Изображения страниц

impugners, might fling back the charges on themselves, and show that there is not a single action for which they condemn the Verulam, for which they might not be as justly condemned themselves. This would be no justification, we admit, but it stops their mouths, and enables us to carry his character to a higher tribunal-the Christian's, who judges of him by a purer law, and yet pronounces a gentler and more generous verdict!

The first, and beyond all comparison the most valuable, of the tracts, is A Confession of Faith. It comes warm from the Book, and is redolent of the mysteries. There must have gone to its composition many a folio. His acquaintance with ecclesiastical antiquity, with the rise and progress of opinion, with the fathers, is as undoubted as his profound study of the oracles themselves; and there breathes throughout this Confession all that freshness of full scholarship and mighty intellect, that distinguish the writings of the greater Reformers. The diction is as worthy of the sublime theme, as unaided language ever will be. He could say, with Sir Thomas Browne, that he was bound by the principles of grace, and the law of his own reason, to embrace no other than this religion-that he was of the same belief our Saviour taught, the apostles disseminated, the fathers authorized, and the martyrs confirmed.

The Confession is printed by Rawley at the close of the Resuscitatio;-and "thereby," says the worthy chaplain," he demonstrates to the world, that he was a master in divinity, as well as in philosophy, or politics; and that he was versed no less in the saving knowledge, than in the universal and adorning knowledges. For though he composed the same many years before his death, yet I thought that to be the fittest place, as the most acceptable incense unto God of the faith wherein he resigned his breath; the crowning of all his other perfections and abilities; and the best perfume of his name to the world after his death." The Prayers are solemn, appropriate, and sublimely expressed. There is no "natural theology" about them. "Thy creatures have been my books, but thy scriptures much more. I have sought thee in the courts, fields, and gardens, but I have found thee in thy temples.' What are the confessions of his frailty to man, compared with these? "O Lord, my strength, I have, since my youth, met with thee in all my ways, by thy fatherly compassions, by thy comfortable chastisements, and by thy most visible providence. As thy favours have increased upon me, so have thy corrections. And now when I thought most of peace and honour, thy hand is heavy upon me, and hath humbled me according to thy former loving-kindness." This true confession is thus sustained and concluded. "Besides my innumerable sins, I confess before thee, that I am debtor to thee for the gracious talent of thy gifts and graces, which I have neither put into a napkin, nor put it, as I ought, to exchangers, where it might have made best profit, but mispent it in things for which I was least fit. Be merciful unto me, O Lord, for my Saviour's sake, and receive me into thy bosom, or guide me in thy ways." These are indeed

"Sighs now breathed Inutterable, which the spirit of prayer Inspired."

The next is a Prayer, properly so called, and not, like that from which we have made the preceding extracts, a psalm or holy song. It is quaintly described as "a prayer made and used by the lord chancellor Bacon." We much doubt whether such an arch-hierarch as Laud would allow a layman to make and use his own prayers; and it is certain that our author never obtained episcopal sanction for this puritanic practice. This effusion is as comprehensive a form of pure and evangelical supplication, as any in the whole compass of theological literature. We do not recollect any thing in Jeremy Taylor equal to it. It might have been cast in the same mould with those beautiful litanies. and collects of the book of Common Prayer. The modern style of prayer-inditing

is excessively feeble and frigid, and will only be restored when the heart of this great Christian people shall commune more closely with the word of God, and converse more habitually with the sages of primitive and reforming times. Bacon raised and ennobled every thing by religion. As a student, and as a writer also, the great philosopher was often on his knees; and he has prepared two most suitable prayers for "the student," and for "the writer," both of which are calculated to inspire the highest and the soundest principles. The former supplicates a greater insight into the works, and a greater faith in the word, of God; and the latter presents the process and the result of his labour, praying that he may partake of the "rest," and that the world may be further benefited by himself and others. But here they are, and their brevity and their beauty will be our excuse for quoting them entire


"To God the Father, God the Word, God the Spirit, we pour forth most humble and hearty supplications; that he, remembering the calamities of mankind, and the pilgrimage of this our life, in which we wear out days few and evil, would please to open to us new refreshments out of the fountains of his goodness, for the alleviating of our miseries. This also we humbly and earnestly beg, that human things may not prejudice such as are divine; neither that from the unlocking of the gates of sense, and the kindling of a greater natural light, any thing of incredulity, or intellectual night, may arise in our minds towards divine mysteries. But rather, that by our mind thoroughly cleansed and purged from fancy and vanities, and yet subject and perfectly given up to the divine oracles, there may be given unto faith the things that are faith's. Amen."


