Page images
PDF
EPUB

pleasure. No such thing as any great or mighty subject who might eclipse 2 or overshade the imperial power.

And for the people and state in general, they were in such lowness of obedience, as subjects were like to yield who had lived almost four and twenty years under so politic a King as his father; being also one who came partly in by the sword, and had so high a courage in all points of regality, and was ever victorious in rebellions and seditions of the people. The Crown extremely rich and full of treasure; and the kingdom like to be so in short time. For there was no war, no dearth, no stop of trade or commerce; it was only the Crown which sucked 3 too hard; but now being full, and upon the head of a young King, it was like to draw the less. Lastly, he was inheritor of his father's reputation, which was great throughout the world. He had strait alliance with the two neighbour states, an ancient enemy in former times, and an ancient friend, Scotland and Burgundy. He had peace and amity with France, under the assurance not only of treaty and league, but of necessity and inability in the French to do him hurt, in respect the French King's designs were wholly bent upon Italy. So that it may be truly said, there had been scarcely seen or known in many ages such a rare concurrence of signs and promises of a happy and flourishing reign to ensue, as were now met in this young King, called after his father's name, Henry the Eighth.

s had sucked. R.

I and. 4 and.

R.
R.

? any way eclipse. R.
5 was like to draw less. R.

TTIE

BEGINNING

OF THE

HISTORY OF GREAT BRITAIN.

PREFACE.

“The Beginning of the History of Great Britain” was first published in Rawley's Resuscitatio (1657). At what period it was composed we have no certain means of knowing. But there is a letter in the same volume described as a letter “ to the King upon sending him a beginning of the history of his Majesty's times ;” and we may presume that this was the paper which accompanied it. The letter is not dated. It is placed however in all the collections among those which belong to the early part of James's reign; and from a passage in another letter to the King, also undated but certainly written while Bacon was solicitor-general and apparently about the beginning of 1610, I should conjecture that it was composed a little before that time. His object in the last-mentioned letter was to obtain from the King a promise of the attorney's place, whenever it should be vacant; for “perceiving how at this time preferments of law few about his ears, to some above him and to some below him," he had begun to think that, unless he had some better assurance of advancement in his present course, it would be better for him to give it over," and to make proof (he proceeds) to do you some honour by my pen, either by writing some faithful narrative of your happy though not untraduced times, or by recompiling your laws, which I perceive your Majesty laboureth with and hath in your head, than to spend my wits and time in this laborious place,” and so on.

"Alluding perhaps to the preferment of “one Bromley, an obscure lawyer," to a Barony of the Exchequer; of Sir Edward Philips to the Mastership of the Rolls, and of Sir Julius Cæsar to the reversion of that office : which was the news of January, 1609-10. See Chamberlain to Carleton; Court and Times of James I., vol. i. p. 103-4.

? Alluding perhaps to the King's Speech in the Banqueting Hall, 21 March, 1609-10. State Paper Office, vol. liii. (domestic) no. 31. See also Winwood's Memorials, iii. p. 136. VOL. VI.

T

The letter which accompanied the history runs thus :

“ Hearing that your Majesty is at leisure to peruse story', a desire took me to make an experiment what I could do in your Majesty's times; which being but a leaf or two, I pray your pardon if I send it for your recreation; considering that love must creep where it cannot go. But to this I add these petitions. First, that if your Majesty do dislike anything, you would conceive I can amend it upon your least beck. Next, that if I have not spoken of your Majesty encomiastically, your Majesty would be pleased only to ascribe it to the law of an history, which doth not clutter together praises upon the first mention of a name, but rather disperseth and weaveth them through the whole narrative. And as for the proper place of commemoration, which is in the period of life, I pray God I may never live to write it. Thirdly, that the reason why I presumed to think of the oblation was because, whatsoever my disability be, yet I shall have that advantage which almost no writer of history hath had, in that I shall write of times not only since I could remember, but since I could observe. And lastly, that it is only for your Majesty's reading.”

I am the more inclined to assign the composition of this little historical piece to the latter end of 1609 or the beginning of 1610, because I find no allusion to it either before or after as one of Bacon's projected works. And I suppose that he abandoned the design altogether, either because the King did not encourage him to proceed, or because, after the Earl of Salisbury's death which happened early in 1612, he had no prospect of leisure; being fully engaged in the business of the day, and all the time he had to spare being devoted to his philosophy.

Mr. Craik (Bacon and his writings ; vol. i. p. 213.) says it was probably written in 1624. But if so Dr. Rawley would surely have mentioned it in his list of the works written by Bacon during the last five years of his life.

As an account of the temper of men's minds at James's entrance, it is complete; and in my judgment one of the best things in its kind that Bacon ever wrote.

Alluding probably to Camden's Annals of Queen Elizabeth, which the King was reading and criticising in the MS, about the beginning of 1610, and of which he sent a considerable portion to the French historian De Thou towards the close of that year. Compare Bacon's letter to Sir R. Cotton, 7 April, 1610, with Chamberlain's to Carleton, 29 Jan, 1610-11.

« PreviousContinue »