« ElőzőTovább »
BACON LORD CHANCELLOR.
However the wound soon healed; for in 1606 an elderly bridegroom of forty-five, richly clad in purple Genoa velvet, stood at the altar beside a fair young bride in cloth of silver. The lady was the daughter of a Cheapside merchant, Alice Barnham, who on that day changed her name to Lady Bacon. Sir Francis had been lately knighted by King James.
from the Solicitor-Generalship, won in 1607, he stepped on in 1613 to the rank of Attorney-General; in 1617 he received the
Great Seal; and in the following year he reached the sum1618 mit of his profession, being made Lord High Chancellor A.D. of England with the title of Baron Verulam. Thus, at
last, had Bacon beaten Coke, his rival in love, in law, and in ambition.
For three years he held the seals as Chancellor, and great was the splendour of his life. Baron Verulam soon became Viscount St. Albans. But the glitter of costly lace and the sheen of gilded coaches, of which these years were full, grow dim and tarnished before a splendour that cannot fade. The Lord Chancellor, with his titles of honour, is almost forgotten when the author of the
Novum Organum rises in our view. This celebrated work, 1620 of which more will soon be said, appeared in 1620; and
the pains which Bacon took to make it worthy of his
fame may be judged from the fact, that he copied and corrected it twelve times before he gave it to the world.
The greatest of Bacon's works was yet fresh from the press when dark clouds began to gather round its author. Coke, his bitter foe, and others whom the poison of envy had also tainted, raised a clamour against the Chancellor for taking bribes. Undoubtedly Bacon was guilty of the crime, for his extravagance and love of show drained his purse continually, and a needy man is often mean.
But it may be said, in extenuation of his fault, that
it was the common practice in that day for judges to 1621 receive fees and gifts; indeed, the greater part of their
income was derived from such sources. A case, containing
at least twenty-two distinct charges of bribery and cormiption, being prepared by the House of Commons, the Lords
DISGRACE AND DEATH OF BACON.
proceeded to sit in judgment upon the highest lawyer in the land. Humbled by the disgrace of his impeachment, and broken down by a fierce attack of his old enemy the gout, the great philosopher, but weak and erring man, sent to the Lords a full confession of his faults. “ It is,” said he to some of his brother peers who came to ask if this was his own voluntary act, “it is my act—my hand—my heart. O my lords, spare a broken reed!” So fell the Viscount St. Albans from his lofty place, sentenced to pay a fine of £40,000, and to lie in the Tower during the pleasure of the King. James was magnanimous enough to remit the fine, and to set the fallen lawyer free in two days.
The evening of this chequered life was spent chiefly in country retirement at Gorhambury. Books, experiments, and a quiet game at bowls were the chief recreations of the degraded statesman. His busy hours were spent in the revisal and enlargement of his Essays, the composition of his History of King Henry VII., a philosophical fiction called The New Atlantis, and that part of his great work which relates to Natural History. Heavy debts still hung upon him. He applied for the Provostship of Eton, but failed. The story of his death is curious. Driving in his carriage one snowy day, the thought struck him that flesh 1626 might be preserved as well by snow as by salt. At once he stopped, went into a cottage by the road, bought a fowl, and with his own hands stuffed it full of snow. Feeling chilly and too unwell to go home, he went to the house of the Earl of Arundel, which was near. There he was put into a damp bed; fever ensued; and in a few days he was no more.
The scale upon which the ground-plan of Bacon's great work is drawn is very magnificent; but no single human mind, working within the compass of a human life, could hope to accomplish the grand design. Yet even to have grasped the idea of such a giant plan is enough to prove a mighty genius. While fagging at his law books and briefs in old Gray's Inn, the thought had dawned upon his mind; and through thirty years of up-hill labour at the bar and fierce political struggles in the House he was steadily collecting materials to fill in the outlines of his colossal sketch. An
Jnglish treatise on the Advancement of Learning, published in 1605, was the herald of the greater work, which appeared in his brightest days to gild them with a lustre brighter still-a lustre, too, which even his sad disgrace and doubtful character could not wholly dim. The plan of the work, which was written in Latin and was styled Instauratio Magna, may be understood from the following view :
I. De Augmentis Scientiarum.—This treatise, in which the Eng
lish work on the Advancement of Learning is embodied, gives a general summary of human knowledge, taking spe
cial notice of gaps and imperfections in science. II. Novum Organum.—This work explains the new logic, or
inductive method of reasoning, upon which his philosophy is founded. Out of nine sections, into which he divides the subject, the first only is handled with any ful
ness, the other eight being merely named. III. Sylva Sylvarum.—This part was designed to give a complete
view of what we call Natural Philosophy and Natural History. The subjects he has touched on under this head are four-the History of Winds, of Life and Death, of Density
and Rarity, of Sound and Hearing. IV. Scala Intellectûs.—Of this we have only a few of the opening
pages. V. Prodromi.-A few fragments only were written. VI. Philosophia Secunda.-Never executed.
