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THE

FAMOUS HISTORY

OF THE LEARNED

FRIAR BACON

GIVING

A Particular Account of his Birth, Parentage, with the many Wonderful Things he did in his Lifetime, to the amazement of all the World.


Chapter I.

Friar Bacon's Birth and Parentage, and by what means he came to be so great a Scholar. How the King sent for him from Oxford, and in what wonderful manner he pleased the King's Five Senses; also the Comical Pranks he played with a Courtier sent to fetch him.

The famous Friar Bacon, whose name has spread through the world, was born in Lancashire; his father's name was Ralph Bacon, and his name Roger. From his infancy he was observed to have a profound, pregnant wit; as he grew up, a great reader of books and desirous of learning, which to admiration he took so fast that his schoolmaster could teach him no further, and being about to send him home, with commendations, to his father, he, fearing the worst, humbly besought him to prevail, if possible, with his father that he might be sent to the University, where he had a desire to go and learn the liberal sciences.

His schoolmaster denied him not his request, but went home with him, and, taking the old man aside, told him he had learned his son as far as he was able, that he took it in extremely well, and was willing to improve it at the University, and that he was verily persuaded, by the promptness he perceived in him, if he would be at a little charge with him there, he would be so great a proficient as would advance him to an eminent station.

The old man heard this with some indignation, but concealed his anger till the schoolmaster was gone, and then, taking his son to task, said, "How now, sirrah! have not I been at cost enough already, but are you itching to put me to more? Methinks I have given you such learning as to enable you, in time, to be a constable or churchwarden of the parish, and far outdo those in the office that can neither read nor write; let that suffice. As for the rest of your business for the future, it is to learn horse language and whistle well, that you may be dexterous at driving the plough and cart and managing the sheep and oxen; for, sirrah," continued he, "have I anybody else to leave my farm to but you, and yet you take upon you, forsooth, to be a scholard, and consequently a gentleman; for they all profess themselves so, though never so beggarly, living lazily, and eating up the fat of other men's labours, marry gaup! Goodman Twoshoes, your great-grandfather, your grandfather, and I, have thought it no scorn to dig and delve; and pray what better are you than us? Here, sirrah, take this whip and go with me to plough, or I'll so lace your fine scholarship that you had better this had never been mentioned to me."

Young Bacon was much displeased and highly grieved, but durst not reply, knowing his father to be a very hasty, choleric old man; however, this sort of living so little agreed with his sprightly genius that in a short time he gave him the slip, and going to a monastery, making his desires known to the superior, he kindly entertained him, and made him a brother of the Augustin Friars. There he profited so much that in a few years he was sent to Oxford to study at their charge, where he soon grew such a proficient that his fame soon spread, not only in the University, but also over all England, and came to the ears of King Edward the Third, who then reigned; and he, taking a progress with his queen and nobles, was desirous to see him, and have an experiment of his art; so that, being at a nobleman's house within four miles of the city of Oxford, he sent a gentleman of his bedchamber to desire him to come to him. The knight delayed not the message, and, finding him at his study, did his errand. The friar told him he would be with his majesty, and bid him make haste or he should be there before him. At this he smiled, being well mounted, saying scholars and travellers might lie by authority. "Well," said Friar Bacon, "to convince you, I will not only be there before you, ride as fast as you can, but I will there show you the cook-maid you lay with last, though she is now busy dressing the dinner at Sir William Belton's, a hundred miles distance from this place." "Well," said the gentleman of the bedchamber, "I doubt not but one will be as true as the other;" so, mounting, rode laughing away, and thinking to be at the king's quarters in a short space, he spurred his horse valiantly; but suddenly a mist arose, that he knew not which way to go, and, missing the way, he turned down a bye-lane and rode over hedge and ditch, backwards and forwards, till the charm was dissolved.

