Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Troubling Tribulations of the Delusional Delia

                   She had with her letters of introduction, written for her by Ralph Waldo Emerson (amongst others), and in June 1853 she called on the famous writer, historian and philosopher Thomas Carlyle at his home in Cheyne Row, Chelsea. Carlyle and his wife received Bacon with affection and kindness although there are hints that they were also patronisingly indulging their visitor and her queer notions for their own amusement. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson had written to Carlyle that Miss Bacon,  
“… has a private history that entitles her to high respect,” 
and Carlyle replied, 
As for Miss Bacon, we find her, with her modest shy dignity, with her solid character and strange enterprise, a real acquisition,” adding, “I have not in my life seen anything so tragically quixotic as her Shakspeare enterprise: alas, alas, there can be nothing but sorrow, toil, and utter disappointment in it for her.” 
However, there is a different tone in a letter Carlyle wrote to his brother, 
For the present, we have (occasionally) a Yankee Lady, sent by Emerson, who has discovered that the ‘Man Shakespear’ is a Myth, and did not write those Plays which bear his name, which were on the contrary written by a ‘Secret Association’ (names unknown): she has actually come to England for the purpose of examining that, and if possible, proving it, from the British Museum and other sources of evidence. Ach Gott!—.” 
Bacon herself, in a letter to her sister, provides more light on their meeting, 
Do you mean to say,' so and so, said Mr. Carlyle, with his strong emphasis; and I said that I did; and they both looked at me with staring eyes, speechless for want of words in which to convey their sense of my audacity. At length Mr. Carlyle came down on me with such a volley. I did not mind it the least. I told him he did not know what was in the Plays if he said that, and no one could know who believed that that booby wrote them. It was then that he began to shriek. You could have heard him a mile.” 
If nothing else, it’s nice to imagine that dour Scot Carlyle being reduced to shrieking. 

Thomas Carlyle sitting on a horse.

After a stay in London, Bacon moved to St Albans – after all, Sir Francis had been Viscount St Albans. The money allotted to her by her American patrons had been intended to last for the summer of 1853 but Delia, used to poverty, managed to spin it out long enough to last for two years, as she toiled away on her book, and when she couldn’t afford to light a fire, she wrote propped up in her bed in order to keep warm. In November 1854, the cold drove her from St Albans back to London,  
‘… it was uniformly colder in my room than it was out of doors in the daytime.’ 
The Carlyles found her lodgings and provided her with meals, and Carlyle advised her on English publishers, offering, if needed, to write an introduction for her book, whereas Emerson offered to deal with the American part of the enterprise. However, there were problems, as Bacon was dealing with one publisher through Emerson and dealing with another directly herself. 

Delia Bacon - William Shakespeare and his Plays - Puttnam's Monthly - January 1856

This confusion resulted in an article appearing in Puttnam’s Monthly as ‘William Shakespeare and his Plays: An Inquiry Concerning Them’ in January 1856, for which she received a much-needed eighteen pounds fee, but it caused the American publisher that Emerson had negotiated with to publish her work as a book to withdraw that offer. To issue her book as a series of magazine articles instead was not really what anyone had intended, and it was Bacon’s lack of business sense that almost scuppered everything. The position wasn’t helped when London publishers began to write polite letters of rejection to Bacon, all of them seemingly unwilling to publish any criticism of the National Bard. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Help came through Nathaniel Hawthorne, the extremely famous and respected American author, who was also the Consul to Liverpool, a lucrative but unappealing posting. Bacon wrote a modest letter to Hawthorne (she was a close friend of Miss Elizabeth Peabody, the sister of Mrs Hawthorne), asking for counsel and assistance and Hawthorne’s sense of honour meant that he could not refuse her appeal, regardless of the cost in time and effort to himself. His help came at precisely the right time for Bacon, as Emerson began to express doubts of ever finding an American publisher who would be willing to undertake the production of her book, and who then added to her troubles by informing her that the copy of her manuscript in America had been mislaid. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne - Our Old Home - 1863 (1891 ed).

In his collections taken from his English notebooks and published as Our Old Home, Nathaniel Hawthorne describes the single meeting he had with Bacon, in London in late July 1856. The chapter is called Recollections of a Gifted Woman, and in it Hawthorne describes a tall, elegant middle-aged woman, striking now and ‘exceedingly attractive once’, who speaks friendlily and openly about her theories. Almost at once, Hawthorne realises that she has become a ‘monomaniac’, and that her belief in her ideas,  
“… had completely thrown her off her balance.” 
She placed a hand on a book of Francis Bacon’s letters and confides how she has discovered within them a key, secret but definite and precise instructions on how to find a will and other documents that were concealed in a hollow space in the under-surface of Shakespeare’s gravestone, which would provide undeniable proof of her theories. In a low, quiet tone, she went on to explain how Providence was guiding and providing for her; she had been led to her current lodgings and her kindly landlord and landlady. Hawthorne himself had been provided for her, a sympathetic, American author with the power experience and influence to aid her, just at the precise time when she needed a negotiator with the publishers. He bit his tongue, hoping that there remained in her New England head enough common sense to spare her from her from the worst of her current bewilderment. 

