Amazing articles on just about every subject...




World's Great Philosophers:
 The Orientals

 The Early Greeks

 Socrates And Plato

 The Cynics

 Aristotle

 Epicurus, Zeno, Pyrrho

 The Alexandrians

 The Scholastics

 Giordano Bruno

 Bacon

 Read More Articles About: World's Great Philosophers

Bacon

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

To no figure in the pantheon of philosophy can so high a place be given as to that of Francis Bacon. Great wits and small alike have shot at his tremendous stature little arrows tipped with the poison of ignorance or malice. His personal character and his private life have been held up to the scorn of mankind. There is scarce an evil thing that can be said of a man that has not been said of him. Perhaps the most mischievous work that has been done against Bacon is that perpetrated by Alexander Pope, the poet, who called him "the wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind." Pope boasted of the misfortune of the victims who "at some unlucky time" "slid" into his verse. Popular judgment, since Pope wrote that famous, or infamous, line, has been based upon that one superlative which ascribes to Bacon the place he is generally assigned in popular estimation. Almost as mischievous as Pope's verse is Lord Macaulay's essay which for a long time was the material out of which the ordinary reader built up his opinion of England's greatest man.

To three men is mainly due the rehabilitation of the philosopher's name. These are James Spedding, Basil Montagu, and William Hepworth Dixon. Spedding and Montagu have published Bacon's works and life, and Dixon an admirable biography. To these books that reader who is eager for authentic information on this subject is referred. As it is our purpose to speak of Lord Bacon in his capacity as a philosopher rather than in that of a statesman or of a jurist, much discussion of these latter aspects of his life must be omitted. One other circumstance has contributed in large measure toward bringing about, in an indirect way, a reconsideration of Bacon's life in the minds of many who had been interested in the sage of St. Albans in the most casual way only. That is the controversy regarded by most persons with contempt in which is involved the authorship of the plays of Shakespeare. The quantity of the literature on this subject is immense. The suggestion that it was Bacon, not Shakespeare, who was the author of the plays, was first made by Delia Bacon, a cultured American lady, whose high mental attainments won for her the friendship of Nathaniel Hawthorne. For almost half a century the "Baconians" and the "Shakespeareans" have waged relentless war with each other and to small purpose save for the stimulation of popular interest in the life of the philosopher. For that reason, if for no other, the work of the unfortunate originator of the bizarre controversy has not been in vain.

Until a comparatively recent time the defamers of Bacon contented themselves with abuse of his personal character. The charges of his alleged treachery to and betrayal of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, and of his bribe-taking as a judge, are worn to shreds with use. But there have been few who sought to strip him of his merits as a philosopher and of having been the founder of the Inductive Method and the "father of experimental science." That a scientific man may not always be the most competent judge in all matters that concern his work is made manifest by the opinion of John William Draper as to Lord Bacon's merits. Draper may be fairly taken as a spokesman for science, though it by no means follows that he is not alone among men of science in his estimation of Bacon. But as he is the most conspicuous of scientific men who have gone out of their way to disparage Bacon, his opinion, which is adopted by Edward Clodd, a more recent writer, may be quoted : "Few scientific pretenders," says Professor Draper in the work already cited, "have made more mistakes than Lord Bacon. He rejected the Copernican system and spoke insolently of its great author; he undertook to criticise adversely Gilbert's treatise 'De Magnete'; he was occupied in the condemnation of any investigation of final causes while Harvey was deducing the circulation of the blood from Acquapendente's discovery of the valves in the veins; he was doubtful whether instruments were of any advantage, while Galileo was investigating the heavens with the telescope. Ignorant himself of every branch of mathematics he presumed that they were useless in science but a few years before Newton achieved by their aid his immortal discoveries. It is time that the sacred name of philosophy be severed from its long connection with that of one who was a pretender in science, a time-serving politician, a corrupt judge, a treacherous friend, a bad man."