When the friar came into the king's presence he did him obeisance, and was kindly welcomed by him. Then said the king, "Worthy Bacon, having heard much of your fame, the cause of my sending for you was to be a spectator of some fine curiosities in your art." The friar excused at first; but the king pressing it, promised on his royal word no harm should come to him, he bid all keep silence, and, waving his magic wand, there presently to their great amazement, ensued the most melodious music they had ever heard, which continued very ravishing for nearly half an hour. Then, waving his wand, another kind of music was heard, and presently dancers in antic shapes at a masquerade entered the room, and having danced incomparably well, they vanished. Waving his wand the third time, louder music was heard, and whilst that played, a table was placed by an invisible hand, richly spread with all the dainties that could be thought of. Then he desired the king and queen to draw their seats near, and partake of the repast he had prepared for their highnesses: which, after they had done, all vanished. He waved the fourth time, and thereupon the place was perfumed with all the sweets of Arabia, or that the whole world could produce. Then waving the fifth time, there came in Russians, Persians, and Polanders, dressed in the finest soft fur, silks, and downs of rare fowls, that are to be found in the universe, which he bid them feel, and then the strangers, having danced after their own country fashion, vanished.

In this sort Friar Bacon pleased their five senses, to their admiration and high satisfaction; so that the king offered him money, but he refused it, saying he could not take it. However, the king pressed on him a jewel of great value, commanding him to wear it as a mark of his favour. Whilst this was doing, the gentleman of the bedchamber came in, puffing and blowing, all bemired and dirty, and his face and hands scratched with the bushes and briars. The king, at this sight, demanded why he stayed so long, and how he came in that condition? "Oh, plague," said he, "take Friar Bacon and all his devils! they have led me a fine dance, to the endangering of my neck. But is the dog here? I'll be revenged on him!" Then he laid his hand on his sword, but Bacon, waving his wand, charmed it in his scabbard, so he could not draw it out, saying, "I fear not your anger; 'tis best for you to be quiet, lest a worse thing befall you." Then he told the king how he gave him the lie, when he told him he would be there before him.

Whilst he was thus speaking, in came the cook-maid, brought by a spirit, at the window, with a spit and a roasted shoulder of mutton on it, being thus surprised as she was taking it from the fire; and wishfully staring about her, and espying the gentleman, she cried, "O my sweet knight, are you here? Pray, sir, remember you promised to provide linen and other necessaries for me. Our secret sins have grown, and I've two months to reckon," and hereupon she ran towards him to embrace him; but he turning aside, she was carried out at another window to her master's house again.

This was the cause of both amazement and laughter, though the gentleman was much ashamed and confounded to be thus exposed, still muttering revenge; but Friar Bacon told him his best way was to put up all, since he had verified all his promises, and bid him have a care how he gave a scholar the lie again.

The king and queen, well pleased with the entertainment, highly commending his art, and promising him their favour and protection, took their leave of the friar, returning to London, and he to his study at Brazen Nose College.

Chapter II.

How Friar Bacon put a Comical Trick upon his man Miles, who, pretending Abstinence on a Fast Day, concealed Victuals in his Pocket to eat in a Corner.

Friar Bacon kept a man to wait on him who, though but a simple fellow, yet a merry droll and full of waggeries. His name was Miles, and though his master and those of the order often fasted on set days, Miles loved his guts too well to pinch them, and though outwardly he seemed to fast for compliance, he always kept a private reserve to eat in a corner, which Bacon knew by art, and resolved to put a trick upon him. It so happened on Good Friday, in Lent, a strict fast was held, and Miles seemed very devout; for when his master bid him, however, take a bit of bread and a sip of wine early in the morning to keep him from fainting, he refused it, saying he was a great sinner, and therefore ought to do more than this for his mortification, and to gain absolution, making a great many pretences of sanctity, and how well he was inclined to keep the holy fast. "'Tis well," said the friar, "if I catch you not tripping." Hereupon Miles went to his cell, pretending to pray, but indeed to eat a fine pudding he had concealed: which he had no sooner put into his mouth at one end, but it stuck there; he could neither eat it nor get it out. The use of his hands failed, and he was taken with a shivering all over, so that, thinking he should have died presently, he cried piteously out for help; whereupon Friar Bacon, calling the scholars together, went in to see what was the matter, and perceiving him in that plight said, smiling, "Now I see what a penitent servant I have, who was so conscientious he would not touch a bit of bread, but would willingly have devoured two pounds of pudding to have broke his fast." He piteously entreated him to dissolve the charm and deliver him, and he would never do so again. "Nay," said the friar, "you shall do penance for this;" so, taking hold of the end of the pudding, he led him out to the scholars, saying, "See, here's a queasy-stomached fellow, that would not touch a bit of bread to-day!" When they saw him in this plight, they all fell heartily a-laughing; but Friar Bacon, not so contented, led him to the college gate, and by enchantment fixing the end of the pudding to the bar, he was made so fast to it as if it had been by a cable rope, and on his back were placed these lines:—

"This is Friar Bacon's man, who vow'd to fast,

 But, dissembling, thus it took at last;

 The pudding more religion had than he;

 Though he would eat it, it will not down, you see.

