How can I tell the signals and the signs
By which one heart another heart divines?
How can I tell the many thousand ways
By which it keeps the secret it betrays
Put thy selfe into the tricke of singularity.
Sometimes while reading that unnatural Sonnet Dedication for the thousandth time, I had a suspicion that in it were
other cipher texts still concealed. Why, I wondered, were there five words standing entirely alone on five of the lines,
and four spaces between the lines? Why hadn't the grammar been corrected? Why did the plaintext of the cipher
solution stop after the first word on the third line? As we have seen, the Dedication of "Thomas Thorpe" was very
carefully prepared and connected cryptographically to the title-page, but the continuous cipher readout appeared to
end with the lonely, lowercase, superscripted "r" in "Mr." This nonsense introduction to the classic verses that follow
defies any common-sense English interpretation. Why?
My work thus far might be incomplete, I supposed. Still, it was easy for me to rest at that place; better to leave well-
enough alone. No birds dwell in last year's nests, as Longfellow once reported. But my demon would not let me
stop--"Excelsior" he kept muttering. With some reluctance I decided to quit writing about cryptology and to return
There is no lawbook, no set of rules chiseled in stone to prevent the composer of a cryptogram from doing as he
pleases. A cryptographer must insert some regularity in any system that he invents, even in the age of Shakespeare,
and there must remain a practical way for his message to be read. But beyond the limits of his general system he
may change the specific rules as he goes along. Bacon mentioned this nearly 400 years ago, and so more recently did
the Friedmans. Such changes are not forbidden because it is not forbidden for the cryptographer to try to defeat the
And I found, to my dismay, that Francis Bacon was often guilty of engaging in this sly game. Whenever he is
discovered in one guileful deception he covertly changes to another. I must emphasize, however, that he does not
abandon his general system. The cryptographic method remains as one of disguising, by steganography, the
ciphertext letters which still must be translated by an elementary Caesar cipher table, shifted four letters; and of
using a keyed, twenty-one letter Elizabethan alphabet in normal order which ends in "S T V Y." He makes no
alteration within his basic algorithm. We shall resume our inspection of Francis Bacon's difficult Dedication.
The first change we may discover, after his signal--the superscripted "r" in "Mr."--is that Bacon ceases to use the
"FORTH." letter back Caesar. He begins to use the fourth letter forward . Theretofore he was in the habit of
enciphering the letter "a" with "E" (-4); now he commences to encipher a plaintext "a" with "S" (+4). His new Caesar
table for decryption may be read as follows:
Ciphertext alphabet: S T V Y A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R
-Plaintext alphabet: a b c d e f g h i k l m n o p q r s t v y
Thus Bacon did not alter his instruction, "FORTH."; continuing in his devious ways, he merely reversed its
numerical meaning. This clue, instead of signifying a negative four letters, newly denotes a positive four letters.
Tricky as he is with the arithmetical signs, he remains consistent with the critical instruction "FORTH."
Previously Francis Bacon had used the ciphertext letter "F" for a plaintext "b". Now he begins to use ciphertext "B"
for "f". These also happen to be the initials of his first and last names; each is the "FORTH." letter away from the
other. Therefore "F" = "b" or "B" = "f" respectively in his -4 or +4 cipher tables. For a solution we may try them both,
but hereafter in this book the decryptions are consistently based on "A" = "e", the +4 Caesar that Bacon seems
permanently to have adopted after 1609.
So what did Bacon have to say in this reversal, this +4 continuation of his messages? Finding out has not been easy
but the occasions for his transgression upon English syntax and his reasons for printing those five words so as to
stand alone have become clear. His plan required the use of more than one of the letters which were included in
several of those solitary words.
