Page images
PDF
EPUB

Tord Keeper; and acknowledged the advan

tages which it derived from their patronage in a public letter which bears date just a month after the admission of Francis Bacon.” The master was Whitgift, asterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, a narrow-minded, mean, and tyrannical priest, who gained power by servility and adulation, and employed in persecuting with impartial cruelty those who agreed with Calvin about church government, and those who differed from Calvin touching the doctrine of reprobation. He was now in the chrysalis state—putting off the worm and putting on the dragon-dy—a kind of intermediate grub between sycophant and oppressor. He was indemnifying himself for the court which he sound it expedient to pay to the ministers, by exercising much petty tyranny within his own college. It would be unjust, however, to deny him the praise of having rendered about this time one important service to letters. He stood up manfully against those who wished to make Trinity College a mere appendage to Westminster school, and by this act, the only good act, as far as we remember, of his long public life, he saved the noblest place of education in England from the degrading fate of King's College and New College. It has often been said that Bacon, while still at college, planned that great intellectual revolution with which his name is inseparably connected. The evidence on this subject, however, is hardly sufficient to prove what is in itself so improbable as that any definite scheme of that kind should have been so early formed, even by so powerful and active a mind. But it is certain that, after a residence of three years at Cambridge, Bacon departed, carrying with him a profound contempt for the course of study pursued there; a fixed conviction that the system of academic education in England was radically vicious; a just scorn for the trifles on which the followers of Aristotle had wasted their powers, and no great reverence for Aristotle himself. In his sixteenth year he visited Paris, and resided there for some time, under the care of Sir Amias Paulet, Elizabeth's minister at the French court, and one of the ablest and most upright of the many valuable servants whom she employed. France was at that time in a deplorable state of agitation. The Huguenots and the Catholics were mustering all their force for the fiercest and most protracted of their many struggles: while the prince, whose duty it was to protect and to restrain both, had by his vices and follies degraded himself so deeply that he had no authority over either. Bacon, however, made a tour through several provinces, and appears to have passed some time at Poitiers. We have abundant proof that during his stay on the continent he did not neglect literary and scientific pursuits. But nis attention seems to have beer chiefly tirected to statistics and diplomacy. It was at this time that he wrote those Notes on the State of Europe which are printed in his works. He studied the principles of the art

[ocr errors]

