« PreviousContinue »
ceived at this early time the plan of his great work, and began to put some contributions towards it into form, to the first of which he gave the ambitious title of “Temporis Partus Maximus.” Two years later he became a member of Parliament, his first constituency being Melcombe Regis in Dorsetshire, and his parliamentary duties for various boroughs (Taunton, Liverpool, Middlesex, Ipswich, St Albans, &c.) continued without a break for more than thirty years. In 1589 the gift of the reversion of the sinecure office of Clerk of the Council in the Star Chamber seemed to promise an income which would relieve him from the necessity of following the law as his career, but the office did not become vacant for nearly twenty years, and thus the world was deprived in great part of those services to philosophic research which unbroken leisure would have enabled Bacon to render. Endeavours were made, between 1594 and 1596, to obtain for him one of the offices of Attorney-General, Solicitor-General, or Master of the Rolls, which were all vacant during those two years, but the reign of Elizabeth came to an end before such fortune fell to Bacon's lot.
It was in January, 1597, that he published the first edition of his Essays, the first of those works by which his name became famous in the list of English men of letters. This edition comprised only ten essays, nor were the essays increased to their present number or brought into their present form till the third edition in 1625. These short compositions are masterpieces both of thought and expression ; every sentence is replete with ideas enough for a sermon, and each expression is as polished as if the author had designed it to become a maxim. In 1605 appeared, in English, his two books, “Of the Proficience and Advauncement of Learning.” They were dedicated to King James, and form the basis of what was afterwards expanded into the nine books (in Latin), “De Augmentis Scientiarum." This was meant to form one section of the great work which Bacon planned, but never was able to complete, the “Instauratio Magna," or great reconstruction of Science.
In 1606 Bacon married Alice Barnham, the daughter of a London merchant, and in the next year he was made SolicitorGeneral. Soon after (in 1608), when it was not so much needed, the long expected Clerkship of the Star-chamber fell vacant, and thus an addition of from £ 1500 to £2000 a year was made to Bacon's income. We cannot here do more than enumerate his further legal promotions and the names of his chief works. In 1613 he was advanced to be Attorney-General, in 1617 to be Lord Keeper, and in the January of the following year he was made Lord Chancellor. In this year too, on July 9, he became a Peer, taking the title of Baron Verulam, from the ancient name of the borough near which he had lived in youth and with which a long period of his parliamentary life had also been connected. In 1620 he presented to the king his “Novum Organum," a work (a fragment only of his great design) on which he had been engaged, in such leisure as he could find, for thirty years, and which forms the second, and most complete, section of the “Instauratio." In January, 1620—1, he was created Viscount St Albans; but his career, which for more than a dozen years had been growing more and more illustrious, was soon to be terribly changed. On the 15th March in this year he was charged, in the Report of a Parliamentary Committee, with certain acts of corruption in the administration of justice, and the enquiry terminated on May 3rd in a sentence which removed him for ever from official life. In a brief notice like the present no examination of Bacon's conduct can be given, either in the prosecution of the Earl of Essex, for his part in which he has been severely censured, or in those matters which brought about his fall. But it is due to the memory of so great a man to record that the latest and most complete examinations into his whole conduct prove that neither in one case nor in the other does Bacon deserve the blame which has been cast upon him. He was desirous to serve Essex so long as he could be true to the calls of friendship without being false to his higher duty as a citizen. And in his office of judge the faults which he admitted were faults of his age and not of the man.
He did no more than fall in with a practice which had prevailed for generations, and concerning which every judge on the bench was as guilty as himself. No instance can be pointed out among his judgments where justice was warped by his favour to either side, nor in connection with which any one has ever arisen to say that Bacon's decision was bought.
The remainder of Bacon's life was given to literature and philosophy, and, among his other works, the “ History of King Henry VII” was put forth in 1622. With the exception of Sir Walter Raleigh's “ History of the World," and Knolles' “ History of the Turks,” there is no historical work produced at or near this period which will in any degree bear comparison with the polished style of Bacon. That the student may compare with this work the historical writings of those who were Bacon's immediate predecessors, some passages have been inserted in the notes pp. 287 and 296 from Hall's and Grafton's Chronicles. The perusal of a few lines will suffice to shew what a great stride had been made in English prose composition during the reign of Elizabeth, and to what a degree of perfection it had been brought by the powers of such writers as Bacon and Hooker.
