« AnteriorContinuar »
faithful subject, was bound to declare his abhorrence of the treason, whatever feelings of compassion and old friendship he might secretly cherish towards the traitor. Lord Campbell admits—what is indeed a truism—that “ friendship cannot justify treason or any violation of the law;" “but,” he asks, "are the sacred ties of friendship to be snapped asunder by the caprice of any crowned head ?” This is the merest sophistry. Friendship does not require a man to defend a traitor, and we should be loath to recognise its “sacred ties” if our former friend proved ready to betray both his queen and fatherland.
From the earliest date of Bacon's connection with Essex, he showed himself a frank and a sincere friend. Even Lord Macaulay admits that the advice wbich he gave was generally most judicious. He did all that he could to dissuade the earl from accepting the perilous charge of the Irish Government—then, as now, a burden bringing with it more pain than honour. “For,” says Bacon, “I did as
I did as plainly see his overthrow, chained as it were by destiny to that journey, as it is possible for a man to ground a judgment upon future contingents.” His foresight was vindicated; Essex returned in disgrace. Bacon then attempted to mediate between his friend and the queen, and, we believe, honestly employed all his address for that purpose.
But the task which he had undertaken was too difficult, delicate, and perilous even for so wary and dexterous an agent. He had to manage two spirits equally proud, resentful, and ungovernable. At Essex House he had to calm the
hero incensed by multiplied wrongs and humiliations, and then to pass to Whiteball for the purpose of soothing the peevishness of a sovereign whose temper, never very gentle, had been rendered morbidly irritable by age, by
declining health, and by the long habit of listening to flattery and exacting implicit obedience. In a word, he had to choose between Essex and his queen. It is the fashion to speak of the earl as Bacon's “noble benefactor,” but I cannot find that he overpaid Bacon's services. It is not less the fashion to speak lightly of the earl's crime; to refer to it as the mere indiscretion of a passionate and wounded nature; and yet he could scarcely have sinned more deeply than he did sin against his generous queen and patron.
It was due to the influence which Bacon now enjoyed with the queen that Essex was forgiven for his strange and wayward conduct in Ireland; but no sooner did he feel himself personally safe than he renewed his desperate intrigues. Abandoned by his old Protestant friends, he filled their places with subtle, designing Papists, the meanest of conspirators and most reckless of adventurers. Then the plot went bravely on. Lord Mountjoy was to bring over an army from Ireland; the queen's person was to be seized, and her deposition effected; Raleigh, Cobham, and Cecil, her chief advisers, were to be slain; and then Essex might play at dictator, or call in James of Scotland, if he were not previously overthrown by the dark intriguers into whose hands his passion had thrown him. Bacon made one more attempt to dissipate Elizabeth's anger, but by this time she was aware of the full compass of the earl's guilt. Every hour increased the weight and added to the fulness of the evidence against him. When Bacon pleaded for him, her wrath blazed up, and for three months the unlucky advocate was shut out from her favour. From Michaelmas to Christmas this burst of royal anger lasted. At the New Year Bacon contrived to gain admittance to her presence.
“Madame,” he said, * “I see you withdraw your favour from me; and now I have lost many friends for your sake, I lose
You have put me like one of those that the Frenchmen call enfans perdus, that serve on foot before horsemen; so have you put me into matters of envy without place or without strength; and I know at chess a pawn before the king is usual played upon. A great many love me not, because they think I have been against my Lord of Essex; and you love me not, because you know I have been for him. Yet will I never repent me that I have dealt in simplicity of heart towards you both, without respect of caution to myself; and, therefore, vivus vidensque pereo. If I do break my neck, I shall do it in a manner as Master Dorrington did it, who walked on the battlements of the church many days, and took a view and survey where he should fall. And so, Madame, I am not so simple but that I take a prospect of mine overthrow; only I thought I would tell you so much that you may know that it was faith and not folly that brought me into it. And so I will pray for you.”
The simplicity and candour of this appeal much moved the queen, who took him again into favour, while giving him clearly to understand that he must refrain from further advocacy of Essex.
A great man would doubtlessly have remained true to his friend though the heavens had fallen, but Bacon was a man of great genius, not a great man. He had nothing of the heroic in him; nothing of the stuff that makes martyrs ; and he acted as, I suppose, all prudent men in his place would have acted. His intellectual and moral natures differed vastly ; nothing was too bold for his mind to grasp at, but his nervous and timid temperament shrunk from self-denial or self-sacrifice. It was easier for him to yield than to stand firm; and no doubt he was always able to satisfy his conscience by considerations of expediency.
* Bacon's “ Apology,” Works, vi. 231.
The dark drama of the fate of Essex hastened rapidly to its dénouement. It was in the hush and calm of a Sabbath morning that, suddenly and all unexpectedly, the highest officials in the realm—Lord-Keeper Egerton, Lord Chief-Justice Popham, and the Lord Comptroller Knollys—appeared at the gate of Essex House. The plotters arose to discover that their intrigues were known. All was immediately confusion and dismay. The earl's house of cards tumbled to pieces in a moment. But, relying on his popularity with the Londoners, they determined on an effort of resistance. They sallied forth into the streets to rouse the citizens against the queen's government. With drawn sword Essex advanced at their head, shouting, “For the Queen ! for the Queen ! a plot is laid for my life !" But there was no response. No citizen joined the ranks of that despairing company. Sorely dismayed, Essex took boat at Queenhithe, and returned to his mansion, surrendering quietly on the arrival of the Lord Admiral Nottingham with the trainbands. In a few hours he was a prisoner in the Tower; and thus disastrously ended the "Ride of the Mad Earl.”
On the 19th of February, 1601, he was brought up for trial. His guilt was clear; the evidence of it indisputable. The simplest of tasks lay before the prosecutors, and we could wish, therefore, that Bacon had refrained from undertaking it. He might have left it to AttorneyGeneral Coke and Solicitor-General Henning. Though it is true that he acted in discharge of his official duty; if for once he had put that duty by, none would have blamed him. But he yearned to make his favour with the queen; and in his anxiety to please the sovereign,
forgot the delicacy he owed to the friend and patron. Nay, he plunged into such severities of language as to justify the earl's warning to his judges to be on their guard against “those orators who, out of a form and custom of speaking, would throw so much criminal odium upon him, while answering at the peril of his life a particular charge brought against him.” Let the reader, however, take for what it is worth Bacon's own justificatory plea, that what he did at the bar in bis public service,“ by the rules of duty,” he was bound to do “honestly and without prevarication.”
After the earl's execution, it was judged advisable to put before the public a narrative of his crimes, and Bacon was chosen to be the penman. Sending for him to the Palace, the queen commanded him to draw up, from materials furnished by herself and her Privy Council, such a State Paper as should satisfy the world that Essex had justly been condemned and had justly suffered. labour of pain, however accomplished; for if there were much that Elizabeth wished to conceal, out of regard for the memory of the young kinsman she had once loved, there was much that it was necessary to publish in vindication of the course she had adopted. Bacon's first essay was so gently worded that the queen and her counsellors took it in hand, strengthened its expressions, and elaborated its points. Then she bade him write it out afresh. Even when the Declaration of the Practices and Treasons of the late Earl of Essex and his Complices” had been thus embittered, she sent again for its author, complaining of the leniency of the sentiment and the tenderness of the language. “It is my Lord of Essex, my Lord of Essex,” she said, "on every page! You can't forget your old respect for the traitor. Strike it
It was a