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The noble author had no faith in the permanence of modern languages. He predicts, with assurance absolute, that “they will at one time or other play the bankrupt with books.” But why? Perhaps the fate of Chaucer haunted him; and it was certainly his policy in regard to his foreign as well as home readers, to conform in his scientific traductions to the pedantry of his time. His native tongue is now more richly endowed than that of his choice, and both hemispheres have guaranteed its integrity. “Since I have lost much time with this age, I would be glad, as God shall give me leave, to recover it with posterity.” It is fortunate that he did not always appeal to “ Prince Posterity” in a dead language; and the renown of the “great worke” would have been more commensurate with its utility, had he employed his own beautiful English, instead of the scholastic vehicle, to express the systematic grandeur and depth of his thoughts. What, for instance, to say nothing of Greek and Roman precedent, would have been the popularity of Locke's Essay, if he had wrapped it up in modern Latin, and left his countrymen to the tardy alms of the translator ?
His final opinion of these productions, and his intention to add to their number, must not be passed over. “As for my Essays, I count them but as the recreations of my other studies, and in that sort purpose to continue them; though I am not ignorant that those kind of writings would, with less pains and embracement, perhaps, yield more lustre and reputation to my name than those other which I have in hand.”
The Essays were published in French and Italian during the author's life, and it is rather surprising that Bayle does not notice them specifically in his Dictionary. Mr. Montagu informs us that the first book published in Philadelphia consisted partly of the Essays. Would any modern colony bear such a first book? The Latin translation was a work performed by divers hands, to which he gave, says Tennyson, the title of Sermones Fideles, after the manner of the Jews, who called the word Adagies, or observations of the wise, faithful sayings, that is, credible propositions, worthy of firm assent and ready acceptance.
Succeeding essayists must be content to occupy a lower place than the author of this celebrated volume, and therefore we never find it printed with the British Essayists. There is nothing ephemeral about it. Critics of books and manners are not entitled to rank with the critic of nature and life. Written by a scholar, courtier, and wit, without pedantry, modishness, or flippancy, the utmost reach of practical insight is blended with the views of the sage; the freshness of first thoughts is not lost in the finish of reflection. They were begun in the midst of hope, amplified in the midst of ambition, and concluded in the throng of bitter memories, rendered keener by the loftiest presages. Any particular examination of the style or principles of these dissertations would be superfluous. Their general tendency is as useful as their workmanship is beautiful. The late Dugald Stewart classes them “under the head of Ethics,” and gives an excellent account of “the small volume, the best known and most popular of his works. It is also one of those where the superiority of his genius appears to the best advantage, the novelty and depth of his reflections often receiving a strong relief from the triteness of the subject. It may be read from beginning to end in a few hours; and yet after the twentieth perusal, one seldom fails to remark in it something overlooked before. This is indeed a characteristic of allıBacon's writings; and is only to be accounted for by the inexhaustible aliment they furnish our own thoughts, and the sympathetic activity they impart to our torpid faculties.” Sir James Mackintosh considers, that though the book has been praised with equal fervour by Voltaire, Johnson, and Burke, it has never been characterized with such exact justice as in this extract. We
prefer Dr. Johnson's dictum (if his it can be called, after the quoted letter to Prince Henry): “ Their excellence and their value consist in their being observations of a strong mind operating upon life, and consequently you find there what you seldom find in any other works.” “ They operate upon life,”—upon moral, physical, and spiritual subjects. They might be called the common sense of a great man collated with human affairs; but it is the common
sense of a superlative genius, generalizing upon multifarious observation, and so pervaded with the savour of high and various experience, as to come home to every bosom. Each Essay is composed of materials excursively gathered up, and well marshalled ; every sentence might be called a self-contained one, and yet all combine to form or illustrate a perfect whole: the connexion and the condensation are equally remarkable. It was his art to keep out of sight the intermediate links by which one proposition is really, though not apparently, bound to another. The chasm seems cleared by a sort of imperial prerogative, but it was literally travelled through by logic. In short, each Essay is composed of fine and weighty thoughts, “natural but not obvious," heightened by being independently just, and promoting a common object without the ceremony of an introduction. Much is left out that must have been thought out, or the duodecimo would more than fill a folio.
