« PreviousContinue »
THE earliest notice of the following piece which I have met with is in a letter from Mr. John Chamberlain to Mr. Dudley Carleton, dated December 16, 1608. "I come even now," he says, "from reading a short discourse of Queen Elizabeth's life, written in Latin by Sir Francis Bacon. If you have not seen nor heard of it, it is worth your enquiry; and yet methinks he doth languescere towards the end, and falls from his first pitch neither dare I warrant that his Latin will abide test or touch." 1
About the same time, or not long after, Bacon himself sent a copy of it to Sir George Carew, then ambassador in France, with a letter which, though undated, enables us to fix the composition of it with tolerable certainty in the summer of 1608. "This last summer vacation (he says), by occasion of a factious book that endeavoured to verify Misera Fœmina (the addition of the Pope's Bull) upon Queen Elizabeth, I did write a few lines in her memorial; which I thought you would be well pleased to read, both for the argument and because you were wont to bear affection to my pen. Verum ut aliud ex alio, if it came handsomely to pass, I would be glad the President De Thou (who hath written a history, as you know, of that fame and diligence) saw it; chiefly because I know not whether it may not serve him for some use in his story; wherein I would be glad he did right to the truth and to the memory of that Lady, as I perceive by that he hath already written he is well inclined to do."
In answering a letter from Tobie Matthew dated February 10 [1608-9], Bacon sent him also a copy of this tract; with the following remarks. "I send you also a memorial of Queen
1 Court and Times of James I., i. 83.
Elizabeth, to requite your eulogy of the late Duke of Florence's felicity. Of this when you were here I shewed you some model; at what time methought you were more willing to hear Julius Cæsar than Queen Elizabeth commended. But
this which I send is more full, and hath more of the narrative: and further hath one part that I think will not be disagreeable either to you or to that place; being the true tract of her proceedings towards the Catholics, which are infinitely mistaken. And though I do not imagine they will pass allowance there, yet they will gain upon excuse." Tobie Matthew, who had joined the Catholic Church not long before, could not quite allow this part himself, and appears to have taken exceptions to it in his reply. Upon which Bacon writes again, apparently in the summer of 1609, "For that of Queen Elizabeth, your judgment of the temper and truth of that part which concerns some of her foreign proceedings, concurs fully with the judgment of others to whom I have communicated part of it; and as things go, I suppose they are likely to be more and more justified and allowed. And whereas you say, for some other part, that it moves and opens a fair occasion and broad way into some field of contradiction, on the other side it is written to me from the lieger at Paris [Sir G. Carew] and some others also, that it carries a manifest impression of truth with it, and that it even convinces as it grows. These are their very words; which I write not for mine own glory, but to show what variety of opinion rises from the dispositions of several readers. And I must confess my desire to be, that my writings should not court the present time or some few places, in such sort as might make them either less general to persons or less permanent in future ages." Upon this Matthew seems to have written a rejoinder on the 4th of August, to which Bacon merely replies, "As for the memorial of the late deceased Queen, I will not question whether you be to pass for a disinteressed man or no; I freely confess myself am not, and so I leave it."
"This work," says Dr. Rawley writing in 1657, "his Lordship so much affected that he had ordained by his last will and testament to have had it published many years since; but that
Alluding possibly to the Imago Civilis Julii Cæsaris; the piece which stands next but one in this volume, and of which we know nothing but that Dr. Rawley found it among Bacon's papers, and printed it along with the Opuscula Philosophica in 1658.
singular person entrusted therewith soon after deceased, and therefore it must expect a time to come forth amongst his Lordship's other Latin works: "1-alluding to the volume of Opuscula philosophica which was published in the next year, and in which it first appeared.
The will of which Dr. Rawley speaks, and of which Tenison has given an extract in the Baconiana, was probably a draft only, not a copy; for in Bacon's last will there is no mention of this piece. And as in that draft it is distinguished from his other papers by the expression of a particular wish that it should be published, it is not improbable that he had proceeded to take special measures to secure that object, by putting it into the hands of that "singular person" to whom Dr. Rawley alludes. This would account for the omission of the clause relating to it in his last will of all, and also for the separation of the manuscript from his other papers, and afterwards (upon the death of the person entrusted with it) for its being locked up or mislaid. Considering moreover that it related to state affairs with which Bacon's official position had made him acquainted, he may have thought that it ought not to be published without the sanction of a Privy Councillor,- for we know that he had this scruple with regard to the publication of his own letters; and among all the Privy Councillors then living the man whom he would most naturally select for such a trust was his old and much revered friend Bishop Andrews, who survived him only by a few months. This is only a guess; but if true, it explains why Bacon did not propose to include this piece among his Opera Moralia et Civilia (though that indeed might be sufficiently accounted for by the probability that it would have caused the volume to be prohibited in Italy), and how the publication of it came to be so long delayed.
