Bacon, Francis 1561-1626, lord chancellor, born at York House on 22 Jan. 1561, was the son of Lord Keeper Bacon, by his second wife, Ann, second daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke, and sister of the wife of Sir William Cecil, better known by his later title as Lord Treasurer Burghley. In April 1573, at the age of twelve years and three months, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, leaving it in March 1575. On 27 June 1576 he was admitted to Gray's Inn.
Bacon was thus destined to the profession of the law. Few youths of his age, however, are content to look forward to a life of merely professional success; and in Bacon's case, partly by reason of his own mental qualities, and partly by reason of the influence of the exciting events of the great national struggle in the heart of which he lived, the visions of youth were peculiarly far-reaching. The boy already longed not merely to do something for the defence of protestantism against its enemies, and something for the improvement of the government of his native country, both which thoughts were likely to arise in the mind of Elizabeth's young lord keeper, as she playfully called him, but also to achieve a task which was peculiarly his own, to create a new system of philosophy to replace that of Aristotle, not merely for the satisfaction of the cravings of his own speculative reason, but for the practical benefit of humanity at large.
In 1576 young Bacon was attached to the embassy of Sir Amias Paulet to France. He was still abroad when, on 20 Feb. 1579, his father died, leaving him with but a small fortune. On his return to England, which followed soon after he received the bad news, he devoted himself to the study of the law, though he was not without hope of more suitable work. In 1580, at least, he was looking to his uncle, Lord Burghley, to support a suit for some kind of preferment, the exact nature of which is unknown. As, however, he did not receive a favourable answer, he continued his legal studies, and on 27 June 1582 was admitted utter barrister.
Bacon's rise in life was brought about by his election to the parliament which met on 23 Nov. 1584, in which, no doubt through Burghley's interest, he sat for the borough of Melcombe Regis. The time was one in which the greatest questions were at issue. The danger arising from the activity of the supporters of Mary Stuart was coming to a head, and at the same time, though the queen and the House of Commons were completely at one in their desire to establish the national independence by keeping the catholics in check, there was a division of opinion between them on the form of religion to be maintained in the country, the commons wishing to see the established religion modified in the direction of Calvinistic puritanism, and the queen wishing to preserve the worship of the Prayer-book intact.
Bacon's views upon the political situation were embodied in a Letter of Advice to Queen Elizabeth, written in the end of 1584 or the beginning of 1585. There is nothing crude or immature in this his first political memoir. Every line of it, in fact, is full of a wisdom too far in advance of the time to be palatable either to the queen or to the commons. Most remarkable at that day was Bacon's recommendation of the best mode of dealing with the catholics. Arguing on the hypothesis that they were the queen's enemies, he spoke of the impossibility of contenting them, and of the danger of driving them to despair. The latter, however, was precisely what the government was doing by urging the oath of supremacy. It would, thought Bacon, be better to frame the oath in this sense: That whosoever would not bear arms against all foreign princes, and namely the pope, that should any way invade her majesty's dominions, should be a traitor. Having thus not merely anticipated but improved upon the oath of allegiance of 1606, he touched upon another string. For preachers, he wrote, because thereon grows a great question, I am provoked to lay at your highness's feet my opinion touching the preciser sort, first protesting — that I am not given over, no, nor so much as addicted, to their preciseness; therefore till I think that you think otherwise, I am bold to think that the bishops in this dangerous time take a very evil and unadvised course in driving them from their cures. His reasons were two: first, because it injured the queen's reputation to have it known that there were divisions amongst her protestant subjects; and secondly, because, in truth, in their opinions, though they are somewhat over squeamish and nice, and more scrupulous than they need, yet with their careful catechizing and diligent preaching they bring forth that fruit which your most excellent majesty is to wish and desire, namely the lessening and diminishing of the papistical number. Other suggestions for indirectly weakening the catholics follow, after which the writer turns his attention to foreign affairs.
By any one who wishes to understand Bacon's career this letter should be attentively studied. He must very early have got into the habit of entertaining thoughts for which persons in authority were not yet ripe, and of looking about for means by which he might alter their judgment. The way open now was not open then. He could not stir up opinion by public writing or public speaking. His words as a member of parliament would not go beyond the walls of parliament, and were likely to fall on deaf ears within them. Not only did the one way of influencing the course of affairs lie in ability to win the queen and those immediately around her, but Bacon was well content that it should be so. In the queen and her council, with all their defects, was to be found the regulative authority which controlled the manifestations of the national life, and Bacon had no wish to subordinate the queen's government to the irregular impulses of a House of Commons untrained by experience in the management of great affairs. To say this is to say that Bacon must look to achieve a statesman's ends by the means of a courtier, to gain access, to offer services, to watch the rise and fall of favourites. To do so soon became a habit with him, but there is nothing to show that it was ever repulsive to him. The breadth of his intellect left little room for any strength of emotional nature. In the Letter of Advice there is a singular want of enthusiasm where enthusiasm would be expected in so young a writer.
In the parliament which met on 29 Oct. 1586 Bacon sat for Taunton. In the course of this year he became a bencher of Gray's Inn, and was thus enabled to plead in the courts of Westminster. In the parliament which was opened on 4 Feb. 1589 Bacon was member for Liverpool. He had by this time caught the ear of the house, and was frequently employed on committees. He was aware, however, of the importance of gaining the queen to his views. The execution of Mary and the defeat of the Armada, indeed, had made the question of the treatment of catholics less pressing; but the appearance of the Marprelate libels had brought into greater prominence the question of the conduct to be pursued towards the puritans. In An Advertisement touching the Controversies of the Church of England, a paper written in 1589 though not printed till 1640, Bacon amplified the opinion which he had expressed in the Letter of Advice, deprecating the factious temper of the puritans on the one hand, and the rigid insistence on conformity by the government on the other.
It was Bacon's fate through life to give good advice only to be rejected, and yet to impress those who received it with a sufficiently good opinion of his intellectual capacity to gain employment in work which hundreds of other men could have done as well. At the end of 1589 or the beginning of 1590 Bacon wrote a letter in the name of Sir Francis Walsingham in defence of the queen's proceedings in ecclesiastical causes. He must have longed to get an opportunity of doing more than this, and now that opportunity seemed to have arrived at last.
At some time, probably not later than July 1591, Bacon made the acquaintance of the young Earl of Essex. In this way began the first of Bacon's so-called friendships. That the earl soon became warmly attached to Bacon is beyond doubt. The intelligent, but impulsive and passionate nobleman of twenty-three found in the cool and wary adviser, who was in years his senior, those qualities so different from his own which were likely to rivet his affection. It was Bacon's misfortune that he never passed through the stage of admiration which goes far to develope a complete character. The author of the Letter of Advice knew himself to be capable of giving lessons in politics to Burghley, and, if he did not expect intellectual assistance from Essex, he failed to perceive that the young nobleman's generosity of temper was at least as admirable as any power of brain could possibly be. In his intercourse with men there was none of that intellectual give-and-take which is the foundation of the highest friendship. What he gave was advice, the best that he had at his disposal. What he hoped to receive, as he looked back upon the past after fourteen years, may be given in his own words: I held at that time, he wrote, my lord to be the fittest instrument to do good to the state; and therefore I applied myself to him in a manner which I think happeneth rarely among men. In 1596 he put it in another way, in asking Essex to look about, even jealously a little if you will, and to consider whether I have not reason to think that your fortune comprehendeth mine (Spedding, ii. 40; see also Abbott's Bacon and Essex, 36). It is not necessary to suppose that Bacon meant to refer merely to his personal fortune. That would no doubt be included, but the allusion must in fairness be understood to imply that he looked to Essex to carry through to success all that Bacon was, the political reformer as well as the aspirant after promotion.
Of the nature of the advice given to Essex by Bacon during the early years of their intimacy we have no direct evidence. In November 1592 he wrote a set of discourses to be used in a device prepared by Essex (A Conference of Pleasure, edited by Spedding), and shortly afterwards he enlarged one of these discourses into an argumentative defence of the queen's government, under the title of Certain Observations made upon a Libel published this present year, 1592, and which therefore must have been composed before 25 March 1593, according to our present reckoning. Before that date, on 19 Feb., a new parliament met, in which Bacon sat for the county of Middlesex.
The circumstances under which this parliament met were critical. A Spanish intrigue in Scotland had been discovered, and the queen stood in need of supply to enable her to defeat it. The committee of the lower house appointed to consider the amount reported in favour of granting two subsidies with their accompanying four-fifteenths and tenths, in spite of the prevalent feeling against giving more than one subsidy at a time. Upon this, however, the commons were sent for to the upper house, and were informed by Burghley not only that the lords would not consent to a bill granting less than three subsidies, but also that the amount to be granted must be discussed at a conference. In the commons Bacon led the opposition to this proposal. He was ready to vote for increased supply, but he objected to join with the lords in a discussion about supply as prejudicing the privileges of the lower house. The result was that after some days' confused discussion the lords tacitly abandoned their claim to join with the commons in discussing a subsidy.
So far Bacon had only come into open collision with the lords, though there can be little doubt that the demand of the lords was made at the instance of the queen. The next stage of the debate brought him into collision directly with the crown. In their original statement the lords had proposed that three subsidies payable in three years should be granted, whereas the practice had been that each subsidy should be spread over two years. In speaking for the government Sir R. Cecil now contented himself with asking that the three subsidies should be payable in four years. Bacon, however, opposed the demand on the ground that by causing discontent this increase of the burden of taxation would do more harm than good. Though it is not known what he himself proposed, except that he wished to spread the payment over six years and in some way to mark the payment of the last subsidy as extraordinary, yet, as the house unanimously decided against him, we may, as Mr. Spedding says, at least conclude that there was no popular party in opposition strong enough to be worth conciliating at the expense of offending the party in power.
