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truth of any disgraceful story about a person whose society we like, and from whom we have received favours,-how long we struggle against evidence, how fondly, when the facts cannot be disputed, we cling to the hope that there may be some explanation or some extenuating circumstance with which we are unacquainted. Just such is the feeling which a man of liberal education naturally entertains towards the great minds of former ages. The debt which he owes to them is incalculable. They have guided him to truth. They have filled his mind with noble and graceful images. They have stood by him in all vicissitudes -comforters in sorrow, nurses in sickness, companions in solitude. These friendships are exposed to no danger from the occurrences by which other attachments are weakened or dissolved. Time glides by; fortune is inconstant; tempers are soured; bonds which seemed indissoluble are daily sundered by interest, by emulation, or by caprice. But no such cause can affect the silent converse which we hold with the highest of human intellects. That placid intercourse is disturbed by no jealousies or resentments. These are the old friends who are never seen with pew faces, who are the same in wealth and in poverty, in glory and in obscurity. With the dead there is no rivalry. In the dead there is no change. Plato is never sullen. Cervantes is never petulant. Demosthenes never comes unseasonably. Dante never stays too long. No difference of political opinion can alienate Cicero. No heresy can excite the horror of Bossuet.
Nothing, then, can be more natural than that a person of sensibility and imagination should entertain a respectful and affectionate feeling towards those great men with whose minds he holds daily communion. Yet nothing can be more certain than that such men have not always deserved, in their own persons, to be regarded with respect or affection. Some writers, whose works will continue to instruct and delight mankind to the remotest ages, have been placed in such situations, that their actions and inotives are as well known to us as the actions and motives of one human being can be known to another; and unhappily their conduct has not always been such as an impartial judge can contemplate with approbation. But the fanaticism of the devout worshipper of genius is proof against all evidence and all argument. The character of his idol is matter of faith; and the vince of faith is not to be invaded by reason. He maintains his superstition with a credulity as boundless, and a zeal as unscrupulous, as can be found in the most ardent partisans of religious or political factions. The most overwhelming proofs are rejected; the plainest rules of morality are explained away; extensive and important portions of history are completely distorted—the enthusiast misrepresents facts with all the effrontery of an advocate,
and copfounds right and wrong with all the dexterity of a Jesuit
--and all this only in order that some man who has been in his grave for ages may have a fairer character than he deserves.
Middleton's • Life of Cicero’ is a striking instance of the influence of this sort of partiality. Never was there a character which it was easier to read than that of Cicero. Never was there a mind keener or more critical than that of Middleton. · Had the Doctor brought to the examination of his favourite statesman's conduct but a very small part of the acuteness and severity which he displayed when he was engaged in investigating the high pretensions of Epiphanius and Justin Martyr, he could not have failed to produce a most valuable history of a most interesting portion of time. But this most ingenious and learned man, though
"So wary held and wise That, as 't was said , he scarce received
For gospel what the church believed,' had a superstition of his own. The great Iconoclast was himself an idolator. The great Avocata del Diavolo while he disputed, with no small ability, the claims of Cyprian and Athanasius to a place in the Calendar, was himself composing a lying legend in honour of St Tully! He was holding up as a model of every virtue a man whose talents and acquirements, indeed, can never be too highly extolled, and who was by no means destitute of amiable qualities, but whose whole soul was under the dominion of a girlish vanity, and a craven fear. Actions for which Cicero himself, the most eloquent and skilful of advocates, could contrive no excuse,—actions which in his confidential correspondence he mentioned with remorse and shame,-are represented by his biographer as wise, virtuous, heroic. The whole history of that great revolution which overthrew the Roman aristocracy,—the whole state of parties,—the character of every public man,-is elaborately misrepresented, in order to make out something which may look like a defence of one most eloquent and accomplished Trimmer.
The volume before us reminds us now and then of the Life of Cicero.' But there is this marked difference. Dr Middleton evidently had an uneasy consciousness of the weakness of his cause, and therefore resorted to the most disingenuous shifts,to unpardonable distortions and suppressions of facts. Mr Montagu's faith is sincere and implicit. He practises no trickery. He conceals nothing. He puts the facts before us in the full confidence that they will produce on our minds the effect which they have produced on his ovn. It is not till he comes to reason from facts to motives that his partiality shows itself; and then he leaves Middleton himself far behind. His work proceeds on the
assumption that Bacon was an eminently virtuous man. From the tree Mr Montagu judges of the fruit. He is forced to relate many actions, which, if any man but Bacon had committed them, nobody would have dreamed of defending,--actions which are readily and completely explained by supposing Bacon to have been a man whose principles were not strict, and whose spirit was not high-actions which can be explained in no other way, without resorting to some grotesque hypothesis for which there is not a tittle of evidence. But any hypothesis is, in Mr Montagu's opinion, more probable than that his hero should ever have done any thing very wrong.
This mode of defending Bacon seems to us by no means Baconian. To take a man's character for granted, and then from his character to infer the moral quality of all his actions, is surely a process the very reverse of that which is recommended in the Novum Organum. Nothing, we are sure, could have led Mr Montagu to depart so far from his master's precepts, except zeal for his master's honour. We shall follow a different course. We shall attempt, with the valuable assistance which Mr Montagu has afforded us, to frame such an account of Bacon's life as may enable our readers correctly to estimate his character.