Of the last sentence in this arraignment little need be said. The light of careful and dispassionate investigation such investigation as Bacon himself commends has been turned on the questions of Bacon's statesman-ship, judicial probity, and relations to the trial and condemnation of Essex. It is hardly necessary to point out the irrelevancy of the personal character of a man to his merits as either investigator or philosopher. Bacon's name has not yet been dissociated from the name of philosophy, however sacred the latter might have been in Professor Draper's opinion. It is no derogation of Bacon's originality to say that he did not adopt the Copernican system, that he doubted the utility of instruments (where, Professor Draper does not say), or that he criticized adversely Gilbert's theories of magnetism. In so far as the brilliant American physiologist and chemist philosophizes at all, he uses precisely the Baconian method. But it is amazing to find him contrasting Bacon's insistence on the utility of searching for final causes with Harvey's discovery or any other scientific discovery. The two matters are different in kind and not to be compared. One might as well condemn the methodology of any science because some specialist is making particular discoveries in that science and thus furnishing material for the methodologists. Then, too, Bacon was not, nor did he claim to be, an investigator. He was a methodologist who sought to show men the supreme need and necessity of experiment and the reason why experiment was thus necessary. Again, it must be remembered that he dealt with philosophy and science generally, and not with any particular branch of science. It is quite true that induction was used before his time; likewise that experimentation and observation were as old as Aristotle. Indeed, every man from childhood uses induction daily in every concern of life. And some have brought forward this fact to prove that Bacon did not originate the Inductive Method ! But Bacon differs from all other men in this, that he was the first to formulate the method, to explain why that method is the only safe method, and to insist on the careful verification by observation and experiment of every fact that is used in those generalizations that are called laws of nature. He especially calls attention to the mistake that had been made by others of too eagerly flying to generalizations before testing the validity of them by deduction. It is absurd to indict Bacon for condemning investigation of final causes as futile when a philosophy like Bruno's was current, when Scholasticism was the fashion, and when the Church was burning heretics. Galileo and Harvey were not types of the time. They were rare exceptions.

The method founded by Bacon is the method used by Darwin and Spencer. Simply stated it is this : To establish firmly the truth of any "law of nature" or of any theory explanatory of the things and the processes we see about us, it is necessary first to be certain of the facts used in any such generalization. This certainty is only to be arrived at by careful and exhaustive experiment and observation. From the whole body of facts thus accumulated may be synthesized a general law or a general truth, and the whole body of such truths properly understood in their interrelations, is the material of a true philosophy. This general statement is a truism now. But it was Bacon who discovered it. In Novum Organum he says : "The indications for the interpretation of Nature include two general parts : The first relates to the raising of axioms (general laws or truths) from experience; and the second to the deducing or deriving of new experiments from axioms." It will be observed that he provides for the derivation of new experiments (or deductions) from the general laws or truths established by induction. This is the very heart of the Method.

If we pause to observe its importance we snail see how it cleaves through the entire mass of human thought, separating all that is vague, speculative, uncertain and unknowable from all that is definite, positive, indubitable, and cognizable. It puts to one side all the unsystematic guess-work of philosophers from Thales to Bruno as worthless, and sets up in its stead the practical and useful method which was already, it is true, beginning to be used by the pioneers of physical science. More It insists that physics is the basic and all-inclusive science, and this was asserted in plain words and with much emphasis by Bacon himself, who reduced all sciences to physics, that is, in the broad sense of that word physical science. It evaporates the value of the Aristotelian syllogism and the Platonic Existences alike. It irrevocably places theology to one side as something which has nothing whatever to do with science or philosophy, and for the first time intelligently lays a foundation for science and philosophy to build upon. It delimits the boundaries of philosophy in such a way as to leave it no material of construction save that supplied to it by facts which are open to all men, intelligible to all men, and demonstrable by all men. It brings philosophy from the insane sublimities of the Aryans, from the childish guesses of the Greeks, from the mystic absurdities of the neo-Platonists, and from the attempts of the Scholastics at dividing the indivisible, down to the simple and certain basis which can be understood clearly by the most unsophisticated of rustics. That is the Baconian Method.

