Page images
PDF
EPUB

I

again confess, that in the points charged upon me, though they should be taken as myself have declared them, there is a great deal of corruption and neglect, for which I am heartily sorry, and submit myself to the judgment, grace, and mercy of the court. "For extenuation, I will use none concerning the matters themselves; only it may please your lordships out of your nobleness to cast your eyes of compassion upon my person and estate. was never noted for an avaricious man, and the Apostle saith "covetousness is the root of all evil." I hope also that your lordships do the rather find me in a state of grace, for that in all these particulars there are few or none, that are not almost two years old; whereas those that have a habit of corruption do commonly wax worse. So that it hath pleased God to prepare me by precedent degrees of amendment to my present penitency; and for my estate it is so mean and poor, as my care is now chiefly to satisfy my debts.

And so fearing I have troubled your lordships too long, I shall conclude with an humble suit unto you, that if your lordships proceed to sentence, your sentence may not be heavy to my ruin, but gracious, and mixed with mercy; and not only so, but that you would be noble intercessors for me to his majesty likewise for his grace and favor. Your lordships' most humble servant and supplicant, Franc. St Albans, Canc.'

[ocr errors]

The Lords, having heard this confession, sent a numerous deputation of peers and bishops, who shewed to the chancellor the said confession, told him, that the Lords do conceive it to be an ingenuous and full confession; and demanded of him, whether it be his own hand subscribed to the same, and whether he will stand to it or not.' The lord chancellor replied, 'My lords, it is my act, my hand, my heart; I beseech your lordships to be merciful to a broken reed.'

This answer being returned to the house, the Lords sent a deputation to the king, at the head of which was the prince, requesting him to sequester the seal, with which request the king immediately complied. On the first of May, (the day following these events,) as appears by a very particular account of the whole transaction drawn up by the king's order and enrolled in chancery, 'his lordship delivered up the great seal with the greatest decency, as well as with the highest signs of gratitude to the king for the many favors conferred upon him, and of the utmost sorrow for his own abuses of those acts of his sovereign favor."* According to the account of Bushel, he

*This document is contained in Rymer's Fœdera, xvii. 296. See Biogra phia Britannica, i. 405,

was sent by the chancellor to lord Windsor, to know the effect of his submission on the house. From him he learned, that the only act of grace he could expect was procured him by the interposition of the bishops, viz. that he should retain his titles of honor; upon hearing which the lord chancellor remarked,' that he was only bound to thank his clergy.'-The seals being sequestered on the first of May, and put in commission the second, the Lords resolved, that on the day following they would proceed to give sentence. The gentleman usher and sergeant at arms were commanded to wait upon the lord chancellor, and the sergeant at arms to take his mace with him and shew it to the chancellor, and so to summon him to appear in the House of Lords to receive sentence the next morning at nine o'clock. These officers found him sick in bed, and having summoned him, he answered, 'that he was sick, that he feigned not this for any excuse, for if he had been well he would willingly have come.' The Lords determined nevertheless to proceed, and sent a message to the Commons, that they were ready to give sentence, whenever the Commons, by their speaker, should come and demand it. The Commons immediately waited on the Lords, and the speaker from the bar moved the Lords for judgment, which was rendered by the lord chief justice, as follows:

'Mr Speaker: Upon complaint of the Commons against the viscount St Albans, ford chancellor, this high court hath thereby, and by his own confession, found him guilty of the crimes and corruptions complained of by the Commons, and of sundry other crimes and corruptions of like nature.

'And therefore this high court having first summoned him to attend, and having his excuse of not attending, by reason of infirmity and sickness, which he protested was not feigned, or else he would most willingly have attended, doth nevertheless think fit to proceed to judgment, and therefore this high court doth adjudge:

That the lord viscount St Albans, lord chancellor of England, shall undergo the fine and ransom of forty thousand pounds. That he shall be imprisoned in the tower during the king's pleasure.

That he shall forever be incapable of any office, place, or employment in the state or commonwealth.

'That he shall never sit in parliament, nor come within the verge of the court.'

It has been supposed, that the Lords were moved to this tremendous severity, by the belief, that the sentence would be mitigated by the king; and that in reality the punishment would be made as completely nominal, as it was in the power of the king to render it. This actually took place; after a short confinement in the tower, he was discharged from imprisonment. In a letter to the prince, dated June first, we find him expressing his thanks to the prince for the use of sir John Vaughan's house at Parson's Green. 'I am much beholden,' says he,' to your highnesses worthy servant sir John Vaughan, the sweet air and loving usage of whose house hath already much revived my languishing spirits. I beseech your highness thank him for me.' Three days after, we find the following letter to the king, which does great credit to the feelings of James, and shows that he was sincerely attached to lord Bacon:

I humbly thank your majesty for my liberty, without which timely grant any other grace would have come too late. But your majesty, that did shed tears at the beginning of my trouble, will, I hope, shed the dew of your grace upon me in the end, Let me live to serve you, else life is but the shadow of death to your majesty's devoted servant.'

