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born for contemplation, the comparison is constantly recurring. To nobody oftener than to Bacon; and nobody was more conscious that he had chosen wrong. It was an evil day for him when, on his being taken as a marvellous child to Queen Elizabeth, she called him, in compliment to his father, (one of those compliments by which she paid all services, and yet won all men to her service,) her young Lord Keeper. We never think of these illomened words but as of a spell uttered over him by a perverse fairy, who, in uttering them, had read backwards the natural history of his life—had poured in at his dreamy ear the fumes of a poor ambition— and beckoned him on, by the delusive seals floating in the perspective, into the way he certainly should not have gone. He was painfully aware that it would have been well for himself, and for mankind, if he had never exchanged the Court of Trinity for that of Greenwich. He was dedicated by nature a High Priest of knowledge, human and divine ; and he turned himself into a Crown Lawyer . She designed him for the rival of Aristotle, not Coke—not to be directing the torture of wretched suspected traitors, but to interrogate herself on the kindly rack of wise Experiments. The noble task even of historian or legislator for England was below his calling. He was to be the reviser and reformer of her own great laws, made dark and of small effect through men's traditions. And for what was it that he broke his vows, and laid aside, or grievously interrupted “his vast contemplative ends,’ during the drudgeries of Term and Parliament He left it for a life truly much more alien and debasing than the most humbling legends concerning his immortal contemporary—that contemporary, whom perhaps he never saw, except it might be (as the legends go) holding gentlemen's horses at the playhouse door, or acting the Ghost in his own Hamlet. Yet how really kin to him was Shakspeare 1 Much more so than Robert Cecil, the cousin-german, whom he sought in vain to wheedle, by affecting that he had ever thought there was some sympathy of nature between them, though accidents had not suffered it to appear ! IIow much farther even than generous and surly Ben, would Shakspeare have seen into the only greatness Bacon could never want—that of the philosophy and the poetry of their common genius ! He was, as he said, a man of books; and in all that concerned
states or greatness few cases might be new to him. But it is evident that Elizabeth was right, when he grew to manhood, in regarding him as incapable of turning his speculations to profitable actions. Her successor also found out, and told him, that “he was not made for small matters.” Yet small matters make up ninety-nine parts out of a hundred of public life as well as private. What the world may have lost by so misplacing Bacon, the world will never know. We only know it got little in return. While, alas for himself —in all he did to be made Chancellor, and in what he did when made so—the loss to himself was total—the loss of happiness and of honor Our knowledge of Bacon—of all that is most fatal to his character, up to the time of his Chancellorship, is derived from his own Letters. But for them, the gossip of his contemporaries would have been unheard of or disbelieved. On asking the name of the cruel adversary who discovered and betrayed them, what is our astonishment at finding, that, as through life he had been a friend to nobody but himself, so on this occasion it was he himself who had been his greatest enemy Among his very latest letters is one to his successor, by this time Ex-Keeper Williams, (he had been just turned out by Buckingham,) addressed to him for the purpose of depositing them with him for posterity ; since many of them, as touching on late affairs of state, might not be fit to be published yet. Here we see him in a succession of begging letters, (such letters as can seldom push their way to any other secretary but that of a mendicity society,) begging for place or for promotion, as men starving beg for bread. We put our hand over the page at last, as much from being sick of its monotony, as from a sense of shame. The importunity is the more degrading, since he could not possibly suppose that he had been passed by unintentionally. It is here that we see him false to the generous Essex, the only friend he ever had ; and base to Buckingham, “the matchless friend,' who knew him and despised him; as pedantic and as cowardly as the sovereign whom he corrupted by his adulation ; and even as arrogant and insolent to Coke, in cold blood and bitter spirit, as was ever Coke himself to Raleigh and the other unhappy men whom that most savage of Attorneys insulted, hacked, and mangled, before he turned them over to the halter or the axe. The debasement of the marriage institution by the sale of infant wards, was one of the most corrupting consequences of the feudal system. But the evil habits it introduced, can be no excuse for the marriage brocage correspondence of a grownup man;–not even of Francis North, much less of Francis Bacon. He seems to have got on as ill with his wife almost as Coke; and has immortalized their quarrels in his Will. Coke was too stouthearted, we should think, to have transferred his hatred of Lady Hatton into this solemn instrument. But the government, upon his death, carried off his Will with his other papers; and it was no more heard of. On reading Bacon's Letters, we feel that, for the first time, we are learning from them his true nature. It is now, too, we first can