There is every reason to believe that Bacon's opposition was a conscientious one. When called on by Burghley for an explanation, he simply claimed his right to speak according to his conscience. Every personal reason must have influenced him to make an apology, as he was at the time in pecuniary difficulties, and, though the evidence is not complete, it would seem that at this time he was again contemplating a withdrawal from the court. The attorney-generalship was, moreover, likely to be vacant, and, though Coke was a candidate for the office, some one, probably Essex, urged Bacon to apply for it, and warmly advocated his cause with the queen. Elizabeth, however, was too angry with his behaviour in parliament even to see him. On 25 Jan. 1594 Bacon removed one objection to his promotion, that he had never held a brief, by appearing in court, where he acquitted himself so well that Burghley congratulated him on his success, and the reputation thus gained he increased by further arguments on 5 and 9 Feb. Yet, though Essex with all the impetuosity of his nature continued to plead for Bacon, Burghley stood firmly by Coke, and by the end of March 1594 it was understood that Bacon's suit for the attorney-generalship was finally rejected. The solicitor-generalship was, however, now vacant; and as both Essex and Burghley concurred in recommending him for that, there would have been no difficulty in his way if he could have soothed the displeasure of Elizabeth.
At last, in the beginning of June 1595, Bacon learned from Burghley that the queen was still offended with him for his conduct in parliament. If Elizabeth was waiting for an apology, Bacon had none to offer. It is not unknown to your lordship, he wrote to Burghley, that I was the first of the ordinary sort of the lower house of parliament that spake for the subsidy; and that which I after spake in difference was but in circumstance of time and manner, which methinks should be no great matter, since there is variety allowed in counsel, as a discord in music to make it more perfect. Such language did not satisfy the queen, and on 5 Nov. the solicitor-generalship was given to Serjeant Fleming.
The story just told is not only most creditable to Bacon; it settles in his favour the question whether he was the fawning sycophant which he has been represented as being. Everything that he could desire for the higher and the lower objects of his life was in the scale on one side; on the other the mere confession that he had done wrong where he believed himself to have done right. Nor can the evidence in his favour be set aside as merely proving that he still retained the ingenuousness of youth. During the life which remained to him he was consulted on a great variety of subjects under a great variety of circumstances. An intellectual unity pervades the whole of the advice which he gave. He may sometimes have held his tongue when he knew that his counsel would be disregarded, but he never prophesied smooth things to suit the wishes of those by whom his counsel was required.
To the impetuous Essex, who had thrown himself heart and soul into Bacon's suit, the result of his repeated applications was a deep disappointment. Too generous to feel only his own share in the rebuff, he offered to do his best to make up the loss to Bacon. Master Bacon, he said, according to the account of the conversation subsequently given by Bacon himself, the queen hath denied me yon place for you, and hath placed another; I know you are the least part of your own matter, but you fare ill because you have chosen me for your mean and dependence; you have spent your time and thoughts in my matters. I die if I do not somewhat towards your fortune; you shall not deny to accept a piece of land which I will bestow upon you. Bacon told the earl that it was not well for him to turn his estate into obligations, for he would find bad debtors. As Essex continued to press the gift, Bacon accepted it. My lord, he said, I see I must be your homager and hold land of your gift; but do you know the manner of doing homage in law? Always it is with a saving of his faith to the king and his other lords; and therefore, my lord, I can be no more yours than I was, and it must be with the ancient savings.
The land which Bacon received was probably in Twickenham Park, and was afterwards sold by him for 1,800l. The manner in which the gift was made and received was characteristic of both parties.
Bacon's next letter to Essex contained a warning similar to that which he had given in conversation: I reckon myself as a common—and as much as is lawful to be enclosed of a common, so much your lordship shall be sure to have. He seems to have begun to think that Essex was too self-willed and impetuous to be the instrument for the public good which he had hoped that he would be. Before the end of the year 1595, however, Essex had fully recovered the queen's good graces, and Bacon employed himself in drawing up a device to be presented by Essex on the anniversary of her accession.
In the letter just quoted Bacon expressed a wish to retire from the practice of the law, and to devote himself to philosophy. His pecuniary embarrassments, which were the greater from his long expectancy of office, probably stood in the way. The queen was at least sufficiently favourable to him now to employ him as one of her learned counsel. Though Essex warmly recommended him in May 1596 for the mastership of the rolls, he did not himself make suit for it after his late disappointment.
The year 1596 marks the highest point in the life of Essex. In the capture of Cadiz he acquitted himself well in every respect. On his return home he showed himself captious and jealous of his fellow commanders, whilst the favour which he acquired in the eyes of soldiers and sailors might easily make him a dangerous man to a queen who had no standing army on which to rely. It was to this latter point especially that Bacon applied himself in a letter of advice written to Essex on 4 Oct., a letter in which Bacon unintentionally displays the worst side of his character as fully as he did afterwards in the Commentarius Solutus of 1608. At the bottom the advice given is thoroughly sound. Essex is to convince the queen that he is not a dangerous person by avoiding further connection with military enterprises, and by shunning all suspicion of popularity, that is to say, of courting the people with the object of obtaining an independent position in opposition to the government. All this, however, is fenced about with recommendations to use a variety of petty tricks, to make agreeable speeches, and to appear otherwise than he is. No doubt the character of Elizabeth has to bear much of the blame for the possibility that such advice could be given, but Bacon cannot be altogether cleared. Firm as a rock on the principles on which he acted, he had learned early and too well the lesson that it was only by personal flattery and petty hypocrisies that he could hope to accomplish his ends.
It was at this time that Bacon was preparing for publication the shrewd observations on men and affairs which appeared under the name of the Essays. The dedication to his brother Anthony in the first edition is dated 30 Jan. 1597, and a copy was sold on 8 Feb. One passage has a special pathos in it: There is little friendship in the world, and least of all between equals, which was wont to be magnified, whose fortunes may comprehend the one the other. In his letter of advice Bacon had written to Essex that your fortune comprehendeth mine. In the Essays he shows his belief that the obligation of friendship ought to be mutual, though it looks also as if he were longing for a friend who might give him counsel as well as receive it. If he had this feeling, it would explain his dedication to his brother instead of the earl better than other reasons which have been suggested. His relations with his brother seem to have come nearer to his ideal of friendship than anything which he found elsewhere.
If Bacon wanted friendship, he also wanted money. In the spring of 1597 he obtained, in vain, the good word of Essex to help him to a marriage with a rich young widow, Lady Hatton, and about the same time he offered a reversion of the clerkship of the Star Chamber, which had been given him some time before by the queen, to lord keeper Egerton for his son, on condition of arriving through his mediation at the mastership of the rolls. The mere proposal would properly shock us at the present day; and if, as seems probable, Bacon's second letter of 12 Nov., in which his offer was repeated, was written after he knew that Egerton had been named a member of the commission which had been appointed to examine certain charges brought against the actual holder of the clerkship, the transaction assumes an aspect which ought to have opened Bacon's eyes to its questionable character, though, judging from his subsequent proceedings as chancellor, his eyes were very hard to open.
In the parliament which opened on 24 Oct. 1597, Bacon, as member for Southampton, had the satisfaction of seeing legislation proposed and carried for objects of which he heartily approved, such as the maintenance of husbandry and the relief of the poor.
In the meanwhile Bacon's doubts of the possibility of making a statesman of Essex must have been growing. In the summer of 1597 the earl was absent from England on what is known as the Island Voyage. On his return after failing to capture the Spanish treasure fleet, he showed himself more discontented and unreasonable than ever. Bacon, who wished him to give up military enterprises, was not likely to obtain a cordial response from a man who would resent such a proposal as thrusting him off a field in which he believed himself specially qualified to shine, in order to give him a position in which Bacon would be his master and inspirer. However this may have been, in the middle of February 1598 circumstances concurred to assist Bacon's wishes. The secretary, Sir Robert Cecil, left England on a diplomatic mission to France, and Essex was employed to do his work in his absence. At this time, therefore, Bacon thought the opportunity had come to fix Essex in the career of a statesman by interesting him in that problem of the government of Ireland which was one of the most important of the political questions of the day. In a letter of advice he skilfully selected the ground on which he was most sure of gaining the good will of Essex, by speaking of the subject as one of the aptest particulars for your lordship to purchase honour upon. For the present, however, he contented himself with recommending Essex to take advice from those who were best qualified to give it.
Essex appears to have been willing enough to take up the Irish question, and to have listened to Bacon's advice on the subject of the negotiations which were then pending with Tyrone. Before anything was settled, however, Essex's hot temper had again blazed up into defiance of the queen; and though a reconciliation was effected about the end of October, it was then too late to bring Ireland into order by peaceful statesmanship, as the greater part of the country was already in insurrection.
In the meanwhile Bacon's own private necessities had been growing upon him, and on 23 Sept. he was arrested for debt. He was not long detained, and soon after he recovered his freedom he found the whole world agitated by the question whether Essex was to take the command in Ireland or not.
Of the whole of the advice given by Bacon to Essex on his assumption of the Irish command we cannot speak with certainty. In his subsequent ‘Apology’ Bacon said that he had dissuaded Essex from going, on the ground that he would not only risk the loss of the queen's favour, but would find the Irish as difficult to conquer as the Romans had found the Gauls, Britons, or Germans. On the other hand we have an actual letter in which Bacon encourages Essex to go, on the grounds that he is likely to succeed, and that, as the Romans gained greater glory by reducing to civilisation barbarians like the Germans and Britons, he might gain glory by bringing the Irish under a just and civil government. He ends by begging Essex to remember ‘that merit is worthier than fame,’ and ‘obedience is better than sacrifice,’ and, in short, that he is not to act in the hot-headed manner usual to him. It is possible, as Dr. Abbott has suggested (Bacon and Essex, 115), that there was but one letter, and that Bacon's memory played him false; and it is also possible that there were really two written, the one before Essex had made up his mind, and the other after he had determined on his course, and that Bacon might urge at one time that people like the Britons and Gauls were hard to conquer, and at the other that glory might be achieved by bringing them under law and order. Such repetitions are very much after Bacon's style. At all events, even if this explanation be rejected, it is plain from the published letter that Bacon took the opportunity of warning Essex against a very real danger in his path.