The problem now is to find the proper enciphered, acrostic, steganographic letters and to make plaintext words of
them, while preserving the same order within the primary, keyed, general system. One is reminded of the ways
used to solve crossword puzzles: if a few correct words can be entered in the vertical columns, then scattered letters
suggesting a solution may be found in some horizontal row. The blank spaces may then be filled and checked with
the crossword clue: voila! fini de s'amuser! Some television word-game shows are based on this or some similar
After all, a cipher is nothing if not a puzzle. Therefore, if we find part of a word and it is found necessary to
continue in a different, secondary manner to supply the rest of it, we shall do so; there are many precedents in
cryptanalytic procedures for this artifice.
More specifically, we should recall the "probable word" way that the Friedmans solved the British machine cipher.
While they were working together, Mrs. Friedman was asked to say the first word that came to mind when her
husband uttered the word "cipher"; she replied "machine" and that turned out to be the key. In the Friedmans' book
they sometimes deplored speculation, but they often used it themselves in this sense. For example they say:
"Donnelly cannot be criticized merely. . .for assuming that certain specific words would be likely to occur in the
message. That is a legitimate assumption, and sometimes quite fruitful; the cryptologist calls it `the probable word
method'. . .it can be used as a crib to break down the message."
We have found in our previous labors the name "Bekaan" and "Bacon" touching each other. It is a reasonable and
acceptable cryptologic practice to anticipate such an appearance again; we may validly expect and search for a
repetition of that name in some other variant, 17th century spelling.
Using this reasoning, I found that Bacon had made a change in the placement of the acrostic steganographic letters.
After the anomolous, lowercase superscripted "r" in "Mr." the cipher readout had seemed to stop.
Previously, only the last letter of each capitalized word in the title-page, the numbers in the date and the last letter of
each word in the Dedication had been employed. There was a space between the letter "H." and the word "ALL.",
the only clear space between any adjoining words or letters in the entire Dedication. Perhaps there was a reason for
that; perhaps that was another buried, typographical signal.
Beginning with the words following "Mr.W.H." I tried the first letter, the second letter, the third or fourth letters;
then I tried the last letter, the next-to-the-last and so on. The technique may be similar to the general cryptographic
procedure followed by our National Security Agency; it is the one recommended by experimenters in science, the
logical method of elimination. I printed out all possible Caesar solutions. The exercise resulted in many, many lines
of garbage; meaningless, unpronounceable strings of letters, except for one. The result indicated that that extra,
lonely space after "H." had been a signal to shift back one space, one character, before continuing.
When I tried the next-to-last letters, rather than the previously used last letters, of the words on the third and
fourth lines of the Dedication I found, using the "FORTH." letter forward in the key alphabet, the beginning of a
common word "parent." In fact I found almost all of it.
Here are those two lines of the Dedication, with the letters that Francis Bacon had next selected shown as
Thus the new ciphertext letters are "L S N A I". The translation is made to "p a r e n". The Caesar table to the
"FORTH." (+4) line is as follows:
L S N A I
M T O B K 1
N V P C L 2
O Y Q D M 3
P A R E N 4
Now, there is no word in the English language beginning with those five letters which does not have a "t" following;
examples are "parent, parental, parentheses, parentage, etc." ("parenchyma" exists but it is a modern biological
term). Thus the word may be "parent. . ."
The next letter required from our cipher alphabet, shifted forward four letters, in order to produce a plaintext "t" is
a ciphertext "P". That character appears as the first letter of the next word "PROMISED." which stands alone on the
next line. It completes our plaintext word "parent".
We all know that a parent is ordinarily a mother or father of a child, but in the exhaustive Oxford English
Dictionary we find another, more figurative, meaning:
That from which another thing springs or is derived; a source, cause, origin. (Usually of things; less commonly of
persons, in relation to their "productions").
For an example, the editors cite Shakespeare. In A Midsommer nights Dreame (ii, 1), Queen Titania says, with
superstitious reference to floods and bad weather:
And this same progeny of evills,
Comes from our debate, from our dissention,
We are their parents and originall.
After completing our plaintext word "parent," by adding the ciphertext "P" which begins the next word on the next
line, "PROMISED," and consistently collecting the first character from each succeeding line, we find "P B O T A S F".
