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We believe that the dictum of Pope is the received opinion of the present day; nor will the estimate appear either exaggerated or extravagant, after the careful perusal of these works. The history of such a reputation would be a task far beyond the limits of so brief an Essay as that which is here proposed. It takes a long tract of time to establish such a reputation; and to trace it from its first development, through its successive stages, on to its maturity, would be to examine, with the minutest care, every word which the great author had written, and to observe, with the greatest accuracy, the effect of every word. Testimonies abound from the Elizabethan to the Georgian times, to the fact of this reputation. The testimonies of men who were contemporary with our author-of men who lived at a time when society was trying to settle itself, after a mighty revolution ; and gigantic men were rising up in all directions to illustrate the era which they created ;—we are told, by Ben Jonson, that Francis Bacon was, even then, on all hands allowed to be first and foremost, as a statesman, orator, and philosopher. This reputation passed unimpaired through the fires of two succeeding revolutions ; which were, as much as the first, revolutions of thoughts and opinions, as well as of force and arms, and which alike called into existence men worthy of their stirring crises; and we have the testimony of Alexander Pope, that the impress of this reputation was upon all in his day. And from that time to this, a period during which the most distinguished men, in every department of learning and the arts, have been the most eloquent expounders and successful cultivators of the Baconian philosophy, we shall find that the reputation has travelled down to us but to increase ; and that the judgment is as correct, as the basis of it, in these volumes, is irreversible.
The poet, whose opinion we have commented upon, speaks positively as to Bacon being “the greatest genius that England” has produced, and doubtfully as to the rest of the world. But the qualified saying (notwithstanding Mr. Hume's sneer at English self-complacency) is quite enough ; and the fellow-countrymen of Shakspeare, Milton, and Newton, if convinced of his pre-eminence here, would find little difficulty in awarding to him the premier place in the “peerage of intellect” every where else. A continental witness may be allowed to speak for Europe ; and France, so jealous of her honour in arts and arms, and our only rival if not equal in both, will furnish a modern, unbiassed, and competent one, in the person of D'Alembert, who declares this author to be “the greatest, the most uuiversal, and the most eloquent of philosophers.”
But were it possible to settle the bare question of pre-eminence, the decision would be barren of all other use, than that of raising curiosity respecting the individual upon whom the general suffrage fell. Our allusion to it in the outset of these popular observations will be justified, if it stimulate one youthful, or one general reader, in this busy age, to the perusal of these works. Great and overwhelming reputations should be closely examined ; in fact, they are subjected to the most rigid scrutiny. The hereditary principle is not acknowledged in the republic of letters; and a perpetual dictatorship would be an office of suffrage there. But each citizen of that republic is bound to exercise the franchise, which is enjoyed by all, for himself; his vote is a birthright, springing from his reason and conscience, with which the “ voicing” of multitudes can be of no avail. There may be a blind allegiance to a rightful power, as well as a crouching submission to a wrongful one! In the kingdom of mind, which is essentially the kingdom of the free, there is yet too much of this voluntary vassalage ; and the great names of wisdom, knowledge, and wit, still receive contemptible tribute. This sort of ignominious self-humiliation in reference to high minds and great truths, is an evident source of endless mischief; and, therefore, whatever may be the renown of a man, let every one“ be convinced in his own mind,” lest he perform the homage of the horde, and become a mere gregarious admirer,
We invite the reader, whose opinion of this author has not been derived from the study of his works, to try the experiment for himself. For what matters to him the fact of their unparalleled influence, or undiminished value, if he take it for granted, and judge not for himself? The test is not, what effect they produced on former individuals, but what positive and absolute effect will they have on any reader now; in order that it may be seen whether or not a writer of the olden time has been enabled, as it were, to "keep alive his own soul” to these times; by nothing less than the immortality which belongs to general truths of equal splendour and utility, clearly, gravely, and nobly announced. Without anticipating the reader's decision, he will then be entitled to abate or swell the triumph of “the greatest genius that England, or perhaps any other country, has produced.”
