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[EDINBURGH Review, 1837.]
We return our hearty thanks to Mr. Montagu, as well for his very valuable edition of Lord Bacon's Works, as for the instructive Life of the immortal author, contained in the Hast volume. We have much to say on the subject of this Lise, and will often find ourselves obliged to dissent from the opinions of the biographer. But about his merit as a collector of the materials out of which opinions are formed, there can be no dispute; and we readily acknowledge that we are in a great measure indebted to his minute and accurate researches, for the means of refuting what we cannot but consider his errors.
The labour which has been bestowed on this volume, has been a labour of love. The writer is evidently enamoured of the subject. It fills his heart. It constantly overflows from his lips and his pen. Those who are acquainted with the courts in which Mr. Montagu practises with so much ability and success, well know how often he enlivens the discussion of a point of law by citing some weighty aphorism, or some brilliant illustration, from the De .Mugmentis or the Novum Organum. The Life before us, doubtless, owes much of its value to the honest and generous enthusiasm of the writer. This feeling has stimulated his acti. vity; has sustained his perseverance; has called forth all his ingenuity and eloquence: but, on the other hand, we must-frankly say, that it has, to a great extent, perverted his judgment.
We are by no means without sympathy for Mr. Montagu even in what we consider as his weakness. There is scarcely any delusion which has a better claim to be indulgently treated than that, under the influence of which a man ascribes every moral excellence to those who have left imperishable monuments of their genius. The causes of this error lie fleep in the inmost recesses of human nature. We are all inclined to judge of others as we find them. Our estimate of a character always depends much on the manner in which that character affects our own interests and passions. We find it difficult to think well of those by whom we are thwarted or depressed; and we are ready to admit every excuse for the vices of those who are useful or agreeable to us. This is, we believe, one of those illusions to which the whole human race is subject, and which experience and weflection can only partially remove. It is, in the phraseology of Bacon, one of the idola tribus. Hence it is, that the moral character of a man eminent in letters, or in the fine arts, is treated—often by contemporaries—almost always by posterity —with extraordinary tenderness. The world
* The Works of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England. A new Edition. oil. Montaqu, Esq. "16 vols. 8vo. i.ondon. 1825-1834.
by the sober majesty of his style, till we forget the oppressor and the bigot in the historian. Falstaff and Tom Jones have survived the gamekeepers whom Shakspeare cudgelled, and the landladies whom Fielding bilked. A great writer is the friend and benefactor of his readers; and they cannot but judge of him under the deluding influence of friendship and gratitude. We all know how unwilling we are to admit the truth of any disgracrful story about a person whose society we like, and from whom we have received favours, how long we struggle against evidence, how fondly, when the facts cannot be disputed, we cling to the hope that there may be some explanation or some extenuating circumstance with which we are unacquainted. Just such is the feeling which a man of liberal education naturally entertains towards the great minds of former ages. The debt which he owes to them is incalculable. They have guided him to truth. They have filled his mind with noble and graceful images. They have stood by him in all vicissitudes—comforters in sorrow, nurses in sickness, companions in solitude. These friendships are exposed to no danger from the occurrences by which other attachments are weakened or dissolved. Time glides by ; fortune is inconstant; tempers are soured; bonds which seemed indissoluble are daily sundered by interest, by emulation, or by caprice. But no such cause can assect the silent converse which we hold with the highest of human intellects. That placid intercourse is disturbed by no jealousies or resentments. These are the old friends who are never seen with new faces, who are the same in wealth and in poverty, in glory and in obscurity. With the dead there is no rivalry. In the dead there is no change. Plato is never sullen. Cervantes is never petulant. Demosthenes never comes unseasonably. Dante never stays too long. No difference of political opinion can alienate Cicero. No heresy can excite the horior of Bossuet.
