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Francis Bacon, the subject of the following memoir, was the youngest son of highly remarkable parents. His father, Sir Nicholas Bacon, was an eminent lawyer and for twenty years Keeper of the Seals and Privy Counsellor to Queen Elizabeth. Sir Nicholas was styled by Camden sacris conciliis alterum columen; he was the author of some unpublished discourses on law and politics and of a commentary on the minor prophets. He discharged the duties of his high office with exemplary propriety and wisdom; he preserved through life the integrity of a good man and the moderation and simplicity of a great one. He had inscribed over the entrance of his hall at Gorhambury the motto mediocria firma; and when the Queen in a progress paid him a visit there, she remarked to him that his house was too small for him. "Madam," answered the Lord Keeper, "my house is well, but it is you that have made me too great for my house." This anecdote has been preserved by his son', who, had he as carefully retained the lesson of practical wisdom it contained, might have avoided the misfortunes and sorrows of his checkered life.
Bacon's mother, Ann Cooke, was the daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke, tutor to King Edward the Sixth; like the young ladies of her time, like Lady Jane Grey, like Queen Elizabeth, she received an excellent classical education; her sister,
Lady Burleigh was pronounced by Roger Ascham, Queen Elizabeth's preceptor, to be, with the exception of Lady Jane Grey, the best Greek scholar among the young women of England'. Anne Cooke, the future Lady Bacon, corresponded in Greek with Bishop Jewel and translated from the Latin this divine's Apologia; a task which she performed so well that it is said the good prelate could not discover an inaccuracy or suggest an alteration. She also translated from the Italian a volume of sermons on fate and free-will, written by Bernardo Ochino, an Italian reformer. Francis Bacon, the youngest of five sons, inherited the classical learning and taste of both his parents.
He was born at York House, in the Strand, London, on the twenty second of January 1564. His health, when he was a boy, was delicate; a circumstance which may perhaps account for his early love of sedentary pursuits and probably the early gravity of his demeanour. Queen Elizabeth, he tells us, took particular delight in "trying him with questions" when he was quite a child and was so much pleased with the sense and manliness of his answers that she used jocularly to call him" her young lord Keeper of the Seals. " Bacon himself relates that while he was a boy the queen once asked him his age; the precocious courtier readily replied that he "was just two years younger than her happy reign. He is said also when very young to have stolen away from his play-fellows in order to investigate the cause of a singular echo in St. James's Fields, which attracted his attention.
Until the age of thirteen he remained under the tuition of his accomplished mother, aided by a private tutor only; under their care he attained the elements of the classics, that education preliminary to the studies of the University. At thirteen he was sent to Trinity College, Cambridge, where his father
'It is not surprising that ladies then received an education rare in our own times. It should be remembered that in the sixteenth century Latin was the language of courts and schools, of diplomacy, politics and theology; it was the universal language, and there was then no literature in the modern tongues, except the Italian; indeed all knowledge, ancient and modern, was conveyed to the world in the language of the ancients. The great productions of Athens and Rome were the intellectual all of our ancestors down to the middle of the sixteenth century.
had been educated. Here he studied diligently the great models of antiquity, mathematics and philosophy, worshipped however but indevoutly at the shrine of Aristotle, whom, according to Rawley, his chaplain and biographer, he already derided" for the unfruitfulness of the way, being only strong for disputation but barren of the production of works for the life of man. He remained three years at this seat of learning, without however taking a degree at his departure. When he was but sixteen years old he began his travels, the indispensable end of every finished education in England. He repaired to Paris, where he resided some time under the care of Sir Amyas Paulet, the English minister at the court of France.
Here he invented an ingenious method of writing in cipher; an art which he probably cultivated with a view to a diplo matic career.