Before entering upon our brief examination of these works undertaken with a view to facilitate the beginnings of inquiry, we shall interpose, with a few omissions, “ The Life of the Honourable Author," written by Doctor Rawley,“ his Lordship’s first and last Chapleine;" as it gives a sufficient, though summary view of the author's life; and has the further recommendation of being a translation by the devoted “ Chapleine” himself, of the “ Nobilissimi Auctoris Vita,” prefixed to the Instauratio Magna, at p. 276, in the second volume of this edition.
“ THE LIFE OF THE HONOURABLE AUTHOR.
cis Bacon, the glory of his age nation, the adorner and ornament of learning, was born York House, or York Place, in the Strand, on the 22nd day of January, in the year of our Lord 1560. His father was that famous counseller to Queen Elizabeth, the second propp of the kingdome in his time, Sir Nicholas Bacon, Knight, lord keeper of the great seal of England, a lord of known prudence, sufficiency, moderation, and integrity. His mother was Ann Cook, one of the daughters of Sir Anthony Cook, unto whom the erudition of King Edward the Sixth had been committed : a choyce lady, and eminent for piety, vertue, and learning; being exquisitely skilled, for a woman, in the Greek and Latin tongues. These being the parents, you may easily imagine what the issue was like to be; having had whatsoever nature or breeding could put into him.
His first and childish years were not without some mark of eminency, at which time he was endued with that pregnancy and towardness of wit, as they were presages of that deep and universal apprehension, which was manifest in him afterward : and caused him to be taken notice of by several persons of worth and place; and, especially, by the queen ; who (as I have been informed) delighted much then to confer with him, and to prove him with questions: unto whom he delivered himself with that gravity and maturity, above his years, that her Majesty would often term him, the young lord keeper.
At the ordinary years of ripeness for the university, or rather something earlier, he was sent by his father to Trinity Colledge, in Cambridge, to be educated and bred under the tuition of Doctor John Whitegift, then master of the colledge, afterwards the renowned Archbishop of Canterbury; under whom he was observed to have been more then an ordinary proficient in the severall arts and sciences. Whilst he was commorant in the university, about sixteen years of age, (as his lordship hath been pleased to impart unto myself;) he first fell into the dislike of the philosophy of Aristotle, not for the worthlesnesse of the authour, to whom he would ever ascribe all high attributes; but for the unfruitfulnesse of the way, being a philosophy, (as his lordship used to say,) onely strong for disputations and contentions, but barren of the production of works for the benefit of the life of man; in which mind he continued to his dying day.,
After he had passed the circle of the liberall arts, his father thought fit to frame and mould him for the arts of state : and for that end, sent him over into France, with Sir Amyas Paulet, then employed ambassadour lieger into France; by whom he was, after a while, held fit to be entrusted with some message or advertisement to the queen ; which having performed with great approbation, he returned back into France again, with intention to continue for some years there. In his absence in France, his father the lord keeper died; having collected (as I have heard of knowing persons) a considerable summe of money, which he had separated, with intention to have made a competent purchase of land, for the lively-hood of this his youngest son; (who was onely unprovided for, and though he was the youngest in years, yet he was not the lowest in his father's affection :) but the said purchase, being unaccomplished at his father's death, there came no greater share to him, than his single part and portion of the money dividable amongst five brethren : by which meanes he lived in some streits and necessities in his younger years. For as for that pleasant scite and mannour of Gorhambury, he came not to it till many years after, by the death of his dearest brother, Mr. Anthony Bacon.
Being returned from travaile, he applyed himself to the study of the common law, which he took upon him to be his profession; in which he obtained to great excellency, though he made that (as himself said) but as an accessary, and not as his principall study. He wrote severall tractates upon that subject. In this way, he was after a while sworn of the queen's counsel learned extraordinary; a grace (if I err not) scarce known before. He seated himself
, for the commodity of his studies and practise, amongst the honourable society of Greyes Inn; of which house he was a member, where he erected that elegant pile, or structure, commonly known by the name of the Lord Bacon's lodgings: which he inhabited, by turns, the most part of his life, (some few
years onely excepted,) unto his dying day. In which house be carried himself with such sweetDesse, comity, and generosity, that he was much revered and loved by the readers and gentlemen of the house.
