Sir Francis Bacon
One Saturday an intriguing item about Bacon in a floataround email got me curious. I did a web search and landed on a great Francis Bacon web site and remained glued to it for some hours, fascinated. ("Bacon strip" image at top of page is from there.)
There I found reams of information about probably the most profound, inspiring, and influential genius since the ancient Greeks. Many of his most celebrated colleagues lined up to say as much in a unique document after his demise. His innovative "public" writings under his own name are probably enough to earn this accolade, but he was also a poet and playwright under other names, most notably Shake-Speare, and he set up a wide, enduring sphere of personal influence through his network of intellectual comrades and two secret societies, mainly Freemasons but also the Rosicrosse (It's not clear to me much today's descendants resemble what he set up.) And he was regarded as a humorous wit second to none!
One modern work on his life is the 1940s biography Francis Bacon's Personal Life Story by Alfred Dodd. It is fascinating, uplifting, moving, and exciting. It is a detailed account including voluminous primary text and image source material, showing how Francis Bacon was much more than he seemed on the surface, although that itself was extraordinary. Alfred Dodd was a Freemason, by the way, which allowed him to recognize Masonic symbolism in the writing and art of the period, an essential part of the Bacon story. The book has one drawback, and that is that Dodd relies in places on so-called "cipher evidence", which I believe should be ignored (see below).
Regarding the Shakespeare authorship, the evidence is extremely extensive and overwhelming and convincing when you see it in any depth. One of my favorite articles about Shakespeare authorship is Mark Twain's, "Is Shakespeare Dead?" from his autobiography. Much more has come to light since Twain wrote that, however. Unfortunately, the Baconian position has gathered a lot of alleged cipher evidence over the last 120 years put forth by incompetent, though well-meaning, nontechincal people. Speaking as a technical person, I believe this material has been thoroughly debunked by the world-renowned husband-and-wife cryptologist team of William Friedman and Elizebeth Friedman in their 1957 book The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined. This is not a fatal blow, however, as there is plenty of evidence without the "cipher evidence". Bacon did write authoritatively about enciphering schemes.)
Another excellent web site is An Authorship Analysis / Francis Bacon as Shake-speare, which includes a lot of scholarly material about Bacon as well as just about every actual fact known about the preposterous candidate, Will Shakspere [sic] or Shaksper [sic] from Stratford, who was used by Bacon (through friends) as a "mask", paid £1,000 and sent back from London to the very remote Stratford, which had no phones then ;-)
'Tis but a mystery story, a diversion, you say. Why not be content with the tradition that God channeled world-wise, innovative, erudite poetry through an ignorant vagabond from a country town? Because it is important that we understand and appreciate genius. It is important that we think rationally. The more you know about Francis Bacon, the more untenable seems the claim that a country ignoramus wrote anything at all, and the more obvious seems the thought that a well-connected, industrious genius who dedicated his life at a young age to "reforming the whole wide world" and who credibly "took all knowledge to be his province" created the Shake-Speare works among many other monumental accomplishments.
It improves us to understand history, especially the history of creativity. Francis Bacon dedicated his life to a reformation in ethics, language, literature, and science. In other words, he was a prime mover of the Renaissance and the prime mover of the English Renaissance. He had a lot of help from a secret band, many of whom he met in law school (Gray's Inn). It is fascinating to learn how the Renaissance was brought about.
When you consider the medieval times, it should not be surprising that most of this revolution was brought about with a lot of secrecy, including publishing anonymously and under the names of cooperating others out of harm's way. Being the first of two unacknowledged sons of Queen Elizabeth (Essex the other) and considering that some of his anonymous publications are known to have enraged the Queen, the secrecy is all the more understandable. There are many letters between Bacon and the Queen, and many of the Sonnets of Shake-Speare take on clarity of meaning when read in chronological context and with the understanding that some were a secret diary and some were letters to the Queen and others.
It goes on and on and on. There is a multitude of fascinating facts.
Read the book.
Imagine if the world accepted Bacon in all his glorious genius and schools taught about his life and thoughts and accomplishments. How much richer the world would be.
This quote, when I got to it on page 393 of Dodd's book, blew me away. Partly it was just the content itself, partly its place in the context of his whole life and quest, and partly that it resonated with my intellectual and character goals:
I've been reading Bacon's Novum Organum in which Bacon criticizes the thinking of his age in illuminating detail and sets forth the foundations for modern science and philosophy (since which there has been much straying...). He lambastes the widespread concentration on worshiping and debating the works of Aristotle and others and urges fresh new thought.
One of Bacon's great aims, which he brought about, was the development of English as a first-class language for literature and scholarship. Nevertheless, he published Novum Organum in Latin so it could reach the widest possible audience among intellectuals. As a result, we can have the pleasure of reading it in a perfectly idiomatic, modern translation (by Peter Urbach and John Gibson), so the text feels fresh, and we can feel some of the excitement one would have felt when it was new, unencumbered by 400-year-old vocabulary, idioms, spelling, etc. (My local Borders store had this book in stock!)