One of the first men of his time, the late Sir James Mackintosh, whose admiration of Bacon was habitual and unbounded, thus concludes a letter to a young friend on a course of study; but lest the advice should be deemed a mere epistolary hyperbole, let the reader consult two grave notes in his Dissertation, wherein he styles our author the “ master of wisdom,” and says his writings are still as delightful and wonderful as they ever were, and his authority will have no end :-"and as the result of all study, and the consummation of all wisdom, Bacon's Essays, to be read and converted into part of the substance of your mind.”
The fragment of the Colours of Good and Evil, which has often been separately published, deserves an attentive study and perusal, not merely on account of its intrinsic merit and subsequent position in the De Augmentis Scientiarum, under the head of Rhetoric, but as having been one of the writings first printed with the Essays, which it resembles in the result, if not in the mode. The present title does not seem so appropriate as that of Places of Persuasion and Dissuasion, which was adopted in the first edition. Bacon says he was moved to dedicate this writing to Lord Mountjoye “after the ancient manner, choosing both a friend, and one to whom he conceived the argument was agreeable.” The dedication, indeed, may be referred to as the best exposition of his design. The performance is original ; there was nothing like it before; and the loss has not yet been supplied of his more extensive collection of these “colours, popularities and circumstances, which are of such force as they sway the ordinary judgment both of a weak man and of a wise man, not fully attending or pondering the matter.” There can be no doubt either of the utility or difficulty of this undertaking. “Nothing can be of greater use and defence to the mind than the discovery and reprehension of these colours, (or, as he elsewhere calls them, popular marks, or colours, of apparent good and evil,') showing in what cases they hold, and in what they deceive; which as it cannot be done but out of a very universal knowledge of the nature of things, so being performed, it so cleareth a man's judgment and election, as it is the less apt to slide into any error.” The task is required at the hands of those “who are patient to stay the digesting and soluting unto themselves of that which is sharp and subtle."
The Collection of Apophthegms is only remarkable as having been “ made out of his memory, without turning to any book, in one morning.” The admirers of Lord Chesterfield will not approve of his not omitting “any because they are vulgar, for many vulgar ones are excellent good;” still his censure of the collections of Stobæus and others, that they “ draw much of the dregs,” is by no means inapplicable to his own. In fact they are unworthy of Bacon. Lord Byron has a curious memorandum in his “ Diary of 1821.” On the 5th January, among other things, we have the following vigil; “Mem.-Ordered Fletcher (at four o'clock this afternoon) to copy out seven or eight apophthegms of Bacon, in which I have detected such blunders as a school-boy might detect, rather than commit. Such are the sages ! What must they be, when such as I can stumble on their mistakes or misstatements ? I will go to bed, for I find that I grow cynical.”
Next morning we have this slap-dash continued. “ Mist-thaw-slop-rain. No stirring
out on horseback. Read Spence's Anecdotes. Pope is a fine fellow-always thought him
Corrected blunders in nine apophthegms of Bacon—all historical; and read Mitford's Greece."
Byron did not know that the Apophthegms were but a “morning's work,” when illness had rendered him incapable of serious study; and that it is by no means certain we have the genuine dictation in this collection.
The POLITICAL and LEGAL works require no prefatory detail of a biographical or historical character. Our author was, unfortunately, born and bred a courtier; and he thought, wrote, and acted as became an adherent of the court party, by birth, parentage, and education. The lawyer was, therefore, grafted upon the courtier ; and the politician was neither more nor less than the compound of both. The law, common and statute, combined with prerogative, made up the cardinal principle of political action, and formed the ultimate and immediate standard of public virtue; it was the courtier's test; and though one more enlarged and philosophical would have been more worthy of him, we should recollect that if few subscribe to it now, still fewer knew of it then. The court, the law, the country were successively regarded, but the first was paramount; the second was supposed, as the forms of the constitution were always rigidly observed, to include the third, as it certainly did the first. Much that is grating to modern liberality in Bacon's publications, speeches, and conduct, may thus be more easily accounted for than justified. The capital error of his age was the mixing up of religion with state affairs, to the huge disadvantage of the commonweal. Ecclesiastical power had lately been transferred into political hands, but the spell of its sorcery was broken in the transfer, and the vain attempt to restore its potency cost the country two revolutions. It is to be borne in mind, that the most zealous approvers of this mischievous policy, whenever and however persisted in, are the very men whose hostility to civil liberty is only surpassed by their rancorous hatred of christianity itself.
