By D.W.Cooper & Lawrence Gerald
There has been more written about Francis Bacon's life from the age of sixteen, when he left England and travelled to the continent during the late 1570's meeting up with the leading thinkers of the cultural revolution in France, than his other formative years and the elders who also shaped his mind.
Alfred Dodd in his book Francis Baon's Personal Life -Story quotes Bacon's biographer and chaplin, Dr.Rawley, "I shall not tread too near upon the heels of truth", letting us know that this biography of Bacon would not be too exact in it's details. Dodd's book speculates that Queen Elizabeth secretly supervised the education of young Francis. There are only brief accounts of his early days at York House and Gorhambury with his adoptive parents Sir Nicholas and Lady Anne Bacon.
The Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley (the Queen's favorite), was the first man, according to Dodd to license a band of players for dramatic purposes. Without a license, acting was illegal in Elizabeth's England. It was through Leicester's sphere of influence, that a young Francis Bacon had developed interest in drama and the theater while getting the opportunity to know James Burbage, the first man to build a theater in England. Bacon would also get to meet in the Court circles the man who had tutored Leicester and advised Elizabeth on matters of state -the man whom Ian Flemming modeled his 007 James Bond character on, the first and perhaps the best secret agent of the crown, Dr.John Dee.
John Dee(1527-1608) was a fascinating genius, considered a magus, philosoher and alchemist who captured the attention of the royal courts and best minds throughout Europe. You were either intimidated by his ideas and reputation or you wished to be influencd by them. It has only been in the last century that we've had a more sober approach to Dee, thanks to such authors as Peter French, Francis Yates, Gerald Shuster and Richard Deacon who have rescued this "man of grand design" from obscurity and have realised how significant a thinker he was.
Dr. Dee's learning was far and wide, a brilliant mathematician, whose study ranged from geo-cartography and calculus which was vital in navigating the New World for explorers, to astrology, alchemy, the Cabala, cypher writing, religion, architecture, and science. In short, Dee's metaphysics were a 'red' cross of the Hermetic tradition with a strong dose of mathematics. His library at the riverside village of Mortlake was considered the finest private collection in Europe containing thousands of bound books and handwritten manuscripts devoted to philosophy, science and esoterica. In comparison the University of Cambridge at the time had a mere 451 total books and manuscripts in their possession.
Noel Fermor in the journalBaconianawrote that, "The Earl of Leicester's father, the Duke of Northmberland, employed Dee as a tutor to his children so that they would have a sound scientific upbringing. Northumberland became a notable scientist with a strong leaning to mathematics and magnetism. Anthony Wood in his Athenae Oxoniensis, wrote that no one knew Robert Dudley better than Dee." So it was quite natural for Leicester to introduce Dee to Elizabeth as she was to become the new Queen and it wasn't long before Dee advanced to become the court astrologer. Elizabeth was very much interested in the occult. Dee was responsible for choosing the most auspicious date for Elizabeth's coronation which was on January 15th,1559. The Queen was so impressed by Dee that she eventually travelled with her court to Mortlake, for the purpose of seeing his great library.
Dee has been defamed through the centuries as a necromancer, but it's the opinion of many writers that his angelic-cabalistic- alchemical work, his Philoophers Stone, the"Monad Hieroglphica"(1564) may have been a cover for covert operations carried on in the name of her majesty. The 007 was the insignia number that Elizabeth was to use for private communiques between her Court and Dee.
When the Spanish Armada loomed over the English Channel it was Dee as the wise sage who suggested to hold the course and be still. He had correctly anticipated that devastating storms would destroy the mighty Spanish Fleet and that it would be best to keep the English ships at bay. Some have suggested that it was Dee himself who conjured up that storm. Whatever it was that allowed England to defeat the Armada, John Dee was having his finest patriotic moment. One can see why some commentators have Dee associated with being the inspiration for the protagonist Prospero (to hope for the future) fromThe Tempest. Francis Yates in her seminal exploration Majesty and Magic in Shakespeare's Last Plays, comments, "Dare one say that the German Rosicrucian movement reaches a peak of poetic expression in The Tempest, a Rosicrucian manifesto infused with the spirit of Dee, using theatrical parables for esoteric communication?"
Dee's wisdom of nature even extended into the field of architecture where Francis Yates in The Theatre of the World states that James Burbage consulted Dee on the design of the first theater. Later,"The Globe was created, says Yates, because in the Burbage tradition the design was to amplify naturally the voices of the plyers." This was accomplished by the geometrical resonance of the circled dome. Burbage relied on Dee's extensive architectural library for this construction.
T Little has come down to us in terms of records of Francis Bacon and John Dee knowing each other but on the afternoon of August 11, 1582 there was an entry in Dee's journal that they met at Mortlake. Bacon was 21 years old at the time and was accompanied by a Mr. Phillipes, a top cryptographer in the employ of Sir Francis Walsingham who headed up the early days of England's secret service. They were there according to Ewen MacDuff, in an article, "After Some Time Be Past" in 'Baconiana',(Dec.1983" to find out the truth about the ancient Hebrew art of the Gematria- one of the oldest cipher systems known, dating from 700 B.C. They were seeking to discuss this with Dee because he was not only one of the leading adepts of this field, but a regular practioner in certain levels of Gematria." Also, David Kahn in The Codebreakers suggests that becaue of Dee's great interest in the 13th century alchemist Roger Bacon, that he may have introduced Bacon to the works of Roger Bacon,"which may help explain the similarities in their thought."
