THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO FRANCIS BACON

by Harold Dronen

1999

  

 

 "Alas poor Shakespeare, I wrote him well."

 

It was repeated exposure to "Hamlet" on the printed page, on the stage and in the movie theater that sparked my interest in the question of the Shakespearean authorship. After a review of the writings of Stratfordians, Oxfordians, Marlovians and others, my interest in the truth about the origin of the Shakespearean canon acquired an accelerating fascination. When I became better acquainted with the writings of a few Baconians, the play about the Danish prince began to reveal a depth of emotion that seemed convincingly to come from the pen of a poet who suffered firsthand the loss of his throne. Out of the mist emerged the awareness that, if the playwright were truly a concealed prince, one could more easily understand why he would also be a concealed poet.

 

Upon the king's death in Elizabethan times, whether in England or in Denmark, the oldest son of the departed monarch received the crown. Instead, the Dane's uncle usurps the throne, while Hamlet broods upon his father's murder and his mother's early remarriage. His hesitation in seeking revenge has been the subject of countless literary essays, but, had he not hesitated, the play would have been over too soon. The message of this literary marvel is more profound than matters of plot, character, motive or timing.

 

The drama tells an intensely personal story about people at the summit of society. Yet, it does not ignore even the humblest man: we are introduced to a gravedigger. Not only that, royalty and cemetery worker share a scene in which Yorick's skull becomes the unifying image. The play ends with a foreign invasion of Denmark, a point often missed, but one clearly made in Kenneth Branagh's movie version of "Hamlet".

 

Absorbing the play from quarto, stage and screen, a process involving the passage of several years, led finally to my giving credence to the Baconian position: there is a concealed poet prince at work in the writing of "Hamlet: Prince of Denmark".

 

By way of this quick trip through "Hamlet", the broader dimensions of the play become evident. The princely poet who penned these immortal lines had more in mind than telling his own story. In fact, the drama's autobiographical aspect remains subtle. Beyond the small nugget from the author's personal story, there is something large and new, namely, the emphasis on the importance of even the lowliest individual in the realm coupled with a concern for the welfare of the entire nation. A message emerges from the drama, a warning appears that turmoil weakening the state from within is an invitation to the foreign invader. Whoever wrote the play had a view from the top of the proper arrangement of things while possessing at least an embryonic concept of the yet unborn political doctrine of the equality of man.

 

From this perspective, the only candidate for the authorship of "Hamlet" is Francis Bacon, the Elizabethan writer and thinker whose epic vision of life appears, not just in this play, but throughout his acknowledged works.

 

Some time after boarding the Baconian bark, I ran across Alfred Dodd's biography of Sir Francis. (Francis Bacon's Personal Life Story) The question of Bacon's role in secret societies runs throughout the literature, so I was familiar with the issue before I picked up the book. However, being on the outside only peering in from time to time through the publicly available works of such men as Albert Pike, I had no sound method available whereby I could find an answer to the "membership" question. It seemed to me that I had already spent enough time over the "authorship" and "parentage" questions, but nevertheless found myself returning to Dodd's book again and again.

 

It is the following quotation that continues to draw my attention:

 

"We have now got a fairly accurate bird's-eye-view of Francis Bacon's secret activities during the 'Silent Years.' He was creating a language, a literature, writing and publishing books on all sorts of subjects, many written by his friends, creating an English-reading public, and endeavoring to educate the common mass by plays -- which in that era were the only way in which the mass could be leavened, educated socially, politically, morally, for there were no newspapers or organs of public opinion. He was also establishing his secret societies and endeavoring to stimulate inquiry into the secrets of Nature so that humanity might be benefited by the experiments of scientists. He was also endeavoring to establish the "Love-Philosophy" of the "New Commandment" which had been neglected by the Churches. These ideas and ideals, which were frowned on by Authority, would have been nipped in the bud had there been any attempt to promulgate them openly. They were therefore sown in secret, nourished in secret, and then broadcast in secret. And when their existence was discovered to the world they were too firmly established, and too widespread in England and on the Continent, for even the Roman Church and State tyranny to stamp them out."

["Francis Bacon's Personal Life-Story" by Alfred Dodd, Rider & Company, London, 1949, 1986, p. 162]

 

It is this quotation that has prompted me to new thought about Francis Bacon. Dodd does not tell us where he got his information about Bacon's promotion in secret of the New Commandment's philosophy of love, but, in his absolute sincerity, it seems a most unlikely thing for him to add unless true. Having taken his comments very seriously, I eventually arrived at understanding these remarks from another viewpoint.

 

Whether born or adopted into the household of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Francis received his early education there. Sir Nicholas studied at Cambridge University's Corpus Christi College. From there he went on to Gray's Inn, one of the Inns of Court where talented and aspiring young gentlemen from Oxford and Cambridge learned law. It was also a sort of preparatory school for service in the royal court and in the administration of the government. Lady Anne Bacon was the daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke, tutor to Queen Elizabeth's half-brother before he became Edward VI. She was a woman of keen intellect with strong Puritan views, although at all times a member of the Church of England. She was well trained in Latin and Greek and as the daughter of a royal tutor, she likely received the education he would have given a princess. This environment is the one surrounding young Francis.