To condemn Bacon because he did not discover new planets, or invent new scientific instruments, or lay down some grand law of nature, is the equivalent of condemning Euclid because he did not discover that mathematics could be applied to the construction of tubular steel bridges or to the determination of a planet's mass. To say that the Baconian method was used before Bacon's time is to assert what is not true or to avow ignorance of what the Baconian method really is. On the contrary, it is absurd to hold (as Lord Macaulay puts it into the mouths of Bacon enthusiasts) that it was the Baconian method which gave the world the steam engine and all those discoveries and inventions that have supplied us with the comforts of civilization. There is no doubt that had not Bacon defined the method some other man would have done so, but this is only primarily asserting the genius of the man who really did define it. Lewes says : "Was not Bacon's method latent in the scientific spirit of the age? Yes; just as much as the invention of the steam engine was latent in the knowledge and tendencies of the age of Watt. What does invention mean more than the finding of what others are still seeking? Were it not hidden somewhere no one could find it. Let no one, therefore, endeavor to rob a great man of his fame by declaring that the thing found by him was lying ready to be found and would have been found, sooner or later, by some one. Yes, by some one who had eyes to see what his fellowmen could not see; by some other great man. How was it that Bacon's immediate predecessors and contemporaries did not detect this latent method? It was lying there as open for inspection to them as to him. Why did he alone find it? Because he alone was competent to find it."

Bacon's age was an age when the universe was opening itself to the mind of man. Some of the sciences were already born and were making infantile efforts with their weak hands to grasp truth. Many others were on the point of parturition, and the near future was big with potency. Immortal names were being written across the high walls of fame. The germs of modern chemistry, of the new astronomy, of physics (in the restricted sense), of geology, of optics, of biology and physiology, of anatomy and botany, of neurology and psychology, of zo÷logy and pathology, and of many other sciences which have since grown into the giant structures we now see, were stirring and about to break forth into the bud. These were among the great "births of time." We borrow the metaphor from Bacon himself, who himself declared that his own gigantic work was the "greatest birth" of them all.

A study of Bacon's works will be disappointing to that reader who will expect to find in them an unfolding and exemplification of his Method such as one would naturally look for in a work of a similar kind in the present age. For the sake of illustration we may compare Bacon with Charles Darwin. Had a Darwin lived in Bacon's age, or, rather (for that is an impossible conception) had some one in that age been struck with the idea of Natural Selection, he would have presented his scheme of thought by the same errorful and imperfect style of illustration that we find in the Novum Organum and the other works in which is preserved the Baconian renovation of thought and science. These works were written in Latin, for Bacon shared in the prevalent delusion that in Latin alone could exact thought be expressed, or that in either of the classic tongues alone could be found a vehicle that would preserve his thought to learned posterity. The masses were steeped in barbarous ignorance. English was not a linguistic implement ready for the hand of science or philosophy. All the learned works were written in Latin then and even later, as were Newton's Principia, the works of Galileo, of Kepler and of others. Bacon in the Novum Organum used far-fetched figures of speech, and the illustrations of the Method are as far-fetched as the figures and at times tiresome, and even ridiculous. His lack of scientific training, in details, is apparent and obvious. He suggests numbers of experiments, stated in quaint language, that never could have been of great use. He calls the false notions that men entertained of the realities of things Idola or Idols, such as the "Idols of the Theater," the "Idols of the Cave," etc. After accounting for and clearing the ground of these false conceptions he proceeds to show the true, the valid, way of investigation or interpretation of nature. One has to patiently translate his figures of speech into their practical values and follow him through his labyrinth of illustrations and experiments, casting aside what is not to the purpose and applying what is useful. The stream of his thought flows through many turns and by devious ways, but its current is strong and it reaches the level of equilibrium safely and surely, if tardily.