It is hardly necessary to say that Francis Bacon was the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, who held the great seal of England during the first twenty years of the reign of Elizabeth. The fame of the father has been thrown into shade by that of the son. But Sir Nicholas was no ordinary man. He belonged to a set of men whom it is easier to describe collectively than separately; whose minds were formed by one system of discipline; who belonged to one rank in society, to one university, to one party, to one sect, to one administration; and who resembled each other so much in talents, in opinions, in habits, in fortunes, that one character, we had almost said one life, may, to a considerable extent, serve for them all.
They were the first generation of statesmen by profession that England produced. Before their time the division of labour had, in this respect, been very imperfect. Those who had directed public affairs had been, with few exceptions, warriors or priests ; warriors whose rude courage was neither guided by science nor softened by humanity,-priests whose learning and abilities were habitually devoted to the defence of tyranny and imposture. The Hotspurs, the Nevilles, the Cliffords,—rough, illiterate, and unreflecting,-brought to the council board the fierce and imperious disposition which they had acquired amidst the tumult of predatory war, or in the gloomy repose of the garrisoned and moated castle. On the other side was the calm and subtle prelate, versed in all that was then considered as learning,-trained in the Schools to manage words, and in the Confessional to manage hearts,-seldom superstitious, but skilful in practising on the superstition of others,--false as it was natural that a man should be whose profession imposed on all who were not saints, the necessity of being hypocrites,--selfish as it was natural that a man should be who could form no domestic ties, and cherish no hope of legitimate posterity,-more attached to his order than to his country, and guiding the politics of England with a constant side glance at Rome. But the increase of wealth, the progress of knowledge, and the reformation of religion produced a great change. The nobles ceased to be military chieftains; the priests ceased to possess a monopoly of learning; and a new and remarkable species of politicians appeared.
These men come from neither of the classes which had, till then, almost exclusively furnished ministers of state. They were all laymen; yet they were all men of learning, and they were all men of peace. They were not members of the aristocracy. They inherited no titles, no large domains, no armies of retainers, no fortified castles. Yet they were not low men, such as those whom princes, jealous of the power of a nobility, have sometimes raised from forges, and cobblers' stalls, to the highest situations. They were all gentlemen by birth. They had all received a liberal education. It is a remarkable fact that they were all members of the same university. The two great national seats of learning had even then acquired the characters which they still retain. In intellectual activity, and in readiness to admit improvements, the superiority was then, as it has ever since been, on the side of the less ancient and splendid institution. Cambridge had the honour of educating those celebrated Protestant Bishops whom Oxford had the honour of burning; and at Cambridge were formed the minds of all those states men to whom chiefly is to be attributed the secure establishment of the reformed religion in the north of Europe.
The statesmen of whom we speak passed their youth surrounded by the incessant din of theological controversy. Opinions were still in a state of chaotic anarchy,-intermingling, separating, advancing, receding. Sometimes the stubborn bigotry of the Conservatives seemed likely to prevail. Then the impetuous onset of the Reformers for a moment carried all before it. Then again the resisting mass made a desperate stand, arrested the movement, and forced it slowly back. The vacillation which at that time appeared in English legislation, and which it has been the fashion to attribute to the caprice and to the power of one or two individuals, was truly a national vacillation. It was not only in the mind of Henry that the new theology obtained the ascendant at one time, and that the lessons of the nurse and of the priest regained their influence at another. It was not only in the House of Tudor that the husband was
exasperated by the opposition of the wise,—that the son dissented from the opinions of the father,—that the brother persecuted the sister,--that one sister persecuted another. The principles of Conservation and Reform carried on their warfare in every part of society,-in every congregation, in every school of learning, round the hearth of every private family, in the recesses of every flecting mind. It was in the midst of this ferment that the minds of the
persons whom we are describing were developed. They were born Reformers. They belonged by nature to that order of men who always form the front ranks in the great intellectual progress. They were, therefore, one and all, Protestants. In religious matters, however, though there is no reason to doubt that they were sincere, they were by po means zealous. None of thein chose to run the smallest personal risk during the reign of Mary. None of them favoured the unhappy attempt of Northumberland in favour of his daughter-in-law. None of them shared in the desperate councils of Wyatt. They contrived to have business on the Continent; or, if they staid in England, they heard Mass and kept Lent with great decorum. When those dark and perilous years had gone by, and when the crown had descended to a new sovereign, they took the lead in the reformation of the Church. But they proceeded not with the impetuosity of theologians, but with the calm determination of statesmen. They acted, not like men who considered the Romish worship as a system too offensive to God, and too destructive of souls to be tolerated for an hour; but like men who regarded the points in dispute among Christians, as in themselves unimportant; and who were not restrained by any scruple of conscience from professing, as they had before professed, the Catholic faith of Mary, the Protestant faith of Edward, or any of the numerous intermediate combinations which the caprice of Henry, and the temporizing policy of Cranmer, had formed out of the doctrines of both the hostile parties. They took a deliberate view of the state of their own country and of the Continent. They satisfied themselves as to the leaning of the public mind; and they chose their side. They placed themselves at the head of the Protestants of Europe, and staked all their fame and fortunes on the success of
It is needless to relate how dexterously, how resolutely, how gloriously they directed the politics of England during the eventful years which followed, how they succeeded in uniting their friends and separating their enemies,--how they humbled the pride of Philip, --how they backed the unconquerable spirit of Coligni,-how they rescued Holland from tyranny-how they founded the maritime greatness of their country-how they out