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FRANCIS BACON'S 'PROMUS'
ILLUSTRATED BY PASSAGES FROM SHAKESPEARE.
THE following pages contain a transcript of some notes made by Sir Francis Bacon about the years 1594 to 1596 (some, perhaps, earlier) which are preserved in the British Museum, but have not hitherto been deemed worthy of publication in a complete form.
These MSS. form part of the Harleian Collection, in which they are catalogued, but without any further description, as Formularies and Elegancies (No. 7,017).
They consist of fifty sheets or folios, numbered from 83 to 132.1
Some of these folios are headed with descriptive titles -Promus, Formularies, Analogia Cæsaris, &c., but most of them bear neither title nor date, in consequence of which it is not easy to decide upon the exact period at which this collection was commenced or ended. Unfortunately, there is no record of whence Lord Harley had the MSS. 7,017, for his secretary, Mr. Wanley, seems to have died before he had completed more than two-thirds of his descriptive catalogue; but there is no doubt that the notes are (with the exception of a collection of French proverbs which conclude the series) in Bacon's well
1 The numbering of the Harleian Collection has been retained in the present arrangement, which accordingly begins at folio 83. Many of the sheets are covered with notes on both sides.
known and characteristic handwriting. The French proverbs appear to have been copied for Bacon by a
Besides the proof afforded by identity of handwriting, these MSS. contain internal evidence that they were written by Bacon, for amongst them are rough notes for the Colours of Good and Evil-many more, in fact, than are introduced into the work itself, which was published later than any date on these papers, and in which the corrupt Latin of these notes is seen to have been corrected, and the ideas modified or expanded. (See folio 122, 1319-1381, and folio 128, 1465-1478.)
In folio 118 are a few texts and reflections on Hope, which reappear in the Meditationes Sacræ de Spe Terrestri, and a few entries which occur in the earliest essays, which, together with the Colours and the Meditations, were published in 1597, one year later than the date of the Promus. There are also scattered about in the Promus notes which only appear for the first time in the Advancement of Learning, published 1623, and others of a more personal character, such as No. 1165, Law at Twickenham for yo Mery Tales, and some courteous forms of endings to letters, one of which is almost the same as occurs in a private letter to Lord Burghley in 1590; whilst another (No. 115) presents a still closer likeness to the conclusion of a later letter to Burghley which is extant.
The reasons which have led to a conviction that these notes are not only curious and quaint, but of extreme interest to most literary persons, are as follow.
In connection with a work in which the present writer has been for some years engaged, with a view to proving, from internal evidence, Bacon's authorship of the plays known as Shakespeare's, attention became directed to these manuscripts of Bacon by some remarks upon them made by Mr. Spedding in his Works of Bacon. From the
'Permission is given by Mr. Maude Thompson, keeper of MSS. at the British Museum, to quote his authority in support of this assertion.
few specimens which are there given it appeared probable that in these notes corroborative evidence would be found to support some of the points which it was desired to establish, and as the subject then in hand was the vocabulary and style of Bacon, there was a hope of gleaning, perhaps, a few additional facts and evidences from this new field of inquiry.
This hope has been fulfilled to a degree beyond expectation, and as the notes-whatever may be the views taken of the commentary upon them-possess in themselves a value which must be recognised by all the students of language, it has been thought desirable to publish them in a separate form, instead of incorporating them, as was originally intended, with a larger work.
The group of manuscripts have been distinguished by Mr. Spedding by the name of the Promus of Formularies and Elegancies, a title which forms the heading to one sheet. The thought which led Bacon to use the word Promus in designating this collection of notes is probably to be found in one of the notes itself,1 Promus majus quam condus. This motto aptly describes the collection and the use to which, it is believed, Bacon put it. It was, as Mr. Spedding observes, especially of one of the papers (folio 144), a rudiment or fragment of one those collections, by way of provision or preparatory store for the furniture of speech and readiness of invention,' which Bacon recommends in the Advancement of Learning, and more at large in the De Augmentis (vi. 3) under the head of Rhetoric,' and which he says, appeareth to be of two
1 In the Advancement of Learning, vii. 2, we find the following passage: To resume, then, and pursue first private and self good, we will divide it into good active and good passive; for this difference of good, not unlike that which amongst the Romans was expressed in the familiar or household terms of "promus " and "condus," is formed also in all things, and is best disclosed in the two several appetites in creatures: the one, to preserve or continue themselves, and the other, to multiply and propagate themselves; whereof the latter, which is active, and as it were the "promus," seems to be the stronger and the more worthy; and the former, which is passive, and as it were the " condus," seems to be inferior.'
sorts: the one in resemblance to a shop of pieces unmadeup, the other to a shop of things ready-made-up, both to be applied to that which is frequent and most in request. The former of these I will call antitheta, and the latter formulæ.1
The Promus, then, was Bacon's shop or storehouse, from which he would draw forth things new and oldturning, twisting, expanding, modifying, changing them, with that nimbleness' of mind, that 'aptness to perceive analogies,' which he notes as being necessary to the inventor of aphorisms, and which, elsewhere, he speaks of decidedly, though modestly, as gifts with which he felt himself to be specially endowed.
It was a storehouse also of pithy and suggestive sayings, of new, graceful, or quaint terms of expression, of repartee, little bright ideas jotted down as they occurred, and which were to reappear, made-up,' variegated, intensified, and indefinitely multiplied, as they radiated from that wonderful 'brayne cut with many facets.' 2
In order to gain a general idea of these notes we cannot do better than read Mr. Spedding's account of them: 3
All the editions of Bacon's works contain a small collection of Latin sentences collected from the Mimi of Publius Syrus, under the title of Ornamenta Rationalia, followed by a larger collection of English sentences selected from Bacon's own writings. The history of them is shortly this. Dr. Tenison found in three several lists of Bacon's unpublished papers the title Ornamenta Rationalia. . . . But no part of it was to be found among the MSS. transmitted to his care, and he retained only a general remembrance of its quality, namely, that "it consisted of divers short sayings, aptly and smartly expressed, and containing in them much of good sense in a little room, and that it was gathered partly out of his
1 See Bacon's Works, Spedding, vol. vii. 207-8.
2 Promus, 184.
3 Bacon's Works, Spedding, vol. vii. 189.