FRANCIS BACON AND BEN JONSON

 

By Edward D. Johnson

From Baconiana Autumn 1948

 

The exact date when Ben Jonson went to live with Francis Bacon at Gorhambury is not known, but in the list of Bacon's household in 1618 Mr Johnson is mentioned as Chief Gentleman Usher.

In an account of Bacon' s receipts and payments from 24th June to 29th September 1618 is this item, "July 27th to Mr. Johnson by your Lordship's order for his son and his son's tutor at Eton 480pounds." Jonson had a son but the date of his birth is not known for certain. Neither is there any evidence that this son was at Eton in 1618.

There is no doubt that Ben Jonson assisted Bacon in translating the books he had written in English into Latin because in Baconiana 1679, on page 60 of the Introduction, the Editor referring to Bacon's books writes, "His lordship wrote them in the English tongue and enlarged them as occasion served. The Latin translation of them was a work performed by divers hands: by those of Doctor Hackett (late Bishop of Lichfield), Mr. Benjamin Johnson (the learned and judicious Poet) and some others whose names I once heard from Dr. Rawley, but I cannot now recall them."

Ben Jonson had almost as great a sense of humour as Francis Bacon. People read his address "To the Reader" on the first page of the First Folio without apparently realising how inconsistent it is with common sense. Jonson says that the Graver (Engraver) had a strife with nature to out doo (efface) the life. Surely an engraver is employed to represent and make the portrait as life like as possible, not to strife to take away any life like characteristics.

It seems impossible that Ben Jonson really meant that Droeshout the engraver really had a struggle with nature in represnting the features of the author. The third line of the address is "It was for gentle Shakespeare cut." In dictionaries, the meaning of FOR is given as " in place of"-so the line may well read,"It was in place of gentle Shakespeare cut." At the end of the verse Jonson tells the reader to take notice of the portrait but to look at the book instead. Why trouble to insert a supposed portrait of the author and then tell the reader not to look at it? If it was a real portrait of Shakespeare, then it should be worth looking at, as it is the only portrait in existence of the great poet.

Ben Jonson in his lines prefaced to the First Folio of the The "Shakespeare" Plays referring to the Author wrote, "But stay! I see thee in the Hemisphere advanc'd, and make a constellation. Shine forth, thou starre poets." At the time the "Shakespeare" plays were being written, there were seven young men in France who were the backbone of the French Renaissance and who were known as "The Pleiade," being the name of a group of seven stars in the constellation of Taurus. Francis Bacon when in France met these seven young men and was much struck with the work that they were doing, so he decided to start a similar renaissance in England, which he did the moment that he returned home bringing into existence the foundations of a new literature and publishing his works under other names. Jonson clearly foresaw the result of Bacon's work so in his verses he refers to the author as a constellation , "Shakespeare" being only one but the most brilliant of the stars in Bacon's constellation.

The Stratfordians say that Ben Jonson in his Epigram "On Poet Ape" was not referring to Shakespeare. Yet we find that long before the Bacon theory was started, W. Gifford in his edition of Ben Jonson's works writes that "Mr. Chalmers (an Editor of the Plays) will take it on his death that the person here meant is Shakespeare."

Ben Jonson in his play "Every man out of his Humor" which was first produced in 1599 (three years after Shaksper had applied to the College of Heralds for a grant of arms and the same year that Shaksper had applied again his first application being unscuccessful) clearly refers to this incident, wherethe character Sogliardo (Shaksper) says that he has been toiling among the Heralds who give a man the hardest terms for his money and that he has at last obtained his patent which had cost him 30 pounds. He asks another character Puntarvolo (Bacon) how he likes the crest and Puntarvolo asks Sogliardo what it is.

Sogliardo says, "Marry, sir, it is your Bore without a head rampant" Carolo Buffone (another character) then says, "Aye and rampant too : troth I commend that Herald's wit; he has deciphered him well, a swine without a head, without braine, wit, anything indeed. Ramping to gentility." Puntarvolo then says, "Let the word be, 'not without mustard'', your crest is very rare sir." In the above scene we are told that Puntavolo's (Bacon's) crest was a Bore and Bacon's crest was a wild Boar. When Sogliardo says that his crest is a bore without a head he clearly infers that he is being used as a pseudonym by Bacon. Puntarvolo (Bacon) confirms Sogliardo's identity with Shaksper when hesays, "let his motto be "not without mustard," Shaksper's motto being "Non sans droit"not without right."

Ben Jonson in his book entitled "Timber or Discoveries" discusses and highly praises Francis Bacon as an orator. He also values his work as a poet and places him at the top of all ages entirely ignoring William Shakespeare. He also discusses Bacon as an educationalist and the words he uses show that he had intense personal esteem and veneration for his old master Francis Bacon, with whom he had been living at Gorhambury in charge of Bacon's liteary workshop for some years prior to the publication of the First Folio of the "Shakespeare" Plays.

In a book entitled "The Great Assizes holden in Parnassus by Apollo" published anonymously in 1645, Lord Verulam (Francis Bacon) is put as "Chancellor of Parnassus (i.e. the greatest of all the poets), Shaksper is put as "the writer of weekly accounts" which tells us that he was only a tradesman; and Ben Jonson is put as "The Keeper of the Trophonian Denne" (i.e. as the head of Francis Bacon's literary workshop).

The writer is not aware that any Stratfordian has offered any explanation for the reason that William Shaksper is only mentioned as the writer of weekly accounts when, according to their theory that he wrote the Plays, he should have taken the place assigned to Francis Bacon as "Chancellor of Parnassus."

In Elizabethan days, south of Canonbury lay the Priory of St. John's Clerken-well where the Master of the Court Revels lived. In Tylney's official book of the revels now in the British Museum we are told that rehearsals were made in St. John's Hall, a convenient place for rehearsals and setting forth of Plays and other shows. When Edmund Tylney in 1621 ceased to be Master of the Court Revels and licenser of plays, the post was given to Ben Jonson who was then Francis Bacon's secretary.

It seems quite likely that Bacon told Jonson that it was his wish that the facts of his life and concealed authorship should be left to be proved by future investigators and that he left this problem to another age because he believed that it would ultimately be solved by inductive reasoning, and this wish would explain the silence Jonson who was in the secret but carried out his master's instructions.

The above would appear to be one of the motives which induced Bacon to refrain from acknowledging the authorship of the "Shakespeare" Plays . There is a mass of contemporary evidence to prove that stage players were used as covers for authors of high rank and we know that Bacon described himself as a concealed poet. Other reasons for concealment may have been the fact that dramatic poets enjoyed small respect, so that the writing of stage plays was prejudicial to any statesman, and Bacon's confidence that he would be ultimately recognised as the personality behind the plays.

Bacon by means of his cipher devised the revelation and proof of his life story to the next of ages and the vindication of the value of his inductive reasoning.

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