While much is known about Francis Bacon’s life-long interest in the advancement of learning, the acquisition of knowledge and his experiments in the natural world, all of which has had impact on our lives today, relatively little attention has been given to the spiritual influences, internal and external, that affected Bacon’s own consciousness, shaped his character and informed his work.
And while the founders of the Francis Bacon Society believed that his pursuit of knowledge was as much about spiritual renewal as it was about developing a scientific approach to revealing nature’s secrets or initiating a literary renaissance, this aspect of Bacon’s life and work seems to have, in the last few decades at least, taken second place to the intellectually intriguing and enticing exercise of discovering and deciphering codes related to the Shakespeare authorship question. Yet as no less a figure than the late Manley Palmer Hall has pointed out, we need to look at the transcendental nature of Bacon’s thought if we wish to shed light on this and other mysteries associated with him, including Oak Island and the Bruton church vault.
So, in this article we merely wish to cover that ground by drawing attention to some of what Bacon himself said and wrote on the matter and also to what has been said of him by some of those who have studied his life and work in this regard and written about it.
In this extract from his preface to The Great Instauration Bacon, for whom learning was illumination and a gift from the Father of Lights, leaves us in no doubt that his thirst for greater knowledge of the human condition and his explorations into what he called the world of second causes was not divorced from his abiding belief in the divine and the existence of an invisible first cause.
‘At the outset of this work I most humbly and fervently pray to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, that remembering the sorrows of mankind and the pilgrimage of this our life wherein we wear out days few and evil , they will vouchsafe through my hands to endow the human family with new mercies. This likewise I humbly pray, that things human may not interfere with things divine, and that from the opening of the ways of sense and the increase of natural light there may arise in our minds no incredulity or darkness with regard to the divine mysteries…..’
In his desire to foster a greater knowledge of God’s creation Bacon, true to character, called for the ‘cultivation of truth in charity.’ This generousity of spirit exists throughout all his work and his entire life. Rightly did Ben Johnson, who knew him well, claim that Bacon was ‘the embodiment of virtue.’
The most knowledgeable source of information about Francis Bacon’s character and his visionary intellect is his private chaplain and close friend William Rawley, to whom Bacon bequeathed his papers. According to Rawley, who was later appointed chaplain to King Charles I and King Charles II, Bacon was a man ‘….. free from malice; He was no revenger of injuries; he was no defamer of any man; but would always say the best that could be said of any person, even an enemy.’ Rawley, with help from Bacon’s former private secretary Thomas Meautys and others, devotedly spearheaded the work that resulted in the publication of many of Bacon’s manuscripts, some of which remained unfinished, following Bacon’s death in 1626. One was the English version of NewAtlantis, Bacon’s most spiritually infused literary work.
In it he presents his vision of an advanced civilization, in which scientific understanding and application compliments enlightened religious belief and practise in the creation of a future utopia.
Not surprisingly it has been speculated that the consciousness that gave rise to this visionary work also influenced the philosophical and spiritual framework on which the new nation of the United States of America was formed. We know that Bacon was involved in the establishment of early colonies in the new world and was considered by Thomas Jefferson, among others, to have contributed greatly to the welfare of mankind.
In 1657 Rawley further honoured Bacon’s wishes and memory with thepublication of Resuscitatiowhich, apart from bringing other writings of Bacon’s to light, contained an account of his life. Rawley, who wrote from years of personal observation, said ‘….. I have been induced to think that ifthere was a beam of knowledge derived from God (shining) upon any man inthese modern times, it was upon him. For though he was a great reader ofbooks, yet he had not his knowledge from books, but from some grounds andnotions from within himself; which, notwithstanding, he vented (shared) with great caution and circumspection.’
So when Bacon, whose worldview grew from his deep knowledge of the Bible, his extensive philosophical studies and his respect for subjective reflection as much as for objective analysis, said of himself ‘My purpose is to try whether I cannot in every fact lay more firmly the foundations, and extend more widely the limits, of the power and greatness of man…..sowing for future ages the seeds of purer truth’ he was expressing his intent on initiating a reformation of our understanding of both the human and the divine worlds.
Knowing what we do of the man, his aspirations and accomplishments, there seems little doubt that he was at times inspired and the benefactor ofRawley’s ‘beam of knowledge derived from God’ leading to illumination.