Notwithstanding that he professed the law, for his livelyhood and subsistence : yet his heart and affection was more carried after the affaires and places of estate; for which, if the Majesty royall then had been pleased, he was most fit. In his younger years, he studied the service and fortunes (as they call them) of that noble, but unfortunate earl, the Earl of Essex ; unto whom he was in a sort a private and free counseller; and gave him safe and honourable advice, till in the end the Earl inclined too much to the violent and precipitate counsell of others, his adherents and followers; which was his fate, and ruine.
His birth, and other capacities, qualified him above others of his profession, to have ordinary accesses at court; and to come frequently into the queen's eye, who would often grace him with private and free communication; not onely about matters of his profession, or businesse in law, but also about the arduous affairs of estate ; from whom she received, from time to time, great satisfaction. Neverthelesse, though she cheered him much with the bounty of her countenance, yet she never cheered him with the bounty of her hand ; having never conferred upon him any ordinary place, or means, of honour or profit; save onely one dry reversion of the register's office, in the star-chamber, worth about 16001. per annum; for which he waited in expectation either fully or near twenty years : of which his lordship would say, in Queen Elizabeth's time, that it was like another man's ground buttalling upon his house; which might mend his prospect, but it did not fill his barn. Neverthelesse, in the time of King James, it fell unto him; which might be imputed not so much to her Majesty's aversenesse, or disaffection towards him, as to the arts and policy of a great statesman then, who laboured by all industrious and secret means to suppresse and keep him down; lest, it he bad risen, he might have obscured his glory.
But though he stood long at a stay in the dayes of his mistresse, Queen Elizabeth; yet, after the change, and coming in of his new master, King Janes, he made a great progresse; by whom he was much comforted, in places of trust, honour, and revenue. I have seen a letter of his lordship's to King James, wherein he makes acknowledgement, that he was that master to him, that had raysed and advanced him nine times; • thrice in dignity, and sixe times in office. His offices (as I conceive) were, Counsel Learned Extraordinary to his Majesty, as he had been to Queen Elizabeth; king's Solliciter-generall; his Majesty's Atturney-generall ; Counseller of Estate, being yet but Atturney ; Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England; lastly, Lord Chanceller : which two last places, though they be the same in authority and power, yet they differ in patent, heigth, and favour of the prince : since whose time, none of his successours did ever bear the title of Lord Chanceller. His dignities were, first, Knight, then Baron of Verulam, lastly, Viscount Saint Alban: besides other good gifts, and bounties of the hand, which his Majesty gave him, both out of the broad seal, and out of the alienation office.
Towards his rising years, not before, he entred into a married estate ; and took to wife, Alice, one of the daughters and co-heires of Benedict Barnham, Esquire, and alderman of London; with whom he received a sufficiently ample and liberall portion in marriage. Children he had none; which though they be the means to perpetuate our names after our deaths, yet he had other issues to perpetuate his name, the issues of his brain; in which he was ever happy, and admired; as Jupiter was in the production of Pallas. Neither did the want of children detract from his good usage of his consort, during the intermarriage : whom he prosecuted with much conjugall love and respect, with many rich gifts and endowments; besides a roab of honour, which he invested her withall; which she wore untill her dying day, being twenty years, and more, after his death.
