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Such were some of the scenes and incidents that must have helped to mould the temper of Francis Bacon. All his ideas of success and honor were connected with Court favor. His earliest associations must have tended to fix this impression in his mind; and old Sir Nicholas did not fail to cherish it by giving him an early introduction to the politician's Gradus ad Parnassum. He sent him while still a boy, to study diplomacy with Sir Amyas Paulet, in Hance. In short, he had but one course to pursue. No rustic who holdeth the plow, and glorieth in the goad, that driveth oxen, and is occupied in their labors, whose talk is of bullocks, is more fatally destined, as the son of Sirach thought, to obscurity, than Baeon was destined by example, education, rivalry, patronage, and the promise of rare talent, to a life in Courts.
For all this he was not to blame. We sometimes hear Bacon reproached for descending from the watch-tower of philosophy to join in the struggle for place and power; but, in fact, he was entered a student of politics before he had taken his first lesson in science. He had the example of his father and of his uncle to encourage him; he had the competition of his ill-natured cousin to provoke him; he had the consciousness of uncommon powers to bear him on; he was surrounded by politicians, not by men of sci
2 ence; the only avenue of distinction for a man of peaceful pursuits seemed to lie by the Court; and the only way to climb the ladder of Court favor, was unbounded adulation and unceasing importunity. In suing for office and promotion, ingratiating himself with the favorite, and flattering the powerful, Bacon only took the beaten road to success; the path that Coke, and Egerton, and the Cecils, had not disdained to travel; the path that Williams and Ellesmere, and the series of Attorney Generals and Lord Chancelors, traveled afterwards. Even the high spirit of Sir Henry Yelverton struggled with but partial success, and that to his own ruin, against the general current of servility:
If Francis Bacon then, was destined to the Court, as was unavoidable under the circumstances, it is not strange that he very early clothed himself with adulation as with a garment. The haughty despotism of the Tudors reduced all their subjects nearly to the same level, making the spirit and language of a slave no singular dishonor; and the inordinate personal vanity of the two whom Bacon served, encouraged the most shameful excess of flattery. No subject of Luggnogg crawling towards the throne, licked the dirt of the presence chamber with more obsequious homage than did the courtiers of Elizabeth and James. To tell the most extravagant lies to their faces about the personal charms of the one, and the inspired wisdom of the other, was the daily usage of soldiers, scholars, and churchmen. It is humiliating, doubtless, to read such things now, but none of them seem to have blushed at their own degradation. It was the common conventional falsehood of the Court.
Bacon, it must be confessed, was no inapt scholar in this disci. pline of slaves. He remembered even when a boy at school, where he was noticed by the Queen, that he was just two years younger than her Majesty's happy reign. He thought it worthy of his pen to give, in mature years, a schedule of her beauty, as minute almost as that in which the sapient King inventoried the charms of his fair Egyptian spouse ; and he went as far as who went farthest in encouraging the vanity and usurpations of the Solomon of our British Israel."
But we are to remember that in addition to all the influences he shared, as belonging to that servile and sycophantic age, his own spirit had been most carefully broken and subdued by a course of royal training. For years he waited in vain for one crumb of favor from the Court, constantly put off, snubbed and discouraged ; he saw others, his inferiors in merit and title, preferred to places to which all the world says the Earl of Essex named him. When he considered "the obscureness of his successful competitors, he concluded with himself that no man ever read a more exquisite disgrace;" so that he had resolved to retire himself with a couple of men to Cambridge, and there spend his life in studies and contemplations, without looking back.” He thought the probation which required him tolerare jugum in juventute sua, had lasted long enough ; and when changing his hand, he attempted once to play the patriot, he got a fright from the imperious daughter of Henry that completely cured him of that taste.
