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And we have wits to read, and praise to give. That I not mixe thee so, my braine excuses ;
I meane with great, but disproportion'd Muses : For, if I thought my judgement were of yeeres,
I should commit thee surely with thy peeres, And tell, how farre thou didst our Lily out-shine,
Or sporting Kyd, or Marlowe's mighty line. And though thou hadst small Latine, and lesse Greeke,
From thence to honour thee, I would not seeke For names; but call forth thund'ring Æschilus,
Euripides, and Sophocles to us,
To life againe, to heare thy Buskin tread,
Leave thee alone, for the comparison
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
To whom all Scenes of Europe homage owe. He was not of an age, but for all time!
And all the Muses still were in their prime, When like Apollo he came forth to warme
Our eares, or like a Mercury to charme! Nature her selfe was proud of his designes,
And joy'd to weare the dressing of his lines ! Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
As, since, she will vouchsafe no other Wit. The merry Greeke, tart Aristophanes,
Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not please ; But antiquated, and deserted lye
As they were not of Nature's family. Yet must I not give Nature all: Thy Art,
My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part. For though the Poet's matter, Nature be,
His Art doth give the fashion. And, that he, Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muses’ anvile: turne the same,
(And himselfe with it) that he thinkes to frame;
For a good Poet's made, as well as borne.
Lives in his issue, even so the race
In his well-turned, and true-filed lines :
As brandish't at the eyes of Ignorance.
To see thee in our waters yet appeare,
That so did take Eliza, and our James !
Advanc'd, and made a Constellation there!
Or influence, chide or cheere the drooping Stage ;
BEN IONson. These lines appear to be capable of a double meaning. We do not at all mean to contend that they in any way prove that Bacon was the author of these plays, but only that they do not afford that direct evidence in favour of Shakespeare which might be expected; and that some of the expressions are clearly susceptible of being applied to Bacon.
Not to dilate upon the exordium, the early lines of which appear to express something of an excuse for praising the book rather than the individual,
we proceed at once to the invocation. That we may not be charged with anything like special pleading, or a desire to deceive, we admit that the lines and phrases selected will be such as seem best to favour the theory we are advocating.
Soul of the age !
My Shakespeare-rise ! “Soul of the age” seems a term more applicable to Bacon than to Shakespeare; whilst the possessive pronoun “my,” added to Shakespeare, may serve to render his invocation applicable to either the one or the other. The lines,
Thou art a monument without a tomb,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give, seem much more applicable to a living than to a deceased person.
And though thou hast small Latin and less Greek,
The first of these lines has been wrested in every possible way, to make it applicable to William Shakespeare, without success; and though at first sight it might seem even less applicable to Bacon, upon investigation the reverse will be found to be
There is reason to suppose that Bacon was not greatly proficient in the Greek language, but that he was well acquainted with Latin there can be no doubt: he probably could speak it with fluency, But in that age, when, as has been well observed, Latin occupied the place which French now occupies, and every one who was educated at all, must, of necessity, have been classically educated, a man might have a very considerable knowledge of Latin and Greek, and yet be pronounced by so finished and critical a scholar as Ben Jonson undoubtedly was, to have “small Latin and less Greek.” The observation, and the mode of introducing it in the midst of a panygeric, are highly characteristic of Jonson; and it is just such a hit as he would delight to bestow upon a living great man, whom he considered his inferior in scholarship. That there is some truth in it, is confirmed by contemporary statements; for in Bacon's life in the Biographia Britannica, there is this note : -“Amelot, in his Memoires Historiques, tom. i. page 361, has asserted, upon the pretended authority of Casaubon, that Lord Bacon did not understand Latin. This is as evident a falsehood as any which is to be met with in Amelot's whole book. If there be any truth in Casaubon having said that Bacon did not understand Latin, he must have meant that he did not understand it critically, as he himself did.” This admission is all that we require. We do not undertake to prove that Bacon had “small Latin and less Greek,” but simply to suggest, that these lines might possibly refer to him. Shaw, in his Outlines of General Literature, says of Bacon :-"The Latin style is in the highest degree, concise, vigorous, and accurate, though by no means free from obscurity, and, of course, in no way to be considered as a model of pure Latinity.” Macaulay and others speak of Bacon's “crampt Latin.”
Or when thy socks were on,
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come. Ben Jonson, in his Discoveries, uses these very words in reference to Bacon. Writing of the able men of his day, he says :-“Sir Henry Saville, grave and truly lettered; Sir Edwin Sandys, excellent in both; Lord Egerton, a grave and great orator, and best when he was provoked. But his learned and able (but unfortunate) successor, is he that hath filled up all numbers, and performed that