Miss Delia Salter Bacon

Hawthorne left Bacon after about an hour and they never met again, but a story reached him that some months previous to his interview Delia Bacon had gone to Stratford, taken lodgings and started to haunt the church in which Shakespeare was interred. She became acquainted with the clerk and began to sound him out regarding access to the tomb. Sensibly, the clerk informed the vicar who, on learning the facts, sought the advice of a lawyer. She was told that it might well be possible for her to have the gravestone lifted, if it were done in the presence of the vicar and his clerk, and after nightfall. Then, the doubts began. Had she really read her Bacon correctly? He mentioned a tomb, but was it Shakespeare’s tomb, or his own, or Sir Walter Raleigh’s, or that of Edmund Spenser. She held back but continued to haunt the church. One night, she crept in alone with a dark lantern in her hand and groped her way towards the chancel. She sat by the grave, examined the gaps in the stones but did nothing else. Presently, the clerk emerged from the darkness and made his presence know; he had been watching her all along. The tomb remained unopened.

Tomorrow - from bad to worse

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Shakespearean Speculations of the Bewildered Bacon

         I mentioned the name of Delia Bacon yesterday and said I’d return to her work, so here we are. Hers was one of the earliest to put forward the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were not written by a man of that name who came from Stratford-upon-Avon, but were actually written by other men. This idea begins simply enough. There are things in the plays that could not have been written by a person of Shakespeare’s class and education. He would not have had the experience of, let’s say, court life and etiquette but yet the procedures and customs are portrayed in such a way that they cannot have been written by someone unacquainted with them and so must have been produced by an ‘insider’. Delia Bacon thought that the works were written by such courtly men, she believed that Sir Francis Bacon was the hand behind the plays, assisted by others, including Sir Francis Drake, written to encode their radical philosophy and republican sensibilities, with which they could not publicly be seen to be associated. It’s a valid enough hypothesis, worth examining if only to prove its invalidity. 

David Bacon - father of Delia

Miss Delia Salter Bacon was born in a log cabin in Tallmadge, Ohio on February 2nd 1811, the daughter of David Bacon, a Congregationalist minister and his wife, Alice. David Bacon had hoped to found a Christian community in the wilds of Ohio but his plans failed (although the town of Tallmadge later prospered and grew) and the family returned to New England, where he died, aged 46, in 1817. His death left the family in severe poverty and what little money was available for education was spent on Delia’s elder brother, Leonard, who went on to become a minister. Delia’s formal education ended when she fourteen but she attempted the foundation of several schools of her own in and around Connecticut, all of which failed, as did her attempts at working in the schools run by others. 

Delia Bacon - Tales of the Puritans - 1831

She wrote a novel, Tales of the Puritans, at the age of twenty but it was not hoped-for success and poverty, disaster and disappointment continued to follow her (although she did beat Edgar Allan Poe in a short story competition in 1832). She tried again with The Bride of Fort Edward, which began its days as a stage-play before it was rewritten and revamped, retaining some blank-verse dialogue, and eventually published in 1839. It flopped badly, leading to more debts and this failure diverted Miss Bacon from her literary pretensions for a number of years, during which she attempted to rectify the deficiencies of her early schooling, returning to what little Latin to which she had been exposed and turning also to Greek. 

Delia Bacon - The Bride of Fort Edward - 1839

She began to give lectures on history, delivered without notes, for which she began to gain a favourable reputation and from which she earned enough to pay off her earlier debts. She began at Hartford, Connecticut, then moved to Boston, Cambridge, New York and Brooklyn, delivering her talks to parlours of like-minded ladies, all very modest, refined and genteel. She was, by what accounts we have, very good at it – interested and interesting, commanding and knowledgeable, expressive and dignified. 

However, the unrelenting toil and her failing health began to tell and in 1852, she was to give the last of her history lectures. There was also, to use the terminology of her day, ‘a grievous and humiliating disappointment’ – a friendship with a young theology student, Alexander MacWhorter, ended when her brother Leonard intervened; there may have been a hint of romance, possibly a proposal, something deeper than mere friendship, maybe even something physical but it came to an end, breaking her heart and leading to a rift with the Connecticut Puritans of her early life. 

