Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shakespeare's Imagery - Spurgeon 6 of 10

Dr. Spurgeon’s flawed research on Shakespeare and Bacon images – cont. (6)

(6) We think Dr. Spurgeon's next dictum is again entirely unsupported by evidence of any kind. It is that "the nature images, are of a very different character. Bacon's interest is in the practical processes of farming; Shakespeare's of gardening". Dr. Spurgeon is aware that Bacon wrote an essay Of Gardens and she has analysed its images, metaphors, similes we care not what she calls them comparing them carefully with those of Shakespeare. She or her assistants have, we presume, read this essay; if she or they under her direction had done so desiring impartially to reach a true conclusion whether these two minds as she thinks them Bacon's and Shakespeare's were twain or one, she and they would have realized, must have realized, and then honestly recorded Bacon's intense love of gardening which he describes in the second sentence of his essay as the purest of human pleasures. But no, Dr. Spurgeon prefers to write that Bacon's interest was in the practical processes of farming. Must we not conclude that prejudice, the desire to make a case, to bolster up a conclusion with which somehow or another at whatever cost of truth and candour her premises must be fashioned to justify, induce her to do so?

We write plainly about this not because we have any particular quarrel with Dr. Spurgeon, but because her controversial methods are typical of modern orthodox scholarship, which, it seems, will sacrifice every ethic of criticism and even intellectual honesty of purpose upon the Stratford shrine.

In the essay just referred to, twenty-one of the thirty-five flowers mentioned in the Shakespearean plays are enumerated. Of the rest, all but three are noted or studied by Bacon; the exceptions are the columbine, pansy and long purples. All these flowers were but a few of those well known in the time of Bacon and Shakespeare; in all the former's gardening notes there are only five which are not mentioned by Shakespeare, while of Ben Jonson's list of flowers only half are ever alluded to by Bacon.

Again, Bacon was the first writer to distinguish flowers by the season of their blossom. Shakespeare follows this order exactly - he says daffodils come with March, Bacon said that for March, there come violets, especially the single blue, which are the earliest; the yellow daffodil”. Shakespeare writes "spongy April betrims the banks with peonies and lilies" and with May comes the Rose. Bacon studied gardening in every detail with loving care. As an old man he wrote to Lord Cranfield that he proposed to visit him at Chiswick and gather violets in his garden. In the New Atlantis he writes of grafting and inoculating as well of wild trees as fruit trees which Shakespeare makes Polixenes explain that "we marry a gentle scion to the wildest stock and make conceive a bark of baser kind by bud of nobler race". The trial of seeds by skilful gardeners, the curious idea that the earth was especially prepared for the cornflower, the images of our bodies as gardens and our England as a sea-walled garden are all common to Bacon and Shakespeare. We will add one extraordinary parallel. In Troilus and Cressida, Act 1, 3, Shakespeare writes:

Checks and Disasters
Grow in the veins of actions highest rear'd;
As knots, by the conflux of meeting sap
Infect the sound pine and divert his grain
Tortive and errant from his course of growth

Bacon studied the effect of sap upon a tree’s growth, too, and wrote:

"The cause whereof is, for that sap ascendeth unequally, and doth, as it were, tire and stop by the way. And it seemeth, they have some closeness and hardness in their stalk which hindereth the sap from going up, until it hath gathered into a knot and so is more urged to put forth".

And so we find that Shakespeare writes the knots are caused by the conflux of the meeting sap; Bacon writes that where it is arrested the sap gathered into a knot and both think the knots produce the new branches. Yet Dr. Spurgeon writes that in Bacon and Shakespeare we have two highly individual and entirely different minds. So, if Bacon's interest is in farming processes. Be it so. And so was Shakespeare’s.

Bacon writes of The Pacification of the Church, "And what are mingled but as the chaff and the corn which need but a fan to sift and sever them." Shakespeare's is the same image, "the broad and powerful fan Puffing at all, winnows the light away: And what hath mass or matter by itself Lies rich in virtue and unmingled " (Troilus and Cressida, Act I, 3).

But Bacon writes "Money is like muck, not good except it be spread ". And this is a farming image and therefore his interests are in the practical interests of farming and not like Shakespeare's in gardening. But, alas! Shakespeare thinks of wealth as "common muck", too (Coriolanus, Act II, 2), so that by parity of Dr. Spurgeon's reasoning Shakespeare's interests must be in farming as well, and what becomes of her images and her beautifully coloured chart showing the result of a classification which is an entirely arbitrary one, based as far as we can see upon no principle of selection whatever? We will not compare them to that "mass of wealth that was in the owner little better than a stack or heap of . . . spread over Your Majesty's Kingdom to useful purposes" (Bacon's Letter to James I re Sutton's Estate, 1611). "Money is like muck, not good except it be spread" is a remark, according to Dr. Spurgeon, peculiarly characteristic of Bacon. It really is no such thing. Bacon appropriated it from Mr. Bettenham, a reader of Gray's Inn, and exactly the same comparison is made by Jonson, Webster and Dekker. Money is described as muck by Nashe, Peele, Marston, Beaumont and Fletcher, Middleton and Rowley, Heywood and Massinger. The "remark" is therefore not peculiarly characteristic of Bacon or of Shakespeare. But here is something which is--another word for "muck" is "compost. Writes Bacon: "We have also great variety of composts . . . for the making of the earth fruitful" (New Atlantis); but composts also make weeds grow, so Shakespeare has it "do not spread the compost on the weeds to make them ranker". (Hamlet, Act III, 4).

[Note:  see earlier post dedicated to Flowers and Gardening]

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