On 27 March 1599 Essex set out. He was neither a good strategist nor a good administrator. By the beginning of August he had lost the greater part of his army in useless marches, so that the Irish council advised him not to proceed to Ulster against the chief rebel, Tyrone, that year at all. Just at this time, however, he received a letter from the queen forbidding him to return to England before he had attacked Tyrone. On this Essex lost his temper, and talked wildly to his confidants of going to England with two or three thousand soldiers, apparently to drive away from the queen those enemies to whose influence he attributed his misfortunes. The idea, however, was promptly abandoned. Essex marched into Ulster, failed signally, and, fearing what might be the effect on the queen if his rivals had the telling of the tale, took ship for England, and on 28 Sept. presented himself before Elizabeth in his travel-stained attire. He was well received at first, but before night was ordered to keep his chamber and satisfy the lords of the council. A day or two later Essex was transferred to the custody of the lord keeper. The queen did not wish to be hard with him. Bacon did what he could to encourage her in this frame of mind, and to urge Essex to submission. As nothing was yet known of the earl's conversation about bringing 3,000 men to England, he might reasonably hope to accomplish his object. The queen, however, insisted on a public declaration of the offences of Essex in the Star Chamber, which took place 29 Nov. As Essex was not called upon to answer, he grew more popular than ever, as a man struck without the means of making a defence.
Bacon was not present in the Star Chamber. From the disjointed evidence which has reached us, it is impossible to track his conduct in details. He seems to have wished to see Essex once more in favour at court, and removed from further temptation to aspire after success in a military career for which he had shown himself unfit. To accomplish this he had to use his utmost diplomacy, as Elizabeth was bent on humbling Essex and punishing him in some way for his misconduct. Bacon, therefore, with the best wish to serve Essex, would have to suggest not such treatment as he considered Essex to have merited, but the least bad treatment which would seem at any given moment to be likely to satisfy the queen. Add to this that even his mind did not work with the accuracy of a calculating machine, but was liable to make mistakes, and even¾as appears from his letter to the queen on his absence from the Star Chamber¾to occasional ill-temper, and there will be no difficulty in understanding how it was that he offended both parties, and was thought by the queen to be remiss in her service, and by the numerous friends of Essex to be betraying his patron.
At last, on 5 June 1600, Essex had to submit to an informal trial at York House. In the proceedings, which were intended to satisfy public opinion, Bacon, as one of the queen's learned counsel, took part. He admits that he handled his part of the charge ‘not tenderly,’ as it was only by a show of vigour that he would be able to retain the queen's favour so as to be able to use his influence on behalf of Essex. It is no wonder that his conduct did not appear to the friends of Essex in the same light as it did to himself. His calculation, however, was for the time justified by the result, and in six weeks after the proceedings Essex was once more at liberty, though he was debarred from appearing at court.
In a letter to Essex of 20 July Bacon used words which may be taken as expressing his innermost thoughts on his relation to Essex: ‘I desire your lordship,’ he wrote, ‘also to think that though I confess I love some things much better than I love your lordship, as the queen's service, her quiet and contentment, her honour, her favour, the good of my country, and the like, yet I love few persons better than yourself, both for gratitude's sake and for your own virtues, which cannot hurt but by accident or abuse.’
Before long Bacon was called on to weigh one against the other his obligations to the queen and the earl. As months passed on without bringing with them a restoration to favour, the discontent of Essex took the form of wild projects, ultimately settling down into a determination to make himself master of the court by violence, to bring to justice his enemies amongst the queen's ministers, and to substitute for them himself and his supporters. On 8 Feb. 1601, having reason to suppose that his purpose was known, he was persuaded by his followers to betake himself to the city with some two hundred armed men at his heels, and to call on the citizens to rally round him. Failing to gain support he returned to Essex House, and was soon a prisoner in the hands of the government. On 11 Feb. Bacon was appointed among others to investigate the causes of the sudden revolt, and on the 18th information was obtained which brought to light the earl's previous treasonable intrigues. On the 19th Essex was brought up for trial.
In obtaining the conviction which followed, Bacon was most serviceable. He called back the attention of the court from Coke's digressions, and he fixed upon Essex the responsibility for his actions, arguing that they afforded evidence of an intention to collect an armed force, and that for ‘armed petitioners’ to present petitions ‘must needs bring loss of liberty to the prince,’ and was therefore treasonable.
To Bacon's conduct on this occasion exception has been taken on two grounds. In the first place, it has been said that he ought not to have appeared against his benefactor at all. That the course which he took indicates poverty of moral feeling cannot be denied. Yet our sentiment on the precedence of personal over political ties is based upon our increased sense of political security, and is hardly applicable to a state of affairs in which anarchy, with all its attendant miseries, would indubitably follow on the violent overthrow of the queen's right to select her ministers, even if her person continued for a time to be outwardly respected; and it is, at all events, one which Bacon studiously renounced from the very beginning of his connection with Essex. In the second place it has been alleged (Abbott, Bacon and Essex, 194-242) that Bacon sinned in charging Essex with a consistent purpose of treason which was foreign to his nature. It is no doubt true that Essex never did anything consistently, and that an analysis of character would spare his heart at the expense of his head. It does not, however, follow that Bacon went deliberately wrong. On the day of the trial he had only very recently become acquainted with the earl's very questionable proceedings in Ireland, and it was only in consonance with the weak side of his intellect to adopt a compact theory rather than one which left room for vagueness and uncertainty. As was afterwards the case in the opinion which he formed of Raleigh's guilt in the Guiana voyage, he left out of sight those tentative and shadowy intentions which had no place in his own mental constitution. At all events, whatever the character of Essex may have been, his actions were none the less dangerous to the state. A government without the protection of an armed force was liable to be overturned by a man who, like Essex, was the darling of the military class which was at that time forming, without that tie of discipline which, in standing armies, counterbalances the tendency of military men to use force rather than persuasion. The new form of danger which had succeeded to the danger from a feudal nobility lent weight to the opinion to which Bacon gave expression in his attack on Essex: ‘You, my lord,’ he said, ‘should know that though princes give their subjects cause of discontent, though they take away the honours they have heaped upon them, though they bring them to a lower estate than they raised them from, yet ought they not to be so forgetful of their allegiance that they should enter into any undutiful act, much less upon rebellion, as you, my lord, have done.’ To Bacon the maintenance of the authority of the state was a sacred work, and in the sixteenth century the authority of the queen was the equivalent of the authority of the state.
The two years which succeeded the trial of Essex were not years of great importance in Bacon's life. He drew up the official declaration of the treason of Essex, but that paper was so altered by others that it is impossible to say how much proceeded from himself.
In the parliament which met on 27 Oct. 1601 Bacon contributed to induce the house to apply to the queen by petition to redress the grievance caused by monopolies instead of proceeding in a more offensive manner by bill. In the autumn of 1602, after the defeat of the Spanish invasion of Ireland, he wrote a letter to Cecil, in which he boldly advocated, for that country, a toleration in religion, and the establishment of courts to do justice unfettered by the technicalities of English law. English and Irish were to be treated as one nation. In Ireland, however, the difficulty of maintaining order, in consequence of the inability of the English exchequer to maintain there a large military force, always stared the reformer in the face, and Bacon, like the rest of his contemporaries, had no better remedy to propose than the introduction of English settlers as a standing garrison, a plan which, when actually adopted, spoiled the whole scheme of reform.
The death of Elizabeth on 24 March 1603 opened a new prospect to Bacon, which might be turned to account if he could gain the ear of James. At first, however, his hope of usefulness was rather discouraged by the change. He was indeed continued as one of the king's learned counsel, and on 23 July was knighted at the same time as three hundred others; but neither Coke nor Cecil was likely to help him to that familiarity of access to James which he had long enjoyed at Elizabeth's court. It was probably in these days of expectancy that he wrote the ‘Apology’ concerning the late Earl of Essex, of which the earliest known printed copy bears the date of 1604. During the same period, besides a slight sketch of a proem to that great work on the interpretation of nature which was never quite out of his mind, he dedicated to James a paper on the mode of carrying out the union between Scotland and England which they both desired, and another on the pacification and edification of the church of England, in which he once more restated those comprehensive and tolerant principles which animated his former treatise on the same subject. James was to Bacon, at this stage of his career, very much what Essex had been before, a man powerful for carrying out Bacon's plans; but with this difference, that he was himself the head and representative of the state, and that in his case, therefore, there could never be that collision between personal and political claims to devotion which had brought about so tragic an ending to Bacon's relations with the favourite of Elizabeth. Unfortunately, though the natures of Essex and James were entirely dissimilar, they were equally incapable of serving Bacon's high purposes, the king's want of earnestness and unsteadiness of purpose being as fatal to his chance of proving a successful ruler as the inconsistent vehemence of the earl. In weighing the terms of adulation in which Bacon continued to address him to the end, it must, however, be remembered that, if there was some hypocrisy, it was for the most part unconscious, and that Bacon's hopeful disposition was apt to fix as long as possible rather on the signs favourable to success than upon the indications of failure. In James's case the reasons for hoping better things than ultimately resulted from his reign were certainly not wanting. The mind of the new king was capable of taking in large ideas, and he had a dislike of intolerance which promised well, and which must have led Bacon to contrast him favourably with the average Englishman of the time, whose views were represented in the House of Commons.
An unhappy indication of the mode in which James was likely to deal with the ideas which he had in common with Bacon was given at the Hampton Court conference which opened on 14 Jan. 1604, where the intention of introducing rational reforms in the church was smothered in an outbreak of temper, and was followed before long by a resolution to draw the bonds of conformity even more tightly than in the days of Elizabeth.
To James's first parliament, which met on 19 March 1604, Bacon was returned for both Ipswich and St. Albans. He sat for the former. The possibility that his scheme of church reform might be to some extent carried out, was not quite at an end. Bacon, when he took his seat, might still hope to do something in this direction, and might cherish even greater hopes in the direction of the union with Scotland. Yet it would be to misunderstand Bacon to associate him merely with the desire to pass particular reforms. Eager as he was to provide remedies for the disorders of his time, he was still more eager to avert that breach of sympathy between the king and the House of Commons which is now understood to have been the root of the miseries of the seventeenth century far more than any special tyrannical propensities of the Stuart kings. It was this intuitive perception of the source of danger which raises Bacon to the first rank amongst statesmen, whilst, at the same time, his failure to recognise that it was as impossible to bring James and the House of Commons to work together, as it had been to bring Elizabeth and Essex to work together¾a failure the causes of which lay in Bacon's moral as well as his intellectual nature¾led to the great catastrophe of his misused life.
