« PreviousContinue »
what extent the world is indebted to the great master of the inductive philosophy for the present flourishing state of the arts and sciences, and the glorious advances that have been made in them during the present century, in their applications to the wants of humanity. But the inquiry would be as difficult as it would be interesting. No mortal mind could come to a satisfactory conclusion, by attempting to reason it out. But Conjecture might innocently employ herself in the task, and come to no very wild conclusion, should she declare, that no tongue could tell or imagination conceive the priceless benefits that have already resulted, and are still to result, from the labors of that illustrious friend of mankind.
We have already adverted to the blessings which Lord Bacon has conferred on our race. They are diversified, numerous, and invaluable. If we should attempt to calculate their numerical extent, we should find them defying a'l arithmetical analysis ; for Imagination herself might well retreat from a task that would send her abroad to interrogate the wide dominion of art, and the almost limitless world of intellectual life. But she would come back with answer of eloquent and most satisfactory fulness. What a glorious procession of mighty thoughts, of brilliant inventions, and of beautiful illustrations, would pass in review before the eager gaze of a truthloving and curious eye! Nor would such a review be superfluous or unnecessary. Men have, it is true, cherished the name of the great inductive chief with some respect. They have styled him the father of experimental science,' the Columbus of the philosophical world’ — and so far it is well. But who will assert that reverence enough has been paid, or probably ever will be paid, to so great a benefactor ?
Ingratitude is, after all, too often the infirmity of man, whether considered as an individual or as a member of society. Notwithstanding our natural susceptibility of grateful emotions, it is still true, that without a constant care and recollection on our part, this susceptibility will lose its vigor, and fail to discharge its legitimate office. It is a necessary result of our physical and mental organization, that we should cease to have a vivid sense of things when they have passed beyond our cognitive perceptions, and when other objects have begun to occupy the immediate notice of the senses. is owing to this imperfection and constituted treachery of memory, that benefits and benefactors are so soon forgotten. They give way before a jostling multitude of present objects, rushing in at the various avenues of the soul, destined in their turn to be driven forth, and to sink like lead into the ocean of forgetfulness.
All profess to admire the genius and labors of Bacon ; but how much of our homage is more than mere lip-service! It is easy to learn the language of laudation, but not so easy to use it intelligently and feelingly. We may do so, without knowing or caring to know a single characteristic that makes it just. But to feel a genuine admiration, we must have a sight of the object we must view it long and steadily; otherwise, our conceptions of its real nature will remain partial and unsatisfactory, and our pretensions to criticism, and our notes of praise, be equally contemptible.
The name and character of this illustrious man surely ought to
be dear to every lover of science, and every friend of his race. So large, various, and rich were his offerings at the shrine of knowledge; so immense his contributions to the cause of truth; so vigorous the touch by him communicated to the human mind; that his worship should be found coextensive with the limits of humanity. If then we would pay acceptable service to his memory, let us recollect that it can be done in no other way than by studying his immortal works, and gazing on the image of his character there mirrored forth. By so doing, we shall gain a correct and an exalted impression of his moral and intellectual qualities. In the solemn magnificence of his style, and manner both of expression and illustration in the majesty of his thoughts, and the elevation of his sentiments — we have a sort of loquens pictura of the man from whose capacious intellect they burst into existence. His views of things, of knowledge, and of nature, are grand and impressive. They were evidently the views of a feeling, thoughtful, and somewhat enthusiastic mind, and as far removed from the sordidness of a selfish and venial spirit, as earth from Heaven. No reader can faithfully peruse his essays, or the • Advancement of Learning,' or even almost a single fragment bearing the impress of his hand, without inhaling a particle of that divinity, goodness, solid wisdom, and deep veneration for the great interests of humanity, with which they are every where richly impregnated. But yet Lord Bacon was not faultless. He was sometimes wrong in his philosophy, and many of his opinions were evidently tinged with superstition, while others were superficial and unjust. He had, it is true, broken the chains of scholastic babble and time-honored dogmatism ; but the rust that he could not remove, and the stiffness they had necessarily imparted to his intellectual motions, even when freedom from their galling embrace was fully attained, were the impediments that retarded, though they did not prevent, his onward march — they precluded the universality, but did not check the certainty, or eclipse the glory, of his triumph. The virtues and faults of such a man cannot but be an intensely interesting subject of inquiry. He who occupies so proud a niche in the temple of fame, must of necessity acquire, even for the minuter features of his character, a closer inspection than they probably deserve. The fact, however, that they were the characteristics of one of the intellectual sovereigns of the human race, invests them with an accredited title, if commendable, to a warmer, a louder praise — if censurable, to a severer, and of course a more public, reprobation. At least, such is the practice of the world — whether just or not, is another question. It is familiar to every one, that the character of Lord Bacon, considered in this important aspect, has suffered under severe, and it cannot be said entirely unjust, imputations. Charges of extensive corruption, in the discharge of his high duties as Lord Chancellor of England, were made against him, and partially established, in consequence of which he was degraded from his high dignities, and for a while plunged in deep disgrace. Yet we cannot but think that he has been condemned in a spirit too stern, and in terms too harsh and unsympathizing. That his reputation has suffered far more than the established facts of the case warrant, is an opinion which has long been held by a few, and which, as it is said, is so well supported