 Then of hypocrisy pray all beware,

 Lest like disgrace be each dissembler's share.

Miles all the while was jeered and sported with by all the scholars and town's people, but, after four hour's penance, his master dissolved the charm, and released him, and he ever after kept the fasts, not so much out of religion as for fear that a worse trick should be put upon him.

Chapter III.

How Friar Bacon saved a Gentleman who had sold himself to the Devil for Money, and put a Trick upon the Old Deceiver of Mankind.

When Friar Bacon flourished at Oxford, a young gentleman, by his prodigality, having run out his estate and involved himself in debt, grew exceeding pensive and melancholy, purposing to make himself away, in order to put an end to his miseries and the scorns that were put daily upon him by his former companions, being also utterly cast off by his friends; so, walking by a wood side, full of sorrow, he met, as he thought, an old man in good clothing, who saluted him and demanded the cause of his melancholy, and why he walked so solitary. At first he refused to tell him, as thinking he could do him no good; but the other urging it, promised to assist him if he wanted anything. He said, "I am in want. I want fine clothes, as I used to have; I want money to buy food, pay debts, redeem my mortgaged land, and many things more. Can you help me to enough to do it?" "I can," said the old man, "on one condition." "What's that?" said the gentleman. "If it be anything tolerable I shall not refuse it, for I cannot be well worse or in greater hardship than I am now." "Why," said the other, "the matter is not so much; you shall only oblige yourself when I have furnished you with money to do all you have named and you have paid every one you owe a farthing to, to become obedient to me, and be disposed of at my pleasure." Now the young man, taking him for a usurer, and very rich, supposed this obligation was only a fetch to marry his daughter or some kinswoman of his, which he could be well contented to do, not doubting to have a good portion, and therefore scrupled not to do as he desired. Upon this he bid him meet him the next morning, about the same time, when he would have the writing ready; and on signing he should have the money. So they parted, and the gentleman delayed not coming, without asking advice, and was as punctually met; but when he saw the writing in blood he was startled a little, but the old man told him it was only a whim of his own to have it so written to distinguish it from other men's, and put his debtors more in mind to repay the money he lent them. Upon this speech, and the gentleman's seeing store of gold and silver brought by three or four of whom he supposed to be servants, he believed it. "But how," said he, "shall I write with the same?" "Oh," said he, "let me see. I'll prick your right vein," which he did, whilst the gentleman found an unusual trembling and an inward remorse in his mind. However, taking the bloody pen in his hand, he desperately subscribed and sealed the writing. Then, telling the money into a cloak bag, he laid it on his horse, and they, with much ceremony, took leave of each other. The gentleman laughed in his sleeve to think how he would find him out, seeing he had not asked, nor himself told him, where he lived.

Soon after he summoned all his creditors, paid them to a farthing, redeemed his land, went gallant, and recovered his esteem in the world; but one evening as he was looking over his writings in his closet, he heard somebody rap at the door, when, opening it, he saw the party he had borrowed the money of, with the writing in his hand, who told him he was now come to demand him, and he must now go along with him; for to his knowledge he had paid his debts, and done whatever was agreed to. The gentleman, wondering how he should know this so soon, denied it. "Nay," replied he, fiercely, "deny it not, for I'll not be cheated of my bargain," and thereupon changed into a horrible shape, struck him almost dead with fear, for now he perceived it was the devil. Then he told him if he did not meet on the morrow, in the same place he had lent him the money, he would come the next day and tear him to pieces. "And," says he, "if I prove not what I say, you shall be quiet"; and so vanished out of the window in a flash of flame, with horrible bellowings. The gentleman, seeing himself in this case, began to weep bitterly, and wished he had been contented in his sad condition, rather than have taken such a desperate way to enrich himself, and was almost at his wits' end.

