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"I beseech your lordship, of your nobleness, to vouchsafe to present my most humble duty to his Highness, who, I hope, ere long will make me leave king Henry the Eighth, and set me on work in relation of his Highness's adventures."
There is a curious hint in a letter to Mr. Matthew as to the materials of the " other work," Henry the Seventh, iri connexion with this of princely imposition; which may justify a suspicion that Bacon stopped short because he missed his antiquarian crutch. Sir Robert withheld his materials to some purpose.
"Since you say that the prince hath not forgot his commandment touching the history of Henry the Eighth, I may not forget my duty; but I find Sir Robert Cotton, who poured forth what he had in my other work, somewhat dainty of his materials in this."
Here is the "one morning's work," a fragment, but it may safely challenge comparison with any thing on the same reign ; his first biographer calls it an " ex ungue leonem."
"After the decease of that wise and fortunate king, Henry the Seventh, who died in the height of his prosperity, there followed, as useth to do when the sun setteth so exceeding clear, one of the fairest mornings of a kingdom that hath been known in this land or any where else. A young king, about eighteen years of age, for stature, strength, making, and beauty, one of the goodliest persons of his time. And though he were given to pleasure, yet he was likewise desirous of glory; so that there was a passage open in his mind, by glory, for virtue. Neither was he unadorned with learning, though therein he came short of his brother Arthur. He had never any the least pique, difference, or jealousy with the king his father, which might give any occasion of altering court or council upon the change; but all things passed in a still. He was the first heir of the white and red rose; and so that there was now no discontented party left in the kingdom, but all men's hearts turned toward him ; and not only their hearts, but their eyes also; for he was the only son of the kingdom. He had no brother; which though it be a comfortable thing for kings to have, yet it draweth the subjects' eyes a little aside. And yet being a married man in those young years, it promised hope of speedy issue to succeed to the crown. Neither was there any queen mother, who might share any way in the government, or clash with his counsellors for authority, while the king intended his pleasure. No such thing as any great and mighty subject, who might any way eclipse or overshade the imperial power. And for the people and state in general, they were in such lowness of obedience as subjects were like to yield, who had lived almost four and twenty years under so politic a king as his father; being also one who came partly in by the sword, and had so high a courage in all points of regality, and was ever victorious in rebellions and seditions of the people. The crown extremely rich and full of treasure, and the kingdom like to be so in a short time. For there was no war, no dearth, no stop of trade or commerce; it was only the crown which had sucked too hard, and now being full and upon the head of a young king, was like to draw less. Lastly, he was inheritor of his father's reputation, which was great throughout the world. He had strait alliance with the two neighbour states, an ancient enemy in former times, and an ancient friend, Scotland and Burgundy. He had peace and amity with France, under the assurance not only of treaty and league, but of necessity and inability in the French to do him hurt, in respect that the French king's designs were wholly hent upon Italy: so that it may be truly said, there had scarcely been seen or known, in many ages, such a rare concurrence of signs and promises, and of a happy and flourishing reign to ensue, as were now met in this young king, called after his father's name, Henry the Eighth."
One of the " fairest mornings of a kingdom " is a favourite phrase, and it occurs in the next fragment, TJie Beginning of the History of Great Britain, which is generally printed as it stands in this volume, but was probably written shortly after king James's accession; and forwarded to the king when he despatched the elaborate letter to the lord chancellor.
Tie " Beginning " was sent to king James as a sample of a long-formed design;—the letter is curious,—but the king was indifferent, and soon afterwards Bacon had " greatness thrust upon him." He evidently intended to furnish a memoir of his own times. "The reason why 1 presumed to think of this oblation, was because, whatsoever my disability be, yet I have that advantage which almost no writer of history hath had; in that I shall write of times, not only since I could remember, but since I could observe." Perhaps the finest portion of the fragment, is that in which he enumerates the parties to whom "a new court and a new reign" would not be unwelcome; showing that "every condition of persons had some contemplation of benefit, which they promised themselves, over-reaching perhaps, according to the nature of hope, but yet not without some probable ground of conjecture." The courtier would have experienced some difficulty, after his Discourse in the praise of his Sovereign Queen Elizabeth, if that discourse had been published, in ushering in her successor; and the assertion in the fragment that queen Elizabeth imposed "a silence touching the succession," is hardly consistent with what he " notes," in his letter to the lord chancellor, " that her Majesty did always right to his Majesty's hopes."