(For this exercise the "W" in "WISHETH." shall be omitted as a null; we have no "W" in our key alphabet.) The table
P B O T A S F
Q C P V B T G 1
R D Q Y C V H 2
S E R A D Y I 3
T F S B E A K 4
Let us look once more at all of the words of the Dedication; the new ciphertext letters will be shown as underlined:
Putting it all together and deciphering the letters we find:
p a r e n t f s b e a k
The table is:
L S N A I P B O T A S F M T O B K Q C P V B T G 1 N V P C L R D Q Y C V H 2 O Y Q D M S E R A D Y I 3 P A R E
N T F S B E A K 4
Let us review the deciphered letters from the beginning to this point:
o o n y p i r c y p p h r s b e k a a n
b a c o n p a r e n t f s b e a k
Now we have the new word "parent" inserted between "bacon" and "fsbeak." "fs" is an abbreviation for "Francis"
which Bacon often used in signing his name. "beak" is, so far, truncated--but that condition will soon be amended. By
the use of the word "parent" the author claims these verses as his productions. They are his progeny; he is the
begetter of SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS .
We are not finished yet; not by 17 letters. The Master is about to begin a circle around the opposite edge of the
Dedication; he will lead us upward and backward to the beginning, and then backward and upward through the title-
page to the first word: "SHAKE-SPEARES". This will be a remarkable journey; on it we shall view an incredible
demonstration of this cryptographer's exquisite acrostic, steganographic skill.
Bacon now makes a change--not in the +4 or general system--but in the next series of letters to be selected from the
ciphertext. He has already used the first letter of the first word of each line beginning with "PROMISED." in
descending order. After using the "F" in "FORTH.", which stands alone in the last line, he then selects the third letter
from the last in each line; in this manner he continues upward and backward to the beginning of the Dedication.
Notice particularly that these are the fourth (FORTH.) printed characters from the final one in each line, the period.
If the last word in a line has fewer than three letters, it must be skipped. Beginning with "FORTH.", he uses the "R";
in "SETTING." he uses the "I", and so on. Here is the Dedication again; we begin on the last line:
Thus the ciphertext letters are: R I I E O S T S E
Ciphertext alphabet: S T V Y A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R
Plaintext alphabet: a b c d e f g h i k l m n o p q r s t v y
The plaintext decipherment is: y n n i s a b a i.
The table, so far, is:
L S N A I P B O T A S F R I I E O S T S E M T O B K Q C P V B T G S K K F P T V T F 1 N V P C L R D Q Y C V H T
L L G Q V Y V G 2 O Y Q D M S E R A D Y I V M M H R Y A Y H 3 P A R E N T F S B E A K Y N N I S A B A I 4
Plaintext now reads: p a r e n t f s b e a k y n n i s a b a i
And Bacon then goes onward and upward, following the same scheme, back into the title-page for the next three
ciphertext letters. At the bottom of the title-page is the date, 1609. The third number from the last ("FORTH." from
the last character, the period) is a "6" and "F" is the sixth letter of the alphabet; that is our next letter. The third letter
from the last at the end of the line above the date is the italic l in "Aspley ". We should not be surprised to discover
an error or a null in deciphering the last few letters of our 54 character series; this "l " is the only italicized letter we
have encountered while completing our circle through and around the Dedication and returning in the same upward
direction to the beginning of the title-page. We shall omit it.
The next two letters to be included are the "a" in "are," at the end of the line above, and the "D" in "LONDON" in
the line above that; they are also the third letters from the last in each word in each successive ascending line.
Now we come to the two horizontal ruler lines across the title-page. If we still believe in signals we may find that
another change has been made. Stay with me now; we know the first name of the composer of this cryptogram and
how he sometimes abbreviated it, "Fra:" Bacon was a maker of puzzles and we have already found a use for his
name as a pragmatic crib.