The session of 1604 gave Bacon many opportunities of exercising his reconciling powers. The commons wanted to obtain from the king the redress of grievances arising from feudal tenures, from purveyance, and other antiquated rights of the crown, without sufficiently acknowledging the necessity of providing a sufficient income for the fulfilment of the duties of government. On the other hand, James was anxious to press on the union with Scotland without fitting consideration of the prejudices of his new subjects. On all these points, as well as on certain questions of privilege which arose, Bacon had much to say, and what he did say was conciliatory in the best way, by suggesting plans which might carry out the most justifiable desires of both parties. When, however, the end of the session arrived on 7 July, Bacon had effected no reconciliation. The question of the union was referred to a joint committee of Scottish and English commissioners to be put in shape for a future parliament; and the question of the grievances had been discussed with such acrimony, that, in dismissing the commons, the king gave vent to his feelings in a speech of mere scolding.
The breach thus accomplished was practically final; but it was not in Bacon's nature, perhaps not in the nature of any man, to acknowledge that the case was hopeless. His own political position was very similar to his scientific position. In both he had teaching to give which his own generation was incapable of comprehending. In both, therefore, all that he could really hope to accomplish was to expound his principles in such a way that future generations might act upon them. It is no wonder that from time to time he felt regret that he had not devoted himself to a scientific life, especially as he was himself unaware that he had not the qualifications of a scientific observer. It is no wonder either that, in addition to the attraction of worldly success, the great attraction of possibly averting the coming evil weighed with him in chaining him to the oar of political service. In so doing he no doubt underestimated the obstacles caused by the commonplace industry of men like Coke and Cecil, and overestimated the receptivity of James's mind. The fact is, that he stood to the English revolution with all its miseries as Turgot stood to the French revolution, and he was as distrustful as Turgot was of the domination of elected political assemblies. Turgot's stern independence of character, however, contrasts nobly with Bacon's suppleness; but both Bacon and Turgot undertook a task in itself impossible, that of reconciling classes who already stood too far apart to be reconciled.
For the moment Bacon found employment suitable to him. He was chosen as one of the commissioners to discuss with the Scottish commissioners the terms of union. His interest in the matter had gained him the notice of James, and on 18 Aug. 1604 he was confirmed by patent in his office of learned counsel, with a pension of 60l. a year. He was soon busy in drawing up papers on the subject of the union. The actual business of discussion between the commissioners began on 29 Oct., and the last meeting was held on 6 Dec. Bacon, who had been an active member of the commission, might have expected to be soon employed in defending its scheme in the House of Commons. As it happened, however, partly through the prorogation of parliament, and partly through the interruption caused by the Gunpowder Plot, the subject was not brought forward till nearly two years later, towards the end of 1606. Bacon had therefore time to devote himself to literary work. About the end of October 1605 he published his ‘Advancement of Learning.’ In a letter to Sir T. Bodley he gave vent to his feeling of satisfaction in returning to the work in which he was able to do his best in the place of work in which others did not allow him to do his best. ‘I think,’ he wrote, ‘no man may more truly say with the Psalmist, Multum incola fuit anima mea, than myself. For I do confess, since I was of any understanding, my mind hath in effect been absent from that I have done; and in absence are many errors which I do willingly acknowledge, and amongst the rest this great one that led the rest: that knowing myself by inward calling to be fitter to hold a book than to play a part, I have led my life in civil causes, for which I was not very fit by nature, and more unfit by the preoccupation of my mind.’ This confession must not be taken too literally. Every man deeply engaged in politics sighs at times for a freer life; and if Bacon had a special reason for longing for it, in order that he might develope his scientific work, it is unnecessary to suppose that, except in moments of weariness, he regarded his political work as unworthy of himself.
In the session of 1605-6, which followed the Gunpowder plot, Bacon was once more immersed in civil causes, contributing to the discussion on purveyance and supply, the chief business of the session, that of providing new laws against the catholics being in other hands. The sense of a common danger to king and people arising from the Gunpowder plot had, however, brought about a more friendly temper, which was shown in the grant of three subsidies with their accompanying fifteenths.
On 27 May parliament was prorogued. On 10 May Bacon had been married to Alice Barnham, whose father had been a sheriff of London [see Barnham, Benedict], and was dead, and whose mother, a ‘little violent lady,’ as Chamberlain calls her, had married Sir John Packington. About the same time Bacon had a prospect of legal promotion. In October 1604 there had indeed been a vacancy in the solicitor-generalship; but as Bacon did not at that time even ask for the place, it is probable that he did not wish to have it as long as the attorney-generalship was held by Coke. On 29 June 1606 this obstacle was removed by Coke's promotion to the bench as chief justice of the common pleas. The attorney-generalship, however, was given to Hobart, upon which Bacon wrote to the king, reminding him that promotion had been promised to him, and asking that a suggestion which had been already made, of appointing him solicitor-general and providing for Doderidge, the actual solicitor-general, in another way, might be carried out. In the same way he wrote to Ellesmere and Salisbury. Nothing, however, was done for the present, and it was only in the beginning of 1607 that Bacon received a distinct promise of the place whenever Doderidge should be removed. It is quite possible that the obstacle lay with Cecil, now known as the Earl of Salisbury, who was as profuse in promises as Bacon was in compliments, but no evidence exists on the point. It is possible too, though evidence is here equally wanting, that the king was attracted to Bacon by his energy in supporting the union with Scotland in parliament, and was thus led to overrule Salisbury's objections.
The session which opened on 18 Nov. 1606 was mainly taken up in discussing the proposals of the commissioners for the union. They had suggested, besides measures for the abolition of hostile laws and for the extradition of criminals, to which no serious opposition was offered, one for freedom of commercial intercourse, and another for the naturalisation of Englishmen in Scotland and of Scots in England. To both these latter proposals the sentiment of the House of Commons was incurably hostile. Bacon, who had taken no inconsiderable part as a commissioner in drawing up the plan, now became its warmest champion in the House of Commons. The view taken in the house was the narrow one which was natural to occur to average human intelligence. The commercial rivalry of the poor and hardy Scots was a danger which every one could foresee. To look forward imaginatively to the value of the union required either the mind of a Bacon, or one which, like that of James, was brought to consider the question from a special point of view. Bacon's great speech, delivered on 17 Feb. 1607, seems to indicate that in the high view which he took of the subject he stood alone, and he found himself obliged to refer to the natural belief that he spoke to please the king rather than to satisfy his conscience. ‘If any man,’ he said, ‘shall think that I have sung placebo for mine own particular, I would have him know that I am not so unseen in the world but that I discern it were much alike for my private fortune to rest a placebo in this business. But I have spoke out of the fountain of my heart. Credidi, propter quod locutus sum¾I believed, therefore I spake. So as my duty is performed.’ There is every reason to suppose that Bacon spoke truly on the 17th. From a letter written on the 22nd we learn that he had received the promise of the solicitor-generalship, for which he had long been hoping. All through the session he struggled in the cause of the union. Long before parliament was prorogued on 4 July, however, it was evident that, as far as the commons were concerned, it was hopeless to expect to gain their consent to the king's proposals. On 25 June Bacon became solicitor-general. The post was not indeed as important as it is now, but it gave a definite place in the service of the crown with the hope of rising higher, as well as an income of about 1,000l. a year, equivalent to one of about 4,000l. at the present day.
For the time being Bacon acquired no political influence. Salisbury had possession of the king's ear, and Bacon was not likely to be allowed to reach it. It is, therefore, all the more interesting to know something of his political views at a time when they were not warped by the consciousness of the possession of power. This we are enabled to do through a paper, entitled ‘A View of the Differences in question betwixt the King's Bench and the Council in the Marches,’ which was written not later than June 1606, and therefore at least a year before Bacon secured his first important advancement.
The paper refers to a quarrel which had sprung up between the president and council of Wales and the court of King's Bench, which claimed a right to interfere with the jurisdiction of the former body over the four English border counties. In the course of this quarrel the question was mooted whether the king could give jurisdiction without the authority of an act of parliament. In arguing in the affirmative, Bacon fell back on the assertion ‘that the king holdeth not his prerogatives of this kind mediately from the law, but immediately from God, as he holdeth his crown; and though other prerogatives by which he claimeth any matter of revenue, or other right pleadable in his ordinary courts of justice, may be there disputed, yet his sovereign power, which no judge can censure, is not of that nature; and therefore whatsoever partaketh or dependeth thereon, being matter of government and not of law, must be left to his managing by his council of state. ¼ God forbid also, upon pretence of liberties or laws, government should have any head but the king. For then, as the popes of Rome, by making their seat the only oracle of God's religion, advanced themselves first above religion, and then above God; so we may fear what may in time become of our laws, when those reverend fathers, in whose breasts they are safe, shall leave them to others, perchance of more ambition and less faith.’
From these words, and still more from the part of the paper headed ‘The Reasons of Convenience or Inconvenience,’ it is evident from what quarter Bacon apprehended danger. The lawyers struggling for fees and importance, the members of the House of Commons as yet with no experience in the conduct of national politics, and with no definite leadership, would put an end to all intelligent guidance of the state. ‘All who know those parts,’ he writes, ‘must acknowledge that the power of the gentry is the chief fear and danger of the good subject there; and even this is the sum of all their heinous complaints against the president and council, that for incontinency, striking, and every disorder, they are forthwith molested with process and fines.’ Further, if the jurisdiction were taken away, those who sought for justice would be put to the expense of seeking it at Westminster. In order that justice might be done, the king's authority must be maintained. Bacon evidently thought that it was not to be had from the rule of an assembly in which the country gentlemen were predominant. So opposed was this view to the course which national progress took, that it is difficult for us now to put ourselves in Bacon's position or to realise the earnestness with which he threw himself into the cause of the supremacy of the monarchy as a means of carrying out what would now be considered as radical reforms in spite of a conservative and interested opposition.
Bacon's position was, in fact, not unlike that of Burke in the eighteenth century. Both these great men were anxious to effect important improvements, and both of them, in accordance with that law of our nature by which desire for change in one direction is always accompanied by a strong dislike of change in another, were as conservative in their respect for the existing constitution as they were eager to cut themselves loose from the old moorings in political action. What the Rockingham whigs were to Burke, King James was to Bacon, the depositary of existing constitutional authority, with the help of which the ignorant masses¾to Bacon the masses represented in the House of Commons, to Burke the masses unrepresented in it¾might safely be controlled.
It was only in the nature of things that Bacon should think more of James, as Burke thought more of Rockingham, than he was really worth; and Bacon unfortunately had none of that moral dignity which Burke possessed. He calculated on winning ground by appealing to the lower side of men's natures as well as to the higher. He had had a bad training in the court of Elizabeth, and there was nothing in his nature to make that training innocuous.
