صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني



Among the great spirits whose claim to undisputed empire over men's thoughts has been ratified by the concurrent testimony of ages and nations, Lord Bacon stands deservedly pre-eminent If he does not occupy the foremost place, his pretensions are as high and legitimate as any of his competitors'. The question is not, however, one of degree, but of kind, and consequently will be decided according to the estimation in which men are inclined to hold different objects. If ideal philosophy be regarded, and the application of the rational faculty to objects of moral speculation, the palm must be awarded to Socrates and Plato. If the art of mental analysis be considered, and the power of distinctly looking into the human mind, and tracing out the various laws which produce and control its phenomena, we must as readily admit the pretensions of Aristotle. But should we direct our views to physical science, the creation of material arts and the extension of man's power over nature, we shall be compelled to grace Bacon's temples with the proudest wreath of glory. Despite the splendid attempts of Plato and Aristotle to explain everything, the result proved that their empire was bounded by the confines of the material universe. The arts and discoveries of the Athenian sages, splendid as they are in the spiritual world, and even potent to liberate the soul from the tyranny of the passions, still stop here. They might be exercised in a cloister, a desert, or in a dungeon, as they were exercised under the despotism of the most degraded of the Roman emperors, without teaching man any other art than that of patience under calamities, and that of stringing together the speculative truths proposed by science or revelation. These advantages were, doubtless, important in their day, but they failed to disclose one physical truth, to protect the civilized world from the incursion of savages, or rescue mankind from barbarism. Bacon, though not the first to detect this lacune in philosophy, was the first to bring to its removal the adventurous genius of the Stagyrite, and to explore the mines of physical phenoinena with the searching keenQeos that his predecessor manifested in analyzing the law of the reasoning faculty. Thought and language adjusted themselver

to the pursuit,-new ideas were evolved, and a practical method instituted of applying the inductive syllogism to the interpretation of nature.

If Bacon discovered no great law himself, he not only propounded the system by which all might be reached, but gave hints which enabled his successors to light at once on the lurking place of the discovery, and roused mankind with heart. stirring appeals to pursue the only legitimate track of natural science. If a Newton was required to exemplify the utility of Bacon's Organon, by a series of splendid discoveries, a Plato was also needed to exhibit the highest triumphs of the reasoning faculty before its laws could be detected by the keen glance of the Stagyrite; and notwithstanding that both the ancient and the modern philosopher have had their share of detractors, mankind have been wonderfully concurrent in paying fealty to each as the great arbiters of the destinies of their species. The influence of the Stagyrite extends over a waste of two thousand years, through which, with some knocks from those who ought to have been his greatest friends, and with damaging support from that school whose descendants have proved his mortal enemies, he has generally contrived to mould the minds of those who sway the world. The intellect of Bacon has only impressed itself upon two centu. ries, and yet so unanimous has been the verdict of mankind, and 80 astounding the discoveries which have resulted from his method, that his fame may be pronounced to stand upon as firm a basis as that of Aristotle. Not an age passes wherein the inquiries which he continues to excite and direct do not lead to some practical result, either in the diminution of human evil, or in the increase of man's power and enjoyment; and so rapid has been the stride of scientific improvement since his day, that men now justly regard that state of learning which the scholastics surveyed with raptures of admiration, as the mere infancy of knowledge.

But Bacon was not only the high priest of nature, he was also the Lord Chancellor of England, and notwithstanding that some of his actions in relation to this office will occasionally awaken the censure of the reader, there are traits and performances which must challenge his applause, and transmit his name with lustre to posterity. The eloquence and searching analysis he displayed in philosophy followed him to the bar. His legal arguments, of which that on Perpetuities may be taken as a type, are among the most masterly ever heard Westminster Hall. His history of the Alienation Office may be pronounced worthy of Hale, while his dissertation on the courts of equity certainly throws the more popular treatise of Grotius into the shade. The question of law reform, so popular in our day, was first raised by him, and advo. cated in a speech of reasoning eloquence which at once secured him the favour of the Commons ; and though his exhortations were unheeded till the Barebones Parliament thought that lawyers might be dispensed with altogether, and though they have been neglected from the Restoration till our own times, it must be borne in mind that the reforms already effected have been mainly directed by his councils, and that in carrying out that wide measure of chancery reform, on which all parties are now bent, he is our safest guide. Though the son of a lord-keeper, and the nephew of a prime minister, he had, like all aspiring legists, to fight his way up to the highest posts of his profession by merit alone ; nor does it appear that his official kinsmen ever opened their lips, or stretched out their hand, except to push him back, or asperse his fame.