understand how it was, that the Cecils would never take to heart the interests of a relation of whom they would be naturally so proud. What alone, for instance, after all that had passed betwixt them, could Lord Salisbury have thought of the looseness and absurdity of his ‘protesting before God, that if he knew in what course of life to do him best service, he would take it, and make his thoughts, which now flew to many pieces, to be reduced to that centre.' Literary vanity (like other vanities) must be paid for. But the vanity of following the example of Cicero and Pliny, was dearly purchased by the scandal of the revelations which are laid open in these Letters. It cannot have been insensibility to shame : it looks more like an unconsciousness of any thing deserving blame. All people are proverbially unfair judges in their own cause. With most, however, this is an unfairness of degree. Yet instances arise, from time to time, in which extreme selfishness appears to have absolutely destroyed, wherever the parties themselves are interested, the optic nerve on which our moral perceptions depend for light. Such people may be the best advisers in the world for other persons; yet, nevertheless, they may exemplify to perfection the prudent maxim of the courts, that he who is his own counsellor has a fool for his client. Montesquieu's striking character of Cicero–Un beau génie, mais une âme souvent communc—applies still more strikingly to Bacon. For we are afraid, if Bacon's genius was of a higher order than Cicero's, his spirit was proportionally lower; and that he was much
more constant in consulting his spirit, not his genius, in every thing that concerned himself. The evil habits which led to Bacon's fall, and his conduct on his impeachment, are in keeping with his former life; only that, to our own mind, they are far from being as dishonorable—bribery and all—as the greater part of it. He said, and we have no doubt truly, that he had never been reputed avaricious. The jackdaw taste for hoarding was not among his weaknesses. But he was expensive beyond his ineans; and it is the empty bag which finds it hard to stand upright. Where the fund was to come from for defraying these expenses, was not thought of at all, or not in time. The pressure came—a pressure to be met only by stern, inviolable principles; by that kind of instinct in practical virtue which Bacon never had. The vague way in which he generalized over his affairs, is singularly illustrated by the provisions of his will. He is founding Lectureships in the Universities; when, if he had looked back upon his most recent Letters, he would have learned that his honest debts were ill provided for. His difficulties, and finally his disgrace, were probably very much contributed to by his careless government of his dependents. It was quite in character that he should let them have things their own way, and leave them to themselves. When his grateful servant, Meautys, put up that most interesting of all monuments, “Franciscus Bacon sic sedebat, it was not only from reverence;—we doubt not but that the recollection of many kindnesses brought tears, at the time, into his eyes. But other men, whose lives will bear as little examining as Bacon's, have been soft and indulgent masters. Persons, not strict themselves, cannot easily be strict with others; and the false indulgence which corrupts and ruins, is neither a virtue nor a kindness. There is, indeed, a strange anecdote told of Bacon; and (stranger still) we have seen it cited as a favorable instance of his charity. According to the story, when he was informed that his servants were robbing him, taking money from his closet, all he said was, ‘Ay, poor men, that is their portion.” A pretty school this, truly, for the servants of a Judge, presiding in a court of arbitrary equity, with no precedents and few rules' What chance, in that case, of protection for a suitor against harpy hands? We know from Norburie, that annuities and
pensions were made out of the favors of the Court, such as fixing days of hearing, &c. The credit of the story may probably be reducible to the inference which bystanders would draw, of the uselessness of remonstrance with a master so careless or corrupt, that the liberties which he allowed his servants to be taking with other pecple, were only those which they were taking with himself. The narrative of Bacon's behaviour on his impeachment lies in small compass. At the first news of the accusation he is full of confidence—" desiring no privilege of greatness.’ He is “as innocent as any born upon St. Innocent's Day.’ Before the week is over, however, he ‘flies unto the King's Majesty with the wings of a dove, which once within these seven days he thought would have carried him a higher flight.' Though still, “on entering into himself, he cannot find the materials of such a tempest as is come upon him.’ A month passes. He has by this time understood the particulars of the charge, not formally from the House, but enough to inform his conscience and his memory. Upon which he suddenly falls back upon ‘the justification of Job :’ confesses his sin “without fig-leaves' and moveth their Lordships to condemn and censure him; only begging of them “charitably to wind about the particulars of the charge, here and there, as God shall put it into their minds—and so submits himself wholly to their piety and grace.' The utmost of his desire is, now, that his penitent submission might be his sentence, and the loss of the Seals his punishment. At the same time, like a good citizen, he professes to find gladness in the reflection, that “the greatness of a magistrate hereafter will be no sanctuary for guiltiness; which, in few words, is the beginning of a golden world.' It is melancholy to see him in this extremity, when ‘prostrating himself before the mercy-seat' of James, take credit with his master for not moving him to interpose his absolute power of pardon between the sentence of the House; and reserve for the royal ear the pitiful palliation of a courtier—that he “was still a virgin for matters which concerned his crown or person.' He is even playful with his disgrace : ‘Because he that hath taken bribes is apt to give bribes, I will go further, and present your Majesty with a bribe. For, if your Majesty give me peace and leisure, and God give me life, I will present your Majesty with a
