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THE text of this edition of Bacon's Essays is based on that of Spedding, carefully collated with Arber's, and constantly compared with the texts of Wright and Reynolds. The spelling and capitalization have been more thoroughly modernized than in most other texts, though some familiar archaic spellings have been kept; and the punctuation has been somewhat simplified. In the majority of instances I have retained Spedding's virile translations of the quotations from foreign languages. In writing on the vexed question. of Bacon's character, I have been much indebted, as every careful student of Bacon will always be, to the epochmaking researches of Spedding, who, while unconsciously minimizing, perhaps, the significance of some unpleasant facts, has given us on the whole the justest narrative of Bacon's life that we have. In the notes, while assuming that the student will have access to a good unabridged dictionary, I have nevertheless kept in mind the fact that for many large classes there are not reference books enough to go around, and hence students must rely largely upon the notes for explanations of all kinds of difficulties. My constant indebtedness to the commentators mentioned above, as well as to Dr. Abbott, will be evident, and I acknowledge it with gratitude. I must also record my obligation to my colleague, Professor William Strunk, Jr., for the use of notes generously proffered, and to the authorities of the Harvard University Library for the loan of Holland's Plutarch.
C. S. N
CORNELL UNIVERSITY, ITHACA, N. Y.,
THE LIFE OF BACON
THE life of Francis Bacon is one of the most interesting, picturesque, and pathetically tragic in the whole range of literary history. He was born for great things; he had a brilliant public career, which came to a startling and ignominious end. Withal his devotion to science and letters was such that the world will not soon forget it. So great and versatile was his genius that he not only has been called the Shakespeare of English prose, but has also (though on wholly inadequate grounds) been regarded by some as the author of Shakespeare's plays. The story of so eventful a life cannot well be told in the space at our command; we must be content with the leading facts and a few general observations.
Francis Bacon was born at York House, in the Strand, London, January 22, 1561. He was the youngest of the eight children of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Bacon's Keeper of the Great Seal, who was of a good- birth, 1561, natured, easy-going temperament and something and parentof a humorist. The second wife of Sir Nicholas, age and the mother of Anthony and Francis Bacon, was Ann, second daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke; her sister was the wife of Sir William Cecil, then Secretary of State, and later Lord Burghley. Lady Bacon was a well-educated woman of strong character. She translated sermons from the Italian, quoted Latin frequently, and knew something of Greek. A rigid Calvinist, she exerted a marked influence on her sons' religious beliefs; and one clue to the explanation of Francis Bacon's character is perhaps the fact that in early youth, frequenting a court where lax moral and ethical views prevailed, he was at the same time filled with the self-assurance born of the Calvinistic doctrine of election to eternal happiness.
In his twelfth year, in 1573, Francis Bacon went with his brother Anthony to Trinity College, Cambridge. Here he found not quite eighteen hundred students, among them Edward Coke, his later rival, Edmund Spenser and his friend Edward Kirke, and Gabriel Harvey; many of these were too young to know why they were there. His prescribed studies were mathematics (including cosmography, arithat Trinity metic, geometry, and astronomy), dialectics, phiCambridge, losophy, perspective, and Greek. In public, except in hours of leisure, he had to speak Hebrew, Greek, or Latin. While devoting himself to Greek, he rebelled against the doctrines of Aristotle, whose infallibility had been somewhat shaken by Peter Ramus (1515-1572) a decade before; but it was not so much Aristotle's logical method as his physical theories that Bacon questioned. For example, Aristotle's theory of astronomy was based on the fundamental proposition that the heavens and heavenly bodies were incorruptible, unchangeable, and wholly regular; hence all the motions of these bodies must be in the perfect figure of the circle and all their orbits must be concentric; moreover, the four elements, earth, air, fire, and water, being perishable, the imperishable stars must be made of an imperishable fifth essence. These doctrines of Aristotle the Schoolmen of the Middle Ages, especially Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), so systematized and fixed that they virtually became great obstructions to the progress of knowledge. But even as a boy of eleven Bacon saw in the northern heavens, in a region that Aristotle had pronounced incapable of change, the wonderful new star in the constellation Cassiopeia. No wonder the study of nature through Aristotle's dogmas struck Bacon as barren and wrong, and moved him to devise a more fruitful method. The remarkable thing, as Mr. Spedding points out, is that this undertaking became the real if not wholly absorbing passion of his life.
The plague which broke out in August, 1574, drove the Bacons from Cambridge until the following March; then they returned and remained until Christmas.
In June, 1576, the brothers were admitted to Gray's Inn,