With Darwin we find the perfection of the application of the Baconian Method. The celebrated naturalist had a mass of facts to begin with. His purpose was to establish by the use of the Baconian method one grand generalization. His illustrations and experiments led to but one special end. Considering all facts only in their bearing on the matter before him, his experiments could be conducted without loss of time and with certainty as to their value or their want of it as soon as he saw the result. The first moment the thought of Natural Selection came into his mind Darwin understood its importance and realized its scope. He could have written the formula of the law then as well as he did a score of years later. But he followed the advice of Bacon. He did not fly at his generalization or his law before he had verified it inductively and then tested it deductively. But how different the Origin of Species from the Novum Organum! In the former not one word is wasted. Every fact has a bearing on the issue. The subject is attacked in a plain, direct way that appeals to the meanest intellect and is grasped by the most non-scientific. But in Darwin's day the Baconian Method had become facile and perfect in its working through long use. Darwin, careful as he was, was no more insistent on the necessity of experiment and verification than was Bacon. The founder of the Inductive Philosophy ever suggests experiments, always insists on observation and verification, and, as if he were destined to leave an immortal example to all investigators, he brought about his own death while trying to find out the effects of low temperature as a preservative of dead animal tissue.

Although Bacon's works, at least those works in which he develops his method, are not clear as we could, in this age of exactness and precision, desire them to be, they are nevertheless of great interest from an archaic point of view. It is often not only pleasing but profitable to take the words of great masters at first rather than at second hand. We may read Laplace, Adam Smith, Ricardo, Plato, and Aristotle in their own books and in this way arrive at an acquaintance with their thought which is closer and warmer than any to be had by a consideration of these works as digested through the minds of others. The time spent in the study of Bacon's philosophical works will not be entirely wasted. And while this is true, he who has not read and reread the lighter works of the man will distinctly lack much that can be supplied by no other process.

The biography of Francis Bacon is of thrilling interest concerning, as it does, the most important events in two historic reigns, those of Elizabeth and the first James, and involving, as it does, some of the most illustrious men in English history. But little attention can be given it here in detail. He was born on the 22nd of February, 1561, at York House, in the Strand. He died at the residence of Lord Arundel on the 9th of April, 1627, at the age of sixty-six years. York House, of which nothing now remains but a gate, was a conspicuous residence on the banks of the Thames in what is now the heart of London, within a stone's throw from Charing Cross. Next to the house in which Bacon was born stood the royal palace, which was separated from it by green fields. One front was upon the street, with high gates and court yard. The principal fašade looked upon the river. There was a garden of great extent and fine cultivation which sloped gently to the water. Stairs were provided for the landing of pleasure boats. The view from the spot was noble, looking to the south and the east as far as the famed London Bridge. The Thames then presented a far different scene from the Thames now. It ran sparkling through borders of green and fair gardens on either side. To quote Hepworth Dixon, "all the gay life of the river swept past the lawn; the shad fishers spreading their nets, the watermen paddling gallants to Bankside, the city barges rowing past in procession, and the Queen herself, with her train of lords and ladies, shooting by in her journeys from the Tower to Whitehall stairs. From the lattice out of which he gazed the child could see, over the palace roof, the pinnacles and crosses of the abbey."

Francis was the son of Sir Nicholas and Lady Anne Bacon. His father was the keeper of the Great Seal, and Queen Elizabeth, with whom Francis was a favorite, called the child "my little Lord Keeper." Bacon was sent to Cambridge as a mere lad and left the university at the age of sixteen, refusing to work for a degree Indeed, it would seem that the notion of a degree was rather displeasing to him than otherwise, for although he was but a mere boy he was old enough to express great contempt for the philosophy that was taught in the school, a contempt which found its undying expression in the foundation of his method with its overthrow of the whole scheme of the Aristotelian logic. After leaving college, Bacon went abroad and spent some years in France. The death of his father recalled him to Lon-don. He studied law, took up the practice of the profession, suffered the hardships of poverty, and was in nowise aided by his late father's friends. In 1590, at the age of twenty-nine, he entered Parliament and at once drew to himself the attention of the political world. As an orator he was unapproached. Ben Jonson wrote of him: "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 spoke more neatly, more precisely, more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness in what he uttered. No member of his speech but consisted of his own graces. His hearers could not cough or look aside from him without loss. He commanded when he spoke and had his judges angry or pleased at his devotion."

