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Keeper. His mother was a very learned woman. Francis Bacon was carefully brought up at home until he was twelve years old. He then went to Cambridge, and had completed his studies by the time he was sixteen years old.
In 1576 he went abroad; and upon the death of his father in 1579, returned to England; and, finding himself in straitened circumstances, unwillingly took to the study of the law, and became a member of Gray's Inn.
He seems to have had but little practice as a barrister, and to have vainly solicited for Government employment, and been in embarrassed circumstances during the whole of Queen Elizabeth's reign. With the accession of James in 1603, his prospects improved; he was appointed SolicitorGeneral in 1607, and rapidly rose, until eventually he became Lord Chancellor, from which office he was removed, with disgrace, in 1621, and died in 1626.
The object in stating these biographies is, to show how identical were the periods in which these two men flourished. If Shakespeare wrote these plays, he most probably did so between the years 1586 and 1611; if Bacon wrote them, he most probably did so between the years 1580 and 1607. Having stated what Pope and Coleridge predicate of the qualifications of the author of these plays, we should hardly expect to recognise in a person, born and brought up as we have represented Shakespeare to have been, the probable possessor of such rast and varied acquirements.
WIT AND POETIC FACULTY OF BACON
In the following extracts from that able essayist Mr. Macaulay, anatomising and describing the genius and character of Bacon, the reader will recognise peculiarities bearing a strong affinity to those which characterise these plays. The extent and variety of Bacon's knowledge are so well known and universally admitted, that it is unnecessary to dwell upon that point, though the beautiful language and imagery with which Mr. Macaulay has illustrated it, might well excuse a quotation.
Of his wit he says :-"In wit, if by wit be meant the power of perceiving analogies between things which appear to have nothing in common, he never had an equal; not even Cowley-not even the author of Hudibras. Indeed he possessed this faculty, or rather it possessed him, to a morbid degree. When he abandoned himself to it without reserve, the feats which he performed were not only admirable, but portentous and almost shocking. On those occasions we marvel at him as clowns on a fair-day marvel at a juggler, and can hardly help thinking the devil must be in him. These, however, were feats in which his ingenuity now and then wandered, with scarcely any other object than to astonish and amuse. But it occasionally happened, that when he was engaged in grave and profound investigations, his wit obtained the mastery over all his other faculties, and led him into absurdities, into which no dull man could possibly have fallen.” After giving several instances, Mr. Macaulay proceeds thus :-“The truth is, his mind was wonderfully quick in perceiving analogies of all sorts. But, like several eminent men whom we could name, both living and dead, he sometimes appeared strangely deficient in the power of distinguishing rational from fanciful analogies—analogies which are arguments, from analogies which are mere illustrations."
After showing how this want of discrimination has led to many strange political speculations, Mr. Vacaulay proceeds :
“It is curious that Bacon has mentioned this very kind of delusion among the idola specus, and has mentioned it in language which we are inclined to think, shows that he knew himself to be subject to it. It is the vice, he tells us, of subtle minds to attach too much importance to slight distinctions; it is the vice, on the other hand, of high and discursive intellects to attach too much importance to slight resemblances; and he adds, that when this last propensity is indulged to excess, it leads men to catch at shadows instead of substances. Yet we cannot wish that Bacon's wit had been less luxuriant; for, to say nothing of the pleasure it affords, it was in the vast majority of cases employed for the purpose of making obscure truth plain, of making repulsive truth attractive, of fixing in the mind for ever, truth which might otherwise have left but a transient impression.”
To show the identity of this wit with that exhibited in the plays attributed to Shakespeare, we here insert the observations of M. Guizot upon Shakespeare *:
“The poet's (Shakespeare's) gaze embraced an immense field, and his imagination, traversing it with marvellous rapidity, perceived a thousand distant and singular relations between the objects
* Guizot's Shakespeare and his Times, page 115.