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"THE Beginning of the History of Great Britain was first published in Rawley's Resuscitatio (1657). At what period it was composed we have no certain means of knowing. But there is a letter in the same volume described as a letter "to the King upon sending him a beginning of the history of his Majesty's times;" and we may presume that this was the paper which accompanied it. The letter is not dated. It is placed however in all the collections among those which belong to the early part of James's reign; and from a passage in another letter to the King, also undated but certainly written while Bacon was solicitor-general and apparently about the beginning of 1610, I should conjecture that it was composed a little before that time. His object in the last-mentioned letter was to obtain from the King a promise of the attorney's place, whenever it should be vacant; for "perceiving how at this time preferments of law flew about his ears, to some above him and to some below him ',' he had begun to think that, unless he had some better assurance of advancement in his present course, it would be better for him to give it over," and to make proof (he proceeds) 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 laboureth with and hath in your head2, than to spend my wits and time in this laborious place," and so on.
Alluding perhaps to the preferment of "one Bromley, an obscure lawyer," to a Barony of the Exchequer; of Sir Edward Philips to the Mastership of the Rolls, and of Sir Julius Cæsar to the reversion of that office: which was the news of January, 1609-10. See Chamberlain to Carleton; Court and Times of James I., vol. i. p. 103-4.
2 Alluding perhaps to the King's Speech in the Banqueting Hall, 21 March, 1609-10. State Paper Office, vol. liii. (domestic) no. 31. See also Winwood's Memorials, iii. p. 136. T
The letter which accompanied the history runs thus:
"Hearing that your Majesty is at leisure to peruse story', a desire took me to make an experiment what I could do in your Majesty's times; which being but a leaf or two, I pray your pardon if I send it for your recreation; considering that love must creep where it cannot go. But to this I add these petitions. First, that if your Majesty do dislike anything, you would conceive I can amend it upon your least beck. Next, that if I have not spoken of your Majesty encomiastically, your Majesty would be pleased only to ascribe it to the law of an history, which doth not clutter together praises upon the first mention of a name, but rather disperseth and weaveth them through the whole narrative. And as for the proper place of commemoration, which is in the period of life, I pray God I may never live to write it. Thirdly, that the reason why I presumed to think of the oblation was because, whatsoever my disability be, yet I shall have that advantage which almost no writer of history hath had, in that I shall write of times not only since I could remember, but since I could observe. And lastly, that it is only for your Majesty's reading."
I am the more inclined to assign the composition of this little historical piece to the latter end of 1609 or the beginning of 1610, because I find no allusion to it either before or after as one of Bacon's projected works. And I suppose that he abandoned the design altogether, either because the King did not encourage him to proceed, or because, after the Earl of Salisbury's death which happened early in 1612, he had no prospect of leisure; being fully engaged in the business of the day, and all the time he had to spare being devoted to his philosophy.
Mr. Craik (Bacon and his writings; vol. i. p. 213.) says it was probably written in 1624. But if so Dr. Rawley would surely have mentioned it in his list of the works written by Bacon during the last five years of his life.
As an account of the temper of men's minds at James's entrance, it is complete; and in my judgment one of the best things in its kind that Bacon ever wrote.
Alluding probably to Camden's Annals of Queen Elizabeth, which the King was reading and criticising in the MS. about the beginning of 1610, and of which he sent a considerable portion to the French historian De Thou towards the close of that year. Compare Bacon's letter to Sir R. Cotton, 7 April, 1610, with Chamberlain's to Carleton, 29 Jan. 1610-11.
HISTORY OF GREAT BRITAIN.