of deciphering with great interest; and invent. ed one cipher so ingenious that many years later he thought it deserving of a place in the De slugmentis. In February, 1580, while engaged in these pursuits, he received intelligence of the almost sudden death of his father, and instantly returned to England. His prospects were greatly overcast by this event. He was most desirous to obtain a provision which might enable him to devote himself to literature and politics. He applied to the government, and it seems strange that he should have applied in vain. His wishes were moderate. His hereditary claims on the administration were great. He had himself been favourably noticed by the queen. His uncle was Prime Minister. His own talents were such as any minister might have been eager to enlist in the public service. But his solicitalions were unsuccessful. The truth is, that the Cecils disliked him, and did all that they could decently do to keep him down. It has never been alleged that Bacon had done any thing to merit this dislike; nor is it at all probable that a man whose temper was naturally mild, whose manners were courteous, who, through life, nursed his fortunes with the utmost care, and who was fearful even to a fault of offending the powerful, would have given any just canse of displeasure to a kinsman who had the means of rendering him essential service, and of doing him irreparable injury. The real explanation, we have no doubt, is this: Robert Cecil, the Treasurer's second son, was younger by a few months than Bacon. He had been educated with the utmost care; had been initiated, while still a boy, in the mysteries of diplomacy and court intrigue; and was just at this time about to be introduced on the stage of public life. The wish nearest to Burleigh's heart was that his own greatness might descend to this favourite child. But even Burleigh's fatherly partiality could hardly prevent him from perceiving that Robert, with all his abilities and acquirements, was no match for his cousin Francis. This seems to us the only rational explanation of the Treasurer's conduct. Mr. Montagu is more charitable. He supposes that Burleigh was influenced merely by affection for his nephew, and was “little disposed to encourage him to rely on others rather than on himself, and to venture on the quicksands of politics, instead of the certain profession of the law.” If such were Burleigh's feelings, it seems strange that he should have suffered his son to venture on those quicksands from which he so carefully preserved his nephew. But the truth is, that if Burleigh had been so disposed, he might easily have secured to Bacon a comfortable provision which should have been exposed to no risk. And it is equally certain that he showed as little disposition to enable his nephew to live by a profession as to enable him to live without a profession. That Bacon himself attributed the conduct of his relatives to jealousy of his superior talents, we have not the smallest doubt. In a letter, written many years after to Williers, he expresses himself thus: “Countenance, encourage, and father and the son, able men were by design and of purpose suppressed.” Whatever Burleigh's motives might be, his purpose was unalterable. The supplications which Francis addressed to his uncle and aunt were earnest, humble, and almost servile. He was the most promising and accomplished young man of his time. His father had been the brother-in-law, the most useful colleague, the nearest friend of the minister. But all this availed poor Francis nothing. He was forced, much against his will, to betake himself to the study of the law. He was admitted at Gray's Inn, and, during some years, he laboured there in obscurity. What the extent of his legal attainments may have been, it is difficult to say. It was not hard for a man of his powers to acquire that very moderate portion of technical knowledge which, when joined to quickness, tact, wit, ingenuity, eloquence, and knowledge of the world, is sufficient to raise an advocate to the highest professional eminence. The general opinion appears to have been that which was on one occasion expressed by Elizabeth. “Bacon,” said she, “had a great wit and much learning; but in law showeth to the uttermost of his knowledge, and is not deep.” The Cecils, we suspect, did their best to spread this opinion by whispers and insinuations. Coke openly proclaimed it with that rancorous insolence which was habitual to him. No reports are more readily believed than those which disparage genius and soothe the envy of conscious mediocrity. It must have been inexpressibly consoling to a stupid sergeant, the forerunner of him who, a hundred and fifty years later, “shook his head at Murray as a wit,” to know that the most profound thinker, and the most accomplished orator of the age, was very imperfectly acquainted with the law touching bastard cigné and mulier puisné, and confounded the right of free fishery with that of common of piscary. It is certain that no man in that age, or indeed during the century and a half which followed, was better acquainted with the philosophy of law. His technical knowledge was quite sufficient, with the help of his admirable talents, and his insinuating address, to procure clients. He rose very rapidly into business, and soon entertained hopes of being called within the bar. He applied to Lord Burleigh for that purpose, but received a testy refusal. Of the grounds of that refusal we can, in some measure, judge by Bacon's answer, which is still extant. It seems that the old lord, whose temper, age, and gout had by no means altered for the better, and who omitted no opportunity of marking his dislike of the showy, quickwitted young men of the rising generation, took this opportunity to read Francis a very sharp lecture on his vanity, and want of respect for his betters. Francis returned a most submissive reply, thanked the Treasurer for the admonition, and promised to profit by it. Strangers meanwhile were less unjust to the

advance able men in all kinds, degrees, and young barrister than his nearest kinsmen hird professions. For in the time of the Cecils, the been. In his twenty-sixth year he became a

* See page 61, vol. xii. of the present edition. Wol. II.-32.

