Essex and Bacon

[R OBERT D EVEREUX , Earl OF E SSEX , beheaded February 25, 1601. F RANCIS B ACON .]

Essex . I did believe, sir, I had helpt to raise
Many to wealth and station, some to fame,
And one to friendship.
Bacon . You, my noble earl,
Have done it; and much more. We must lament
A power thus past (or rather thrown) away.
Essex . Thou? thou lament it, Bacon?
Bacon . To my soul.
Essex . Why then, with energy beyond the pitch
Of brawling law, cry vengeance? when my fortune
Was pierced with every bolt from every hand,
Soon as the golden links were snapt asunder
Which those who rule the earth held round that bird
Who bore their lightnings and struck down their foes.
Bacon . My gracious lord! were always their commands
Well waited for?
Essex . Nay, by my troth, my zeal
Outflew them.
Bacon . Your return was unadvised.
Essex . Unwelcome: that is worse.
Bacon . The worst of all
Was summoning to arms a loyal land,
Basking in peace and plenteousness.
Essex . How far
Extended this your basking? court indeed
And inns of law were warm enough; on those
The sun beats all the day, through all the year;
Everything there so still and orderly,
That he who sneezes in them is caught up
And cudgell'd for his pains.
Bacon . Should he awake
Trumpets by sneezing, should he blow up banners,
'Twere well if only cudgels fell on him:
Our laws have sharper instruments, my lord!
Essex . I know it; and I knew it ere I rose.
Bacon . O! had this never happened!
Essex . Then wouldst thou
Have lost some smiles, some parlyings, some tags
Of ermine, and, what more thou valuest
(As any wise man would) some little gold.
Bacon . Dross!
Essex ( smiling ). Very true! . . as men are dust and ashes.
Bacon . Such thoughts become all mortals; most of all
Those who have fallen under high displeasure,
Who have their God and Prince to reconcile,
And are about to change this brief vile life . . .
Nay, nay, my lord! your life may rest unchanged
For years to come, if you, upon your knees,
Humbly ask pardon . .
Essex ( fiercely ). Pardon!
( After hesitation .) I will ask it . .
Bacon . . . Before the privy council, and the court
Especially assembled.
Essex ( indignantly ). Not before
The best among them, were he quite alone,
No, by the soul of Essex! were he Raleigh . .
The only great man there.
Bacon . Are we so scorned?
Essex . Bacon! I did not say the only wise one:
So, do not break thy ring, or loose the stone.
Bacon . My lord! my finger might have been uneasy
Without such notice from that once high peer
Erewhile the Earl of Essex . . until treason
Leveled him lower than burgess or than churl.
Essex . I will not say thou liest; for thy tongue
Lags far behind thy heart; thy strongest wit
May stretch and strain, but never make them yoke-mates.
Bacon . This cork appliance, this hard breathing, served
While there was water under for support,
But cut a dismal figure in the mud.
Essex . To servile souls how abject seem the fallen!
Benchers and message-bearers stride o'er Essex!
Bacon . Unmasted pinnace may row safely under
No high colossus, without pricking it.
But, sure, the valiant Earl is somewhat chafed . .
Who could have thought it! . . by a worm like me!
Essex . Begone! I have fairly weighed thee.
Bacon ( alone .) He weigh me!
No man is stout enough to trim the balance,
Much less to throw the weight in . .
He weigh me!
Flaunting and brittle as a honeysuckle,
Sweet in the chamber, in the field blown down,
Ramping in vain to reach again its prop,
And crusht by the first footfall.
Stares, but sees badly . . snatches with quick gripe
What seems within the reach, and, being infirm
Of stand, is overbalanced.
Shall I bear
Foul words upon me?
I have thrown them back
Manfully to the beard that wagged with them . .
My courage is now safe beyond suspicion . .
Myself can hardly doubt it after this . .
Yet that audacious criminal dared spit
Reproaches! seldom are they bearable,
But, springing up from reason, sting like asps . .
Not that the man has reason . . he has none . .
For, what had I to do with it? I spoke . .
And, when we are commanded, we must speak.
It was her Grace . . and surely she knows best.
I may now wash my hands of him at last,
I have but done my duty . . fall who may.
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