A man such as this was destined to rise. The way to the heights before him was steep and difficult. He had no influence save that of his own individual strength. He was poor. Those who should have been his friends by ties of blood rather placed obstacles in his path than made it smooth. His uncle, Robert Cecil, the first Lord Salisbury, opposed him. The sleepless enmity of the powerful Coke pursued him and confronted him at every turn. But Bacon was knighted and became Sir Francis Bacon. From Solicitor-General he rose to be Attorney-General and then to the office of Keeper of the Great Seal. He was raised to the peerage, was created Baron Verulam, of Verulam. He became Lord Chancellor. But greater rewards were in store for him. With all the clamor of public life, in the midst of political intrigue, and surrounded by jealous and powerful enemies, one would conceive he had but little time for study. But Bacon was above all a philosopher. He longed to be at that work which he rightly believed to be the most important work of his life. He retired to his study to labor upon the Great Task the renovation of the sciences, the reformation of philosophy, "the greatest Birth of Time." He completed and published the Novum Organum. James I has been subjected to the severest criticism of almost all the Kings of England. But he is not quite undeserving. His Bible is the canon used by all Protestant English-speaking people even now. He seems to have appreciated Bacon's great work, for he praised it, and as a mark of his esteem he created the author Viscount of St. Albans. Bacon had meantime married Alice Barnham, the daughter of a wealthy alderman and through her he acquired a small estate. Three days after he was created Lord St. Albans the Parliament of 1621 assembled. Bacon was charged with corruption in office, and what followed has furnished the materials out of which have grown the slanders that have endured down to the present day.

In disposing of this part of his career we can do no better than to quote the remarkable words in which William Hepworth Dixon has placed before the world the most concise summary that has yet appeared in print of the charges preferred against Bacon and the answers to them all. In "The Story" he says : "In the world of familiar illustration there are two Francis Bacons: one of legend, one of story; a Figure which Edward Coke opposed, which Simon d'Ewes and Anthony Weldon traduced; and a Man whom Raleigh admired, whom Ellesmere assisted, whom Falkland and Herbert loved. The first is a fool, a pretender, an in-grate; the other a wit, a reformer, a mediator, a gentle-man, the soul of courtesy and grace, the most forgiving of adversaries, the most steadfast of friends. The spurious Bacon was branded by Alexander Pope; the true Bacon described by Ben Jonson and John Aubrey. Coming four generations after Bacon, Pope could know nothing of the facts; while Jonson, a higher judge, had lived at the same time, had been a witness of his career, and enjoyed the affection and confidence of those who knew him best. Aubrey, too, though he never saw Bacon in the flesh, had peculiar means of arriving at the truth; for he associated familiarly with those who had been Bacon's secretaries and friends, and his anecdotes and impressions were derived from the lips of Sir John Danvers and Thomas Hobbes.

"These legends come down to us in broken but connected lines: the false Bacon through Welden, Goodman, d'Ewes, and Pope; the true Bacon through Raleigh, Jonson, Tennison, Aubrey, Hobbes, and Carte.

"A Fictitious Biography has been invented to sustain a Fictitious Character. The caricaturists paint Bacon in the House of Commons, as playing now the patriot, anon the courtier; one day speaking on behalf of the widest popular liberties, another day battling to increase the supplies and strengthen the prerogative, just as suit his interest for the hour. The (true) story will show that his policy in the House of Commons never varies from the day on which he entered it as burgess from Melcombe, at the age of twenty-four, to the day on which he quitted it, to accept the Seals. His policy, if new, was clear and consistent. Going into the House of Commons in a time of internal change and external danger; the feudal system dying out, the constitutional system still unborn, the Puritans crying out for change, the Spaniards threatening a descent, Bacon found that House divided, as the whole Nation was divided, into two camps : the Court unduly jealous of the people, the Puritans unduly jealous of the Crown. Neither a courtier nor a Puritan, but a man of brilliant insight who had given his mind to politics, he yearned to see a strong government established in the midst of a free people. His vote was always with the reformers, except on those rare occasions when the reformers were clearly in the wrong; but even when he voted against them, the Puritans, who knew his honor and respected his independence, never drew from his side. To the last hour of his Parliamentary life he was their orator and their favorite.