Beside the History of Henry VII, Bacon, during this retirement at the close of his life, wrote the “New Atlantis," an incomplete work, which may be called a philosophical romance, and which describes an imaginary realm where the perfection of which Plato only gave an augury in his “ Republic, was set forth as achieved. He also wrote several separate treatises intended to take their places in the completed “Instauratio,” among which may especially be mentioned the
Silva Silvarum; or, Natural History in Ten Centuries," which was to make a part of the third division in the “Instauratio,” which division had received from its designer the title of the “Phænomena of the Universe.” He also worked at a scheme which he had previously laid before King James for a Digest of the Laws of England. He collected a volume of witty sayings from all quarters, which he sent forth with the title of “ Apophthegmata,” and he issued a third edition of his
Essays. This was the last work which he was able to accomplish. It came forth in 1625, and on April 9th (EasterDay), 1626, Francis Bacon died.
For more information on the details of Bacon's life, the student may consult the life of him put forth by Dr Rawley, who was his chaplain ; also the carefully written life in the edition of Bacon's Works by Mr Spedding; and a short digest of the main events of Bacon's career, both legal, political and literary, will be found appended to Mr W. Aldis Wright's Edition of "The Advancement of Learning" (Clarendon Press Series).
II. Of the History.
Though the History of Henry VII was put into the form in which we possess it in 1621 and the following year, immediately after Bacon's downfall, and was probably undertaken as a solace in this great reverse of fortune, the thought of such a work had been long before his mind. Mr Spedding has published in his edition of Bacon's works, (Vol. VI. pp. 17 seqq.) a fragment of such a history, of the existence of which Speed', whose history was published in 1609, knew and had made good use. This fragment was probably composed when Bacon conceived the idea of putting forth a history of England that should begin with the union of the Houses of York and
1 John Speed (1552—1629) was one of the most industrious writers of this period on the subjects of antiquities and history, and his compilations, derived in great part from the collections in the libraries of Sir Robert Cotton, and the contributions of Sir Henry Spelman and other antiquaries, are of considerable value. Speed was originally a tailor and so had not great advantages from education, but yet his “History of Great Britaine” was long the best in existence. He wrote also the “ Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain," and a work on the Genealogies of Holy Scripture under the title of “ A cloud of Witnesses."
Lancaster, and be brought down as closely as was possible to the tirnes at which he was writing.
For such an undertaking the materials at the command of any writer were various. First, was the work of Fabyan?, which is a sort of Annals, whereof the fnost important parts concern the city of London, in which its author passed the most of his life. Of this work Bacon does not seem to have largely availed himself. But of the Latin History of Polydore Vergilhe seems to have made great use, and to have been led by its inaccuracies into several errors, which in some few points, to be noticed hereafter, have impaired the otherwise accurate character of his work. The mistakes of Polydore are such as might be expected in the work of a foreigner writing a history of England. Bacon seems also to have consulted another Latin writer, Bernard André», for some few points in his history. The three chronicles also, of Hallo, Grafton”, and Stowo sup
1 Robert Fabyan (d. 1512) was an alderman, and in 1493 was chosen one of the sheriffs of London. He is in some sort connected with our history of Henry VII, as in 1496 he was one of a deputation chosen to ride to the king.“ for redress of the new impositions raised and levied upon English cloth” in the lands of the Archduke Philip: This was an impost of a florin for every piece of English cloth imported into the Netherlands. The duty was withdrawn in 1497. Fabyan's work “ The Concordance of Histories,” which at first is a mere compilation from monkish chronicles, becomes towards its close a very important record of many events which, in London, came under the writer's immediate observation.
% Polydore Vergil (d. 1555) was an Italian ecclesiastic, born at Urbino. He was sent over to England for the collection of Peter's Pence, and while in England was preferred to the Archdeaconry of Wells. His History of England in Latin consists of twenty-seven books, and was begun by him in the latter years of Henry VII, and finished in the following reign.
3 Bernard André (d. about 1521) was born at Toulouse and was an Augustinian friar. He was present in London when Henry VII entered the city after the Battle of Bosworth Field. In 1496 he became tutor to Prince Arthur, and wrote a Latin Life of Henry VII, and also in the same language some short notices of events in the reign of Henry VIII.
+ Edward Hall (d. 1547) was a lawyer, and ultimately became one of the judges of the Sheriff's Court. His History of the " Union of the
; Noble and illustre families of Lancastre and Yorke" brings the