Page images




on the 22d of January, 1561.* Like several other extraordinary men, he is supposed to have inherited his genius from his mother †, and he certainly was indebted to her for Early edu the early culture of his mind, and the love of books for cation. which during life he was distinguished. Young Francis was sickly, and unable to join in the rough sports suited for boys of robust constitution. The Lord Keeper was too much occupied with his official duties to be able to do more than kiss him, hear him occasionally recite a little piece he had learned by heart, and give him his blessing. But Lady Instructed Bacon, who was not only a tender mother but a woman of by his highly cultivated mind after the manner of her age, devoted herself assiduously to her youngest child, who, along with bodily weakness, exhibited from early infancy the dawnings of extraordinary intellect. She and her sisters had received a regular classical education, and had kept up her familiarity with the poets, historians, and philosophers of antiquity. She was likewise well acquainted with modern languages, and with the theology and literature of her own times. She corresponded in Greek with Bishop Jewel respecting the then fashionable controversies, and she translated his Apologia from the Latin so correctly, that neither he nor Archbishop Parker could suggest a single alteration. She also translated admirably a volume of Sermons on "Fate and Free Will," from the Italian of Bernardo Ochino.

Under her care, assisted by a domestic tutor, Francis con- His protinued till he reached his thirteenth year. He took most gress. kindly to his book, and made extraordinary proficiency in the studies prescribed to him. His inquisitiveness and original turn of thinking were at the same time displayed. While Early turn still a mere child, he stole away from his playmates to a for inquiry. vault in St. James's Fields, for the purpose of investigating

• Some modern writers, who generally reckon by the new style, place his birth in January, 1560, which would mislead the general reader. See Mont. I.. or B. p. 1.

† Anthony, the elder brother, not being by any means distinguished, the case of the Bacon family might be cited to illustrate the retort upon the late Earl of Buchan, who was eldest brother to Lord Erskine and the famous Henry Erskine, Dean of Faculty, but very unequal to them in abilities, and who observing boastfully, "We inherit all our genius from our mother," was answered, "Yes, (and as the mother's fortune generally is,) it seems to have been all settled on


the cause of a singular echo which he had discovered there; and, when a little older, he amused himself with very ingenious speculations on the art of legerdemain, at present flourishing under the title of Mesmerism. He enjoyed at the same time the great advantage, on account of his father's station, and his being the nephew of the Prime Minister, of being early introduced into the highest and most intellectual society, in which he displayed most extraordinary gravity of deportment, as well as readiness of wit. So much was Queen Elizabeth struck with his manner and his precocity, that she used to amuse herself in conversation with him, and His answer to call him her " young Lord Keeper.' On one occasion he greatly pleased her by his answer to the common question put to children, how old he was?—" Exactly two years younger than your Majesty's happy reign.""

to Queen Elizabeth.

At Cambridge.


[ocr errors]

In his thirteenth year he was sent to Trinity College, Cambridge, and put under the care of Whitgift, then Master of the College, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, and famous for his bigotry and intolerance as well as his love of His studies learning. Here Bacon resided three years. We have rather vague accounts of his studies during this period, and we judge of his occupations chiefly from the result as testified in after life, and by his subsequent declarations respecting academical pursuits. It is said that he ran through the whole circle of the liberal arts as they were then taught, and planned that great intellectual revolution with which his name is inseparably connected. But all that is certain is, that at his departure he carried with him a profound contempt for the course of study pursued there. Had it been improved to its present pitch, and the tripos had been established,—in all probability he would still have selected his own course of study. Academical honours are exceedingly to be valued as a proof of industry and ability; but the very first spirits have not affected them, and men of original genius, such as Swift, Adam Smith, and Gibbon, could hardly have

* We owe this and the most authentic anecdotes respecting his early years to Rawley. "Ille autem tanta gravitate et judicii maturitate, supra ætatem se expedire valebat, ut Regina eum Dominum Custodem Sigilli minorem' ap. pellare solita sit. Interroganti Quot annos natus esset? ingeniose etiam puer adhuc, respondit Se regimini ejus felici duobus annis juniorem fuisse." p. 2. Ed. 1819.



submitted to the course of mechanical discipline which is indispensable to be thoroughly drilled in the knowledge of what others have done, written, and thought. If he had devoted his residence at the University to the drudgery necessary to take a high degree, and had actually been Senior Wrangler or Senior Medallist, or both, and a Fellow of Trinity to boot, he might afterwards have become Lord High Chancellor, but he never would have written his Essays, or the "Novum Organum." He must be considered as expressing his opinion of the Cambridge residents of his day, when he speaks of "men of sharp and strong wits and small variety of reading, their wits being shut up in the cells of a few authors, chiefly Aristotle their dictator, as their persons were shut up in the cells of monasteries and colleges, and who, knowing little history either of nature or time, did spin cobwebs of learning admirable for the fineness of thread and work, but of no substance or profit." He paid due homage His opinion to the gigantic intellect of the Dictator; but he ridiculed the of Aristotle. unfruitfulness of his method, which he described as strong for disputations and contentions, but barren for the production of works for the benefit and use of man, the just object for acquiring knowledge, and the only value of knowledge when acquired. † He left Cambridge without taking a degree, and with the fixed conviction that the system of academical education in England (which has remained substantially the same since his time) was radically vicious.


