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What may have been the religious character of Lord Bacon, or whether he had any, may appear to some readers a question of very little consequence at the present day. He was the father of the inductive philosophy, and he was the degraded chancellor of King James. He served his generation and the world as a student of Nature; he dishonored genius and humanity as a courtier. This is to most people,
The whole amount of that stupendous fame-
We venture, however, to think it a question of some little interest, whether the great philosopher was or was not a good man. We write for those who believe the prophets; whose God is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; whose faith peoples the unseen world with the immortal dead; and who expect to mingle in personal intercourse with the spirits of great men and of just men made perfect. They cannot think it an obsolete question, or one ruled out by a literary statute of limitations, whether any great light of former ages set in the blackness of darkness, or not. We feel some personal concern in the inquiry, whether when Judas and Lord Bacon went each to his own place, they took the same direction. As those who profess to be seeking a better country, we may take some interest in knowing who of the eminent benefactors of mankind, once resident like us in the city of Destruction, are already dwelling on Mount Zion. It was Pliable indeed who asked, What company shall we have there? but it was Christian who answered, on the word of the governor of the country, There we shall be with seraphim and cherubim, creatures that will dazzle your eyes to look on them; there also you shall meet with thousands and tens of thousands that have gone before us to that place; none of them hurtful, but loving and holy; every one walking in the sight of God, and standing in his presence with acceptance for ever. And Cicero but gave utterance to the common sentiment of those who think of immortality, when he anticipated the happiness of meeting in the islands of the blest, not only his own lost friends, but the eminent patriots and sages of preceding generations.
But on this subject, so far as Lord Bacon is concerned, no one has thought it worth while to attempt satisfying our curiosity. Bacon the philosopher, Bacon the fawning courtier and the corrupt judge, has furnished matter for large comment. Bacon, in the only character that is of any moment to him now, as a man, a sinner, a penitent, has been allowed to pass without notice. History and criticism have delighted to dwell upon his relations to science; his relations to God have not been thought worthy of attention even by biography. No auto-record has let us into the secresy of his soul. No contemporaneous hand thought it important to tell us how he walked before God, or how he met his end. The most the world knows of him, it has learned from the bitter couplet of Pope; and since that barbed shaft struck him a century ago, more noticeably still since the accomplished hand of a modern reviewer has stretched him on the ground, every passer-by feels entitled to spurn him; and making an apologetic bow to his genius, gives an unsparing kick at his character. His fate has been to have the morals blackened, though the writings 'scape;" to be at once exalted to heaven, and thrust down to hell.
We are not about to undertake the canonization of Lord Bacon - we shall not try to set him on the same platform with those ninety and nine which went not astray ; still less to class him with the great religious lights of the world, who had as much less genius as they had more faith; the seraphim of this lower sphere, whose office was not to know, but to love. But we think there is something remaining for that posterity which he left the guardian of his memory to do in his behalf. It is worth showing, that there was more of Lord Bacon than brilliancy of intellect and meanness of character; that there is at least as much evidence of his repentance and salvation, as of that of the crowned scholar, his only peer in the realm of thought, who also dragged the robes of genius in the dirt, and whom yet the Church would not willingly consign to infamy.
In estimating the character of Lord Bacon, we cannot leave out of view, with any justice, the circumstances of his early life. There are men, who, starting from unfavorable positions, choose out a career of ambition, and school themselves in the art to rise. Bacon seemed born a courtier.
" At his birth, Nature and fortune joined to make him great."
He was the son of a favorite Lord Keeper of Queen Elizabeth's. The all-powerful Burleigh was his uncle by marriage. His cousin, Robert Cecil, was early started in the road to distinction, and Elizabeth rendered his destiny inevitable, by pronouncing him in his boyhood, her little Lord Chancellor.
Experience teaches us that early impressions have often a decisive influence in fixing the character of the mind and the direction of its aims for after-life. A father's example, the tone of his familiar conversation, the character and position of his friends, the subjects that seem most to interest them, or even the casual remarks they let fall, frequently result in deciding the subsequent pursuits of a child, and the spirit in which they are followed. A passing remark at the fire-side makes of that unnoticed child, apparently occupied with his playthings or his books, a future statesman, soldier, or divine.
We may easily imagine the sort of company to which the promising younger son of the Lord Keeper would be sometimes shown at Gorhambury, and the kind of conversation to which he would be an eager listener. Walsingham would be there, talking like a great minister, as he was, of the business of the Court, and not forgetting, like a good man, to throw in some reflections on the transcendent value of things unseen and eternal. The great Burleigh would sometimes bring his learned lady to pass a night at her sister's; and unbending from the solemn dignity of his official manners, would ask of his hopeful nephew's progress at Trinity College, and how he agreed with worthy Doctor Whitgift. At these times, too, Robert Cecil would be there; a forward, conceited, disagreeable youth, to talk largely of his prospects at Court, and engage in country sports with Francis ; not always ended, we imagine, without a scuffle and a bloody nose. The conversation would turn on vacant posts, and important claimants urging their pretensions at Court, whom Elizabeth, according to her usual policy, was keeping long in suspense. His Lordship would repeat with some glee the good pun he had lately made her Majesty on the subject. Madam, said he, you do well to let suitors stay; for I shall tell you, Bis dat, qui cito dat ; if you grant them speedily, they will come again the sooner. Young Bacon would lay this up against the time when, under the operation of the same rule, he came to know 6 what hell it is in suing long to bide.” Or the Earl of Leicester might pay a complimentary visit with his splendid retinue; a fascinating instance, in the eyes of Francis, of a successful courtier's advancement; and when the Earl would ask Sir Nicholas his opinion of two persons whom the Queen seemed to think well of, with what a hearty laugh the fat old Lord Keeper would reply,– By my troth, my Lord, the one is a grave counsellor; the other is a proper young man, and so he will be, as long as he lives. Or the Queen herself, on some royal progress, would rest a while at Gorhambury, and struck with the simplicity and moderation of the establishment, would say,—My Lord, what a little house you have gotten. To which the high functionary, with the prompt felicity of a practised courtier, would return-Not so, Madam, but it is you that have made me too great for my house.