Leonard Bacon

It may just have been filial concern but brother Leonard doesn’t come out of this well; indeed, he comes across as the archetypal smug, uptight, interfering, judgemental New England Puritan preacher. You know, the sort of bloke you wouldn’t get tired of punching in the mouth. She became ill, possibly suffering from a nervous breakdown, and spent the summer at a hydropathic spa at Round Hill, where she determined to visit England to research a notion she had that someone other than Shakespeare had written the plays. 

Delia Salter Bacon

Quite what went on in her mind when she was separated from friends and family at Round Hill, we will never know. She was in virtual solitary confinement, locked away with her thoughts, she neglected herself, seldom eating or sleeping, and took no exercise, devoting herself instead to her studies of Shakespeare and Sir Francis Bacon. Wounded, bodily and mentally, her imagination went into overdrive. Maybe it was just the coincidence of their surnames that drew her to Bacon; maybe there was, way back in history, some ancestral link. Did she believe her forbearer was being denied the glory that was being showered on a glover’s son from Stratford? Did she believe that there was a hidden meaning locked away within the plays, that she could discover? Prior to this illness, she had let it be known that she disputed Shakespeare’s authorship and some of the ladies to whom she had lectured were already concerned about this interest. 

Mrs John Farrar - Recollections of Seventy Years - 1865 (1866 ed.)

Eliza Ware Farrar, second wife of Harvard professor John Farrar, attended Bacon’s lectures and devoted a chapter about her in her Recollections of Seventy Years (1865), in which she mentions concerns about Bacon’s ‘monomania’ with Shakespeare, to such an extent that his name was never mentioned in Bacon’s presence and even books by or about Shakespeare were hidden from her view. Such concerns notwithstanding, patrons in New York provided her with ample funds (and a handsome new wardrobe) to be able to afford a visit to England and in 1853 she left for London.

Tomorrow - what happened next.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Theoretical Types of the Seventy-odd Shakespeares

                So, Sir Francis Bacon, in addition to all that empiricism, philosophy, judicial and legal considerations, histories of assorted monarchs, natural history and everything else, also found the time in his busy schedule to write the finest plays and poetry ever composed in the English language. Because, and I kid you not, writing the finest plays and poetry in the English language was beneath him. It would have mucked up his political ambitions if it ever got out he was writing plays and poems and all that arty bejesus because that would have called his elevated credibility into question. Hence, he cooked up this cunning plan of attributing his Finely Wrought Plays And Poems Ever Written to some geezer from near Birmingham, as you do. 

William Shakespeare's First Folio - or is it?

That’ll fool everybody, and he just had to get his works on the stage, darlings, at any cost, even if it meant that posterity would never know what a sacrifice he’d made. God forbid that it ever got out that a nobleman of his high stature was soiling his paws by concocting wee conceits for the entertainment of the rude mechanicals. But Bacon was way, way too smart for that. Because he used all these Finely Wrought Plays And Poems Ever Written (©) to let it be known (to the initiated) that he was in fact the illegitimate child of Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, and thus the heir to the throne of England. And how, I hear you ask, did he manage this? Well, obviously, by a hidden cipher within the text, you numpty. This is where we begin to shuffle towards the really meaty stuff. 

Ignatius Donnelly - The Great Cryptogram - 1888

Let’s dolly back to that letter from Theta in Notes and Queries from 1853. Why was it that Bacon and Shakespeare didn’t mention each other? To the Baconians the answer is simple, they were one and the same person and it wouldn’t do to draw too much attention to that fact. Bacon had written the plays himself, and had overseen the printing of them, how else could the hidden codes have been placed? I’ll give you the full-on crackers later, but don’t go there unless you can handle the sort of textual analysis that makes Kabbalists seem rational or any other cliché that seems apt here. 

Catalogue of the Plays in the First Folio - 1623
Naturally, the conspiracy deepens, because barmy knows no bounds. There weren’t enough hours in the day for Bacon to have written the plays and the poems and all that other stuff he spent his time doing – being Attorney General or Lord Chancellor and such – so what did he do? Obviously, he gets a few of his mates in to give him a hand with the heavy lifting. You know, Sir Walter Raleigh (when he wasn’t busy circumnavigating the globe), the 6th Earl of Derby, the 17th Earl of Oxford, the 5th Earl of Rutland and just about any other Elizabethan aristocrat that knew which end of a quill to hold. Or other playwrights who weren’t busy wrighting plays of their own – Kit Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Colley Cibber, Thomas Nashe, Robert Greene – indeed, almost any Elizabethan playwroughter who wasn’t called William Shakespeare. 