To give us an insight into Bacon's mind, we have a collection of private memoranda known as the ‘Commentarius Solutus,’ set down in the end of July and the beginning of August 1608. It is full of hints as to the advancement of his great schemes in science and politics as well as to the advancement of his own fortunes. Great ideas jostle with small ones, and the thought of a restoration of philosophy or of laying the foundations of a showy and attractive foreign policy is found side by side with a plan for flattering the lord chamberlain who might be helpful, or exposing the demerits of an attorney-general who is a rival. Altogether Bacon's character is nowhere else depicted so completely as a whole as in these loose jottings.
To the same year are to be assigned the treatise ‘In felicem memoriam Elizabethæ,’ which, as composed in honour of a sovereign who had no longer anything to give, is valuable as another key to Bacon's real thoughts, and a ‘Discourse on the Plantation of Ireland,’ presented to the king as a new-year's gift at the opening of 1609. As, however, the question of the treatment of the native population, which is now known to have been the most important part of the business, is not even alluded to, it is enough to speak of the paper as containing excellent advice, on the hypothesis that such a settlement as that which was proposed was a good thing in itself.
Bacon's correspondence during 1609 is the best evidence that he was not making way with James as a political adviser. Salisbury, in fact, blocked his path, having become lord treasurer in 1608, and being now at the height of his credit as a financial reformer, with hopes of so far increasing the revenue and diminishing the expenditure of the crown as to restore the financial balance. Letters to Toby Matthew, on the other hand, show Bacon pushing forward the ‘Instauratio Magna’ which was to reform philosophy, and one of them of 10 Oct. was accompanied by a fragment of the work, supposed to have been the ‘Redargutio philosophiarum.’ About the same time he sent to Andrewes his ‘Cogitata et Visa,’ and on 17 Feb. 1610 forwarded to Toby Matthew his ‘De Sapientia veterum.’
By this time parliament was already in session, having met on 9 Feb. With his longing for harmony between the public powers, Bacon must have felt this session to be unusually trying. Salisbury, having failed to bring about a balance between revenue and expenditure, attempted to strike a bargain with the commons which came to be known as the Great Contract. It was precisely the method which Bacon thoroughly distrusted. He thought that failure in making a bargain would only leave both sides more irritated with one another than before, and he knew that Salisbury had already caused considerable irritation by laying on the new impositions, the levy of which was justified as legal by the judgment of the court of Exchequer in Bate's case, but which alarmed the House of Commons as endangering the principle of the parliamentary basis of taxation. On the legal question involved, Bacon argued in defence of the king's claim; but his argument was no measure of his political judgment, and he was probably well satisfied at the compromise offered by James, by which the commons were to grant about two-thirds of the impositions levied, whilst James was to bind himself never to levy more without their consent. In the same way Bacon would, no doubt, have been pleased if the Great Contract could have been carried into effect, by which James was to abandon his income from feudal tenures and other obnoxious sources, while he was to receive in exchange 200,000l. a year, a sum which, though it would not make him altogether independent of future subsidies, would, with the exercise of due economy, raise him above that constant necessity of courting the commons for subsistence' sake which Bacon deprecated. Bacon, however, can hardly have felt much surprise when both bargains were wrecked in the following session, and when, on 29 Feb. 1611, James dissolved his first parliament in anger.
During the next fifteen months there is little of political importance from Bacon's pen. The only exception is his ‘Advice touching Sutton's Estate.’ He must have felt that as long as Salisbury lived there was no chance of gaining the king's ear for his greater projects, though he succeeded in obtaining from him a promise of the attorney-generalship whenever it fell vacant. In writing to Salisbury he continued to use the language of high-flown compliment; but the thorough hatred with which he regarded the lord treasurer, whose policy he despised, and to whose personal intervention he ascribed his own long exclusion from political influence, burst out after Salisbury's death on 24 May 1612 in the essay ‘On Deformity,’ which he now added to a new edition of his essays.
A week after Salisbury's death Bacon offered his political services to the king. ‘The great matter and most instant for the present,’ he wrote, ‘is the consideration of a parliament for two effects: the one for the supply of your estate, the other for the better knitting of the hearts of your subjects unto your majesty, according to your infinite merit, for both which parliaments have been and are the ancient and honourable remedy. Now, because I take myself to have a little skill in that region, as one that ever affected that your majesty mought in all your causes not only prevail, but prevail with the satisfaction of the inner man; and though no man can say but I was a perfect and peremptory royalist, yet every man makes me believe that I was never one hour out of credit with the lower house, my desire is to know whether your majesty will give me leave to meditate and propound unto you some preparative remembrances touching the future parliament.’ This letter was followed by another, in which Bacon directly offered to abandon the law for the council table. It was perhaps in pursuance of this idea that Bacon asked for the mastership of the wards vacant by Salisbury's death, and drew up a declaration to be made by the new master on his entry upon office. He was, however, disappointed, as the place was given to Sir George Carew, and on Carew's dying shortly afterwards it was given, not to Bacon, but to Sir Walter Cope. It is said that on this latter occasion he was so certain of success that he ‘put most of his men into new cloaks.’ Some jester observed ‘that Sir Walter was master of the wards, and Sir Francis Bacon of the liveries.’
During the year and a half which followed Salisbury's death Bacon found employment as solicitor-general in a charge against the Countess of Shrewsbury for assisting the flight of Arabella Stuart, and in another charge against Whitelocke for what was considered to be an attack on the king's prerogative. Of far greater importance is the use which he made of James's permission to write to him on affairs of state, which might possibly pave the way to the higher political employment for which he had asked.
Of summoning parliament there was no immediate thought. It was still believed possible that a body of sub-commissioners, of whom Bacon was one, might succeed where Salisbury had failed, in procuring an adequate revenue for the crown without recurring to parliament. On 18 Sept. 1612 Bacon wrote to the king to have patience, begging him not again to have his wants and necessities in particular, as it were, hung up in two tablets before the eyes of his ‘lords and commons to be talked of for four months together.’ Some months later, when the scheme of supplying the king without a parliament had broken down, these words were expanded by their writer into a series of remarkable state papers, in which he indicated the relations which ought to subsist between king and parliament.
In these papers there is indeed much which it is impossible to regard with complete satisfaction. There is in them too much respect for mere management, and too strong an inclination to regard the opposition to the king as in the main personal. Yet, on the whole, the ground which they take is unassailable. There is to be no more bargaining between king and subjects. The king is to show his determination to lead in the right direction, and to be content to wait till his subjects are prepared to follow. He is not to press for supply, but to wait till the commons are sufficiently impressed with his devotion to the nation to offer him all that he needs. ‘In bargains,’ wrote Bacon in some notes which he drew up for the king's speech to the new parliament, ‘the manner is for either part chiefly to take care of the other. “Charitas non quærit quæ sua sunt.” The king to take care of his subjects, and the subjects to take care of their king.’ The easiest way to understand Bacon's political position is to read these papers in connection with the paper on the jurisdiction of the council of Wales, in which he advocates the maintenance of prerogative government in the interests of the humbler classes, and with the papers on the church, in which he advocates a relaxation of the restrictions on nonconformity.
To carry out this programme would have been to avert the evils of the next half-century. No one to whose mind the history of that half-century is present can agree with those numerous writers who speak of Bacon's political work as inferior to his scientific. He was the one man capable of preventing a catastrophe by anticipating the demands of the age. Humanity would have been at least as much benefited if the civil war, with its attendant evils, could have been made impossible, as it was by the completion of the ‘Novum Organum.’ Unhappily for Bacon he could publish as much of the ‘Novum Organum’ as he could find time to write; but he could not procure acceptance for his political ideas. Salisbury and Coke turned a deaf ear to all of them; the House of Commons would take part of them, and James another part, whereas it was only in their entirety that they could exercise a healing influence.
In the advice given to James in 1613 it becomes manifest that Bacon could not venture to lay his whole thoughts before the king. There is a reticence in it on the higher matters of statesmanship, which does not suit the trusted adviser. Even the argument cut short was too large for James. He opened the parliament of 1614 with a renewed attempt to bargain with the commons, and without any serious attempt to come to a friendly understanding with them on the subject of the impositions. The result was that after a stormy session parliament was dissolved, and James once more thrown on his own resources.
Bacon's personal position in the second parliament of James was as high as it had been in the first. On 27 Oct. 1613 he had become attorney-general, and the commons on meeting declared that no attorney-general in future should sit in the house; but they made a special exception in Bacon's favour. He was in 1614 elected for Ipswich, St. Albans, and Cambridge University, and sat for the last constituency. He had reason to think that if a reconciliation could be effected between the king and the house he was himself specially qualified by his relations with both parties for bringing it about.
Perhaps if any date can be fixed as that on which Bacon's chance of serving the nation politically was at an end, it is that of the dissolution which took place on 7 June 1614; James then deliberately took one way, and the nation took another. Yet it does not follow that Bacon was likely to see that this was the case. Of James's secret understanding with the Spanish ambassador, which preceded the dissolution, he was entirely ignorant, and he may have argued that as it was by disregarding his advice that James had failed, it was possible that he would be better listened to on a subsequent occasion. Add to this his inborn habit of placing himself on the side of authority, and the difficulty which any man would feel in throwing up a course of life on which he has embarked, and it becomes unnecessary to throw undue stress upon that which, after all, must not be left out of calculation¾his disinclination, after tasting the allurements of competency and station, to choose, in advanced middle age, obscure poverty as his bride. Yet, however we may explain Bacon's choice, his future life was sad enough, and that none the less because he was not himself conscious of wrong. The support of power for the sake of doing good became a support of power from which no good was to be hoped. The lower part of Bacon's nature was perhaps not more active than it had been before; but the higher part had no prospect of being called into action. The subservience to authority and the flattery of the great were there as they had been before; but not only was there nothing to show in return, but the impartial spectator has to acknowledge that it ought to have been evident to Bacon himself that there never would be any prospect of his being able to accomplish any statesmanlike work.