bencher of his Inn; and two years later he was appointed Lent reader. At length, in 1590, he obtained for the first time some show of favour from the court. He was sworn in Queen's Counsel crtraordinary. But this mark of honour was not accompanied by any pecuniary emolument. He continued, therefore, to solicit his powerful relatives for some provision which might enable him to live without drudging at his profession. He bore with a patience and serenity, which, we fear, bordered on meanness, the morose humours of his uncle, and the sneering reflections which his cousin cast on speculative men, lost in philosophical dreams, and too wise to be capable of transacting public business. At length the Cecils were generous enough to procure for him the reversion of the Registrarship of the Star-Chamber. This was a lucrative place; but as many years elapsed before it fell in, he was still under the necessity of labouring for his daily bread. In the Parliament which was called in 1593 he sat as member for the county of Middlesex, and soon attained eminence as a debater. It is easy to perceive from the scanty remains of his oratory, that the same compactness of expression and richness of fancy which appear in his writings characterized his speeches; and that his extensive acquaintance with literature and history enabled him to entertain his audience with a vast variety of illustrations and allusions which were generally happy and apposite, but which were probably not least pleasing to the taste of that age when they were such as would now be thought childish or pedantic. It is evident also that he was, as indeed might have been expected, perfectly free from those faults which are generally found in an advocate who, after having risen to eminence at the bar, enters the House of Commons; that it was his habit to deal with every great question, not in small detached portions, but as a whole; that he refined little, and that his reasonings were those of a capacious rather than a subtle mind. Ben Jonson, a most unexceptionable judge, has described his eloquence in words, which, though often quoted, will bear to be quoted again. “There happened in my time one noble speaker who was full of gravity in his speaking. His language, where he could spare or pass by a jest, was nobly censorious. No man ever spoke more neatly, more pressly, more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness, in what he uttered. No member of his speech but consisted of his own graces. His hearers could not cough or look uside from him without loss. He commanded where he spoke, and had his judges angry and pleased at his devotion. No man had their aslections more in his power. The fear of every man that heard him was lest he should make an end.” From the mention which is made of judges, it would seem that Jonson had heard Bacon only at the bar. Indeed, we imagine that the House of Commons was then almost inaccessible to strangers. It is not probable that a man of Bacon's nice observation would speak in Parliament exactly as he spoke in the Court of King's Bench. But the graces of manner and language must, to a great extent, have been common between the Queen's Counsel and the Knight of the Shire. Bacon tried to play a very difficult game in politics. He wished to be at once a favourite at court and popular with the multitude. If any man could have succeeded in this attempt, a man of talents so rare, of judgment so prematurely ripe, of temper so calm, and of manners so plausible, might have been expected to succeed. Nor indeed did he wholly fail. Once, however, he indulged in a burst of patriotisin which cost him a long and bitter remorse, and which he never ventured to repeat. The court asked for large subsidies, and for speedy payment. The remains of Bacon's speech breathe all the spirit of the Long Parliament. “The gentlemen,” said he, “must sell their plate, and the farmers their brass pots, ere this will be paid; and for us, we are here to search the wounds of the realm, and not to skin them over. The dangers are these. First, we shall breed discontent and endanger her majesty's safety, which must consist more in the love of the people than their wealth. Secondly, this being granted in this sort, other princes hereafter will look for the like; so that we shall put an evil precedent on ourselves and on our posterity; and in histories, it is to be observed, of all nations, the English are not to be subject, base, or taxable.” The queen and her ministers resented this outbreak of public spirit in the highest manner. Indeed, many an honest member of the House of Commons had, for a much smaller matter, been sent to the Tower by the proud and hot-blooded Tudors. The young patriot condescended to make the most abject apologies. He adjured the Lord Treasurer to show some savour to his poor servant and ally. He bemoaned himself to the Lord Keeper, in a letter which may keep in countenance the most unmanly of the epistles which Cicero wrote during his banishment. The lesson was not thrown away. Bacon never offended in the same manner again. He was now satisfied that he had little to hope from the patronage of those powerful kinsmen whom he had solicited during twelve years with such meek pertinacity; and he began to look towards a different quarter. Among the courtiers of Elizabeth had lately appeared a new favourite—young, noble, wealthy, accomplished, eloqaent, brave, generous, aspiring —a favourite who had obtained from the grayheaded queen such marks of regard as she had scarce vouchsased to Leicester in the season of the passions; who was at once the ornament of the palace and the idol of the city; who was the common patron of men of letters and of men of the sword; who was the common refuge of the persecuted Catholic and of the persecuted Puritan.

