Phonozoic Text Archive, Document 149

How Fryer Bacon made a Brasen head to speake,
by the which hee would have walled England about with Brasse.

Early Prose Romances, with Biographical and Historical Introductions, ed. William J. Thoms.  Vol. 1.  London: Nattali and Bond, 1858.

The Famous Historie of Fryer Bacon.  Containing the Wonderfull Things that He Did in His Life: Also the Manner of his Death; with the Lives and Deaths of the Two Coniurers, Bungye and Vandermast.  Very Pleasant and Delightfull to be Read.  Printed at London by E. A. for Francis Groue, and are to be sold at his shop, at the Vpper-End of Snow-Hill, against the Sarazens Head.

Click here for a reproduction of the title page of a later edition (off-site).


[205]  FRYER BACON reading one day of the many conquests of England, bethought himselfe how he might keepe it hereafter from the like conquests, and so make himselfe famous hereafter to all posterities.  This (after great study) hee found could be no way so well done as one; which was to make a head of brasse, and if he could make this head to speake (and heare it when it speakes) then might hee be able to wall all England about with brasse.  To this purpose hee got one Fryer Bungey to assist him, who was a great scholler and a magician, (but not to bee compared to Fryer Bacon) these two with great study and paines so framed a head of brasse, that in the inward parts thereof there was all things like as in a naturall mans head: this being done, they were as farre from perfection of the worke 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 speake: many bookes they read, but yet could not finde out any hope of what they sought, that at the last they concluded to raise a spirit, and to know of him that which they could not attaine to by their owne studies.  To do this they prepared all things ready and went one evening to a wood thereby, and after many ceremonies used, they spake the words of coniuration, which the Devill straight obeyed and appeared [206] unto them, asking what they would? know, said Fryer Bacon that wee have made an artificiall head of brasse, which we would have to speake, to the furtherance of which wee have raised thee, and being raised, we will here keepe thee, unlesse thou tell to us the way and manner how to make this head to speake.  The Devill told him that he had not that power of himselfe: beginner of lyes (said Fryer Bacon) I know that thou dost dissemble, and therefore tell it us quickly, or else wee will bind the to remaine during our pleasures.  At these threatnings the Devill consented to doe it, and told them, that with a continuel fume of the six hottest simples it should have motion, and in one month space speak, the Time of the moneth or day hee knew not: also hee told them, that if they heard it not before it had done speaking, all their labour should be lost: they being satisfied, licensed the spirit for to depart.

                Then went these two learned fryers home againe, and prepared the simples ready, and made the fume, and with continuall watching attended when this Brasen head would speake: thus watched they for three weekes without any rest, so that they were so weary and sleepy, that they could not any longer refraine from rest: then called Fryer Bacon his man Miles, and told him, that it was not unknown to him what paines Fryer Bungy and himselfe had taken for three weekes space, onely to make, and to heare the Brasen-head speake, which if they did not, then had they lost all their labour, and all England had a great losse thereby: therefore hee in- [207] treated Miles that he would watch whilst that they slept, and call them if the head speake.  Feare not, good master (said Miles) I will not sleepe, but harken and attend upon the head, and if it doe chance to speake, I will call you: therefore I pray take you both your rests and let mee alone for watching this head.  After Fryer Bacon had given him a great charge the second time: Fryer Bungy and he went to sleepe, and Miles, alone to watch the brasen head: Miles, to keepe him from sleeping, got a tabor and pipe, and being merry disposed, sung this song to a Northren tune:


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

But He have one thatís pretty,
  her cheekes of scarlet die,
For to breed my delight,
  when that I ligge her by.

Though vertue be a dowry,
  yet Ile chuse money store:
If my love prove untrue,
  with that I can get more.

The faire is oft unconstant,
  the blacke is often proud.
Ile chuse a lovely browne,
  come fidler scrape thy crowd.

[208] Come fidler scrape thy crowd,
  for Peggie the browne is she.
Must be my Bride, God guide
  that Peggie and I agree.

                With his owne musicke and such songs as these spent he his time, and kept from sleeping at last.  After some noyse the head spake these two words, TIME IS.  Miles hearing it to speake no more, thought his master would be angry if hee waked him for that, and therefore he let them both sleepe, and began to mocke the head in this manner: Thou brazen-faced head, hath my master tooke all this paines about thee, and now dost thou requite him with two words, TIME IS: had hee watched with a lawyer as long as he hath watched with thee, he would have given him more, and better words than thou hast yet, if thou canst speake no wiser, they shal sleepe till doomes day for me: TIME IS: I know TIME IS, and that you shall heare good man Brazen face.


Time is for some to plant,
Time is for some to sowe;
Time is for some to graft
The horne as some doe know.

Time is for some to eate,
Time is for some to sleepe,
Time is for some to laugh,
Time is for some to weepe.

Time is for some to sing,
Time is for some to pray,
Time is for some to creepe,
That have drunke all the day.

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

                Do you tell us copper-nose, when TIME IS, I hope we Schollers know our times, when to drinke drunke, when to kisse our hostes, when to goe on her score, and when to pay it, that time comes seldome.  After halfe an houre had passed, the head did speake againe, 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 have such a tutor as his master: and in scorne of it sung this song.


Time was when thou a kettle
  wert fillíd with better matter:
But Fryer Bacon did thee spoyle,
  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 mens vexation.

[210] Time was when kings and beggars
  of one poore stuffe had being:
Time was when office kept no knaves:
  that time it was worth seeing.

Time was a bowle 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 speake no wiser, no master shall be waked for mee.  Thus Miles talked and sung till another halfe hour was gone, then the brazen head spake again these words; TIME IS PAST: and there with fell downe, and presently followed a terrible noyse, with strange flashes of fire, so that Miles was halfe dead with feare: at this noyes the two Fryers awaked, and wondred to see the whole roome so full of smoake, 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 halfe dead with feare, said that it fell downe of itselfe, and that with the noyse and fire that followed he was almost frighted out of his wits: Fryer Bacon asked him if hee did not speake? yes (quoth Miles) it spake, but to no purpose, Ile have a parret speake better in that time that you have been teaching this brazen head.  Out on thee villaine (said Fryer Bacon) thou hast un- [211] done us both, hadst thou but called us when it did speake, all England had been walled round about with brasse, to its glory, and our eternal fames: what were the wordes it spake: very few (said Miles) and those were none of the wisest that I have heard neither: first he said, TIME IS.  Hadst thou callíd us then (said Fryer Bacon) we had been made for ever: then (said Miles) half an hour after it spake againe and said, TIME WAS.  And wouldst thou not call us then (said Bungey?) Alas (said Miles) I thought he would have told me some long tale, and then I purposed to have called you: then half an houre after he cried, TIME IS PAST, and made such a noyse, that hee hath waked you himselfe mee thinkes.  At this Fryer Bacon was in such a rage that hee would have beaten his man, but he was restrained by Bungey: but neverthelesse for his punishment, he with his art struck him dumbe for one whole months space.  Thus the greate worke of these learned Fryers was overthrown (to their great griefes) by this simple fellow.