"Thou, O Father, who gavest the visible light as the first-born of thy creatures, and didst pour into man the intellectual light as the top and consummation of thy workmanship, be pleased to protect and govern this work, which coming from thy goodness, returneth to thy glory. Thou, after thou hadst reviewed the works which thy hands had made, beheldest that every thing was very good, and thou didst rest with complacency in them. But man, reflecting on the works which he had made, saw that all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and could by no means acquiesce in them. Wherefore, if we labour in thy works with the sweat of our brows, thou wilt make us partakers of thy vision and thy sabbath. We humbly beg that this mind may be stedfastly in us; and that thou, by our hands, and also by the hands of others, on whom thou shalt bestow the same spirit, wilt please to convey a largess of new alms to thy family of mankind. These things we commend to thy everlasting love, by our Jesus, thy Christ, God with us Amen."

It is well, perhaps, that the curious tract, entitled The Characters of a believing Christian in Paradoxes and seeming Contradictions, does not stand alone, or it might be adduced by sciolists as a proof of his scepticism. Montagu considers it spurious, but the piece itself, taken in connexion with the Confession of Faith, is both harmless and strikingly ingenious. Nothing can be finer than the subtlety of discrimination, which he displays in selecting and marshalling the wondrous truths which he sets in seeming opposition; and it is difficult which most to admire, the minuteness and extent of his biblical scholarship, or the exquisite facility with which he handles his rich stores. Whether or not it be levelled against the practice of mixing faith and reason, the mysteries of revelation with the conceptions of the natural understanding, which the author apprehended made an heretical religion, and a superstitious philosophy, it certainly is neither ludicrous nor profane.

The remaining theological tracts bring the great author before us in a very favourable point of view, as a moderator in the Episcopalian and Puritan controversy. In these two pieces, the one entitled An Advertisement touching the Controversies of the Church of England, written before the decease of Elizabeth, and the other, Certain Considerations touching the better Pacification and Edification of the Church of England, which was addressed to James, soon after his accession, we are presented with a fair, dispassionate, and most unexceptionable statement of those religious disputes which then agitated the kingdom. They were pamphlets of counsel and advice, and none the less creditable to his political sagacity. and philosophical benevolence, because they were utterly neglected by Elizabeth and her successor. They have not been treated with much less indifference by the hereditary zealots of either faction. The party so long dominant have felt the weight of his testimony against them as much as they feared the reforms which he had the courage to propose; and with all his projected lenity and would-be conciliation, he was too much of a temporizer to please the exasperated root-and-branch regenerators of an intolerant and tottering hierarchy. The first of these pamphlets has indeed been quoted by Milton, against the partial conduct of the bishops in reference to the press, and the other by Hall in favour of episcopacy; but their intrinsic merits do not seem to have been appreciated by contemporary polemics or succeeding historians. We must, however, except Dr. Vaughan's " Memorials of the Stuart Dynasty," who devotes a chapter of his excellent work to their examination.


That Bacon was not insincere in his recommendations will be at once admitted, when it is recollected that he was a courtier at the time; and nothing can account for his jeopardizing his interest, by stepping out of his profession on behalf of an obnoxious party, but a deep sense of the justice of his views, and the necessity of adopting a different policy from that in which both mistress and master were engaged. Happy would it have been for the church of England at that day, had his suggestions been adopted; and its modern reformers will do well to imbibe their pious, calm, and charitable spirit. Both pieces contain abundant matter for reflection to the liberal politician of the present day; and the latter piece, especially, deserves to be well studied by all who are interested in such questions as the "government of bishops,"" the liturgy," "ceremonies," and "subscriptions," of the church," non-residence, pluralities, and church-maintenance." The ex-chancellor might have had Cartwright for his private secretary, when he indited the following reply to the sticklers against "innovation:" "All institutions and ordinances, be they never so pure, will corrupt and degenerate. But I would ask why the civil state should be purged and restored, by good and wholesome laws, made every third or fourth year in Parliament assembled ; devising remedies as fast as time breedeth mischief; and contrariwise, the ecclesiastical state should still continue upon the dregs of time? If it be said that there is a difference between civil causes and ecclesiastical, they may as well tell me that churches and chapels need no reparations, though castles and houses do.”