The calm prudence

which had enabled Burleigh to shape his | bers of the Long Parliament were still in their

course through so many dangers, and the vast experience which he had acquired in dealing with two generations of colleagues and rivals, see ined scarcely sufficient to support him in this new competition; and Robert Cecil, sick

ened with fear and envy as he contemplated the rising fame and influence of Essex. The history of the factions which, towards the close of the reign of Elizabeth, divided her court and her council, though pregnant with instruction, is by no means interesting or pleasing. Both parties employed the means which are familiar to unscrupulous statesmen; and neither had, or even pretended to have, any important end in view. The public mind was then reposing from one great effort, and collecting strength for another. That impetuous and appalling rush with which the human intellect had moved forward in the career of truth and liberty, during the fifty years which followed the separation of Luther from the communion of the Church of Rome, was now over. The boundary between Protestantism and Popery had been fixed very nearly where it still remains. England, Scotland, the Northern kingdoms were on one side; Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, on the other. The line of demarcation ran, as it still runs, through the midst of the Netherlands, of Germany, and of Switzerland—dividing province from province, electorate from electorate, and canton from canton. France might be considered as a debatable land, in which the contest was still undecided. Since that time, the two religions have done little more than maintain their ground. A few occasional incursions have been made. But the general frontier remains the same. During two hundred and fifty years no great society has risen up like one man, and emancipated itself by one mighty effort from the enthralling superstition of ages. This spectacle was common in the middle of the sixteenth century. Why has it ceased to be so Why has so violent a movement been followed by so long a repose? The doctrines of the Reformers are not less agreeable to reason or to revelation now than formerly. The public mind is assuredly not less enlightened now than formerly. Why is it that Protestantism, after carrying every thing before it in a time of comparatively little knowledge and little freedom, should make no perceptible progress in a reasoning and tolerant age; that the I,uthers, the Calvins, the Knoxes, the Zwingles, should have left no successors; that during two centuries and a half fewer converts should have been brought over from the Church of Rome than at the time of the Reformation were sometimes gained in a year! This has always appeared to us one of the most curious and interesting problems in history. On some other occasion we may perhaps attempt to solve it. At present it is enough to say, that at the close of Elizabeth's reign, the Protestant party, to borrow the language of the Apocalypse, had left its first love and had ceased to do its first works. The great struggle of the sixteenth century was over. The great struggle of the seventeenth century had not commenced. The consessors of Mary's reign were dead. The mem

cradles. The Papists had been deprived of all power in the state. The Puritans had not yet attained any formidable extent of power. True it is, that a student well acquainted with the history of the next generation can easily discern in the proceedings of the last Parliaments of Elizabeth the germ of great and ever-memorable events. But to the eye of a contemporary nothing of this appeared. The two sections of ambitious men who were struggling for power differed from each other on no important public question. Both belonged to the Established Church. Both professed boundless loyalty to the queen. Both approved the war with Spain. There is not, as far as we are aware, any reason to believe that they entertained different views concerning the succession to the crown. Certainly neither faction had any great measure of reform in view. Neither attempted to redress any public grievance. The most odious and pernicious grievance under which the nation ther: suffered was a source of profit to both, and was defended by both with equal zeal. Raleigh held a monopoly of cards—Essex a monopoly of sweet wines. In fact, the only ground of quarrel between the parties was, that they could not agree as to their respective shares of power and patron

e. Nothing in the political conduct of Essex entitles him to esteem; and the pity with which we regard his early and terrible end is diminished by the consideration, that he put to hazard the lives and fortunes of his most attached friends, and endeavoured to throw the whole country into confusion, for objects purely personal. Still, it is impossible not to be deeply interested for a man so brave, high-spirited, and generous;–for a man who, while he conducted himself towards his sovereign with a boldness such as was then found in no other subject, conducted himself towards his dependants with a delicacy such as has rarely been found in any other patron. Unlike the vulgar herd of benefactors, he desired to inspire, not gratitude, but affection. He tried to make those whom he befriended to feel towards him as towards an equal. His mind, ardent, susceptible, naturally disposed to admiration of all that is great and beautiful, was fascinated by the genius and the accomplishments of Bacon. A close friendship was soon formed between them —a friendship destined to have a dark, a mournsul, a shameful end. In 1594 the office of Attorney-General became vacant, and Bacon hoped to obtain it. Essex made his friend's cause his own—sued, expostulated, promised, threatened,—but all in vain. It is probable that the dislike felt by the Cecils for Bacon had been increased by the connection which he had lately formed with the earl. Robert was then on the point of being made Secretary of State. He happened one day to be in the same coach with Essex, and a remarkable conversation took place between them. “My lord,” said Sir Robert, “the §. has determined to appoint an Attorneyeneral without more delay. I pray your lordship to let me know whom you will favour.” “I wonder at your question,” replied the earl. “You cannot but know that resolutely, against all the world, I stand for your cousin, Francis Bacon.” “Good Lord,” cried Cecil, unable to bridle his temper, “I wonder your lordship should spend your strength on