Roger Payne's bill for Binding the First Folio by William Shakespeare - allegedly

If you count them all up, there are just over seventy candidates for the post of the ‘real’ William Shakespeare but of them all, Sir Francis Bacon remains in pole position. Delia Salter Bacon’s article of 1856 questioned Shakespeare’s authorship of the plays but she didn’t, at that time, name any other names, but she was swiftly followed into print by William Henry Smith (yes, that W H Smith, of the newsagent shops fame), who actually named Bacon – Smith had written a letter to Lord Ellesmere which was circulated initially as a privately printed sixteen-page pamphlet during late 1856, before being reprinted in Littel’s Living Age in November 1856. 

W H Smith

This was the cause of a bit of a spat when Nathaniel Hawthorne accused Smith of plagiarising his countrywoman’s work without having had the good grace to give her a mention. Smith refuted Hawthorne’s slight by claiming to have no knowledge of the good lady’s work and if he had, he would certainly have acknowledged it, so Hawthorne apologised and Smith accepted that apology and everything was tickety-boo between them thereafter. 

W H Smith - Bacon and Shakespeare - 1857

In 1857, both W H Smith and D S Bacon published books about Bacon’s authorship of Shakespeare, and a convention soon developed that Shakespeare was used to refer to the man from Stratford-upon-Avon and Shake-speare was used to refer to the man who had written the plays. There were, of course, writers who rushed to the defence of the Swan of Avon; one of the first was George Henry Townsend’s William Shakespeare not an imposter (1857), which takes Smith’s arguments to task, in particular. 

George Henry Townsend - William Shakespeare not an Imposter - 1857

If anything comes over in this work, it’s how personally Townsend takes Smith’s effrontery and how he responds in the sort of language you’d expect from a wounded Victorian gentleman – with phrases like ‘rambling sentences’, ‘cheap literature’ ‘pestilent vapour’ or ‘this fungus’ bandied around with evident relish. Splendid stuff. And so the claims and counterclaims were made, points raised and refuted, coincidences noted and differences found and if all these books have anything in common, other than their subject, it is the very size of the things. 

Sir Francis Bacon

It’s almost as if there was a tacit background wager going on as to who could write the thickest book. 'Weighty tome' doesn’t begin to describe some of these literary doorsteps – Delia Bacon started it with a mere 582 pages, to be beaten by a nose by William Shakespeare a Literary Biography by Karl Elze (587 pages), Nathaniel Holmes’s The Authorship of Shakespeare ups the stakes to 696 pages but the prize pot must be handed to Ignatius Donnelly and his The Great Cryptogram (1888) which contains a length-and-a-half winning 998 pages. Crickey.

Monday, 28 January 2013

The Innumerable Identities of the Disguised Dramatist

             It was snobbery. Nothing more and nothing less. They’ll tell you otherwise and try to dress it up as something else but it was snobbery. Pure and simple. You see, we don’t really have that much information about him. We don’t know when he was born but we do know when he was baptised, so we can make a bit of a guess about his birthday. We know his father was a glove-maker made good, so good indeed that he became a local alderman. We know his mother came from land-owning farming stock and was worth a shilling or two. We think we know where he may have gone to school and we know he got married young to an older wife and had three children but he left them and went to live in London for a while, before coming back home, where he died, leaving a widow and two daughters. His son had died young, one daughter married a doctor and the other married a vintner, but neither had any surviving children so his direct line died with them. 

His Last Will and Testament

We’ve got his will and we know the date on which he died, and we know where he’s buried. We know a few other bits and bobs but that’s really the lot, more or less, and it’s not really all that much for the man who is generally thought to be the best in the world at what he did. And that’s where the snobbery begins. His old man made gloves, his old mum had a farm, he didn’t go to university, he ran off and left the wife with three little ones, so evidently he wasn’t much of a model for the World’s Greatest Writer, which is what most people would say he was, if you buttonholed them and demanded a name from them for that particular position. If you haven’t got it yet, I’m talking about William Shakespeare. 

William Shakespeare

That entire World’s Greatest Writer stuff began to pick up speed in the nineteenth century and if you want to give it a name, Bardolatry is as good a name as any. But if you’re going to elevate someone to such lofty heights then it would be nice if they were, well, a bit special. Not a glover’s son from the Midlands. A Lord would be much better, or a Prince even. Not a farm girl’s brat from Stratford. A Classical scholar or a varsity chap at the very least. Goodness me, neither of his parents could even write their own names, what sort of a provenance of that for Poet Number One. Snobbery, you see. Chap’s not up to snuff, don’t you see, can’t have been him, must have been somebody else. One of us, don’t you know, not one of the great unwashed. 

