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Gesta Grayorum

[gestus: artificial gesture of an actor.]

Introduction by James Spedding

  [A] vacation gave [Francis Bacon] leisure for work, and Christmas brought festivities for recreation. And it happens luckily that some traces remain of the manner in which he improved both. It was on the 5th of December, 1599, that he commenced that "Promus of Formularies and Elegancies," of which I have given a particular account in the 'Literary Works;' in which may be traced (if I have read it right) the footprints of a journey in the mind over a large field of reading and meditation, with a view to fix the leading features in memory and store them for future use. And it was on the 29th of the same month that he was called in to assist in "recovering the lost honour of Gray's Inn," which had suffered the night before by the miscarriage of a Christmas revel.
    For the more serious labour I may refer the reader to the other part of this work, to which it more properly belongs. But a contribution to the Gray's Inn revels belongs unquestionably to the "occasional" department; and to be properly understood, must be taken in connexion with the surrounding circumstances. These are indeed set forth at full length in a tract which is not difficult to procure, having been reprinted in Nichols's 'Progresses of Queen Elizabeth.' But as Bacon's name does not appear upon the face of the narrative; and as his connexion with it, though sufficiently obvious, has never so far as I know been pointed out or suspected; I assume that the little story which I am going to tell (presenting as it does a curious and very picturesque illustration of the manners of the time and the humours of the people among whom all his early and middle life was spent) is not so familiar to the students of his works but that they will be glad to see it here.
      "I trust they will not mum nor mask nor sinfully revel" (so writes Lady Bacon to her son Anthony, on the 5th of December,) "at Gray's Inn. Who were sometime counted first, God grant they wane not daily and deserve to be named last." But it was too late for praying. The youth of Gray's Inn were already deep in sinful consultation. Their revels, in which they used to excel, had been intermitted for the last three or four years, and they were resolved to redeem the time by producing this year something out of the common way. Their device was to turn Gray's Inn, "with the consent and advice of the Readers and Ancients," into the semblance of a court and kingdom, and to entertain each other during the twelve days of Christmas licence with playing at kings and counsellors. They proceeded accordingly to elect a prince -- the Prince of Purpoole. They provided him with a Privy Council for advice in matters of state; with a presence-chamber for audience, and a council-chamber for business; with all officers of state, law, and household; with gentlemen pensioners to wait on his person, and a guard, with a captain of the guard, to defend it. They raised treasure for the support of his state and dignity, partly by a benevolence, which was granted by those who were present, and partly by "letters in the nature of privy seals" which were directed to those who were away. They sent to "their ancient allied friend, the Inner Temple," a formal communication of their proceedings, with request that an ambassador from that state might be sent to reside amongst them; which was with equal formality accorded, "as ancient amity and league required and deserved." On the 20th of December, the Prince with all his state, after the pattern of a royal procession exactly marshaled, proceeded to the great hall of Gray's Inn, and took his seat on the throne. The trumpets sounded thrice, the King-at-arms proclaimed his style and blazoned his arms; the Champion rode in in full armour and threw down his gage in defiance of all disputers; the Attorney made his speech of congratulation; the Solicitor recited the names of all homagers and tributaries, with the nature of their tenures and services (a recital which gave occasion to many jocose allusions, veiled under legal phraseology -- and many of them much in need of a veil to the manners, customs, and occupations of the several suburban localities), and summoned them to appear and do homage. A Parliament, which was to have been held, was given up, owing to the necessary absence of "some special officers;" but as a subsidy was obtained and a general pardon granted notwithstanding, the jest was rather improved perhaps than injured by the omission. The pardon was read at full length; an elaborate burlesque, beginning with a proclamation of free pardon for every kind of offense for which a name could be invented, and ending with a long list of cases excepted, which does in fact include every offense which could possibly be committed. Then the Prince, having made a short speech to his subjects, called his Master of the Revels, and the evening ended with dances.
