Francis Bacon.

The works of Francis Bacon, baron of Verulam, viscount St. Alban, and lord high chancellor of England (Volume 1) online

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This prince, the most unwarlike that ever lived,
Avas born in the midst of ci^"il commotions ; at a
time w'hen his whole kingdom was torn into factions,
betwixt the party who had espoused the interests of
his mother, and those who had declared for him.
After he had taken the administration into his own
hands, he was hardly ever his own master ; suffering
himself to be led implicitly by the cabal in whose
power he then happened to be. The moment he
thought himself at liberty from either, like a boy
escaped from under the eye of a rigid preceptor, he
forgot all liis uneasinesses, and abandoned himself
to his favourite amusements of hawking and hun.ting,
as if his kingdom had been in the profoundest tran-
quillity. He grev\^ up in an unaccountable fondness
for favourites. The first, who took deep root with
him, was likewise the worst ; not only encouraging
hhn in a total inapplication to business, but tinctur-
ing his youth with the poison of all debauchery.
Meivii's 'X'he name of this man was Stuart, afterwards earl
p. 131. of Arran ; one who had great and dangerous vices,
without a single virtue, private or public, to atone
for them : an open scoffer at the obligations of
morality, insolent, rapacious, sanguinary, hated by,
and hating, all good men. The honester part of the
nol)iiity often remonstrated against the credit and
pernicious influence of this minion : James acknow-
ledged tlie justice of their remonstrances ; banished
him several times from court ; and several times
jMeivii, received him into new favour. He was at length sliot
p. 200. ijy .^ private liand in revenge for the death of the
earl of iMorton, to which he had basely contributed.


James hated the churcli of Scotland ; and con- ^Mcivii,
firmed its aiitliority. He declared the attempt of''"^^~'
those lords, ^vho had rescued him out of the hands
of Arran and J^enox, to he just and scrviceahle : he
afterwards banished them, and would have confis- 1>. 159.
cated their estates, on that very account. When they
had made themselves masters of his person a second
time, he pronounced them all traitors ; and pardoned v- 169.

Elizabeth, who knew his genius perfectly, sent
Mr. Wottcn on an embassy to him in 1585. Her
intention was to divert him from a marriage with the
princess of Denmark, and to give his counsels what
other turn her interests might require. The ambassa-
dor, a man of address and intrigue, had, by long ha-
bitude, learnt to personate all characters, and to as-
sume, with an ease that seemed altogether unaffected,
whatever shape might serve most effectually the pur-
poses of hie superiors. At the age of twenty-one p. lei.
he had been em^^loyed to sound the intentions of the
court of France : and had well nigh duped the famous
constable de IMontmorcncy, a minister grown grey in
the observation of human falsehood and artifice. To
his natural talent he had now added the experience
of thirty years more. By accompanying King James
in his sports ; by falling in frankly, and as it were
naturally, with all his passions; by making a jest of
business ; by entertaining him pleasantly with an ac-
count of foreign fashions and follies; this man gained
an absolute ascendant not only over his understand-
ing, but over his humour. His most faithful subjects,
who had served him longest and best, who had even
warned him against the subtleties of this stranger, he
received with approbation or dislike, just as Wotton
inspired him. He was even brought by him to be se- p. lei
riously persuaded that the king of Denmark was
descended from a race of merchants, and that an al-
liance witli his daughter was therefore infinitely be-
neath a king of Scotland's dignity.

Such was the prince who now mounted that throne. An. i60».
which Elizabeth had filled with so great capacity and

c 2


reputation. The union of the two crowns in the
person of one sovereign, was extremely dreaded by
foreigners, and in particidar by Henry the fourth of
France. The accession of a new kingdom to the
native force of England, which even alone had been
long formidable on the continent ; the alhance of
James with the most potent monarch of the North ;
his relation to the house of Lorrain, which had lately
embroiled all France, rendered such fears very pro-
bable. But his conduct dissipated them for ever : and
all Europe quickly saw, that no people but his own
had any thing to apprehend from his power. At his
arrival in England, he bestowed titles and honours
with so wild a profusion, that there hardly remained
any other mark of distinction but tliat of having
Wilson, escaped them. The public stood amazed ; and pas-
^' ' quinades were openly affixed, undertaking to assist

