In the Light and the Shadow

by Peter Dawkins

 

Of all the Baconian illustrations, the title page engraving to the first continental edition of Francis Bacon's De Dignitate & Augmentis Scientiarum, published in 1645, shows Bacon most clearly as the philosopher-poet and secret dramatist. Like the other illustrations in the special Baconian set of pictures,which were printed in various books both during Bacon's lifetime and for some time afterwards by his 'successors', it is full of meaning.

 

 

 

(Title page illustration to Francis Bacon's De Augmentis Scientiarum,1645.)

 

Bacon is shown seated on a similar chair as in the 1640 Advancement of Learning frontispiece illustration, hatted and robed as the Lord Chancellor. A large folio book lies open on the table in front of him, to a line or word of which he is pointing with the first finger of his right hand. This book, together with his right hand and arm, is illuminated and therefore 'in the light.'

By contrast Bacon's left arm and hand is 'in the shadow', and is supporting and pushing the figure of a wildly dressed man up a rocky hill, on top of which is a temple, also in shadow. The figure is clothed in a tunic of fawn or goat skin and has an outsized face with an unusual nose that looks like a mask, all of which identifies him as a bacchant, a performer of the rites of Bacchus(i.e. Dionysus), the god of Drama.

The rites of Bacchus involved a mixture of comedy and tragedy, reflecting the nature of life and the universal principle of strife and friendship taught in the Orphic schools of philosophy. When clothed in a fawn skin the bacchant(or female bacchante) wore soft sandals made of fawn skin, the original of the socks of comedy. The tragic actor or bacchant, by contrast, wore high-soled hunting boots made of goatskin,known as buskins, and a goatskin tunic. The bacchant in this picture is not wearing buskins, and therefore the deduction is that the bacchant is wearing fawn skin and is performing comedy which leads to resurrection(i.e. rebirth) and the Mystical Marriage, a goal symbolized by the temple on the hill.

Held out in front of the bacchant, in both his hands, is a clasped book with the symbol of a mirror on its cover. In Baconian terms this is a representation of the Book of Nature, the mirror in which we see the image of ourselves, and is similar in meaning to the mirror held by Bacchus in which he sees his own reflection. It also represents the theatre, which imitates in microcosm the stage of the world. The mask has the same meaning, hence both the mask and the mirror-book are emblems of Bacchus and of the theatre. The mask was used in the Dionysian masquerades to represent the incarnate god. The bacchant or tragicomic actor who wore the mask was himself the mask or earthly representative, on stage, of the god Bacchus.

Quite clearly the picture is showing that the actor is the mask of the poet-dramatist Bacon, which is not only depicted pictorially but also confirmed by the fact that the name of Bacon is associated with Bacchus, not only through the 'Bacco terminology but also because the pig, like the goat, was sacrificed in the Mysteries as a representation of the god. This is cleverly referred to in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare ,IV, i. in Mistress Quickly's line:-

Quickly. Hang-hog, is latten for Bacon, I warrant you.

 

Modern editors, completely misunderstanding the meaning, have usually changed the Folio's 'latten' to 'Latin' and reduced 'Bacon' to 'bacon', which kills the intended allusion and hidden meaning. In fact Mistress Quickly is referring to a witty(but deadly serious) incident concerning Francis Bacon's father, Sir Nicholas Bacon, which Francis recorded for posterity as one of his apophthegms( is defined as a terse, pointed saying, embodying an important truth in a few words'). This was printed as Apophthegm 36 in Resuscitatio, published by Dr. William Rawley in 1671:--

Sir Nicholas Bacon, being appointed a Judge for the Northern Circuit and having brought his Trials that came before him to such a pass, as the passing of Sentence on Malefactors, he was by one of Malefactors mightily importuned for to save his life, which when nothing he had said did avail, he at length desired his mercy on the account of kindred: 'Prethee,' said my Lord Judge,'how came that in?' 'Why if it please you my Lord, your name is Bacon, and mine is Hog, and in all Ages Hog and Bacon have been so near kindred, that they are not to be separated.' 'I but,' replyed Judge Bacon, 'you and I cannot be kindred, except you be hanged; for Hog is not Bacon until it be well hanged.

 

This story is told for its value as a parable, which is pointed out by Evans in his rejoinder to Mistress Quickly in the following line, where he notes that she has spoken a 'prable' (parable) Shakespeare, Merry Wives, IV, i. :--

Evans. Leave your prables ( o'man)....