The Theological tracts may be justly classed amongst the most delightful of Bacon's writings. He was a divine as well as a philosopher. He could have had no sympathy with that scholarship which is equally proud of its intimate acquaintance with heathenism, and its perfect indifference to the true religion. All other intellectual arts were subordinate, if not subservient to this ; and solemn allusions and appeals are frequent throughout his greater works. But the few tracts which have been preserved under this title, present the most exquisite memorials of his piety. The Bible was just the book for such a mind. Its wondrous contents satisfied all the conditions of his nature, and met the necessities of his case. His intellect, with all its vast yearnings, received illumination and expansion ; his heart, with all its unutterable anxieties, found purity and rest. Without for one moment exalting a professor of religion into its patron, we can conceive of nothing more truly beautiful or becoming, than the adhesion of such a spirit to such a revelation. No one since Solomon's time had such good reason to pronounce the " Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,"—and no one stood more in need of that refuge, which had been set up for a world. The renown which was to increase with ages, could not impart the peace which he needed with the meanest of his fellow-probationers. He knew full well that all that he had done, for good and evil, would undergo the most rigid scrutiny,—and perhaps that he should be singled out to be ennobled and branded as
"The greatest, brightest, meanest of mankind!"
What a withering wreath, then, the laurel that decked his anxious brow! what hollow sounds the many echoes of fame that fell on his prophetic ear! But if the effusions we are now to notice were the transcripts of his heart, (and who amongst his depreciators will refuse him this sanctuary 1) the fact of his comfort is established, and a great mystery in life cleared up.
This fact has been strangely overlooked and forgotten, both by panegyrists and detractors; and therefore these productions, so far as they are strictly devotional, have been utterly neglected. The former, not daring to probe the whole character, pass them by with an ignorant or false fastidiousness; and the latter, incapable of reconciling practical delinquency with repentant and exalted piety, only permit their baffled metaphysics to increase their virtuous animosity. It is upon christian grounds alone that we can form a true and fair estimate of Bacon's character. Take all that is said for and against him—let it be assumed that all the glory and the shame may be predicated of him—what can the mere worldling, mere politician, mere moralist, or mere philosopher make of him? They impute to him every thing harsh, ungenerous, and heartless, and resolve him into a mass of inconsistencies. A sceptic of ordinary ingenuity, who did not hold by the idola tribus of any of these respective impugners, might fling back the charges on themselves, and show that there is not a single action for which they condemn the Verulam, for which they might not be as justly condemned themselves. This would be no justification, we admit, but it stops their mouths, and enables us to carry his character to a higher tribunal—the Christian's, who judges of him by a purer law, and yet pronounces a gentler and more generous verdict!
The first, and beyond all comparison the most valuable, of the tracts, is A Confession of Faith. It comes warm from the Book, and is redolent of the mysteries. There must have gone to its composition many a folio. His acquaintance with ecclesiastical antiquity, with the rise and progress of opinion, with the fathers, is as undoubted as his profound study of the oracles themselves; and there breathes throughout this Confession all that freshness of full scholarship and mighty intellect, that distinguish the writings of the greater Reformers. The diction is as worthy of the sublime theme, as unaided language ever will be. He could say, with Sir Thomas Browne, that he was bound by the principles of grace, and the law of his own reason, to embrace no other than this religion—that he was of the same belief our Saviour taught, the apostles disseminated, the fathers authorized, and the martyrs confirmed.
The Confession is printed by Rawley at the close of the Resuscitatio;—and " thereby," says the worthy chaplain, " he demonstrates to the world, that he was a master in divinity, as well as in philosophy, or politics; and that he was versed no less in the saving knowledge, than in the universal and adorning knowledges. For though he composed the same many years before his death, yet I thought that to be the fittest place, as the most acceptable incense unto God of the faith wherein he resigned his breath; the crowning of all his other perfections and abilities; and the best perfume of his name to the world after his death."
