Writing Francis Bacon’s Letters
2010 Seminar Series / Thursday 6 May, 2010
Professor Alan Stewart (Columbia University and the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, QMUL) offers a fascinating case study. Taking as his starting point the anomaly that, despite his standing as a public intellectual, Bacon’s extant letters (c.800) do not address scholarly themes and were not exchanged with continental luminaries (instead focusing on a ‘worldly and slightly sordid narrative’ of political affairs), Stewart argues that for an epistolary elaboration of Bacon’s intellectual agenda we need to focus on the letters he crafted as a lawyer and junior parliamentarian on behalf of Robert Devereux (the 2nd Earl of Essex) during the 1590s. Within an environment of manuscript production in which letters were not a private ‘conversation between two absent persons’ (in the Erasmian formulation) but were instead drafted, disseminated, and consumed collaboratively, and a political one in which Essex relied on a large team of quasi-scholarly secretaries and advisers to generate key documentation, Bacon was able to use the letters to advance anonymously themes which prefigure his later The Advancement of Learning (1605).