Still traveling backward, the first capitalized letter we meet is an "I", something to remind us of a Roman numeral
one. We shall use that "I" and continue by selecting the first letter of each word above these lines and in consistent
reverse, upward order. There are five of them, the last five.
Below, the title-page ciphertext letters are shown:
Neuer before Imprinted.
By G. Eld for T. T. and are
to be solde by William Aspley .
Thus, from the title-page the new ciphertext letters are (reading from bottom to top):
F A D I B N S S
The plaintext decipherment is: k e h n f r a a
The complete (+4) plaintext now reads:
p a r e n t f s b e a k y n n i s a b a i k e h n f r a a
The table is:
L S N A I P B O T A S F R I I E O S T S E F A D I B N S S M T O B K Q C P V B T G S K K F P T V T F G B E K C O T
T 1 N V P C L R D Q Y C V H T L L G Q V Y V G H C F L D P V V 2 O Y Q D M S E R A D Y I V M M H R Y A Y H
I D G M E Q Y Y 3 P A R E N T F S B E A K Y N N I S A B A I K E H N F R A A 4
Thus we bring to an end the excavation of these two pages of Francis Bacon's Sonnets. In this rich mine we have
found our letters and words and have translated them. The complete, fifty-four letter message is:
o o n y p i r c y p p h r s b e k a a n b a c o n (-4)
p a r e n t f s b e a k y n n i s a b a i k e h n f r a a (+4)
Obviously he has written his last name, using various orthographies, four times. He sometimes signed his letters
"Fra: Bacon"; at other times "Fs." or "Fr." Thus we have his encrypted first name twice, either preceding or following
We have already discussed the first part of the message: "Zero, zero, Napier's ciphers give light and guidance to
Bacon" is a fair interpretation and the Sonnets are in this manner dedicated to John Napier.
Next Bacon tells us that he is the author of the Sonnets; he is their parent and they spring from his pen. Considering
the "a" in "isa" as an error or a null, "is" becomes a verb. "Parent Fs. Bacon is" we read, with the grammar following
the Latin custom of placing the verb at the end of the sentence.
Bacon's real home for most of his life was at Gorhambury in Saint Albans parish. Men were often known in those
times by a Christian name followed by the name of their customary dwelling place, or where they were raised. "John
of Gaunt" is an example. Therefore another connotation may be read: "I, S(aint) A(lban), Bacon, Fra. Years after the
Sonnets were published, in 1621, Bacon was made Viscount St. Alban by James I and he was very proud of the title.
After that he often signed his name "Fs st Alban."
Some review is in order.
Below, each of the ciphertext letters are shown within the text of the title-page and the Dedication:
We will recall that the first twenty-five ciphertext letters were:
S S R D T N Y G D T T M Y A F I O E E R F E G S R
Neuer before Imprinted.
By G. Eld for T.T. and are
to be solde by William Aspley.
(-4 cipher ends at Mr.)
The message is:
o o n y p i r c y p p h r s b e k a a n b a c o n
The next 29 ciphertext letters are:
L S N A I P B O T A S F R I I E O S T S E F A D I B N S S
Below is shown their placement; they begin after "Mr.W.H.":
(+4 cipher begins)
Neuer before Imprinted.
By G. Eld for T.T. and are
to be solde by William Aspley.
(The descending cipher ends at F and the ascending begins at R)
Message is: p a r e n t f s b e a k y n n i s a b a i k e h n f r a a
The question may be put: Did Francis Bacon write SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS and, when he published them in
1609, simply bootleg famous Shakespeare's name onto the title-page so they would sell better?
And what, if anything, did Francis Bacon have to do with the many earlier plays and poems labeled "Shakespeare"
which had been printed as quartos, or even with the plays that had been published anonymously, only later to
appear as a part of the First Folio edition published in 1623? Good questions indeed. I intend to answer them.