so unlikely a matter. Can you name one pre cedent of so raw a youth promoted to so great a place?” This objection came with a singularly bad grace from a man who, though younger than Bacon, was in daily expectation of being made Secretary of State. The blot was too obvious to be missed by Essex, who seldom forbore to speak his mind. “I have made no search,” said he, “for precedents of young mem who have filled the office of Attorney-General. But I could name to you, Sir Robert, a man younger than Francis, less learned, and equally inexperienced, who is suing and striving with all his might for an office of far greater weight.” Sir Robert had nothing to say but that he thought his own abilities equal to the place which he hoped to obtain; and that his father's long services deserved such a mark of gratitude from the queen; as if his abilities were comparable to his cousin's, or as if Sir Nicholas Bacon had done no service to the state. Cecil then hinted that if Bacon would be satisfied with the Solicitorship, that might be of easier digestion to the queen. “Digest me no digestions,” said the generous and ardent earl. “The Attorneyship for Francis is that I must have; and in that I will spend all my power, might, authority, and amity; and with tooth and nail procure the same for him against whomsoever; whosoever getteth this office out of my hands for any other, before he have it, it shall cost him the coming by. And this be you assured of, Sir Robert, for now I fully declare myself; and for my own part, Sir Robert, I think strange both of my Lord Treasurer and you, that can have the mind to seek the preference of a stranger before so near a kinsman; for if you weigh in a balance the parts every way of his competitor and him, only excepting five poor years of admitting to a house of court before Francis, you shall find in all other respects whatsoever no comparison between them.” When the office of Attorney-General was filled up, the earl pressed the queen to make Bacon Solicitor-General, and, on this occasion, the old Lord Treasurer professed himself not unfavourable to his nephew's pretensions. But after a contest which lasted more than a year and a half, and in which Essex, to use his own words, “spent all his power, might, authority, and amity,” the place was given to another. Essex felt this disappointment keenly, but found consolation in the most munificent and delicate liberality. He presented Bacon with an estate, worth near two thousand pounds, situated at Twickenham, and this, as Bacon owned many years after, “with so kind and noble circumstances as the manner was worth more than the matter.” It was soon after these events that Bacon first appeared before the public as a writer. Early in 1597 he published a small volume of Essays, which was afterwards enlarged by successive additions to many times its original bulk. This little work was, as it well deserved to be, ex ceedingly popular. It was reprinted in a few months; it was translated into Latin, French, and Italian ; and it seems to have at once extablished the literary reputation of its author, But though Bacon's reputation rose, his for " tunes were still depressed. pecuniary difficulties; and, on one occasion, was arrested in the street at the suit of a goldsmith, for a debt of £300, and was carried to a spunging-house in Coleman street. The kindness of Essex was in the mean time indefatigable. In 1596 he sailed on his memorable expedition to the coast of Spain. At the very moment of his embarcation, he wrote to several of his friends, commending to them, during his own absence, the interests of Bacon. He returned, after performing the most brilliant military exploit that was achieved on the Continent by English arms, during the long interval which elapsed between the battle of Aginconrt and that of Blenheim. His valour, his talents, his humane and generous disposition, had made him the idol of his countrymen, and had extorted praise from the enemies whom he had conquered.” He had always been proud and headstrong; and his splendid success seems to have rendered his faults more oftensive than ever. But to his friend Francis he was still the same. Bacon had some thoughts of making his fortune by marriage; and had begun to pay court to a widow of the name of Hatton. The eccentric manners and violent temper of this woman made her a disgrace and a torment to her connections. But Bacoli was not aware of her faults, or was disposed to overlook them for the sake of her ample fortune. Essex pleaded his friend's cause with his usual ardour. The letters which the earl addressed to Lady Hatton and to her mother are still extant, and are highly honourable to him. “If," he wrote, “she were my sister or my daughter, I protest I would as confidently resolve to further it as I now persuade you.” And again: “If my faith be any thing, I protest, if I had one as near me as she is to you, I had rather match her with him, than with men of far greater titles.” This suit, happily for Bacon, was unsuccessful. The lady, indeed, was kind to him in more ways than one. She rejected him, and she accepted his enemy. She married that narrowminded, bad-hearted pedant, Sir Edward Coke, and did her best to make him as miserable as he deserved to be. The fortunes of Essex had now reached their height, and began to decline. He possessed indeed all the qualities which raise men to greatness rapidly. But he had neither the virtues nor the vices which enable men to retain greatness long. His frankness, his keen sensibility to insult and injustice, were by no means agreeable to a sovereign naturally impatient of opposition, and accustomed, during forty years. to the most extravagant flattery and the most abject submission. The daring and contemptuous manner in which he bade dehance to his enemies excited their deadly hatred. His administration in Ireland was unfortunate, and in many respects hignly blamable. Though his brilliant courage and his impetuous activity fitted him admirably for such enterprises as that of Cadiz, he did not possess the caution, patience, and resolution necessary for the conduct of a protracted

