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  • Title: The Famous History of Friar Bacon (Selections)
  • Author: Anonymous
  • Editor: Christopher Matusiak

  • Copyright Queen's Men Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Anonymous
    Editor: Christopher Matusiak
    Not Peer Reviewed

    The Famous History of Friar Bacon (Selections)

    Selection 1

    How Friar Bacon made a Brazen Head to speak, by which he would have walled England about with brass.

    Friar Bacon, reading one day of the many conquests of England, bethought himself how he might keep it hereafter from the like conquests and so make himself famous hereafter to all posterities. This (after great study) he found could be no way so well done as one which was to make a head of brass, and if he could make this head to speak (and hear it when it speaks) then might he be able to wall all England about with brass. To this purpose he got one Friar Bungay to assist him, who was a great scholar and a magician (but not to be compared to Friar Bacon). These two with great study and pains so framed a head of brass that in the inward parts thereof there was all things like as is in a natural man始s head. This being done, they were as far from perfection of the work as they were before, for they knew not how to give those parts that they had made motion, without which it was impossible that it should speak. Many books they read, but yet could not find out any hope of what they sought, so that at the last they concluded to raise a spirit and to know of him that which they could not attain to by their own studies. To do this they prepared all things ready and went one evening to a wood thereby, and after many ceremonies used they spoke the words of conjuration, which the devil straight obeyed and appeared unto them, asking what they would know. Said Friar Bacon that we have made an artificial head of brass which we would have to speak, to the furtherance of which we have raised thee and being raised we will here keep thee, unless thou tell to us the way and manner how to make this head to speak. The devil told him that he had not that power of himself. Beginner of lies (said Friar Bacon) I know that thou dost dissemble and therefore tell it us quickly or else we will here bind thee to remain during our pleasures. At these threatenings the devil consented to do it and told them that with a continual fume of the six hottest simples it should have motion and in one month space speak. The time of the month or day he knew not. Also he told them that if they heard it not before it had done speaking, all their labor should be lost. They, being satisfied, licensed the spirit for to depart.

    Then went these two learned friars home again and prepared the simples ready and made the fume, and with continual watching attended when this brazen head would speak. Thus watched they for three weeks without any rest, so that they were so weary and sleepy that they could not any longer retain from rest. Then called Friar Bacon his man Miles and told him that it was not unknown to him what pains Friar Bungay and himself had taken for three weeks始 space only to make and to hear the brazen head speak, which if they did not then had they lost all their labor and all England had a great loss thereby. Therefore he entreated Miles that he would watch whilst that they sleep and call them if the head speak. Fear not, good master (said Miles) I will not sleep but harken and attend upon the head, and if it do chance to speak I will call you; therefore, I pray, take you both your rests and let me alone for watching this head. After Friar Bacon had given him a great charge the second time, Friar Bungay and he went to sleep and left Miles alone to watch the brazen head. Miles, to keep him from sleeping, got a tabor and pipe and being merry disposed sung this song to a northern tune of:

    Cam始st thou not from Newcastle

    To couple is a custom,
    all things thereto agree.
    Why should not I then love
    since love to all is free?

    But I始ll have one that's pretty,
    her cheeks of scarlet dye,
    for to breed my delight
    when that I lie her by.

    Though virtue be a dowry,
    yet I始ll choose money store:
    If my love prove untrue
    with that I can get more.

    The fair is oft inconstant,
    the black is often proud.
    I始ll choose a lovely brown,
    Come fiddler scrape thy crowd.

    Come fiddler scrape thy crowd,
    for Peggy the brown is she
    must be my Bride, God guide
    that Peggy and I agree.

    With his own music and such songs as these spent he his time and kept from sleeping. At last, after some noise, the head spoke these two words: Time is. Miles, hearing it to speak no more, thought his master would be angry if he waked him for that and therefore he let them both sleep and began to mock the head in this manner: thou brazen-faced head, hath my master took all this pains about thee and now dost thou requite him with two words: Time is? Had he watched with a lawyer so long as he hath watched with thee he would have given him more, and better, words then thou hast. Yet, if thou can speak no wiser, they shall sleep till doomsday for me. Time is. I know Time is, and that you shall hear, goodman brazen-face.

    To the tune of Dainty, come thou to me.

    Time is for some to plant,
    Time is for some to sow,
    Time is for some to graft
    The horn as some do know.

    Time is for some to eat,
    Time is for some to sleep,
    Time is for some to laugh,
    Time is for some to weep.

    Time is for some to sing,
    Time is for some to pray,
    Time is for some to creep
    That have drunk all the day.

    Time is to cart a bawd,
    Time is to whip a whore,
    Time is to hang a thief
    And time is for much more.

    Do you tell us, copper-nose, when Time is: I hope we scholars know our times, when to drink drunk, when to kiss our hostess, when to go on her score, and when to pay it (that time comes seldom). After half an hour had passed, the head did speak again two words, which were these: Time was. Miles respected these words as little as he did the former and would not wake them, but still scoffed at the brazen head that it had learned no better words and had such a tutor as his master, and in scorn of it sung this song.

    To the tune of A Rich Merchant Man.

    Time was when thou a kettle
    wert fill始d with better matter.
    But Friar Bacon did thee spoil
    when he thy sides did batter.

    Time was when conscience dwelled
    with men of occupation.
    Time was when lawyers did not thrive
    so well by men始s vexation.

    Time was when kings and beggars
    of one poor stuff had being.
    Time was when office kept no knaves
    that time it was worth seeing.

    Time was a bowl of water
    did give the face reflection.
    Time was when women knew no paint,
    which now they call complexion.

    Time was. I know that, brazen-face, without your telling. I know Time was, and I know what things there was when Time was, and if you speak no wiser no master shall be waked for me. Thus Miles talked and sung till another half hour was gone. Then the brazen head spoke again these words Time is past and therewith fell down; and presently followed a terrible noise with strange flashes of fire so that Miles was half dead with fear. At this noise the two friars awaked and wondered to see the whole room so full of smoke, but that being vanished they might perceive the brazen head broken and lying on the ground. At this sight they grieved and called Miles to know how this came. Miles, half dead with fear, said that it fell down of itself and that with the noise and fire that followed he was almost frighted out of his wits. Friar Bacon asked him if he did not speak? Yes (quoth Miles) it spoke, but to no purpose. I始ll have a parrot speak better in that time that you have been teaching this brazen head. Out on the villain (said Friar Bacon), thou hast undone us both. Had始st thou but called us when it did speak, all England had been walled roundabout with brass, to its glory and our eternal fames. What were the words it spoke? Very few (said Miles) and those were none of the wisest that I have heard neither. First he said Time is. Had始st thou call始d us then (said Friar Bacon) we had been made forever. Then (said Miles) half an hour after it spoke again and said, Time was. And would始st thou not call us then (said Bungay)? Alas (said Miles), I thought he would have told me some long tale, and then I purposed to have called you. Then, half an hour after, he cried Time is past and made such a noise that he hath waked you himself, methinks. At this Friar Bacon was in such a rage that he would have beaten his man but he was restrained by Bungay. But nevertheless, for his punishment he with his art struck him dumb for one whole month始s space. Thus that great work of these learned friars was overthrown (to their great griefs) by this simple fellow.

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