    This was the first day's entertainment; and though the humour has lost its edge for us, it hit the fancy of the time so well and raised such great expectation that the performers were encouraged to enlarge their plan and raise their style. They resolved therefore (besides all this court-pomp and their daily sports among themselves) to have certain "grand nights," in which something special should be performed for the entertainment of strangers. But the same expectation which suggested the design spoiled the performance. For on the first of these "grand nights" (which was intended for the special honour of the Templarians), when the Ambassador had arrived in great state, and been conducted to the presence with sound of trumpet, and after interchange of elaborate compliments seated beside the Prince, and the entertainment was ready to begin before a splendid company of "lords, ladies, and worshipful personages that did expect some notable performance," -- the throng grew suddenly so great and the stage so crowded with beholders that there was not room enough for the actors; and nothing could be done. The ambassador and his train retired in discontent; and when the tumult partly subsided they were obliged (in default of those "very good inventions and conceipts" which had been intended) to content themselves with ordinary dancing and revelling; and when that was over, with "a Comedy of Errors (like to Plautus his Menechmus)," which "was played by the players." This performance seems to have been regarded as the crowning disgrace of this unfortunate Grand Night; a fact, by the way, indicating (if it were Shakespeare's play, as I suppose it was) either rich times or poor tastes; for the historian proceeds, "so that night was begun, and continued to the end, in nothing but confusion and errors; whereupon it was ever afterwards called the Night of Errors."
      This was on the 28th of December. The next night was taken up with a legal inquiry into the causes of those disorders. A commission of Oyer and Terminer was issued. A certain "sorcerer or conjurer that was supposed to be the cause of that confused inconvenience" was arraigned before a jury of twenty-four gentlemen, on several charges; of which the last was "that he had foisted a company of base and common fellows to make up our disorders with a play of errors and confusions." He met the charge by a counter-statement, set forth in a petition which was presented and read by the Master of Requests, showing that all was due to negligence on the part of the Council and great officers, and appealing to the Prince; who finding the allegations in the petition to be true, pardoned and released the prisoner; but finding them also to be offensive, as taxing the government, and therefore not proper to pass unpunished, ordered to the Tower (along with the Attorney and Solicitor, whose delinquencies it exposed) the Master of Requests, who had been acquainted with its contents.
    After this broad parody upon the administration of justice by the Crown in Council, they proceeded to "hold a great consultation for the recovery of their lost honour;" which ended in a resolution "that the Prince's Council should be reformed, and some graver conceipts should have their places, to advise upon those things that were propounded to be done afterward." And here it is that the story begins to bare an interest for us. It is most probable that one of these "graver conceipts" was Bacon himself. It is certain that an entertainment of a very superior kind was produced a few days after, in the preparation of which he took a principal part.
    Friday, the 3rd of January, was to be the night. "Divers plots and devices" were arranged. Order was taken to prevent overcrowding and confusion. A great number of great persons, among them the Lord Keeper, the Lord Treasurer, the Vice-Chamberlain, and several other Privy Councillors, were invited and came. When all were seated, the Prince came in full state and took his throne. The Ambassador from Templaria followed with his train, and was placed by the Prince's side; and the performance began, after the fashion of those entertainments, with a dumb-show; the object of which was to represent the reconciliation between Gray's Inn and the Temple, which had been disturbed by the Night of Errors.
    The curtain being withdrawn discovered the Arch-flamen of the Goddess of Amity standing at her altar, and round it nymphs and fairies singing hymns in her praise, and "making very pleasant melody with viols and voices." Then came in, pair by pair, all the heroic patterns of friendship, Theseus and Pirithous, Achilles and Patroclus, Pylades and Orestes, Scipio and Laelius, each pair offering incense upon the altar as they passed; "which shined and burned very clear without blemish." Last came Graius and Templarius, lovingly, arm in arm; but when they offered their incense the flame was choked with "troubled smoke and dark vapour," until the Arch-flamen performed certain mystical ceremonies and invocations, and the nymphs sang hymns of pacification, upon which the flame burnt up clearer than it had ever done before, and continued longer, and the Arch-flamen pronounced them to be as true and perfect friends as any of those others, and divined that their love would be perpetual; "and so with sweet and pleasant melody the curtain was drawn as it was at the first."