That Bacon did not see this may have been to some extent owing to his view of the political circumstances of the time. Even before Salisbury's death James had taken a liking to a young Scotchman, Robert Carr, and had successively created him Viscount Rochester and Earl of Somerset. The young man had attached himself to Lady Essex, procured her divorce from her husband under circumstances which appear to us to be peculiarly disgraceful, though it is only fair to remember that the divorce was approved at the time by Andrewes, and had married her with every demonstration of James's satisfaction. As the new countess of Somerset was a Howard, James's favourite and James through him were brought into close connection with the family of the Howards, and more especially with its leading member, the Earl of Northampton. Northampton was a concealed catholic, and an advocate of a Spanish alliance. He had done all he could to frustrate the meeting of the parliament of 1614, and was suspected of having a hand in the disputes which brought about a dissolution. His death, however, which took place on 15 June 1614, removed from the scene a powerful influence hostile to Bacon's ideas; and Bacon, who had followed the fashion by presenting a gorgeous masque on the occasion of Somerset's marriage, but who had never shown any inclination to support the policy of Somerset and the Howards, may have thought once more after Northampton's death that his chance of gaining the king's ear was more favourable than it had been before.
Nor was this all. A quarrel was impending between James and Coke, on which all Bacon's sympathies were on the side of James. As Bacon had pleaded for a larger statesmanship than Salisbury's, he now pleaded for statesmanship itself as against the technical legality of Coke. His fundamental strength lay in recognition of the truth that political wisdom is greater than legality. His fundamental weakness lay in his failure to discover that political wisdom was not to be expected from James, and that consequently it would be necessary to reconstruct the whole framework of the state.
The claim of the judges to be the supreme mediators in political disputes had ripened partly through the weakness of the king, and partly through the wide learning and masterful temper of Coke, who had reduced the other judges to be scarcely more than satellites of himself. In 1613 the struggle between Bacon and Coke was opened by the removal of the latter, at Bacon's advice, from the chief justiceship of the common pleas to that of the king's bench, where it was thought that he would be less able to do mischief.
On the question of the issue of a demand for a benevolence, Bacon and Coke did not come into collision. Bacon strongly advised that it should be as voluntary in reality as it was in name, but as he was not a privy councillor he had nothing to do with any pressure that was put on those who were backward. In the prosecution of St. John in 1615 for the abusive terms in which he had urged resistance to the benevolence, the language used by Bacon may have been justly aimed at so intemperate an opponent of the government as St. John was, but it shows an entire incapacity to understand the grounds on which honourable men were at this time tending to resist the court.
The actual collision between Bacon and Coke was brought about by the proceedings taken against Edmond Peacham, a clergyman of Somerset, amongst whose papers had been found a paper reprobating the king's proceedings, and apparently intended to be read from the pulpit in the form of a sermon. The council, knowing that grave dissatisfaction existed, suspected that Peacham was only the mouthpiece of others, and ordered him to be tortured, in the hope of obtaining disclosures from him. Of his torture Bacon was an official witness, but he had nothing to do with the order for it, though there is no reason to suppose that he would have objected. As, however, the torture produced no hint of a conspiracy, the government resolved to proceed against Peacham himself on a charge of treason. It had, in fact, resolved, even before the torture, to consult the judges of the king's bench as to whether Peacham's offence was treasonable or not.
To consult the judges was at that time the usual practice. In this case, however, there was a special difficulty. Coke's masterful temper, combined with his legal attainments, was apt to reduce the other judges to dependence on himself, and James therefore ordered that the four judges should be consulted individually. To this unusual proceeding Coke not unnaturally objected. ‘Such particular and auricular taking of opinions,’ he said, ‘is not according to the custom of the realm.’ The three puisne judges gave a compliant answer. Bacon, as attorney-general, was intrusted with the examination of Coke, and, as might have been expected, did not receive a reply which was satisfactory to himself. Whatever might be the true decision according to the legal doctrines then prevalent, it is evident that Coke and Bacon approached the constitutional question from opposite points of view. Coke wished the bench to be so organised as to be appealed to as an independent authority between the crown and the subject. Bacon, with a wider political instinct, wished to confine it to purely legal questions, leaving political matters to political men. He forgot to ask whether James, standing as he did apart from the nation, could justly claim the respect due to the supremacy of a political government. What was still worse is that he advised that a false rumour should be given out as to the opinion of the judges, lest others should be encouraged to publish attacks on the crown.
This reliance on management at the expense of truthfulness was Bacon's worst fault. It cannot, however, be said of him that if he defended James overmuch, he did not try his best to make James's policy other than it was. In a paper written at the end of September or the beginning of October 1615, at the time when the council recommended the calling of another parliament, Bacon gave his opinion strongly, not only in the same direction, but in favour of the course, which he had always advised, of abandoning all attempts at bargaining. ‘Let there be an utter silence,’ he wrote, ‘as of the king's part, of money or supply, or of the king's debts or wants; they are things too well known. And let not the king doubt but some honest man will, after they have sat awhile, fall upon them, though it proceed not from the king. Nay, I will presume further to say (as putting a case speculative, which in act and event I hold an impossibility), if subsidies should never be given nor spoken of in the next parliament, yet the meeting and parting of the king and his parliament with due conservation of the majesty and authority of the king, which heretofore hath suffered, and will suffer as long as money is made the mere object of the parliament, and without heats or contestations, or oppositions between him and his parliament, I hold to be a thing of invaluable consequence, both in reputation and towards the substance of future affairs.’ If Bacon wished to see the king formally absolute, he wished him to be surrounded by the impalpable atmosphere of a sympathetic union with his people.
It was not entirely to James's discredit that he could not realise Bacon's ideal. One of the modes of winning favour recommended by Bacon in this paper is that of taking advantage of the good understanding between France and Spain, to ‘give fire to our nation, and make them aspire to be again umpires in those wars; or, at least, to retrench and amuse the greatness of Spain for their own preservation.’ Bacon could give this advice honestly because he had always advocated a stirring foreign policy, pushed even to warlike action, as a means of bringing king and people together. With all his powers he was an English politician; James, on the other hand, with all his faults, was an international politician. To make war to advance his own greatness or the greatness of England was hateful to him. Unfortunately he was already deep in a negotiation for a marriage between his son and a Spanish infanta. Bacon's allusion to this is characteristic of the tenderness with which he handles the king's actions, and of the way in which he manages to spoil even the best advice by overmuch cleverness. James, he says, might frighten the commons into a grant of supply upon the opinion of some great offer for a marriage of the prince with Spain. ‘Not,’ he proceeds, ‘that I shall easily advise that that should be really effected; but I say the opinion of it may have singular use, both because it will easily be believed that the offer may be so great from that hand as may at once free the king's estate; and chiefly because it will be a noteable attractive to the parliament, that hates the Spaniard, so to do for the king as his state may not force him to fall upon that condition.’ How much higher would Bacon have stood with posterity if he had boldly spoken out the opinion which he indicated, instead of advocating such a poor trick as this!
No parliament was summoned at this time. The court was for some months fully occupied in the questions arising out of the detection of the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. When on 25 May 1616 Somerset was tried, Bacon appeared as chief prosecutor, doing his part with decorum, being anxious to secure a conviction, though he was aware that James intended to pardon both the earl and the countess.
Some time before Somerset's disgrace Bacon had welcomed the rise of Villiers. If there was to be a favourite at all, the change may well have seemed to be a good one, for Villiers was supported by the men of the anti-Spanish party. Villiers, too, was affable whilst Somerset had been morose, and Bacon once more hopefully believed that he had discovered that for which he had so long been seeking in vain, an influential personage who would support him in his great undertakings. Once more that yearning for political and scientific achievement which in Bacon was so inseparably mingled with desire for the good things of life, blinded his eyes to the instability of the foundations on which he was building, and he threw himself with unabated ardour into the service of Villiers, advised him as to his conduct, and assisted him in the management of his estate. His own hope of advancement was now greater than it had ever been before. When, in January 1616, lord chancellor Ellesmere was apparently dying, Bacon proposed himself as his successor. James gave him the promise for which he asked. Ellesmere, however, recovered, and Bacon had to wait about a year longer. His language to Villiers was, as it remained to the end, that of devotion too warm to be altogether real. ‘I am yours,’ he wrote, ‘surer to you than my own life. For, as they speak of the turquois stone in a ring, I will break into twenty pieces before you have the least fall.’
In asking to succeed Ellesmere as chancellor, Bacon was not asking merely for his own personal advancement. It was the system of Ellesmere that he wished to continue. ‘Let me tell your majesty,’ he explained himself to James, ‘that that part of the chancellor's place which is to judge in equity between party and party ¼ concerneth your majesty least. ¼ But it is the other parts, of a moderator amongst your council, of an overseer over your judges, of a planter of fit justices and governors in the country, that importeth your affairs and these times most.’
The part of an overseer over the judges was that which had the greatest immediate interest for Bacon. The struggle with Coke, of which the separate consultation with the judges on Peacham's case had been the preliminary skirmish, was by this time at its height. An action had been brought in the King's Bench in which the king's right of appointing to office was involved, and in 1615 Bacon, as attorney-general, produced a writ, ‘De non procedendo Rege inconsulto,’ prohibiting the court from proceeding till the question had been referred to chancery, and its permission obtained for the parties to proceed at common law. Bacon's object was to secure for the king the support of the chancellor who, as a great political officer, was likely to decide in his favour. On 25 Jan. 1616 he pleaded on the king's behalf in what Coke himself acknowledged to be ‘a famous argument.’ The dispute ended in a compromise, and Bacon failed to obtain from the judges any recognition of the position which he had claimed for chancery.
Before long Coke's arrogant temper gave Bacon the advantage. Coke was indignant at the attempt to place his own court under the orders of chancery, and he replied to it by an attempt to place chancery under the orders of his own court. He instigated two rascals, who had obtained judgments in their favour in a common law court, and whose victims had subsequently obtained the protection of chancery, to prefer indictments of præmunire in the King's Bench, not only against the suitors, but against all who had taken part in the proceedings in chancery.
On the immediate point at issue Coke was baffled by the refusal of the grand jury to bring in a true bill. Bacon, however, recommended James to settle the question whether the King's Bench had a right to interfere with the equitable jurisdiction of chancery, and the law officers being consulted gave it as their opinion that it had not.
