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king smiled upon his distinguished subject, who was also fortunate enough to be upon good terms with the king's favourite, and it was supposed that he would retain the Great Seal for the full term of his prosperous career.
At Kew he had a pleasant villa, to which, during his busy seasons, he would repair for a day's leisure : and at Gorhambury, where he spent his vacations, he had erected, at a cost of £10,000, a commodious mansion, in which and in its grounds he had indulged his luxurious taste. In London he kept an ample state at York House, gathering around his hospitable board all that was most distinguished in the society of the day. It was here that, on his sixtieth birthday, he gave the grand banquet which Ben Jonson has commemorated :
Hail, happy Genius of this ancient pile !
Out of their choicest and their whitest wool.” On the 30th of January, 1621, a parliament, which had been summoned by Lord Bacon's advice, assembled at Westminster. Both at home and abroad the aspect of affairs was so lowering, that the king found it absolutely necessary to seek the support of his " faithful Commons;” and his Lord Chancellor urged him to win their confidence by redressing the grievances under which the country impatiently groaned. His scheme included a reform in the administration of the law; an abolition of the nefarious monopolies, which impoverished the people; to asssail the myrmidons and hangers-on of the Court; an immediate increase of the naval force of the kingdom; and a vigorous foreign policy in the interests of Protestantism.
But each of these proposals was an offence to one or other of James's profligate courtiers, and simply intensified the hatred which they already bore towards the Lord Chancellor. By the able but unscrupulous Dean (afterwards Archbishop) Williams, who secretly coveted the Lord-Keepership; by Sir Lionel Cranfield, whose ambition rested on the Lord Treasurer's staff; and by Sir Edward Coke, whose increasing years brought no diminution of the ancient enmity, a conspiracy was formed against the chancellor, in order to secure his immediate destruction. The circumstances of the time greatly favoured their attempt. A strong feeling of anger and disgust had arisen in the country at the sbameless venality which disgraced the administration of justice; and the House of Commons, reflecting the temper of the people, resolved on the punishment of the principal offenders. The judge of the Prerogative Court was impeached for venality, and the Bishop of Llandaff for being accessory to a matter of bribery. Bacon's enemies saw their opportunity, and having made sure that neither Buckingham nor the king would shield him, struck at once, availing themselves of the fee system which existed in the Court of Chancery. The Lord Chancellor and his principal officers received no, or very trivial,
salaries, and maintained their dignities and their establishments by means of the presents, fees, “benevolences
or to use a plainer word—bribes, which they received from the suitors of the court. Such a system was obviously open to abuse; but Bacon, a profuse man, with no apparent power of regulating his expenditure by economical principles, made no attempt to reform it. He took presents from suitors, as probably his predecessors had done, and never paused to inquire, or shrank from inquiring, whether the practice was defensible. But the country had grown weary of it, and was resolved that the administration of justice should be purged of all suspicion and discredit.
Soon after the meeting of parliament, Sir Edward Coke obtained a committee of the whole House to sit on Wednesdays, and hear complaints relative to the Courts of Justice. It soon became known that its object was to obtain evidence in support of a charge of bribery and corruption against the chancellor; and on the 19th of March, their charge was openly preferred at the bar of the House of Lords. It took cognisance of two-andtwenty items. Bacon, at the time, lay at York House, very sick and feeble; but he hastened to address to the Lords the following dignified and pathetic letter :
“MY VERY GOOD LORDS,—I humbly pray your Lordships all to make a favourable and true construction of my absence. It is no feigning, nor fainting, but sickness, both of my heart and of my back, though joined with that comfort of mind that persuadest me that I am not far from heaven, whereof I feel the first fruits. And because, whether I live or die, I would be glad to preserve my honour and fame as far as I am worthy. Hearing that some complaints of base bribery are come before your Lordships, my requests unto your Lordships are:-
First, that you will maintain me in your good opinion, without prejudice, until my cause be heard ; secondly, that, in regard I have sequestered my mind at this time, in great part, from worldly matters, thinking of my account and answer in a higher court, your Lordships would give me some convenient time, according to the course of other events, to advise with my counsel and to make my answer, wherein, nevertheless, my counsel's part will be the least ; for I shall not, by the grace of
; God, trick up innocency with cavillations, but plainly and ingenuously (as your lordships know my manner is) declare what I know and remember; thirdly, that, according to the course of justice, I may be allowed to except to the witnesses brought against me, and to move questions to your lordships for their cross-examination, and likewise to produce my own witnesses for discovery of the truth; and, lastly, if there were any more petitions of like nature, that your lordships would be pleased not to take any prejudice or apprehension of any number or muster of them, especially against a judge that makes two thousand decrees and orders in a year (not to speak of the courses that have been taken for hunting out complaints against me), but answer them according to the rules of justice, severally and respectfully.
“These requests, I hope, appear to your lordships no other than just.
“And so, thinking myself happy to have so noble peers, several prelates, to discern of my cause, and desiring no privilege for subterfuge of guiltiness, but meaning (as I said) to deal fairly and plainly with your lordships, and to put myself upon your honours' favours, I pray God to bless your counsels and your persons, and rest your lordships' humble servant,
“FR. ST. ALBAN, Cane." It seems to me that this letter was not unworthy of Bacon. It is the language of a mens conscia recti, and it was language which, to the last, he continued to hold. "I know," he said, “I have clean hands and a clean heart.” He addressed himself privately both to the king and the Duke of Buckingham ; but the latter had set his eye upon York House, and the former, though at first inclined to support his chancellor, was soon persuaded that, by flinging so great a victim before the Commons, he might check them from pursuing their perilous investigations. Bacon saw that his ruin was predetermined, and, like the old Roman, he drew his cloak around him, and prepared to fall with dignity. It may be that, by resigning the Seals, he hoped to propitiate his enemies, and avert a struggle for which his ill-health unfitted him; and he was doubtlessly moved by the urgent and repeated solicitations of the king, who, with tears in his eyes, besought the Lord Chancellor to abandon his defence, surrender his office, and trust his honour and his fortunes to the Crown. The bitterness of his enemies, however, was not to be so easily satisfied. He had not acknowledged his guilt, because he had not received particulars of the actions alleged against him. They were now set forth, with the view of wringing from him a plea of "guilty.” Twenty-two were charges of corruption, one was of carelessness. The majority of them, however, were speedily abandoned by the accusers themselves, who confined their indictment to four only. *
Bacon was about to be put upon his trial, when, on the 24th of April, perceiving that he was helpless in the hands of his enemies, he sent to the Lords, through the Prince of Wales, bis “humble submission and supplication.” In this he says :—"I do ingenuously confess and acknowledge that, having understood the particulars of
* These have been minutely examined by Mr. Hepworth Dixon in his “Story of Lord Bacon's Life,” and I think he shows very clearly that an impartial jury would decide that they were “not proven.”