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Bacon was assigned the task of drawing up, or of dressing into shape, “A Declaration of the Practices and Treasons attempted and committed by Robert late Earl of Essex,” &c., which was published in 1601. His instructions for the writing were very precise, and his first draft was submitted to certain councillors, “who made almost a new writing,” so that Bacon himself “gave only words and form of style.” In reference to this paper it has been said that Bacon “exercised his literary talents to blacken the Earl's memory.” But it does not appear that he carried the blackening process any further than a fair and just statement of the case would have that effect. Soon after the publication, a parliamentary election was held, and Bacon was returned both by Ipswich and St. Albans; which infers that he had not lost ground in the public confidence. Upon the whole, that Bacon was enthusiastic in his friendship, probably none will affirm. But then neither was he bitter in his enmities. And if there was little nobleness of soul, there was surely nothing of malice, in his composition. In his treatment of Essex there is indeed nothing to praise; nor, as it seems to me, is there very much to be positively blamed. To pronounce him “the meanest of mankind,” is surely going too far; but that there was more than enough of meanness in him, must, I fear, be granted; for of that article “a little more than a little is by much too much.” The death of the Queen, in March, 1603, and the accession of James the First made no considerable change in Bacon's prospects. He was anxious to be knighted, his chief reason being, “ because I have found out an alderman's daughter, an handsome maiden, to my liking.” Accordingly, in July he was dubbed a knight by the King; but it was rather the reverse of an honour, as some three hundred others were dubbed at the same time. He was also elected to the new Parliament, both at Ipswich and St. Albans, and continued to take a very prominent part in the business of the House. In August, his office, as one of the learned counsel, was confirmed to him by patent, together with a pension of £60 a year. In May, 1606, he was married to Alice Barnham, the “handsome maiden” already mentioned. She was the daughter of a London merchant, and had a fortune of #220 a-year, which was settled upon herself, with an addition of £500 a-year from her husband. The accession of King James naturally drew on a proposal for uniting the two kingdoms of England and Scotland. This most wise measure was strongly opposed by many of the English; but Bacon supported it with all the weight of his name and talents, and doubtless thereby recommended himself not a little to the King's favour. In June, 1607, he attained the long-sought office of Solicitor-General; and the next year the clerkship of the Star-Chamber became vacant. Bacon had waited for it nearly twenty years. In October, 1613, the place of Attorney-General again fell vacant, and Bacon succeeded to it. The duties of this office brought him into connection with the celebrated case of Peachman, which has entailed another blot on his name. Peachman was an aged clergyman who, for some ecclesiastical offence, had been cited before the Court of High Commission, and deprived of his orders. Before the sentence, his house was searched, and an unpublished sermon was found, which was alleged to contain treasonable matter. Peachman was believed to have accomplices, and, as he would not reveal them, the Council resolved on putting him to torture. By the common law, the use of torture for extracting evidence was deemed illegal; but such use was held to be justified in this case on the ground of its being for the purpose of discovery, and not of evidence. But it does not appear that Bacon was at all responsible for this outrage, any further than that, as Attorney-General, he was one of the commission appointed to attend the examination of the prisoner. And his letters show that he engaged in the affair with reluctance, and that the step was taken against his advice. It is also alleged that, to procure a capital sentence, Bacon tampered with the judges of the King's Bench; but as the case was not to be tried by any of those judges, it does not well appear why he should have tampered with them for that purpose. In August, 1615, Peachman was tried at Taunton, and was convicted of high treason; but the capital sentence was never carried out, because “many of the judges were of opinion that it was not treason.” In June, 1616, Bacon was made a member of the Privy Council, and was formally congratulated thereupon by the University of Cambridge, which he then represented in Parliament. In March, 1617, Lord Chancellor Ellesmere resigned, and Bacon was appointed Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. A week later the King set out for Scotland, leaving his new Lord Keeper at the head of the Council, to manage affairs in his absence. In January, 1618, Sir Francis became Lord Chancellor, and in the following July was raised to the peerage with the title of Baron Verulam. In the work of Chancery, his energy and dispatch were something prodigious. Within three months after he became Lord IXeeper, he made a clean sweep of all the accumulated cases then on hand, and reported that there was not one cause remaining unheard. Seldom, if ever, before, had the work of that high court been so promptly done, or done more to the satisfaction of the public. In January, 1621, Bacon was created Viscount of St. Albans, and in the patent of promotion was particularly commended for his “integrity in the administration of justice.” Unfortunately, during this period, Bacon could not make headway in political life without paying court to a bold, insolent, and unscrupulous upstart. England had a weak though learned IXing, and that King was mainly governed by a greedy and prodigal favourite, George Williers, Duke of Buckingham, whom James had raised to that height for his handsome person and dashing manners. Buckingham had set his heart upon what was called “the Spanish match,” that is, the marriage of Charles, Prince of Wales, afterwards King Charles the First, to a Spanish Princess. Bacon wisely used his influence with the King against that match, and probably was in a great measure the means of defeating it. He thereby incurred the resentment of Buckingham, though he had specially laid himself out in wise advice to him ; and he stooped to very unworthy atonements in order to appease his anger and regain his favour. But Buckingham was allpowerful with the King, and he greatly abused that power, to the oppression of the people