Nothing, then, can be more natural than that a person of sensibility and imagination should entertain a respectful and affectionate feelung
towards those great men with whose minds he
holds daily communion. Yet nothing can be more certain than that such finen have not always deserved, in their own persons, to be regarded with respect or affection. Some writers, whose works will continue to instruct and delight mankind to the remotest ages, have been placed in such situations, that their actions and motives are as well known to us as the actions and motives of one human being can be known to another; and unhappily their conduct has not always been such as an impartial judge can contemplate with approbation. But the fanaticism of the devout worshipper of genius is proof against all evidence and all argument. The character of his idol is matter of faith; and the province of faith is not to be invaded by reason. He maintains his superstition with a credulity as boundless, and a zeal as unscrupulous, as can be found in the most ardent partisans of religious or political factions. The most overwhelming proofs are rejected; the ‘plainest rules of morality are explained away; extensive and important portions of history are completely distorted; the enthusiast misrepresents facts with all the effrontery of an advocate, and confounds right and wrong with all the dexterity of a Jesuit—and all this only in order that some man who has been in his grave for ages may have a fairer character than he deserves. Middleton's “Life of Cicero” is a striking instance of the influence of this sort of partiality. Never was there a character which it was easier to read than that of Cicero. Never was there a mind keener or more critical than that of Middleton. Had the doctor brought to the examination of his favourite statesman's conduct but a very small part of the acuteness and severity which he displayed when he was engaged in investigating the high pretensions of Epiphanius and Justin Martyr, he could not have failed to produce a most valuable history of a most interesting portion of time. But this most ingenious and learned man, though “So wary held and wise That, as "t was said, he scarce received For gospel what the church believed,” had a superstition of his own. The great Iconoclast was himself an idolater. The great .Avvocata del Diavolo, while he disputed, with no small ability, the claims of Cyprian and Athanasius to a place in the Calendar, was himself composing a lying legend in honour of St. Tully! He was holding up as a model of every virtue a man whose talents and acquirements, indeed, can never be too highly extolled, and who was by no means destitute of amiable qualities, but whose whole soul was under the dominion of a girlish vanity and a craven fear. Actions for which Cicero himself, the most eloquent and skilful of advocates, could contrive no excuse, actions which in his confidential correspondence he mentioned with remorse an” shame, are represented by his biographer as wise, virtuous, heroic. The whole history of that great revolution which overthrew the Roman aristocracy, the whole state of parties, the character cf every public 'nan, 1s elaborately misrepresented, in order to make cut something which may look like a
defence of one most eloquent and accomplished Trimmer. The volume before us reminds us now and then of the “Life of Cicero.” But there is this marked difference. Dr. Middleton evidently had an uneasy consciousness of the weakness of his cause, and therefore resorted to the most disingenuous shifts, to unpardonable distortions and suppressions of facts. . Mr. Montagu's faith is sincere and implicit. He practises no trickery. He conceals nothing. He puts the facts before us in the full confidence that they will produce on our minds the effect which they have produced on his own. It is not till he comes to reason from facts to motives, that his partiality shows itself; and then he leaves Middleton himself far behind. His work proceeds on the assumption that Bacon was an eminently virtuous man. From the tree Mr. Montagu judges of the fruit. He is forced to relate many actions, which, if any man but Bacon had committed them, nobody would have dreamed of defending—actions which are readily and completely explained by supposing Bacon to have been a man whose principles were not strict, and whose spirit was not high —actions which can be explained in no other way, without resorting to some grotesque hypothesis for which there is not a title of evidence. But any hypothesis is, in Mr. Montagu's opinion, more probable than that his hero should ever have done any thing very wrong. This mode of defending Bacon seems to us by no means Baconian. To take a man's character for granted, and then from his character to infer the moral quality of all his actions, is surely a process the very reverse of that which is recommended in the Novum Organum. Nothing, we are sure, could have led Mr. Montagu to depart se far from his master's precepts, except zeal for his master's honour. We shall follow a different course. We shall attempt, with the valuable assistance which Mr. Montagu has afforded us, to frame such an account of Bacon's life as may enable our readers cor- . rectly to estimate his character. It is hardly necessary to say that Francis Bacon was the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, who held the great seal of England during the first twenty years of the reign of Elizabeth. The . fame of the father has been thrown into shade by that of the son. But Sir Nicholas was no ordinary man. He belonged to a set of men whom it is easier to describe collectively than separately; whose minds were formed by one system of discipline; who belonged to one rank in society, to one university, to one party, to one sect, to one administration; and who resembled each other so much in talents, in opinions, in habits, in fortunes, that one character, we had almost said one life, may, to a considerable extent, serve for them all. They were the first generation of statesmen by profession that England produced. Before their time the division of labour had, in this respect, been very imperfect. Those who had directed public affairs had been, with few exceptions, warriors or priests: warriors whose rude courage was neither guided by science nor softened by humanity; priests whose learning and abilities were habitually devoted
