Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

now, while I stand in your Majesty's good opinion, though unworthy, and have some little reputation in the world, to give over the course I am in, and to make proof to do you some honour by my pen, either by writing some faithful narrative of your happy though not untraduced times; or, by recompiling your laws, which I perceive your Majesty laboured with, and hath in your head, as Jupiter had Pallas, or some other the like work, for without some endeavour to do you honour I would not live, than to spend my wits and time in this laborious place wherein I now serve, if it shall be deprived of those outward ornaments which it was wont to have, in respect an assured succession to some place of more dignity and rest, which seemeth now to be an hope altogether casual, if not wholly intercepted. Wherefore, not to hold your Majesty long, my humble suit to your Majesty is that, than the which I cannot well go lower, which is, that I may obtain your royal promise to succeed, if I live, into the attorney's place whensoever it shall be void ; its being but the natural and immediate step and rise which the place I now hold hath ever in sort made claim to, and almost never failed of. In this suit I make no friends but to your Majesty, rely upon no other motive but your grace, nor any other assurance but your word ; whereof I had good experience when I came to the solicitor's place, that it was like the two great lights which, in their motions, are never retrograde. So, with my best prayers for your Majesty's happiness, I rest." *

In 1613, Bacon's desire was fulfilled. He was appointed attorney-general, on the elevation of Hobart to the bench as Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. He received a further honour in his election by the members · of Cambridge University as their representative. His attorneyship was distinguished by the prosecution of Edmond Peachem, “one of the most despicable wretches who ever brought shame and trouble on the Church,” yet

* Bacon's Works (edit. Basil Montagu), v. 322.

one whom Bacon's hostile biographers have thought fit to represent as a martyr and a victim, tortured and racked almost to the death by the vindictive attorney-general. In truth, the man was a dishonest scribbler of libels and treasonable pamphlets, who had malignantly plotted to involve in ruin some of his staunchest and kindest patrons, the friends of Bacon, and richly deserved exemplary punishment. It is not the less a matter of regret, however, that he was subjected to the torture by order of the commissioners appointed to inquire into his guilt, and that among these commissioners should have been the greatest intellect of the age. We are not concerned to represent Bacon as a perfect man. We admit the flaws which weakened his character. Our sole object is to judge him fairly and tolerantly; to do him that justice which the world willingly renders to meaner men; and not to exaggerate errors into crimes, or to take a base delight—as some of his biographers have notably donein enlarging upon the deficiencies of his moral nature.

It was about this time that “a star” of surpassing brilliancy rose above the horizon of the Court in the person of George Villiers, afterwards Duke of Buckingham, the handsomest, cleverest, most brilliant, and most generous of all the favourites of the weak James. Between him and Bacon a cordial alliance was gradually cemented; and to this radiant, volatile youth the grave lawyerphilosopher inscribed a composition of noble eloquence, entitled, “Advice to Sir George Villiers,” indicating the whole course of duty of an English statesman, and laying down the true principles of government.

He considers his subject under eight heads:—(1) Religion and the Church; (2) Justice and the Laws; (3) The Council and the Great Officers of the Kingdom ; (4) Foreign Negotiations and

embassies ; (5) War, the Navy, and Ports; (6) Trade at Home; (7) Colonies; and (8) The King's Court. It may have been the sumptuousness, the brilliancy, and the many graces of Villiers which touched the fancy and commanded the sympathies of Bacon; it must have been the vast intellectual power of Bacon which drew the admiration of Villiers. Partly through the latter's influence with the king, and partly through the force of his own great services, Bacon at last obtained the prize of his ambitious hopes, the Great Seal, and on the 7th of March, 1617, was appointed Lord-Keeper of England, in succession to Lord Ellesmere. His accession to this high dignity was the subject of very general congratulation; and when, on the first day of Easter term, he took his seat on the Chancery Bench, he was attended by a splendid retinue of English notables. The rules he laid down for his guidance in his inaugural speech were excellent :

"Concerning speedy justice," he said, “I am resolved that my decree shall come speedily upon the hearing. Fresh justice is the sweetest. Justice ought not to be delayed. There ought to be no labouring in causes but that of the counsel at the bar. And because justice is a sacred thing, and the end for which I am called to this place, and therefore is my way to heaven (and if it be shorter it is none the worse), I shall, by the grace of God, as far as God will give me strength, add the afternoon to the forenoon, and some fortnight of the vacation to the terms, for clearing the causes of the Court. Only, the depth of the three long vacations I would reserve for studies of arts and sciences, to which in my nature I am most inclined.” *

Bacon nobly fulfilled these voluntary promises. He worked with so much assiduity and energy that in Easter

*“Domestic Papers, tempore James I.,” xiii. 18. Basil Montagu, “ Life and Works of Lord Bacon.”

E

and Trinity terms he settled no fewer than 3658 suits. To his admirable administration of his high office, even Lord Campbell, the most captious and carping of his biographers, who is always ready to hint a suspicion or suggest some depreciatory circumstance, bears testimony:

“He sat forenoon and afternoon, coming punctually into Court, and staying a little beyond his time to finish a matter, which if postponed might have taken another day; most patiently listening to everything that could assist him in arriving at a right conclusion, but giving a broad hint to counsel by a question, a shrug, or a look, when they were wandering from the subject; not baulking the hopes of the suitors by breaking up to attend a cabinet or the House of Lords; not encouraging lengthiness at the bar to save the trouble of thought; not postponing judgment till the argument was forgotten; not seeking to allay the discontent of the bar by “nods, becks, and wreathed smiles!”

On the 4th of January, 1618, he had the higher distinction of Lord Chancellor bestowed upon him; and, a few months later, he was raised to the peerage by the title of Lord Verulam. By a later creation he became Viscount St. Albans, but posterity has persisted in ignoring both these titles, and in recognising the “father of experimental philosophy” only as Lord Bacon.

These honours he wore with dignity; and, despite the feebleness of his physical frame, induced by incessant application, Bacon might reasonably count on a long and prosperous career. But it is generally in the hour of our greatest success that evil-handed Fortune prepares a poisoned chalice for our lip. The bolt breaks from the unclouded blue. At this moment of triumph the Lord Chancellor was suddenly brought to the very verge of ruin. Sir Edward Coke, his old and persistent rival and enemy, had married his daughter and heiress to Sir John Villiers, the brother of the all-powerful favourite. Bacon did what he could to avoid an alliance which boded him no good; and, in so doing, aroused the indignation of Buckingham, and through him, of the king. His downfall was imminent, and he averted it only by the most profuse apologies, which Buckingham, after awhile, condescended to accept.

It is pleasant to turn from these petty intrigues to record the publication, in October, 1620, of the Novum Organum,the great work which had employed his meditations for thirty years, and was destined to lay the foundation of a new and comprehensive system of inductive philosophy.

Its author was more fortunate than poets and philosophers usually find themselves. His genius was permitted at once to enjoy the fruition of its labours. His reputation grew by no small degrees, was watered by no bitter tears of sorrow and disappointment; for the world spontaneously hailed, and with ungrudging applause, the rich and lofty gift—the “noblest birth of time”-laid before it by Bacon's luminous intellect.

Bacon's fortunes had now reached their zenith; he was in the full enjoyment of almost everything which the heart or mind can covet-fame, affluence, high position, the means of doing good service to his country and humanity, ripe intellectual vigour, the admiration of friends, the applause of the learned. All classes of the community paid him their homage. In the splendour of his renown as philosopher, orator, lawyer, judge, the faults of his character were scarcely perceptible. The energy with which he did his judicial work, and the justice of his decisions, provoked general approval. The

« AnteriorContinuar »