The Essays, or Counsels Civil and Moral, of which ten were published in 1597, were afterwards greatly increased in number and extent, being especially enriched with the brighter blossoms of their great author's matured fancy. In this respect—that his fancy was more vivid in age than in youth—the mind of Bacon formed an exception to the common rule; for, in general, the fancy of a young man grows less bright as his reason grows strong, just as the coloured petals of a flower fade and drop to make room for the solid substance of the fruit. Though often stiff and grave,
SPECIMEN OF BACON'S PROSE.
even where a lighter style would better suit his theme, as in treating of Gardens and Buildings, the “Essays " stand, and have always stood, among the finest works of our prose literature. What Hallam says of this classic book should not be forgotten : “ It would be derogatory to a man of the slightest claim to polite letters, were he unacquainted with the ‘Essays of Bacon.”
Learning taketh away the wildness, and barbarism, and fierceness of men's minds: though a little superficial learning doth rather work a contrary effect. It taketh away all levity, temerity, and insolency, by copious suggestion of all doubts and difficulties, and acquainting the mind to balance reasons on both sides, and to turn back the first offers and conceits of the kind, and to accept of nothing but examined and tried. It taketh away vain admiration of anything, which is the root of all weakness: for all things are admired, either because they are new, or because they are great. For novelty, no man wadeth in learning or contemplation thoroughly, but with that printed in his heart, “I know nothing.” Neither can any man marvel at the play of puppets, that goeth behind the cur. tain, and adviseth well of the motion. And as for magnitude, as Alexander the Great, after that he was used to great armies, and the great conquests of the spacious provinces in Asia, when he received letters out of Greece, of some fights and services there, which were commonly for a passage or fort or some walled town at the most, he said, “ It seemed to him that he was advertised of the battle of the frogs and the mice, that the old tales went of;"_s0 certainly, if a man meditate upon the universal frame of nature, the earth with men upon it, the divineness of souls excepted, will not seem much other than an ant-hill, where some ants carry corn, and some carry their young, and some go empty, and all to and fro a little heap of dust. It taketh away or mitigateth fear of death, or adverse fortune; which is one of the greatest impediments of virtue, and imperfections of manners. For if a man's mind be deeply seasoned with the consideration of the mortality and corruptible nature of things, he will easily concur with Epictetus, who went forth one day, and saw a woman weeping for her pitcher of earth that was broken; and went forth the next day, and saw a woman weeping for her son that was dead; and thereupon said, “ Yesterday I saw a fragile thing broken, to-day I have seen a mortal thing die.” And there. fore Virgil did excellently and profoundly couple the knowledge of causes and the conquest of all fears together,
A SQUARE time-worn stone, bearing the words, “O rare Ben Jonson,” marks the spot where the remains of a great English dramatist, second only to his friend Shakspere, lie buried in Westminster. Not far from this simple but suggestive monument the poet was born in 1574, a few days after the death of his father, who was a clergyman. A hard and rugged life lay before the fatherless boy, and his sorrows soon began. His mother having married a bricklayer—not so great a descent from her former marriage as might at first sight seem to us, for the lower clergy were then the equals only of servants and tradesmen—young Ben was taken from his studies at Westminster School, and forced to carry a hod among his father's workmen. The sturdy boy, who had a soul above brick and mortar, rebelled at this, and in no long time was shouldering a pike on the battle-grounds of the Low Countries. The rough life that he saw, during this phase of his changeful story, had a powerful influence upon his character and habits. When in later times he mingled among the silken courtiers of Elizabeth and James, he never lost a certain bearishness of temper and braggart loudness of tone, which he had caught in early days in the revels of the bivouac and the guard-room. His short soldier-life over, he appears to have entered St. John's at Cambridge, where he stayed some little time.
And then, driven perhaps by poverty, perhaps by natural tastes and the desire to shine, he went on the stage, making his first appearance on the boards of a theatre near Clerkenwell.