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of his worldly fortunes, offered his hand to the well-born and opulent widow, Lady Hatton, a grand-daughter of Lord Burleigh. She was rich, handsome, clever, witty, and—a shrew. In his suit he was strongly supported by his steadfast patron, Essex, who wrote in his favour both to the lady and her father ; but happily for Bacon, she chose for her husband his elderly and powerful rival, Attorney-General Coke, whom, as Macaulay says, she did her best to make as miserable as he deserved to be. This mercenary courtship of Bacon's does not raise our opinion of his character, which, indeed, was pitifully deficient in moral fibre and the elements of true great
Its sole excuse is to be found in his pecuniary difficulties, which would seem to have been very grave, as he was arrested by a money-lender, named Simpson, on a bond for £300, apparently as soon as the failure of his matrimonial venture became known.
“A dispute had arisen about the bond, and the matter having been argued during Trinity Term, 1598, the settlement was postponed, with Simpson's consent, until Michaelmas Term. On the 24th of September, two or three weeks before the time of settlement arrived, Bacon, going down to the Tower on Her Majesty's affairs, had been arrested at the suit of Simpson, and lodged by his captors in a sponging-house in Coleman Street, whence he sent to Lombard Street for Simpson, who, perhaps aware that he had no power to arrest a queen's officer actually engaged in Her Majesty's service, even if the days of grace were fully expired, refused to come. Bacon appealed to the Lord Keeper and to the Secretary of State against this illegal arrest. The bond was discharged before it was due, and Bacon returned to his lodgings in Coney Court.
The principal importance of this incident arises from the use made of it by Attorney-General Coke, with the view and for the purpose of injuring his great rival. It chanced that Bacon, having to move in the Court of Exchequer for the confiscation of certain lands belonging to a recusant papist, George More, had occasion to refer to Coke, and though his language was mild and moderate, he did not fail to excite Coke's fervent indignation. The attorney-general broke out
“Mr. Bacon, if you have any tooth against me, pluck it out, for it will do you more hurt than all the teeth in your head will do you good.'
“ Bacon. “Mr. Attorney, I respect you ; I fear you not; and the less you speak of your own greatness, the more I will think of it.'
- Coke. "I think scorn to stand upon terms of greatness towards
you, who are less than little ; less than the least.' “ Bacon. “Mr. Attorney, do not depress me so far; for I have been your better, and may be again, when it pleases the queen.'
“ With this,” says Bacon, who is himself the chronicler of the occurrence, “with this he spake neither I nor himself could tell what, as if he had been born attorney-general ; and in the end bade me not meddle with the queen's business, but with mine own; and that I was unsworn, &c. [That is, had not taken the oath of allegiance as attorney or solicitor-general.] I told him, sworn or unsworn was all one to an honest man; and that I ever set my service first, and myself second, and wished to God he would do the like. Then he said it were good to clap a capias ut legatum [a reference to the arrest for debt] upon my back! To which I only said he could not; and that he was at fault, for he hunted upon an old scent. He gave me a number of disgraceful words besides, which I answered with silence, and showing that I was not moved with them.”
In the same year, Bacon gave further illustration of the solidity and extent of his legal learning by the production of his “History of the Alienation Office," which, according to Lord Campbell, shows “a most copious and accurate acquaintance with existing law and with our legal antiquities." Another learned tractate “ On the Statutes of Uses” is characterised as possessing “the legal acuteness of a Fearne or a Sugden.'
This, as Lord Campbell says, was the most auspicious period of Bacon's career, and the one to which, in later life, he probably looked back with the greatest satisfaction. As yet he had not forfeited his self-respect, nor the esteem of men whose esteem was an honour. His pecuniary difficulties were being rapidly relieved by the increase of his practice at the bar. He was in high favour with the queen, who had conquered her prejudice against him, and consulted him more frequently than she did her attorney-general. Not only did she receive him in audience at the Palace, but often visited him in his retirement among the green shades of Twickenham. It was on one of these occasions that he dexterously turned aside the royal wrath from a young, hot-headed doctor of civil law, who had published a wild and almost treasonable book about the deposition of Richard II., and had hinted at the Earl of Essex as a future Bolingbroke.
“ There was treason in it," exclaimed the suspicious sovereign; and, appealing to Bacon, she inquired, Could he find no places in it that might be drawn within case of treason ?
“For treason, Madame,” replied Bacon, “I surely find none; but for felony, very many." Felony was hanging matter as well as treason; so the queen, well-pleased, replied
“Wherein ? Felony? Where ?” "Madame,” said Bacon, with a grave smile, “the author hath
committed very apparent theft, for he hath taken most of the sentences of Cornelius Tacitus, translated them into English, and put them into his text.”
“But Hayward,” continued Elizabeth, “is a fool; some ono else hath writ the book. Make him confess it; put it to the rack."
“Nay, Madame," answered Bacon, with evident enjoyment of his own hnmour, "rack not his body, rack his style. Give him paper and pens and ink, with what help he needs of books; bid him carry on his tale. By comparing the two parts, I will tell you if he be the true man.
The poet Pope, in a well-known couplet, bas made use of Bacon to point a moral and adorn a tale, and has contrived to embody the praises of his admirers, as well as the censures of his detractors, in the famous line
“The wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind.” But Pope was not a profound student, and probably based his epigrammatic estimate of the philosopher's character upon the gossip of the old diarist, Sir Symond d’Ewes, who, in evil alliance with the notorious Anthony Weldon and Sir Edward Coke, Bacon's life-long adversary, may be regarded as the source of most of the foul and black aspersions cast upon his fame. In our own time, Lord Macaulay has lent the force of his brilliant rhetoric, and Lord Campbell the weight of his legal acumen, to the unfavourable view of Bacon's character. The kindlier and more generous judgment, originally put forward by
* Bacon's “ Apology,” in his Works (Basil Montagu's edit.), vi. 220-222.
Ben Jonson, Aubrey, and the philosopher Hobbes, has been supported by Basil Montagu, and of late, with greater exactness and more complete research, by Mr. Hepworth Dixon and Mr. James Spedding, who, while not concealing his moral weakness, has vindicated his memory against the graver charges, and established his claims to the love and gratitude of his countrymen. To the impartial critic I think he will be, what he was to Ben Jonson, “one of the greatest men and most worthy of admiration that had been in many ages.”
Respecting no part of Bacon's career have his assailants and defenders more hotly contested than that which involves his intimate relations with the Earl of Essex. The unfriendly biographer represents his conduct as marked by the blackest treachery and meanest ingratitude ; the panegyrist sees in it the action of a wise and honest man, who loved the vain and gay young noble much, but his queen and country more. I believe that the true course is to accept a mean between these extreme opinions, and to believe that Bacon laboured honestly in the cause of Essex, and would gladly have saved him if his own levity and ill-regulated ambition had not rendered it impossible ; but that he refrained, like a prudent man and a loyal subject, from hopelessly entangling himself in his patron's ruin. He stood manfully by the earl until it was evident that he could no longer serve him, but might bring about his own destruction; and to me it is not clear why, because he was the author of the “Novum Organum," he should yet have acted without the least worldly discretion. Nor do I see that the guilt of Essex can reasonably be doubted. His execution was a political necessity; his crime was a crime which Elizabeth could not have pardoned if she would; and Bacon, as a lawyer and a