The political writings are all of a practical nature; and when the high and multifarious character of his engagements is considered, this circumstance entitles him to be regarded as the busiest as well as the greatest man of his time. They are more numerous than bulky, and their value is more proportioned to their variety than their extent.
The first of these Tracts, On the State of Europe, was written at a very early period, and is probably nothing more than a careful draught for diplomatic rather than general use. It is crabbed and compressed in manner, and devoid alike of sentiment or metaphor ; but it presents an accurate chart of the state of the continent, and a similar sketch of its existing state would not be an uninteresting or useless work. There is one European potentate to whose successor Bacon's stern description would still apply," he governeth altogether as a tyrant;” and this must of course refer to “ the Muscovite emperor of Russia.”
The Discourse in the Praise of his Sovereign, exceeds in eloquence and flattery the piece which will be found near the end of the second volume, In Felicem Memoriam Elizabethe The one was evidently penned during the life of the Virgin Queen, and the other was written soon after her death. The former is the discourse of a courtier, the latter of a politician, but though quite distinct in execution, they were both intended to counteract, the one at home, and the other abroad, the bull of the Vatican, and the calumnies of more private papists. From a letter to Sir George Carew it appears that he sent the Latin Tract to the President De Thou. It is to be remarked, however, that neither of these pamphlets were made public during his life. James hated the memory of his illustrious predecessor; but that the author should not merely not print either piece, but should even omit in the De Augmentis the beautiful passages of praise which appear in The Advancement of Learning, can only be accounted for by degrading him. The philosopher forfeited his freedom when he aspired to become a courtier ; and as he had sold himself to the court, and had already
incurred the loss of popular esteem, without obtaining a tittle of preferment, something must be allowed to disappointment as well as servility.
Detesting Elizabeth's ecclesiastical government as much as we admire her political administration, it will not be denied that the character was worthy of his pen ; and no one has drawn it with more grace and vigour than the neglected “ Counsel Extraordinary.” The flowers of his rhetoric, if we may be allowed to euphuize, are full of the honey of his philosophy; they are as fragrant as they are brilliant ; the bright array of compliments comprises the substance of her proud reign. How eloquent is the following matter-of-fact paragraph!
“She hath reigned in a most populous and wealthy peace, her people greatly multiplied, wealthily appointed, and singularly devoted. She wanted not the example of the power of her arms in the memorable.voyages and invasions prosperously made and achieved by sundry her noble progenitors. She had not wanted pretences, as well of claim and right, as of quarrel and revenge. She hath reigned during the minority of some of her neighbour princes, and during the factions and divisions of their people upon deep and irreconcilable quarrels, and during the embracing greatness of some one that hath made himself so weak through too much burthen, as others are through decay of strength; and yet see her sitting as it were within the compass of her sands. Scotland, that doth as it were eclipse her island; the United Provinces of the Low Countries, which for wealth, commodity of traffic, affection to our nation, were most meet to be annexed to this crown; she left the possession of the one, and refused the sovereignty of the other : so that notwithstanding the greatness of her means, the justness of her pretences, and the rareness of her opportunity, she hath continued her first mind, she hath made the possessions which she received the limits of her dominions, and the world the limits of her name, by a peace that hath stained all victories.”
Sir Walter Scott may have had this passage before him, when he drew the stately lady, in his Kenilworth.
“ For the royal wisdom and policy of government, he that shall note and observe the prudent temper she useth in admitting access ; of the one side maintaining the majesty of her degree, and on the other side not prejudicing herself by looking to her estate through too few windows : her exquisite judgment in choosing and finding good servants, a point beyond the former : her profound discretion in assigning and appropriating every of them to their aptest employment: her penetrating sight in discovering every man's ends and drifts: her wonderful art in keeping servants in satisfaction, and yet in appetite: her inventing wit in contriving plots and overturns : her exact caution in censuring the propositions of others for her service : her foreseeing events: her usage of occasions :-he that shall consider of these, and other things that may not well be touched, as he shall never cease to wonder at such a queen, so he shall wonder the less, that in so dangerous times, when wits are so cunning, humours extravagant, passions so violent, the corruptions so great, the dissimulation so deep, factions so many; she hath notwithstanding done such great things, and reigned in felicity.”