Before anything could be done to give effect to this opinion, a new dispute arose. In a case before the twelve judges in the exchequer chamber, relating to a commendam, one of the counsel argued against the king's real or supposed prerogative, after which, by James's orders, Bacon wrote to Coke on 25 April requiring him to inform the other judges that they were not to proceed till the king had spoken to them. The judges, however, went on with the case, and on the 27th they signed a letter drawn up by Coke, in which they gave reasons for refusing obedience. On 6 June they were all summoned before the king, when Coke was alone in protesting that to put off the argument would have been a delay of justice. After some further dispute the judges were asked ‘whether, if, at any time, in a case depending before the judges, his majesty conceived it to concern him either in power or profit, and therefore required to consult with them, and that they should stay proceedings in the meantime, they ought not to stay accordingly.’ Eleven of the judges answered in the affirmative; Coke alone held out. On 20 June the king came into the Star Chamber and laid down the principle that it was the office of the crown to settle all questions of jurisdiction between courts. On the 26th Coke was summoned before the council, on the 30th he was suspended from his office, and on 15 Nov. he was dismissed. Bacon's rise kept pace with Coke's decline. On 9 June he had become a privy councillor, on 7 March 1617 he succeeded Ellesmere with the title of lord keeper.
Bacon's mounting fortunes were thus raised by his successful struggle with Coke. As in all great political questions, the point at issue was by no means so simple as it looked. To Bacon the question was one of the relation between law and politics. The judges, as he expressed himself in one of his essays, should be ‘lions, but yet lions under the throne, being circumspect that they do not check or oppose any points of sovereignty.’ Coke's attempt to erect the bench into the position of an arbiter of the constitution was rightly distasteful to him, and so far as Bacon succeeded in thwarting this his success was well deserved. It was the last real success that he was ever to have. The greater the political power acquired by the king, the sooner would the question be asked whether he deserved to exercise it. Bacon's constitutional view presupposed a king standing above all parties and all interests, and thoroughly sensitive to the deeper currents of public opinion. His character rendered him over-trustful of persons in authority, and he was now to pay the penalty. James took so much of his policy as made for the enhancement of the royal dignity, and rejected all that made for the subordination of his own ideas to those of the nation. Thus it came about that the appointment of Bacon as lord keeper was but the signal of his disastrous failure in all the higher purposes of his political life, a fact which has been too easily forgotten in the more dramatic spectacle of his fall from the appearance of political power.
The unity of Bacon's thought in science and politics may be gathered from his incomplete work entitled ‘The New Atlantis,’ which has hitherto been ascribed to a later period in his life, but which is twice mentioned by him in an unpublished paper (Harleian Charters, iii. D. 14), the date of which lies between the dissolution of the parliament in 1614 and Bacon's appointment as lord keeper in 1617. In the ‘New Atlantis’ there are two conspicuous points. On the one hand is the desire to benefit mankind by a science founded on observation and experiment; on the other hand is the tendency to under-estimate the difficulty of the task, which leads to the belief that it can be entrusted to an official body organised for the purpose. If Bacon had been allowed to carry out his scheme, it would probably have been found that officialism would have smothered scientific inquiry. At all events, he reached a somewhat similar result in politics. He had improved the official organisation of the state only to find it useless for all good purposes in his hands.
Even before his elevation Bacon learned how little his advice was likely to be followed on the great question of the day. On 2 March 1617 James announced to a body of commissioners, of whom Bacon was one, that he had practically accepted the terms offered by Spain for a marriage between Prince Charles and the Infanta Maria. To this declaration the commissioners replied on the 7th, giving a somewhat hesitating assent, and on the 23rd Bacon proposed certain additional instructions for Sir John Digby, who was going as ambassador to Spain, suggesting that the alliance between Spain and England might be used to establish a court of arbitration between christian princes, and to head a general defensive war against the Turks. Among all Bacon's state papers there is none more characteristic of his habit of making the best of a disagreeable situation. Regarding, as he did, the Spanish alliance as not only bad in itself, but as fatal to the good understanding which he wished to see established between king and parliament, he was yet able to sit down coolly to ask whether any advantage could be reaped even from what appeared to him to be a policy fraught with disaster.
It is only the extraordinarily unemotional character of Bacon's mind which made it possible for him to act as he did during the next four years. He had not long been lord keeper before he learned how far Buckingham¾for by that name Villiers was now known¾fell short of the ideal of a favourite. While the court was absent in Scotland a marriage was agreed on between Buckingham's brother, Sir John Villiers, and Frances Coke, the daughter of the late chief justice. Bacon saw in the project, what it no doubt really was, an attempt once more to ingratiate Coke with the king. He accordingly took part with the young lady's mother, who opposed the match, and wrote to James to protest against it. He found that Buckingham was warmly interested in the project, and was not only angry himself, but made James angry with the lord keeper's interference. Buckingham talked of Bacon as showing the same ingratitude to himself which he had formerly shown to Essex and Somerset. It was only by the most profuse apologies that Bacon made good his imperilled position. The political danger which he feared was indeed averted, and Coke was no nearer to restoration to the bench than he was before, but Bacon learned a lesson regarding the manner in which Buckingham was to be approached. That Buckingham demanded obsequiousness and flattery was as much a fact as that James wished to ally himself with Spain, and Bacon was as ready to take account of one of these facts as he was of the other.
For the time he had his reward. On 7 Jan. 1618 he became lord chancellor, and on 12 July he was raised to the peerage as Baron Verulam. During the whole of Elizabeth's reign no one had borne the title of lord chancellor, and no lord keeper had been made a peer.
Bacon was obliged mainly to content himself with judicial work. On 8 June 1617, three months after he had taken his seat in chancery, he had cleared off all the arrears of business in that court. As far as we know, his justice was, on the whole, as exemplary as his energy. Not only were no complaints heard at the time, which may easily be accounted for, but in later years, when every man's mouth was opened against him, no successful attempt was made to reverse his decisions. Yet even in his court he was made to feel the weight of the favourite's patronage, and was exposed to a constant flow of letters from Buckingham asking him to show favour to this person or to that, of course under the reservation that he would do so only so far as was consonant with justice. One of the cases in which Buckingham's favour was invoked has recently been subjected to a searching criticism by Mr. D. D. Heath (Spedding, vii. app. i.). A certain Dr. Steward appealed to Buckingham against a decision pronounced by Bacon in favour of Steward's nephew, and Bacon, instead of openly maintaining the justice of his own decision or openly acknowledging his mistake, allowed the affair to be settled by arbitration. As there is no record of the decision of the arbitrators, it has been presumed that the young man abandoned his case, as knowing that the decision was likely to go against him on other grounds than those which would have availed him before a just and competent tribunal. If this is a correct representation of the matter¾and it seems probable, though far from absolutely certain, that it was so¾Bacon's conduct was distinctly blameworthy, though the appointment of arbitrators may have veiled for him the real nature of the offence, which consisted in transferring to others the responsibility which should have been borne by himself alone.
Of judicial matters outside the court of Chancery the most notable with which Bacon was concerned were the prosecution of Raleigh [see Raleigh, Sir Walter] in 1618, of Suffolk in 1619, and of Yelverton [see Yelverton, Sir Henry] in 1620. In the first two of these cases Bacon's feelings, as well as his official duty, were enlisted on the side of the court. Raleigh was to him an unscrupulous pirate, and Suffolk [see Howard, Thomas] an unscrupulous peculator. Yelverton's case was somewhat different. He had, through inadvertence, given his assent to a charter for the city of London which contained larger powers than he was warranted to allow. Bacon urged strongly that carelessness was an offence of presumption, and contributed to the passing of a heavy sentence.
Looked at from the point of view of a guardian of official duty, the sentence on Yelverton might easily be justified. What did not appear in court was that Buckingham was hostile to Yelverton. That hostility arose out of a series of transactions in which Bacon also was involved. Though Elizabeth at the end of her reign, and James at the beginning of his, abolished the greater number of the existing monopolies, the future issue of similar grants was not regulated by statute law. By degrees many new patents were issued, conveying to certain persons the sole right of manufacturing various articles, sometimes in cases where the patentees were the actual inventors of some new process of manufacture, but frequently where public policy, as then understood, demanded that the manufacture should be placed in the hands of persons who might be accountable for the production of the various articles in accordance with the ideas of the government. In this way a patent was issued for the manufacture of glass, because the patentees offered to use coal instead of wood, so as to spare the timber of the realm; whilst another patent protected the manufacture of gold and silver lace, because the patentees offered to use bullion imported from abroad instead of bullion within the realm, which, according to the economical ideas of the day, constituted the wealth of the country. Besides these patents of monopoly there were also commissions issued for the regulating of inns and alehouses. There is every reason to suppose that Bacon was in favour of these patents, and there was nothing in them which might not have been expected to commend itself to the ideas of the age.
Various circumstances, however, concurred to render these patents unpopular. In the first place the government was itself unpopular at the time, and when it was known that some payments out of the proceeds were reserved for Buckingham's kinsmen and followers it was suspected that the whole affair had been arranged for the purpose of bringing money to Buckingham. In the second place, some of the grants had been supported against competitors in violation of the law, and there was a growing feeling that the prerogative of the sovereign had lately been made to override the law more than had been the case before. Bacon, therefore, when the summoning of a new parliament was announced, knowing as he did what was the state of public opinion on the subject, recommended the withdrawal of the most obnoxious patents. In his most characteristic style he announced to Buckingham what he had done. ‘The king,’ he wrote, ‘did wisely put it upon a consult, whether the patents which we mentioned in our joint letter were at this time to be removed by act of council before parliament. I opined (but yet somewhat like Ovid's mistress, that strove, but yet as one that would be overcomen) that yes.’ Bacon's habit of suiting at least the mode in which he expressed his thoughts to the pleasure of those in power, never found a stronger expression.
The summoning of parliament itself was all that Bacon wished. The king was at last appealing to the nation for assistance in the defence of the Palatinate; and whether that policy were right or wrong, there can be no doubt that Bacon believed it to be thoroughly right, not only in itself, but as bringing forward a question on which the king could sympathise with his people. Once more, however, Bacon was disappointed. James hesitated, asked for money to prepare for war, and announced his intention of making a fresh diplomatic effort, which would enable him to avoid war. The commons were puzzled, offered him two subsidies in token of their goodwill, and waited to see in what his diplomacy might end.
