An "interview" with Sir Francis Bacon on

Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night, & Merchant of Venice
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Excerpt from the Chapter:
pp. 191-198

Francis Saint Alban, Mystic and Poet

 

By

A.A. Leith

from Baconiana , October 1902


....And as been so often pointed out, the revels at his own Inn of the Court were the especial care of the accomplished, poetical., learned barrister, Sir Francis Bacon.
At whatever point we touch him we find an answering note in harmony with the title we assign him at the head of his paper.
Always be it remembered that it is rather in the form of "pinholes", by, or through which we may espy "great objects", that his hints are given to us his "discoverers." For if he systematically made use of secret means to attain his end with regard to the stage, it is against reason that he should permit of our finding without a great deal of labour and trouble that he was the one great Poet-Dramatist of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
That this was his secret we are sufficiently assured, and that we may well claim him to be what we assert, I shall now proceed to show. To do this effectually I append a series of quotations from both Bacon in his more contemplative mood, when he writes as a philosopher and in the prose; and from Shake-speare, whose Dramas represent the same ideas and wise thoughts taking active shape in the plays.
These quotations are here given in the form of questions by myself and answers by Bacon. --Alicia Amy Leith

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Subject : Midsummer Night's Dream

Q.— OBeron says : " I know a bank wheron whild thyme blows, there sleeps Titania, lulled in these flowers with dances and delight. Can you explain why wild-thyme should lull her in delight?
Bacon : " The breath of flowers is far sweeter in the air, where it comes and goes like the warbling of music than in the hand, therefore nothing is more fit for that delight than to know what be the flowers and plants that do best perfume the air. Those which do perfume the air most delightfully, being trodden upon and crushed, are three, that is burnet, wild thyme, and water mints; therefore you must have whole allies of them when you walk and tread."
Q. —"Aye, and dance too I presume? But besides the wild thyme, Oberon speaks of other flowers carpetting the ground. Can you suggest any others which you prefer?
Bacon : "I also like little heaps such as are in wild heaths to be set with wild thyme, some with violets, some with cowslips and the like flowers, withal sweet and sightly."
Q.—"Precisely, Titania's 'little heap' agrees with your ideas. Oberon describes it almost in your own words. 'I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows, where ox-lips and the nodding violet grows.' But can you tell me why nodding ? Is there any reason, would you say, for preferring a nodding violet to a still one?
Bacon : "When bodies are moved or stirred they smell more as a sweet bag is waved. The daintiest smell of flowers are violets, roses, woodbine."
Q.— Ah! roses and honeysuckle—should they adorn Titania's couch?
Bacon : "For the heath I wish it to be framed to a natural wildness. I would have some thickets made only of sweet-briar and honey suckle."
Q—Quite so; I guessed as much. You have now accurately described all the flowers mentioned by Oberon as forming Tatania's bower. " I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows, where ox-lips and the nodding violet grows, quite over canopied with lush woodbine, with sweet......... musk roses." Do you agree with the last named addition? Do you like the musk rose?
Bacon: "The sweetest smell in the air is the violet......... next to that is the musk rose. The smell of violets and roses exceedeth in sweetness that of spices.........These things do rather woo the sense than satiate it."
Q.— I have my answer. I am content.

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It is in parallels such as these, and they abound, that we realise that the minds of Bacon and Shakespeare run in actually and entirely the same groove. Here is another instance.

Subject HAMLET.

Q.Hamlet says to the gravedigger :"How long will a man lie in the grave ere he rot?" What have you to say about this matter?
Bacon : "It is strange, and well to be noted, how long carcasses have continued incorrupt and in their former dimensions, as appeareth in the mummies of Egypt, having lasted, as is conceived, three thousand years."
Q.
The gravedigger says in reply : "If he be not rotten before he died [we have pocky corpses now-a-days], he will last some eight years," giving as a reason for a tanner lasting nine that his hide was so tanned, " He will keep out water a great while. Water is a sore decayer of your dead body." What do you say about this?
Bacon : " If you provide aainst three causes of putrefaction, bodies will not corrupt... The first is that the air be excluded, for that undermineth the body...... The third is that the body to be preserved be not of that gross that it may corrupt within itself. There is a fourth remedy also, which is, that if a body to be preserved be of bulk, as a corpse is, then the body that incloseth it must have a virtue to draw forth and dry the moisture of the inward body, for else the putrefaction will play within."
Q.
The gravedigger and you agree. Besides this, Hamlet enquired thus, as he held the skull of Yorick : "Dost thou think Alexander lock'd out o' this fashion i' the earth?" Can you answer him? Can your imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander till we find it stopping a bung hole? Is it all likely that Alexander's flesh could have ever formed a bung "to keep the wind away?"
Bacon : " When Augustus Caesar visited the sepulchre of Alexander the Great , in Alexandria, he found the body to keep his dimensions. But withal, the body was so tender, not withstanding all the embalming, Caesar touching he nose defaced it. The ancient Egyptian mummies were shrouded up in a number of folds of linen, which doth not appear was practised on the body of Alexander."
Q.
Ah! that is what Hamlet allludes to, doubtless, when he says : "Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust; the dust is earth, of earth we make loam, and why of that loam might they not stop a beer-barrel?"