The last sentence is truly the crowning exaggeration.
“ Time is her best commender, which never brought forth such a prince, whose imperial virtues contend with the excellence of her person ; both virtues contend with her fortune ; and both virtue and fortune contend with her fame."
In 1592, Bacon vindicated the queen and government in his first political pamphlet, entitled “ Certain Observations upon a Libel.” It was probably undertaken to please some of the ministers who had been personally abused by his Jesuitical antagonist. The examination of the libel, upon the eight points " which he had observed in reading it,” is very com
” plete. It is a tract on the civil and ecclesiastical state of the kingdom, and it will be found to contain much interesting matter, especially under the second and third divisions of the subject. Men will judge very differently of Bacon's merits in the controversy. The respective cases of the catholic and puritan, dissenters are involved in it, and it would have been
marvellous had the government scribe pleased either of these formidable factions. As a church-of-England man, he was in the predicament of having to make good his position against the Romanists, on grounds which were not calculated to afford him much assistance in contending with the protestant dissidents. The catholics, as the ousted party, sought to recover possession—to reconquer their spiritual domination—by open rebellion, by foreign invasion, and by the thunders of the Vatican; and therefore they were opposed to the queen's civil and ecclesiastical government. The puritans detested the popery of established protestantism, and were opposed only to her ecclesiastical regiment. But both fared alike, and both were treated as rebels. Severe penal laws were enacted to restrain both parties ;—their effect upon the papists was afterwards exhibited in the massacre of the protestants in Ireland, and the great rebellion may be considered as their natural effect on the English puritans. From that time to the present, these consequences have been in active operation; and as subjects have grown wiser, monarchs have grown milder. When governments infer political conduct from religious doctrine, civil treason from speculative opinion, overt sedition from simple non-uniformity; and proceed on this monstrous conclusion to take measures for punishing the holders of the doctrine as if it had been reduced to practice, the opinion as if it had brought forth treason, the non-uniformity as if the cold negative had precipitated itself into rampant sedition, legislation is turned into rank persecution, and such legislators provide for endless discord under pretence of preserving the peace. Bacon lived to urge more reasonable courses than those which he here attempts to justify. But he never understood the principles of religious liberty; he was trammelled by notions of official experience ; and the only party which could have furnished him with the most perfect clue of guidance through the thick-coming perplexities, was despised by him, and persecuted. Neither the papists, the church-of-Englandists, nor the puritans, whatever might be their immediate or avowed objects, whether restoration, stability, or further reformation, dreamed of a toleration; and the honour of first asserting the rights of conscience, was due to a sect which had no connexion with any of them. The Independents, whom Bacon refers to as the Brownists, a sort of nick-name which did not last long, were the first teachers of civil equality; and it is hardly credible that our author should thus write of a sect as crushed, which was destined so soon afterwards to "wrong the wronger till he rendered right.” After speaking in moderate terms of the puritans, he thus adverts to the "third kind of Gospellers, called Brownists.”
“ And as for those which we call Brownists, being when they were at the most a very small number of very silly and base people, here and there in corners dispersed, they are now,
thanks be to God, by the good (!) remedies that have been used, suppressed and worn out; so as there is scarce any news of them. Neither had they been much known at all, had not Brown their leader written a pamphlet, wherein, as it came into his head, he inveighed more against logic and rhetoric, than against the state of the church, which writing was much read; and had not also one Barrow, being a gentleman of a good house, but the that lived in London at ordinaries, and there learned to argue in table-talk, and so was very much known in the city and abroad, made a leap from a vain and libertine youth to a preciseness in the highest degree, the strangeness of which alteration made him very much spoken of; the matter might long before have breathed out.”
This is as simple and foolish a sneer as ever was written. But will it be believed that this same Barrow, though the sect was "worn out,” was actually condemned to die for his “preciseness” the very next year? He and Greenwood were butchered, aye, and butchered privately, for their “preciseness,” in 1593! They had maintained that churches should not be dependent on the state; and they had dared to form them, and conduct religious exercises in them, in a manner different from that prescribed by state-authority; and they were condemned to die!“ A morning arrived,” says Vaughan,“ in which, at an early hour, these