Obiter Dicta of Bacon and Shakespeare


Manners, Mind and Morals

London, 1901


Co- founder of the Bacon Society

Constance Pott


"Men's labour should be turned to the investigation and observation of the analogies of things--as well in wholes as in parts. For these it is that detect unity....and lay a foundation for the sciences." Novum Organum , Bk., II., xxviii.


The following passages from Bacon and Shakespeare have been brought together with three objects, distinct, but harmonious.

First, there being no concordance or harmony to the authentic works of Bacon, we desire by degrees, to supply that deficiency by means of handbooks so cheap as to be within the reach of all students, and so arranged and subdivided that any particular subject treated of by Bacon may be studied independently of the rest. We would continue these booklets in an unremitting stream, until the much-needed, complete harmony between the works of the philosopher and of the poet be put into the hands of every reader in a simple and portable form.

Secondly, we desire to help the advancement of learning by sparing the pens and the valuable time of many who now have to grope and hunt for things long ago noted and written down. Bacon cautions men against wasting time in Actum Agere, doing again the deed done; but from want of co-operation amongst workers, his wise advice is daily neglected, and the same particulars painfully sought for by those whose minds are fully capable of proceeding from "particulars to generalities," and of doing work needed, and of permanent value.

Lastly, these passages are collated in the hope that they may aid in ending the apparently rotating and endless band of Bacon-Shakespeare controversy. For, although a few detached instances of similarity or coincidence may be held of no value as evidence, yet an almost innumerable multitude of small instances, accumulative evidence, although of the most minute particles, does in the end amount to evidence. These presently suggest an idea or theory; further additions convert the theory into a doctrine supported by a strong probablilty; the probability grows into certainty, and the mind becomes assured that such repeated similiarities, such varied points of contact, such startling coincidences of thought and expression, cannot possibly be due to chance, or indeed to anything less than to identity of authorship. Was it ever known in the history of the world that any two men conceived the same "original" ideas, thought the same things on the same subjects (old or new), and expressed their opinions, tastes, and antipathies, their theories, doctrines, and experience in similar language?

And here a few words should be said upon a point which seems to be persistently ignored-- namely, the exceedingly low-level of knowledge in the time of Bacon. It has been the fashion of writers and teachers to lead their readers and pupils to regard the Elizabethan era as a period of advanced learning, and of brilliant illumination. Good--and who made it so? Francis Bacon speaks of it as an age of ignorance, all the worse because it thought itself wise. The fabric of learning, if it were to be made useful to man, and truly "advanced," must, he said, be completely razed to the foundations, and rebuilt. That was what he himself propesed to attempt. How much did he accomplish? That is the question. In his youth there were no dictionaries or books of reference--"collections," he calls them. There were no elementary books of instruction in geography, history, arithmetic, grammar. Who wrote the first books of this kind?
Bacon sums up the deficiences which he found in knowledge; they were at least sixty, including vocabulary, or the actual words in which thoughts and knowledge were to be expressed. As to poetry, the drama, the arts in general, they are hardly to our purpose here, but Bacon's opinion was that they were utterly defunct, the Muses barren, and all knowledge hidden under the dust of ages, or in the hands of a limited circle of pedants and schoolmen who studied words rather than matter, and whose knowledge had to be drawn from the fountains of antiquity, "deep pits", whence nothing could be drawn up excepting by such as had at their command the dead languages in which all learning was then shrouded.

It will be a part of our future duty to show Francis Bacon, as a young man, busy in rendering into his mother tongue, and giving to his countrymen the wisdom of the ancients which was to form the solid foundation for his new Solomon's house. For the present, it is more to our purpose to say that one "deficient," which he noted with a view to supplying it, was the study of man, his nature, character, and faculties. This study, whose importance he ranks very high, is perceptively illustrated in nearly every portion of his writings, and the doctrines which are there laid down are enforced in nearly every particular by the actions, speeches, and reflections or lucubrations of the characters who figure in the Shakespeare Plays.
Those who have in these later days had the privilege of seeing Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and many minor pieces put on the stage, may be truly said to have seen Francis Bacon's thoughts and feelings incarnate.

From the following pages it must be seen that the opinions expressed in the books of philosophy and science coincide with, even if they are not absolutely reflected by, passages in the Plays. Such opinions are never incompatible with each other. They are never in opposition, unless (often in the same work) antithetical opinions or sentiments be expressed. Sometimes a quotation, even from the Bible itself, maybe thus turned or "made contrary", and put into the mouth of a wicked or wrong thinking person. This tendency to consider both sides of every question is equally common to both groups of works.

Presented side by side , the extracts are seen to be views of the same subject, taken--like the two pictures in a stereoscopic slide--from slightly different points of view, or, as it were, seen separately by the two eyes of the same spectator. We perceive that, in many cases, not only the opinions or sentiments are similar, but that even the turns of speech, the words, metaphors, etc., by which these opinions are expressed are singularly alike in the prose and in the poetry. The examples here given may not form one tithe of those collected, but it is hoped, if these booklets find favour with the public, so to continue and to add to their scope, as in the end, to furnish a perfect dictionary of Baconian ethics.