The Precarious Politics of Hermetic Tradition in the King James Reign
There is no doubt of John Dee's ubiquitous influence during the Elizabethan age. But when James became King, Dee's ideas on magic were no longer appreciated. James unfavorable and fearful atititude toward the occult was the opposite of Elizabeth's. Bacon became well aware that it was necessary to be very careful while advancing his scientific ideas to James and that any trace of Dee's weird angelic-alchemical study could jeopardize his own projects from taking hold. Bacon's observation of the poor treatment bestowed upon Dee by James served to reinforce that it was a different era and that the need to practice that Shakespeare maxim, "Discretion is the better part of valour" was imperative to anyone with a sweet disposition toward magic and mathematics or a secret society. Dee was even derided in the Ben Jonson play The Alchemist perhaps to placate James, yet another signal that this was an end of the liberal Elizabethan attitude toward Hermeticism. So it's not suprising that Bacon chose to hold back his Rosicrucian utopia The New Atlantis from publication until after his death as it portrayed a future world in which man could co-exist with his fellow man without the divine right of kings and the new tools that the magic of science would one day bring could also be in harmony with nature as well. But it was Dee many years before who referred to the new world as "Atlantis" and his dream too was of colonization. He would have been proud to have read Bacon's New Atantis and seen Bacon's sympathetic portayal of him as the magician Prospero, ofThe Tempest.
Francis Yates in The Rosicrucian Enlightenmentsuggests that," in Bacon's writings there is nowhere to be found any mention of Dee or his famous Monas Hierglyphica. Yates makes a furthur point by saying that, "It is a well known objection to Bacon's claim to be an important figure in the history of science that he did not place sufficient emphasis on the all-important mathematical sciences in his programme fo the advancement of learning, and that he ignored these sciences by his rejection of the Copernican theory and of William Gilbert's theory of the magnet. Bacon's avoidance of mathematics and Copernican theory might have been because he regarded mathematics as too closely associated with Dee and his 'conjuring' and Copernicus as to closely associated with Bruno and his extreme 'Egyptian and magical religion. This hypothesis is now worth recalling because it suggests a possible reason for a major difference between German Rosicrucianism and Baconianism. In the former Dee and his mathematics are not feared, but Bacon avoids them; in the former Bruno is an influence but is rejected by Bacon. In both cases Bacon may have been evading what seemed to him dangerous subjects in order to protect his projects from witch hunters, from the cry of'socery'which as Naude' said, "could pursue a mathematician in the early 17th century."
But Yates admits to being a Stratfordian and of course does not realise the extent of Bacon's wisdom in protecting himself from censorhip. She says, "We begin to understand that The Tempest was a very bold manifesto, and that Shakespeare was braver than Bacon."
If Yates could only glimpse how ahead of the game Bacon was she could only burst out and laugh at herself for writing this. But she is not the first modern day Shakespeare critic to underestimate Francis Bacon's foresight to write under a mighty pen-name and steer his Secret Free-Masonry-Group at the same time. What Bacon learned from Dee outside of the importance of cyphers was not to have one's political and esoteric-artistic identity defined exclusively by the outside world. There was inner power for Bacon that no matter what happened to him he could still sacrifice his name, bury his staff like Prospero and wield a protective persona to express his artistic views for himself and his secret group of "Good Pens." This is responsible wisdom in action as a response to difficult political pressures. For Bacon due to the out of the ordinary set of circumstances surrounding his birth this pressure became a discipline for him to maintain and remember that old saying, "keep your friends close and your enemies closer." Bacon knew what he was talking about when he said, as Shakespeare, "sweet are the uses of adverstiy."
Manly P. Hall had a book, Orders of Universal Reformation in which a woodcut from 1655 by Jacob Cats, shows an emblem of an ancient man bearing likeness to John Dee, passing the lamp of tradition over an open grave to a young man with an extravagently large rose on his shoe buckle. In Bacon's sixth book of the Advancement of Learninghe defines his method as, Traditionem Lampadis, the delivery of the lamp.
Mrs. Henry Pott writes in "Francis Bacon and His Secret Society,"The organization or method of transmission he (Bacon) established was such as to ensure that never again so long as the world endured, should the lamp of tradition, the light of truth, be darkened or extinguished."
In closing a comment from Noel Fermor from Baconiana 1981 " After all, in John Dee we have a man who had a profound influence on Renaissance thought and on the deep laid schemes of Francis Bacon for the betterment of mankind. Dee himself wrote, "Farewell, diligent reader; in reading these things, invocate the spirit of Eternal Light, speak little, meditate much and judge aright."
For more on John Dee: visit The John Dee Society Web Site
Bibliography for this article
Francis Bacon, "The Advancement of Learning"1605