Joseph C Hart - The Romance of Yachting - 1848

The strange thing is that this idea first saw the light of day in book called The Romance of Yachting by Joseph C Hart published in 1848, a book which, despite its title, is a gossipy ramble about a merchant vessel’s voyage to Spain (It is in print, if hard to find, and worth seeking out.). 
Alas, Shakespeare! Lethe is upon thee! But if it drown thee it will give up and work the resurrection of better men and more worthy. Thou hast had thy century; they are about having theirs.” 
Then, four years later, an anonymous piece appeared in Chamber’s Edinburgh Journal titled Who Wrote Shakespeare?, which speculated that an avaricious, opportunistic Shakespeare may have ‘kept a poet’ who did the actual writing for him. 

Notes and Queries - November 5 1853

An enquiry from ‘Theta’ in Notes and Queries, November 5th 1853, raised the point that whilst Shakespeare and Sir Francis Bacon were cotemporaries, neither mentions the other and wonders why this might be. This letter is notable in that it marked the commencement of a series of articles that ran in N & Q for many, many years. 

Delia Salter Bacon

The ‘Was it Shakespeare or Bacon’ industry really got under way in 1856, when Delia Salter Bacon published an unsigned article in Putnam’s Monthly magazine ‘William Shakespeare and his Plays: An Inquiry Concerning Them.’ 

Delia Salter Bacon - William Shakespeare and his Plays: An Inquiry concerning them - Puttnam's Monthly - 1856

More about this gifted woman will follow on another day, but pretty soon everyone and his dog, it seems, was casting about with theories of their own regarding Bacon and Shakespeare. You may recall that I mentioned yesterday Bacon’s three ‘distempers’ to learning, one of which was ‘Fantastical Learning’, and this, as it turns out, is just what Bacon had in mind when brought the subject up himself. 

Francis Bacon ponders where all this will end

Fantastical Learning isn’t real learning; it just pretends to be. It’s self-referential, it’s circular and dresses itself up in arcane terminology, in an attempt to baffle to gormless and impress the educated, and it’s empty, self-important twaddle beyond the normal realms of twaddle. Baconiana is all that and more; think astrology, reflexology, graphology, phrenology (in fact, quite a lot of ologies, as it seems), anything that involves crystals and candles being together in the same place at the same time, homeopathy and management consultancy, all bundled together, mixed up in a big pot with the crazy stick and with an extra sprinkle of barmy thrown in just for good measure, and you just might be a quarter of the way there. 

There is craziness and woo, there’s daft and bonkers, and there is Baconiana. Seriously. I’ve walked about in this world and seen quite a bit of what’s going on out there but some of this gobshitery flabbers even my gast. And bear in mind, there’s also the other stuff that even your average run-of-the-mill Baconian finds just a tad weird and maybe needs a bit of a rethink.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Empirical Experiment of the Phrozen Philosopher

                    It was snowing like billy-o here in Lancashire this morning and it’s snowing again at the moment, and so we are all being advised by the weather-Johnnies who are up to speed about this sort of thing that it’s probably not the best idea to bother going out unless it’s really necessary, which is all well and good by me as I’ve spotted a couple of bottles of Brown Ale lurking in my kitchen that I’m sure won’t be around anymore come bedtime. 

Sir Francis Bacon

All this snow put me in mind of Sir Francis Bacon - well, that and the stuff about J J Winckelmann I wrote earlier this week; I’ll come to the Bacon/snow thing a little later but to start with Winckelmann. Just as he is considered to be the first art historian and archaeologist so Bacon can be considered to be the first modern scientist. Bacon was a polymath, he simply did so much stuff it’s staggering to think it was the work of just one man. He was a precocious boy, but a sickly one who was educated at home prior to going up to Cambridge University at the age of twelve (not at all an unusual thing in the past, when a different system of education was the norm), and he also attended the University of Poitiers. 

Francis Bacon aged about eighteen

He trained for the law but family connections meant that he also gained some early experience of diplomacy although when his father died unexpectedly in 1579, the eighteen-year-old Bacon began training as a barrister in order to support himself. With the help of the patronage of his uncle, Lord Burghley, he rose rapidly at the Bar and two years later he was also elected as a Member of Parliament. His rise at the court of Elizabeth was slower, if not positively glacial, but when James I became King all this changed. Bacon himself acknowledged this in a later letter to the King, where he wrote that James “ … had raised and advanced him nine times; thrice in dignity, and six times in office.” 

