« PreviousContinue »
servation; and because it was written at a time when he could have had no other motive in writing it than a wish to bear witness to what he believed to be the truth. For though I do not myself believe that which has been commonly asserted, upon the evidence, I think, chiefly of strangers or slanderers,- that the depreciation of Elizabeth was popular at court,- there was certainly nothing to be gained by flattering her. And if Bacon was not a disinterested witness, as he confesses he was not, it was only because the impression which her character and conduct had made upon him was so favourable that he had grown partial ; and this very partiality must be accepted as a historical fact, not the least significant among the many testimonies which history bears in her favour.
It cannot have been for its literary merit that Bacon especially valued this writing; for the style is more than usually hasty and careless, and there is some truth in Mr. Chamberlain's criticism that it falls off a little towards the end; a defect which a very little trouble would have removed.
The passage in which he alludes to the death of Anne Boleyn is interesting; and the more so because his argument did not oblige him to make any allusion to it, and he appears to me to have gone purposely out of his way to bring it in. Had his argument required him to show that the felicity of Elizabeth began with her parents, the case would have been desperate. Her mother having been put to death by her father upon a charge of incest and adultery, there must have been either the most awsul guilt in one of them or the most awful calamity to both. And therefore when I find Bacon, in an argument designed to prove the constant felicity of Elizabeth's fortune, deliberately and unnecessarily introducing such a topic,- I say unnecessarily, because it is brought in only with reference to the question as to the “ dignity of her birth,” that is whether she was really a king's daughter, -I conclude that he was only making an occasion to place on record Anne's last message (which he afterwards inserted in his collection of Apophthegms) and his own opinion of her innocence.
What weight is due to that opinion, one cannot well say without knowing how much he knew of the circumstances. There was naturally a strong inclination on the part of the Protestants in Elizabeth's time to believe Anne Boleyn innocent. This inclination would naturally be exasperated into passion by the slanders and invectives of the Catholics. Of the evidence produced at the trial there was no accessible record, and the position of Elizabeth herself between her father's memory and her mother's forbade the question to be openly or freely discussed. It is probable therefore that his impression was formed upon rumours and charitable surmises of no very authentic or trustworthy character; and that of the nature of the direct evidence he did not know more than we do now. Not so however with regard to the weight of the verdict. Of the value to be attached to the judgment of the Peers in a trial for treason and to an attainder by Parliament, Bacon must have been a much better judge than any one can be now, standing as he did so much nearer the time, and so well versed as he was in the details of similar proceedings half a century later. We cannot suppose him to have been ignorant of the composition of the tribunal which found Anne Boleyn guilty, and yet it is clear that he did not on that account find it impossible to believe her innocent. Most true it is no doubt, as Mr. Froude has well pointed out, that the assumption of Anne Boleyn’s innocence involves an assumption that not Henry only, but also Peers and Parliament, were deeply guilty. But it is a grave fact that Bacon, writing within little more than seventy years of the time, and being himself a middle aged man with much experience of courts and Parliaments, did not regard it as an assumption which must be dismissed as incredible.
