« PreviousContinue »
" 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 flew 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 recom-> piling 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,
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.
1 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.
HISTORY OF GREAT BRITAIN.
By the decease of Elizabeth, Queen of England, the issues of King Henry the Eighth failed; being spent in one generation and three successions. For that King, though he were one of the goodliest persons of his time, yet he left only by his six wives three children; who reigning successively and dying childless, made place to the line of Margaret, his eldest sister, married to James the Fourth King of Scotland. There succeeded therefore to the kingdom of England James the Sixth, then King of Scotland, descended of the same Margaret both by father and mother; so that by a rare event in the pedigrees of Kings, it seemed as if the Divine Providence, to extinguish and take away all note of a stranger, had doubled upon his person, within the circle of one age, the royal blood of England by both parents. This succession drew towards it the eyes of all men ; being one of the most memorable accidents that had happened a long time in the Christian world. For the kingdom of France having been reunited in the age before in all the provinces thereof formerly dismembered; and the kingdom of Spain being of more fresh memory united and made entire by the annexing of Portugal in the person of Philip the Second; there remained but this third and last union, for the counterpoising of the power of these three great monarchies, and the disposing of the affairs of Europe thereby to a more assured and universal peace and concord. And this event did hold men's observations