The influence of such treatment upon a mind taught to look forward to advancement at Court as the one thing needful, can scarce be misunderstood. If it did not wholly alienate and disgust, it would lead to a more diligent practice of all the methods of success. Office is the prize to be achieved,-rem, quoquo modo rem. One degree of importunity and adulation has failed; a lower prostration may perhaps be effectual. A discerning princess will not always be negligent of merit; powerful relations will relax in the vigilance of their jealousy; more favored rivals will at length be provided for, and will cease to obstruct the rays of royal favor. Patience, humility, and usefulness, will one day lay a successful claim to reward ; and meanwhile, everything is to be forborne which may stand in the way of promotion.
These considerations, it must be further acknowledged, had a material to work upon, naturally open to their influence. The tempers of men differ as widely as their genius. If some are sanguine and bold, others are as naturally timid, pliable, and easily discouraged. And it is by no means a general rule that the highest mental, and the highest moral qualities, are found united in the same subject. The man of genius is not always the heir
of resolute courage or high spirit; nor have the pursuits of scholars any certain tendency to nurse the sterner or more magnanimous virtues. It should be thought nothing strange, then, if the philosopher and student, produced on the stage where adventurers, soldiers, and divines were vying in the race of adulation, should, however above the throng in intellect, be their partner in baseness. Have we not warrant to say, that the man of books, turned office-seeker and courtier, is more likely to be pliant, adulatory and inanageable, than others of his trade—and this notwithstanding the Christian or the clerical character? We incline to think some instructive illustrations might be drawn even from the limited field of American politics.
To Bacon, nature, however bountiful, had not given quite "every virtue under heaven." To his capacious understanding, he united a liberal and humane temper. He had nothing of the coarse violence or narrow parsimony that disgraced his great law rival. He had nothing of the mean jealousy of able men, that made the Cecils studiously suppress and discourage merit. He had nothing of the fierce ecclesiastical bigotry of his old tutor, Whitgift. But he had also nothing of the bold and generous spirit of Raleigh, and of Essex. He was a man of peace; a man of books and contemplation; and when nature showered her endowments upon him, courage and magnanimity stuck in the bottom of the cornucopia. This was his misfortune; the weak point in his defences, through which trouble and disgrace broke in upon him. But this defect, we suppose, is scarcely to be imputed to him as a crime. Courage, hopefulness, and magnanimity, are no more to be required of every man, than the beauty of Alcibiades or the strength of Milo. Yet it was only the want of these qualities, in the circumstances of the age, that covered the name of Bacon with dishonor; that made him slavish as a courtier, timid and unfaithful as a friend, pliant as an official, open to gifts which stained his reputation though they never perverted his soul to injustice; profuse and careless in prosperity, abject and unmanly in affliction.
Unless we mistake, an unfavorable influence on the dignity of Bacon's character was exerted even by his reverent study of the Scriptures. The Sacred Scriptures, taken together, contain the sum of all wisdom for the life that now is, and for the life that is to come. There is nothing like them as a guide for men in all the circumstances and relations of life, in public and in private walks. Yet it can scarcely be doubted that there may be a too faithful study of detached parts of them. The Epistle to the Romans, alone, might make, in the phrase of the Commonwealth, a Solifidian, and the Epistle of James, alone, a Pharisee; one chapter of Peter makes a Millerite, and one verse of John a Socinian. This is one of the very errors against which Lord Bacon has warned us, as likely to warp the mind from truth; it is the idolum
specus, under one of the forms enumerated, viz: lectio librorum, et auctoritatis eorum quos quisque colit et miratur. Yet into this error, so far as the Scriptures are concerned, Bacon apparently fell. The Book of Proverbs seems to have been his favorite Gospel; and those parts of it especially, which have an economical and polititical bearing. The profound wisdom of these venerable maxims, perhaps the distilled essence of human experience from the days of Adam, may well have recommended them to a seeker after truth. The shrewd counsels to the politician, the cautious prudential line marked out for the statesman, the reverence for kings, and the sort of sanction given to adulation, may no less have recommended them to the seeker after greatness. No one, certainly, who will take the whole Book of Proverbs as his guide, will be in any danger of going astray in the pursuit of happiness. The great truths which serve as a corrective for ambition and worldliness, are so strongly brought out, that the fool need not err therein, to say nothing of the philosopher. Often and reverently
, as our attention is turned towards the Prince, it is directed with much more impressiveness and frequency to the Lord; and the morality of the prudential maxims, though cautious, is always sound.