He visited several of the provinces of France and of the towns of Italy. Italy was then the country in which human knowledge in all its branches was most successfully cultivated. It is related by Signor Cancellieri that Bacon, when at Rome, presented himself as a candidate to the Academy of the Lincei and was not admitted'. He remained on the continent for three years, until his father's death in 1580. The melan choly event, which bereft him of his parent at the age of nine' teen, was fatal to his prospects. His father had intended to purchase an estate for his youngest son, as he had done for his other sons; but he, dying before this intention was realized, the money was equally divided between all the children; so that Francis inherited but one fifth of that fortune intended for him alone. He was the only one of the sons that was left un provided for. He had now "to study to live" instead of "living to study." He wished, to use his own language, "to become a true pioneer in that mine of truth which lies so deep." He applied to the government for a provision which his father's interest would easily have secured him and by which he might dispense with a profession. The Queen must have looked
1 Prospetto delle Memorie aneddote dei Lincei da F. Cancelleri. Roma, 1823. This fact is quoted by Monsieur Cousin in a note to his Fragments de Philosophie Cartésienne.
with favour upon the son of a minister, who had served her faithfully for twenty long years, and upon a young man whom, when he was a child, she had caressed, she had distinguished by the appellation of her "young Lord Keeper." But Francis Bacon was abandoned and perhaps opposed by the colleague and nearest friend of his father, the brother-in-law of his mother, his maternal uncle Lord Burleigh, then Prime Minister, who feared for his son the rivalry of his all-talented nephew, It is a trick common to envy and detraction, to convert a man's very qualities into their concomitant defects; and because Bacon was a great thinker, he was represented as unfit for the active duties of business, as "a man rather of show than of depth," as "a speculative man, indulging himself in philosophical reveries and calculated more to perplex than to promote public business '." Thus was the future ornament of his country and of mankind sacrificed to Robert, afterwards Sir Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, of whose history fame has learned but little, save the execution of Essex and Mary Queen of Scots, the name and this petty act of mean jealousy of his father! In the disposal of patronage and place, acts and even motives of this species are not so unfrequent as the world would appear to imagine. In all ages, it is to be feared, many and great, as in Shakspeare's time, are
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes.
It is however but justice to the morals of Lord Burleigh to add that he was insensible to literary merit; he thought a hundred pounds too great a reward to be given to Spenser for what he termed "an old song," for so he denominated the "Faery Queen."
Bacon then selected the law as his profession; and in 1580 he was entered of Gray's Inn 2; he resisted the temptations of his companions and friends (for his company was much courted), and diligently pursued the study he had chosen; but he did not at this time entirely lose sight of his philosophical speculations, for he then published his "Temporis partus
1 Sir Robert Cecil.
2 Gray's Inn is one of the four Inns or companies for the study of law.
maximus, or the Greatest Birth of Time." This work, notwithstanding its pompous title, was unnoticed or rather fell still-born from the press; the sole trace of it is found in one of his letters to Father Fulgentio.
In 1586 he was called to the bar; his practice there appears to have been limited, although not without success; for the Queen and the Court are said to have gone to hear him when he was engaged in any celebrated cause. He was, at this period of his life, frequently admitted to the Queen's presence and conversation. He was appointed her Majesty's Counsel extraordinary', but he had no salary and small fees.
In 1592 his uncle, the Lord Treasurer, procured for him the reversion of the registrarship of the Star Chamber, worth 16007. (40,000 francs) a year; but the office did not become vacant till twenty years after, so that, as Bacon justly observes," it might mend his prospects but did not fill his barns.
A parliament was summoned in 1593 and Bacon was returned to the House of Commons for the County of Middlesex; he distinguished himself here as a speaker. The fear of every man who heard him, says his contemporary, Ben Jonson, was lest he should make an end. He made, however, on one occasion a speech which much displeased the Queen and Court. Elizabeth directed the Lord Keeper to intimate to him that he must expect neither favour nor promotion; the repentant courtier replied in writing that Majesty's favour was dearer to him than his life 2.
In the following year the situation of Solicitor General " became vacant. Bacon ardently aspired to it. He applied successively to Lord Burleigh his uncle, to Lord Puckering his father's successor, to the Earl of Essex their rival, and finally to
1 King's or Queen's Counsel are barristers that plead for the government; they receive fees but no salary; the first were appointed in the reign of Charles II. Queen's Counsel extraordinary was a title peculiar to Bacon, granted, as the patent specially states, honoris causa. 2 Letter to Lord Burleigh.
3 The Solicitor General is a law-officer inferior in rank to the Attorney General, with whom he is associated in the management of the law business of the crown. He pleads also for private individuals, but not against government. He has a small salary, but very considerable fees. The salary in Bacon's time was but seventy pounds. (V. note 1, page 10.)