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Enquirers have only to take any subject they fancy from Shakespeare's Plays, and search in Bacon's works; they will find the passages paralleled and explainedat least that is my experience.

Subject —MEASURE FOR MEASURE.

Q.The Duke of Vienna says : I love the people, but do not like to stage me to their eyes." What says my Lord of Verulam?
Bacon : I do not desire to stage myself nor my pretensions. Do good to the people; love them, looking for nothing, neither praise nor profit."
Duke of Vienna : " I do not relish well their loud applause and aves vehement, nor do I think the man of safe discretion that does affect it."
Bacon: "The best temper of men desire good name and true honour; the lighter popularity and applause."

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What more striking evidences of the truth of my assertion are there to be found than these? Here is another instance.

Subject —MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

Hermia : " Little again? Nothing but low and little? I am so dwarfish and so low!"
Lysander : "Get you gone, you dwarf, you minimus, of hindring knot-grass made."
Q.
Explain why he calls her " hindring knot-grass?"
Bacon : " It is a common experience that when alleys are close gravelled, the earth putteth forth, the first year knot-grass, and after spear-grass. The cause is that the hard gravel of pebble will not suffer the grass to come forth upright, but turneth it to find his way where it can."
Q.
The reason for the curious words used by Lysander is now pefectly clear by your reply.

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Subject TWELFTH NIGHT. Act I., Scene i.
Scene
A City in Illyria, and the Sea-coast near it.
Act I.
An apartment in the Duke's Palace.

Enter Duke (musicians attending):
Duke : "If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die."
Q. — Explain this metaphor.
Bacon : "Generally music feedeth that disposition of the spirits which it findeth. There be in music certain figures almost agreeing with the affections of the mind and other senses, and the falling from a discord to a concord which maketh great sweetness in music hath an agreement with the affections; it agreeth with the taste also which is soon glutted with which is sweet alone."
Q.—And in this case, what figure had this music?
Duke: " That strain again, it had a dying fall. O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet south breathing o'er a bank of violets, stealing and giving odour."
Q.—Why should a strain of music be compared to wind?
Bacon : "Wind, all impulsion of the air is wind, will rise and fall by turns, the breath thereof carried upward, then languishing, as it were, expires and dies. We have some slides of strings, as it were, continued from one tone to another,rising and falling, which are delightful.
Q.—Why specify a south wind?
Bacon : "The south wind blows from presence of the sun. The south and west winds are warm and moist, to sweet smells heat and moistue is requisite to spread the breath of them."
Q.—Why a "south wind breathing o'er a bank of violets?"
Bacon : "The sweetest smell in the air is the violet, and the breath of flowers is much sweeter in the air at some distance, when it comes and goes like the warbling of music."
Q.—Why are south winds sweet?
Bacon : "The south wind is very healthful when it comes from the sea. In places which are near the sea the sea-trees bow and bend as shunnin the sea-air, but not from any averseness to them; the south winds are very agreeable to plants."
Q.—Why should this sea coast wind give and take odour?
Bacon : "When bodies are stirred, then shall more the impulsion of the air bring the scent faster upon us. Winds are, as it were, mercants of vapours; they carry out and bring in again, as it were, by exchange."
Duke ( to musicians) : "Enough! no more; tis not so sweet now as it was before. Away, before me, to sweet beds of flowers." [Exit]
Q.—Why should the Duke take his music into the garden?
Bacon : "Smells and other odours are sweeter in the aire at some distance, than near the nose, as hath been touched heretofore........We see that in sounds likewise they are sweetest when we cannot heare every part by itself."
Q.—Have you more to say about south winds and gardens?
Bacon : "In gardens the south wind, when it is stayed, it is so mild that it can scarce be perceived, and odours are sweetest at some distance."
Q.—The Duke speaks of the south without the word wind; is that correct?
Bacon : "The smell of violets and roses exceed in sweetness that of spices. Gums and the strongest sort of smells are best in a west afarre off."