My exposition of the cryptographic methods employed by Francis Bacon in the Sonnet quarto has been lengthy. We
have seen that he begins in a reasonable manner and shows us twenty-five ciphertext letters in a row. He is rather
generous with his "tips" or clues. These have been our guides, our beacons for decryption. Later, perhaps in fear of
being found out, he switches to a different, specific underlying (+4) system while preserving the general one. At the
same time he begins to divide his cryptogram into sections; he depends upon the cryptanalyst to find the clues and
limits and probable words. By doing so, he has not shown his intention to write his cryptogram on an unsolvable
"one-time pad," but to offer instruction.
What we have studied is a primer, a textbook preserved upon the first two pages of the Sonnets. We have taken a
few notes so as to be ready for the next exercise, whether it be in cryptanalysis or simple decipherment. We have the
general system in hand: the +4 ("A" = "e") line of the Caesar, and the keyed 21 letter alphabet; we should now be
prepared for more perplexing puzzles.
Of Bacon's description of ciphers, there is a much earlier version than Gilbert Wats' 1640 translation of The
Advancement and Proficience of Learning . This is Bacon's own Of the Advancement of Learning which was
published in English in 1605; it contains (on unnumbered page 60) the following paragraph:
For CYPHARS; they are commonly in Letters or Alphabets, but may bee in Wordes. T he kindes of CYPHARS,
(besides the SIMPLE CYPHARS with Changes, and intermixtures of NVLLES, and NONSIGNIFICANTS) are many,
according to the Nature or Rule of the infoulding: WHEELE- CYPHARS, KAY- CYPHARS, DOVBLES, &c. But the
vertues of them, whereby they are to be preferred, are three; that they be not laborious to write and reade; that they
bee impossible to discypher; and in some cases, that they bee without suspition. The highest Degree whereof, is to
write OMNIA PER OMNIA; which is vndoubtedly possible, with a proportion Quintuple at most, of the writing
infoulding, to the writing infoulded, and no other restrainte whatsoever. This Arte of Cypheringe , hath for Relatiue,
an Art of Discypheringe ; by supposition vnprofitable; but, as things are, of great vse. For suppose that Cyphars
were well mannaged, there bee Multitudes of them which exclude the Discypherer . But in regarde of the rawnesse
and Vnskilfulnesse of the handes, through which they passe, the greatest Matters, are many times carryed in the
weakest CYPHARS .
So, according to Francis Bacon, "changes" are permissible in cryptography, as are doubles, nulls and non-significant
letters. The cipher I have demonstrated may not be easy to follow and the roadway branches from detour to detour,
but if we remain alert the highway signs and compass directions are there to be read.
Let us stop for a moment to consider the various ways that Francis's ciphered name has been spelled: Bacon,
Bekaan, Beakynn and Baikehn. When the name of a person or place must often be included in ciphered messages it
is standard cryptographic procedure to vary the spelling and to insert doubles or nulls. Otherwise the repetition of
groups of the same required ciphertext letters (so as to spell "Bacon" in plaintext six times) would supply an obvious
clue for the decipherment of those particular characters, especially when a "probable word" is already available. This
variation is another strategy that, both modernly and anciently, has been used to discourage cryptanalysis.
One more comment by Francis Bacon may be appropriate: "I am in good hope that if the first reading move an
objection, the second reading will make an answer."
Following is the complete Sonnet title-page and dedication:
(Read lower case plaintext letters down; read upper case up.)
R n F N y
Neuer before Imprinted.
p H i
r c y p p E
By G. Eld for T.T. and are
to be solde by William Aspley .
k a a n b
a c I o
n p Aa
r e Bn
The short Preface of the publishers, "Heminge" and "Condell," to the 1623 Shakespeare Folio contains two peculiar
references to "numbers." It begins: "From the most able, to him that can but spell. There you are number'd." In the
second paragraph, while boasting of their editing skills, they say that the plays "are now offer'd to your view cur'd,
and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as he conceived the."