good History of England, and a better Digest of your laws.’ Strange levity at such a moment, on such a subject'—a levity as impossible for Sir Thomas More, as More's own jesting on the scaffold was unintelligible to Lord Herbert ;-more inconsistent and perplexing than even the boisterous pleasantries of Cromwell to the placid taste and judgment of David Hume. Bacon calls upon the King with his accustomed eloquence, and with all the freedom of truth and virtue, to go on with the good work. How little did he foresee that, within twenty years, the civil reformation, of which he considered himself to be, as it were, the first martyr, would have destroyed his favorite Star-Chamber as well ! ‘Your Majesty's Star-Chamber, next to your court of Parliament, is your highest chair. You never came upon that mount but your garments did shine before you went off. It is the supreme court of jujicature ordinary; it is an open council. Nothing, I could think, would be more reasonable than that your Majesty would be pleased to come thither in person, and make there an open declaration that you purpose to pursue the reformation which the Parliament hath begun.’ What innocent person could advise more coolly To the day of his death, Bacon seems to have been unable to see his own offence as he must have seen it in any other person. How differently had he seen it, from the heights of his lofty speculation upon human life, and the ‘Colors of good and evil,' when, in his noble Essay upon Judicature,’ he had proclaimed to Judges, that, ‘above all things, integrity was their proper virtue; that the place of justice was a hallowed place; that not only the bench, but the footpace and purprise thereof ought to be preserved from scandal; for justice cannot yield her fruit with sweetness among the brambles of catching clerks.’ In accordance with his blindness to his real position, there are found among these later Letters, much sorrow for himself on thinking over “from what height fallen;’ much vain sawing also upon Buckingham, who had not forgiven his interference about his brother's marriage, and was now only scheming to extort from him, in his calamity, the surrender of York House. “God above,' he supplicates to him, ‘is my witness, that I have ever loved and honored your lordship, as much, I think, as any son of Adam can love or honor any thing that is a subject; so yet I protest, that at this time, low as I am, I had rather sojourn the rest of my life in a college of Cambridge, than recover a good fortune by any other means than yourself.’ His frequent tentatives upon the coxcomb heart of James were long as fruitless. “I have been ever your man, and counted myself but an usufructory of myself, the property yours.' Mean time the King and Favorite were only thinking of getting him down to Gorhambury out of sight;—plainly telling him, that ‘any longer liberty for him to abide in London was a great and general distaste, as he could not but easily conceive, to the whole state.' It was only after the return of the Prince and Buckingham from Spain, that Bacon at last succeeded with the King to pass his pardon. “I have been somebody by your Majesty's singular and undeserved favor, even the prime-officer of your kingdom; your Majesty's arm hath been often laid over mine in council, when you presided at the table, so near I was. I have borne your Majesty's image in metal, much more in heart. I was never, in nineteen years' service, chidden by your Majesty, but, contrariwise, often overjoyed when your Majesty would sometimes say, I was a good husband for you, though none for myself; sometimes, that I had a way to deal in business, suavibus modis, which was the way which was most according to your own heart; and other most gracious speeches of affection and trust, which I feed on to this day.' These most humiliating entreaties prevailed at last. Yet to the last we see no contrition—no feeling of moral degradation. His imagination is satisfied by making out a difference of shades, ‘a difference not between black and white, but between black and grey,'—between his own offence and that of Sir John Bennet; and he writes under the strange impression, that the ignominy of his condition was not in the offence which he had committed, but in the punishment awarded to it. “I prostrate myself at your Majesty's feet, I, your ancient servant, now sixty-four years old in age, and three years five months old in misery. I desire not from your Majesty means, nor place, nor employment; but only, af. ter so long a time of expiation, a complete and total remission of the sentence of the Upper House, to the end that blot of ignominy may be removed from me, and from my memory with posterity; that I die not a condemned man, but may be to your Majesty, as I am to God, nova creatura.'