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subject- MERCHANT OF VENICE. Act IV
Scene—A Court of Justice

Portia : "Earthly power doth then show likest God's when mercy seasons justice."
Q.— Explain this sentence.
Bacon : "It is the duty of a judge to enquire not only to the fact, but also as to the circumstances. Judges ought (as far as the law permitteth) in justice to remember mercy. They should imitate God, in Whose seat they sit."

Act V., Scene i.—Belmont.
[The moon shines bright]

Lorenzo : "In such a night such as this, when the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees, and they did make no noise.....How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank! Here we sit and let the sound of music creep into our ears. Soft stillness and the night become the touches of sweet hamony."
Q.— What agreement is there between moonlight and music?
Bacon : "Firstly the division and quavering that pleases so much in music have an agreement with the glittering of light, as moonbeams playing...... upon a wave." "That which is pleasing to the hearing may receive light by that which is pleasing to the sight. Both these pleasures—that of the ear and that of the eye—are but the effect of good proportion of correspondence; so that, out of question, are the causes of harmony."
Jessica : " I am never merry when I hear sweet music."
Q.—Explain how music affects the spirits?
Bacon : We see that tunes and airs in their own nature have in themselves affinities with the affections. It is no wonder if they alter the spirits to variety of passions; yet generally, music feedeth that disposition of the spirits which it findeth."
Lorenzo : "There's not the smallest orb that thou beholdest but in his motion like an angel sings."
Q.— Explain this.
Bacon: "Great motions there are in nature which pass without sound or noise. The heavens turn about in a most rapid motion without noise to be perceived; so the motions of the comets and fiery meteors yield no noise, though in some dreams they have been said to make excellent music."
Lorenzo : "This muddy vesture of decay doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it."

[Portia and Nerissa enter.]

Nerissa : ".......When the moon shone we did not see the candle."
Q.— Why does she say this?
Bacon : "It is true, nevertheless, that a great light drowneth a smaller that it cannot be seen."
Portia : So doth the greater glory dim the less."
............ Music —hark!
             Me thinks it sounds much sweeter than by day."
Nerissa: "Silence bestows that virtue on it, madam."
Q.—Is that likely to be true?
Bacon : " Sounds are better heard, and further off, than in the day. The cause is for that in the day when the air is more thin the sound pierceth better, but when the air is more thick (as in the night) the sound spendeth and spreadeth abroad less. As for the night, it is true also that the general silence helpeth."
Q.—One question more and I am done. Why, if you aimed at the reformation of the stage by a new art of modern dramtic poesy, did you write anonymously or under a pseudonym, when you would have earned so much fame as its "inventor.?"
Bacon : " In the degrees of human honour amongst the heathen it was the highest to obtain to a veneration and adoration as a god. Such as were inventors and authors of new arts were ever considered amongst the gods—Apollo and others; this unto the Christians is as the forbidden fruit."

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ALICIA AMY LEITH : Indeed Francis St. Alban Mystic and Poet! As I began, so I finish. If any doubt still, let them read what a Latin elegy by a contemporaneous writer said of him :—

On the Incomparable Francis Verulam
"As the beams of the sun in the morning rising
Up from the eastward horizon, he shone as Apollo at noon.
He perceived how all arts and inventions, held fast by no roots,
Would soon perish, like seed cast abroad on the surface.
So he reigned in those Pegasus arts, and
Taught them to grow to a bay-tree,
Like the shaft that was wielded by Quirinus.

Having thus taught the Helicon Muses to grow,
And continue increasing,
Age on age cannot lessen his glory.

What effulgence is seen in his eyes!
As though Heaven's beams were upon him,
While he sings of the mysterious celestial.

Our Muses need bring no encomiums; thyself
Art the singer, full toned; thine own verses
Suffice for thy glory."

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