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LORD HIGH CHANCELLOR OF ENGLAND.
THE ancient Egyptians had a law, which ordained that the actions and characters of their dead should be solemnly canvassed before certain judges; in order to regulate what was due to their memory. No quality, however exalted; no abilities, however eminent; could exempt the possessors from this last and impartial trial. To ingenuous minds this was a powerful incentive, in the pursuit of virtue; and a strong restraint on the most abandoned, in their career of vice. Whoever undertakes to write the life of any person, deserving to be remembered by posterity, ought to look upon this law as prescribed to him. He is fairly to record the faults as well as the good qualities, the failings as well as the perfections, of the dead; with this great view, to warn and improve the living. For this reason, though I shall dwell with pleasure on the shining part of my lord Bacon's character, as a writer; I shall not dare either to conceal or palliate his blemishes, as a man. It equally concerns the public to be made acquainted with both.
Sir Nicholas Bacon was the first lord Keeper of the seals invested with all the dignity, and trusted with all the power, of a lord Chancellor. high employment he held under queen Elizabeth VOL. I.
near twenty years : a minister considerably learned,
His second wife was a daughter
guages. Neither have they forgot to celebrate this Parsons lady on the same account. To the truth of which the Jesuit. even an enemy bore testimony, while he reproached
her with having translated, from the Latin, bishop
Such were the parents of Francis Bacon, whose
he was the youngest: and born at York-house, in the 1561. Strand, the twenty-second of January, 1561. As he
had the good fortune to come into the world at a
He gave marks, very early, of a pregnant and
Of his education I know no particulars, till he was sent to study in the university of Cambridge,
under Doctor Whitgift, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury: and I find he was entered of Trinity college 16th of in his twelfth year. The progress he made was ra- June 1573.
. pid and uncommon; for he had run through the whole circle of the liberal arts, as they were then taught, before he was sixteen. But what is far more surprising ; he began, even then, to see through the emptiness and futility of the philosophy in vogue : and to 'conjecture, that useful knowledge must be raised on other foundations, and built up with other materials, than had been employed through a tract of many centuries backward. In this, his own genius, aided by a singular discernment, must have been his only preceptor. In matters of reasoning, the authority of Aristotle was still acknowledged infallible in the schools; as much as that of the pope, in affairs of religion, had lately been acknowledged there and every where else. And our author may be justly styled the first great reformer of philosophy. He had the prepossessions, the voluminous and useless reading, nay he had the vanity of men grown old in contrary opinions, to struggle with: yet he lived to see a considerable revolution on his side. Another age brought over the learned of all nations to his party.
It may be justly wondered at, that the lord Keeper, a minister of great observation on men and things, should have sent his son to travel at the age of sixteen; as we find he did : for, by a letter from Sir Amias Powlet, then ambassador in France, it is certain that young Bacon was at Paris, and under his roof, in the year 1577. We need but look around us, to be convinced how little our youth of quality, who visit foreign countries about that age, are wont to profit either in taste, wisdom, or morals. But perhaps he discovered in his son a maturity of discretion and judgment beyond what is common to that early season of life. However that was, the anibassador conceived a very favourable opinion of Bacon ; for he sent him over to the queen with a commission that required secrecy and dispatch : of
which he acquitted himself with applause, and then returned to finish his travels. The native bent of his mind, strongly turned to reflection and inquiry, suffered him not to stop short at the study of languages, but led him higher, to remark accurately on the customs and manners of those that spoke them ; on the characters of their princes, and on the constitution of their several governments. In proof of this, there is still extant among his works, a paper of observations on the general state of Europe, written by him shortly after this time; as I have discovered by a circumstance mentioned in it.*
He was the youngest son, and seems to have been the favourite of his father; who had set apart a considerable sum of money to purchase an estate for him, in his absence. But before that kind intention could take effect, the lord Keeper died suddenly, by the following accident. He was under the hands of his barber, and, the weather being warmer than usual, had ordered a window before him to be thrown open. As he was become very corpulent, he presently fell asleep in the current of fresh air that was blowing in upon him; and awaked after some time distempered all over. Why, said he to the servant, did you
suffer me to sleep thus exposed ? The fellow replied, that he durst not presume to disturb him. Then, said the lord Keeper, by your civility I lose my life; and so removed into his bed-chamber, where he died a few days after. Thus there remained to his youngest son only the small proportion of a sum, which was to be divided among five brothers.
The narrowness of his circumstances obliged him to think of some profession for a subsistence: and he applied himself, more through necessity, than choice, to the study of the common law. For that purpose, he placed himself in the society of Gray's Inn; where his superior talents rendered him the or
* He says that Henry III. of France was then 30 years old : Dow that king began his reign 1574, at the age of 24 years. So that Bacon was then nineteen.