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able strongholds. Like Descartes on leaving college, he is said to have conceived serious doubts as to the value of university education in England, and to have meditated a total Reformation of Learning
Bacon was now sent to travel on the Continent; at that time considered the finishing stroke in the education of a young gentleman intended for the public service, particularly for the diplomatic
After a sojourn of four years, during which he appears to have devoted himself more to the study of political matters and diplomatic intrigue than to the study of philosophy at least we find no mention made of his intercourse with any of the great men, who, at that time (1580) were already working hard at those great changes which were beginning to be perceptible in the Scientific World – he was recalled to England by his father's death; and as his prospects, notwithstanding the high position occupied by his parent, were, in pecuniary respects, not of the most satisfactory nature, he was obliged to betake himself to some active profession. His impressions of travel we find recorded in his essay: Of the State of Europe, where, singularly enough, not a single allusion is made with respect to the state of knowledge. He is exclusively concerned therein with the character and family affairs of European princes, with their places of residence and financial situations "), so that we suspect that Bacon, on his recall from the Continent, entertained very lively hopes of receiving some post in the diplomatic service.
His political ambition even at this early age must have been very intense, so intense as, to absorb all other aspirations. The administrative or diplomatic career was that by which he thought to arrive most speedily at opulence and distinction. He therefore applied to his uncle Lord Burghley for some government situation. But for reasons which have never been satisfactorily cleared up, his solicitations were disregarded. Instead of now taking the academic gown which, considering his professions in favour of the improvement of knowledge, must have admirably suited him, he donned once more the student's frock and entered Gray's Inn to study law; well aware that the legal profession in his country was, for a man of talents, the shortest road to honours and emoluments. He soon acquired that technical knowledge and routine which, combined with his natural ingenuity and eloquence, soon procured him a name as a distinguished lawyer and an expert and a clever expounder of law. What he had not been previously able to obtain by his petitions,
5) Works. Vol I. State of Europe.
he was now on the way of obtaining by his abilities - in the year 1590 he was sworn in Queen's Counsel Extraordinary.
But this could not soothe the ambitious soul of Bacon. He again stormed Burghley with petitions and flatteries, and assurances of his unbounded zeal and of his sanguinary hopes in the cause of Science. The letter he wrote to Burghley on this occasion is so characteristic of the man, that we cannot refrain from giving its contents in extenso. He writes: „My Lord, with as much confidence as mine own honest and faithful devotion unto your service, and your honourable correspondence unto me and my poor estate can breed in a man, do I commend myself unto your Lordship. I wax now somewhat ancient; one and thirty years is a great deal of sand in the hour-glass. My health, I thank God, I find confirmed, and I do not fear that action shall impair it; because I account my ordinary course of study and meditation to be more painful than most parts of action are. I ever bare a mind, in some middle place that I could discharge, to serve her majesty; not as a man born under Sol, that loveth honour; nor under Jupiter that loveth business, for the contemplative planet carrieth me away wholly; but as a man born under an excellent sovereign, that deserveth the dedication of men's abilities. Besides I do not find in myself so much self-love, but that the greater part of my thoughts are to deserve well, if I were able, of my friends, and namely of your Lordship; who being the atlas of this commonwealth, the honour of my house, and the second founder of my poor estate, I am tied by all duties both of a good patriot, and of an unworthy kinsman, and of an obliged servant, to employ whatsoever I am to do you service. Again the meanness of my estate doth somewhat move me: for though I cannot accuse myself, that I am either prodigal or slothful, yet my health is not to be spent, nor my course to get. Lastly I confess that I have as vast contemplative ends, as I have moderate civil ends: for I have taken all knowledge to my province; and if I could purge it of two sorts of rovers, whereof the one with frivolous disputations, confutations and verbosities; the other with blind experiments and auricular traditions and impositions, hath committed so many spoils; I hope I should bring in industrious observations, grounded conclusions and profitable inventions and discoveries, the best state of that province. This, whether it be curiosity, or vainglory, or nature, or if one take it favourably, philanthropia, is so fixed in my mind, as it cannot be removed. If your Lordship shall find now or at any time, that I do seek or affect any place, whereunto any that is nearer to your Lordship shall be concurrent, say
then that I am a most dishonest man. And if your Lordship will not carry me on, I will not do as Anaxagoras did, who reduced himself with contemplation to voluntary poverty: but this I will do, I will sell the inheritance that I have, and purchase some lease of quick revenue, or some office of gain, that shall be executed by deputy, and so give over all care of service, and become some sorry book-maker, or a true pioneer in that mine of truth, which, he said, lay so deep. This which I have writ your Lordship, is rather thoughts than words, being set down without all art, disguising or reservation“.6)
To no purpose: the old Treasurer, perhaps jealous of his nephews rising fame, and fearing that at no remote time he might eclipse, or at least interfere with the career of his son Robert; or, perhaps, labouring under the impression that his nephew was too abstract and theoretical a nature to become a practical and useful statesman, treated him with cold indifference a line of conduct from which, strange to say, he never seems to have departed.
