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profession; appeared frequently in Westminster-Hall, and, from his high reputation as a lawyer, was engaged in most of the principal causes there agitated.
In justice to his character it ought to be remarked, that whenever his advancement at court was out of question, he zealously served the interests of the people. Thus, at a conference held with the Lords, to persuade them to concur with the Commons in an application to the throne for abolishing the ancient tenures under the crown, and for allowing a certain revenue in lieu thereof, Sir Francis (as manager for the latter) set the matter in so clear a light, that it occasioned the dissolution of the Court of Wards, which was justly esteemed an important point carried in favour of the public liberties.
In 1611, he was appointed, in conjunction with Sir Thomas Vasavour, a Judge of the Marshal's-Court. Under this designation he presided, though for a very short time, in the court newly erected under the title of the Palace Court in the verge of the King's house, and has left in his works a learned and methodical charge, which he delivered to the King upon a commission of Oyer and Terminer. He now derived, partly from his estates and partly from his professional emolument, an income of nearly five thousand pounds a year: and although he was even profuse in his mode of living, yet as his public appointments involved no necessary display of official magnificence, he could have little temptation to avail himself of the opportunities of aggrandisement, which the royal favour must have afforded. It was not till the promotion of Sir Henry Hobart to the Chief Justiceship of the Common Pleas, in 1613, that he succeeded to the office of Attorney-General.
In the ensuing session of Parliament, an objection was raised against his retaining his seat among the Commons, as his public function required his frequent attendance in the Upper House; but it was urged without effect. To his high honour, while he held the attorney-generalship, he exerted all his efforts to suppress the horrid custom of duelling; and on an information exhibited in the Star-Chamber,* he delivered so excellent a charge upon that subject, that the Lords of the Council, contrary to their usual practice, ordered it to be published with the decree of the Court upon the cause before them.
His private affairs appear now to have been in a more prosperous situation, than at any ensuing period of his life. His Office brought him in 60007. per ann.; he had succeeded to his reversionary appointment of Registrar to the Star-Chamber, and by the death of his elder brother the family-estates had fallen into his possession.
The death of Cecil Earl of Salisbury, and the disgrace of Car Earl of Somerset, removed the two grand obstacles of his farther promotion; and the vigour, with which he prosecuted the latter, joined to a due appreciation of his great abilities, strongly recommended him to Sir George Villiers (afterward Duke of Buckingham) the new favourite. In cultivating a strict friendship with the Duke, however, it appears that he had the service of his country principally at heart; as may be inferred from his Letter of Advice to him (still extant in his works) upon the duties of his high station.
About this time a contest taking place, on a question
* Against Priest and Wright.
of jurisdiction between the two Courts of King's Bench and Chancery, over which Coke and Egerton respectively presided, Bacon appears to have influenced his royal master to pronounce in the Court of Star-Chamber a judgement in favour of the latter.* During the three years indeed, for which he held the attorney-generalship, he conducted himself with such moderation, and discharged it's difficult and intricate duties with so much integrity, that if we except his strenuous support of government in the prosecution of a Mr. St. John for his letter against benevolences, and of a clergyman named Peacham for passages of a sermon never preached, but found in his study, little or nothing stands on record to his reproach.
In 1617, Chancellor Egerton, who had frequently petitioned his Majesty for leave to resign, on account of his age and infirmities, received the indulgence he requested. He had sat in the Court of Chancery twenty-one years, and was regarded as an able lawyer; but, in his official capacity, he bore the character of being an abject tool of administration. Sir Francis Bacon, who had constantly kept this high appointment in view, encountered a powerful competitor in Sir Edward Coke: but he so artfully suggested to his royal master his own ductility, and his influence in the House of Commons, at the same time depreciating his rival as one who had recently upon several occasions shown himself desirous rather to defend the rights of the people than the prerogatives of the crown, that the seals were given to
* See two letters in the Cabala, pp. 30, 31.
him, with the title of Lord Keeper.*
A portion of his letter, addressed upon this occasion to his Majesty, is here subjoined:-"I beseech your Majesty, let me put you the present case truly. If you take my Lord Coke, this will follow: first, your Majesty shall put an over-ruling nature into an over-ruling place, which may breed an extreme; next, you shall blunt his industry in matter of finances, which seemeth to aim at another place; and, lastly, popular men are no sure mounters for your Majesty's saddle. If you take my Lord Hobart, you shall have a Judge at the upper end of your councilboard, and another at the lower end, whereby your Majesty will find your prerogative pent: for though there should be emulation between them yet as legists, they will agree in magnifying that wherein they are best. He is no statesman, but an economist wholly for himself; so as your Majesty (more than an outward form) will find little help in him for the business. If you take my Lord Canterbury, I will say no more, but the Chancellor's place requires a whole man; and to have both jurisdictions, spiritual and temporal, in that height, is fit but for a King.
"For myself, I can only present your Majesty with gloria in obsequio. Yet I dare promise that, if I sit in that place, your business shall not make such short turns upon you as it doth: but, when a direction is once given, it shall be pursued and performed; and your Majesty shall only be troubled with the true care of a King, which is to think what you would have done in chief, and not how for the passages.
"I do presume also, in respect of my father's memory, and that I have been always gracious in the Lower House, I have interest in the gentry of England, and shall be able to do some good effect in rectifying that body of parliament-men, which is cardo rerum: for let me tell your Majesty that that part of the Chancellor's place, which is to judge in equity between party and party, that same regnum judiciale (which, since my father's time, is but too much enlarged) concerneth your Majesty least, more than the acquitting of your conscience for justice; but it is in the other parts, of a moderator among your Councils, of an overseer over your Judges, of a planter of fit Justices and Governors in the country, that comporteth your affairs and these times most." (Cabala, pp. 28, 29.)
doomed to retain his new appointment, as Chief Justice of the King's Bench, because he had been remiss in carrying on some severe prosecutions against the subject at the suit of the crown.*
Upon delivering to him the seals, his Majesty is said to have accompanied them with three cautions: 1. That he should not seal any thing, but after mature deliberation; 2. That he should give righteous judgements between parties; and 3. That he should not extend the royal prerogative too far. These precepts he made the ground-work of a long and learned speech, delivered in court on the day upon which he took possession of his high office.
The following year Buckingham, finding Bacon a man after his own heart, obtained for him the dignity of Chancellor,† with the Barony of Verulam,
*At the time of his nomination, Bacon received from the Duke of Buckingham the following humiliating message: 'that he knew him to be a man of excellent parts, and, as the times were, fit to serve the King in the Lord Keeper's place; but he also knew him of a base ungrateful disposition and an arrant knave, apt in his prosperity to ruin any who had raised him from adversity; yet for all this he (the Duke) did so much study the interest of his Sovereign, that he had obtained the seals for him, but with this assurance-should he ever requite him as he had done some others, he would cast him down as much below scorn, as he had now raised him high above any honour he could ever have expected.' Bacon patiently endured this message, replying, "I am glad my noble Lord deals so friendly and freely with me: but can he know these abilities in me, and can he think when I have attained the highest preferment my profession is capable of, I shall so much fail in my judgement and understanding as to lose those abilities, and by my miscarriage to so noble a patron cast myself headlong from the top of that honour to the very bottom of contempt and scorn? Surely, my Lord cannot think so meanly of me."
† During his possession of the Chancellorship, he procured