It looked very much as if the slight gleam of hope which had shone upon that foreign policy which, in Bacon's mind, was so closely connected with his home policy, would die away. Of his personal position he never felt more assured than when parliament was opened. On 12 Oct. 1620 he published the ‘Novum Organum.’ On 22 Jan. 1621 he had kept his sixtieth birthday at York House, and received the homage of Ben Jonson as one
Whose even thread the fates spin round and full
Out of their choicest and their whitest wool.
On 27 Jan. he was raised a step in the peerage, and became Viscount St. Albans. Nor had he reason to suspect that the new House of Commons, which met on 30 Jan., would be otherwise than friendly to him. He had long advocated the policy of which the commons approved; and he had always given his voice in favour of a good understanding between them and the king. Yet, for all that, a storm was gathering against him.
Naturally Bacon had made enemies. Coke, who was a member of this parliament, and was soon to appear as a very influential one, both hated and despised him. Cranfield, the master of the wards, who was also a member, must have discovered that Bacon looked down on him as a mere accountant, and consequently was as bitterly disposed towards him as Coke had always been. Taken alone the opposition of the practical commonplace official might not have led to much, but it had at its back a sentiment which was all the more dangerous, because it did not imply any personal dislike of Bacon himself amongst the members of the house. That sentiment was one of dissatisfaction with the government of which Bacon had made himself the instrument, not sufficiently pronounced to make the house wish to place itself in direct opposition to the king, but sufficiently strong to make it ill-disposed to one who, like Bacon, had allowed his devotion to monarchical principles to be publicly known, whilst he had thrown a veil of secrecy over his disapproval of the policy of the actual monarch.
To this sentiment the strong feeling against the monopolies was certain to minister. The natural desire of finding some one to punish when things had gone wrong led men to search for victims. Mompesson and Michell were not of sufficient importance to satisfy this desire. Buckingham could not be touched without touching the king, and, besides, he expressed an ardent wish to join the commons in hunting down abuses. There remained the referees, who had certified that the monopolies were either good in law or beneficial in practice, and of these referees Bacon was the most conspicuous. For a time there was a call, strongly supported by Coke and Cranfield, for bringing the referees to account; but James stood firm, and the question of ministerial responsibility was shelved for the time.
If Bacon's conduct as a referee escaped inquiry, he was more exposed to attack than before. Those who wished to bring charges of any kind against him would know that they would have a favourable audience in the House of Commons, and probably also in the House of Lords. On 14 March Cranfield, who had led the attack upon the referees, complained of the court of chancery for the protection which it offered to insolvents, and Coke followed in the same strain. Before anything could be done to put the charge into shape, a certain Christopher Aubrey presented a petition to the commons in which the chancellor was directly charged with bribery. He was followed by Edward Egerton, who made much the same complaint. The peculiarity of these cases was that Bacon had decided against the persons who had given him money.
On 17 March the commons resolved to send the complaints before the lords for inquiry, without committing themselves on one side or the other. Bacon's own feeling during these days was one of assurance that the charges against him had been concocted by those who had failed to punish him as a referee. ‘Your lordship,’ he wrote to Buckingham, ‘spoke of purgatory; I am now in it, but my mind is calm, for my fortune is not my felicity. I know I have clean hands and a clean heart, and I hope a clean house for friends or servants; but Job himself, or whoever was the justest judge, by such hunting for matters against him as hath been used against me, may for a time seem foul, especially in a time when greatness is the mark and accusation is the game. And if this be to be a chancellor, I think if the great seal lay upon Hounslow Heath nobody would take it up.’
Under the trial his health broke down. On the 18th he was unable to leave his house, and on the following day begged for time to reply to the accusations against him. Fresh charges were soon brought, amongst them that of Lady Wharton, who had given money directly into Bacon's hands and had received a crushing sentence almost immediately afterwards. That Bacon had taken the money as a bribe is most improbable, but he had certainly sinned against the rule which he laid down for himself, that though, according to the custom of the day, presents might be taken from suitors, they should never be accepted while the suit was pending. The best explanation of his conduct is that, according to his usual habit of caring to do the right thing without regarding how it was done, he had satisfied himself with judging justly, and had been almost incredibly careless of the appearance of his conduct in the eyes of others. On 16 April Bacon, who was sufficiently recovered to leave his house, had an interview with the king. The memoranda of what he intended to say to James have been preserved. ‘There be three causes of bribery, he wrote, ‘charged or supposed in a judge: the first, of bargain or contract for reward to pervert justice; the second, where the judge conceives the cause to be at an end by the information of the party or otherwise, and useth not such diligence as he ought to inquire of it; and the third, when the cause is really ended, and it is sine fraude, without relation to any precedent promise.’
When he wrote these words he had not yet seen the charges against him in detail. He acknowledged that he might have done things falling under the second head. What he asked for was a fair trial. On the 20th he knew enough of the particulars of the charges to be aware that the case against him would be difficult to answer. Within a few hours a copy of the examinations taken in the House of Lords reached him, and he then knew that defence was impossible. Though he might be certain that he had never taken a bribe from corrupt motives, he knew that he had done the very things which corrupt men do. He had taken money whilst cases were pending. On the 27th he made his formal submission to the lords, hoping that they would be content with depriving him of office. The lords, however, pressed for an answer to the charges. Bacon was again ill, and the answer brought by the lords' messengers was that he would make no defence, but wished to explain some points. On the 30th the explanation was given. ‘I do again confess,’ Bacon wrote at the end of his statement, ‘that in the points charged upon me, although they should be taken as myself have declared them, there is a great deal of corruption and neglect, for which I am heartily and penitently sorry.’ On 1 May the great seal was taken from him. As he was still too ill to attend in person, the sentence was passed on 3 May in his absence. He was to be fined 40,000l., imprisoned during the king's pleasure, and disabled from sitting in parliament and from coming within the verge of the court.
Bacon only remained for a few days in the Tower. On 20 Sept. the king signed a warrant assigning his fine to trustees for his own use, and directing a pardon to be drawn which would protect him from all demands other than those arising out of his parliamentary sentence.
Bacon had more difficulty in procuring a relaxation of that part of the sentence which prohibited him from coming within twelve miles of the court. Buckingham wished to become the owner of York House, and it was not till, in the spring of 1622, Bacon consented to sell it to him, that the required permission was obtained.
Bacon was not a man who could allow himself to remain idle. As early as October 1621 he completed his ‘History of Henry VII,’ which was published in the following year. Then he busied himself with the completion and translation into Latin of the ‘Advancement of Learning,’ which appeared in October 1623 as ‘De Augmentis Scientiarum.’ To his former feelings towards the king was now added gratitude for having tempered the blow which had fallen on him, and his language was as flattering after his fall as it had been before. In March 1622 he offered to do what had long been on his heart, to draw up a digest of the law. If he wrote of the ‘Instauratio’ as his ‘great work,’ it does not follow that he regarded political work as much inferior in importance. His correspondence shows how eagerly he desired to be employed in political matters again, and it is one of the most curious features of that correspondence that he never seems to have understood that the sentence passed on him was an insuperable bar to employment in the service of the state.
The return of Buckingham and the prince from Spain gave Bacon an opportunity of appearing on the side which was at the same time popular and courtly, and the support of which was also in harmony with his own lifelong convictions. In a speech which he drew up for the use of some member of the House of Commons in 1624, and in the ‘Considerations touching a War with Spain,’ which he addressed to the prince, he took the course which satisfied his conscience, if it seemed also calculated to gain satisfaction for what ambition was left to him. In spite of all, however, he remained a disappointed man. Even the provostship of Eton was refused him in 1623, and in 1625 he pressed the new king in vain for the grant of the full pardon which would enable him to take his seat in parliament. Charles and Buckingham no doubt regarded him as an importunate old man, whose advice they were even less likely to regard than James had been.
Nothing remained to Bacon but to devote himself to further work upon the ‘Instauratio Magna.’ Increasing weakness of health, however, made every task difficult. At the end of March 1626, being near Highgate on a snowy day, he left his coach to collect snow with which he meant to stuff a fowl in order to observe the effect of cold on the preservation of its flesh. In so doing he caught a chill, and took refuge in Lord Arundel's house, where, on 9 April, he died of the disease which is now known as bronchitis. He was buried at St. Michael's Church, St. Albans.
‘For my name and memory,’ wrote Bacon in the will which he drew up on 19 Dec. 1625, ‘I leave it to men's charitable speeches and to foreign nations and the next ages.’ He surely never contemplated that his devotion to science would be held to be indirectly damaging to his character, and that writer after writer would regard his claim to be a prophet of scientific knowledge so supereminent as to consign to oblivion his equally great claim as a prophet of political knowledge. As his contribution to science rests on his perception of the greatness and variety of nature, so his contribution to politics rests upon his perception of the complexity of human society. In politics, as well as in science, he found himself too much in advance of the times to secure a following. Some men would have grown misanthropical, and would have abandoned the thankless task in despair. It was alike the strength and weakness of Bacon's character which prevented him from doing this. He must strive against such a disaster, must seek help wherever it could be found, must speak fair words to those who had it in their power to assist him, must be patient beyond all ordinary patience, content if he could get but a little done of the great things which he designed, sometimes content if he could have the vaguest hope of being some day able to accomplish a little. As far as science was concerned, all this brought nothing dishonourable. In politics it was otherwise. Power to do good in politics was, according to the possibility of his day, inseparably connected with high place and the good things of the world, to the advantages of which Bacon was by no means insensible. If Bacon never lost sight of the higher object in the pursuit of the lower, if James was to him the only possible reconciler of sectional ambitions, as well as the dispenser of coronets and offices, it was not to be expected that those who watched his progress should be charitable enough to acknowledge these points in his favour. Bacon was too great a man to play other than a second-rate part in the age in which he lived, and he struggled hard, to the detriment of his own character as well as of his fame, to avoid the inevitable consequence.
In all things relating to Bacon Mr. Spedding's Letters and Life is so universally acknowledged as the one authority on matters of fact, that it has been unnecessary to encumber these pages with references to a book to which every reader who wishes for further information will turn. Those who wish to find the view of Bacon's character which is here treated as insufficient, set forth with that knowledge and thoughtfulness which is singularly wanting in Macaulay's well-known essay on Bacon, may be referred to Dean Church's ‘Life of Bacon’ in the Men of Letters Series.
Contributor: S. R. G. [Samuel Rawson Gardiner], T. F. [Thomas Fowler]