In this respect, as in others, the Book of Proverbs asserts its canonicity above the Book of Ecclesiasticus. The aphorisms in the latter, bearing on the relation of man to God, are not less forcible and sublime than those of the former. But the morality of the book is perceptibly of a lower grade. It is shrewd, practical, smacking of deep experience, but worldly. There is a sly and selfish air to it. The fox thrusts his head out of the hole, where we saw before the sagacious but honest countenance of the beaver. " My Grandfather," we fear, dwelt in the town of Carnal-policy. Get thyself the love of the congregation, quoth he, and bow thy head to a great man-separate thyself from thine enemies, and take heed of thy friends. As near as thou canst, guess at thy neighbor, and consult with the wise. Be not slow to visit the sick, for that shall make thee to be beloved. My son, let tears fall down over the dead, and begin to lament as if thou hadst suffered great harm thyself; weep bitterly and make great moan, and that for a day or two, lest thou be evil spoken of; and then comfort thyself for thy heaviness.
The same characteristic difference appears even in the family and table maxims. Solomon is content to say on these subjects : The rod and reproof give wisdom; but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame. Correct thy son and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul. When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee; and put a knife to thy throat if thou be a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of his dainties, for they are deceitful meat. Upon this our respectable old friend improves as follows :-Cover thy
child, and he shall make thee afraid ; play with him, and he will bring thee to heaviness. Laugh not with him lest thou have sorrow with him, and lest thou gnash thy teeth in the end. Give him no liberty in his youth, and wink not at his follies. down his neck while he is young, and beat him on the sides while he is a child lest he wax stubborn. On the other topic he discourses like a master of etiquette, winding up with a dietetic climax worthy of Galen himself. Eat as it becometh a man, those things which are set before thee; and devour not, lest thou be hated. Leave off first for manners' sake; and be not insatiable, lest thou offend. A
very little is sufficient for a man well nurtured, and he fetcheth not his wind short upon his bed. And if thou hast been forced to eat, arise, go forth, vomit, and thou shalt have
In short, the collection contains much that is admirable; but only what the spirit of inspiration saw fit to leave out in dictating a series of Proverbs for mankind. The dirt mingled with it, indicates a sweeping up of refuse material. We think it no great loss to any congregation of faithful men that the son of Sirach is no longer listened to for instruction in life and morals, any more than for confirmation of doctrine.
The economical maxims of Solomon, it must at the same time be admitted, superior as they are to those of Ecclesiasticus, contain a discipline which, if too exclusively resorted to, would be likely to form a somewhat disagreeable character; a character of very little amiable impulse, and much politic management. With these the cautious and apprehensive temper of Bacon would seem to have taken up as his statesman's manual. He could not hear too much of the wisdom, the inscrutability, the formidableness of kings. It seemed to justify the intense loyalty with which he regarded the Lord's anointed. Take, for instance, the first example he gives from the Proverbs (De Aug. viii., 2) of rules for our guidance in particular circumstances; Doctrina de sparsis occasionibus—Mollis responsio frangit iram. The only application he makes of this is to the case of a culprit servant and angry sovereign. Thus : Solomon, in such a case, recommends two things; First, that an answer be given ; Second, that it be a soft answer. The first head includes three cautions; 1. To beware of a sulky and contumacious silence; 2. To avoid hesitating or asking time; 3. Actually to make a reply; that is, not merely an acknowledgment and submission to mercy, but an explanation and defense. The second head is, that the answer be humble; not too confident or spirited.
A more elaborate commentary is given on Eccles. 10: 4. Si spiritus potestatem habentis ascenderit super te, locum tuum ne dimiseris : quia curatio faciet cessare magna peccata. We are here taught how to conduct when fallen under displeasure of the King. The precept is twofold; First, that the offender should