"The Fictitious Biography paints him as bound by the sacred ties of gratitude and affection to the Earl of Essex, who, after striving in the most disinterested spirit to procure for him a great office and a wealthy wife, and failing in these efforts, had generously bestowed upon him Twickenham Park; as helping and advising that Earl so long as he could do it safely and with profit, but as going over to his enemies when the hour of danger came; and when the rash Earl's enterprise gave those enemies a legal advantage over him, as straining his utmost skill as an advocate, his preeminent vigor as a writer, to take away the life and to damn the memory of a noble and confiding friend.

"A plain story of the times will show that the connection of Bacon with Essex was one of politics and business; that this connection was in the highest degree injurious to Bacon and to Bacon's family; that Essex caused him to lose for fourteen years the post of Solicitor; that Twickenham Park had never been the property of Essex, and was not given by him to Bacon; that the connection between them ceased by the Earl's own acts, Essex abandoning the National party, to which he and Bacon belonged, and opposing himself in the House of Commons to Bacon's measures of reform; that the 'rash enterprise' for which Essex died on the block was treason of so black a shade so odious in the conception, so revolting in the details as to arm against him every honest man; that Essex not only sought to subvert the Government, but to subvert it by means of an Irish army for the benefit of Rome, not only to remove his rivals from power, but to assassinate Raleigh and Cecil, and, on resistance, the Queen herself; that, while Essex was yet free from overt and unpardonable crimes, Bacon went beyond the extremest bounds of chivalry to save him; that in acting against Essex, when Essex had stained his hands with blood and his soul with treason, he did no more than he was bound to do as a public man; that, though he could not save the guilty chief, he strove, and not in vain, to rescue from the gallows his misled accomplices; finally, that to the generous suppressions of the State paper which he drew up under her Majesty's command, was due the fact that Essex's name could be pronounced without a curse, and his son could one day be restored in blood.

"The Fictitious Biography describes Bacon as having arrested, prosecuted, and condemned a very eminent lawyer, Oliver St. John, in after life the famous Lord Chief Justice of the Commonwealth, for pronouncing a legal opinion on the legal question of a benevolence. The story will show that the person arrested was not the Lord Chief Justice St. John, was ,not a lawyer at all; that the man was not prosecuted for expressing a legal opinion, but for an overt political crime; that he was condemned and sentenced not by Francis Bacon, but by Edward Coke.

"The same Fictitious Biography describes him as having caused the arrest of an aged Puritan minister, for writing a sermon which he had never preached and never meant to preach, reflecting on the tyranny of Government; as urging the case forward with unseemly and malignant haste; as, out of mean subservience to his Majesty, stretching this old man on the rack, and as wishing to hang him for an offense which he knew was not high treason.

"The new light will exhibit Bacon's action in this matter as natural and commendable. It will be seen that Peacham was not a Puritan, or a man with whom any Puritan divine or writer has ever sympathized; that he was a scandal to his neighbors and to his calling; that he was not arrested by the Government for a political offense, but by Archbishop Abbott for a personal and ecclesiastical outrage; that a commission of prelates after a patient hearing of his excuses, cast him out from the Church; that the ecclesiastical commissioners found in his desk the papers which became the subject of a political prosecution; that these political papers were not a sermon but a book a book ready for the press; that Peacham, to excuse himself, accused an innocent family to which Bacon was bound by the most sacred ties of complicity in his crime; that the members of this innocent family were arrested by Winwood on suspicion; that the only way in which they could be saved from shame, and perhaps from ruin, was by compelling the false accuser to withdraw his charge; that the examination to that end by torture was the act of the Privy Council, of which Bacon was not even a member; that his duty as Attorney-General bound him to witness the confession, but that Winwood, the Secretary of State, and chief of the commission, was alone responsible for it; that, while Bacon showed his resolution to make Peacham tell the truth, he allowed the public to know that he should counsel the Crown not to deal harshly with him; that the leniency thus announced while the offender was in the Tower was extended to him during his trial and after his trial; for as soon as the false accuser confessed his lies, and the innocent men were safe, he was sent into his own county to be tried at the ordinary assizes, and when he was convicted of high treason by a jury of his neighbors the Government spared his life.

