Francis Bacon


Bibliography for biographical posts

I’ve been referring to my sources for these posts about Francis Bacon’s family in an offhand fashion thus far. Here is a list of the biographies I’m chiefly using:

  • Bowen, Catherine Drinker. 1966. Francis Bacon: The Temper of a Man. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
  • DuMaurier, Daphne. 1975. The Golden Lads: A Study of Anthony, Francis Bacon, and Their Friends. London: Victor Gollancz.
  • DuMaurier, Daphne. 1976. The Winding Stair: Francis Bacon, His Rise and Fall. London : Victor Gollancz.
  • Jardine, Lisa and Alan Stewart. 1998. Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon. London:Victor Gollancz.
  • Proctor, Adrian and Robert Taylor. 1979. The A to Z of Elizabethan London. Harry Margary, Lympne Castle Kent.
  • Spedding, James, ed. 1890. The Letters and the Life of Francis Bacon. Vol. I. London: Longmans, Green, and Co.
  • Tittler, Robert. 1976. Nicholas Bacon: The Making of a Tudor Statesman. Ohio University Press.

If you only want to read one, I recommend Bowen. Her prose is clear and pleasant to read and her book is a comfortable length. She is partisan — pro Bacon — and says so at the outset.bowen

 Jardine and Stewart’s work is longer, more thorough, and incorporates information from Anthony Bacon’s letters and other sources (other than Spedding). But while they claim in their introduction to be undecided as to whether or not they like Lord Verulam (our Francis at the end of his life) as a person, their decision is revealed in their frequent choice of pejorative modifiers.jardine&stewart

For example, they discuss the letter he wrote to Sir Francis Walsingham in 1585, in yet another effort to secure someone’s help in persuading the Queen to grant him some sort of official government post. He’s been trying for the past five years. One of the reasons he is given for being passed over is that he’s too young. He’s now 24 years old. Here are the first few sentences of this short letter, from Spedding (p.57):

“It may please your Honour to give me leave amidst your great and diverse business to put you in remembrance of my poor suit, leaving the time unto your Honour’s best opportunity and commodity. I think the objection of my years will wear away with the length of my suit. The very stay doth in this respect concern me, because I am thereby hindered to take a course of practice, which by the leave of God, if her Majesty like not of my suit, I must and will follow; not for any necessity of estate, but for my credit sake, which I know by living out of action will wear.”

 What he’s saying is that he can’t seriously begin to build a legal practice if he might at any moment be granted a government position, so he needs to know: will she or won’t she? He needs to do something useful or his reputation will erode. I see that last bit as being like the dilemma of a newly-minted PhD who is forced to consider a job outside of academia, but needs to do something to maintain her hard-won reputation just in case she can come back.

Jardine & Stewart describe his remark about the length of his suit as ‘caustic.’ I don’t hear caustic. I hear an effort at a light touch, a bit of a joke, a bid for friendliness. He’s trying not to sound like a beggar. Characterizing his words pejoratively skews the reader’s judgment, especially when only a single sentence of the letter is quoted. They make little digs like this throughout the book, which tells me that they made their minds up: they don’t like Lord Verulam. They couldn’t very well, not in the post-modernist 90’s, when what was once admired must be despised. But they should at least be frank about it, no pun intended.

Pro or con, we must watch out for those subtle biases. I state for the record that I am a thorough-going Baconian. Also for the record: I tend to dislike anyone who disses my boy.

Happy birthday, Lord Verulam!

Nicolas Hilliard. Portrait of Francis Bacon, 1578. London, National Portrait Gallery

Francis Bacon was born on January 22, 1561, 453 years ago. His mother, Lady Anne Bacon, was renowned for her education and her fervent Calvinism. I’ll write about her next week. His father, Nicholas Bacon, was the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. I’ll write about him in 2 weeks. In subsequent weeks, I’ll post about his ancestors and his gentility; his siblings; and the places in which he spent his youth.

These posts will highlight the features of interest to me, as a curious cat and a novelist. I draw information from many sources, including Wikipedia (great for dates). I’ll give you those links for your research pleasure. Over the course of this blog, I will also write reviews of my favorite biographies and other reference works. For example, I’ve read four biographies of Francis Bacon, each of which has its strengths and weaknesses. They’re as interesting taken together as they are individually, but that’s a topic for a future post. The ones on my desk as I type are Catherine Drinker Bowen, The Temper of a Man (1963); Brian Vickers, Francis Bacon (1978); and Lisa Jardine & Alan Stewart, Hostage to Fortune (1998.) I have the indispensable James Spedding, ed., The Letters and the Life of Francis Bacon (1890) in pdf format, handy at all times.

Spedding describes Francis at about the age when this portrait was painted as ” a hopeful, sensitive, bashful, amiable boy, wise and well-informed for his age, and glowing with noble aspirations.” Painter Nicholas Hilliard captioned the portrait, “If one could but paint his mind.” I would add arrogant, pretty, and possessed of an unimpeachable ruff.

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