and the misgovernment of the kingdom. In his need and greed and vainglory, he availed himself of whatever twist he had on the too supple Chancellor, and doubtless did all he could to pervert justice in the Chancery, in order to repair the waste of his boundless prodigality. Hence Bacon became involved in practices which wrought his downfall, and have covered his name with dishonour. In January, 1621, three days after Bacon's last promotion, Parliament met, and was not in a mood to be trifled with. A few days later, a committee was appointed, to report concerning the courts of justice. Their report, made on the 15th of March, fell like a thunderclap : the Lord Chancellor was charged with corruption in his office, and instances were alleged in proof. Measures were forth with taken for his impeachment. Before the time of trial came, twenty-two cases of bribery were drawn up against him. Bacon, sick unto death, as he thought himself, felt that his enemies had closed upon him, and begged only a fair hearing, that he might give them an ingenuous answer. To the I(ing he wrote as follows: “For the briberies and gifts wherewith I am charged, when the books of hearts shall be opened, I hope I shall not be found to have the troubled fountain of a corrupt heart, in a depraved habit of taking rewards to pervert justice; howsoever I may be frail, and partake of the abuses of the times.” And in his answer he says, “I never had bribe or reward in my eye or thought when I gave sentence or order.” These, to be sure, are substantially tantamount to a confession of the matter charged. Nevertheless he was for proceeding with his defence, but from this the King and Buckingham dissuaded him; for what cause, or by what arguments, is not known. Instead of standing trial, he wrote to the Lords,- “I find matter sufficient and full, both to move me to desert my defence, and to move your Lordships to condemn and censure me.” So, on the 30th of April, his full confession was read before the Lords, in which he says, “I do plainly and ingenuously confess that I am guilty of corruption, and do renounce all defence.” One of the charges was, that he had given way to great exactions by his servants; and “he confessed it to be a great fault, that he had looked no better to his servants.” The sentence was, a fine of £40,000, imprisonment during the King's pleasure, incapability of holding any office in the State, or of sitting in Parliament, and prohibition to come within the verge of the Court. His own comment on this verdict is, “I was the justest judge that was in England these fifty years; but it was the justest censure in Parliament that was these two hundred years.” . The severest parts of the sentence were very soon remitted; and within a year the whole was remitted, and also a pension of £1300 a-year conferred upon him by the King. Šín is the upshot of this sad tale. Still it does not appear, nor is it alleged, that Bacon took bribes for the perversion of justice. During his Chancellorship he made orders and decrees at the rate of two thousand a-year. Of these decrees not one was ever set aside. None of his judgments were reversed. Even those who first charged him with taking money admitted that he decided against them. The truth seems to be, that in this case the accumulated faults of the office were visited on the individual incumbent. Nor, perhaps, could they have been effectually cured but by the destruction of the very man who was the greatest that had complied with them: by such a sacrifice, they might indeed become so unspeakably odious, that even the worst men would take care to shun them. The Parliament was hot and stout, as it had reason to be, against the maladministration of the State. But they were more just in their anger than discriminating as to its objects. They demanded victims; and Bacon, in some respects, would be a most acceptable sacrifice, since the very height whereon he stood would make his fall the more exemplary. Besides, if Parliament could not get at the Chancellor, they might entertain the thought of striking higher. And indeed the King and Buckingham seem to have been apprehensive that Bacon might triumph, should he proceed in his own defence, (for who could be expected to withstand so potent an enchanter, coming to the rescue of his good name 3) in which case the public resentment, sharpened by defeat, might turn to other objects, and demand a dearer sacrifice. . Henceforth Bacon, lived in strict retirement, and gave himself up unreservedly to labours in which his heart was at home. He was among the Peers summoned to the first Parliament of Charles the First; but he did not take his seat. For the last five years his health was very feeble, and he was constantly looking death in the face. At last, a cold, caught in an experiment to test the preserving qualities of snow, resulted in a fever; and, after lingering a week, he died on the morning of Easter-day, April 9, 1626. If Bacon's political life was, in some respects, ignoble and false, his intellectual life was altogether noble and true, and has perhaps been more fruitful in substantial help to mankind than that of any other man. The first instalment of his Essays, ten in number, was published in 1597, in a small volume, which also contained his Colours of Good and Evil, and his Åseditationes Sacre. Some of these Essays were afterwards enlarged, and others added to them from time to time, in repeated editions, till at last the whole fifty-eight appeared together in 1625. In 1605, was published his Advancement of Learning, which was afterwards recast, enlarged, translated into Latin, and published in 1623, with the title De Augmentis Scientiarum. In 1609, his Wisdom of the Ancients came forth, translated into Latin. His Novum Organum made its appearance in the Fall of 1620. The proper English of this title is The New Instrument; but the work is occupied with setting forth what is known as the Baconian, that is, the Inductive or Experimental Method of Scientific Investigation. It was the great work of his life, and so he regarded it, and kept toiling at it for thirty years. The object of the work, as stated by himself, was to “enlarge the bounds of reason and endow man’s estate with new value.” As his plan contemplated a much larger work, of which this was but a part, he gave, as his reason for publishing it, that he felt his life hastening to its close, and wished that portion of his work at least to be saved. The Novum Organum was followed, in 1622, by his History of Henry the Seventh. Besides these, he has various other works, both professional and philosophical, but which my space does not permit me to mention in detail.