In so far as the balance of probabilities depends upon our estimate of Henry's personal character, his judgment is of less importance. Of that (although he may no doubt in his boyhood have heard something from his father, who had had opportunities of personal observation) he probably took his impression from the popular historians, who had little to guide them beyond the naked outline of Henry's public proceedings, and were not in a position to see below the surface. When the particular difficulties with which he had to deal were forgotten and the rapid succession of violent changes had altered the relative position of all parties and the complexion of all interests, the chronicle of his reign exhibited a series of violent proceedings,leagues of amity and marriage alliances with neighbour kings followed by quarrels and wars, divorces of wives followed suddenly by fresh marriages, great ministers suddenly disgraced and executed, penalties of heresy enforced now against Catholics now against Protestants,- of which the popular interpretation was simple and obvious. To a superficial observer they could but appear as the actions of a man violent in love and anger, and imperious in will; and such no doubt was the general impression of Henry's character in the beginning of the seventeenth century. Odious to his contemporaries he certainly was not; nor was his memory odious in the eyes of the two next generations : our modern notion of him being, I think, of much later date, when his actions were seen refracted through an atmosphere of opinion entirely changed. But though of the Protestant historians who wrote before the Commonwealth those who censure his actions most freely speak with affection as well as respect of the man, I suppose none of them would have disputed Bacon's assertion that he was a man by nature extremely prone both to love and jealousy, and that his attachment to Jane Seymour preceded his anger against Anne Boleyn. Taking the simple sequence of events, this is the natural explanation of them. It is quite possible however that it is not the true one. In these times, when the proceedings of the government are called in question, the first thing is to ask for the “papers” relating to them: till these are produced it is felt that the case cannot be judged. Now the papers relating to the transactions of Henry the Eighth were not produced till long after the popular judgment had been formed; the most important part of them only within the last few years; and it seems that they suggest a new reading of his character in many points; showing among other things that the imputation
“natura ad amores propensissima”must be given up. This is not the place for a discussion of the question, but it is proper that Bacon's opinion, which would otherwise be of great value in such a matter, should be taken with this caution. There can be no doubt that Mr. Froude's plea for a reconsideration of the judgment is reasonable, and that he has asked some questions which it is at least very difficult to answer.
For the text of this piece I have used two authorities, each of which may be considered as original and independent. One is Dr. Rawley's edition, printed along with the Opuscula Philosophica in 1658, with the title Opus illustre in felicem memoriam Elizabetha, Angliæ Reginæ, auctore nobilissimo heroe Francisco Bacono, Barone de Verulamio, Vicecomite Sancti Albani: multis retro annis prælo designatum, sed non antehac in lucem editum; the other is a manuscript copy in the British Museum (Harl. 6797. fo. 79.), written in the hand of one of Bacon's own people, though it bears no traces of revision by Bacon himself. It cannot, I think, have been the same which Rawley used; and as he gives no particulars about the one which he did use, we are left to decide for ourselves which is the best, from internal evidence. My own impression is that Rawley's manuscript must have been the less perfect, and that some of the differences which appear in his printed copy are corrections or conjectural emendations of his own. Where the two copies differ therefore and the true reading seems doubtful, I hạve generally preferred that of the manuscript; but in all cases, whichever I have received into the text, I have given the other in the notes ; and therefore every reader can choose for himself.
As the principal pieces which belong to this division of Bacon's works are English, the Latin pieces being few and comparatively short and not connected with one another, I have thought it better to print the translation of each immediately after the original, instead of collecting them into a body at the end; and as this is the first for the translation of which I am myself solely responsible, I shall add here a few words to explain the principle upon which I have attempted to do them.
My object in all my attempts at translation being, not to help a Latin reader to construe the original, but to put English readers in possession of the sense of it, my plan has been first to take as clear an impression as I could of the meaning and effect of the Latin, and then to reproduce that meaning in the best and clearest and most readable English that I could command: not tying myself to the particular form which the Latin sentence assumes, even where it could be preserved without awkwardness or obscurity,—nor even preferring it,- but always adopting that form in which I could best express the thing; keeping myself as faithful as possible to the effect of the original,- not the literal and logical meaning only, but the effect upon the imagination and the feelings,— and leaving
I The following sentence contains all that he says about it. “ His monumentum illud Regium, cui titulus In felicem memoriam Elizabethæ Angliæ Regine, inter opera civilia primum adjunxi, ante annos complures ab ipso honoratissimo auctore (si Deus annuisset) typis designatum : Cæterum quamvis obdormisse diu non tamen penitus expirasse jam compertum est.” VOL. VI.
myself as free as possible with regard to the mode of bringing it out. How far I have succeeded it is for others to say ; but my endeavour has been to produce a translation from the perusal of which the reader shall rise with the same feelings with which he would have risen from the perusal of the original had the language of it been familiar to him. .
I am of course aware that there are not only many people who would prefer for their own purposes a different kind of translation, but also some real objections to this kind which upon the whole nevertheless I prefer myself. Whether I have judged rightly, is a question which can only be determined by the effect upon readers generally. If my translations give a livelier and juster impression of the original, it will be found that most people like them better.