The last five years of his lite, being withdrawn from civill affaires, and from an active lite, he employed wholy in contemplation and studies; a thing whereof his lordship would often speak, during his active lite; as if he affected to dye in the shadow, and not in the light; which also may be found in severall passages of his works. In which time he composed the greatest part of his books and writings, both in English and Latin; which I will enumerate (as near as I can) in the just order wherein they were written. The Ilistory of the Reign of King Henry the Seventh ; Abecedarium Naturæ, or a metaphysicall piece, which is lost ; Hisioria Ventorum; Historia Vitæ et Mortis : Historia Densi et Rari, not yet printed ; Historia Gruvis et Levis, which is also lost : A Discourse of a War with Spain ; A Dialogue touching an Holy War; the table of the New Atlantis ; A Preface to a Digest of the Lawes of England, The Beginning of the History of the Reign of King Henry the Eighth ; De Augmentis Scientiarum, or The Adrancement of Learning put into Latin, with severall enrichments and enlargements ; Counsells Civill and Morall, or his book of Essayes, likewise enriched and enlarged; The Conversion of certain Psalms into English Verse. The Translation into Latin of the History of king Henry the Seventh ; of the Counsells, Civill and Morall; of the Dialogue of the Holy War; of the table of the New Atlantis; for the benefit of other nations. His revising of his book, De Sapientia Veterum. Inquisitio de Magnete ; Topica Inquisitionis de Luce et Lumine ; both these not yet printed. Lastly, Sylra Sylvarum, or the Naturall History. These were the fruits and productions of his last five years. His lordship
, also designed, upon the motion and invitation of his late Majesty, to have written The Reign of King Henry ihe Eighth; but that work perished in the designation meerly, God not lending him life to proceed further upon it, then onely in one morning's work : whereof there is extant an ex ungue leonem, already printed, in his lordship’s miscellany works.
There is a commemoration due, as well to his abilities and vertues, as to the course of his life. Those abilities which commonly goe single in other men, though of prime and observable parts, were all conjoyned and met in him : those are, sharpness of wit, memory, judgement, and elocution.
I have been enduced to think, that if there were a beame of knowledge derived from God upon any man, in these modern times, it was upon him. For though he was a great reader of books, yet he had not bis knowledge from books; but from some grounds and notions from within himself; which, notwithstanding, he vented with great caution and circumspection. His book of Instauratio Mogna, (which, in his own account, was the chiefest of his works,) was no slight imagination or fancy of his brain ; but a setled and concocted notion, the production of many years' labour and travell. I myself have seen at the least twelve coppies of the Instauration revised year by year, one after another; and every year alterd, and amended, in the frame thereof; till at last it came to that modell, in which it was committed to the presse.
He was no plodder upon books, though he read much; and that with great judgement, and rejection of impertinences, incident to many authours: for he would ever interlace a moderate relaxation of his minde with his studies, as walking, or taking the aire abroad in his coach, or some other befitting recreation : and yet he would loose no time, in as much as upon his first and immediate return, he would fall to reading again; and so suffer no moment of time to slip from him, without some present improvement.
His meales were refections of the eare, as well as of the stomack : like the noctes altice, or convivia deipnosophistarum ; wherein a man might be refreshed in his minde and understanding, no lesse than in his body. And I have known some of no mean parts, that have professed to make use of their note-books, when they have risen from his table; in which conversations, and otherwise, he was no dashing man, as some men are, but ever a countenancer and fosterer of another man's parts. Neither was he one that would appropriate the speech wholy to himself; or delight to out-vie others, but leave a liberty to the co-assessours to take their turns: wherein he would draw a man on, and allure him to speak upon such a subject, as wherein he was peculiarly skilfull, and would delight to speak. And for himself, he contemned no man's observations, but would light his torch at every man's candle.
His opinions and assertions were, for the most part, binding, and not contradicted by any; rather like oracles then discourses; which may be imputed, either to the well weighing of his sentence, by the skales of truth and reason; or else, to the reverence and estimation wherein he was commonly had, that no man would contest with him: so that there was no argumentation, or pro and con, (as they term it,) at his table, or if their chanced to be any, it was carried with much submission and moderation.
I have often observed, and so have other men of great account, that if he had occasion to repeat another man's words after him, he had an use and faculty to dresse them in better vestments and apparell then they had before ; so that the authour should finde his own speech much amended, and yet the substance of it still retained : as if it had been naturall to him to use good forms; as Ovid spake of his faculty of versifying,
• Et quod tentabam scribere, versus erat.' When his office called him, as he was of the king's counsell learned, to charge any offenders, either in criminals or capitals, he was never of an insulting or domineering nature over them; but alwayes tender hearted, and carrying himself decently towards the parties; (though it was his duty to charge them home;) but yet as one, that looked upon the example with the eye of severity, but upon the person with the eye of pitty and compassion. And in civill businesse, as he was counseller of estate, he had the best way of advising ; not engaging his master in any precipitate or grievous courses, but in moderate and fair proceedings : the king whom he served giving him this testimony, that he ever dealt in businesse suavibus modis, which was the way that was most according to his own heart.