Friar Bacon, knowing by his art what had passed, came to comfort him, and having heard the whole story, bid him not despair, but pray and repent of his sins, and he would contrive to show the devil a trick that should release him from his obligation. This greatly comforted the gentleman, and he promised to do whatever the friar should order him. "Then," says he, "meet at the time appointed, and I will be near. Offer to put the decision of the controversy to the next that comes by, and that shall be myself, and I will find a way infallibly to give it on your side." Accordingly he met, and the devil consented to put it to arbitration. Then Friar Bacon appearing, "Lo," said the gentleman, "here's a proper judge. This learned friar shall determine it, and if it goes against me, you have free liberty to do with me as you please." "Content," said the devil. Then each of them told their story, and the writing was produced, with all the acquittances he had taken; for the devil, contrary to his knowledge, had stolen them and the other writings belonging to his estate out of his closet. The friar, weighing well the matter, asked the gentleman whether he had paid the devil any of the money he borrowed of him. "No," replied he, "not one farthing." "Why then," said he, "Mr. Devil, his debts are not discharged; you are his principal creditor, and, according to this writing, can lay no claim to him till every one of his debts are discharged." "How! how!" replied the devil, "am I outwitted then? O friar, thou art a crafty knave!" and thereupon vanished in a flame, raising a mighty tempest of thunder, lightning, and rain; so that they were wet through before they could get shelter. Then Bacon charged him he should never pay the devil a farthing of his debt, whatever shape he came in, or artifice he used to wheedle him out of it, and then he could have no power over him. The gentleman on this, living a temperate frugal life, grew very rich, and leaving no children at his death, bequeathed his estate to Brazen Nose College, because Friar Bacon, a member of it, had delivered him from so great a danger of body and soul.

Chapter IV.

How Friar Bacon framed a Brazen Head which, by Enchantment, was to Speak; by that means all England had been walled with Brass, if the Folly of his man Miles, who was set to watch the Head, had not disappointed it, not timely calling his Master to answer it, for which he was struck Dumb many Days.

Friar Bacon, being now a profound proficient in the art of magic and many other sciences, contrived, with one Friar Bungey, who was his pupil, to do something memorable for the good of his country, and many things they cast in their minds. At last they remembered that England had often been harassed and invaded by the Romans, Saxons, Danes, Normans, and other nations at sundry times, to the great effusion of blood, and often alteration of the constitution of governments; and if anything might be contrived to prevent the like for the future, they should thereby raise a lasting monument to their names.

Bacon, upon this, concluded to frame a head of brass, and if, by their art, they could cause it to speak, and answer their demands, they required that all the sea-girt shores of England and Wales should be walled with brass, and brazen towers be raised on the frontiers of Scotland, to hinder the incursions and rovings of the hardy Scots.

They laboured to do this by art, but could not; so they conjured up a spirit, to inquire of the infernal council whether it might be done or not. The spirit, however, was unwilling to answer, till Friar Bacon threatened with his charms to bind him in chains in the Red Sea or to a burning rock, and make him the sport of wrecking whirlwinds.

Terrified by this means, he said of himself he could give no answer, but must inquire of his lord, Lucifer. They granted him two days for an answer. Accordingly he returned this:—"If they for two months would carefully watch the head, it should in that time speak, but the certain time should not be known to them, and then, if they did hear it, they should be answered."

At this they much rejoiced, and watched by turns very carefully for six weeks, and no voice was uttered. At length, tired out, and broken for want of their natural rest, they concluded some other might watch as well as they, till they refreshed themselves in repose, and call them when the head began to speak, which would be time enough; and because this was a secret they did not care for having it known till they saw what they should make of it. Bacon thereupon proposed his man Miles, and Bungey approved of it; so they called Miles, told him the nature of the brazen head and what was intended, by giving him a strict charge on his life, to awake them as soon as ever he heard it speak.

"For that, master," said he, "let me alone. I warrant you I'll do your business effectually, never fear it." So he got him a long sword by his side, and a tabor and pipe to play, and keep him awake if any drowsiness or the like should overtake him.

The charge being given, and he thus accoutred, the two friars went to rest in the next apartment. Miles then began to pipe and sing songs of his sweethearts and frolics:—

"Bessy, that is so frolic and gay,

 Like a cat she loves with her tail to play;

 Though sometimes she'll pant and frown,

 All's well when her anger goes down.

"She'll never say nay, but sport and play;

 O, Bessy to me is the queen of the May;

 For Margery she is peevish and proud;

 Come, fiddlers, then, and scrape the crowd."

