Francis Bacon.

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

. (page 6 of 52)
Online LibraryFrancis BaconThe works of Francis Bacon, baron of Verulam, viscount St. Alban, and lord high chancellor of England (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the world of learning. Thus he withdrew from the
glare of a public station into the shade of retirement
Bushel's and studious leisure ; often lamenting that ambition
Postal 3 ^"^ ^^^^^ gloiy liad so long diverted him from the
noblest as well as the most useful employments of a
reasonable being : mortified, no doubt, into these sen-
timents by a severe conviction, in his own person, of
the instability and emptiness of all human grandeur.
Hitherto we have followed him through the bustle
and obliquity of business. We shall find him hence-
forth in a more pleasing, though a less conspicuous,
situation ; freed from the servitude of a court ; from
an intolerable attendance there, on the vices and fol-
lies of men every way his inferiors (for in this reign
no one could rise to power on more honourable
terms :) in a condition now to pursue the native bent
of his genius ; to live to himself, and for the advan-
tage, not of one age, or one people only, but of all
mankind, and all times to come.
An. 1622. The first considerable work he engaged in, after
his retirement, was the history of Henry the seventh ;
which he undertook at the desire of king James, and
published in the year 1 623. Whatever some writers
may have insinuated of his melancholy and dejection,
we find every where, in this performance, evident
traces of a spirit unbroken by age, and unsubdued by
misfortunes. It has been highly applauded, and as
much condemned : a proof that it has more than
common merit. And we may venture to affirm, that,
whatever its faults arc, they arise from no want of
vigour in the understanding, or of warmth in the
imagination of the writer. King James affi3cted to con-
sider his great grandfather Henry as a perfect model
for the imitation of other monarchs : and as his was
the reign of flattery, this quickly grew to be the pre-
valent and fashionable opinion at court. Though in



LORD CHANCELLOR BACON. liii

truth, that prince's character was, in every part of it,
unamiable ; and his conduct, on many occasions,
weak or wicked. If my lord Bacon has not wholly
escaped the infection of his age ; if he has here and
there attempted to brighten the imperfections, and
throw in shades the bad features of the original he
was drawing ; yet, through these softenings we can
easily see this king as he was, and in all his genuine
deformity. Suspicion and avarice, his own historian
acknowledges, were the chief ingredients in his com-
position : and therefore his politics, both at home and
abroad, were narrow, selfish, and false. Void of all
great and extensive prudence, he endeavoured to
supply that want by temporary shifts, and the little
expedients of cunning. By these he commonly had
the luck to extricate himself out of difficulties, which
a wiser man would have timely foreseen, and a better
man have wholly prevented. But as his genius was
unsociable and solitary, the darkness in his temper
passed on mankind for depth and sagacity in his
understanding- His avarice too, was sordid and
shameless. Nothing seemed mean, nothing unjust in
his eyes, that could fill his coffers : and merely to
fill them, for of wealth he had no enjoyment, he
descended to arts of rapine no less scandalous than
they were oppressive.

I have acknowledged that my lord Bacon's History
has been taxed of partiality, and I will not dissemble
that his style has been objected to, as fiill of affecta-
tion, full of false eloquence. But that was the vice,
not of the man, but of the times he lived in : and
particularly of a court, that, after the sovereign's
example, delighted in the tinsel of wit and writing,
in the poor ingenuity of punning and quibbling.

His Essays have, of all his works, been most cur-
rent, and are still very justly esteemed. Towards the
close of his life he greatly enlarged them both in
number and weight ; and published them anew, not
only in English, but in a more universal language,
which, he imagined, may preserve them as long as
books shall last. As they are intended not to anuisc