by statements recently brought forward by Mr. Basil Montague, in a late work on the life of Lord Bacon, that it is likely to become universal. "It is clearly shown,' says Lord Brougham, in a note appended to his recent theologico-philosophical performance, that he was prevailed upon by the intrigues of James I., and his profligate ministry, to abandon his defence, and sacrifice himself to their base and crooked policy. One thing, however, is undeniable—that those who so loudly blame Bacon, overlook the meanness of almost all the great statesmen of those courtly times.' It is nothing but common justice, that in our estimation of his character, we should remember the 'vitia temporis,' as well as the 'vitia hominis. The former do not, it is true, excuse, but they often extenuate the latter. They increase the temptations and facilities, while they lessen the guilt, of their commission. Lord Bacon is reported by one of his earliest biographers - Dr. Rawley, his chaplain - to have said that he was frail, and did partake of the abuses of the times;' upon which this writer proceeds to remark as follows: 'And surely of its severities also. The great cause of his suffering is to some a secret. I leave them to find out by his words to King James : I wish as I am the first so I may be the last sacrifice in your times, and when your private appetite is resolved that a creature shall be sacrificed, it is easy to pick up sticks enough from any thicket, whither it had strayed, to make a fire to offer it with. Ii is not our purpose, at present, to pursue this question in extenso. Many additional facts might be stated, and much more be said, but this is not the place. We may observe, however, that the well-known lines of Pope have probably done more than any thing else toward circulating and perpetuating exaggerated impressions of the moral delinquency of this foremost of wisdom's children.
'If parts allure thee, think how Bacon shined,
The wisest, brightest, neanest of mankind.' This is giving him a bad preeminence' with a vengeance. Surely if poetry may be a splendid vehicle of truth, it may also be made a base instrument of slander and falsehood. For it is not true that Bacon was
the meanest of mankind.' Why was he the meanest ? Was it because, in the tumultuous whirl of public affairs, in the distracted moments of pecuniary embarrassment, in the weakness of private sympathy, he erred, and momentarily strayed from the enclosures of judicial rectitude ? - which fault too, was contrary to every avowed and admitted principle of his character, and the whole spirit and tenor of his writings. Bacon's course did exhibit a deflexion from duty, but it was only the stoop of the eagle from his lofty flight.
No: these famous lines do not tell the truth, because they tell more than is true. They are unjust to the memory of a very good and a very noble-minded man. It may be true that he whose glory they asperse, because they unworthily exaggerate his guilt, was 'the wisest and brightest,' but that he can with any propriety be handed down to posterity, as the meanest of mankind,' is a doctrine which historical accuracy and logical discrimination equally condemn. Poetical adjudications, however, are perhaps generally to be received with several grains of allowance. Truth is a creature
sometimes handsomely panegyrized, sometimes brilliantly adorned, but not unfrequently, also, very roughly handled by the sons of Par
Her fair features are often discolored by the bold brush of fancy, and her faultless form distorted by the rack, or suited to the Procrustean dimensions of a laboring invention. The calumnious couplet just referred to is both an exemplification and a proof of this remark.
That sickens in his cell hath sadly told
Of what from him is hidden, and with cry
Unto his bleeding heart, and prays – to die!
Yet will not one suffice? Then haste away
And wrap thy ready garments round that chill
Amid the waste of years, seems ling'ring still ;
As if to add one trophy to the train
Of the invidious spoiler. How the frost
Of love within him, and he seems quite lost
Amid the stranger faces that move on,
Nor heed the stricken pilgrim, till his soul
May fail to reach the long-expected goal.
Thou lingerest still! Say dost thou rather prize,
As offerings to thine ever-growing shrine,
Still in the depths of strong affection's mine?
Thou seekest not in vain! Throw off thy garb
Of fearfulness and awe, and softly steal
So gently, that perchance it will not feel
The blow that tears the fragile web of life
It scarce can call its own; but thou mayst see,
A smile, half-shadowed, as it turns to thee.
But come not here, O death! I may not brook
Thy sullen domination, for I move
Through an unclouded atmosphere of love,
And life, and beauty; and this heart doth bear
Within its crystal depths, e'en as a source
Of one, that is the day-star to its course.
Yet why that bitter glance ? Oh! question not
This bosom's child-like trust. It may not be !
Hath been a wealth of sunshine; on whose sea
Of life, one sail hath Alutter'd ; and who, out
Of one mind's urn have drank ; say, is there aught
To which e'en death itself were almost nought ?
My soul grows faint within me: yet I love,
Still love to fond excess: oh! ruthless one!
A victim to this passion, hasten on,
And I will joy to meet thee, and will clasp
Thine icy hand in mine, and yield my breath
Thy full and opiate cup, and bless thee, Death!
M. E. L.