 

'Latten' means a mixture of metals, particularly an alloy resembling or identical to brass. It is used elsewhere in the Shakespeare plays and in Bacon's letters as a word-play on 'Latin'. This word-play forms a series of puns, such that 'latten' infers a debased Latin or secret language, confirmed by the Latin word latentis, meaning concealed. The whole of Mistress Quickly's sentence is a remarkable example of punning, the Latin for 'to hang', for instance, being suspendere. Sus is the Latin for a sow, pig, swine or hog, and pendere means to hang down. The 'warrant' can be rendered in Latin as auctor , a word which is often used by Bacon to denote an inventor or author. Moreover, even Mistress Quickly's name is important in this context for 'quickly' is cito in Latin and cito also means to summon, call forward or name, especially in a court of law, or to call upon a god for help. (see Arden, 'Latten: Its meaning and Intention', Baconiana VolXXXVIII, No 148 (May 1954)

All this is in keeping with the whole symbolism and meaning of the picture, for Bacchus is intimately associated with the duality of life which he and his mask represents. Tragedy, for instance, which developed out of the Dionysian Mysteries and centered around death or sacrifice, was born in the public theatre as a result of two actors being used on stage instead of one, supposedly first done by Aeshcylus, the reputed father of tragedy. But the roots of such a double act or dualism are much older and embedded as an essential feature of the Dionysian or Orphic Mysteries.

Tragedy relates to the first cycle of Dionysian initiation, whilst comedy relates to the second. The first ends in tragic death and separation, whilst the second leads to resurrection, revelation and marriage. Mortality and immortality, natural and spiritual, human and divine, good and evil, birth and death, darkness and light, movement and stillness, sound and silence, irrational and rational, strife and friendship, frenzy and bliss, license and restraint, masculine and feminine, individuality and universality, affection and reason, concealed and revealed: these are some of the great dualities of life taught in the Bacchanlian rites, and which are represented so powerfully in the Shakespeare plays and in Bacon's own life and philosophy--the harmonious balance or middle path always being sought.

Just as the actor in the picture holds the symbol of his own earthly image or mask, so Bacon in his chair holds his human mask, the actor, who looks back to Bacon, the author, for his words or instructions. Historically the actor can be none other than the actor Will Shakspere, since he was Bacon's mask for the Shakespeare plays, although in a more general way he could also be representing any Baconian bacchant or even the Shakespeare plays in production on stage.

The theatrical productions, either on the stage of the Globe or the stage of the world, form the active part of Bacon's philosophy whilst the open book on the table represents the speculative or written part--the words and instructions. The active and the speculative balance each other like twins--an image Bacon loved to use--just as left and right hands balance each other, and as darkness and light also balance each other, for perfect harmony. It is also a cabalistic image : the creative Word of God, for instance, being associated with the right hand, and the expression of that Word in form being related to the left hand. The Word is light and the matter that gives it form is dark. The Word is equated with the spirit and the form with the soul. It is the human soul which acts out the play given it to perform on the stage of the world.

The light and shadow is also symbolic of mind and nature, which the folio of poetry and philosophy, and the actor performing upon the rocky stage of the world, respectively symbolize.

To make sure that the 'Shakespeare' significance is thoroughly understood, the open book is shown as a folio. It covers a smaller sized book lying beneath it. None of Bacon's philosophical writings published under his own name of Bacon were published in folio: but the Shakespeare plays were. Moreover the Shakespeare Folio was published in the same year, 1623 as the first edition of Bacon's De Augmentis Scientiarum. The smaller book hidden under the folio is the appropriate size of the De Augmentis publication.

However, at first glance the casual reader would probably interpret the folio book as representing the De Augmentis Scientiarum, the very book the reader is about to read. This deception is part of the game, and even this is further used to give the sense of 'in the light' signifying what is made public and ' in the shadow' representing what is kept secret or concealed.

Above the actor, on the crown of the rocky hill, is a temple, symbolic it would seem of the Temple of Philosophy which Bacon's method can build--the method being represented by the right and left-hand symbolism already described. But there is more to it than this, for the depiction of this precipitously rocky, flat-topped hill with the temple on it shows that it is an acropolis--the most famous and most fitting one for this Shakepeare-Bacon story being the acropolis of Athens, home of the speare-shaking goddess.

However, the temple shown in the picture is circular, covered with a dome and having arches between its columns. There were not many circular temples built by either the Greeks or Romans in classical times. There was certainly not one on the acropolis of Athens, and the Greeks did not use domes or arches in their architecture. However, the Romans did, but they did not have a steep-sided rocky acropolis like Athens. Their famous round temple was the Temple of Vesta in Rome, the most sacred shrine in the imperial city where the vestal fire, representing the fire of the heart or hearth, was kept continually burning by the vestal virgins. The Baconian temple in the picture would appear, therefore, to represent an entirely new temple built on ancient principles and foundations, fusing together the best and most sacred elements of the martial Romans and mercurial Greeks, being a Temple of the Virgin Goddess, the buskinned Diana, sister of Apollo and the guardian mother of the flame of love. Such symbolism beautifully encapsulates Bacon's philosophy and goal.

The picture is beautifully made, with every detail carefully thought out and executed. Just to demonstrate absolutely that this is so, look carefully at the cloak or cloth which covers Bacon's legs, hanging just beneath the folio book and his right hand. This cloak or cloth is not part of Bacon's clothing as Lord Chancellor. Instead he seems to hold it separately, and it may well represent a veil, or at least a cloak,--to the mystery which he(or the artist) has unveiled. If you look even closer you should be able to see the face that is picked out in dots upon the cloth--a face which appears to be that of the sun god, Apollo, crowned with solar rays. Bacon was known in his lifetime as 'Apollo.'

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