Finding that his prayers and solicitations were of no avail with the Cecils and the Queen, Bacon now looked to another quarter for the countenance and favour upon which his thoughts and energies were concentrated, and which alone could gratify his ambitious desires. The star of the generous but ill-fated Essex was visibly ascending; its refulgence shone on and gladdened the prospects of our author. Essex honoured him not only whith innumerable tokens of kindness and support, but treated him as his equal, and lived with him on terms of the most intimate footing. He used his influence with the Queen to procure him the place of Solicitor-General; and being unsuccessful, presented him, by way of consolation, with a splendid estate worth two thousand a year; and, on several occasions, assisted him out of his pecuniary embarassments. These acts of benevolence were in no remote time to be sadly requited.
Meanwhile, Bacon was rapidly rising in his profession, and enjoyed considerable repute as an eloquent orator and sagacious politician. In 1593, he was elected member of parliament for Middlessex, he took his seat in opposition to the government, and soon distinguished himself for his brilliant qualities as a debater and parliamentary tactician. Ben Jonson, an eye and ear witness, describes Bacon's eloquence as follows: „ There happened in my time one noble speaker who was full of gravity in his speaking. His language, where he could spare or pass by a jest, was nobly censorious. No man ever spoke more neatly, more pressly, more weightily,
6) Works, Lett. Temp. Eliz. No: 7.
or suffered less emptiness, less idleness in what he uttered. No member of his speech but consisted of his own graces. His hearers could not cough or look aside from him without loss. He commanded where he spoke, and had his judges angry and pleased at his devotion. No man had their affections more in his power. The fear of every man that heard him was that he should make an end".
At the very outset of his parliamentary career Bacon acquired considerable popularity by his courageous opposition to some very unpopular measures of the government; but it did not last long until some of the weaknesses which, as shall be seen, characterized the political life of Bacon, and influenced all his actions, became perceptible. To enjoy simultaneously the favour of the court and the applause of the multitude, was in those days not a matter of easy accomplishment; it required a personage of such versatile talents and facility of accommodation as Bacon, to make an attempt. This he did for some time; but the old adage, that no man two masters, was to receive a further illustration and statement. On the 7th of March 1592, the government introduced a bill urgently demanding a grant of considerable subsidies. Bacon attacked the bill, and, in a speech worthy of those champions who, at a later period, thundered against the insupportable levy of ship-money, moved for its rejection. By this outburst of patriotism, he roused the anger of the Queen and Court, and would, in all probability, have forfeited all attention to his interests at court, had he not instead of manfully persisting in his convictions – made the most obsequious excuses, begged a thousand pardons for having given vent to his feelings, and professed that he would in future abstain from all acts, in word and deed, that would not find favour in the eyes of her Gracions Majesty and of her Royal Court. He was sorry to find that his speech delivered in discharge of his conscience and duty to God and his country, was offensive. He was wrong, and the more so, because his manner of speech evidently showed that he spake simply and only to satisfy his conscience; he did wish that the double subsidy for precedent's sake and discontent's sake, might not be levied on the poorer classes this was his mind, and he did therefore beg his Lordship (Burghley) to perform the part of an honourable friend, in drawing her Majesty to accept of the sincerity and simplicity of his heart, and to bear with the rest, and to restore him to her Majesty's good favour, which was to him dearer than life.“ 3) He abandoned the cause of the country, and thenceforth identified himself with the ruling parties, whose policy, good or bad, he was always prepared to defend. By this desertion he lost in a great measure the popularity he had hitherto enjoyed, and sowed the germs of that outburst of general indignation by which he was assailed on the occasion of Essex' trial and execution.
7) Works, Lett. Temp. Eliz. No. 11.
This unfortunate nobleman had, by his mismanagement of affairs in Ireland fallen into disgrace; and, goaded by the intrigues and enmities of his ill-wishers, fell a victim to his rash and impetuous nature. He suffered himself to be borne away to treasonable enterprises, for which he was to be made answerable at the Bar of the House of Lords. Bacon's attachment to his fallen friend was on this memorable occasion put to a test which proved too severe for his moral energies. It has already been intimated that Essex had passionately loved him, and had showered on him abundant proofs of his benevolence. It cannot be doubted, but that Bacon, in return, was attached to Essex; but only inasmuch as he was instrumental in serving his purposes.
What he loved in Essex was not the faithful friend, but the powerful patron, who could bestow preferment and emolument. We therefore find that on Essex' disgrace, he made intercessions on his friend's behalf, and furnished him with advice and advertisements as to the course of conduct he should pursue; but this he did only as long as he could do so without endangering his own position. %) When, at last, it became evident that Essex was a lost man, he not only abandoned him to his fate, but, with unaccountable eagerness, enlisted in the foremost ranks of his prosecutors, and displayed all his powers of eloquence and learning to obtain the conviction, which, under the grave circumstances of the case, amounted to absolute certainty. Not only that, in order to ingratiate himself more and more in court favour, he turned pamphleteer and, sad to tell, dishonoured his pen in defaming the character, and blackening the memory of his benefactor. In order to justify the part he played in this mournful drama, Bacon wrote the famous „Declaration of the Practises and Treasons attempted and committed by Robert, late Earl of Essex“; abounding in such defamatory language as no one would use towards his most inveterate enemy. The manner in which Bacon himself speaks of the origin and composition of this pamphlet is characteristic, as affording further proof of his want of an independent will. He writes to the Earl of Devonshire an Apology wherein he acknowledges to have only obeyed the orders of her Majesty in publishing the Declaration, and
8) Works, Lett. Temp. Eliz. No. 47, 48, 56, 57.