We now come to a passage of his life which has hitherto His resireceived too little attention in tracing the formation of his dence in mind and character. Allusion is made by his biographers to his residence in France, but generally in such terms as might be used in describing a trip to Paris by a modern student of law during the long vacation, with the advantage of an in

* Advancement of Learning.

Says Rawley his chaplain and biographer, "Whilst he was commorant at the University about sixteen years of age (as his Lordship hath been pleased to impart unto myself), he first fell into dislike of the philosophy of Aristotle. Not for the worthlesness of the author, to whom he would ever ascribe all high attributes, but for the unfruitfulness of the way-being a philosophy (as his Lordship used to say) only strong for disputations, but barren of the production of works for the life of man. In which mind he continued to his dying day."



troduction to the English minister there from the Secretary of State for foreign affairs. In reality, Bacon spent three whole years in France the most valuable of his life - and his subsequent literary eminence may be traced to his long sojourn in a foreign country during the age of preparatory studies almost as much as that of Hume or Gibbon. He first resided at Paris under the care of his father's friend, Sir Amyas Paulet, the English minister at the French Court, where "he sought that which is most of all profitable in travel, — acquaintance with the secretaries and employed men of ambassadors, and so in travelling in one country he sucked the experience of many." It is said that the stripling so far won the confidence of the wary diplomatist, that he was employed on a secret mission to the Queen, which having performed with great approbation, he returned back into France; but the nature of this negotiation is not hinted at, and the probability is, that, going on a short visit to his family, he was merely employed to carry despatches, for the purpose of facilitating his journey through the provinces, which were then rather in a disturbed state.t

On the recall of Sir Amyas Paulet, Bacon made a tour through the southern and western parts of France ‡, and then fixed himself for steady application at Poitiers. He now wrote his "Notes on the State of Europe," which display very minute accuracy of statement, without attempting any profundity of observation. Probably with a view of being engaged in diplomacy, he studied with great interest the art of writing in cipher, and he invented a method so ingenious, that many years after he thought it deserving of a place in the "De Augmentis." While thinking that he should spend

• Essay of Travel.

† On his return, Sir Amyas thus writes to the Lord Keeper, "I rejoice much to see that your son, my companion, hath by the grace of God passed the brunt and peril of his journey; whereof I am the more glad because in the beginning of these last troubles it pleased your Lordship to refer his continuance with me to my consideration. I thank God these dangers are past, and your son is safe, sound, and in good health, and worthy of your fatherly favour. Sept. 1577.”


His Essay of Travel shows him to have been most familiar with touring, and there the foreign traveller will find excellent advice, even to furnishing himself with a copy of "Murray's Handbook." Let him carry with him also some card or book describing the country where he travelleth, which will be a good key to his inquiry."

his life in such speculations and pursuits, he heard of the CHAP. sudden death of his father, and he was reserved for a very

different destiny.




He returns


He instantly returned to England, and had the mortifica- death of his tion to find that he was left with a patrimony so slender, that it was wholly insufficient for his support without a profession to Engor an office. "He had to think how to live, instead of living only to think." Sir Nicholas had amply provided for his other children, and had appropriated a sum of money to buy an estate for Francis, but had been suddenly carried off without accomplishing his purpose, and Francis had only a rateable proportion with his four brothers of the fund which was to have been applied to his exclusive benefit.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

He made a strenuous effort to avoid the necessity of taking to the study of the law, the only resource which remained to him if he could not procure some political appointment. He sued to Burghley directly, and indirectly through Lady Burghley, his aunt, in a strain almost servile, that some employment should be given to him. Considering his personal merit and qualifications, and, still more, considering his favour with the Queen and his connection with her chief minister, it seems wonderful that he should have failed, if we did not remember that the Lord Treasurer then wished to introduce into public life his favourite son, Robert Cecil, a very promising youth, but inferior in talents and accomplishments to his cousin, Francis Bacon, and that "in the time of the Cecils, father and son, able men were, by design and of purpose, suppressed." The Cecils not only refused to interest themselves for their kinsman, but now, and for many years after, that he might receive no effectual assistance from others, they spread reports that he was a vain speculator, and totally unfit for real business.

[ocr errors]

He was thus driven most reluctantly to embrace the law as a means of livelihood, and in 1580, in his 20th year, he was entered of Gray's Inn, of which Society his father had been long a member. He lived in chambers, No. 1. Gray's Inn

Bacon's letter to Buckingham.

Tries in vain to oblitical appointment.

tain po


the profession of the


« PreviousContinue »