Sir Francis Bacon, Baron Verulam and Viscount St Albans

He was knighted in 1603, became Attorney General in 1613 and Lord Chancellor in 1618, in which year he also became Baron Verulam of Verulam, being further raised to Viscount St Alban in 1621. And then, ruin! In that same year, Parliament charged him with twenty-three separate counts of corruption, for which he was fined £40,000 and sentenced to be held in the Tower of London awaiting the King’s pleasure (i.e. potentially indefinitely). In reality, he was only imprisoned for a few days, the King remitted the fine and Bacon narrowly escaped degradation (the removal of his titles), but he was barred from holding further offices of state or sitting in parliament. Instead, he withdrew from public life and devoted the rest of his life to study and writing. 

Sir Francis Bacon

This was the silver lining of the dark cloud that had descended over Bacon’s public life, as he spent the next five years of his life experimenting, writing and thinking, unencumbered by the distractions of court life, and up to this point what writing he had produced was done, in effect, in his spare time. With unlimited time on his hands, he was free to explore wherever his fancy took him, which was in some quite remarkable directions. As early at his time at Cambridge, Bacon had been opposed to Aristotelian methods of philosophy, which he regarded as ‘fruitless’, and although most thinking undergraduates will find fault with their textbooks, Bacon carried this dissatisfaction through to his adult life. 

Sir Francis Bacon - Advancement of Learning - 1605 (1674 ed)

In his Advancement of Learning (the full title is Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, Divine and Human) of 1605, Bacon identified three ‘distempers’ that were barriers to true learning. He calls them Fantastical Learning, Contentious Learning and Delicate Learning (or, vain imaginations, vain altercations, and vain affectation). 

The first, Fantastical Learning, is what today we might call pseudoscience, it is the nonsense peddled by charlatans and deceivers, who pretend to knowledge but theirs is knowledge without substance, often self-referential, and carefully shielded from external criticism. It is, as Bacon says, ‘the foulest’ as it seeks to destroy true knowledge. 

The second, Contentious Learning, is the scholasticism of the school of Aristotle, to which Bacon had been exposed as a student. It values traditionalism and debate for its own sake, it prefers quibbling and hair-splitting over the acquisition of true knowledge, it goes round in stagnant circles and so makes no forward progress. 

Thirdly, Delicate Learning, which Bacon saw as the mistaken reverence for the works of the Ancients for their own sake. Texts that had long ‘slept in libraries’ were being read again but instead of using the knowledge contained in those books, they were used as models for literary pretensions, to revive Ciceronian rhetorical embellishments and the prose styles of the Ancients. It is the triumph of style over content, not what you say but how you say it. For Bacon, knowledge was to be used for the benefit of mankind, to make progress, to learn and to discover new things. 

Sir Francis Bacon - Sylva Sylvarum - 1627

In his De Hæresibus (1597), Bacon wrote ‘Ipsa scientia potestas est’ – Knowledge is Power – and it was the acquisition of Knowledge that drove Bacon to develop his scientific methods, which valued empirical knowledge, knowledge gained from experiments and observations, knowledge gained from inductive reasoning. In this, Francis Bacon is the father of the modern scientific method, he was the first to say, in effect, don’t believe what you’re being told is the truth just because it is written in a book, get out there and look at it yourself, ask questions and do experiments and learn about it for yourself. 

Sir Francis Bacon

So, what was that thing about Bacon and snow at the beginning? Well, the story goes that Bacon was out in his coach on one snowy day and it occurred to him that the coldness of the snow might possibly be used as a preservative to keep meat fresh. He stopped the coach and bought a chicken from a woman at her stall at the bottom of Highgate Hill, then went out into the snow and stuffed some of it into the body cavity of the fowl. He was so engrossed in his experiment that he neglected to keep himself warm and was eventually overcome by the cold. Unable to go on, he struggled to the nearby house of the Earl of Arundell, where he was put into a damp, unaired bed. His cold developed into pneumonia and he died from ‘suffocation’ two days later, on April 9th 1626, aged 65.

Statue of Sir Francis Bacon

But the story of Sir Francis Bacon doesn’t stop there. Dearie me, no.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Wracking Wrecking of the Broken Butterfly

                  In February 1967, Mr Michael Jagger and Mr Keith Richards of the popular beat-combo the Rolling Stones (and their art-dealer chum, Robert Fraser) were arrested for the possession of drugs when eighteen police officers raided Redlands, the country home of Mr Richards. The prosecution case against them was based on the few amphetamine tablets found at the scene and the smell of cannabis in the house, which might, or might not, have really been the scent of burning incense. 