On this, a pardon of his entire sentence was made out; and he was summoned to Parliament, on the accession of King Charles, the succeeding year. Our reverence for the genius of Bacon is so great; we have that sense of what we owe him for the delight and profit mankind have reaped from his immortal writings; we feel so deeply what it is we lose in hope and glory, and how all that is most magnificent in the prospects of human nature is clouded over by that melancholy antithesis which holds forth Bacon as at once ‘the wisest and the meanest of mankind,' that nothing can be thought of in the way of monument or reward which ought not to be gratefully bestowed, not only by fellowcountrymen, but by fellow-men, for a nobler restoration of attainted blood than ever fell to the office of any herald, upon the man who should indeed remove the blot of ignominy’ from that still most resplendent name. But, unfortunately, the facts, and the one rational construction of them, admit of neither gloss nor question. By attempting to disturb the verdict of his contemporaries, we could not hope to make the least impression upon any one acquainted with the subject; whilst we should disqualify our judgment, prove ourselves disloyal to the truth of History, and rub out the line between right and wrong which it is the very province of History and of virtue to preserve. We know there is a silly notion, that Bacon made his submission to oblige and cover James. Nothing is less true. His disgrace, as well as that of Middlesex soon afterwards, were serious embarrassments to the government, and were personally grave annoyances to the King. To rush to the conclusion, that, because Bacon was corrupt, all lawyers were rogues, was a vulgar generalization, natural enough to James; but it would not be less absurd to suppose that Bacon was sacrificed from any Court intrigue, or from any love for Bishop Williams, or from any abstract wish for a Churchman as Lord Keeper. Many witnesses might be called. We will call only one; but that one shall be Hale. He was the friend and executor of Selden. Selden was compiling his Treatise on the Judicature of the Lords during the time that Bacon's impeachment was going forward. He glanced at the impeachment in its proper place, and passed on. Hale in a similar work, nearly fifty years asterwards, had occasion to explain the circumstances under which the House of Lords had first obtained jurisdiction over Appeals from the Court of Chancery. In doing this, he was compelled to refer to the case of Bacon. And he refers to it in language which must dispose, we fear for ever, of Bacon's last subterfuge, that he had sold justice, not injustice. ‘The Lord Verulam, being Chancellor, made many decrees upon most gross bribery and corruption, for which he was deeply censured in the Parliament of 18 Jac. And this gave such a discredit and brand to the decrees thus obtained, that they were easily allowed; and made way in the Parliament of 3 Car., for the like attempt against decrees made by other Chancellors.” Hale objected strongly to this innovation, on reasons both of policy and law ; but nobody will suspect him, on that account, of misrepresenting the Chancellor, through whose corruption the appellate jurisdiction had happened to get in. Perhaps no two men ever stood so long and so near together, who were in greater contfast than Bacon and Coke—the one the master of universal philosophy and reason—the other the oracle of the English common law. It is difficult to conceive two men more unlike in their intellectual and moral natures—in what was good or bad in them. What one had, the other wanted—what one wanted, the other had. Bacon was misled by his easy nature and ordinary moderation—by the consciousness of genius, as well as by the flattery, whether of silent wonder or tumultuous applause, which, amidst all his mortifications, must have often followed him. He was not aware that he had offended any one; he concluded, therefore, that he had no enemies. It never occurred to him that he had loved nobody at all; that he had never obliged a human being by opening out his heart to him, or by any testimony of true affection 1 And that, therefore, though he might have dependents, or, in our homeliest Saxon-English, might have hangers-on, he could scarcely hope to make a friend: certainly could not keep one. He thought himself a general favorite—was ostentatious in discourse on the popularity he presumed upon—and he was only roused out of the pleasant dream by the sudden storm under which he reeled for a moment, and then fell. The situation of Coke was precisely opposite. His forbidding manners were made still more repulsive through his weari
* IIale's Jurisdiction, c. xxxiii.
some and crabbed learning. The haughtiness of his temper, and the frequent scandal of its public exhibition, surrounded him with a palpable atmosphere of unquestionable hatred ; of which he himself must have been abundantly aware, and which the odor of patriotism that he died in, scarcely could dispel. In the case of Bacon, the public would be long unwilling to believe any thing against him. In the case of Coke, they were as long unwilling to believe any thing in his favor. But time sets these things right. Posterity, looking from a distance, is more truly just. The faults of Coke were brave and open —were redeemable, and were redeemed. Those of Bacon lay deeper, were more secret, and held the whole man more thoroughly in dominion. The generation, of which he was the glory and the shame, felt at last that it had been humbled by him more than it had been raised. He was left to die without one sign of mourning or of honor, save a few magnanimous words* from old Ben Jonson. His last Will and Testament was administered to by creditors—the men whom he had singled out from among his countrymen to be his executors, all declining. While, alas, and worst of all ! the gauntlet which he threw down in that most melancholy of all bequests—leaving his “name to men's charitable speeches, to foreign countries, and future ages'—there it is, still lying on the ground unnoticed —no one daring to take it up, to vindicate him—no one wishing to take it up, to dwell on his disgrace.
* The noblest passage in all Ben Jonson's writings is his protest in defence of Bacon. What would we not give, that we could see in it proof of anything but that every faculty belonging to its writer was overwhelmed, subdued, and dazzled by a genius, which some have conjectured that most of his countrymen were slow in apprehending: ‘My conceit towards his person was never increased toward him by his place or honors; but I have, and do reverence him, for the greatness that was only proper to himself, in that he seemed to me ever by his work one of the greatest men, and most worthy of admiration, that had been in many ages. In his adversity, I ever prayed that God would give him strength, for greatness he could not want. Neither could I condole in a word or syllable for him, as knowing no accident could do harm to virtue, but rather help to make it manifest."