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Of Tribute

Introduction by James Spedding

  [A]s Essex aspired to distinction in many ... ways, so Bacon studied in many ... ways to help him: among the rest by contributing to those fanciful pageants or "devices," as they were called, with which it was the fashion of the time to entertain the Queen on festive occasions. On the anniversary of her coronation in 1595, we happen to know positively (though only by the concurrence of two accidents) that certain speeches unquestionably written by Bacon were delivered in a device presented by Essex: and I strongly suspect that two of the most interesting among his smaller pieces were drawn up for some similar performance in the year 1592. I mean those which are entitled "Mr. Bacon in Praise of Knowledge" and "Mr. Bacon's Discourse in Praise of his Sovereign." They were found among the papers submitted to Stephens by Lord Oxford, and printed by Locker in the supplement to his second collection in 1734. The MSS. are still to be seen in the British Museum; fair copies in an old hand, with the titles given above; but no further explanation. My reason for suspecting that they were composed for some masque, or show, or other fictitious occasion, is partly that the speech in praise of knowledge professes to have been spoken in "a conference of pleasure," and the speech in praise of Elizabeth appears by the opening sentence to have been preceded by three others, one of which was in praise of knowledge {"No praise of magnanimity, nor of love, nor of knowledge, can intercept her praise that planteth and nourisheth magnanimity by her example, love by her person, and knowledge by the peace and serenity of her times."}; -- partly that, earnest and full of matter as they both are (the one containing the germ of the first book of the Novum Organum, the other of the "Observations on a Libel," which are nothing less than a substantial historical defence of the Queen's government), there is nevertheless in the style of both a certain affectation and rhetorical cadence, traceable in Bacon's other compositions of this kind, and agreeable to the taste of the time, but so alien to his own individual taste and natural manner, that there is no single feature by which his style is more specially distinguished, wherever he speaks in his own person, whether formally or familiarly, whether in the way of narrative, argument, or oration, than the total absence of it. That these pieces were both composed for some occasion of compliment, more or less fanciful, I feel very confident; and if it should ever appear that about the autumn of 1592 (the date to which the historical allusions in the discourse in praise of Elizabeth point most nearly), a "device" was exhibited at Court in which three speakers came forward in turn, each extolling his own farourite virtue (a form which Bacon affected on these occasions, as will appear hereafter in two notable examples), -- the first delivering an oration in praise of magnanimity, the second of love, the third of knowledge, -- and then a fourth came in with an oration in praise of the Queen, as combining in herself the perfection of all three; I should feel little doubt that the pieces before us were composed by Bacon for that exhibition. Unfortunately we have no detailed account of the celebration of the Queen's day in 1592; we only know that it was "more solemnized than ever, and that through my Lord of Essex his device: who, contrary to all the Lords' expectation, came in the morning to the presence, and so to her Majesty's presence, in his collar of Esses, a thing unwonted and unlooked for, and yet hereupon suddenly taken up and used with great liking and contentment of her Highness." The reporter (being a strict Puritan and having no taste for "devices") adds no particulars; and I have not met with any further information bearing upon my conjecture, except an incidental expression in another letter, which only implies that Bacon had about this time been attending the Court. Henry Gosnold, a young lawyer of Gray's Inn, writes on the 28th of November to Anthony Bacon, whom he had just left at Gorhambury:
  Mr. F. Bacon is, maulgre the Court, your kind brother and mine especial friend. The joy he conceived at the report of my Lady's welfare, and the sorrow of mine undersong concerning your weak estate, called the welcomeness of my news in dispute. He offers to accommodate you at Gray's Inn, the rather because you love low and warm....   
    What little we do know of the facts therefore is compatible with my conjecture. Essex adorned the triumphs of the 17th of November, 1592, with some distinguished "device," and Bacon was about the Court. If any news-letter giving an account of the solemnities should turn up, it will probably settle the question one way or other. In the meantime, this is the proper place for the Discourse in praise of the Queen, being the date which the several allusions in it best fit; and in the absence of all other grounds of conjecture as to the time when the "Praise of Knowledge" was composed, the allusion in the opening sentence of the other is ground enough for placing it here.
      They are both contained in a fragment of a paper book, into which some of Bacon's early writings have been copied; -- among others, the Colours of Good and Evil, with the dedicatory letter to Lord Montjoy, of which one leaf remains, and the Essays, as printed in 1597; the two last of which (Of Faction, and Of Negotiating ) are copied on the other side of the leaf on which the Discourse in praise of the Queen begins. What else the book originally contained one cannot guess, this portion having evidently been preserved only for the sake of these two pieces. They are written in a fair close Saxon hand; probably contemporary, though there is nothing to fix the date; and I think the hand of a mere transcriber, who wrote straight on without thinking of the meaning. The divisions of the sentences he has for the most part not marked at all, and sometimes marked wrong. Many words, especially in the second piece, are obviously miscopied, and here and there a whole clause has apparently been left out. The marks of parenthesis are sometimes inserted in the wrong place; and the paragraphs are not divided. The copy does not appear to have been revised by anybody, and has certainly not been corrected by Bacon.
    In editing ... I have arranged the punctuation according to my own judgment, without noticing the variations from the MS., which are innumerable; for the MS. can hardly be said to be punctuated at all. ... For the text, which is in many places evidently corrupt, I have introduced into it several conjectural emendations; but in no case without giving the original reading in a footnote; so that the reader may in all cases accept, improve, or reject my conjectures for himself.
    With regard to the matter ... I have not thought it desirable to enter into any discussions of the philosophical speculations.... The theory of the universe which is here indicated is the same I think, in substance, which Bacon held in his maturer years, and belongs to the general consideration of his philosophy.
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