    The show being ended, the Prince in token of satisfaction invested the Ambassador and twenty-four of his retinue, with the Collar of the Knighthood of the Helmet; upon which the King-at-Arms, -- having first declared how the Prince had instituted this Order in memory of the arms he bore, which were given to one of his ancestors for saving the life of the then sovereign, "in regard that as the helmet defendeth the chiefest part of the body, the head, so did he then defend the head of the state," -- proceeded to read the articles of the Order; which they were all to vow to keep, each kissing the helmet as he took his vow.
      These articles present in a strain of playful satire so elegant an illustration of the fashions and humours of those days, that I shall transcribe them at length; the rather as forming part of an entertainment in the preparation of which Bacon certainly had a hand, though not, I think, in the execution of this part of it.
      Imprimis, Every Knight of this Honourable Order, whether he be a natural subject or stranger born, shall promise never to bear arms against his Highness's sacred person, nor his state; but to assist him in all his lawful wars and maintain all his just pretences and titles; especially his Highness' title to the land of the Amazons and the Cape of Good Hope.
    Item, No Knight of this Order shall, in point of honour, resort to any grammar-rules out of the books de Duello, or such-like; but shall out of his own brave mind and natural courage deliver himself from scorns, as to his own discretion shall seem convenient.
    Item, No Knight of this Order shall be inquisitive towards any lady or gentlewoman, whether her beauty be English or Italian, or whether with care-taking she have added half a foot to her stature; but shall take all to the best. Neither shall any Knight of the aforesaid Order presume to affirm that faces were better twenty years ago than they are at this present time, except such knight have passed three climacterical years.
    Item, Every Knight of this Order is bound to perform all requisite and manly service, be it night-service or otherwise, as the case requireth, to all ladies and gentlewomen, beautiful by nature or by art; ever offering his aid without any demand thereof; and if in case he fail so to do, he shall be deemed a match of disparagement to any of his Highness's widows or wards-female; and his Excellency shall in justice forbear to make any tender of him to any such ward or widow.
    Item, No Knight of this Order shall procure any letters from his Highness to any widow or maid, for his enablement or commendation to be advanced in marriage; but all prerogative, wooing set apart, shall for ever cease as to any of these Knights, and shall be left to the common laws of this land, declared by the statute Quia electiones liberae esse debent.
    Item, No Knight of this honourable Order, in case he shall grow into decay, shall procure from his Highness [for his] relief and sustentation any monopolies or privileges, except only these kinds following; that is to say, upon every tobacco-pipe, not being one foot wide. Upon every lock that is worn, not being seven foot long. Upon every health that is drunk, not being of a glass five foot deep. And upon every maid in his Highness' province of Islington, continuing a virgin after the age of fourteen years, contrary to the use and custom in that place always had and observed.
    Item, No Knight of this Order shall have any more than one mistress, for whose sake he shall be allowed to wear three colours. But if he will have two mistresses, then must he wear six colours; and so forward, after the rate of three colours to a mistress.
    Item, No Knight of this Order shall put out any money upon strange returns or performances to be made by his own person; as to hop up the stairs to the top of St. Paul's without intermission; or any other such-like agilities or endurances; except it may appear that the same performances or practices do enable him to some service or employment; as if he do undertake to go a journey backward, the same shall be thought to enable him to be an ambassador into Turkey.
    Item, No Knight of this Order that hath had any licence to travel into foreign countries, be it by map, card, sea, or land, and hath returned from thence, shall presume upon the warrant of a traveler to report any extra ordinary varieties; as that he hath ridden through Venice on horseback post, or that in December he sailed by the Cape of Norway, or that he hath traveled over the most part of the countries of Geneva, or such-like hyperboles, contrary to the statute Propterea quod qui diversos terrarum ambitus errant et vagantur, etc.