Mr Richards at his Redlands home, accompanied by Mr Jagger

There were four tablets in Jagger’s jacket, and Fraser had four more in his pockets, and so all three men were charged with, and found guilty of, possession of Class A drugs. Fraser was sentenced to six months imprisonment, Jagger to three months and Richards to twelve months, which many people thought was a little too excessive for them having a few pills about their persons. William Rees-Moggs, editor of The Times newspaper, wrote an editorial Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?, rhetorically asking if these famous musicians would have received the same treatment if they had been just ordinary citizens. Was it not the case that they were being made an example of, that they were getting what was coming to them? 

William Rees-Moggs - Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?

On appeal, the sentences were reduced to conditional discharges; Jagger had spent three nights in gaol and Richards one night (Fraser’s case was slightly different, he later pleaded guilty to the possession of heroin and served six months hard labour). Rees-Moggs editorial headline is a slight mis-quotation of a line from Alexander Pope’s satirical poem, Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot, which actually reads, “Who Breaks a Butterfly upon a Wheel?” 

Detail - Pieter Brughel - The Triumph of Death

It is a phrase that means ‘Why expend such force on such a fragile victim?’; in effect, why use a sledgehammer to crack a walnut? I have written earlier this month (see here and the following half dozen posts) about various methods of capital punishment used in the past and had intended to add a piece on breaking on the wheel but thought twice about it. However, in the light of yesterday’s post, which ended with a mention of Francesco Arcangeli’s execution, I have had a rethink of my second thoughts (I think). 

Breaking on the Wheel - detail from Hogarth's South Sea Bubble

Breaking on the Wheel was a dreadful punishment (not that beheading, pressing, hanging, etc aren’t, but bear with me), with its origins lost in history – Aristophanes mentions a torturer’s wheel in his Lysistrata (411 BCE), and Athenaeus, Lucian and Josephus, amongst other classical writers, also refer to the wheel. 

Breaking on the Wheel

There were a variety of ways that wheels were used as methods of torture and execution, from simply driving a cart over a person’s body, tying them to the outside rim of a wheel and rolling them along, tying them to the spokes and rotating the wheel, or tying them to the spokes and breaking their limbs by striking them with a club or rod. 

Breaking the long bones with big stick

A variation was to fasten a person inside a barrel lined with nails and roll that along the ground, or wrap them around the outside of the barrel and roll them over spikes or sharp rocks. 

Nailed into a nailly barrel with nails

By far the commonest method was to tie the victim to the spokes of the wheel, or to a pair of beams in an X shape (the St Andrew’s cross), and strike the long bones of the arms and legs with a sledgehammer, a cudgel or an iron bar, ending with the coup de grâce (blow of mercy) to the stomach. 

Breaking the long bones with a big stick [Two] (oh, and pulling toe-nails out too)

At times, a judge might sentence a criminal to remarkably cruel torture, as in the case of the eighty-six year old Jean Calas of Toulouse, who was suspected of being complicit in the strangling his own son Anthony, in 1761, and to make him reveal the names of his accomplices was sentenced to be,  
“… broken alive upon the wheel, to receive the last stroke after he had lain two hours, and then to be burnt to ashes.” 

Jean Calas broken on the wheel - 1761

Although rare, breaking on the wheel was used in Britain, as in the case recorded by Robert Birrel in his Diary
Robert Weir broken on ane cart-wheel, with ane coulter of ane pleuch, in the hand of the hangman, for murdering the Laird of Warriston, quhilk he did, 2 Julii 1600.” 
[‘ane coulter of ane pleuch’ is ‘a coulter of a plough’, a coulter being the knife that cuts the soil ahead of the ploughshare.] 
A variety of ways to kill people - Spot the Breaking on the Wheel

Of all the people whose names are associated with the wheel, surely the most familiar is that of St Catherine of Alexandria, which is somewhat ironic as there is no evidence whatsoever that she ever actually existed. The legend is that the young pagan Catherine lived in Alexandria, where her studies introduced her to Christianity, to which she then converted. When the emperor Maxentius began his persecutions, an eighteen-year-old Catherine went and began to rebuke him for his tyranny. 

St Catherine of Alexandria (with her wheel)

He could find no defence to her arguments so sent for fifty philosophers, none of whom could answer her either, so he had the lot of them executed. He offered to marry the beautiful maiden but she refused him, claiming she was the Bride of Christ, so he had her flogged and thrown into gaol, where she was visited by his wife and an army officer, both of whom were converted, along with two hundred soldiers assigned as guards. Maxentius had the whole bunch of this lot executed too, and Catherine was sentenced to be killed on a spiked wheel. When she was placed up it, it miraculously broke into pieces, the flying pieces of which killed several onlookers, so Maxentius had her beheaded with a sword instead. Quite why the sword didn't burst into shards and take out a few more pagans is something left to your imagination (maybe Christ thought it was safer for the rest of creation if his Bride was just that little bit nearer to him).

