Bacon's Essay of Truth

by W.F.C. Wigston

From Baconiana, October 1909

 

"In the midst of the sun is the light, in the midst of light is truth, and in the midst of truth is the imperishable Being."--The Vedas

" The first creature of God, in the work of the days, was the light of the senses, the last was the light of reason; and His Sabbath work ever since is the illumination of His Spirit." -- From Of Truth by Francis Bacon 

"To this end was I born, and for this cause came I unto the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice. Pilate saith unto Him, What is truth?"--Gospel of St. John, chap. xviii., verse. 37, 38.

 

It is very important to observe that Bacon's essay Of Truth occupies the first or foremost place in the collection. Also that this essay opens and concludes with the allusion to our Savior, who was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Bacon commences with the words "What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer." And the essay ends with the words, " Surely the wickedness of falsehood and breach of faith cannot possibly be so highly expressed, as in that it shall be the last peal to call the judgment of God upon the generations of men. It being foretold that when Christ cometh He shall not find faith upon the earth." This is repeated in the essay "Of Counsel."

It is worthy of note, too, what Bacon says of Pilate, that he"would not stay for an answer" implying that there was an answer, but that he did not want to hear it, and this is often the attitude of the world towards any problem that offends it's prejudices, rouses its passions, or dares to challenge its universal consent upon some echoed tradition which has never hitherto been looked into or examined. In his essay "Of Atheism," Bacon points out, how the judgment is prejudiced by the feelings or affections, and how the mind is deprived of free judgment by the inclinations of the heart.

"The Scripture saith, 'The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God'; it is not said, The fool hath thought in his heart,' so as he rather saith it by rote to himself, as that he would have, than that he can thoroughly believe it or be persuaded of it."

This equally applies to the nature of all human beliefs that are allied by custom with consent and sentiment --and perhaps most of all to the opposers of the Bacon authorship of the plays. They, like Pilate, "will not stay for an answer," or give a "learning patience" to the problem, and in their hearts declare the theory a heresy, a foolish fad, an impossibility.

Mark Twain has recently drawn a parallel, comparing Shakespeare to Satan, and there is something in it, for all denial is of the badge of Antichrist; and has not the great German poet, Goethe described Mephistopheles (and his followers?) with the words "der stets verneint," --who everlasting denies? After all, rebutting evidence is always easier than proof, for the thing saves trouble if one only takes one's ignorance seriously, or affirmatively, setting up for a judge instead of a learner, and imagining a faculty of not knowing can be a criterion for passing judgments upon new discoveries.

"Coming in a man's own name," Bacon declares, "is no infallible sign of truth. For certainly there cometh to pass, and hath place in human truth, that which was noted and pronounced in the highest truth." Veni in nomine patris, nec recipitis me; si quis venetit in nomine suo, eum recipietis (I came in the name of the Father, but ye did not receive Me; if any one shall come in his own name, him ye receive).

But in this divine aphorism (considering to whom it was applied, namely, to Antichrist, the highest deceiver) we may discern well that the coming in a man's own name, without regard of antiquity or paternity, is no good sign of truth, although it be joined with the fortune and success of an eum recipietis" (and book Advancement of Learning, p.99).

Therefore the coming of Shakespeare in his own name, although he has been received without question, is not an infallible sign of truth. In Aphorism 84 of the first book of the Novum Organum :

"Again men have been kept back as by a kind of enchantment from progress in the sciences, by reverence for antiquity, by the authority of men accounted great in philosophy, and then by general consent. And with regard to authority it shows a feeble mind to grant so much to authors, and yet deny Time his rights, who is the author of authors, nay, rather of all authority. For rightly is truth called the daughter of time."

By "consent" Bacon means, the world's general or universal assent, or tradition; as, for example, that Shakespeare is the author of the 1623 Folio plays. The world often mistakes echoes for volume, and there is the popular fallacy that counting of heads is proof of truth. But in matters intellectual it is not as with physical power or wealth--there is no aggregate or arithmetical sum total, as, for example, when men pull on a rope or heap up money. But it is rather as in a race, where only a few can be first, and there is no addition of speeds.

Hear Bacon: "For the worst of all auguries is from consent in matters intellectual (Divinity excepted, and politics where there is right of vote). For nothing pleases the many unless it strikes the imagination, or binds the understanding with the bonds of common notions" (Aphorism 77, Novum Organum).

