Page images
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

FRANCIS BACON was born on the 22nd of January, 1560-1, at York House in the Strand, the residence of his father Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. Sixty years later, Ben Jonson sang of him as

'England's high Chancellor; the destined heir,

In his soft cradle, to his father's chair.'

His mother, Anne Cooke, whose eldest sister was married to Lord Burleigh, was his father's second wife, and had borne him two children. Anthony, the friend and correspondent of Essex, was two years older than Francis. Of their childhood nothing is known. In April, 1573, when Francis was little more than twelve years old, the two brothers were entered as fellow-commoners at Trinity College, Cambridge, and matriculated between the 10th and 13th of June in the same year. They were placed under the care of Dr. Whitgift, Master of the College, who found this distinguished position not inconsistent with holding the Deanery of Lincoln, a Canonry at Ely, and the Rectory of Teversham; having, however, previously resigned the Regius Professorship of Divinity. From an account-book which he kept, and which was published by the late Dr. Maitland in the British Magazine (vols. xxxii. xxxiii), we glean the meagre facts of Francis Bacon's University career. learn, for instance, that during the period of his residence in College, from April 5, 1573, to Christmas 1575, the Master's parental care supplied him with so many pairs of shoes, a bow and quiver of arrows, that there was oil bought for his neck, and certain money paid to the 'potigarie' when he was sick, and for meat probably as he was recovering, that he had a


desk put up in his study, that his stockings were dyed at a cost of 12d., that his laundress's bill from Midsummer to Michaelmas was 3 shillings, that his hose were mended, his windows glazed, two dozen silk points, a pair of pantofles and pumps bought for him, and a dozen new buttons set on his doublet. Some books the brothers brought with them from London. With others they were furnished by the Master, as Livy, Cicero, Demosthenes' Olynthiacs, Homer's Iliad, Cæsar, Aristotle, Plato, Xenophon, Sallust, and Hermogenes. There is an interval in the accounts from the latter part of August, 1574, to the 21st of March following; during which time the plague raged in Cambridge, and the members of the University were dispersed. The only record of Bacon's residence at Trinity is a reminiscence of his own preserved in the Sylva Sylvarum (cent. ii. 151), which shows that at this early period he had begun to observe natural phenomena. I remember,' he says, 'in Trinity College in Cambridge, there was an upper chamber, which being thought weak in the roof of it, was supported by a pillar of iron, of the bigness of one's arm, in the midst of the chamber; which if you had struck, it would make a little flat noise in the room where it was struck, but it would make a great bomb in the chamber beneath.' We may possibly have here a description of the rooms occupied by the two brothers, but if so they must have been in the buildings of King's Hall, removed by Dr. Nevill in constructing the present Old Court. No tradition of their whereabouts remains. If we add to these fragments an anecdote related by Dr. Rawley, his chaplain and earliest biographer, we are in possession of all that is known of Francis Bacon up to the time that he completed his fifteenth year. Rawley's story introduces us to a child of singular gravity and adroitness, the future Chancellor and courtier. The Queen 'delighted much then to confer with him, and to prove him with questions; unto whom he delivered himself with that gravity and maturity above his years, that Her Majesty would often term him "The young Lord Keeper." Being asked by the Queen how old he was, he answered with much discretion, being then

but a boy, "That he was two years younger than Her Majesty's happy reign;" with which answer the Queen was much taken.' Another anecdote from the same source, of which more than enough has been made, belongs to this period. 'Whilst he was commorant in the University, about sixteen years of age (as his lordship hath been pleased to impart unto myself), he first fell into the dislike of the philosophy of Aristotle; not for the worthlessness of the author, to whom he would ever ascribe all high attributes, but for the unfruitfulness of the way; being a philosophy (as his lordship used to say) only strong for disputations and contentions, but barren of the production of works for the benefit of the life of man; in which mind he continued to his dying day.'

The story which has been told above of the iron pillar in the chamber at Trinity shows that Bacon's attention had been very early directed to the observation of sounds, and lends a probability to the supposition that it may have been at this time that he tried the experiment recorded in the Sylva Sylvarum (cent. ii. 140). 'There is in St. James's Fields a conduit of brick, unto which joineth a low vault; and at the end of that a round house of stone; and in the brick conduit there is a window; and in the round-house a slit or rift of some little breadth; if you cry out in the rift, it will make a fearful roaring at the window.' In all this there is a certain ring of boyishness. To this time also belongs the story of the conjuror (Sylva, cent. x. 946), who must have exhibited his tricks at Sir Nicholas Bacon's house before Francis left England.

But his father had in view for him a public career as statesman or diplomatist, and after he had spent nearly three years over his books at Cambridge, sent him to France to read men. On the 25th of September, 1576, we learn from Burghley's diary, 'Sir Amyas Paulet landed at Calliss going to be Amb. at France in Place of Dr. Dale.' It was not till the February following that he succeeded to the post. Bacon apparently joined him after his arrival in Paris, for on Nov. 21, 1576, he was admitted of the grand company at Gray's Inn, having

entered the Society on the 27th of June previous. He was subsequently 'entrusted with some message or advertisement to the Queen; which having performed with great approbation, he returned back into France again, with intention to continue for some years there.' (Rawley.) Here we find him still keen in his observation of natural phenomena, sounds as before occupying a great share of his attention. Let him describe what he heard in his own words written nearly fifty years later. For echoes upon echoes, there is a rare instance thereof in a place which I will now exactly describe. It is some three or four miles from Paris, near a town called Pont-Charenton; and some bird-bolt shot or more from the river of Seine. The room is a chapel or small church. The walls all standing, both at the sides and at the ends. Two rows of pillars, after the manner of aisles of churches, also standing; the roof all open, not so much as any embowment near any of the walls left. There was against every pillar a stack of billets above a man's height; which the watermen that bring wood down the Seine in stacks, and not in boats, laid there (as it seemeth) for their ease. Speaking at the one end, I did hear it return the voice thirteen several times: and I have heard of others, that it would return sixteen times: for I was there about three of the clock in the afternoon; and it is best (as all other echoes are) in the evening..... I remember well, that when I went to the echo at Pont-Charenton, there was an old Parisian, who took it to be the work of spirits, and of good spirits. For (said he) call Satan, and the echo will not deliver back the devil's name; but will say, va t'en; which is as much in French as apage or avoid. And thereby I did hap to find that an echo would not return S, being but a hissing and an interior sound.' (Sylva Sylvarum, cent. iii. 249, 251.) Another story which he tells of himself belongs to this period of his life. 'I had, from my childhood, a wart upon one of my fingers: afterwards, when I was about sixteen years old, being then at Paris, there grew upon both my hands a number of warts (at the least an hundred) in a month's space. The English ambassador's lady, who was a woman far from superstition, told me one day,

« PreviousContinue »