The Prayers are solemn, appropriate, and sublimely expressed. There is no " natural theology" about them. "Thy creatures have been my books, but thy scriptures much more. I have sought thee in the courts, fields, and gardens, but I have found thee in thy temples." What are the confessions of his frailty to man, compared with these ?" O Lord, my strength, I have, since my youth, met with thee in all my ways, by thy fatherly compassions, by thy comfortable chastisements, and by thy most visible providence. As thy favours have increased upon me, so have thy corrections. And now when I thought most of peace and honour, thy hand is heavy upon me, and hath humbled me according to thy former loving-kindness." This true confession is thus sustained and concluded. "Besides my innumerable sins, I confess before thee, that I am debtor to thee for the gracious talent of thy gifts and graces, which I have neither put into a napkin, nor put it, as I ought, to exchangers, where it might have made best profit, but mispent it in things for which I was leastfit. Be merciful unto me, O Lord, for my Saviour's sake, and receive me into thy bosom, or guide me in thy ways."
These are indeed
"Sighs now breathed Inutterable, which the spirit of prayer Inspired."
The next is a Prayer, properly so called, and not, like that from which we have made the preceding extracts, a psalm or holy song. It. is quaintly described as " a prayer made and used by the lord chancellor Bacon." We much doubt whether such an arch-hierarch as Laud would allow a layman to make and use his own prayers; and it is certain that our author never obtained episcopal sanction for this puritanic practice. This effusion is as comprehensive a form of pure and evangelical supplication, as any in the whole compass of theological literature. We do not recollect any thing in Jeremy Taylor equal to it. It might have been cast in the same mould with those beautiful litanies and collects of the book of Common Prayer. The modern style of prayer-inditing is excessively feeble and frigid, and will only be restored when the heart of this great Christian people shall commune more closely with the word of God, and converse more habitually with the sages of primitive and reforming times. Bacon raised and ennobled every thing by religion. As a student, and as a writer also, the great philosopher was often on his knees; and he has prepared two most suitable prayers for " the student," and for " the writer," both of which arc calculated to inspire the highest and the soundest principles. The former supplicates a greater insight into the works, and a greater faith in the word, of God; and the latter presents the process and the result of his labour, praying that he may partake of the " rest," and that the world may be further benefited by himself and others. But here they are, and their brevity and their beauty will be our excuse for quoting them entire
THE STUDENT'S PRAYER.
"To God the Father, God the Word, God the Spirit, we pour forth most humble and hearty supplications; that he, remembering the calamities of mankind, and the pilgrimage of this our life, in which we wear out days few and evil, would please to open to us new refreshments out of the fountains of his goodness, for the alleviating of our miseries. This also we humbly and earnestly beg, that human things may not prejudice such as are divine; neither that from the unlocking of the gates of sense, and the kindling of a greater natural light, any thing of incredulity, or intellectual night, may arise in our minds towards divine mysteries. But rather, that by our mind thoroughly cleansed and purged from fancy and vanities, and yet subject and perfectly given up to the divine oracles, there may be given unto faith the things that are faith's. Amen."
THE WRITER'S PRAYER.
"Thou, O Father, who gavest the visible light as the first-born of thy creatures, and didst pour into man the intellectual light as the top and consummation of thy workmanship, be pleased to protect and govern this work, which coming from thy goodness, returneth to thy glory. Thou, after thou hadst reviewed the works which thy hands had made, beheldest that every thing was very good, and thou didst rest with complacency in them. But man, reflecting on the works which he had made, saw that all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and could by no means acquiesce in them. Wherefore, if we labour in thy works with the sweat of our brows, thou wilt make us partakers of thy vision and thy sabbath. We humbly beg that this mind may be stedfastly in us; and that thou, by our hands, and also by the hands of others, on whom thou shalt bestow the same spirit, wilt please to convey a largess of new alms to thy family of mankind. These things we commend to thy everlasting love, by our Jesus, thy Christ, God with us. Amen."