Soon after this, he was permitted to have access to his majesty, and being still restrained by his sentence from coming within the verge of the court, this part of it was for the present not abrogated but suspended. We find from a letter of sir Antony Ashley to Buckingham, the second letter in the Cabala, that great offence was taken by the enemies of Buckingham at the promptness with which Bacon was released from the tower. As this letter is dated May twelfth, and Bacon was sentenced the third, it would appear that he was confined but a few days. The king had so long been used to resorting for advice to Bacon, that we find him calling for his counsel as to public affairs, even in this moment of his ruin; and a memorial exists of Bacon, written a week or two after his release from the tower, at the request of the king, touching the best mode of procedure with the reforms, of which his own ruin was the solemn inauguration. The king being deterred by the clamors of the hostile party from allowing him immediate release from the still existing restraints on his liberty, lord Bacon retired in June to his seat at Gorhambury. On the thirteenth of September, the king granted him a license to remain six weeks at sir John

Vaughan's house. On the twentieth of September, the king signed a warrant for assigning to his friends the fine of forty thousand pounds by way of protecting him to that amount from his creditors, and, October twelve, signed his pardon, except in respect to the last article of his sentence. Being therefore still unable to appear within the verge of court, he was obliged, when his license expired, to return to Gorhambury. In a letter to the king, dated March 1622, we find him expressing his thanks to James for his release from the prohibition to appear within the court, which we may suppose accordingly to have been granted about this time. A letter is also extant to the king, apparently written in September of the same year, and in the most touching strain, from which we must find room for a few sentences.

'For now it is thus with me; I am a year and a half old in misery; though I must ever acknowledge not without some mixture of your majesty's grace and mercy; for I do not think it possible that any one whom you once loved, should be totally miserable. Mine own means, through mine own improvidence, are poor and weak, little better than my father left me. The poor things that I have had from your majesty are either in question, or at courtesy. My dignities remain marks of your past favor, but burdens of my present fortune. The poor remnants which I had of my former fortunes, in plate or jewels, I have spread upon poor men unto whom I owed, scarce leaving myself a convenient subsistence. So as to conclude, I must pour out my misery before your majesty, so far as to say, si deseris tu, perimus.—

Your majesty shall not feel that in gift, which I shall extremely feel in help, for my desires are moderate, and my courses measured to a life orderly and reserved, hoping still to do your majes ty honor. Only I most humbly beseech your majesty to give me leave to conclude with these words, which necessity speaketh : Help me, dear sovereign, lord and master, and pity me so far, as that I, that have borne a bag, be not now in my age forced in effect to bear a wallet; nor that I, who desire to live to study, may not be driven to study to live.'

In consequence of this and other letters, some pecuniary favors were bestowed upon lord Bacon, though the great amount of his debts rendered his situation anxious and unhappy. That his poverty, however, has been exaggerated, we can scarcely doubt, particularly in the following atrocious account, at the close of his case in the state trials. 'His height

of abundance was reduced to so low an ebb, as to be denied beer to quench his thirst; for having a sickly stomach, and not liking the beer at Grays-Inn, he sent now and then to sir Fulk Grevil lord Brook, who lived in the neighborhood, for a bottle of his beer; and after some grumbling, the butler had order to deny him.' As Bacon retained pensions or grants to the amount of eighteen hundred pounds a year, and had a landed estate of a third as much, it is incredible that he should have been reduced to this abject poverty. Equally dubious do we regard the opposite tale, that he retained, after his fall, all the splendor which he had assumed in the height of his honors, and provoked the prince, who had passed him, driven in his carriage with great state and attendance, to say, 'Well, do what we can, this man scorns to go out like a snuff.' No part of his life, on the whole, does him more credit than that which he passed after his fall. He devoted himself unremittedly to his philosophical and literary pursuits. The very next year he published his history of Henry VII.

[ocr errors]

'Under the discouragement,' says Mallet, of a public censure, broken in his health, broken in his fortunes, he enjoyed his retirement not above five years; a little portion of time; and yet he found means to crowd into it what might have been the whole business, and the glory too, of a long and fortunate life.' One anecdote from this period does him so much credit, in a point of view in which his reputation has suffered moststrength of mind-that we cannot but quote it.

'One day his lordship was dictating to Dr Rawley some of his experiments in his Sylva. The same day, he had sent a friend to court, to receive for him a final answer, touching the effect of a grant which had been made him by king James. He had hitherto only hope of it, and hope deferred, and he was desirous to know the event of the matter, and to be freed, one way or other, from the suspense of his thoughts. His friend returning, told him plainly, that henceforth he must despair of that grant, how much soever his fortunes needed it. Be it so, said his lordship, and then he dismissed his friend very cheerfully, with thankful acknowledgments for his services. His friend being gone, he came straightway to Dr Rawley, and said thus to him, Well, sir, yon business wont go on, let us go on with this in our power, and then he dictated to him afresh for some hours, without the least hesitancy of speech or discernible interruption of thought.*

* Quoted from Abp Tennison's account of his writings, in Biographia Britan.

« PreviousContinue »