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Friday, April 3, 2015

Bacon and "Beastliness."
The Speaker, February 8, 1902 

Sir,- In your last issue there is a curious letter from "G. G. G.," who is violently angry with me, I cannot exactly discover why. I have exhaustively examined my previous history, and I think he must be a man I once met on a very dark evening, and whom mistaking for a person who he really wasn’t, I amused with an admirably delicate and powerful analysis of the person who he really was. That is the only incident of my career that I can imagine to have justified such a God-like paroxysm. But whatever his motive, the specific charges he brings against me appear to be two, first that I am fond of paradox, which is true in a certain degree, and second that I do not admire the moral character of Francis Bacon, which is true in any degree that he likes to mention. Let me take these two questions seriatim.

On the subject of paradox I wish to speak to "G. G. G." like a father. He has got into his head that extraordinary idea that paradox is a flowery, artificial thing, invented by literary flaneurs. If that were all, paradox would never have become sufficiently widespread and obvious for him to be aware of its existence. Humanity would soon have exhausted the fun of the somewhat simple game of saying that black was white. The reason that paradox is continuous and ancient (the word itself dates from the time of Plato) is quite clear and sufficient. The reason is that there is really a strand of contradiction running through the whole universe. In proportion as men perceive it, they admit a contradiction: in proportion as men become honest they become paradoxical. Let me take, for the sake of argument, a simple example. If there be an absolutely normal thing in humanity it is the admiration of courage. It is the first virtue that the savage learns: it is the last virtue which the decadent most reluctantly abandons. If the most sanguinary African cannibal were suddenly brought face to face with the most cultivated correspondent of The Speaker, the one solitary point which they would be likely to hold in common would be a great aversion to being generally described as having run away from each other. Here, in this matter of courage, if any- where, there is a point of ordinary human unanimity. And yet courage is a paradox, and can best and most easily be expressed by a paradox. I have only to say, "Courage involves the power of being frightened," and you have a paradox and a plain fact of common sense. For we certainly do not talk of the courage of the entomologist in boldly smiting the beetle, because he does not fear it. Nor do we speak of the courage of the suicide in facing death, because he does not fear death. Courage involves fear, and this is only one of the million paradoxes which existed in Nature ages before any literary men ever borrowed them. So it is with a hundred other paradoxes; among others those which "G. G. G." has collected from my widely-scattered utterances with more industry than they deserve. He complains that I say, "There is nothing so natural as supernaturalism." But, what could be more plainly and prosaically true? Six typical savages live in six different parts of the globe, wholly disconnected. As soon as they develop even so much intelligence as to realise that flints are sharp, or that fire warms the hands, they begin simultaneously to say that the tree is possessed by their great-grandfather and that a spirit speaks in the thunder. How can this state of things be described more accurately than by saying that there is nothing so natural as supernaturalism? It is a paradox, but it is God, and not I, who should have the credit of it. It may not have occurred to "G. G. G."- it has often occurred to me- that it was this ingrained paradox of the cosmos which led so many religious, wisely enough, to boast not that they had an explanation of the Universe, but that they had a pure, defiant paradox, like the Athanasian Creed.

The second part of "G. G. G's" letter is devoted to the subject of my remarks on Bacon, and I almost believe that "G. G. G." must be two gentlemen; for while the first part has all the lighter graces of the Daily Mail, the second part changes the note to that of the deep pathos and stem decision of the Daily Telegraph. "What possible justification," he says, "can there be for the application of such words as 'nasty and beastly' to large-browed Verulam?" Again he says (in the name, if I remember aright, of "outraged humanity") that I have "libelled one of the greatest men," &c. Now, what has all this to do with the plain question? It is beyond all question that Bacon was a great man: it is also beyond all question that he was a bad one. The case of his relation to Essex was a matter of moral taste, perhaps, rather than moral rule. A man of essential magnanimity would no more have appeared as advocate against his friend and patron, and then written a pamphlet against him when he was dead, than he would have put a button into a blind beggar's hat to make him think it was a penny. Both acts are quite legal, and are a matter of taste. But the case against Bacon's character is so black that I can afford to pass by any such matter. The immorality of Bacon is attested by the one piece of evidence which all courts of justice on the face of the earth consider of supreme validity—the open confession of the culprit. Bacon confessed when he was tried that he had been a corrupt judge. Why should "G. G. G." desire to defend Bacon where Bacon would not defend himself? The question of Bacon's character and Shakespeare's character has, of course, nothing to do with the Baconian question, but the Baconians urge that Shakespeare's alleged moral degradation is an argument against his authorship. To this I reply that the worst and wildest that is guessed or asserted about Shakespeare is innocent compared to what Francis Bacon asserted about himself. Can there be any doubt of this? If there be any rational or spiritual estimate of sins, can there be any doubt which was the more "nasty" or "beastly"- the rambling play-actor, who (according to the worst fable) fell now and again into unseemly riots, common to other play-actors, or the great, rich, and learned judge, who, having taken oath before God to do justice in a post of frightful responsibility, by his own confession did injustice for hire?— Yours, &c G. K. C.

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