"The Fictitious Biography makes much of the charge of judicial corruption, of the submission, of the sentence of the House of Lords. In dealing with this passage of his life, it strays farthest perhaps from fact, from logic, and from good sense. It asserts that Bacon was impeached by the House of Commons for corruption in taking bribes to pervert justice on the bench; that he was tried for this offense by his peers; that he fully and without reserve confessed himself guilty of it; that he was judicially condemned for it; and that no man in the generation of these events was either weak or brazen enough to contest the truth of this charge, the sincerity of this confession, or the justice of this condemnation. Now, what are the facts?

"A glance at the journals of Parliament will show that he was not impeached by the House of Commons, not tried by the House of Lords. The proceeding was an inquiry, not a trial; a political, not a judicial act. A personal enemy and a discharged servant brought for-ward this charge of corruption. Some of the ablest men, some of the best reformers of that time Sackville, Wentworth, Meautys, Finch, and May resisted the introduction of such a charge; the majority, though bent on winning reform, and told they could only get at Chancery through the Chancellor, refused, on a motion to that effect, to send up the accusation as an impeachment or in any other form than as a simple relation "without prejudice or opinion." In the Lords there was an inquiry, not a trial. No court was constituted, nor was any legal indictment drawn. The difference between such an inquiry as took place and a proper trial under the King's commission is immense. The inquiry was not public, the witnesses were not sworn to speak the truth under the usual penalties of perjury, their statements were all delivered ex parte, there was no cross-examination, no sifting of evidence, no inquiry made into the characters of the deposing witnesses. The accused Chancellor was not present, either in person or by his counsel. Not a single fact in the accusation against him was proved. There was consequently no trial in either a legal or in a moral sense.

"It is not true that Bacon confessed himself guilty of taking bribes to pervert his judicial opinions. His act of submission consists of two parts : a general plea and a statement of the particulars. This statement of particulars limits and explains the sense in which the general plea of guilty is to be received; and it cannot, without garbling and injustice, be divorced from that general plea. Much of the error as to this part of Bacon's life has sprung from separating two clauses of an instrument, which are grammatically and logically necessary to each other. If the general plea runs "guilty of corruption," the statement of particulars explains the nature and degree of the corruption to which this confession is made. This statement nowhere admits that Bacon had taken bribes to pervert justice. In two or three cases it allows that suitors in his court had been suffered by his servants to pay their fees, the legality of which was incontestable, at irregular times. So far he could plead guilty; not to an actual and personal, but to an official and hypothetical offense; one which Finch told the House of Commons that no judge on the bench could help. That Bacon pleaded guilty in this sense, and in no other, is apparent in the limitations of his public text and in all his private declarations. From a sick bed, in what appeared to his physicians as the extremity of his life, he wrote : 'I take myself to be as innocent as any born on St. Innocent's day in my heart.' Again : 'There be three degrees or cases, as I conceive, of gifts or rewards given to a judge. The first is, of bargain, contract, or promise of reward, pendente lite; and of this my heart tells me that I am innocent; that I had no reward in my eye or thought when I pronounced any sentence or order.' And to Buckingham he wrote: 'I know I have clean hands and a clean heart.' Thus, in words which had the sanctity and force of a dying confession, he put an explanation by the side of his admission. The assertion of purity was made at the same period and to the same persons as the confession of corruption. It is certain, therefore, that the two statements were reconcilable in Bacon's mind; that the fault which he admitted was not incompatible with the virtue which he claimed; that the corruption to which he pleaded was a necessary adjunct of his office. In a word, he confessed no more than that he was guilty of being Lord Chancellor.

