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LIVES

OF TIIE

LORD CHANCELLORS OF ENGLAND.

CHAPTER LI.

LIFE OF LORD BACON FROM HIS BIRTH TILL HE BECAME A MEMBER OF ;

THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.

It will easily be believed that I enter with fear and trembling on the arduous undertaking of attempting to narrate the history, and to delineate the character, of

“The wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind.” I must say, that I consider a life of Lord Bacon still a desideratum in English literature. He has often been eulogised and vituperated; there have been admirable expositions of his philosophy and criticisms on his writings; we have very lively sketches of some of his more striking actions; and we are dazzled by brilliant contrasts between his good and bad qualities, and between the vicissitudes of prosperous and adverse fortune which he experienced. But no writer has yet presented him to us familiarly and naturally, from boyhood to old age-shown us how his character was formed and developed-or explained his motives and feelings at the different stages of his eventful career.

We desire to become acquainted with him as if we had lived with him, and had actually seen him taught his alphabet by his mother ;--patted on the head by Queen Elizabeth ;-mocking the worshippers of Aristotle at Cambridge ;-catching the first glimpses of his great discoveries, yet uncertain whether the light was from heaven ;-associating with the learned and the gay at the Court of France ;-devoting himself to Bracton

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and the Year Books in Gray's Inn ;-throwing aside the musty folios of the law to write a moral essay, to make an experiment in natural philosophy, or to detect the fallacies which had hitherto obstructed the progress of useful truth ;-contented for a time with taking all knowledge for his province" roused from these speculations by the stings of vulgar ambition ;-plying all the arts of flattery to gain official advancement by royal and courtly favour;-entering the House of Commons, and displaying powers of oratory of which he had been unconscious ;-seduced by the love of popular applause, for a brief space becoming a patriot;-making amends by defending all the worst excesses of prerogative ;-publishing to the world lucubrations on morals which show the nicest perception of what is honourable and beautiful, as well as prudent, in the conduct of life ;-yet the son of a Lord Keeper, the nephew of the prime minister, a Queen's counsel, with the first practice at the bar, arrested for debt, and languishing in a Epunging-house ;—tired with vain solicitations to his own kindred for promotion, joining the party of their opponent, and, after experiencing the most generous kindness from the young and chivalrous Essex, assisting to bring him to the scaffold, and to blacken his memory ;-seeking, by a inercenary marriage, to repair his broken fortunes ;-on the accession of a new Sovereign offering up the most servile adulation to a Pedant, whom he utterly despised ;-infinitely gratified by being permitted to kneel down, with 300 others, to receive the honour of knighthood ;-truckling to a worthless favourite with slavish subserviency that he might be appointed a lawofficer of the Crown ;—then giving the most admirable advice for the compilation and emendation of the laws of England ;next helping to inflict torture on a poor parson whom he wished to hang as a traitor for writing an unpublished and unpreached sermon ;-attracting the notice of all Europe by his philosophical works, which established a new era in the mode of investigating the phenomena both of matter and mind ;-basely intriguing in the mean while for further promotion, and writing secret letters to his Sovereign to disparage his rivals ;-riding proudly between the Lord High Treasurer and Lord Privy Seal, preceded by his mace-bearer and pursebearer, and followed by a long line of nobles and Judges, to be installed in the office of Lord High Chancellor ;--by-andbye settling with his servants the account of the bribes they had received for him ;-embarrassed by being obliged out of

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A.D. 1561.

HIS BIRTH.

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decency, the case being so clear, to decide against the party whose money he had pocketed, but stifling the misgivings of conscience by the splendour and flattery which he now commanded ;-when struck to the earth by the discovery of his corruption, taking to his bed, and refusing sustenance ;-confessing the truth of the charges brought against him, and abjectly imploring mercy ;-nobly rallying from his disgrace, and engaging in new literary undertakings, which have added to the splendour of his name ;-still under the influence of his ancient vanity refusing to " be stripped of his feathers”;-inspired, nevertheless, with all his youthful zeal for science, conducting his last experiment of “stuffing a fowl with snow to preserve it," which succeeded “excellently well,” but brought him to his grave;—and, as the closing act of a life so checkered, making his will, whereby, conscious of the shame he had incurred among his contemporaries, but impressed with a swelling conviction of what he had achieved for mankind, he bequeathed his name and memory to men's charitable speeches, to foreign nations, and the next ages."

I am very far from presuming to think that I am about to supply the deficiencies of his former biographers. My plan and my space are limited; and though it is not possible in writing the life of Bacon to forget that he was a philosopher and a fine writer, I must chiefly consider him as a lawyer and a statesman. But I am not without some advantages for the task-from my familiarity with the scenes through which he passed as an advocate, as a law officer of the Crown, as a Judge, as a member of either House of Parliament, and as a supporter of legal reform. Others from greater leisure are better acquainted with his philosophy; but I too have been a diligent student of all his works, and while in his Letters, his Speeches, his Essays, and his Histories, I have tried to gain a knowledge of human affairs and of man as he is,-from daily and nightly perusal of his Advancement of Learning,' his De Augmentis Scientiarum,' and his Novum Organum,' I have humbly striven to initiate myself in the methods of observation and induction by which he has opened to our species a career of boundless improvement.

Francis Bacon was the youngest son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper to Queen Elizabeth, by Ann Cooke, one of the daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke, tutor to King Edward VI. He was born at York House, in the Strand, on

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A.D. 1561.

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the 22nd of January, 1561.5 Like several other extraordinary men, be is supposed to have inherited his genius from his mother, and he certainly was indebted to her for the early culture of his mind, and the love of books for which during life he was distinguished. Young Francis was sickly, and unable to join in the rough sports suited for boys of robust constitution. The Lord Keeper was too much occupied with his official duties to be able to do more than kiss him, hear him occasionally recite a little piece he had learnt by heart, and give him his blessing. But Lady Bacon, who was not only a tender mother but a woman of highly cultivated mind after the manner of her age, devoted herself assiduously to her youngest child, who, along with bodily weakness, exhibited from early infancy the dawnings of extraordinary intellect. She and her sisters had received a regular classical education, and had kept up a familiarity with the poets, historians, and philosophers of antiquity. She was likewise well acquainted with modern languages, and with the theology and literature of her own times. She corresponded in Greek with Bishop Jewell respecting the then fashionable controversies, and she translated his Apologia from the Latin so correctly that neither he nor Archbishop Parker could suggest a single alteration. She also translated admirably a volume of Sermons on · Fate and Free Will,' from the Italian of Bernardo Ochino.

Under her care, assisted by a domestic tutor, Francis continued till he reached his thirteenth year. He took most kindly to his book, and made extraordinary proficiency in the studies prescribed to him. His inquisitiveness and original turn of thinking were at the same time displayed. While still a mere child, he stole away from his playmates to a vault in St. James's Fields, for the purpose of investigating the cause of a singular echo which he had discovered there; and, when a little older, he amused himself with very ingenious speculations on the art of legerdemain, at present flourishing under the title of Mesmerism. He enjoyed at the same time the great advantage, on account of his father's station, and his

8 Some modern writers, who generally was eldest brother to Lord Chancellor Erskine reckon by the new style, erroneously place and the famous Henry Erskine, Dean of his birth in January, 1560. See Mont. L. of Faculty, but very unequal to them in abilities, B., p. 1.

and who, observing boastfully, “We inherit h Anthony, the elder brother, not being by all our genius from our mother,” was an. any means a brilliant character, the case of swered, “ Yes, and (as the mother's fortune) the Bacon family might be cited to illustrate it seems to have been all settled on the the retort upon the late Earl of Buchan, who

younger children."

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