    Item, Every Knight of this Order shall do his endeavour to be much in the books of the worshipful citizens of the principal city next adjoining to the territories of Purpoole; and none shall unlearnedly, or without booking, pay ready money for any wares or other things pertaining to the gallantness of his Honour's Court; to the ill example of others and utter subversion of credit betwixt man and man.
    Item, Every Knight of this Order shall apply himself to some or other virtuous quality or ability of learning, honour, and arms: and shall not think it sufficient to come into his Honour's presence-chamber in good apparel only, or to be able to keep company at play and gaming. For such it is already determined that they be put and taken for implements of household, and are placed in his Honour's inventory.
    Item, Every Knight of this Order shall endeavour to add conference and experience to reading; and therefore shall not only read and peruse Guizo, the French Academy, Galiatto the Courtier, Plutarch, the Arcadia, and the Neoterical writers, from time to time; but also frequent the theatre and such-like places of experience; and resort to the better sort of ordinaries for conference, whereby they may not only become accomplished with civil conversation and able to govern a table with discourse; but also sufficient, if need be, to make epigrams, emblems, and other devices appertaining to his Honour's learned revels.
    Item, No Knight of this Order shall give out what gracious words the Prince hath given him, nor leave word at his chamber, in case any come to speak with him, that he is above with his Excellency, nor cause his man when he shall be in any public assembly to call him suddenly to go to the Prince, nor cause any packet of letters to be brought at dinner or supper time, nor say that he had the refusal of some great office, nor satisfy suitors to say his Honour is not in any good disposition, nor make any narrow observation of his Excellency's nature and fashions, as if he were inward privately with his Honour; contrary to the late inhibition of selling of smoke.
    Item, No Knight of this Order shall be armed for the safeguard of his countenance with a pike in his mouth in the nature of a tooth-picker, or with any weapon in his hand, be it stick, plume, wand, or any such-like: Neither shall he draw out of his pocket any book or paper, to read, for the same intent; neither shall he retain any extraordinary shrug, nod, or any familiar motion or gesture, to the same end; for his Highness of his gracious clemency is disposed to lend his countenance to all such Knights as are out of countenance.
    Item, No Knight of this Order that weareth fustian, cloth, or such statute-apparel, for necessity, shall pretend to wear the same for the new fashion's sake.
    Item, No Knight of this Order in walking the streets or other places of resort, shall bear his hands in his pockets of his great rolled hose with the Spanish wheel, if it be not either to defend his hands from the cold, or else to guard forty shillings sterling, being in the same pockets.
    Item, No Knight of this Order shall lay to pawn his Collar of Knighthood for an hundred pounds; and if he do, he shall be ipso facto discharged; and it shall be lawful for any man whatsoever that will retain the same Collar for the sum aforesaid, forthwith to take upon him the said Knighthood, by reason of a secret virtue in the Collar; for in this Order it is holden for a certain rule that the Knighthood followeth the Collar, and not the Collar the Knighthood.
    Item, That no Knight of this Order shall take upon him the person of a malcontent, in going with a more private retinue than appertaineth to his degree, and using but certain special obscure company, and commending none but men disgraced and out of office; and smiling at good news, as if he knew something that were not true; and making odd notes of his Highness' reign, and former Government; or saying that his Highness' sports were well sorted with a Play of Errors; and such-like pretty speeches of jest, to the end that he may more safely utter his malice against his Excellency's happiness; upon pain to be present at all his Excellency's most glorious triumphs.
    Lastly, All the Knights of this honourable Order and the renowned Sovereign of the same, shall yield all homage, loyalty, unaffected admiration, and all humble service, of what name or condition soever, to the incomparable Empress of the fortunate Island.
    The ceremony of investiture was followed by a "variety of consort-music" and a running banquet served by the Knights of the Helmet who were not strangers: and so this part of the entertainment ended.
      Next follows the part in which we are more especially concerned, -- that part for the better illustration of which I have thought it worth while to tell the story.
      This being done (proceeds the narrator) there was a table set in the midst of the stage before the Prince's seat; and there sate six of the Lords of his Privy Council, which at that time were appointed to attend in Council the Prince's leisure. Then the Prince spake to them in this manner: --

