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question is, Whether the feigned image of poetry, or the regular instruction of philosophy, hath the more force in teaching? Wherein if the philosophers have more rightly showed themselves philosophers than the poets have attained to the high top of their profession, (as, in truth,
i 37 ...... Mediocribus esse poetis
it is, I say again, not the fault of the art, but that by few men that art can be accomplished. Certainly, even our Saviour Christ could as well have given the moral common-places of uncharitableness and humbleness, as the divine narration of Dives and Lazarus; or of disobedience and mercy, as the heavenly discourse of the lost child and the gracious father; but that his thorough-searching wisdom knew the estate of Dives burning in hell, and of Lazarus in Abraham's bosom, would more constantly, as it were, 38 inhabit both the memory and judgment. Truly, for myself (me seems) I see before mine eyes the lost child's disdainful prodigality turned to envy a swine's dinner: which, by the learned divines, are thought not historical acts, but instructing parables.
For conclusion, I say the philosopher teacheth, but he teacheth obscurely, so as the learned only can understand him; that is to say, he teacheth them that are already taught. But the poet is the food for the tender stomachs; the poet is, indeed, the right popular philosopher. Whereof Aesop's tales give good proof, whose pretty allegories, stealing under the formal tales of beasts, make many more beastly than beasts begin to hear the sound of virtue from those dumb speakers.
FRANCIS Bacon, one of the very greatest of our English writers, was the youngest son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper to Queen Elizabeth. He was born January 22, 1561, O.S., and was therefore, as he himself said in reply to Elizabeth's inquiry as to his age, “just two years younger than her majesty's happy reign." Till his thirteenth year he was educated at home, under the superintendence of his mother, who was not only an accomplished, but, like Lady Jane Grey and Queen Elizabeth herself, what we should now call a learned lady. At the age of thirteen Bacon became resident at Trinity College, Cambridge, but seems to have found the subjects and methods of study very little to his taste, and he left the University without taking a degree. He appears to have spent the next three years of his life in France, and, while pursuing his studies at Poitiers, intelligence reached him of the death of his father.
The change in his circumstances caused by this event compelled him to adopt a profession, and accordingly he applied himself to the study of law, and was in due course called to the Bar by the Benchers of Gray's Inn. He soon acquired a high reputation, and was by Elizabeth appointed her Counsel-Extraordinary. After sitting for one or two other places, he was elected to serve in the Parliament of 1593 as Member for Middlesex. His first recorded speech in the House was on Law Reform, and shortly afterwards he incurred the displeasure of the Queen by speaking on the liberal or popular side on a question of subsidy. He subsequently made all due submission, for he was by no means disposed to sacrifice his prospects to his convictions ; but it is probable that the speech in question was so far remembered against him as to check his advancement during the remainder of the Queen's reign. Another disadvantage under which he laboured was the jealousy of the Cecils, who, though near relatives, proved themselves "a little more than kin, and less than kind.” At all events, he failed to obtain promotion till the accession of James I., after which his rise was rapid. In 1607 he was made Solicitor-General ; shortly afterwards Attorney-General and Privy Councillor; and at length, in 1617, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. Next year the higher title of Lord Chancellor was bestowed upon him, and he was raised to the peerage as Lord Verulam.
It is due to Bacon to say that he applied himself most diligently to the duties of his office. He extended the time of his sittings, and took great pains to expedite the business of the Court of Chancery, and to clear off the arrears which had accumulated. He also showed all due courtesy to the Bar, and gained general credit, not only for the ability and eloquence, but also for the equity of his judgments.
But even when he was at the height of his prosperity and in the full enjoyment of his fame, the hour of ruin and disgrace was drawing near. In January 1621 he was raised to a higher grade in the peerage by the title of Viscount St. Albans; and within a month of that time a committee of the House of Commons was, at the instigation of his enemy and rival, Sir Edward Coke, appointed to inquire into the abuses of courts of justice, with the secret object of involving the Lord Chancellor in charges of bribery and corruption, and so effecting his ruin.
On the report of this committee a direct charge was preferred against Bacon, and he was found guilty by a unanimous vote of the Peers. The result was that be was degraded from his office, pronounced incapable of taking his seat in Parliament or of coming within the verge of the Court, and was further sentenced to pay a heavy fine and to be imprisoned in the Tower during the King's pleasure. His imprisonment, however, was of short duration, and the fine also was ultimately remitted. He retired into private life a disgraced man, indeed, but carrying with him that devotion to letters and science which was destined to achieve such results for posterity. In course of time he recovered in some degree the royal favour. The sentence of incapacity to sit in Parliament was taken off, though he never again took his seat in the House of Lords. He seems, however, to have cherished some hopes of restoration to office; but advancing age and increasing infirmities overtook him faster than royal favours, and he died at Highgate on the 9th of April 1626. It is said that the illness which was the immediate cause of his death resulted from a cold caught by him in trying a scientific experiment.
