerable trces have been impressed in a second, within the compass of a line. In the next line there are many, impressed just as quickly, and in the same compass. You can gauge the concentration and the velocity of the imagination which creates thus."
As we carefully compare, in a broad and comprehensive view, the
two pictures here presented and observe their intimate resemblance,
though we well know that the secret lies in the fact that they are
portraitures of one and the same unique personality, with but
slight variations, due soley to differences of attitude, of the
medium, and the surroundings, yet we cannot but express our
admiration for Taine, as he also is revealed in his work; and we
wonder that seeing through a glass darkly, he yet saw so clearly.
One other pair of pictures must be presented, companion pieces, though drawn by different artists.
Quoting briefly from the article upon Bacon in the Encyclopedia Britannica : Prof. Adamson says, with reference to the Essays :
"The style is quaint, original, abounding in allusions and witticisms, and rich, even to gorgeousness, with piled up analogies and metaphors. "
"The peculiarities of Bacon's style were noticed very early by his contemporaries (see Letters and Life I. 268) Raleigh and Jonson have both recorded their opinions of it, but no one, it seems to us, has characterized it more happily than his friend Sir Tobie Mathew : ' A man so rare in knowledge, of so many several kinds, endued with the facility and felicity of expressing of expressing it all in so elegant, significant, so abundant, and yet so choice and ravishing a way of words, of metaphors, of allusions, as perhaps the world hath not seen since it was a world.' "
Compare this with Richard Grant White's graphic portrayal of the distinctive characteristic of the Shakespearean style. This accomplished critic, one of the most appreciative of the Shakespearean scholars, in his Genius of Shakespeare says
"Never did intellectual wealth equal in degree the boundless riches of Shakespeare's fancy. He compelled all art, all that God had revealed, and all that man had discovered, to contribute materials to enrich his style and enforce his thought; so that the entire range of human knowledge must be laid under contribution to illustrate his writings. This inexhaustible mine of fancy, furnishing metaphor, comparison, illustration, impersonation, in ceaseless alteration, often intermingled so that the one cannot be severed from the other, although the combination is clearly seen and leaves a vivid impression on the mind, is the great distinctive intellectual trait of Shakespeare's style."
Recognizing the now familiar lineaments, we appreciate the acumen displayed by Mr. White, in his epitomized portrayal of Bacon's personality., ' though known under another name.' Seeing not, yet saw he notwithstanding.
These last pictures, though miniature portraits, are well worthy
of being placed beside Taine's masterpieces. And as we embrace them
all in one comprehensive view, we are amazed at the startling effect.
Behold, they are true stereoscopic pictures, not withstanding the
anomalous fact that they are the productions of several artists,
working in various styles, and from different standpoints. As we
receive their impressions upon the "eye of the mind," note how
perfectly they register. There is neither blur, confusion, nor
antagonism; nor even a dreamy uncertainty or a hazy obscurity. They
fit together completely, blending into one harmonious whole; details
in one filling blanks in another, while repititions only throw the
prominent features into bolder relief.
And how lifelike is the portrait thus brought to view! Such were the deep insight and the skill of the artists, and so vivid is the effect produced by the concentration of he fourfold combination, that we are brought , as it were, into the very presence of a great personality. We can almost see the operation of that mighty intellect, in it's work of production. Is it true, that " whatsoever involuntarily and naturally transforms a dry idea into an image has his brain on fire?" Then witness him at work and gauge, if you can, the white heat of the flame. There is a delusion, to which a large portion of mankind is subject, a whole mass of delusions. To us, they are abstractions, matters of argument and of analytical discussion, part by part, in orderly relation. He comprehends the whole at a glance, sweeping far beyond our reach. He takes in their full meaning and significance : he is at the two poles in a single instant, and he bridges the whole in a couple of words. But he does more than that. In a flash of flame, he creates an impersonation. A creature is born, and into this thing he has injected the whole of one of these delusions. He produces a whole family, and in his Idola Theatri, we have the very objects that mankind had all along been unconsciously worshipping.
We are lost in wonder and admiration. It is a revelation,a revelation, indeed, of the splendour, the power, and the inherent greatness of that wonderful personality, Francis Bacon.