My Lords,
    We have made choice of you, our most faithful and favoured counsellors, to advise with you not any particular action of our state, but in general of the scope and end whereunto you think it most for our honour and the happiness of our state that our government should be rightly bent and directed. For we mean not to do as many princes use, which conclude of their ends out of their own humours and take counsel only of the means, abusing for the most part the wisdom of their counsellors [to] set them in the right way to the wrong place. But we, desirous to leave as little to chance or humour as may be, do now give you liberty and warrant to set before us to what part, as it were, the ship of our government should be bounden. And this we require you to do without either respect to our affections or your own; neither guessing what is most agreeable with our disposition, wherein we may easily deceive you, for Princes' hearts are inscrutable; nor on the other side putting the case by yourselves, as if you would present us with a robe whereof measure were taken by yourselves. Thus you perceive our mind and we expect your answer.
[@ Works VIII, 325-322]

The First Counsellor, advising
the Exercise of War

The Second Counsellor, advising
the Study of Philosophy

The Third Counsellor, advising
Eternizement and Fame by Buildings and Foundations

The Fourth Counsellor, advising
Absoluteness of State and Treasure

The Fifth Counsellor, advising him
Virtue and a gracious Government

The Sixth Counsellor, persuading
Pastimes and Sports

The Prince's Answer and Conclusion to
the Speeches of the Counsellors

My Lords,
    We thank you for your good opinions; which have been so well set forth, as we should think ourselves not capable of good counsel if in so great variety of persuading reasons we should suddenly resolve. Meantime it shall not be amiss to make choice of the last, and upon more deliberation to determine of the rest; and what time we spend in long consulting, in the end we will gain by prompt and speedy executing.

    The Prince (proceeds the reporter) having ended his speech, arose from his seat and took that occasion of revelling. So he made choice of a Lady to dance withal; so likewise did the Lord Ambassador, the Pensioners, and Courtiers attending the Prince. The rest of that night was passed in those pastimes. The performance of which night's work being very carefully and orderly handled, did so delight and please the nobles and the other auditory, that thereby Gray's Inn did not only recover their lost credit and quite take away all the disgrace that the former Night of Errors had incurred; but got instead thereof so great honour and applause as either the good reports of our honourable friends that were present could yield, or we ourselves desire.

    Thus ended one of the most elegant Christmas entertainments, probably, that was ever presented to an audience of statesmen and courtiers. That Bacon had a hand in the general design is merely a conjecture; we know that he had a taste in such things and did sometimes take a part in arranging them; and the probability seemed strong enough to justify a more detailed account of the whole evening's work than I should otherwise have thought fit. But that the speeches of the six councillors were written by him, and by him alone, no one who is at all familiar with his style either of thought or expression will for a moment doubt. They carry his signature in every sentence. And they have a much deeper interest for us than could have been looked for in such a sportive exercise belonging to so forgotten a form of idleness. All these councillors speak with Bacon's tongue and out of Bacon's brain; but the second and fifth speak out of his heart and judgment also. The propositions of the latter contain an enumeration of those very reforms in state and government which throughout his life he was most anxious to see realized. In those of the former may be traced, faintly but unmistakably, a first hint of his great project for the restoration of the dominion of knowledge, -- a first draft of "Solomon's House," -- a rudiment of that history of universal nature, which was to have formed the third part of the 'Instauratio,' and is in my judgment (as I have elsewhere explained at large) the principal novelty and great characteristic feature of the Baconian philosophy. This composition is valuable therefore, not only as showing with what fidelity his mind when left to itself pointed always, in sport as in earnest, towards the great objects which he had set before him, but also as giving us one of the very few certain dates by which we can measure the progress of his philosophical speculations in these early years.
    It remains for me to give what account I can of the narrative in which it is preserved. It is a quarto pamphlet of 68 pages; printed in 1685, for "W. Canning, at his shop in the Temple Cloisters;" with a dedication to Matthew Smith, Esq., Comptroller of the Inner Temple; apparently from a manuscript written by some member of Gray's Inn who was an eye-witness of what he relates; and bearing the title "Gesta Grayorum, or the History of the high and mighty Prince, Henry, Prince of Purpoole, etc., who reigned and died A.D. 1594." Whom it was by, where and when it was found, how it came into the publisher's hands, we are not informed. We can only gather from the dedication that it was found by accident, and printed without alteration. The dedication is signed W. C., which stands, I presume, for W. Canning, the printer. But Nichols, who re-printed the pamphlet (without the dedication) in his 'Progresses of Queen Elizabeth' (III. 262), tells us that "the publisher was Mr. Henry Keepe, who published the 'Monuments of Westminster.'"
    It is a pity that the publisher, whoever he was, did not tell us a little more about the manuscript, though it is probable enough that he had not much more to tell. Nothing is more natural than that such a narrative should have been written at the time for the amusement and satisfaction of the parties concerned; should have been laid by and forgotten; and found again Iying by itself, without anybody to tell its story for it. There is more of it; the historian proceeding to record other achievements of the Prince of Purpoole, whose reign was prolonged beyond the days of ordinary licence, and did not end before Shrove Tuesday. But I look in vein for any further traces of Bacon's hand.
[@ Works VIII, 341-43]