Whilst his merriment passed, after a hoarse noise, like thunder almost spent, the head spoke distinctly, "Time Is." "Oh ho!" says Miles, "is this all the news you can tell me? Well, copper nose, has my master taken all this pains about you, and you can speak no wiser? Dost thou think I am such a fool to break his sweet slum for this? No, speak wiser, or he shall sleep on. Time is, quotha! Why, I know time is, and that thou shalt hear, goodman kettle jaws.

"Time is for some to gain,

 Time is for some to lose;

 Time is for some to hand,

 But then they cannot choose.

 Time is to go a score,

 Time is when one should pay:

 Time is to reckon, too,

 But few care for that day.

 Time is to graft the born

 Upon another's head;

 Time is to make maids' hearts swell,

 Oh, then 'tis time they're wed.

"Hear'st thou this, goodman copper nose? We scholars know when time is, without thy babbling. We know when time is to drink good sack, eat well, kiss our hostesses, and run on the score. But when time is to pay them is indeed but seldom."

While thus he merrily discoursed, about half an hour after the same noise began as before, and the head said, "TIME WAS." "Well," said Miles, "this blockish head is the foolishest thing my wise master ever troubled himself about. How would he have laughed, had he been here, to hear it prat so simply! Therefore, thou brazen-faced ass, speak wiser, or I shall never trouble my head to awake him. Time was, quotha! thou ass thou! I know that, and so thou shalt hear, for I find my master has watched and tutored thee to a fine purpose.

"Time was when thou, a kettle,
 Was wont to hold good matter;
 But Friar Bacon did thee spoil
 When he thy sides did batter.
 Time was when conscience dwelt
 With men of each vocation;
 Time was when lawyers did not thrive
 So well by men's vexations.
 Time was when charity
 Was not denied a being;
 Time was when office kept no knaves;
 That time was worth the seeing.

"Ay, ay, and time was for many other things. But what of that, goodman brazen face? I see my master has placed me here on a very foolish account. I think I'd as good go to sleep, too, as to stay watching here to no purpose." Whilst he thus scoffed and taunted, the head spoke a third time, and said, "Time is past!" and so, with a horrid noise, fell down and broke to pieces. Whereupon ensued lamentable shrieks and cries, flashes of fire, and a rattling as of thunder, which awaking the two friars, they came running in, in great disorder found Miles rolling on the floor, in a stinking pickle, almost dead with fear, and the head lying shattered about the room in a thousand pieces. Then, having brought him to his senses again, they demanded how this came. "Nay, the devil knows better than I," said Miles, "I believe he was in this plaguy head: for when it fell, it gave a bounce like a cannon." "Wretch that thou art!" said Bacon, "trifle not with my impatience. Didst thou hear it speak, varlet! answer me that."

"Why, truly," said Miles, "it did speak, but very simply, considering you have been so long a-tutoring it. I protest I could have taught a jackdaw to have spoke better in two days. It said, 'Time is.'" "Oh, villain!" says Bacon, "had'st thou called me then, all England had been walled with brass, to my immortal fame." "Then," continued Miles, "about half an hour after, it said, 'Time was.'" "O, wretch! how my anger burns against thee. Had you but called me then, it might have done what I desired." "Then," said he, "it said, 'Time's past'; and so fell down with the horrid noise that waked you and made me, I am sure, befoul my breeches; and since here's so much to do about time, I think it's time for me to retire and clean myself." "Well, villain," says Bacon, "thou has lost all our cost and pains by thy foolish negligence." "Why," said Miles, "I thought it would not have stopped when it once began, but would have gone on and told me some pleasant story, or have commanded me to have called you, and I should have done it; but I see the devil is a cunning sophister, and all hell would not allow him tinkers and brass enough to do the work, and therefore has put this trick upon us to get oft from his promise." "How, slave," said the friar, "art thou at buffoonery, now thou hast done me this great injury? Sirrah! because you think the head spake not enough to induce you to call us, you shall speak less in two months' space," and with that, by enchantment, he struck him dumb to the end of that time, and would have done worse had not Bungey had compassion on the fellow's simplicity and persuaded him from it.

And thus ends the history of that famous Friar Bacon, who had done a deed which would have made his fame ring through all ages yet to come, had it not been for the simplicity of his man Miles.