Whether, then, we consider moral admonitions, the highest philosophical achievements, practical civil wisdom, or the most splendid legal and forensic talents, the life and works of Lord Bacon stand if not alone in the world, at least without their rival in modern annals.* The characters of ordinary thinkers may be duly estimated when the generation with which their influence ends has passed away, but the merits of those who have given an immutable direction to the resistless tide of human reason, and fashioned the channel through which it is destined to flow, can only be fully appreciated after centuries have tested the result. High as Bacon's name now stands, every succeeding age must increase its elevation, and centuries roll away before it can be said to be graced with its final trophies.

Francis Bacon was born at York House, t in the Strand, on the 22nd January, (old style) 1560. His father, Sir Nicholas Bacon, one of the greatest ornaments of Elizabeth's adminis. tration, and, lord-keeper of the great seal, contributed by his practical foresight to raise England to a height in European councils which has only been realized by the strongest govern. ments of later times. His mother, Ann Cook, the daughter of Edward the Sixth's tutor, was skilled in the Latin and Greek

* To the universality of this panegyric, Burke, who borrowed from him his sagest political observations, bears testimony: “Who is there that, upon hearing the name of Lord Bacon, does not instantly recognise everything of genius the most profound, everything of literature the most extensive, everything of discovery the most penetrating, everything of observation on human life the most distinguishing and refined ? All these must be instantly recognised, for they are all inseparably associated with the name of Lord Verulam."-Speech on the Impeachment of Warren Hastings.

+ York House was so named from having been inhalsted by the archbishop of York in the reign of Queen Mary. It was situated on the banks of the Thames, at the bottom of Buckingham-street, Strard. The only vestige of it now remaining is its fine water-gate, built by Inigo Jones. view of the old house is preserved in that curious and interesting repository Wilkinson's Jondina Illustrat:..


tongues, which ladies were then accustomed to learn, owing to the dearth of modern literature ; and also possessed such facility in French and Italian as to pronounce and translate those lan. guages with ease and correctness. There can be little doubt that Bacon, like many other great men, inherited a large portion of his abilities from his mother, and that she, as the lord-keeper's time was absorbed by more pressing duties, mostly contributed to fashion the infant stream of his thoughts, and give them a healthy direction. Of his younger days, nothing more is recorded than his breaking open the drums and trumpets his nurses bought him, to explore the locality of the sound; his leaving the ordinary field sports, to discover the cause of an echo in a neighbouring vault, and his sprightly answers to Queen Elizabeth, who used to stroke his head and call him her little lord-keeper. " It is certain,” says Macaulay, “ that at at twelve years old he busied himself with very ingenious speculations on the art of legerdemain ; a subject which, as Dugald Stewart has most justly observed, merits much more attention from philosophers than it has ever received."

In the latter end of his thirteenth year he was entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, but it does not appear that he ever felt at home in what are, or ought to be, the halls of science. His tutor, Whitgift, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, never thought him worthy of a remark in his writings. Doubtless, Bacon placed too high a value on being well with his age, to make an open onslaught on the institutions and the men whom it regarded with veneration ; but it requires no great sagacity to discern in his remarks on cloistered learning, his opinion of alma-mater, and its sister university. He deplored, as we deplore now, and are making some attempts to remedy, the absence of scientific studies in the British universities ; and covertly described the philosophy expounded within their walls, as so much spider thread spun out of the brain of the scholastics, admirable for its fineness, but without any use or purpose in nature. From his wrangling with Aristotle, whose logic he unaccountably deemed diametrically opposed to his own, there is no doubt that he experienced some hard knocks at the university ; and that, like Swift, Goldsmith, Gibbon, and Adam Smith, he was treated as too stubborn and erratic for a systematic course of study, and left pretty much to follow the bent of his own inclination. Having kept only eight terms, Bacon quitted the university without a degree, and being intended by his father for the political profession, was intrusted to the care of Sir Amyas Paulet, the queen's ambassador at Paris, and occasionally employed by him in offices of trust for the crown. After visiting the chief provinces of France he settled in Poictiers, and devoted three years of that period of life which is most averse to reflection, to

« السابقةمتابعة »