Tributes to Sir Francis Bacon
given by his Contemporaries

 

To the Royall Ingenious and All-learned Knight, Sir Francis Bacon.

Thy bounty and the beauty of thy witt
Compris’d in lists of Law and learned Arts,
Each making thee for great Imployment fitt,
Which now thou hast (though short of thy deserts,)
Compells my pen to let fall shining Inke
And to bedew the Baies that deck thy Front,
And to thy Health in Helicon to drinke,
As to her Bellamour the Muse is wont,
For thou dost her embosom; and dost use
Her company for sport twixt grave affaires:
So utter’st Law the livelyer through thy Muse.
And for that all thy Notes are sweetest Aires;
My Muse thus notes thy worth in ev’ry line,
With ynke which thus she sugars; so, to shine.

John Davies of Hereford, Scourge of Folly (c.1610).

And truly I have known a great number whom I much value, many whom I admire, but none who hath so astonished me and, as it were, ravished my senses, to see so many and so great parts which in other men were wont to be incompatible, united, and in that eminent degree in one sole person. I know not whether this truth will find easy belief… The matter I report is so well understood in England, that every man knows and acknowledges as much, nay hath been an eye and ear witness whereof; nor if I should expatiate upon this subject, should I be held a flatterer, but rather a suffragan to truth…

Praise is not confined to the qualities of his intellect, but applies as well to those which are matters of the heart, the will and moral virtue; being a man both sweet in his ways and conversation, grave in his judgments, invariable in his fortunes, splendid in his expenses, a friend unalterable to his friends, an enemy to no man, a most indefatigable servant to the King, and a most earnest lover of the Public, having all the thoughts of that large heart of his set upon adorning the age in which he lives, and benefiting, as far as possible, the whole human race. And I can truly say (having had the honour to know him for many years as well when he was in his lesser fortunes as now he stands at the top and in the full flower of his greatness) that I never yet saw any trace in him of a vindictive mind, whatever injury was done to him, nor ever heard him utter a word to any man’s disadvantage which seemed to proceed from personal feeling against the man, but only (and that too very seldom) from judgment made of him in cold blood. It is not his greatness that I admire, but his virtue; it is not the favours I have received from him (infinite though they be) that have thus enthralled and enchained my heart, but his whole life and character; which are such that, if he were of an inferior condition I could not honour him the less, and if he were my enemy, I should not the less love and endeavour to serve him.

Sir Tobie Matthew, Dedicatory Letter prefacing an Italian
translation of Bacon’s Essays and Wisdom of Ancients (1617).

To the Most High Chancellor of all England.
FR. BA. [Francis Bacon]
How great thou stand’st before us, whether the thorny volumes of the Law
Or the Academy, or the sweet Muses call thee, O Bacon!
How thy prudence rules over great affairs!
And thy whole tongue is moist with celestial nectar!
How well combinest thou merry wit with silent gravity!
How firmly thy love stands by those once admitted to it.

Thomas Campion, Epigrammatum. Lib II.(1619). Translation from the Latin.

The most prodigious wit, that ever I knew of my nation, and of this side of the sea, is of your Lordship’s name though he be known by another.

Sir Tobie Matthew, Letter to Lord Bacon (1619)

Hail, happy Genius of this ancient pile!
How comes it all things so about thee smile?
The fire, the wine, the men! and in the midst,
Thou stand’st as if some Mystery thou did’st!

Ben Jonson, Ode for Lord Bacon’s Birthday (1621) , publ. in Underwood, No.51.

So did Philosophy, entangled in the subtleties of Schoolmen seek Bacon as a deliverer.... He renewed her, walking humbly in the socks of Comedy. After that, more elaborately he rises on the loftier buskin of Tragedy....

R.P., Manes Verulamiani (1626), Elegy 4

Let expediency consider the better part of counsel, but add, a concealed poet from Ithaca, and you hold all.

E.F., Manes Verulamiani (1626), Elegy 17

Muses pour forth your perennial waters in lamentations, and let Apollo shed tears.... The very nerve of genius, the marrow of persuasion, the golden stream of eloquence, the precious gem of concealed literature, the noble Bacon (ah! the relentless warp of the three sisters) has fallen by the fates. O how am I in verse like mine to commemorate you, sublime Bacon! and those glorious memorials of all the ages composed by your genius and by Minerva.

R. C., T. C., Manes Verulamiani (1626), Elegy 9

And you, who were able to immortalise the Muses, could you die yourself, O Bacon?

R.L., Manes Verulamiani (1626), Elegy 29

You have filled the world with your writings, and the ages with your fame.

C.D., Manes Verulamiani (1626), Elegy 24

Finally he [Bacon] dies full of an unusually rich vein of arts, and dying demonstrates how extensive is art, how contracted is life, how everlasting fame; he who was in our sphere the brilliant Light-Bearer, and trod great paths of glory, passes, and fixed in his own orb shines refulgent.

Anon., Manes Verulamiani (1626), Elegy 25

The day-star of the Muses has set before his hour!

Anon., Manes Verulamiani (1626), Elegy 18

The ardour of his noble heart could bear no longer that you, divine Minerva, should be despised. His god-like pen restored your wonted honour and as another Apollo dispelled the clouds that hid you. But he dispelled also the darkness which murky antiquity and blear-eyed old age of former times had brought about; and his super-human sagacity instituted new methods and tore away the labyrinthine windings, but gave us his own. Certainly it is clear that the crown of ancient sages had not such penetrating eyes. They were like Phoebus rising in the East, he like the same resplendent at noon..... They begot the infant muses, he the adult. They were parents of mortal muses, he produced goddesses...... Pallas too, now arrayed in a new robe, paces forth, as a snake shines when it has put off its old skin.

Thomas Randolf, Manes Verulamiani (1626), Elegy 32.

