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INTRODUCTORY ESSA Y.
"LORD BACON was the greatest genius that England, or perhaps any other country, has ever produced." So says POPE, after he had penned that bitter couplet upon Bacon, which has passed into a proverb; and the saying is related by Spence.
This is the judgment expressed by a favourite poet, concerning an English writer of the seventeenth century, the formation of which pre-supposes the most exalted qualifications. To be entitled to assert such an opinion absolutely, would require almost supernatural endowments, and a universal acquaintance with the famous characters of all countries. It would involve the collation of eras and cycles; it would be, to raise the dead and scrutinize the living-to examine the long muster-roll of the sons of genius, and make a doomsday book of it-to weigh libraries and ransack universities-to glance at all, and single out one, and say, that "this man was the greatest of men-the greatest not of a city, but of the world-not of one age, but of all time.”
But although it may not be possible to come to any such absolute conclusion; and to assert it roundly would be as extravagant as gravely to refute it would be ridiculous; and even if it were feasible we have no security for its justice;-the dictum is nevertheless a very remarkable one; and, construed in the probable sense in which it was evidently spoken, it is a most interesting one. It is the deliberate opinion of a man, who united great genius with consummate judgment, and had won his way to the summit of reputation as a poet; of one who was a vigorous thinker, acute observer, accomplished scholar, and, in short, the foremost man in the most brilliant circle of our Augustan age. He was, also, totally devoid of enthusiasm; and his associations were all of the nil admirari caste : with Swift, the bitterest of our satirists, Bolingbroke, the most satiated of libertines and the most disappointed of politicians, Arbuthnot, one of the strongest-minded men of his time,—and many others of contemporary repute; in fact, all his chosen friends were, like himself, professed wits and nothing more-men who could not have done what they did, or been what they were, the ablest critics of life and manners in the language, without throwing away every thing that savoured of strong feeling, zealous affections, or passionate admiration. He was, moreover, not only versed in ancient learning, but well acquainted with modern speculations and discoveries. Locke is always mentioned with the respect of a disciple; he prepared an epitaph for Newton, which speaks for itself; and, when we recollect that the controversy between the ancients and moderns was then raging, it must not merely be admitted that he was entitled to pronounce the opinion which we have quoted, but it may be inferred that the opinion which he gave was that of his age.