Obrázky stránek

French words, why not others?

[ocr errors]

Why not say 'Good

swoear' (sic, entry 1190) for Good-night,' and 'Goodmatens' (1192) for 'Good-morning?' Instead of 'twilight,' why not substitute vice-light' (entry 1420)? Instead of impudent,' how much more forcible is 'brazed' (entry 1418)! On the lines of this suggestive principle Francis Bacon pursues his experimental path, whether the experiments be small or great-sowing, as Nature sows, superfluous seeds, in order that out of the conflict the strongest may prevail. For before we laugh at Bacon for his abortive word-experiments, we had better wait for the issue of Dr. Murray's great Dictionary which will tell us to how many of these experiments we are indebted for words now current in our language.

Many interesting philological or literary questions will be raised by the publication of the Promus. The phrase 'Good-dawning,' for example, just mentioned, is found only once in Shakespeare, put into the mouth of the affected Oswald (Lear, ii. 2, 1), 'Good-dawning to thee, friend.' The quartos are so perplexed by this strange phrase that they alter dawning' into 'even,' although a little farther on Kent welcomes the comfortable beams' of the rising sun. Obviously dawning' is right; but did the phrase suggest itself independently to Bacon and Shakespeare? Or did Bacon make it current among court circles, and was it picked up by Shakespeare afterwards? Or did Bacon jot down this particular phrase, not from analogy, but from hearing it in the court? Here again we must wait for Dr. Murray's Dictionary to help us; but meantime students of Elizabethan literature ought to be grateful to the author for having raised the question. Again, Bacon has thought it worth while to enter (entry 1189) the phrase 'Good-morrow.' What does this mean?


is one of the commonest phrases in the plays of Shakespeare, occurring there nearly a hundred times; why, then, did Bacon take note of a phrase so noteworthless? Because, replies our author (p. 64), the phrases 'Goodmorrow' and 'Good-night,' although common in the Plays, occur only thirty-one times and eleven respectively in a list of some six thousand works written during or before the time of Bacon. Here a word of caution may be desirable. It is very hard to prove a negative. The inspection of six thousand works,' even though some of them may be short single poems, might well tax any

mortal pair of eyes. Not improbably critics will find occasion to modify this statement; and not till the allknowing Dictionary appears shall we be in possession of the whole truth. Nevertheless, the author is probably correct, that the frequency with which 'Good-morrow and 'Good-night' are used by Shakespeare is not paralleled in contemporary dramatists; and, after all, there remains the question, why did Bacon think it worth while to write down in a note-book the phrase 'Good-morrow if it was at that time in common use ?-surely a question of interest, for the mere raising of which we ought to be grateful to the author.

Of original sayings there are not many that have not been elsewhere reproduced and improved in Bacon's later works. Yet the Promus occasionally supplies sententious maxims, sharp retorts, neat and dexterous phrases of transition,' graceful and well-rounded compliments, which are not only valuable as instances of the elaborate and infinite pains which Bacon was willing to take about niceties of language, but have also a value of their own. I have heard of an educated man whose whole stock in trade (in the way of assenting phrases) consisted of the

sentence, It naturally could be so.' Such a one, and many others whose vocabulary is very little less limited, may do worse than study some of the entries in the following pages, not, indeed, to reproduce them, but to learn how, by working on the same lines in modern English, they may do something to improve and enrich their style.

Analogy and antithesis, antithesis and analogy, these are the secrets of the Baconian force; and although we cannot bring to the use of these instruments the 'brayne cut with facets' (entry 184) which, out of a few elementary facts, could produce results of kaleidoscopic beauty and variety, yet the dullest cannot fail to become less dull if he once gains a glimmering of Bacon's method of utilising language and his system of experimenting with it. Even for mere enjoyment, the world ought not willingly to let die so courtly a compliment as this, for example, jotted down for use at some morning interview, and surely intended for no one less than Queen Gloriana herself, I have not said all my prayers till I have bid you goodmorrow' (entry 1196). To illustrate the importance of far-fetched efforts, everyone will be glad to be reminded by Bacon of the quotation 'Quod longe jactum est leviter ferit' (entry 190); but we should give a still heartier welcome to a proverb which should be imprinted on the heart of every would-be poet in this most affected generation: That that is forced is not forcible' (entry 188). Again, how neat is the defence of late rising, 'Let them have long mornings that have not good afternoons' (entry 400); how pretty the antithesis in That is not so, by your favour;' Verily, by my reason it is so' (entry 206); and how skilfully turned is the epistolary conclusion (entry 116), Wishing you all happiness, and myself

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

opportunity to do you service; or (entry 1398), ' Value me not the less because I am yours.' Lastly, among weightier sayings, we cannot afford to forget, 'So give authors their due as you give time his due, which is to discover truth' (entry 341); or the defence of new doctrine against lazy inattention, Everything is subtile till it be conceived' (entry 187); or the philosophic asceticism of 'I contemn few men but most things' (entry 339).

[ocr errors]

The proverbs and quotations also are by no means without interest. It is quite worth while to know what phrases from the Vulgate, Virgil, Ovid, Seneca, and Erasmus were thought worthy by Francis Bacon of insertion in his commonplace book. Readers will find that he never jotted down one of these phrases unless he thought that it contained, or might be made to contain, some double meaning, some metaphysical allusion, something at least worth thinking about; and to publish some of the best things of the best classical authors, thought worthy of being collected by one of our best English authors, seems a work that needs no apology.

Besides, in many cases the proverbs are unfamiliar to modern ears, and most readers will be glad to be introduced to them. Take, for example, from the list of the French proverbs, which are too often sadly cynical and very uncomplimentary to women, the two 'Mal pense qui ne repense' (entry 1553) and Mal fait qui ne parfait' (1554). Another excellent French proverb 'Nourriture passe nature' (entry 1595) is doubly interesting, partly for its intrinsic and important truth, partly because it may have suggested the thought which we find in the Essay on Custom (Essays, xxxix. 14): Nature, nor the engagement of words, are not so forcible as custom;' and again (ibid. 6), There is no trusting to the force of

nature, except it be corroborated by custom.'


the proverb of Erasmus (entry 531), ' Compendiaria res improbitas' ('Rascality takes short cuts'), evidently suggested the next entry in English (532), 'It is in action as it is in wayes: commonly the nearest is the foulest,' and this is afterwards embodied in the Advancement of Learning.

As for the illustrative quotations from Shakespeare, apart from the interest which they will possess for those who may be willing to entertain and discuss the thesis of the author, they have a further value, inasmuch as they show how the thoughts and phrases of the Bible and of the great Latin authors were passing into the English language as exhibited in the works of Shakespeare, and how the proverbs, not only of our own nation but also of the Latin language, popularised in our schools by the reading of Erasmus, were becoming part and parcel of English thought.

A word of apology in behalf of the author must conclude these brief remarks. The difficulties of the work would have been great even for a scholar well versed in Latin and Greek and blessed with abundance of leisure. The author makes no pretence to these qualifications, and the assistance obtained in preparing the work, and in inspecting and correcting the proof-sheets, has unfortunately not been sufficient to prevent several errors, some of which will make Latin and Greek scholars feel uneasy. For these, in part, Bacon himself, or Bacon's amanuensis, is responsible; and many of the apparent Latin solecisms or misspellings arise, not from the author's pen, but from the manuscript of the Promus.' But the renderings from

I understand that it is the opinion of Mr. Maude Thompson of the British Museum Manuscript Department, that all the entries, except some of the French proverbs, are in Bacon's handwriting; so that no amanuensis can bear the blame of the numerous errors in the Latin quotations.

« PředchozíPokračovat »