Therefore the saying,"That the world says, or the world believes," though to be respected, is not final, and should not deter us from examining anew problems which the past generations had probably no time or curiosity to question. Besides, as Bacon says, in this essay Of Truth,

" The first creature of God, in the work of the days, was the light of the senses, the last was the light of reason; and His Sabbath work ever since is the illumination of His Spirit."

The Vedas say,

"In the midst of the sun is the light, in the midst of light is truth, and in the midst of truth is the imperishable Being."

" Truth," says Chaucer, " is the highest thing that man can keep."

In this essay Of Truth Bacon says,"

" One of the late school of the Grecians examineth the matter, and is at a stand to think what should be in it, that men should love lies, where neither they make for pleasure, as with poets; nor for advantage, as with the merchant; but for the lies sake. But I cannot tell : this same truth is a naked and open day light, that doth not show the masques, and mummeries, and triumphs of the world, half so stately and daintily as candle lights."

Compare Omar Khayham on the world as a theatre by candle-light :

"For in and out, above, about, below,
' Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow Show,
Play'd in a box whose candle is the sun,
Round which we phantom figures come and go!"

Bacon continues,

"Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that showeth best by day; but it will not rise to the price of a diamond, or carbuncle, that showeth best in varied lights. A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure."

Observe the apology for poetical fiction in this passage, which presently we find repeated with something of an explanation:

"One of the Fathers, in great severity, called poesy vinum daemonum (the wine of the devils),because it filleth the imagination, and yet it is but with the shadow of a lie."

That is to say, poetical fiction or invention, although it obscures truth, or veils it, is not all falsehood, and all parabolical poetry shadows, under tropes of similitude's, a concealed meaning of truth. It would seem, then, that this essay Of Truth is a sort of apology for the poetical veil, or masque of Truth, upon the score of man's dislike, or incapability, of receiving unadulterated truth itself? Bacon uses the expression "I cannot tell" to excuse himself explanation of the world's love of lies. In the play of Richard III the same phrase in introduced, together with what would seem to answer the question in context with it:---

"I cannot tell: the world is grown so bad
That wrens may prey where eagles dare not perch." (I. 3).

Christ exclaimed "That the world cannot receive truth," and Bacon implies the same thing, and he then proceeds to explain that the disguises and actings of the world's stage are better adapted, than the searchlight of open daylight, for the half-lights of the theatre. If the reader will turn to the essay entitled Of Masques and Triumphs, he will find complete proof that this is an allusion to the stage in the essay Of Truth. And it would seem as if there existed some sort of antithesis between these two essays, i.e., the world's love of pleasure is so great, "Satis alter alteri magnum theatrum sumus" (We are sufficently the great theatre of each other),--"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players," --and acting has little consonance with truth. Observe, too, in both essays there is the same allusion to candle-light.

In the plays candlelight is used as a metaphor for starlight:-

"For by these blessed candles of the night."
(Merchant of Venice, V.i).

"There's husbandry in heaven;
Their candles are all out."
(Macbeth II. i).

Night's candles are burnt out."
(Romeo and Juliet III.5).

See Sonnet 21, "As those gold candles fixed in heaven's air."

Masques were dramatic performances in which the actors were disguised by the wearing of masks which concealed their features, and so their identity.

Bacon commences his essay Of Masques and Triumphs with the words,"These things are but toys," and concludes the essay with the words,"But enough of these toys." He means trifles by the word toys. It is most important to point out, that Heminge and Condell, in their dedicatory preface ( to their patrons the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery) in the first edition of the folio plays, published in 1623, employ the word "trifles" to indicate the plays they are editing:-- "For , when we value the places your H.H. sustain, we cannot but know their dignity greater, than to descend to the reading of these trifles."

This point seems to me very pertinent to the entire subject of the essay (and authorship of the plays), and is a hint of the very first importance as to whether Bacon wore a mask known as Shakespeare. But the introduction of this subject, in connection with poetry, and with an apology for the poets' "shadow of a lie," on account of the pleasure afforded by the dainty shows of the theatre, seen by candlelight, is a hint that only the most obstinately blind or obtuse person can decline to perceive. The first Masque, in England, was held at Greenwhich Palace (where King Henry the Eighth was born), "the first disguise( in the year 1513, on the day of the Epiphany), after the manner of Italy called a Masque, a thing not seen afore in England." In Love's Labour Lost we have a masque introduced, and also scene in King Henry the Eighth where the royal dancers are masked. Triumphs were processional pageants, or shows by Torchlight. Bacon is telling us that man does not care about abstract truth, and when he says men do not care for open daylight, he is speaking very truly. For he points out that "the archflatterer with whom all the petty flatterers have intelligence, is a man's self" (essay Of Love ). And in this essay Of Truth :

"A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of men's minds vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds of a number of men poor shrunken things full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves?"