to the defence of tyranny and imposture. The . Hotspurs, the Nevilles, the Cliffords—rough, illiterate, and unreflecting—brought to the council-board the fierce and imperious disposition which they had acquired amidst the tumultos predatory war, or in the gloomy repose of the garrisoned and moated castle. On the other side was the calm and subtle prelate, versed in all that was then considered as laarning; trained in the schools to manage words, and in the confessional to manage hearts; seldom superstitious, but skilful in practising on the superstition of others; false as it was natural that a man should be, whose profession imposed on all who were not saints the necessity of being hypocrites; selfish as it was natural that a man should be, who could form no domestic ties, and cherish no hope of legitimate posterity; more attached to his order than to his country, and guiding the politics of England with a constant side-glance at Rome. But the increase of wealth, the progress of knowledge, and the reformation of religion produced a great change. The nobles ceased to be military chieftains; the priests ceased to possess a monopoly of learning; and a new and remarkable species of politicians appeared. These men came from neither of the classes which had, till then, almost exclusively furnished ministers of state. They were all laymen; yet they were all men of learning, and they were all men of peace. They were not members of the aristocracy. They inherited no titles, no large domains, no armies of retainers, no fortified castles. Yet they were not low men, such as those whom princes, jealous of the power of a nobility, have sometimes raiscd from forges, and cobblers' stalls, to the highest situations. They were all gentlemen by birth. They had all received a liberal education. It is a remarkable fact that they were all members of the same university. The two great national seats of learning had even then acquired the characters which they still retain. In intellectual activity, and in readiness to admit improvements, the superiority was then, as it has ever since been, on the side of the less ancient and splendid institution. Cambridge had the honour of educating those celebrated Protestant bishops whom Oxford had the honour of burning; and at Cambridge were formed the minds of all those statesmen to whom chiefly is to be attributed the secure establishment of the reformed religion in the north of Europe. The statesmen of whom we speak passed their youth surrounded by the incessant din of theological controversy. Opinions were still in a state of chaotic anarchy, intermingling, separating, advancing, receding. Sometimes the stubborn bigotry of the Conservatives seemed likely to prevail. Then the impetuous onset of the Reformers for a moment carried all before it. Then again the resisting mass made a desperate stand, arrested the movement, and forced it slowly back. The vacillation which at that time appeared in English legislation, and which it has been the fashion to attribute to the caprice and to the power of one or two individuals, was truly a national vacillation. It was not only in the mind of
Henry that the new theology obtained the accendant at one time, and that the lessons of the nurse and of the priest regained their infrience at another. It was not only in the house of Tudor that the husband was exasperated by the opposition of the wife, that the son dissented from the opinions of the father, that the brother persecuted the sister, the one sister persecuted another. The principles of conservation and reform carried on their warfare in every part of society, in every congregation, in every school of learning, round the hearth of every "private family, in the recesses of every reflecting mind.
It was in the midst of this ferment that the minds of the persons whom we are describing were developed. They were born Reformers. They belonged by nature to that order of men who always form the front ranks in the great intellectual progress. They were, therefore, one and all Protertants. In religious matters, however, though there is no reason to doubt that they were sincere, they were by no means zealous. None of them chose to run the smallest personal risk during the reign of Mary. None of them favoured the unhappy attempt of Northumberland in favour of his daughterin-law. None of them shared in the desperate councils of Wyatt. They contrived to have business on the Continent; or, if they stayed in England, they heard Mass and kept Lent with great decorum. When those dark and perilous years had gone by, and when the crown had descended to a new sovereign, they took the lead in the reformation of the church. But they proceeded not with the impetuosity of theologians, but with the calm determination of statesmen. They acted, not like men who considered the Romish worship as a system too offensive to God and too destructive of souls to be tolerated for an hour; but like men who regarded the points in dispute among Christians as in themselves unimportant; and who were not restrained by any scruple of conscience from professing, as they had before professed, the Catholic faith of Mary, the Protestant faith of Edward, or any of the numerous intermediate combinations which the caprice of Henry, and the temporizing policy of Cranmer, had formed out of the doctrines of both the hostile parties. They took a deliberate view of the state of their own country and of the continent. They satisfied themselves as to the leaning of the public mind; and they chose their side. They placed themselves at the head of the Protestants of Europe, and staked all their fame and fortunes on the success of their party.