Catherine's Wheel

The story is now best remembered through the firework called the Catherine Wheel.

Friday, 25 January 2013

The Unexpected Undoing of the Garotted German

                     Winckelmann's mind was made up and he set out alone, arriving in Trieste on June 1st, where he took a room in the inn on the main square of the city. Staying at the same inn was a traveller who had arrived, without luggage and on foot, from Venice two days earlier. This stranger introduced Wincklemann to several sea-captains, as he tried to arrange transport forward, and the two travellers became friends, taking coffee and meals together over the next three days, talking at their hotel and visiting each other’s chambers. 

Anton Mengs - Portrait of Johann Winckelmann

They knew each other only as John and Francis, after the Italian custom, and Francis made enquiries of John, as to his character, ostensibly on behalf of the inn’s patron. One evening, to assure him of his good character, John showed Francis his letters of introduction, his passport and in addition he mentioned the medals given to him in Vienna by the Empress and the Prince. Francesco Arcangeli, to give him his full name, started to get suspicious of his new friend, wondering who he might be, and noticed that when he bought snuff, for example, he was very careful about the price. He was probably a Jew, he confided to the coffee-shop keeper, or a Lutheran, or a spy of some sort; he was, said Arcangeli 'un uomo di poco conto' (a man of little account). The sea-captains hedged and made excuses not to sail, and Wincklemann considered continuing overland to Venice but set the idea to one side for the time being. 

Winckelmann - Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums - 1776 Edition

Late one night, after a week had passed, Francis asked John if he would bring his medals to the dinner-table but he refused, saying he did not want to draw attention to himself, and when Francis pressed him to reveal his identity, not wishing to be drawn, he replied, 
I do not wish to be known.” 
As Wincklemann returned to his writing table, Arcangeli slipped a cord around his neck and drew it taut in an attempt to garotte him, but the German fought back and pushed him away, only for Arcangeli to draw a knife, leap at him and stab him five times. A servant, hearing the commotion, came to investigate and saw the Italian lying over the German, bloody blade in hand; he jumped up, pushed past the dumbfounded waiter and ran out into the night. 

Winckelmann - Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums - another 1776 Edition

There was confusion and there were delays, a surgeon was brought and at last the cord was taken from Wincklemann’s throat; he was undressed and laid on a mattress, his wounds were examined and dressed, a policeman arrived and a priest was sent for. Wincklemann was told that two of the wounds were likely to be fatal and extreme unction was administered, his papers were examined -  
Joanni Winckelmann, præcsfecto antiquitatum Romæ. In almam urbem redit — John Winckelmann, Superintendent of Antiquities of Rome. He is returning to the Holy City 
– and a will was drawn up, although he had not strength to sign it. At four o’clock in the afternoon of June 8th 1768, in a hotel room in Trieste, Johann Wincklemann died. He was fifty years old. 

Monument to Winckelmann in his home town of Stendal

Francesco Arcangeli had been born in Campiglio, Tuscany, and had been a cook in his early life, until he stole over five hundred gold pieces from his master, Count Cottaldi, and fled but was captured and sentenced to hang in chains for four years in May 1764. When Archduke Leopold married in 1767, some prisoners, including Arcangeli, were granted remission, and he and a freed servant girl settled in Venice, although he travelled to Trieste, looking for a position. 

He fully intended to murder Wincklemann – the cord had been prepared and double twisted and the knife had been bought new in Trieste – more than likely to steal the medals from Vienna, although some writers have hinted that maybe there was an unwelcome advance, or perhaps an unwanted rebuff, made by one man or the other. He escaped Trieste and made his way to Planina, where he was arrested by soldiers for not having a passport, on June 14th. He was sent first to Adelsburg, where he confessed the murder to the Prefect, and then sent, under armed escort, back to Trieste. He arrived on the following day, his trial commenced immediately and lasted until July 12th, with sentence passed on July 18th – 
For the crime of murder, done by you on the body of John Winckelmann, on the morning of the 8th of June last, the honourable imperial royal Criminal Court has decreed that you, just as you are, shall be broken alive on the wheel, from the head to the feet, until your soul depart from your body; and that your dead body shall remain exposed upon the wheel.” 
Two days later, at ten o’clock in the morning, this sentence was carried out and Francesco Arcangeli was executed at Trieste. He was thirty-one years old.

Tomorrow - Broken on the Wheel