This is as much as to say, that most men "walk in a vain show," and are actors, i.e., play up rather to the parts they imagine they possess, than are what they really are by nature. In the essay Of Love, Bacon says

"It is a poor saying of Epicurus, "We are a sufficiently great theatre to each other ".

That Bacon should introduce this saying of Seneca (to be found in his Epistles, Moral I., 17) in the essay Of Love is not strange. For Bacon knew that love is one of the greatest of actors (and cause of acting) in life, as well as the motive for stage comedies in the theatre. He writes,

"The stage is more beholding to love than the life of man. For as to the stage, love is ever a matter of Comedies, and now and then of tragedies. It is strange to note the excess of this passion; and how it braves the nature and value of things, that the speaking in a perpetual hyperbole is comely in nothing but love."

The ancients painted Cupid blind, because people in love are deprived of reason and sound judgment, and see everything by a candlelight of glamour an illusion, where all is appearance, as in a theatre. The lover conceals his real character, and pretends to all sorts of parts which he plays in order to attract the one beloved, just, as in natural selection, we find at the courting season, male birds spreading their peacock feathers to attract the female, that is to say, this passion consists of every sort of exaggeration both in action and in speech, which, to the onlooker, is ever a source of amusement and comedy because of its divagation from all semblance of truth. Observe how Bacon classes love with envy:

" There be none of the affections which have been noted to fascinate, or bewitch, but love and envy."

He then makes this profound observation of envy, which is equally applicable to love :

" A man that is busy and inquisitive is commonly envious..... therefore it must needs be, that he taketh a kind of play pleasure in looking upon the fortunes of others." --essay Of Envy

This is written in the spirit of the text already quoted from Bacon,

"We are a sufficiently great theatre, one to the other."

That is to say, all life is a theatre, and it may be noted, that love, of all passions, is the one that attracts most attention from those within the circle, or theatre of its influence. People of all classes are everlastingly watching it, or contemplating it, or talking about it. For it brings with it other passions into play, such as envy, or jealousy, and often ends in the tragedies we read every day in the papers. In the 1st Book of the Advancement of Learning, Bacon once more quotes this saying with an apology which would seem to be pointed at himself:--

"Another fault incident commonly to learned men, which may be more probably defended than truly denied, is that they fail sometimes in applying themselves to particular persons, which want of exact application ariseth from two causes-- the one, because the largeness of their mind can hardly confine itself to dwell in the exquisite observation or examination of the nature and customs of one person; for it is a speech for a lover, and not for a wise man. We are sufficiently a great theatre to each other" (p. 23 1st Book Advancement of Learning)

It is very possible Bacon was thinking of Seneca, the dramatist, from whom he quotes this Latin saying ( to whom he compares himself in the De Augmentis of 1623), particularly as he mentions him in the preceding paragraph but one. But this passage appears as an apology written for Bacon himself, who was a learned man after the pattern of Demosthenes and Cicero, whom he has just previously cited. He is covertly telling us he is a lover of the theatre--of the contemplation of life as a stage, but that he is not wise to tell us so. In the 2nd book of the Advancement of Learning he again introduces some part of the above passage, and this time directly pointed at himself :

"My hope is that, if my extreme love to learning carry me too far, I may obtain the excuse of affection; for that it is not granted to man to love and be wise" (p.75 2nd book Advancement).

I should like to point out that the poet is compared with lover in the Midsummer's Night Dream, and in his essay Of Truth he says:

" But howsoever these things are thus in men's depraved judgments and affections, yet truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the love making or wooing of it, the knowledge of of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it,-- is the sovereign good of human nature."

and from :Midsummer Night Dream

"The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,
Are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold;
That is the madman. The Lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling doth glance
From heaven to earth, from earth to heaven.
And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things
Unknown; the poet's pen turns them to shapes,
And gives to airy nothing a local habitation
And a name." Act V. i.

Observe how Helen is compared to Cleopatra, and observe that we have in the lunatic's and poet's frenzy a hint for the divine madness connected with Bacchus, which was called mania, and which fury was sometimes the effect of wine. The lover, Bacon identifies with the madness ( in his essay Of Love--"mad degree of love"). But it is poetic creation through love that Bacon is really thinking of, such as Plato describes the love of wisdom, the begetting the truth upon the body of beauty.