It is well, perhaps, that the curious tract, entitled T/ie Characters of a believing Christian in Paradoxes and seeming Contradictions, does not stand alone, or it might be adduced by sciolists as a proof of his scepticism. Montagu considers it spurious, but the piece itself, taken in connexion with the Confession of Faith, is both harmless and strikingly ingenious. Nothing can be finer than the subtlety of discrimination, which he displays in selecting and marshalling the wondrous truths which he sets in seeming opposition; and it is difficult which most to admire, the minuteness and extent of his biblical scholarship, or the exquisite facility with which he handles his rich stores. Whether or not it be levelled against the practice of mixing faith and reason, the mysteries of revelation with the conceptions of the natural understanding, which the author apprehended made an heretical religion, and a superstitious philosophy, it certainly is neither ludicrous nor profane.
The remaining theological tracts bring the great author before us iu a very favourable point of view, as a moderator in the Episcopalian and Puritan controversy. In these two pieces, the one entitled An Advertisement touching the Controversies of the Church of England, written before the decease of Elizabeth, and the other, Certain Considerations touching the better Pacification and Edification of the Church of England, which was addressed to James, soon after his accession, we are presented with a fair, dispassionate, and most unexceptionable statement of those religious disputes which then agitated the kingdom. They were pamphlets of counsel and advice, and none the less creditable to his political sagacity and philosophical benevolence, because they were utterly neglected by Elizabeth and her successor. They have not been treated with much less indifference by the hereditary zealots of either faction. The party so long dominant have felt the weight of his testimony against them as much as they feared the reforms which he had the courage to propose ; and with all his projected lenity and would-be conciliation, he was too much of a temporizer to please the exasperated root-and-branch regenerators of an intolerant and tottering hierarchy. The first of these pamphlets has indeed been quoted by Milton, against the partial conduct of the bishops in reference to the press, and the other by Hall in favour of episcopacy; but their intrinsic merits do not seem to have been appreciated by contemporary polemics or succeeding historians. We must, however, except Dr. Vaughan's " Memorials of the Stuart Dynasty," who devotes a chapter of his excellent work to their examination.
That Bacon was not insincere in his recommendations will be at once admitted, when it is recollected that he was a courtier at the time; and nothing can account for his jeopardizing his interest, by stepping out of his profession on behalf of an obnoxious party, but a deep sense of the justice of his views, and the necessity of adopting a different policy from that in which both mistress and master were engaged. Happy would it have been for the church of England at that day, had his suggestions been adopted; and its modern reformers will do well to imbibe their pious, calm, and charitable spirit. Both pieces contain abundant matter for reflection to the liberal politician of the present day; and the latter piece, especially, deserves to be well studied by all who are interested in such questions as the "government of bishops,"—" the liturgy," "ceremonies," and "subscriptions," of the church,—" non-residence, pluralities, and church-maintenance." The ex-chancellor might have had Cartwright for his private secretary, when he indited the following reply to the sticklers against " innovation:" " All institutions and ordinances, be they never so pure, will corrupt and degenerate. But I would ask why the civil state should be purged and restored, by good and wholesome laws, made every third or fourth year in Parliament assembled; devising remedies as fast as time breedeth mischief; and contrariwise, the ecclesiastical state should still continue upon the dregs of time? If it be said that there is a difference between civil causes and ecclesiastical, they may as well tell me that churches and chapels need no reparations, though castles and houses do."
May we not indulge the supposition that when he penned this paragraph, he thought of his father's poor chaplain, Mr. Johnson, who lived in his family when he was a very boy; and though a gentleman, and a scholar, was consigned to prison as a Puritan for no other crimes, than omitting to make the sign of the cross, for marrying without the use of the ring, and not consecrating the sacramental wine; and who died there, when Bacon was in his fifteenth year, and a student at Trinity College?
Tlie Translation of certain Psalms into English Verse, was the " poor exercise" of his last sickness. He dedicates it to his friend Herbert—and " in respect of divinity and poesy met, whereof the one is the matter, the other the style, of this little writing, I could not make better choice." If he had succeeded in his undertaking he would have done that which has never yet been accomplished. The versions are very unequal, but the 104th is spirited throughout, and the diction remarkably smooth for the period. Although his elo