 

From there he went on at age twelve to Trinity College, Cambridge, where Sir Nicholas arranged for him to be directly under the supervision of the vice-chancellor of the university, the future Archbishop John Whitgift. I do not doubt that in matters of classical languages, rhetoric and moral philosophy, young Francis had the education of a prince.

 

In matters of religion, he may have had more than the education of a prince which in that day would involve only one strongly emphasized point of view. His first teacher, Lady Bacon, a conforming Puritan, was deeply committed to the biblical view of the Church of England. His next tutor in matters of faith, vice-chancellor Whitgift, spent his life defending first Cambridge, then the Church of England against the Puritan faction. In later years, when dissidents began forming separate congregations whose spawn eventually became Baptists, Methodists and Congregationalists, Francis Bacon would be well aware of the argument they presented to justify leaving Anglicanism.

 

In his public actions and in his public writings, he is at all times a faithful Anglican who, when he does mention the topic, encourages moderation toward others. He saw the religious controversy of the times as a threat to the stability of the state in general and to his own work in particular. Even though he often mentions Rome in uncomplimentary tones, he maintained a lifelong friendship with the Catholic Sir Tobie Matthew.

 

The Baconians also see him as playing the central role in the project resulting in the King James Bible. The Puritan faction requested an authorized English translation of the scriptures. Bacon seems the likely sponsor, editor and publisher of that monumental work which James I commissioned in deference to the Puritan petition.

 

Bacon's public writings show him to have been a profoundly religious man. Biblical allusions are sprinkled throughout his pages pointing to scripture as the unifying principle underlying his work and thought. While he did not preach religion and even though he has been accused of irreligion, a thorough appraisal of his life and writings indicates that he was a man of profound religious faith.

 

In addition, it is my view that the Puritanism he learned from Lady Anne and the Anglican teaching he absorbed during time with John Whitgift came to be reconciled in him at Gray's Inn. There he learned how to use tools of legal analysis and reasoning. In applying them to a study of the scriptures he could reconcile a major conflict from his youth: the tension between the Puritan and Anglican positions in the Church of England.

 

While taking legal training at Gray's Inn, he would also learn the lawyer's method of discovering the law when there is conflict over which law to apply to a given set of circumstances. The New Testament writings of Paul point repeatedly to the abolition of Old Testament law through the mystery of the Atonement. The Ten Commandments were certainly not only "law" but the very law at the heart of the Old Testament. Repeatedly, Jesus refers to the Ten Commandments so he obviously did not intend to abolish them:

 

He was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, 'Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments;

You must not kill;

You must not commit adultery;

You must not steal;

You must not bring false witness;

You must not defraud;

Honour your father and mother.'

[Mark 10:17f (Jerusalem Bible)]

 

While sitting at the feet of Lady Bacon, he doubtless learned not to question matters presented as divine and eternal truth. At the feet of Whitgift, he heard about holy matters as well, and again, probably did not openly question them out of respect for the teacher and the sanctity of the material. However, the version of truth taught him at the university was not identical to that which he had learned at home. We know of no rebellion against such matters, but we do know that young Bacon, while at Cambridge, disliked the philosophy of Aristotle which he thought best for "disputation". This bit of original thinking was most likely not his only early intellectually creative thought.

 

If this journey through the early years of Francis Bacon has roots in reality, then I can understand what Alfred Dodd said about the man who taught the "love-philosophy" of the "New Commandment" in secret.

Two people whom he deeply respected, Lady Anne and vice-chancellor Whitgift, could not agree exactly on matters of Holy Writ. If he embraced the New Commandment as the center of his faith, he would offend neither of them. As long as he did not stray too far into other areas of gospel teaching, he would not displease Lady Anne, John Whitgift, or even Saint Paul, for that matter. So he made the New Commandment the focus of his faith:

This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you.

[John 15:12 (New English Bible)]

 

There could be no dispute about the matter. It is the only correct way to live. Even so, a life based on that principle must be lived carefully. History shows and the gospels prove that, even when cloaked in Deity, the life of love lived openly can lead directly to the cross.

If this interpretation represents a proper understanding of what Dodd has made known, we now have a clearer formulation of Bacon's view of the heart of the gospel.

A deeper study of this idea would involve Bacon's view of the gospel of the kingdom. His public writings indicate a lifetime devoted to encouraging others to the study of nature in order to put its powers to work for the betterment of all mankind. At a time when ecclesiastical authority condemned major scientific discoveries, Bacon told us that the study of nature was no insult to the Creator, but, instead, a tribute in gratitude for the glory of creation.

 

These remarks are but a preface to a work that expand understanding and appreciation of the life and work of Francis Bacon on which Alfred Dodd's book sheds helpful new light. Should this reflection on Dodd's insight encourage others to greater exploration, then these comments will have accomplished their purpose.

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Francis Bacon's Personal Life Story by Alfred Dodd

Harold Dronen can be reached at : dronen@usa.net