It is somewhat strange to consider how the true character of Bacon's essay Of Truth has so long escaped discovery at the hands of critics-- I mean the mingling, in this essay, of Truth and Poetry, and their interrelationship after the manner (to borrow a title from the German poet, Goethe) of Warheit und Dichtung. For the entire essay is an apology of the veils of poetry--that is to say, for its shadows and outlines, its bare suggestions, its parabolical character, its complete reserve. What I mean will be best understood by a study of Bacon's introduction to the series of poetical and classical myths entitled The Wisdom of the Ancients, in which collection Bacon has endeavored to rationalize and explain away the shadows and veils in which the kernels of this ancient wisdom are enwrapped. His efforts to discover the true forms, hidden behind poetical fancy in these pieces, are just what he would have us apply to his theatre, with the help of his prose works. Just what Bacon, in his essay Of Truth , calls "a shadow of a lie," constitutes the outward poetical garb of all myth containing inner meaning. "Aesop's Fables" belong to this class of parable. The Fox and the Grapes , outwardly, is the shadow of a lie, which conveys ( and veils at the same time) the inner moral truth--"We affect to despise everything unattainable."

Men being for the most part of the nature of children in their intellects, are only held and interested in sensible objects, and in pictures, or emblems, which poetry can present to their imagination. Two objects are served by creative poetry that embodies wisdom in poetic imagery and parable. It serves to preserve and to reveal. Like the fly embalmed in amber, great truths may be handed down to posterity and preserved intact through barbarous ages. The secrets of a society of learned men can thus be transmitted to after times. This indeed is living art, and probably it has been carried out to an almost incredible degree of perfection and completeness in the art we are now discussing.

"And therefore in the infancy of learning, and in rude times, when those conceits which are now trivial were then new, the world was full of parables and similitudes; for else would men either have passed over without mark, or else rejected for paradoxes that which was offered, before they had understood or judged. So in divine learning, we see how frequent parables and tropes are. For it is a rule, that whatsoever science is not consonant to presuppositions, must pray in aid of similitude's." (2nd book Advancement of Learning, p. 153)

Tennyson once made the remark "that the world was the shadow of God," meaning that it not only argued , as all shadows do, a great light to produce shadow, but also concealed God. In Esdras the dead are said to "flee the shadow of the world," and "which are departed from the shadow of the world." So, in like manner, I would suggest, Bacon's theatre shadows a great rational interpretation, or revelation, with which latter Bacon has particularly identified his own unmasking in glory to man.

Bacon describes poesy (poetry) in respect of matter, (and not words), as, "one of the principal portions of learning, and is nothing else but feigned history , which may be styled as well in prose as verse" --Advancement , p.90. So in the play of As You Like It , "The truest poetry is the most feigning." That is to say, the shadow of the lie is only the envelope (Act III. ii) of the inward truth, or form, imprinted on it.

Schopenhauer called matter " a false truth," and in parabolic poetry (which is the "shadow of a lie"), the vehicle of truth is the veil which shadows forth the truth. Spiritual truths are always immeasurably greater than their vehicles of utterance, and are those forms, or philosophical ideas, which are conveyed by means of poetic myth and fable.

"Truth in closet words shall fail,
When truth embodied in a tale
Shall enter in at lowly doors."

More than half the force of language, especially of poetical language, consists in its hints, suggestions, half-lights, which its words do not directly imply, yet habitually convey indirectly. Bacon's essay Of Truth is, I consider, an apology for poetical fiction, and for the masking and mumming of his theatre, on the score of man's absolute love of lies, and hatred of truth. The modern love of novels is a very strong corroboration of this statement. Put a profound truth in the form of a problem novel and thousands will read it, attracted by its outward dress, whereas written as a treatise it would attract little attention! How many readers have Lord Bacon's works compared to the plays attributed to Shakespeare!

***********

---W.F.C. Wigston is the author of these books :

A New Study of Shakespeare. (An inquiry into the connection of the plays and poems, with the origin of the classical drama, and with the Platonic philosophy through the mysteries.) London, n.d. (1884), pp. 372.

Bacon, Shakespeare and the Rosicrucians. London, 1888. 8vo. Portraits.

Hermes Stella; or, Notes upon the Bacon Cipher. London, 1890. 8vo.

Francis Bacon, Poet, Prophet, Philosopher, versus Phantom Captain Shakespeare, the Rosicrucian Mask. London, 1891, pp.436. 8vo.

The Columbus of Literature. Chicago, 1892, pp. 217. 8vo.

Discoveries in the Bacon Problem. Edinburgh, 1893, pp. 14. 8vo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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