Bacon appears to have been specially inspired with the faith, that a true and genuine knowledge of Nature would arm its possessor with Nature's power, by enabling him to harness up her forces and put them to work for the service of man. To this faith he clung with a tenacity that nothing could relax. And so strong was he in this faith, that he could not admit any knowledge of Nature to be real, which did not confer such power. Thus in his view power is the test and measure of knowledge; and this I take to be the true sense of the Baconian axiom, “knowledge is power.” And this great idea, together with the method which it involves, was itself a prophecy, or rather the seminal principle, of all the stupendous achievements which Science has since made in the mastery of Nature. .* *
I quote from Sir James Mackintosh : “That in which Bacon most excelled all other men was the range and compass of his intellectual view, and the power of contemplating many and distant objects together without indistinctness or confusion. This wide-ranging intellect was illuminated by the brightest Fancy that ever contented itself with the office of only ministering to Reason; and from this singular relation of the two grand faculties of man it has resulted, that his philosophy, though illustrated still more than adorned by the utmost splendour of imagery, continues still subject to the undivided supremacy of Intellect. In the midst. of all the prodigality of an imagination which, had it been independent, would have been poetical, his opinions remained severely rational.”
But, with all his greatness and beauty of intellect, Bacon was sadly wanting in moral elevation. In his position, a high and delicate honour, the sensitive chastity of principle which feels a stain as a wound, was espoly needful for his safety; but it evidently had no ruling place in his
reast. Still, though his intellectual merits can hardly be overdrawn, it is
easy to overdraw his moral defects. He was not only greatly admired as a thinker, but deeply loved and honoured as a man, by o of the best and purest men of the time; which could hardly have been the case but that, with all his blemishes, he had great moral and social virtues. Though often straitened for means, he was, always generous to his servants: his temper and carriage were eminently gentle and humane: he was never accused of insolence to any human being, which is the common pleasure of mean-spirited men : his conduct in Parliament was manly, his views as a legislator were liberal, and leaning strongly towards improvement: it is not pretended that he ever gave an unjust or illegal judgment as Chancellor: his private life was blameless, and abounding in works of piety and charity: and his losing the favour of the King and Buckingham, when they were in the full career of rapacity and corruption, fairly infers him to have resisted them as much as he could without losing the power to resist them at all.
“WHAT is truth?” said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.” Certainly there be that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief; affecting free-will in thinking, as well as in acting. And though the sects of philosophers of that kind be gone, yet there remain certain discoursing” wits, which are of the same veins, though there be not so much blood in them as was in those of the ancients. But it is not only the difficulty and labour which men take in finding out of truth, nor, again, that, when it is found, it imposeth upon men's thoughts, that doth bring lies in favour; but a natural though corrupt love of the lie itself. One of the later schools of the Grecians examineth the matter, and is at a stand to think what should be in it, that men should love lies, where neither they make for pleasure, as with poets,” nor for advantage, as with the merchant, but for the lie's sake. But I cannot tell: this same truth is a naked and open daylight, that doth not show the masques and mummeries and triumphs of the world half so stately and daintily as candle-lights. Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that showeth best by day, but it will not rise to the price of a diamond or carbuncle, that showeth best
* Bacon's Essays are the best-known and most popular of all his works. It is also one of those where the superiority of his genius appears to the greatest advantage; the novelty and depth of his reflections often receiving a strong relief from the triteness of the subject. It may be read from beginning to end in a few hours; and yet, after the twentieth perusal, one seldom fails to remark in it something unobserved before. This indeed is a characteristic of all Bacon's writings, and only to be accounted for by the inexhaustible aliment they furnish to our own thoughts, and the sympathetic activity they impart to our torpid faculties.— DUGALD STEwART.
1 Dacon, I think, mistakes here. Pilate seems to be in any thing but a jesting mood. He is evidently much interested in the Prisoner before him, and is surprised, for an instant, out of his official propriety; but presently bethinks himself that the question is altogether beside his official duty, and proceeds at once to the business in hand.
2 Discoursing in the sense of discursive; that is, roving or unsettled.
3 Bacon here supposes a fiction to be the same thing as a lie. But, properly
speaking, poetry is antithetic, not to truth, but to matter of fact.