When he [Bacon] perceived that the arts were held by no roots, and like seed scattered on the surface of the soil were withering away, he taught the Pegasean arts to grow, as grew the spear of Quirinus swiftly into a laurel tree.

Thomas Randolf, Manes Verulamiani (1626), Elegy 32.

Is it thus falls the rarest glory of the Aonian band? and do we decree to entrust seed to the Aonian fields? Break pens, tear up writings, if the dire goddesses may justly act so. Alas! what a tongue is mute! what eloquence ceases! Whither have departed the nectar and ambrosia of your genius? How is it happened to us, the disciples of the Muses, that Apollo, the leader of our choir, should die?

John Williams, Manes Verulamiani (1626), Elegy 12

If none but the worthy should mourn your death, O Bacon! none, trust me, none will there be. Lament now sincerely, O Clio! and sisters of Clio! Ah, the tenth Muse and glory of the choir has perished. Ah, never before has Apollo himself been truly unhappy!

Anon., Manes Verulamiani (1626), Elegy 20.

Bacon.... a muse more rare than the nine Muses.

Samuel Collins, Manes Verulamiani (1626), Elegy 2.

You have written, O Bacon! the history of the life and death of us all.... Nay, give place, O Greeks! give place, Maro, first in Latin story. Supreme both in eloquence and writing, under every head renowned....

Anon., Manes Verulamiani (1626), Elegy 16.

For if venerable Virtue and the wreaths of Wisdom make an Ancient, you [Bacon] were older than Nestor.

Gawen Nash, Manes Verulamiani (1626), Elegy 27.

Think you, foolish traveller, that the leader of the choir of the Muses and of Phoebus is interred in cold marble? Away, you are deceived. The Verulamium star now glitters in ruddy Olympus....

Anon., Manes Verulamiani (1626), Elegy 23.

Some there are though dead live in marble, and trust all their duration to long lasting columns; others shine in bronze, or are beheld in yellow gold, and deceiving themselves think they deceive the fates. Another division of men surviving in a numerous offspring, like Niobe irreverent, despise the mighty gods; but your fame adheres not to sculptured columns, nor is read on the tomb, ‘Stay, traveller, your steps’...

Thomas Vincent, Manes Verulamiani (1626), Elegy 7.

If any progeny recalls their sire, not of the body is it, but born, so to speak, of the brain, as Minerva’s from Jove’s...

Thomas Vincent, Manes Veulamiani (1626), Elegy 7.

to
True Nobility,
and tryde learning,
beholden
To no Mountaine for Eminence,
nor Supportment for Height, Francis,
Lord Verulam, and Viscount St,
Albanes.
0 Give me leave to pull the Curtaine by
That clouds thy Worth in such obscurity.
Good Seneca, stay but a while thy bleeding,
T’ accept what I received at thy Reading:
Here I present it in a solemne strayne,
And thus I pluckt the Curtayne backe again.

Thomas Powell, Dedication, Attourney's Academy (1630)

Yet there happened in my time one noble speaker who was full of gravity in his speaking; his language, where he could spare or pass by a jest, was nobly censorious. No man ever spake more neatly, more pressly, more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness, in what he uttered. No member of his speech but consisted of his own graces. His hearers could not cough or look aside from him without loss. He commanded where he spoke, and had his judges angry or pleased at his devotion. No man had their affections more in his power. The fear of every man that heard him was lest he should make an end…

But the learned and able (though unfortunate) successor [Bacon] is he who hath filled up all numbers, and performed that in our tongue which may be compared or preferred either to insolent Greece, or haughty Rome. In short, within his view, and about his times, were all the wits born that could honour a language, or help study. Now things daily fall: wits grow downward, and Eloquence grows backward. So that he may be named and stand as the mark and acme of our language…

My conceit of his Person was never increased toward him by his place or honours. But I have and do reverence him for the greatness that was only proper to himself, in that he seemed to me ever, by his work, one of the greatest men and most worthy of admiration that had been in many ages. In his adversity I ever prayed that God would give him strength: for greatness he could not want. Neither could I condole in a word or syllable for him, as knowing no accident could do harm to virtue, but rather help to make it manifest.

Ben Jonson, Discoveries (1641), p 102.

Not but that I may defend the attempt I have made upon Poetry by the examples, not to trouble you with history, of many wise and worthy persons of our times; as Sir Philip Sydney, Sir Fra. Bacon, Cardinal Perron, the ablest of his countrymen, and the former Pope who, they say, instead of the triple crown wore sometimes the poet’s ivy as an ornament perhaps of lesser weight and trouble. But Madam, these Nightingales sung only in the Spring, it was the diversion of their youth.

Preface to Waller’s Poems (1645).

It will go near to pose any other nation of Europe, to muster out in any age, four men, who in so many respects should excel four such as we are able to show them: Cardinal Wolsey, Sir Thomas More, Sir Philip Sydney and Sir Francis Bacon. The fourth was a creature of incomparable abilities of mind, of a sharp and catching apprehension, large and faithful memory, plentiful and sprouting invention, deep and solid judgement, for as such as might concern the understanding part. A man so rare in knowledge, of so many several kinds endued with the facility and felicity of expressing it in all so elegant, significant, so abundant, and yet so choice and ravishing a way of words, of metaphors and allusions as, perhaps, the world hath not seen, since it was a world.

Tobie Matthew, Preface to his Collection of Letters (published 1660).

And those who have true skill in the works of the Lord Verulam, like great Masters in Painting, can tell by the Design, the Strength, the way of Colouring, whether he was the Author of this or the other Piece, though his Name be not to it.

Archbishop Tenison, Baconiana or Certaine Genuine Remains of Sir Francis Bacon (1679).

 

The Francis Bacon Research Trust