Xliv THE IJFE OF THE

foreigners alike : so that in his attempts upon the
former, in his negotiations with the latter, this Solo-
mon was the only du})e. A great share of learning
he certainly had, bnt of learning that a king onght
not to be acquainted with ; the very refnse of the
schools, which served for little else bnt to furnish
him with an impertinent fluency, on every subject :
and he indulged himself in the sovereign pedantry
of setting it. to show, on every occasion. On all these
heads, he was extolled without measure by the most
pestilent of flatterers, grave and reverend ecclesiastics :
for which, and because they encoin-aged him in an
nnprincely application of his talent, he, on many
occasions, made his power the mean instrument to
gratify their passions and lust of dominion. They,
in return, found out for him a title antecedent and
superior to human laws, even a divine right of being
weak or wicked, without controul. And this doctrine,
horrible as it is, they dared to derive from Scripture :
where if it could be found, which to affirm were
blasphemy, it would be the triumph of infidelity, and
demonstration that those sacred writings were inspired,
not by God, bnt by some being, his opposite and
the enemy of all goodness. This doctrine, meeting
with liis own perverted habits of thinking, made
king James look npon his subjects as slaves ; upon
his parliaments as usurpers of a po^ver to which they
had no right, or at best a precarious one : and he had
now, for seven years together, affected to govern with-
out them ; to set up an interest separate from that
of his peo2)le, and to sup})ly liis wants by all ways
and means, but such as the constitution prescribed.
Hacket, Thcse mctliods were suggested to liim by tlie worst
p. 50. enemies of the commonwealtli, tlie tribe of projectors
and monopolists : miscreants who slieltered them-
selves under the name and influence of Buckingham,
and who re])aid liis j)rotection extravagantly, at the
expencc of a people whom they were grinding and
devouring. His mother too, now created a countess
in lier own right, a woman born for mischief, of a
meddling spirit and insatiably greedy, was deep in



LORD CHANCELLOR BACON. xlv

the guilt of these transactions ; forwarding every bad
})roject tliat broiiglit lier in money ; and, by the
mighty power she had over licr son, succeeding in
every scandalous job she luidertook. Under an ad-
ministration like this, when lOngland was in effect
governed by a dissolute youth, himself in the hands
of an intriguing, rapacious woman, it cannot be sur-
prising that the people were vexed and plundered by
illegal patents, by mouo])olies, by other mischievous
projects, calculated to enrich a few, and to ruin
thousands. To all these patents, however procured,
the chancellor had readily, almost implicitly, affixed
the seal, as the mere creature of Buckingham : or if
he ever ventured to insinuate that any of them were
contrary to law, his remonstrance was too fearful
and unsupported to produce any effect. This is the
great stain on his character, that he deserted, or neg-
lected, the post of honour where Providence had placed
him, on the frontier, if I may so speak, betwixt
Prerogative and ] liberty ; that, if he did not encou-
rage, he at least connived at, the invasions that were
every day making into the latter. Yet this was against
his inclination, as well as against his better sense of
things ; for as he knew well that his master's true
interest lay in a good understanding with his people,
he had often advised him to call frequent parliaments,
and to throw himself on the affections of the nation
for the support of his government. Though such
advice was repugnant to all the maxims by which
that monarch wished to establish his power ; though
he had resolved to lay parliaments aside for ever, as
daring cncroachers ujwu his prerogative, who made
themselves greater and their prince less than became
either : yet he was now prevailed upon to meet the
two houses once more. Indeed the exigency of his
affairs rendered it necessary. His subjects, it is true,
were harassed and pillaged ; but he was still in ex-
treme want of money : those wretches, to whom he
delegated his authority, leaving to him little else
besides the ])ublic hatred, occasioned by their rapines
committed in his name. Add to this, that the June-



hi THE LIFE OF THE

memory will wish he had never uttered. Those wha
insist on the meanness, those who plead for the dig-
nity, of human nature, may. in this one man, find
abundant matter to support their several opinions.
But let us draw a veil over imperfections, and at the
same time acknowledge, that a very ordinary pene-
tration may serve to discover remarkable blemishes
and failings in the most comprehensive minds,
in the greatest characters, that ever adorned morta-
lity.

An. J 625. King James died in 1625 ; after an inglorious and
a fatal reign of three and twenty years : despised by
foreigners, despised and hated by his own subjects.
The mischievous notions he broached, the perverse
conduct he held, gave rise to those divisions that
quickly after involved his kingdoms in all the guilt
and misery of a civil war : that shook the British
constitution to its foundations, and in the end over-
turned it ; though apparently framed to last for ages,
as it had been ages in building up and perfecting.

His unfortunate chancellor survived him something
above a year. The multiplicity of business and study
in which he had been long engaged, but above all
the anguish of mind he secretly laboured under, had
undermined and broken into his health. After hav-
ing been for some time infirm and declining, he
owed his death at last to an excess, not unbecoming
a philosopher; in pursuing, with more application
than his strength could bear, certain experiments
touching the conservation of bodies. He was so
suddenly struck in his head and stomach, that he
found himself obliged to retire into the earl of Arun-
del's house at Highgate, near which he then hap-
pened to be. There he sickened of a fever, attended
with a defluxion on his breast ; and, after a week's

An. J 6



Online LibraryFrancis BaconThe works of Francis Bacon, baron of Verulam, viscount St. Alban, and lord high chancellor of England (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 52)