weaker memories to a competent knowledge of the
nobility. Sir Francis Bacon, who had been early in
his homage, and ap])lication for favour, to the new
sovereign, was knighted by him in person : and has
left us the following picture of him, strongly touched
Bacon, in its most obvious features. "His speech," says he,
Letter ' " ^^ swift and cursory ; and in the full dialect of his
Lxxiii. " country : in matters of business, short ; in general
" discourse, large. He affecteth popularity, by gracing
" such as he hath heard to be popular ; not by any
" fashions of liis own. He is thought somewhat gc-
" neral in his favours ; and his easiness of access is
" rather because he is much abroad and in a crowd,
" than that he givctli easy audience. He hastencth
'• to a mixture of botli kingdoms and occasions faster,
" perhaps, than policy will v.ell bear."
An. 1605. jji i()05, Sir Francis l^acon recommended himself
to the king's particular notice, as v.eli as to the ge-
neral esteem of his cotemporarics, by publishing a
work he liad long meditated ; The Progress and Ad-
vancement of l^earning. Tlie great aim of this treatise,
no less original in the design than happy in tlie exe-
cution, was to survey accurately the whole state and
extent of the intellectual world ; what parts of it had


been unsuccessfully cultivated ; what lay still ueg-
lected, or uuknowu ; and by what methods these
might be discovered, and those improved to the
farther advantage of society and human nature. By
ex])osing the errors and imperfections of our know-
ledge, he led mankind into the only right way of sup-
plying the one, and reforming the other : he taught
them to know their wants. He even went farther,
and himself })ointe{l out to them the general methods
of correction and im})rovement in the whole circle of
arts and sciences. This work he first published in Tennison's
English ; but to render it of more extensive use. he ^.^2.5?'^"^'
recommended a translation of it into Latin to Dr.
Playfer of Cambridge. Playfer, with the scrupulous
accuracy of a grammarian, was more attentive to
fashion liis style to purity and roundness of periods,
made out of the phraseology he had gleaned from
classic writers, than to render his author's meaning in
clear and masculine language. After the sight of a
specimen or two, Sir Francis did not encourage him
to proceed in it. He himself, after his retirement,
very much enlarged and corrected the original, and
with the assistance of some friends, turned the whole
into Latin. This is the edition of 1()23 ; and stands p. 27.
as the first part to his great Instauration of the

I have already observed that Cecil, now earl of
Salisbury, op))osed the progress of our author's for-
tune under Elizabeth ; and he seems to have ob-
served the same conduct towards him in the present
reign, till he had fixed himself in the king's con-
fidence so firmly as to be above all fear of a rival.
Besides him, Sir Francis Bacon found a violent and
lasting enemy in a man of his own profession, Sir
Edward Coke ; who, with great parts, had many and stcpiien,'*
signal failings. The quarrel betwixt them seems to f;";'!"''"""' '
have been personal : and it lasted to the end of
their lives. Coke was jealous of Bacon's reputation
in many parts of knowledge : by whom, again, he
was envied for the high reputation he had acquired


in one; each aiming to be admired, particularly,
for that in which the other excelled. This affec-
tation in two extraordinary men has something in
it very mean, and is not uncommon. The former
was the greatest lawyer of his time ; but could be
nothing more. If the latter was not so, we can
ascribe it only to his aiming at a more exalted cha-
racter. The universality of his genius could not be
confined within one inferior province of learning.
If learning thus divided is not so proper to raise a
singular name in one way, it serves to enlarge the
understanding on every side, and to enlighten it in
all its views. As the name of Sir Edward Coke will
occur oftener than once in tliis history, and as he
stood in particular competition to Bacon, I beg leave
to dwell a little longer on his character. In his
pleadings he was apt to insult over misery. Of
this we have a detestable instance in his behaviour
to Sir Walter Raleigh. He inveighed against that
stateTii- bravo man on his trial with all the bitterness of
p. 207', &;c. cruelty, and in a style of such abandoned railing as
bordered almost on fury : I wish I could not add,
that this bitterness, this intemperance of tongue,
seem to be the genuine effusions of his heart '^. He
conversed, it seems, more with books than men ;
and among the latter, with those only to whom he
could dictate and give tlic law. The consequence
of which was, tliat his conversation had all the air
of a lecture ; and that ho retailed for new, a hun-
dred stories that v>'ere eitlicr stale or trivial. He
affected raillery, which v^-as by no means his talent.
His wit was often ill aimed, as it was always inde-
licate and vulgar; tlie rough horse-play of a pe-
dant. Though he had accumulated immense wealth,