It is no easy matter to illustrate briefly, and at the same time adequately, the ingrained similiarities of thought and feeling betrayed by a collation of the "two authors." But it is probably not overstating the case to say, that there is no opinion or "aphorism" in "Shakespeare" but finds a parallel in Bacon, and it would not be difficult to fill a large volume with such collations.
Will anyone say that these coincidences in thought prove nothing? that any two men might think the same on points of morals or manners, however widely apart their points of view might be set by education and circumstances? Will it be maintained that natural quickness of observation suffices as "a key to unlock the minds of others," and that, to a genius like Shakespeare, perception of character was doubtless intuitive?
Such arguments begin by begging the whole question as to the authorship. Baconians do not bel.ieve in William Shaksper as "a genius," and they know that, both in the scientific works, and in the Plays, our author is far from admitting that a knowledg of character is easy or intuitive. On the contrary, the following extracts show, that to obtain a true knowledge of character, either in ourselves or in others, is a thing by no means easy or intuitive, but "as full of study as a wise man's art." Moreovoer, Bacon, when recommending this as a proper study for mankind, specifies that it is a new and unwonted study.

When Dr. Johnson penned his eulogy of the accurate dilineations of Human Nature in "Shakespeare," he was judging the poet by the internal evidence afforded by his works, and it can be no presumption in humbler readers to follow his example in this respect. But since many of the younger generation are unaware of Dr. Johnson's reflections, it may be well to abridge a long dissertation which occurs in his Introduction to the Plays.

 "The "power of Nature" is only the power of using to any certain purpose the materials which diligence procures, or opportunity supplies........Nature gives no man knowledge. Shakespeare, however favoured by Nature, could impart what he had learned.....
There is a vigilance of observation and accuracy of distinction which books and precepts cannot confer; from this almost all orginal and native excellence proceeds. Shakespeare must have looked on mankind with perspicacity in the highest degree, curious and attentive.... With so many difficulties to encounter, he has been able to obtain an exact knowledge of many modes of life and many casts of native dispositions--to vary them with great multiplicity, to mark them with nice distinctions, and to show them in full view by proper combinations. He had none to imitate, but has himself been imitated by succeeding writers, and it may be doubted whether, form all his successors, more maxims of theoretical knowledge or more rules of practical prudence can be collected that he alone has given to his country....... Shakespeare, whether Life or Nature be his subject, shows plainly that he had seen with his own eyes ; he gives the image which he recevies, not weakened or distorted by the intervention of any other mind. The ignorant feel his representations to be just, the learned see they are correct."

This passage, if applied to Bacon, is absolutely true and satisfactory. Applied to the player, William Shaksper, it is not only unsatisfactory, but in several particulars untrue. It is unsatisfactory because it is not harmonious or consistent, for in one place it is frankly stated that "Nature gives no man knowlege." Whereas, furthur on, we are given to understandd that Shakespeare's own powers of observation were sufficient to furnish him with "an exact knowledge" of character in the personages whom he portrays.
Further, the passage, if applied to the man Shaksper, is untrue. He is assumed to have inaugurated the study of Nature and Human Nature, " having none to imitate;" whereas, we know that the study was new with Bacon, who mentions it as a deficiency in learning, and who gives directions as to the way in which the study should be conducted, and the particulars to be observed. Vainly have critics and commentators endeavoured to marry the life of Shaksper to his supposed works, by suggesting that he may have been a school-teacher, must have picked up his law at ordinaries or as a lawyer's clerk, and that his knowledge of courtly life and manners were probably learned by peeping from behind the scenes into the throng of royal or noble personages who formed his audience.

Is it in ways such as these that any man ever attained, or could attain, to the highest or most profound knowledge in every known branch of learning or science-- to the law of an Attorney-General or a Chancellor, or to a perfect mastery of the manners, discourse, and ceremonials on State occasions, in privy councils, meetings of kings and ambassadors, consultations of bishops and clergy, or of death-bed scenes of kings and nobles, royal betrothals, and such like? Such notions are too puerile and absurd to be for an instant entertained by any thoughtful mind. They would surely never have arisen, or been tolerated by sane persons, were it not for the singular fact, that such is the fascination exercised by the name "Shakespeare," that even now, when truth has come to light, there are still many people who would prefer to cast reason to the dogs, to smother up truth, and to defy common-sense and experience, rather than believe that William Shaksper was, as Shakespeareans have proved, a graceless fellow, and that the name Shakespeare was adopted under stress of necessity, and as a safe nom-de-plume, by the great poet-philosopher--Francis Bacon.


See a Selection of Parallels from the Book 
of Bacon's writings and the Shakespeare works