But however this may be, the fact with which we are principally concerned is the value which Bacon himself set upon it: and of this the draft of the will affords conclusive evidence. The work is important, because it relates to a series of proceedings which Bacon had watched almost from the beginning with anxious interest and from a position very favourable for ob
Epistle to the Reader, in the Resuscitatio.
2" Also whereas I have made up two register-books, the one of my orations or speeches, the other of my epistles or letters, whereof there may be use, and yet because they touch upon business of state they are not fit to be put into the hands but of some counsellor, I do devise and bequeathe them," &c. Last Will.
servation; and because it was written at a time when he could have had no other motive in writing it than a wish to bear witness to what he believed to be the truth. For though I do not myself believe that which has been commonly asserted, upon the evidence, I think, chiefly of strangers or slanderers, that the depreciation of Elizabeth was popular at court, there was certainly nothing to be gained by flattering her. And if Bacon was not a disinterested witness, as he confesses he was not, it was only because the impression which her character and conduct had made upon him was so favourable that he had grown partial; and this very partiality must be accepted as a historical fact, not the least significant among the many testimonies which history bears in her favour.
It cannot have been for its literary merit that Bacon especially valued this writing; for the style is more than usually hasty and careless, and there is some truth in Mr. Chamberlain's criticism that it falls off a little towards the end; a defect which a very little trouble would have removed.
The passage in which he alludes to the death of Anne Boleyn is interesting; and the more so because his argument did not oblige him to make any allusion to it, and he appears to me to have gone purposely out of his way to bring it in. Had his argument required him to show that the felicity of Elizabeth began with her parents, the case would have been desperate. Her mother having been put to death by her father upon a charge of incest and adultery, there must have been either the most awful guilt in one of them or the most awful calamity to both. And therefore when I find Bacon, in an argument designed to prove the constant felicity of Elizabeth's fortune, deliberately and unnecessarily introducing such a topic,— I say unnecessarily, because it is brought in only with reference to the question as to the "dignity of her birth," that is whether she was really a king's daughter, I conclude that he was only making an occasion to place on record Anne's last message (which he afterwards inserted in his collection of Apophthegms) and his own opinion of her innocence.
What weight is due to that opinion, one cannot well say without knowing how much he knew of the circumstances. There was naturally a strong inclination on the part of the Protestants in Elizabeth's time to believe Anne Boleyn innocent. This inclination would naturally be exasperated into
passion by the slanders and invectives of the Catnolics. Of the evidence produced at the trial there was no accessible record, and the position of Elizabeth herself between her father's memory and her mother's forbade the question to be openly or freely discussed. It is probable therefore that his impression was formed upon rumours and charitable surmises of no very authentic or trustworthy character; and that of the nature of the direct evidence he did not know more than we do now. Not so however with regard to the weight of the verdict. Of the value to be attached to the judgment of the Peers in a trial for treason and to an attainder by Parliament, Bacon must have been a much better judge than any one can be now, standing as he did so much nearer the time, and so well versed as he was in the details of similar proceedings half a century later. We cannot suppose him to have been ignorant of the composition of the tribunal which found Anne Boleyn guilty, and yet it is clear that he did not on that account find it impossible to believe her innocent. Most true it is no doubt, as Mr. Froude has well pointed out, that the assumption of Anne Boleyn's innocence involves an assumption that not Henry only, but also Peers and Parliament, were deeply guilty. But it is a grave fact that Bacon, writing within little more than seventy years of the time, and being himself a middle aged man with much experience of courts and Parliaments, did not regard it as an assumption which must be dismissed as incredible.
In so far as the balance of probabilities depends upon our estimate of Henry's personal character, his judgment is of less importance. Of that (although he may no doubt in his boyhood have heard something from his father, who had had opportunities of personal observation) he probably took his impression from the popular historians, who had little to guide them beyond the naked outline of Henry's public proceedings, and were not in a position to see below the surface. When the particular difficulties with which he had to deal were forgotten and the rapid succession of violent changes had altered the relative position of all parties and the complexion of all interests, the chronicle of his reign exhibited a series of violent proceedings,leagues of amity and marriage alliances with neighbour kings followed by quarrels and wars, divorces of wives followed suddenly by fresh marriages, great ministers suddenly disgraced and executed, penalties of heresy enforced now against