« PreviousContinue »
SOME ACCOUNT OF THE AUTHOR.
THE illustrious author of these Essays is so generally known as a man and a writer, that any particular account of him on the present occasion would be superfluous. To dwell, indeed, on the incidents of my Lord Bacon's life would be an unpleasant and mortifying task: for ever must it be deplored by the lover of literature and his species, that the possessor of this extraordinary intellect should have been exposed to the dangers of a situation to which his firmness was unequal; and, withdrawn from the retirement of his study, where he was the first of men, should have been thrown into the tumult of business, where he discovered himself to be among the last. The superiority, it is true, of his talents rendered him every where eminent; and when we see him acting at court, in the senate, at the bar, or on the bench, we behold an engine of mighty force, sufficient, as it would appear, to move the world: but when we earry our research into his bosom, we find nothing there but the ebullition and froth of some common or corrupt passions: and we are struck with the contrast between the littleness within, and the exhibition of energy without. But peace be to the failings of this wonderful man! they who alone were affected by them, his contemporaries and himself, have long since passed to their account; and existing no more as the statesman or the judge, he survives to us only in his works, as the father of experimental physics, and a great luminary of science.
In his literary character he must always be contemplated with astonishment; and we cannot sufficiently wonder at the riches or the powers of his mind; at that penetration which no depth could elude; that comprehension for which no object was too large; that vigour which no labour could
exhaust; that memory which no pressure of acquisitions could subdue. By his two great works, "On the Advancement of Learning," and "The New Organ of the Sciences," written amid the distraction of business and of cares, sufficient of themselves to have occupied the whole of any other mind, did this mighty genius first break the shackles of that scholastic philosophy, which long had crushed the human intellect; and diverting the attention from words to things, from theory to experiment, demonstrate the road to that height of science on which the moderns are now seated, and which the ancients were unable to reach.
But these grand displays of his genius and knowledge are now chiefly regarded as they present to the curious an illustrious evidence of the powers of the human mind. Having awakened and directed the exertions of Europe, the usefulness of these writings has in a great degree been superseded by the labours of the subsequent adventurers in science; who, pursuing the track marked out for them by their great master, have found it opening into a region of clear and steady light. Of the other works of this great man, which were objects of admiration to his own times, the following Essays are perhaps the only ones which retain much of their pristine popularity. His law treatises have always been restricted by their subject within the line of a professional circle of his state papers and speeches the power has expired with the interest of those events to which they were attached; and his History of Henry the Seventh, blemished as it is with something more than those defects of style which, from the example and patronage of a pedant king, then began to infect the purity of our composition, is in these days consulted only by the few.
But these Essays, written at a period of better taste, and on subjects of immediate importance to the conduct of common life," such as come home to men's business and bosoms," are still read with pleasure, and continue to possess, in the present age, nearly as much estimation as they did in that which witnessed their first publication. From the circumstance of their having engaged his attention at different and remote intervals of his life, they appear to have shared a more than common portion of their great author's regard; and they are evidently composed in his happiest manner, and