By the decease of Elizabeth, Queen of England, the issues of King Henry the Eighth failed; being spent in one generation and three successions. For that King, though he were one of the goodliest persons of his time, yet he left only by his six wives three children; who reigning successively and dying childless, made place to the line of Margaret, his eldest sister, married to James the Fourth King of Scotland. There succeeded therefore to the kingdom of England James the Sixth, then King of Scotland, descended of the same Margaret both by father and mother; so that by a rare event in the pedigrees of Kings, it seemed as if the Divine Providence, to extinguish and take away all note of a stranger, had doubled upon his person, within the circle of one age, the royal blood of England by both parents. This succession drew towards it the eyes of all men ; being one of the most memorable accidents that had happened a long time in the Christian world. For the kingdom of France having been reunited in the age before in all the provinces thereof formerly dismembered; and the kingdom of Spain being of more fresh memory united and made entire by the annexing of Portugal in the person of Philip the Second; there remained but this third and last union, for the counterpoising of the power of these three great monarchies, and the disposing of the affairs of Europe thereby to a more assured and universal peace and concord. And this event did hold men's observations
and discourses the more, because the Island of Great Britain, divided from the rest of the world, was never before united in itself under one King; notwithstanding the people be of one language, and not separate by mountains or great waters; and notwithstanding also that the uniting of them has been in former times industriously attempted both by war and treaty. Therefore it seemed a manifest work of Providence and case of reservation for these times; insomuch as the vulgar conceived that there was now an end given and a consummation to superstitious prophecies (the belief of fools, but the talk sometimes of wise men), and to an ancient tacit expectation which had by tradition been infused and inveterated into men's minds. But as the best divinations and predictions are the politic and probable foresight and conjectures of wise men, so in this matter the providence of King Henry the Seventh was in all men's mouths, who, being one of the deepest and most prudent princes of the world, upon the deliberation concerning the marriage of his eldest daughter into Scotland, had by some speech uttered by him showed himself sensible and almost prescient of this event.
Neither did there want a concurrence of divers rare external circumstances (besides the virtues and condition of the person) which gave great reputation to this succession. A king, in the strength of his years, supported with great alliances abroad, established with royal issue at home, at peace with all the world, practised in the regiment of such a kingdom as mought rather enable a king by variety of accidents than corrupt him with affluence or vain glory; and one that besides his universal capacity and judgment, was notably exercised and practised in matters of religion and the church; which in these times by the confused use of both swords are become so intermixed with considerations of estate, as most of the counsels of sovereign princes or republics depend upon them. But nothing did more fill foreign nations with admiration and expectation of his succession, than the wonderful and (by them) unexpected consent of all estates and subjects of England for the receiving of the King without the least scruple, pause, or question. For it had been generally dispersed by the fugitives beyond the seas (who partly to apply themselves to the ambition of foreigners, and partly to give estimation and value to their own employments, used to represent the state of England in a false light), that after Queen Elizabeth's decease there must follow in England
nothing but confusions, interreigns, and perturbations of estate; likely far to exceed the ancient calamities of the civil wars between the houses of Lancaster and York, by how much more the dissensions were like to be more mortal and bloody when foreign competition should be added to domestical, and divisions for religion to matter of title to the crown. And in special, Parsons the Jesuit, under a disguised name, had not long before published an express treatise, wherein whether his malice made him believe his own fancies, or whether he thought it the fittest way to move sedition, like evil spirits which seem to foretell the tempest they mean to move, he laboured to display and give colour to all the vain pretences and dreams of succession which he could imagine; and thereby had possessed many abroad, that knew not the affairs here, with those his vanities. Neither wanted there here within this realm divers persons both wise and well affected, who though they doubted not of the undoubted right, yet setting before themselves the waves of peoples' hearts (guided no less by sudden temporary winds than by the natural course and motion of the waters), were not without fear what mought be the event. For Queen Elizabeth, being a Prince of extreme caution, and yet one that loved admiration above safety, and knowing the declaration of a successor mought in point of safety be disputable, but in point of admiration and respect assuredly to her disadvantage, had from the beginning set it down for a maxim of estate to impose a silence touching succession. Neither was it only reserved as a secret of estate, but restrained by severe laws, that no man should presume to give opinion or maintain argument touching the same; so though the evidence of right drew all the subjects of the land to think one thing, yet the fear of danger of law made no man privy to other's thought. And therefore it rejoiced all men to see so fair a morning of a kingdom, and to be thoroughly secured of former apprehensions; as a man that awaketh out of a fearful dream. But so it was, that not only the consent but the applause and joy was infinite and not be expressed throughout the realm of England upon this succession; whereof the consent (no doubt) may be truly ascribed to the clearness of the right; but the general joy, alacrity, and gratulation were the effects of differing causes. For Queen Elizabeth, though she had the use of many both virtues and