Neither was he in his time lesse gracious with the subject, then with his soveraign : he was ever acceptable to the House of Commons, when he was a member thereot. Being the king's atturney, and chosen to a place in parliament, he was allowed and dispensed with to sit in the House; which was not permitted to other atturneys.
And as he was a good servant to his master, being never, in nineteen years service, (as himself averred.) rebuked by the king, for any thing relating to his Majesty ; so he was a good master to his servants, and rewarded their long attendance with good places, freely, when they fell into his power; which was the cause, that so many young gentlemen of bloud and quality sought to list themselves in his retinew : and if he were abused by any of them in their places, it was onely the errour of the goodnesse of his nature, but the badges of their indiscretions and intemperances.
This lord was religious ; for though the world be apt to suspect and prejudge great wits and politicks to have somewhat of the atheist, yet he was conversant with God; as appeareth by several passages throughout the whole current of his writings : otherwise he should have crossed his own principles; which were, that little philosophy maketh men apt to forget God, as attributing too much to second causes; but depth of philosophy bringeth a man back to God again.” Now, I am sure there is no man that will deny him, or account otherwise of him, but to have been a deep philosopher. And not onely so, but he was able to render a reason of the hope which was in him; which that writing of his, of the Confession of the Faith, doth abundantly testifie. He repaired frequently, when his health would permit him, to the service of the church, to hear sermons, to the administration of the sacrament of the blessed body and bloud of Christ; and died in the true faith, established in the church of England.
This is most true, he was free from malice; which (as he said himself) he never bred nor fed. He was no revenger of injuries ; which if he had minded, he had both opportunity and place high enough to have done it. He was no heaver of men out of their places, as delighting in their ruine and undoing. He was no defamer of any man to his prince.
His fame is greater, and sounds louder, in forraign parts abroad, then at home in his own nation. Divers of his works have been anciently and yet lately translated into other tongues, both learned and modern, by forraign pens. Severall persons of quality, during his lordship’s life, crossed the seas on purpose to gain an opportunity of seeing him, and discoursing with him.
But yet, in this matter of his fame, I speak in the comparative onely, and not in the exclusive. For his reputation is great in his own nation also; especially amongst those that are of a more acute and sharper judgement; which I will exemplifie but with two testimonies, and no more: the former, when his History of King Henry the Seventh was to come forth, it was delivered to the old Lord Brooke, to be perused by him, who, when he had dispatched it, returned it to the authour with this eulogy; " Commend me to my lord, and bid him take care to get good paper and inke ; for the work is incomparable.” The other shall be that of Doctor Samuel Collins, late Provost of King's Colledge, in Cambridge, a man of no vulgar wit, who aflirmed unto me. that when he had read the book of the Advancement of Learning, he found himself in a case to begin his studies anew; and that he had lost all the time of his studying before.
It hath been desired, that something should be signified touching bis diet, and the regiment of his health; of which, in regard of his universall insight into nature, he may (perhaps) be to some an example. For his diet, it was rather a plentifull and liberall diet, as his stomack would bear it, then a restrained; which he also commended in his book of the History of Life and Death. In his younger years he was much given to the finer and lighter sort of meats, as of fowles and such like; but afterward, when he grew more judicious, he preferred the stronger meats, such as the shambles afforded, as those meats which bred the more firm and substantiall juyces of the body, and lesse dissi pable; upon which he would often make his meal, though he had other meats upon the table. You may be sure he would not negleet that himself, which he so much extolled in his writings; and that was the use of nitre, whereof he took in the quantity of about three grains, in thin warm broath, every morning, for thirty years together, next before liis death. And for physick, he
did indeed live physically, but not miserably: for he took onely a maceration of rhubarb, infused into a draught of white wine and beer, mingled together for the space of half an hour, once in six or seven dayes, immediately before his meal, (whether dinner or supper,) that it might dry the body lesse : which (as he said) did carry away frequently the grosser humours of the body; and not diminish or carry away any of the spirits, as sweating doth; and this was no grievous thing to take. As for other physick, in an ordinary way, (whatsoever hath been vulgarly spoken,) he took not. His receit for the gout, which did constantly ease him of his pain within two hours, is already set down in the end of the Naturall History.