May we not indulge the supposition that when he penned this paragraph, he thought of his father's poor chaplain, Mr. Johnson, who lived in his family when he was a very boy; and though a gentleman, and a scholar, was consigned to prison as a Puritan for no other crimes, than omitting to make the sign of the cross, for marrying without the use of the ring, and not consecrating the sacramental wine; and who died there, when Bacon was in his fifteenth year, and a student at Trinity College?

The Translation of certain Psalms into English Verse, was the "poor exercise" of his last sickness. He dedicates it to his friend Herbert-and " in respect of divinity and poesy met, whereof the one is the matter, the other the style, of this little writing, I could not make better choice." If he had succeeded in his undertaking he would have done that which has never yet been accomplished. The versions are very unequal, but the 104th is spirited throughout, and the diction remarkably smooth for the period. Although his elo

[ocr errors]

quence has tasked the powers of the English language to sustain the greatness of his thoughts, and the blazonry of his illustrations, he was no "maker" himself. He was an excellent critic; but from want of genuine sensibility and early practice, or from the scientific character of his pursuits, which led him to think more of man's wants than feelings, he was no poet, he had "the vision," but not "the faculty" divine.

We have now glanced, though very cursorily, at most of the works, which will be found under the titles of Moral, Political, Legal, Historical, and Theological, writings; and Mr. Hallam has well said, that if his philosophy had never existed, there would be enough in these alone to place Bacon among the greatest men this country has produced. But the philosopher pervades them all, and he need not be ashamed to acknowledge his offspring. It is true that he has his "great work,"-but we shall find in the most insignificant of these various pieces some trace of his genius: the name alone does not give the charm, but an actual modification of that same transcendent thing, whose higher manifestations excite our wonder.

As a POLITICIAN we have seen that Bacon was a personification of his age-in most things in advance of it, in nothing below it-and if not better, never worse than his contemporaries. In common with all the distinguished men of his time, when the favour of the sovereign was indispensable to success, he was a courtier. Prerogative was in full vigour when his career commenced, and he lived to see its splendour wane with himself. He was one of the first great officers of state cashiered by the Commons, and the game of Impeachment reached his master at last. The vitia hominis, with him, were the vitia temporis. Brought up under a system which left the liberty of the subject at the beck of tyrannical tribunals, and all his life an actor in it, he yet could say to Buckingham in the Tower, that "he was never author of any immoderate, no, nor unsafe, no, nor unfortunate counsel." Without extenuating the Machiavellian policy that prevailed, it will not be denied that the representative principle had been long observed, rather as a custom, than a right; and it should not be forgotten that the Organon of all constitutional government, must be understood by subjects, before it will be respected by rulers.

As a LAWYER, though greatly learned, he was prevented, by other avocations, from discharging the common obligation to his profession; and no one will regret that, as he could not do justice to his noble views of judicial science, he did not attempt to increase the confusion of chaos, by any additions after the manner of Coke. It is curious that while he admits the sentence he had incurred to be just, "and for reformation' sake fit," he maintains, and in the Tower too, that he was "the justest chancellor that had been, in the five changes since Sir Nicholas Bacon's time." Some of the suitors actually applied to the House of Lords for relief against Bacon's decrees, on the ground of supposed corruption; " but," says Carte, "they were found too just to be reversed." While we differ from Lord Brougham, (who merits more of this age than any other of its many illustrious statesmen,) as to the success which has attended Mr. B. Montagu's recent attempt to vindicate the legal and judicial character of Bacon, we must agree with "one thing," which that learned lord asserts in the last sentence of the last note in his famous Discourse of Natural Theology,-" One thing, however, is undeniable, that they who so loudly blame Bacon, overlook the meanness of all the great statesmen of those courtly times." And when the sovereigns whom he served, and prime ministers, allowed themselves to be bribed for the exertion of their interest with the judges, why should Bacon be singled out as a monster of venality?