" The ollices of Attorney and Solicitor General have been rocks upon wliicli
many aspiring lawyers liavc made shipwreck of their virtue and hmnan nature.
Some of those gentlemen Iiave acted at the bar as if they thought lliemselves,
by the duty of their places, absolved from all the obligations of truth, liotiour,
and decency. Uut their names are upon record, antl will be transmitted to
after ages nith those characters of reproach and abhorrence that are due to the
worst sort of nmrdercrs j those that murder under the sanction of justice.


in his profession and by several rich marriages, Jie
was of a sordid avarice ; a severe master, a griping
landlord ; in prosperity insolent, dejected and fawn-
ing in adversity : the same poorness of spirit influenc-
ing his behaviour in both conditions. One example
of this may serve in place of several : after liis dis-
grace, he submissively courted Uuckingliam's brother
to a matcli with liis daughter : in the height of his
favour he had rejected the same proposal with scorn.
His profoiuul skill in the common law has been uni-
versally allowed : and to this we cannot have a more
unquestionable witness than Sir Francis Bacon ; one's latoTr.
every v/ay tit to judge, and an enemy. He was ^ "}^-^l^-
raised to be Cliief Justice of the Common Pleas in
1606, and of tlic Kings Bench in 1613. On the
bencli he was above corruption : and had this saying
frequently in his mouth, that a judge should neither
give nor take a bribe. In the case of Peacham, in Bacon,
the business of Commendams, he behaved himself Leie^"
with the honesty and firmness of one who knew that '^xiv.
a judge ought neither to be flattered nor menaced out
of his integrity. Towards the latter part of his life,
he struck in with the country party in parliament, and
stood in tlie In-cacli against the arbitrary measures of
James and Charles. He died in the reign of the
latter, aged 88 years.

At length Sir Francis ]3acoii obtained tlie place he Am. 1607.
had so long expected; and in 1607 was declared
Solicitor (reneral. This preferment was tlie effect of
many letters and nnicli instance on liis part, to the
earl of Salisburv, the lord chancellor Egcrton, and
tlie king himself. Neither do I fmd that he was ever
promoted to any post witliout repeated and earnest
application to ministers and favourites : a reflection
that may serve at once to mortify and instruct an am-
bitious man of parts.

James had, from the beginning of his reign, pas-
sionately desired an union of Scotland and England :
but his unreasonable partiality to the former, reckoning-
it as an equal half oi' the island, rendered the design
abortive. Though Sir Francis Bacon laboured tliis


argument with all the arts of wit and reason, his elo-
quence, powerful as it was, had no effect on the
house of commons. The parliament even shewed
itself averse to this union, in proportion as the court
appeared zealous for it. The new sovereign's con-
duct had alarmed them. They saw that, with a
strong disposition to be profuse, he was absolutely in
the power of favourites ; and that some of the least
valuable among his subjects were most in his favour.
They saw farther, that he began already to propagate
maxims of government destructive to liberty, and
inconsistent with the whole tenor of the constitution.
These things filled observing men with apprehensions
for the future, which unhappily were but too well
founded. The whole sum of his politics, both now
and afterwards, was to distaste and alienate his sub-
jects at home ; to dishonour both himself and them
abroad. It was a reign of embassies and negotiations,
alike fruitless and expensive : a reign of favourites and
proclamations, of idle amusements and arbitrary im-
positions. It was besides the great era of flattery.
The ancient national simplicity of manners which
ever accompanies magnanimity, and manly freedom
of speech the noble effect of both, were now in a
great measure lost ; altered and effeminated into pro-
stitute adulation and servile homage. This w\as be-
come the fasliionable language among the clergy as
well as laity, and James heard himself daily ad-
dressed to, by the titles of sacred and divine : titles
which discover the meanness rather than the dignity
of human nature ; and which, applied to him, were
glaringly ridiculous. He had not one princely qua-
lity. The arts of governing a kingdom in peace he
either did not, or would not understJind : and his
horror of war was constitutional and unconquerable.
It may tlierefore seem unaccountable tliat a king of
this tcm]K'r sliould treat his parliaments witli more
haughtiness than any of liis predecessors had ever
done. lint lie had been told tliat England was nei-
ther to be exhausted nor provoked: and his actions
shewed that he believed so, according to the letter.


The truth is, that as pusillanimity will talk higger on
some occasions than true valour on any ; he meant to
make himself formidahle to his people, that they
might not discover how much he was afraid of them.

Though he did not succeed in the union of the
kingdoms, he found his judges, in an affair of a simi-
lar kind, more com})laisant tlian the great council of
the nation had heen : I mean the naturalization of all
Scotsmen bom since his accession to the throne of
England. This was adjudged by Sir Edward (,'oke in Casuof tiie
the great case of ( alvin ; as it had been argued at (oi'Tv'
large before all the judges by Sir Francis Bacon. The
aftair is now no longer of importance to either king-
dom : but one assertion of our author, on that occa-
sion, ought not to be forgot. He roundly affirms
that monarchies do not subsist like other govern-
ments, by a precedent law ; and that submission to
them is grounded upon nature.

In 1610 he published another treatise, intitled, An. leio.
" Of the Wisdom of the Ancients." This work
bears the same stamp of an original and inventive
genius with his other performances. Resolving not
to tread in the stejis of those who had gone before
him, men, according to his own expression, not
learned beyond certain common places ; he strikes
out a new tract for himself, and enters into the most
secret recesses of this vvild and shadowy region ; so
as to appear new on a known and beaten subject.
I 'pon the whole, if we cannot bring ourselves readily
to believe that there is all the physical, moral, and
political meaning veiled under those fables of an-
tiquity, which he has discovered in them, we must
own that it required no common penetration to be
mistaken with so great an appearance of probability
on his side. Though it still remains doubtful whe-
ther the ancients were so knowing as he attempts to
shew they were, the variety and depth of his own
knowledge are, in that very attempt, unquestionable.

Hobart being advanced to the place of Chief An. 1613.
Justice of the Common Pleas, Sir Francis Bacon suc-
ceeded him as Attorney General in 1013; about


three months after the death of his kinsman and
enemy the lord treasurer Salisbm-y : a minister fertile
in expedients for sii])plying his master's ^vants, and
well acquainted with the temper of England : a man
of dexterity, craft, and intrigue, rather than a great
man. The office that Bacon now entered upon was
of exorbitant profit for that age. He owns, in one
of his letters to the king, that it w\as worth to him
(iOOOl. a year ; and his employment of register to the
8 tar-Chamber, which I mentioned above, now
brought him in I6OOI. a year more. By what fata-
lity w-as it that so extraordinary a man did not add to
his other virtues tliat of a reasonable oeconomy ? Had
he done so, it had preserved him from one transcen-^
dent fault : and the other blemishes on his moral
name had been lost in the brightness of his intellectual
qualities. But he was remarkably subject to the
same weakness that so much dishonoured his master.
His dependents had him wholly in tlieir power, and
squandered his fortmie away, shamefully and without
measure. In a private family, this begot disorder,
necessity, corruption : and all England beheld, from
the same management in administring the public,
the same effects ; only more felt and fatal, as they
were universal.

It was not however till the year I6II that James
abandoned himself to one sole favourite. About that
time was brought to court Robert Cur, a Scotsman,
then in the iirst bloom of his youth, and of distin-
guished beauty ; by w'hich he at once engaged the
king's attention, and in a little wliile engrossed all
his affection. As he vcas wliolly illiterate, James
himself w'ould needs be his preceptor : and it must
have been a scene altogether new and ridiculous, to
see the sovereign of three kingdoms daily instructing,
in the first elements of grammar, the man who was
shortly after to govern those kingdoms. In his
bounty to tliis stripling, he observed no other measure
but that of his passion, which was as extreme as it
'^""'', ,, seemed unacconntal>le. Car, in four or five vears of

