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FROM HIS ENTRANCE INTO ACTIVE LIFE TILL HIS
DISAPPOINTMENT AS SOLICITOR, 1590 To 1596.
1596. Æt. 30.
He thus entered on public life, submitting, as a lawyer and 1590 to a statesman, to worldly occupations and the pursuit of worldly honours, that, sooner or later, he might escape into the calm regions of philosophy.
At this period the court was divided into two parties: at the head of the one were the two Cecils; of the other, the Earl of Leicester, and afterwards, his son-in-law, the Earl of Essex.
To the Cecils Bacon was allied. He was the nephew of Lord Burleigh, and first cousin to Sir Robert Cecil, the principal secretary of state; but, connected as he was to the Cecils by blood, his affections were with Essex. Generous, ardent, and highly cultivated, with all the romantic enthusiasm of chivalry, and all the graces and accomplishments of a court, Essex was formed to gain partizans, and attach friends. Attracted by his mind and character, Bacon could have but little sympathy with Burleigh, who thought £100. an extravagant gratuity to the author of the Fairy Queen, which he was pleased to term an "old song,”(b) and, probably deemed the listeners to such songs little better than idle dreamers. There was much grave learning and much pedantry at court, but literature of the lighter sort was regarded with coldness, and philosophy
(b) See note X at the end.
with suspicion: instead, therefore, of uniting himself to the party in power, he not only formed an early friendship himself with Essex, but attached to his service his brother Anthony, who had returned from abroad, with a great reputation for ability and a knowledge of foreign affairs. (c)
This intimacy could not fail to excite the jealousy of At. 31. Lord Burleigh; and, in after life, Bacon was himself sensible that he had acted unwisely, and that his noble kinsmen had some right to complain of the readiness with which he and his brother had embraced the views of their powerful rival. (d) But, attached as he was to Essex, Bacon was not so imprudent as to neglect an application to them whenever opportunity offered to forward his interests. In a letter written in the year 1591 to Lord Burleigh, in which he says that "thirty-one years is a great deal of sand in the hour-glass," he made another effort to extricate himself from the slavery of the law, by endeavouring to procure some appointment at court; that, "not being a man born under Sol that loveth honour, nor under Jupiter that loveth business, but wholly carried away by the contemplative planet," he might by that mean become a true pioneer in the deep mines of truth. (d) To these applications, the Cecils were not entirely inattentive; for, although not influenced by any sympathy for genius, "for a speculative man indulging himself in philosophical reveries, and calculated more to perplex than to promote public business," as he was represented by his cousin, Sir Robert Cecil, (ƒ) they procured for him the reversion of the Registership of the Star Chamber, worth about £1600. a year, for which, modestly ascribing his success to the remembrance of his father's virtues, he immediately acknowledged his obligation to the queen. This reversion, however, was not of
(c) See note Y at the end.
any immediate value; for, not falling into possession till after the lapse of twenty years, he said that "it was like another man's ground buttailing upon his house, which might mend his prospect, but it did not fill his barns.” (a)
In the parliament which met on February 19, 1592, and which was chiefly called for consultation and preparation against the ambitious designs of the King of Spain, (b) Bacon sat as one of the knights for Middlesex. (c) On the 25th of February, 1592, he, in his first speech, earnestly recommended the improvement of the law, an improvement which through life he availed himself of every opportunity to encourage(d) not only by his speeches, but by his works; in which he admonishes lawyers, that although they have a tendency to resist the progress of legal improvement, and are not the best improvers of law, it is their duty to visit and strengthen the roots and foundation of their science, productive of such blessings to themselves and to the community; and he submitted to the king that the most sacred trust to sovereign power consisted in the establishing good laws for the regulation of the kingdom, and as an example to the world.
To assist in the improvement which he recommended, he, in after life, prepared a plan for a digest and amendment of the whole law, and particularly of the penal law of England, and a tract upon Universal Justice; the one like a fruitful shower, profitable and good for the latitude of ground on which it falls, the other like the benefits of heaven, permanent and universal. (e)
In another debate on the 7th of March, Bacon forcibly represented, as reasons for deferring for six years the payment of the subsidies to which the house had consented,
(a) See note Z Z at the end.
(b) See note 2 Z at the end.
(e) See note CC at the end.
1592. Æt. 32.
the distresses of the people, the danger of raising pub discontent, and the evil of making so bad a precede against themselves and posterity. (a) With this speech t queen was much displeased, and caused her displeasu to be communicated to Bacon both by the Lord Treasur and by the Lord Keeper. He heard them with the calmne of a philosopher, saying, that “he spoke in discharge his conscience and duty to God, to the queen, and to h country; that he well knew the common beaten road t favour, and the impossibility that he who had selected course of life estimate only by the few,' should be approve by the many." (b) He said this, not in anger, but in th consciousness of the dignity of his pursuits, and with th full knowledge of the doctrine and consequences both o concealment and revelation of opinion: of the time to speak and the time to be silent. (c)
If, after this admonition, he was more cautious in the expression of his sentiments, he did not relax in his parliamentary exertions, or sacrifice the interests of the public at the foot of the throne. He spoke often, and always with such force and eloquence as to insure the attention of the house; and, though he spoke generally on the side of the court, he was regarded as the advocate of the people: a powerful advocate, according to his friend, Ben Jonson, who thus speaks of his parliamentary eloquence: "There happened in my time one noble speaker who was full of gravity in his speaking: his language, where he could spare or pass by a jest was nobly censorious. No man ever spake more neatly, more pressly, more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness in what he uttered: no member of his speech but consisted of its own graces. His hearers could not cough or look aside from him without loss: he commanded when he spoke, and had his judges angry and (b) See note E E at the end.
(a) See note DD at the end.
(c) See note F F at the end.
pleased at his devotion. No man had their affections more in his power: the fear of every man that heard him was lest he should make an end."
It would have been fortunate for society if this check had impressed upon his mind the vanity of attempting to unite the scarcely reconcileable characters of the philosopher and the courtier. His high birth and elegant taste unfitted Bacon for the common walks of life, and by surrounding him with artificial wants, compelled him to exertions uncongenial to his nature: but the love of truth, of his country, and an undying spirit of improvement, ever in the train of knowledge, ill suited him for the trammels in which he was expected to move. Through the whole of his life he endeavoured to burst his bonds, and escape from law and politics, from mental slavery to intellectual liberty. Perhaps the charge of inconsistency, so often preferred against him, may be attributed to the varying impulse of such opposite motives.*
In the spring of 1594, (a) by the promotion of Sir Edward Coke to the office of Attorney General, the Solicitorship became vacant. This had been foreseen by Bacon, and, Æt. 34. from his near alliance to the Lord Treasurer; from the friendship of Lord Essex; from the honourable testimony of the bar and of the bench; from the protection he had a right to hope for from the Queen, for his father's sake; from the consciousness of his own merits and of the weakness of his competitors, Bacon could scarcely doubt of his
He did not, however, rest in an idle security; for though, to use his own expression, he was "voiced with great expectation, and the wishes of all men," yet he strenuously applied to the Lord Keeper, to Lord Burleigh,
* During this year he published a tract, containing observations upon a libel. See vol. v. of this edition, p. 384.
(a) 10 April, Dug. Orig.