The question whether he wrote Shakespeare’s plays needs almost as much discussion on the moral as on the intellectual side. James Spedding, after studying Bacon’s life and works for thirty years, said: “I see no reason to suppose that Shakespeare did not write the plays. But if somebody else did, then I think I am in a position to say that it was not Lord Bacon.”
After his release, Bacon passed the remaining five years of his life in retirement,—studying and writing. His interest in observing natural objects and experimenting with them was the cause of his death. He was riding in a snowstorm when it occurred to him to test snow as a preservative agent. He stopped at a house, procured a fowl, and stuffed it with snow. He caught cold during this experiment and, being improperly cared for, soon died.
The Essays.—The first ten of his Essays, his most popular work, appeared in the year 1597. At the time of his death, he had increased them to fifty-eight. They deal with a with range of subjects, from Studies and Nobility, On the one hand, to Marriage and Single Life and Gardens on the other. The great critic Hallam say: “It would be somewhat derogatory to a man of the slightest claim to polite letters, were he unacquainted with the Essays of Bacon. It is, indeed, little worth while to read this or any other book for reputation’s, sake; but very few in our language so well repay the pains, or afford more nourishment to the thoughts.”
[Illustration: TITLE PAGE OF BACON’S ESSAYS, 1597.]
The following sentence from the essay Of Studies will show some of the characteristics of his way of presenting thought:—
“Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man: and, therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit; and if he read little, he need have much cunning to seem to know that he doth not.”
We may notice here (1) clearness, (2) conciseness, (3) breadth of thought and observation.
A shrewd Scotchman says: “It may be said that to men wishing to rise in the world by politic management of their fellowmen, Bacon’s Essays are the best handbook hitherto published.” In justification of this criticism, we need only quote from the essay Of Negotiating:—