Richard Maurice Bucke, the nineteenth century Canadianpsychotherapist and author of Cosmic Consciousness, a study of the evolutionof the human mind considered Bacon to have been one of a number of enlightened individuals, those who had experienced and were influenced by a higher and more expansive state of consciousness. Inspired by his own transitory experience of illumination Bucke, who was a member of the Royal Society of Canada, wrote the book to illustrate that down through history various individuals, most notably Jesus, Buddha, St. Paul, Muhammad and Sri Ramakrishna had demonstrated that mankind was capable of evolving mentally and spiritually and of experiencing what he called Cosmic Consciousness. Others referenced in the book as having been receptive to and influenced by this exalted state include the English poet and mystic William Blake and of course Francis Bacon.
Bucke, whose writings contributed to the development of transpersonal psychology, believed that this elevated state of consciousness, most often accompanied by an awareness of universal and all-pervading love, enabled Bacon to work in a highly creative and prodigious manner on the plays. Speaking of such a state he said ‘It is perhaps impossible for the merely self-conscious man to form any concept of what the oncoming of Cosmic Consciousness must be and mean to those who experience it.’ He points out that such individuals often seem to function from two levels, seeking solitude and producing exceptional work for periods at a time, then returning to a more normal life at others. Of additional interest to Baconians is the fact that he suggests that this phenomenon is part of the solution to the controversy over the authorship of the Shakespeare plays.
Manley Palmer Hall, the Canadian born author of The Secret Teachings of the Ages also considered Bacon to have been so endowed and among the ‘leading lights’ of his age and attributed the Shakespeare plays to his pen. He had this to say about the man. ‘Sir Francis Bacon was a link in that great chain of minds which has perpetuated the Secret Doctrine of the Ages from the beginning. The Secret Doctrine is concealed in his cryptic writings and philosophy.’ In Manley Hall’s chapter entitled Bacon, Shakespeare and the Rosicrucians he made a point of emphasising that the search for this Divine Wisdom is the only legitimate motive for the effort to decode Bacon’s cryptograms and understand his philosophy. Referring to the plays he says ‘The philosophical ideals promulgated throughout the Shakespeare plays demonstrate their author to have been thoroughly familiar with certain doctrines and certain tenets peculiar to Rosicrucianism; in fact the profundity of the Shakespearean productions stamps their creator as one of the illuminati of the ages.’
Rosicrucianism, as I’m sure readers of this article would know, came to public prominence during Bacon’s lifetime. It emerged out of a need to reintroduce and reintegrate the Hermetic tradition into spiritual thought, to restore Christianity to its mystical roots, to reinvigorate the spiritual quest, and in the process provide, for those receptive to its teaching, a way forward out of the rigid and conflict ridden religious environment of the times. Itseems obvious from his aspirations and philosophical writings, most notablyin New Atlantis, that Bacon associated himself with this movement.
Hall, after commenting on the fact that while many of those who hadup to his time been engaged in the Bacon/Shakespeare authorship question have done so on a purely intellectual basis and added ‘notwithstanding their scholarly attainments they have overlooked the important part played by
Transcendentalism in the philosophic achievements of the ages’ and he suggests that the solution to the authorship mystery lies in mining the plays for the esoteric content, their mystic Christianity.
In her book The Rosicrucian Enlightenment the late Dame Frances Yates, who in this and other works traced the thread that linked the ancient Hermetic tradition, the esotericism of the Middle Ages and the European
Renaissance to Elizabethan England, as evident in the lives and work of astrologer John Dee, Robert Fludd and the philosopher Francis Bacon. While hesitant to place Bacon’s work as part of the Rosicrucian movement she certainly saw a parallel spiritual path running through both. Commenting on Bacon’s New Atlantis she said ‘the religion of New Atlantis has much in common with that of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes. It is intensely Christian in spirit, though not doctrinal, interpreting the Christian spirit in terms ofpractical benevolence.’
Paolo Rossi, the renowned Italian historian and author, in his highly acclaimed book Francis Bacon, From Magic to Science,also claimed that Bacon was influenced by the Hermetic tradition, the magic and cabala of the European Renaissance.‘Let Bacon speak and wise men would rather listen though the revolution of the kingdom was on foot’, so said Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American transcendentalist. Referring to Bacon’s Novum Organum he said ‘Few books ever written contain so much wisdom and will bear to be read so many times’…..and added ‘(Bacon’s writings) are clothed in a style of such splendour that imaginative persons find sufficient delight in the beauty of expression…..It is the survey of a superior being, so commanding, so prescient, as if the great intellectual world lay open before him.’ His comments could be equally applied to the Shakespeare cannon. In fact Emerson also was inclined to believe that Bacon was the author of the plays.