It is needless to relate how dexterously, how resolutely, how gloriously, they directed the politics of England during the eventful years which followed; how they succeeded in uniting their friends and separating their enemies; how they humbled the pride of Philip; how they backed the unconquerable spirit of Co|ligni; how they rescued Holland from tyran|ny; how they founded the maritime greatness of their country; how they outwitted the artsul | politicians of Italy, and tamed the ferocious chieftains of Scotland. It is impossible to | deny that they committed many acts which would justly bring on a statesman of our time censures of the most serious kind. But when we consider the state of morality in their age, and the unscrupulous character of the adversaries against whom they had to contend, we are forced to admit, that it is not without reason that their names are still held in veneration by their countrymen. There were, doubtless, many diversities in their intellectual and moral character. But there was a strong family likeness. The constitution of their minds was remarkably sound. No particular faculty was pre-eminently developed; but manly health and vigour were equally diffused through the whole. They were men of letters. Their minds were by nature and by exercise well-fashioned for speculative pursuits. It was by circumstances rather than by any strong bias of inclination, that they were led to take a prominent part in active life. In active life, however, no men could be more perfectly free from the faults of mere theorists and pedants. No men observed more accurately the signs of the times. No men had a greater practical acquaintance with human nature. Their policy was generally characterized rather by vigilance, by moderation, and by firmness, than by invention or by the spirit of enterprise. They spoke and wrote in a manner worthy of their excellent sense. Their eloquence was less copious and less ingenious, but far purer and more manly than that of the succeeding generation. It was the eloquence of men who had lived with the first translators of the Bible, and with the authors of the Book of Common Prayer. It was luminous, dignified, solid, and very slightly tainted with that affectation which deformed the style of the ablest men of the next age. If, as sometimes chanced, they were under the necessity of taking a part in those theological controversies on which the dearest interests of kingdoms were then staked, they acquitted themselves as if their whole lives had been passed in the schools and the convocation. " There was something in the temper of these celebrated men which secured them against the proverbial inconstancy both of the court and of the multitude. No intrigue, no combination of rivals, could deprive them of the confidence of their sovereign. No Parliament attacked their influence. No mob coupled their names with any odious grievance. Their power ended only with their lives. In this respect their fate presents a most remarkable contrast to that of the enterprising and brilliant politicians of the preceding, and of the succeeding generation. Burleigh was, minister during forty years. Sir Nicholas Bacon held the great seal more than twenty years. Sir Thomas Smith was Secretary of State eighteen years;–Sir Francis Walsingham about as long. They all died in office, and in the full enjoyment of public respect and royal favour.
Far different had been the sate of Wolsey,
Cromwell, Norfolk, Somerset, and Northumherland. Far different also was the fate of Essex, of Raleigh, and of the still more illustrons man whose life we propose to consider.
The crplanation of this circumstance is
perhaps contained in the motto which Sir Nicholas Bacon inscribed over the entrance of . his hall at Gorhambury—Mediocria firina. This maxim was constantly borne in mind by himself and his colleagues. They were more solicitous to lay the foundations of their power deep, than to raise the structure to a conspicuous but insecure height. None of them. aspired to be sole minister. None of them provoked envy by an ostentatious display of wealth and influence. None of them affected to outshine the ancientaristocracy of the kingdom. They were free from that childish love of titles which characterized the successful courtiers of the generation which preceded them, and that which followed them. As to money, none of them could, in that age, justly be considered as rapacious. Some of them would, even in our time, deserve the praise of eminent disinterestedness. Their fidelity to the state was incorruptible. Their private morals were without stain. Their households were sober and well governed.
Among these statesmen Sir Nicholas Bacon was generally considered as ranking next to Burleigh. He was called by Camden, “Sacris conciliis alterum columen;” and by George Buchanan,
The second wife of Sir Nicholas, and the mother of Francis Bacon, was Anne, one of the daughters of Sir Anthony Cook—a man of distinguished learning, who had been tutor to Edward the Sixth. Sir Anthony had paid considerable attention to the education of his daughters, and lived to see them all splendidly and happily married. Their classical acquirements made them conspicuous even among the women of fashion of that age. Katherine, who became Lady Killigrew, wrote Latin hexameters and pentameters which would appear with credit in the Musae Etonenses. Mildhed, the wife of Lord Burleigh, was described by Roger Ascham as the best Greek scholar among the young women of England, Lady Jane Grey always excepted. Anne, the mother of Francis Bacon, was distinguished both as a linguist and as a theologian. She corresponded in Greek with Bishop Jewell, and . translated his Apologia from the Latin, so correctly that neither he nor Archbishop Parker could suggest a single alteration.” She also translated a series of sermons on fate and freewill from the Tuscan of Bernardo Ochino, This fact is the more curious, as Ochino was one of that small and audacious band of Italian reformers—anathematized alike by Wittenberg, by Geneva, by Zurich, and by Rome —from which the Socinian sect deduces its origin.
