Shake-n-Bacons

January 22: Francis Bacon was born 450 years ago today. The "father of scientific method" wrote in a wide range—poetry, fiction, essays on religious 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 of Shakespeare's plays. Some advocates of this theory take their evidence from a passage in Love's Labour's Lost in which Costard comments to Moth upon the word-appetites of the pedants Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel, two who "have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps":

O, they have lived long on the alms-basket of words.

I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word;

for thou art not so long by the head as

honorificabilitudinitatibus….

Those who believe the Shakespeare-is-Bacon theory—to their credit, they accept the label "Shake-n-Bacons"—say that 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 for the world." Such evidence falls short of any test according to the principles of Bacon's own scientific method, of course. One anti-anti-Shakespearean, hoisting the Baconians with their own petard, says that their anagram-cryptogram techniques can be used "to claim that Bacon wrote everything that ever has been and ever will be written in English (and Latin, 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 beset men's minds":

The Idols of the Cave are the idols of the individual man. For everyone (besides the errors common to human nature in general) has a cave or den of his own, which refracts and discolors the light of nature, owing either to his own proper and peculiar nature; or to his education and conversation with others; or to the reading of books, and the authority of those whom he esteems and admires; or to the differences of impressions, accordingly as they take place in a mind preoccupied 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.

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