THIRD SERIES, VOL. III. NO. I.
Such were some of the scenes and incidents that must have helped to mould the temper of Francis Bacon. All his ideas of success and honor were connected with Court favor. His earliest associations must have tended to fix this impression in his mind; and old Sir Nicholas did not fail to cherish it by giving him an early introduction to the politician's Gradus ad Parnassum. He sent him while still a boy, to study diplomacy with Sir Amyas Paulet, in Fiance. In short, he had but one course to pursue. No rustic who holdeth the plow, and glorieth in the goad, that driveth oxen, und is occupied in their labors, whose talk is of bullocks, is more fatally destined, as the son of Sirach thought, to obscurity, than Bacon was destined by example, education, rivalry, patronage, and the promise of rare talent, to a life in Courts.
For all this he was not to blame. We sometimes hear Bacon reproached for descending from the watch-tower of philosophy to join in the struggle for place and power; but, in fact, he was entered a student of politics before he had taken his first lesson in science. He had the example of his father and of his uncle to encourage him; he had the competition of his ill-natured cousin to provoke him; he had the consciousness of uncommon powers to bear him on; he was surrounded by politicians, not by men of science; the only avenue of distinction for a man of peaceful pursuits seemed to lie by the Court; and the only way to climb the ladder of Court favor, was unbounded adulation and unceasing importunity. In suing for office and promotion, ingratiating himself with the favorite, and flattering the powerful, Bacon only took the beaten road to success; the path that Coke, and Egerton, and the Cecils, had not disdained to travel; the path that Williams and Ellesmere, and the series of Attorney Generals and Lord Chancelors, traveled afterwards. Even the high spirit of Sir Henry Yelverton struggled with but partial success, and that to his own ruin, against the general current of servility.
If Francis Bacon then, was destined to the Court, as was unavoidable under the circumstances, it is not strange that he very early clothed himself with adulation as with a garment. The haughty despotism of the Tudors reduced all their subjects nearly to the same level, making the spirit and language of a slave no singular dishonor; and the inordinate personal vanity of the two whom Bacon served, encouraged the most shameful excess of flattery. No subject of Luggnogg crawling towards the throne, licked the dirt of the presence chamber with more obsequious homage than did the courtiers of Elizabeth and James. To tell the most extravagant lies to their faces about the personal charms of the one, and the inspired wisdom of the other, was the daily usage of soldiers, scholars, and churchmen. It is humiliating, doubtless, to read such things now, but none of them seem to have blushed at their own degradation. It was the common conventional falsehood of the Court.
Bacon, it must be confessed, was no inapt scholar in this discipline of slaves. He remembered even when a boy at school, where he was noticed by the Queen, that he was just two years younger than her Majesty's happy reign. He thought it worthy of his pen to give, in mature years, a schedule of her beauty, as minute almost as that in which thé sapient King inventoried the charms of his fair Egyptian spouse; and he went as far as who went farthest in encouraging the vanity and usurpations of “the Solomon of our British Israel.”
But we are to remember that in addition to all the influences he shared, as belonging to that servile and sycophantic age, his own spirit had been most carefully broken and subdued by a course of royal training. For years he waited in vain for one crumb of favor from the Court, constantly put off, snubbed and discouraged ; he saw others, his inferiors in merit and title, preferred to places to which all the world says the Earl of Essex named him. When he considered "the obscureness of his successful competitors, he concluded with himself that no man ever read a more exquisite disgrace ;" so that he had resolved to retire himself with a couple of men to Cambridge, and there spend his life in studies and contemplations, without looking back.” He thought the probation which required him tolerare jugum in juventute suâ, had lasted long enough; and when changing his hand, he attempted once to play the patriot, he got a fright from the imperious daughter of Henry that completely cured him of that taste.
The influence of such treatment upon a mind taught to look forward to advancement at Court as the one thing needful, can scarce be misunderstood. If it did not wholly alienate and disgust, it would lead to a more diligent practice of all the methods of success. Office is the prize to be achieved,-rem, quoquo modo rem. One degree of importunity and adulation has failed; a lower prostration may perhaps be effectual. A discerning princess will not always be negligent of merit; powerful relations will relax in the vigilance of their jealousy; more favored rivals will at length be provided for, and will cease to obstruct the rays of royal favor. Patience, humility, and usefulness, will one day lay a successful claim to reward; and meanwhile, everything is to be forborne which may stand in the way of promotion.
These considerations, it must be further acknowledged, had a material to work upon, naturally open to their influence. The tempers of men differ as widely as their genius. If some are sanguine and bold, others are as naturally timid, pliable, and easily discouraged. And it is by no means a general rule that the highest mental, and the highest moral qualities, are found united in the same subject. The man of genius is not always the heir