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N 1609, the year in which Shakespeare's Sonnets were published, that other supremely penetrative and powerful mind of that great age, Francis Bacon, wrote in the preface to his 'Wisdom of the Ancients': 'I suppose some are of opinion that my purpose is to . . usurp the same liberty in applying that the poets assumed in feigning . . . Neither am I ignorant how fickle and inconstant a thing fiction is, as being subject to be drawn and wrested any way. But concerning human wisdom, I do ingenuously and freely confess, that I am inclined to imagine, that under some of the ancient fictions lay couched certain mysteries and allegories, even from their first invention. And I am persuaded (whether ravished with the reverence of antiquity, or because in some fables I find such singular proportion between the similitude and the thing signified; and such apt and clear coherence in the very structure of them, and propriety of names wherewith the persons or actors in them are inscribed and entitled) that no man can constantly deny, but this sense was in the authors' intent and meaning when they first invented them, and that they purposely shadowed it in this sort. . . .

'There is another argument (and that no small one neither) to prove that these fables contain certain hidden and involved meanings, seeing some of them are observed


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