The character of Bacon has been, and still is, a matter of controversy. Pope has summed it up in one familiar line, wherein he describes him as
“The wisest, greatest, meanest of mankind.” There are some, on the other hand, who endeavour to clear his character from all reproach, and who are even prepared to maintain his innocence with respect to those offences for which he was publicly condemned by the judgment of his peers.
That he was legally guilty of the charges brought against him there cannot, however, be any doubt. He himself confessed his guilt. The custom of the time may perhaps be pleaded in extenuation on his behalf. It was the fashion for chancellors and judges to sell justice, and Bacon had the misfortune to adopt the fashion just as it was falling into disrepute. Still the fact remains, that he was guilty of practices so flagrantly corrupt as to incur the unanimous censure of the highest judicial court in England.
It must, besides, be admitted that Bacon had too much of the facile and subservient spirit of the courtier. He readily lent himself to all measures for the exaltation of the royal prerogative. His was not a high, heroic nature. He could not bear obscurity, or neglect, or persecution for righteousness' sake. His tone was not very elerated, nor his standard of right and wrong very high. As may be seen in his moral writings, expediency rather than severe rectitude was his rule of action. Ilis conduct to the Earl of Essex proved that he could not stand by a friend to his own hinderance. Essex had been a most zealous patron of Bacon, but when he fell into disgrace and was charged with treason, Bacon made no scruple about taking part in his prosecution, and afterwards put forth a paper in which he enlarged on the offences of the unfortunate Earl. Moreover, Bacon condescended to seek office and emolument by arts unworthy of so great a genius-by laborious intrigues, by humiliating solicitations, by services from which a high-souled man would have shrunk.
But if all this must be conceded to Bacon's disadvantage, it must, on the other hand, be admitted that he was a man of a kindly and accessible nature. There was very little malice, hatred, or uncharitableness about him. He could witness the advancement of others without envy, and he was himself a patron of learning and genius. He was fond of display, and seems to have been curiously divided in his tastes and feelings between a devotion to science and study and an eagerness for power and place. His intellectual was far loftier and more vigorous than his moral nature. He was an eloquent orator, a sage moralist, an acute politician, and the greatest philosopher that England has produced.
WORKS. The writings of Bacon, which occupy a foremost place in our standard literature, and are rather voluminous, may be classified as moral, historical, and philosophical.
1. First amongst the moral works must be mentioned the Essays, the best known and most popular of all Bacon's writings. These Essays he himself describes as “brief notes set down rather significantly than anxiously.” They are indeed Essays, according to the original meaning of the title; thoughts written as they occurred to the mind, put together without much method or system ; suggestive hints rather than complete and elaborate treatises. At the same time, they are full of matter, closely packed, striking, original. There is to be found in them a wonderful novelty of treatment, together with great richness of colouring and brightness of imagination. The morality is not of the most exalted order, but it is practical and sagacious, inclining a little to expediency.
Several editions of the Essays appeared in the author's lifetime. The earliest was published in 1597, and contained only ten Essays, together with some Religious Meditations. Another was put forth in 1612, and contained thirtyeight Essays. Another, again, which was the ninth and the last published in the author's lifetime, made its appearance in 1625, and contained fifty-eight Essays.
Next to the Essays must be mentioned The Wisdom of the Ancients, written in Latin, but translated by a friend of the author. This work is an interpretation of the myths and legends of classical antiquity. It regards the ancient Greek fables of the gods and heroes as allegories, under which great moral, political, and physical truths are represented. It is a production worthy of Bacon's genius, and full of the marks of his capacious and original intellect. Among the moral works of Bacon we may include his Apothegms, and those of his writings which have a theological character. Such are his Meditationcs Sacrae, and two pieces respectively entitled, An Advertisement touching the Controversies of the Church of England, and Certain Considerations touching the Better Pacification and Edification of the Church of England. As regards these treatises, it may be sufficient to observe that Bacon condemns the violence of party-spirit, advocates toleration, and regards the matters in dispute as altogether of minor importance. His views are those of a liberal Churchman favourable to comprehension, and anxious chiefly for the practical efficiency of the Church.
2. The great historical work of Bacon is his History of Henry VII., and it is a work worthy of his genius. The character of the cool, wary, politic founder of the House of Tudor, is admirably portrayed. There seems to have been something in Bacon's own nature which made the task a congenial one; and, in spite of what some critics have said, he has executed it successfully. The work is vigorous, pointed, and graphic. It is richly stored with sage political maxims, acute observations, and vivid descriptions of events.
3. Bacon's philosophical works, if not the most popular of his writings, are, at all events, those on which his fame chiefly rests. To give a complete account of them would be impossible within the compass of this notice, but a short description of their design and character inust be attempted.
Bacon was greatly impressed with the barrenness of ordinary philosophical speculations, and with the backward condition of the sciences. The causes of this be considered to be defective or erroneous methods of investigation; a tendency to argue from preconceived notions taken up without sufficient warrant; too much dependence on the unassisted and unregulated powers of the intellect; too absolute an addiction to the forms and syllogisms of the Aristotelian logic.
It is said that when a mere youth at Cambridge, Bacon imbibed a strong dislike of the philosophy of Aristotle, and it was this feeling which first set him on his