« PreviousContinue »
presume to disturb him; "then,” said the lord keeper, " by your civility I shall lose my life," which accordingly happened a few days after, viz. in 1579. Camden's character of him is concise, but very expressive, Vir præpinguis, ingenio acerrimo, singulari prudentia, summa eloquentia, tenaci memoria, et sacris conciliis alterum columeni.e. 'a man of a gross body, but most quick wit, singular prudence, supreme eloquence, hap py memory, and in judgment the other pillar of the state.'
His youngest son, Francis, has gained an immortal name by his inestimable writings, though some failings plunged him into disgrace in his life-time, and have given occasion to writers of little judgment or liberality to pour
upon his name. He was born at York-house, in the Strand, in 1561, and so soon did the extraordinary powers of his mind expand themselves, that even in his tender years persons of the highest rank and abilities delighted in his conversation. Queen Elizabeth, being one day at the lord keeper's, took particular notice of Francis, and asked him his age, to whom he elegantly replied,
that he was just two years younger than her majesty's happy reign !' From that time she took a pleasure in conversing with him, and was accustomed to call him her young lord keeper.'
At the age of twelve he was sent to Trinity-college, Cambridge, where he had for his tutor that able divine, Dr. John Whitgift, afterwards arch
bishop of Canterbury, who conducted the church of England safely, when attacked on the one hand by the harpy and sacrilegious avarice of the venal courtiers, and on the other by the virulent malice, superstition, and bigotry of the papists and puritans. Under such a man, Bacon could not but acquire sound principles as well as solid learning, and so great was his progress, that at the age of six teen he quitted college, and was sent by his father in the suite of Sir Amias Pawlet, the English ambassador at Paris. His conduct there was such as to gain him the esteem and confidence of Sir Amias, who sent him to queen Elizabeth, upon a business of considerable importance. This commission he executed in a manner which procured both himself and the ambassador great credit. He then returned to France, where he wrote at the age of nineteen, 'A succinct View of the State of Europe,' a piece which discovers singular penetration and genius for so young a man. The death of his father made him return home, and the narrowness of his circumstances, occasioned by that event, obliged him to enter upon the study of the law at Gray's Inn. This place was so agreeable to him, that he afterwards erected a building there which for many years went by the name of Lord Bacon's lodgings,' and it is to the honour of that learned society, that they have recently commemorated the honour of having had so bright a name on their roll, by giving to an elegant row of houses, fronting Gray's Inn-lane, the appellation of Voc rulam Buildings.
At the age of twenty-six, Mr. Bacon's reputation was so great, that he was especially appointed her Majesty's counsel extraordinary.-He may therefore be considered now as in the fair way of advancement, but he received no preferment till the reign of James I, when the honour of knighthood was conferred on him, and he was appointed one of the king's counsel with a yearly fee. In 1607 he obtained the place of solicitor-general, in which capacity he went through a great variety of laborious business, yet amidst all his professional pursuits he found some time for his literary and philosophical studies, the result of which he communicated to his friends, in a piece entituled . Cogitata et Visa,' which contained the ground work, or plan, of his Novum Organum.' In 1610 appeared his celebrated treatise Of the Wisdom of the Antients,' in which he furnishes a key to allegorical poetry and mythology. This tract was written in Latin, and an English translation, by Sir Arthur Gorges, is usually appended to our author's
essays, In 1619 Sir Francis became attorney-general, in which office he distinguished himself in the prosecution of the earl and countess of Somerset, for their concern in the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury. On the resignation of lord chancellor Egerton, in 1617, the great seal was delivered by the king to Sir Francis Bacon, accompanied with these three cautions, which certainly place the abilities and integrity of James above the despicable state to which inconsiderate and partial historians have reduced him : first, that he should not seal any thing, but after mature deliberation. 2ndly, that he should give righteous judgment between parties, 3dly, that he should not extend the royal prerogative too far.
Having mentioned the predecessor of Bacon in this office, we may be allowed to mention a remarkable anecdote of him, which is not generally known. He was the son of a servant maid, named Sparks, who had lived with his father Sir Richard Egerton, of Ridley. His mother had been so neglected by her séducer, that she was reduced to beg for her support. A neighbouring gentleman, a friend to Sir Richard, met her asking alms, followed by her child. He admired its beauty, and saw in it the evident features of the knight, on which he immediately went to Sir Richard, and laid before him the disgrace of suffering his own offspring, illegitimate as it was, to wander from door to door. Sir Richard was affected with the reproof, adopted the child, and by a proper education, laid the foundation of its future fortune.
In January, 1618, Bacon was declared Chancellor, having before only held the seal with the title of lord keeper; and in July following he was created Baron of Verulam. In 1620 he presented to the king the Novum Organum,' in perfecting
which great work he wrote it twelve times over, an instance of caution and deliberation, which if followed, would have saved the world the burthen of a vast number of useless and impertinent volumes. Shortly after this he was created viscount St. Alban's; but this was immediately followed by a storm which precipitated him from his elevated station, and reduced him to the most abjeet condition. His connection with that singular court-minion, George Villiers, then marquis, and afterwards duke of Buckingham, seems to have been the main source of his misfortunes. The enemies of the favourite, not being able to attack him directly, assaulted the integrity of the Chan. cellor, who was accused in parliament, of various acts of corruption, and being brought to trial, was sentenced by the peers to pay a fine of 40,000l. to be imprisoned in the Tower during the king's pleasure, to be disabled from sitting in parliament, and rendered incapable of holding any office, place, or employment whatever.
Thus fell Bacon, who submitted to his fate like a philosopher. The king shed tears on the occasion, though he could not reverse the sentence, to such a height was the popular resentment excited against him. His imprisonment, however, was but of short duration ; his fine was remitted; and he finally obtained the royal pardon. He died at the earl of Arundel's house at Highgate, April 9, 1626, and was buried in St. Michael's church at St. Alban's, in the chancel of