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1621

CHARACTER OF BACON.

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claimed in the enthusiasm of youth. He laid himself open to the criticism of chemists and astronomers, because he believed that the whole intellectual world was at his feet, and that a single generation would suffice to classify and arrange the infinite phenomena of nature. He laid himself open to the criticism of statesmen and lawyers, because, in his reverence for the powers of intellect, he despised the checks upon the exercise of sovereign power which in a free constitution are necessarily placed in the hands of commonplace and illeducated men. He laid himself open to the criticism of the moralist, by fancying that integrity of heart might be left to its own guidance; and that a vivid intelligence and a direct honesty of purpose might safely dispense with the forms which are needed for the guidance of smaller men, and might even, on occasion, overstep the line at which courtesy passes into insincerity. Yet, in the end, the wisest and greatest of his generation had to learn that he too was fallible, and that even for him forms were necessary.

His failure as a statesman.

The tragedy of Bacon's final catastrophe has branded itself upon the memory of succeeding generations. Yet his failure as a judge is not to be compared, in real interest, with his failure as a statesman. The one is attractive as a psychological problem; the other contains a lesson to which it is well to give ear at all times and in all seasons. In the speculative ideal which he set forth to the world in the New Atlantis, he proposed that different tasks should be distributed to different classes of labourers in the cause of science, no one of which was to share in the duties of another. The collector of facts was not to conduct experiments. The conductor of experiments was not to pronounce upon their value. It was to be the duty of a body of men standing apart from the vulgar contamination of the observatory and the laboratory, to make use of the results by raising the scattered truths to the dignity of a higher science. In the same spirit he would have assigned to all men their position in the State. The country gentlemen might administer a rude justice in their respective districts. The judges might decide moot points of law bearing upon the

rights of property. Parliaments might vote subsidies, might, subject to the veto of the Crown, assent to laws for the benefit of the commonwealth, and might give useful information of the state of public feeling, or of the existence of popular grievances. But, knowing as he did, that the highest work of legislation and government calls forth the highest faculties of man, he did not venture to confide the chief interests of the nation to common hands. In the Sovereign who had recognised his own merit, he saw, or fancied that he saw, a patriotic king, who would control the hard technicalities of the judges by his Court of Chancery; who would supply the weakness of criminal justice by his Court of Star Chamber; and would regulate, by means of his Privy Council, questions of high policy with which Parliament was unfit to be trusted. How it ended we all know. On the great questions on which his advice would have been truly valuable, on the reform of the law, on the Spanish alliance, on the war in Germany, he was probably never seriously consulted during the four years of his tenure of the Great Seal; and his opinion, whenever, at long intervals, he ventured to tender it, was certainly never adopted. Yet it is not to the incapacity of James, or the arrogance of Buckingham, that we must look for the heaviest condemnation of Bacon's system. If ever a man was fitted, by nature and study, to be the leader of a nation, it was he; and yet this man, great as he was, failed ignominiously, no less in that which he did, than in that which he was compelled to leave undone. Narrow as, in many respects, the commercial policy of the House of Commons was, it was not so narrow as Bacon's. It saw by instinct what Bacon could not see, the intolerable abuses which would necessarily spring from the powers which he claimed for the Crown. In condemning Bacon it condemned, in a rude and accidental fashion, the theory of government which draws a distinct line of separation between the Executive and the representatives of the people, and which affords no scope for that mutual play of special knowledge and of popular instinct which may sometimes check the speed at which an enlightened Government would fain advance, but which has saved us from incalculable blunders on either side,

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and which, above all, has made our slow progress more certain than that of other nations, because it has ensured that the amelioration of the laws shall go hand in hand with the growth of the national conscience.

His monarchical

Yet, whatever we may think of Bacon's political ideas, it is grossly unfair to him to confuse his devotion to monarchy with the narrow-minded partisanship of the Cavaliers of the Restoration, or with the no less narrow-minded theories. theories of the non-jurors of a later age. In his eyes the cause of monarchy was the cause of intellect in the eternal battle against ignorance, pedantry, and routine. He believed that, on the whole, the King would choose wiser servants than a body so inexperienced as the House of Commons was likely to do. He feared the encroachments of the popular party for the same reasons as those which, in later times, led Canning to throw his weight into the scale in opposition to the advocates of popular reform. Then, as now, the victory was to be won, not by mere declamation on constitutional privileges, or on the rights of the people, but by the spread of political knowledge, and of that moral self-restraint which, in every noble people, is the surest result of increased responsibility.

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May 4. Sentence upon

CHAPTER XXXV.

THE JURISDICTION OF PARLIAMENT.

UNCONSCIOUS of their high destiny, and utterly unembarrassed by any theories about their constitutional position, the Commons steadily pursued the course upon which they had entered, and continued to strike at practical abuses. Michell. The day after judgment had been delivered in the case of the late Lord Chancellor, they were summoned to the bar of the Upper House to hear Michell sentenced to degradation from the order of knighthood, to imprisonment during the King's pleasure, to a fine of 1,000l., and to perpetual exclusion from public office.1

Not many days before, a fresh case of corruption had been laid before the Lords. It had been proved, to the satisfaction of the Commons, that Sir John Bennett, the Judge of the Prerogative Court, had abused the opportunities afforded by his jurisdiction, to extort large sums from those who had, in due course, applied to him for letters of administration.2

April 24. Charge against Sir J. Bennett.

April 20.

With these vigorous proceedings the King had no reason to be displeased. With his usual indolence, he was glad enough to see others labouring to detect abuses which he The King on had never discovered himself. If he was jealous at all, it was rather of the form than of the substance of authority. It was in this spirit that, on April 20, he had addressed the Houses. They would do well, he said, to 'Lords' Journals, iii. 89, 95, 108.

good terms

with the Houses.

2 Proceedings and Debates, i. 233, 241, 256, 279, 297; Lords' Journals, iii. 87.

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take away all patents that were grievances, and likewise those grievances of unjust judges. It was a happy thing for him to be informed of such great abuses. But let them beware of attacking his Ministers for private objects; and above all, let them see that they did not abridge the authority of the courts, or of the Royal prerogative.2

The Bill for
Chancery
Reform.

These last words were evidently directed against a bill which had just been read a first time in the Commons. Under the modest title of 'An Act for the Reversing of Decrees in Courts of Equity on just cause,' it provided that, at the re-hearing of any case in Chancery, the two Chief Justices and the Chief Baron should act as assistants to the Chancellor, or, in other words, that the final decision in a court, the main value of which consisted in its readiness to afford redress against the injustice committed by the common law judges, should be entrusted to a body in which those very judges composed the majority. Such a bill would doubtless be highly satisfactory to Coke, as it would give him back, at a blow, all the ground which he had lost in his dispute with Ellesmere in 1616. But James, whatever his motives may have been, did good service in opposing so retrograde a measure.3

Fresh supplies refused.

The House had, in the course of the session, given way too often to the King's susceptibilities to make it probable that offence would be taken at this last specimen of selfassertion. There were, however, some demands to which it was impossible to assent. For the first time for more than two months, James addressed a few words to the Commons on the subject of the state of the Continent. He was continuing to negotiate, he said, in hope of peace; but in the meanwhile it would be necessary to purchase arms and to prepare for war. All this would require money; and the

1 This was probably a reflection from his own mind of Bacon's belief that he was attacked factiously. Bacon had not yet acknowledged his faults.

2 Proceedings and Debates, i. 285.

3 Ibid. i. 274.

House of Lords.

There is a copy of the Bill amongst the MSS. of the

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