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Take again, as a sample of versification, the opening of the hundred and fourth psalm:
Father and King of Powers, both high and low,
Of crystal light, mother of colours all; &c.
The heroic couplet could hardly do its work better in the hands of Dryden.
The truth is that Bacon was not without the "fine phrensy of the poet; but the world into which it transported him was one which, while it promised visions more glorious than any poet could imagine, promised them upon the express condition that fiction should be utterly prohibited and excluded. Had it taken the ordinary direction, I have little doubt that it would have carried him to a place among the great poets; but it was the study of his life to refrain his imagination and keep it within the modesty of truth; aspiring no higher than to be a faithful interpreter of nature, waiting for the day when the "Kingdom of Man should come.
Besides these translations, Bacon once wrote a sonnet: but we know no more about it than that it was meant in some way or other to assist in sweetening the Queen's temper towards the Earl of Essex and it has either not been preserved at all, or not so as to be identified. There are also two other poems which have been ascribed to him, whether upon the authority of any one who had means of knowing, I cannot say; but certainly upon external evidence which, in the absence of internal evidence to the contrary, entitles them to a place somewhere in this edition: and there can be no place fitter than this.
The first is to be found in a volume of manuscript collections now in the British Museum (Bibl. Regia, 17. B. L.); but the hand is that of a copyist, and tells us only that somebody had said
1 Indicia vera de Interpretatione Natura, sive de Regno Hominis. Title of the Novum Organum.
a fact however
or thought that the verses were by Bacon: which is worth rather more in this case than in many others; inasmuch as (verses being out of Bacon's line) a man merely guessing at the author is not likely to have thought of him. The internal evidence tells for little either way. They are such lines as might very well have been written by Bacon, or by a hundred other people.
VERSES MADE BY MR. FRANCIS BACON.
The man of life upright, whose guiltless heart is free
The horrors of the deep and terrors of the skies;
Thus scorning all the care that Fate or Fortune brings,
The other is a more remarkable performance; and is ascribed to Bacon on the authority of Thomas Farnaby, a contemporary and a scholar. It is a paraphrase of a Greek epigram, attributed by some to Poseidippus, by others to Plato the Comic poet, and by others to Crates the Cynic. In 1629, only three years after Bacon's death, Farnaby published a collection of Greek Epigrams under the title Η τῆς ἀνθολογίας ̓Ανθολογία: Florilegium Epigrammatum Græcorum, eorumque Latino versu a variis redditorum. After giving the epigram in question, with its Latin translation on the opposite page, he adds - Huc elegantem V. C. L. Domini Verulamii rapedíav adjicere adlubuit; and then prints the English lines below (the only English in the book); with a translation of his own opposite, in rhyming Greek. A copy of the English lines was also found among Sir Henry Wotton's papers, with the name Francis Lord Bacon at the bottom';-a fact which would be of weight, if one could
See Reliquiæ Wottonianæ, p. 513.
infer from it that Wotton believed them to be genuine; for he was a man likely enough to know. This however would be too much to infer from the mere circumstance that the paper had been in Wotton's possession, for it may have been sent to him by a correspondent, he knowing nothing about it: and as the case stands, he is not sufficiently connected with it to be cited as a witness. But on the other hand Farnaby's evidence is direct and strong. He speaks as if there were no doubt about the fact; nor has there ever, I believe, been a rival claim put in for any body else. So that unless the supposition involves some improbability (and I do not myself see any), the natural conclusion is that the lines were really written by Bacon. And when I compare them with his translations of the 90th and 137th psalms, the metre of which, though not the same, has a kind of resemblance which makes the comparison more easy,—especially in the rhymed couplet which closes each stanza, - I should myself say that the internal evidence is in favour of their being by the same hand.
The original (the text of which I take from Wellesley's Anthologia Polyglotta) runs thus:
ΠΟΣΕΙΔΙΠΠΟΥ, οἱ δὲ ΠΛΑΤΩΝΟΣ ΚΩΜΙΚΟΥ.
Ποίην τις βιότοιο τάμοι τρίβον ; εἶν ἀγορῇ μὲν
The English lines which follow (described as "Lord Verulam's elegant Tapedia") are not meant for a translation, and can hardly be called a paraphrase. They are rather another poem on the same subject and with the same sentiment; and though the topics are mostly the same, the treatment of them is very different. The merit of the original consists almost entirely in its compactness; there being no special felicity in the expres
sion, or music in the metre.
In the English, compactness is
not aimed at, and a tone of plaintive melody is imparted, which is due chiefly to the metrical arrangement, and has something very pathetic in it to my ear.
The world's a bubble, and the life of man
less than a span;
In his conception wretched, from the womb
so to the tomb:
Curst from the cradle, and brought up to years
Who then to frail mortality shall trust,
And where's the city from all vice so free,
Domestic cares afflict the husband's bed,
or pains his head.
Those that live single take it for a curse,
or do things worse.
Some would have children; those that have them moan, or wish them gone.
What is it then to have or have no wife,
But single thraldom, or a double strife?
So little does the effect depend upon the metre, that a fair enough idea may be conveyed of it in English blank verse, which can follow the words more closely than rhyme.
What life shall a man choose? In court and mart
Are quarrels and hard dealing; cares at home;
Labours by land; terrors at sea; abroad,
Either the fear of losing what thou hast,
Or worse, nought left to lose; if wedded, much
Discomfort; comfortless unwed; a life
With children troubled, incomplete without:
Youth foolish, age outworn. Of these two choose then ;
Or never to be born, or straight to die.
272 PREFACE TO TRANSLATION OF CERTAIN PSALMS.
Our own affections still at home to please
is a disease:
To cross the seas to any foreign soil
perils and toil.
Wars with their noise affright us: when they cease,
What then remains, but that we still should cry