uroiinlit to ^ J

lighi, 1). B9. favour, from a mere adventurer was raised to be earl


of Somerset : and amassed an enormous estate of
nineteen thousand pounds a year in land ; besides
plate, money, and jewels, to the amount of two
hundred thousand pounds more. And yet he de-
serves a place in hisioiy, only for his scandalous
amour with the countess of Essex ; for j)rocuring her An. 1013.
to be divorced from her husband, and for combining
witli her to poison his friend, who had dissuaded him
from that ill step. The fate of 8ir Thomas Over-
bury ; the dark and dreadful scene of guilt that
ushered it in ; and the Y>i\Yt those two great criminals
acted in that tragedy, are recounted by all historians.
Though the horrible transaction lay yet wrapt up in
darkness, and was not discovered till two years after,
remorse and the upbraidings of conscience pursued
Somerset every where. Tlirougli all the splendour of
fortune and favour, the trouble of his mind was visible
in his countenance, in his whole deportment. He
grew by degrees to neglect his person and dress ; his Coke.
sprightliness of temper left him : and his conversation,
from being gay and entertaining, was become cold,
serious, and gloomy. This alteration in him was
quickly followed by a change in the king's affections ;
which had no deeper or more solid foundation than
these external and slight accomplishments. The
courtiers, whom envy and interest render extremely
sharpsighted, quickly discovered this change, and
improved it. Luckily for their designs, there now An. u-,i5.
appeared at court another young man, fitted by nature
to draw the curiosity of James, and to supplant the
earl of Somerset in his favour. This was the famous ^viis(>n,
George \'^illiers, the younger son of a good family in
Leicestershire ; afterwards duke of J^uckingham. As
the surprising elevation of this youth had a particular
influence on the future fortunes, and even on the fall,
of Sir Francis Bacon, his character will deserve a
place at large in this history.

His mother, who could not give him a fortune, be-
stowed on him such an education as might enable him
to acquire one, especially in a court like this. The
advantages he owed to nature, such as a ha,ndsome


face, a body exactly proportioned, an ease and grace-
fulness in bis motions, sbc bad taken care to improve
witb tbat elegance of manners, tbat artificial polite-
ness, and skill of excelling in trifles, wbicb are tbe
last finisbings of a Frcncb education. In a word,
he was just returned from bis travels, and accom-
plisbed in all tbose agreeable and frivolous arts, wliicb
were a certain recommendation to tbe favour of
James. Tbe earls of Pembroke and Bedford, witli
some otber lords \vbo were secret enemies to Somer-
set, after dressing out tbis youtb witb a studied exact-
ness, placed bim to advantage in tbe king's eye, at
a comedy. Tbat monarcb was immediately smitten
witb bis face, air, and appearance ; wbicb yet be
endeavoured for some time to conceal. Nay be car-
ried tbis dissinudation so far, tbat be would needs be
solicited by tbe queen to receive A'^illiers into bis
bosom : imaoinino- tbe world would be tbus deceived
into a belief tbat lie ratber followed ber advice, in
tbis matter, tban bis own inclination. Sucb was tbe .
kingcraft on wbicb be so biglily valued bimself. Tbe
queen was not easily prevailed witb to take tbis step ;
of wbicb sbc foresaw all tbe consequences. At last,

Rush worth howcver, slic yielded to tbe arcbbisliop's importunity ;

ch. 1. °'' telling bim at tbe same time, tbat tliosc wbo laboured
most to promote A'^illiers migbt be tbe first to feel liis
ingratitude. Upon tbis be was immediately knigbted,
and declared gentleman of tbe bed-cbamber : tbe
berd of courtiers rivallino- cacli otber in tbeir offers of

Weidon, fricudsbip and service to bim. Some of tliem even

i'- ^*- descended to undertake bis quarrels, and brave such
as were still in Somerset's interest.

Among tbose who courted tbe rising favourite,
none was more zealous tlian Sir Francis ]5acon ; as
none was able to serve bim more nobly, or more
usefully. Villiers bad at tbis time sense enough to
feel bis inex])erience in l)usiiu^ss, and tlierefore bad
recourse to our autlior for bis advice : Avbicb be gave
him fully in a letter, still extant among his works ;

VoL°l'ii. written with so su])eri()r a judgment and so much


Online LibraryFrancis BaconThe works of Francis Bacon, baron of Verulam, viscount St. Alban, and lord high chancellor of England (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 52)