It may seem the moon had some principall place in the figure of his nativity; for the moon was never in her passion, or eclipsed, but he was surprized with a sudden fit of fainting: and that though he observed - not, nor took any previous knowledge of, the eclipse thereof: and as soon as the eclipse ceased, he was restored to his former strength again.
He died on the 9th day of Aprill, in the year 1626, in the early morning of the day then celebrated for our Saviour's resurrection, in the sixty-sixth year of his age, at the Earle of Arundell's house, in High-gate, near London ; to which place he casually repaired about a week before; God so ordaining, that he should dye there of a gentle feaver, accidentally accompanied with a great cold; whereby the defluxion of rheume fell so plentifully upon his breast, that he died of suffocation : and was buried in Saint Michael's church, at Saint Alban's; being the place designed for his buriall by his last will and testament; both because the body of his mother was interred there, and because it was the onely church then remaining within the precincts of old Verulam : where he hath a monument erected for him of white marble; (by the care and gratitude of Sir Thomas Meautys, Knight, formerly his lordship's secretary; afterwards clark of the king's honourable privy counsell, under two kings :) representing his full pourtraiture, in the posture of studying ; with an inscription, composed by that accomplisht gentleman, and rare wit, Sir Henry Wotton.
But howsoever his body was mortall, yet no doubt his memory and works will live; and will, in all probability last as long as the world lasteth. In order to which I have endeavoured (after my poor ability) to do this honour to his lordship, by way of conducing to the same."
His first publication was a small duodecimo volume, of what he is pleased in his letter dedicatory to his brother, who was said to have been his equal in height of wit, to call“ fragments of his conceits ;” but though comprised within thirteen double pages, it contains the germ of his most popular work, and warrants the expectation of the most profound. It is almost needless to add that this unpretending volume was the Essays; which have obtained a universal reputation. The first edition appeared in 1597, under the title of Essayes, Religious Meditations, Places of Persuasion and Dissuasion seene and allowed; for full information respecting which, and successive editions, the admirers of Bacon are indebted to the singular but usual industry of Mr. Basil Montagu. The author was then in his thirty-eighth year, and the few early letters will of course acquaint us with his position at the time of this publication. But neither were the ten Essays that first appeared, which, we are informed, “ passed long agoe from his pen,” nor the invaluable additions, dashed off in a heat,—they bear no marks of haste—they do not seem to have been suggested by accidents, or excogitated under any pressure from without. Bacon had by this time “ seene ” much of the world of men; and that of books, from first to last, was his own. His training was admirable, his access as a courtier complete, his acquaintance with the illustrious officers of the Virgin Queen, and his friendship with “ her Majesty's servants,” from the Madrigalist up to “ Rare Ben,” and “ Sweet Will Shakspeare,” familiar; and, without adverting to professional collisions and disappointments, all these advantages taught an apt scholar experience, and enabled him to draw those lessons, founded upon human nature and life, which “ will last while books last.” The struggle between ambition and philosophy had long been going on, and it is not easy to say which had the final advantage. In the beautiful letter to his brother he says, “ I sometimes wish your infirmities translated upon myself, that her Majesty might have the service of so active and able a mind, and I might be with excuse confined to these contemplations and studies for which I am fittest.” The Essays, like his other writings, derive their uniform charm from the interfusion of the philosophical and practical, occasioned by this conflict of passions for the mastery ; his personal travels being the condition upon which he was to be justified in saying, twenty-eight years afterwards, in reference to the complete edition, that they “ came home to men's business and bosoms.”
The Essays were great favourites with the public from the first, and their instant appreciation, while it does honour to the taste of the age, was soon repaid by revisions, enlarge