Alfred Dodd the Masonic author of Francis Bacon‘s Personal Life Story and the Secret History of Francis Bacon referred to him as a Master soul intent on leading England into a more enlightened age, beneficially effecting the spiritual and material life of future generations. This also was the view of Constance Potts, the driving force behind the founding of the Francis Bacon Society in 1885, in her book Francis Bacon and his Secret Society.
The American poet and playwright Paula Fitzgerald in her three act play entitled I, Prince Tudor, Wrote Shakespeare, which I was fortunate to participate in at the Library Theatre in Williamsburg, Virginia some years ago, presents Bacon as a Christ-like figure and leading member of an esoteric group working under the influence of a Higher Force. Her several other plays also focus on the spiritual influences at work in the lives of other prominent historical figures, such as Abraham Lincoln (A Nation Under God) and George Washington Carver (What’s a Saint Brother?) She also penned a trilogy about the life of the Christ, based on the psychic material given through the renowned American seer Edgar Cayce. The title of the play isfrom a book written by Bacon apologist Margaret Barsi Green and publishedin 1973. Like Dr. Orville Owen and Elizabeth Wells Gallop before her, she believed that Bacon not only wrote the plays but was also the unacknowledged son of Queen Elizabeth I.
In referring to the play Paula Fitzgerald wrote, ‘It is the purpose of the play, indeed of all my plays, to reveal the soul of the character I am presenting, the inner, deeper, higher feelings that are seldom seen or realized by the onlooker (or historian). In order to accomplish this I must seek an attunement with that soul…..This I do through research, through prayer and meditation….through the depths and heights my (own) soul can reach.’ In her notes to the actor portraying Bacon in the play she wrote ‘Bacon is an extraordinary genius of a man functioning from the level of his own higher consciousness. A man born to influence the public and private affairs of mankind. His Third Eye has been opened in his mind and he is in contact with the Godhead. Although not immune to human failure, he is endeavouring to do his best to serve the Most High in all his thoughts and actions. Through his writings, including for the theatre, and petitions (to the crown) he is endeavouring to bring about a spiritual regeneration of mankind. He is a man with a vast inner world of experience and feeling. Like St. Paul, he knows that knowledge amounts to little if it is not imbued with love for his fellow man.’It is a play that, given what has already been written about Bacon`s spiritual vision, consciousness and character, offers an insightful and plausible scenario on the authorship question. Bacon, his soul receptive to the influences of his own higher consciousness and as the leading member of a group of esotericists of the time, is inspired to write the plays.
Already acquainted with the theatre as a means to influence, impress and educate, he enlists the help of the Stratford born actor and theatre manager WilliamShakespeare in bringing the plays to the public. Shakespeare, in awe of Bacon`s talent and great vision for mankind, becomes his willing but secretive accomplice. Eventually conflicted by the deceptive role he is required to play, Shakespeare withdraws from the arrangement, only to end up immersed in petty disputes and self-destructive behaviour which results in his death.
While not written for the commercial stage, the play offers anyone interested in Bacon’s whole-world view and visionary mindset a plausible scenario of how he could have used his extensive knowledge to reach as wide and diverse an audience as possible. In I, Prince Tudor, Wrote Shakespeare, we see how playwriting offered Bacon the opportunity to present in dramatic and engaging form a holistic philosophy born of the Hebraic- Christian mystical tradition and to demonstrate, through the characters and circumstances in the plays, the inherent existence and acting out of immutable laws that govern human behaviour for good or ill.
In The Great Instauration Bacon, for whom knowledge was the knowledge of causes, set out his plan for progress in both divine and human understanding, in the hope that it would lead mankind to a state of conscious communion with the First Cause for the benefit of all. From his own words, apart from what has been said about him by others, we know that he saw the need for the parallel growth of a more spiritual consciousness in line with intellectual development and scientific progress, if this was ever to be accomplished.
Perhaps our growing interest in spirituality, along with our current knowledge of transformational psychology and recent developments in science, particularly in the field of quantum physics, may get us there.