There is an obsolete meaning of the word "number"; it could refer to a line or verse of poetry. With this ambiguity
the word might significantly be worked into a text. Shakespeare's works are replete with plain references to numbers
in the arithmetical sense, and so much so as to have caused repeated scholarly comment. No good explanation has
been suggested for this abundance.
But now, by means of these numbers, these signals that we have observed, these instructions that we have
understood, we have at last learned how to spell. Francis Bacon once wrote, "The Glory of God is to conceal a thing.
. .as if the Divine Majesty took delight to hide his works." Bacon had counseled very powerful inductive ways to
discover the secrets of the Almighty, and he sometimes took great pains to conceal his own.
At the end of this same Preface we find the following:
. . .for his wit can no more lie hid, then it could be lost. Reade him, therefore; and againe, and againe: And if then
you do not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger, not to vnderstand him. And so we leave you to other
of his Friends, whom if you need, can bee your guides: if you neede them not, you can leade your selues, and
others. And such Readers we wish him.
The numbers have indeed become "other of his Friends" for which we had need and they have been our guides.
The same publishers signed the Dedication to the 1623 Folio Edition of Shakespeare's plays; it appears on the sixth
unnumbered page. Included, in part, are these words:
. . .But since your L. L. have beene pleas'd to think these trifles something, heeretofore; and have prosequuted
both them, and their Authour living, with so much fauour: we hope, that (they out-liuing him, and he not having the
fate, common with some, to be exequutor to his owne writings) you will use the like indulgence toward them, you
have done unto their parent . . . (emphasis supplied).
The last time we particularly noticed that last word (parent) was because of its appearance as part of Bacon's cipher
message in the Sonnets: ". . .Cypphrs Bekaan Bacon parent Fs. Beakynn is (a) Baikehn Fraa." Even in the opentext of
the Sonnet Dedication (TO. THE. ONLIE. BEGETTER. . .) the reference is clear. "Beget" is an Old English word going
back to Chaucer (1386): "Melibeus. . .bigat vp on his wyf. . .a doghter." In 1588 Shakespeare used it in a more
figurative sense in the quarto of Loves Labours lost (ii, 1): "His eye begets occasion for his wit."
And, in the Folio, Ben Jonson's laudatory poem stresses the same theme. Speaking of the plays he writes: ". . .
Looke how the father's face Lives in his issue. . ."
Francis Bacon was remarkably frank about his literary habits. At one place in his recognized works he declares, "In
that which I now publish, and in that which I plan for the future, I often consciously and purposely, cast aside the
dignity of my genius and of my name (if such things be), while I serve the welfare of mankind."
In 1621, when he retired from public life, he wrote in a letter to Count Gondomar:
Now indeed both my age, the state of my fortune, and also that my genius, which I have hitherto so
parsimoniously satisfied, call me, as I depart from the Theatre of Public Affairs, to devote myself to letters; to
marshal the Intellectual Actors of the present, and to help those of future time. Perchance that will be my honour;
and I may pass the remainder of my life as if in the vestibule of a better one. (emphasis supplied.)
Then, with his friend Ben Jonson, he returned to his manor house near St. Albans to edit for publication the 1623
edition of the collected plays of William Shakespeare.
Hercules, on his mythical way west to the Kingdom of Geryon, is supposed to have planted two enormous rocks
(named by the Greeks Calpe and Abyla) on each side of the Atlantic entrance to the Mediterranean Sea at the Straits
of Gibraltar. Later the Romans pictured these monuments as two classical pillars bearing the inscription, "ne plus
ultra"; that phrase was meant as a sailor's warning that there was "no more beyond." These two Pillars of Hercules
can be found as frontispieces which adorn several of Bacon's books. In one of them there is shown a three-masted
ship with sails rigged in English fashion; it is framed between the Pillars while sailing bravely "beyond." In the same
way did Francis Bacon sail, quietly and fancifully in a falsely registered vessel, beyond to a future of applied science
where he could truly "serve the welfare of mankind."