Lady Bacon was doubtless a lady of highly cultivated mind after the fashion of her age. But we must not suffer ourselves to be deluded into the belief, that she and her sisters were more accomplished women than many who are now living. On this subject there is, we think, much misapprehension. We have often heard men who wish, as almost all men of
* Strype's life of Parker.
sense wish, that women shoul: 3e highly edu-1 changed, their relative value, when compared
cated, speak with rapture of the English ladies of the sixteenth century, and lament that they can find no modern damsel resembling those fair pupils of Ascham and Aylmer who com
with the whole mass of mental wealth possess
ed by mankind, has been constantly falling. They were the intellectual all of our ancestors.
| They are but a part of our treasures. Over
pared, over their embroidery, the styles of Iso- what tragedy could Lady Jane Grey have wept, crates and Lysias, and who, while the horns over what comedy could she have smiled, if
were sounding and the dogs in full cry, sat in
the lonely of el, with eyes "riveted to that immortal page which tells how meekly and bravely the first great martyr of intellectual fiberty took the cup from his weeping jailer. But surely these complaints have very little foundation. We would by no means disparage the 'adies of the sixteenth century or their pursuits But we conceive that those who extol them at the expense of the women of our time forget one very obvious and very important circumstance. In the reign of Henry the Eighth, and Edward the Sixth, a person who did not read Greek and Latin could read nothing, or next to nothing. The Italian was the cnly modern language which possessed any thing that could be called a literature. All the valuable books then extant in all the vernacular dialects of Europe would hardly have filled a single shelf. England did not yet possess Shakspeare's plays, and the Faerie Queen; nor France Montaigne's Essays; nor Spain Don Quixote. In looking round a well-furnished library, how few English or French books can we find which were extant when Lady Jane Grey and Queen Elizabeth received their education. Chaucer, Gower, Froissart, Comines, Rabelais, nearly complete the list. It was therefore absolutely necessary that a woman should be uneducated or classieally educated. Indeed, without a knowledge of one of the ancient languages no person could then have any clear notions of what was passing in the political, the literary, or the religious world. The Latin was in the sixteenth century all and more than all that the French-was in the eighteenth. It was the language of courts as well as of the schools. It was the language of diplomacy; it was the language of theological and political controversy. Being a fixed language, while the living languages were in a state of fluctuation, being universally known to the learned and the polite, it was employed by almost every writer who aspired to a wide and durable reputation. A person who was ignorant of it was shut out from all acquaintance—not merely with Cicero and Virgil—not merely with heavy treatises on canon-law and school divinity—but with the most interesting memoirs, state papers, and pamphlets of his own time; nay, even with the most admired poetry and the most popular squibs which appeared on the fleeting topics of the day—withobuchanan's complimentary verses, with Erasmus's dialogues, with Hutton's epistles. This is no longer the case. All political and religious controversy is now conducted in the modern languages. The ancient tongues are used only in comments on the ancient writers. The great productions of Athenian and Roman genius are indeed still what they were. But though their positive value is un
the ancient dramatists had not been in her library? A modern reader can make shift without CEdipus and Medea, while he possesses. Othello and Hamlet. If he knows nothing of Pyrgopolynices and Thraso, he is samiliar with Bobadil, and Bessus, and Pistol, and Parolles. If he cannot enjoy the delicious irony of Plate, he may find some compensation in that of Pascal. If he is shut out from Nephelococcygia, he may take refuge in Lilliput. We are guilty, we hope, of no irreverence towards those great nations to which the human race owes art, science, taste, civil and intellectual freedom, when we say, that the stock bequeathed by them to us has been so carefully improved that the accumulated interest now exceeds the principal. We believe that the books which have been written in the languages of western Europe, during the last two hundred and fifty years, are of greater value than all the books which, at the beginning of that period, were extant in the world. With the modern languages of Europe English wo. men are at least as well acquainted as English men. When, therefore, we compare the acquirements of Lady Jane Grey and those of an accomplished young woman of our own time, we have no hesitation in awarding the superiority to the latter. We hope that our readers will pardon this digression. It is long; but it can hardly be called unseasonable, if it tends to convince them that they are mistaken in thinking that their great-great-grandmothers were superior women to their sisters and their wives. Francis Bacon, the youngest son of Sir Nicholas, was born at York House, his father's residence in the Strand, on the 22d of January, 1561. His health was very delicate, and to this circumstance may be partly attributed that gravity of carriage, and that love of sedentary pursuits, which distinguished him from other boys. Everybody knows how much has premature readiness of wit and sobriety of deportment amused the queen; and how she used to call him her young Lord Keeper. We are told that while still a mere child he stole away from his playfellows to a vault in St. James's Fields, for the purpose of investigating the cause of a singular echo which he had observed there. It is certain that, at only twelve, he busied himself with very migeuious speculations on the art of legerdemaina subject which, as Professor Dugald Stewart has most justly observed. merits much more attention from philosophers than it has ever received. These are trifles. But the eminence which Bacon afterwards attained renders them interesting. In the thirteenth year of his age he was entered at Trinity College, Cambridge. , 'I nat celebrated school of learning enjoyed the pe. culiar favour of the Lord Treasurer and the