* Bee Cervantes's Movela de la Espanola Ingless.

He was in great

war; in which difficulties were to be gradually surmounted, in which much discomfort was to be endured, and in which few splendid exploits could be achieved. For the civil duties of his high place he was still less qualified. Though eloquent and accomplished, he was in no sense a statesman. The multitude indeed still continued to regard even his faults with fondness. But the court had ceased to give him credit, even for the merit which he realiy possessed. The person on whom, during the decline of his influence, he chiefly depended, to whom he confided his perplexities, whose advice he solicited, whose intercession he employed, was his friend Bacon. The lamentable truth must be told. This friend, so loved, so trusted, bore a principal part in ruining the earl's fortunes, in shedding his blood, and blackening his memory. But let us be just to Bacon. We believe that, to the last, he had no wish to injure Essex. Nay, we believe that he sincerely exerted himself to serve Essex, as long as he thought he could serve Essex without injuring himself. The advice which he gave to his noble benefactor was generally most judicious. He did all in his power to dissuade the earl from accepting the government of Ireland. “For," says he, “I did as plainly see his overthrow, chained as it were by destiny to that journey, as it is possible for a man to ground a judgment upon future contingents.” The prediction was accomplished. Essex returned in disgrace. Bacon attempted to mediate between his friend and the queen ; and, we believe, honestly employed all his address for that purpose. But the task which he had undertaken was too difficult, delicate, and perilous, even for so wary and dexterous an agent. He had to manage two spirits equally proud, resentful, and ungovernable. At Essex House, he had to calm the rage of a young hero, incensed by multiplied wrongs and humiliations; and then to pass to Whitehall for the purpose of soothing the peevishness of a sovereign, whose temper, never very gentle, had been rendered morbidly irritable by age, by declining health, and by the long habit of listening to flattery and exacting implicit obedience. It is hard to serve two masters. Situated as Bacon was, it was scarcely possible for him to shape his course so as not to give one or both of his employers reason to complain. For a time he acted as fairly as, in circumstances so embarrassing, could reasonably be expected. At length, he found that while he was trying to prop the fortunes of another, he was in danger of shaking his own. He had disobliged both of the parties whom he wished to reconcile. Essex thought him wanting in zeal as a friend; Elizabeth thought him wanting in duty as a subject. The earl looked on him as a spy of the queen, the queen as a creature of the earl. The reconciliation which he had laboured to effect appeared utterly hopeless. A thousand signs, legible to eyes far less keen than his, announced that the fall of his patron was at hand. He shaped his course accordingly. When Essex was brought before the council to answer for his conduct in Ireland, Bacon, after a faint' attempt to excuse himself from taking part.

« PreviousContinue »