As an HISTORIAN he has left but few pieces, but they are sufficient to show, that with a larger scope he would have been pre-eminently successful in the department of civil history. One of his earliest literary projects was a history of England, and one of his latest a memoir of his own times. It is somewhat remarkable that two of our greatest men should have attempted the history of their country; and that with ample materials, and an equal sense

of the importance of the work, neither should have accomplished it. Bacon's amounted to Do more than a "tender," and Milton's was but a "beginning." How differently these men would have treated their theme! They were each prompted by the same motive, “the aaworthiness of the history of England," and "the unskilful handling of monks and mechanics." But who would take the "Great Instauration," or the "Paradise Lost," out of either's hand?

As a MORALIST and a THEOLOGIAN, it would be difficult to exaggerate his merits; in the one he has appeared as a practical, in the other as a Christian, philosopher. From the separate little tracts and fragments which we have last noticed, (as well as the greater works, which contain a fuller development of his views on this subject,) it appears that he slighted what has been termed Natural Theology. He was content with the Bible, without which Natural Theology is a dabble of inconclusive presumptions, and in connexion with which, however pleasing as a speculative inquiry, useless as a canon of faith, or a rule of life. By the inductive philosophy, which our author taught, we can obtain some knowledge of the nature without us and within us; but neither enables us " to find out the Almighty;" and without the knowledge of Him we cannot please Him. We can know no more of Him than he is pleased to reveal, by his works and by his word, and if the former had been sufficient the latter had not been vouchsafed. Theology as much requires a revelation, as natural philosophy requires a nature, or mental philosophy a mind. "Next to the study," says Bacon, addressing his university, " of those sacred volumes of God, the Holy Scriptures, turn over that volume of the works of God."

But the rich collection of LETTERS, preserved by the labours of Rawley, Tenison, Stephens, and Birch, and published in this edition, throw the greatest light upon our author in all the characters which he sustained. It is a singular fortune that so large a portion of his correspondence should have been handed down to us. The private memorials of our most distinguished countrymen were not very carefully respected by their contemporaries; and when such a genius, or rather such a miracle, as Shakspeare was allowed to depart without the slightest effort being made to illustrate his individual life, it would not have been surprising if one, in whom was enshrined as much of the divinity of intellect, had, notwithstanding his aristocratic connexions, been similarly treated. There are some works which cannot be understood or appreciated without an acquaintance with their authors, and others which do not require any biographical illustration. The writers of the former class are inferior to those of the latter, inasmuch as thought is valuable in proportion to its universality; and whatever depends, entirely, upon individual experience, is obviously limited in Its utility. But there are some men who are active, as well as contemplative; and while their mental achievements are their own expositors, the labours of their lives must be recorded in story. Bacon united the two characters in a transcendent degree, and our knowledge of him in both is wonderfully enlarged by these epistolary self-disclosures. They are very numerous, amounting to upwards of 500, and forming almost a consecutive series, from the time when he was a masquer at Gray's Inn, to the very letter which he dictated a few hours before his death. It is needless to say, that they are high and various in matter, dignified but plain in style, and characterized by a sort of indescribable sagacity, which keeps them all of a piece, and makes them truly Baconian.

The PHILOSOPHICAL works remain to be considered; and a general account of them is all that will be now attempted. Superabundant and inviting as are the materials for speculative discussion, on nearly every subject which can engage the human understanding, our undertaking will be limited to the presentation of a plain outline of their contents.

It appears that while yet a student at Trinity College, he had felt dissatisfied with the reigning philosophy; the scholar had even then planned a scheme for improving the schools. Whether the meditative youth ventured so far as either to express the deficiencies he "noted,"

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »