January 22: Francis Bacon was born 450 years ago today. The “father ofscientific method” wrote in a wide range—poetry, fiction, essays onreligious and moral themes, apothegms (“Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper”),and more. Much more, say those who believe that Bacon is the author ofShakespeare’s plays. Some advocates of this theory take their evidence from apassage in Love’s Labour’s Lost inwhich Costard comments to Moth upon the word-appetites of the pedantsHolofernes and Sir Nathaniel, two who “have been at a great feast oflanguages, and stolen the scraps”:
O, they have lived long onthe alms-basket of words.
I marvel thy master hathnot eaten thee for a word;
for thou art not so longby the head as
Those who believe theShakespeare-is-Bacon theory—to their credit, they accept the label “Shake-n-Bacons”—saythat the unusual “honorificabilitudinitatibus” is an anagram for hi ludi, F. Baconis nati, tuiti orbi,which is Latin for “these plays, F. Bacon’s offspring, are preserved forthe world.” Such evidence falls short of any test according to theprinciples of Bacon’s own scientific method, of course. Oneanti-anti-Shakespearean, hoisting the Baconians with their own petard, saysthat their anagram-cryptogram techniques can be used “to claim that Baconwrote everything that ever has been and ever will be written in English (andLatin, for that matter).”
In Novum Organum Bacon himself might have a relevant comment to offer,through his description of one of the “four classes of Idols which besetmen’s minds”:
The Idols of the Cave arethe idols of the individual man. For everyone (besides the errors common tohuman nature in general) has a cave or den of his own, which refracts anddiscolors the light of nature, owing either to his own proper and peculiarnature; or to his education and conversation with others; or to the reading ofbooks, and the authority of those whom he esteems and admires; or to thedifferences of impressions, accordingly as they take place in a mindpreoccupied and predisposed or in a mind indifferent and settled; or the like.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.