"That the vote of the Peers was a political; not a judicial act, is obvious from the forms observed: Sir James Ley occupying the chair in place of the Lord High Steward of England; the House sitting in its own chamber instead of in Westminster Hall. An attempt to procure from the Peers a sentence which implied personal guilt was made and was defeated; for even those who consented to his political ruin refused to assist in branding him with personal shame. He retained his honor; he only lost his place.

"The whole world did not acquiesce in the justice of the verdict. Indeed, the world protested against that verdict by its noblest voices and its highest tribunals, and in the end it was completely set aside. Not a clause in the Lords' resolution was meant in earnest or was ever really enforced; some of the Peers confessed it was a cover for leaving him in the King's hands, and the Privy Council treated it as a parliamentary form.

"Half a day in the Tower, a week at Parson's Green, a year at Gorhambury, was the personal inconveniences of the vote. In the end he was not fined; not banished from the court; not really imprisoned; not held incapable of office; not excluded from the House of Lords.

"After his retirement from public life, neither the Crown nor society treated him as a man guilty and condemned. The King received him; the most eminent members of the Government corresponded with him; ambassadors from foreign Princes waited on him; the most learned bishops, the most famous poets, the most upright reformers, instead of shunning him as a guilty wretch, clung to him as a suffering martyr. Not a friend fell from him. In his poverty and retreat he was surrounded by men whom no money could buy and no sophistry could blind; by George Herbert, by Lord Falkland, the Earl of Arundel, Sir Henry Savile, Ben Jonson, Sir Edward Sackville, by John Selden, Bishop Andrews, Lord Cavendish, and Thomas Hobbes. Who will assert that one thus loved, thus followed in his retirement, stood before the world in the character of a guilty rogue? Herbert and Andrews, Sackville and Falkland, knew the truth. Their opinions on his case are not a secret; for they published them, not in words only, but in beautiful and expressive acts. Does any one believe that either Lancelot Andrews or George Herbert could have kept his friendship for a man really convicted of dishonesty? That either Lord Falkland or Sir Edward Sackville could have given his heart to a corrupt and degraded judge? Where men so noble and acute saw no offense, we may conclude there had been no offense.

"That the judges on the bench, that the members of both Houses of Parliament, concurred with the most eminent of their contemporaries, native and alien, in treating the offense, the charge, the submission, and the sentence as things hypothetical and political, which had hurt Bacon's fortune, but had not touched his honor, is apparent in the failure of every attempt, whether made in Parliament or in the courts of law, to disturb the judicial decisions recited in the Act of Submission. 'Never any decree made by him,' says Rushworth, 'was reversed as unjust.' These efforts failed because there was no injustice to over-throw, and there was no injustice to overthrow because there had been no corruption on the bench." Thus writes Dixon, himself an accomplished barrister at law and an impartial historian.

Lord Bacon's death occurred at London whither he had repaired from the estate of his wife at Gorhambury to attend a meeting of Parliament. This was in the spring of 1626. The weather was cold and the snow was still upon the ground. One day the philosopher, who was by no means strong, was taking the air with his physician. Struck with the notion that a cold temperature might be more desirable for the preservation of meat than was salt, or to find out whether, in fact, flesh could be so preserved at all, he purchased a dressed chicken, and gathering up the snow, filled with it the carcass of the dead fowl. While engaged in this act he was stricken with a chill and was driven to the house of Lord Arundel near by. The bed to which he was assigned had not been used for a year, and was damp. His host did all that was possible for his distinguished visitor, but at the end of a week Lord Bacon died of pneumonia. Perhaps it will be contended that he did not originate the idea of meat refrigeration !

We have quoted from the will of Aristotle to show the manner of man he was. Let us see how the will of Bacon, who forever replaced the philosophy of the great and good Greek, compares with that of his most eminent and influential predecessor.

"My name and memory," declares the testament, "I leave to men's charitable speeches, and to foreign nations, and to the next ages." He wished to be buried near his mother at Gorhambury. This was done. To his brother-in-law he left his books. "To the poor of St. Martin's-in-the-fields, where I was born, forty pounds; to the poor of St. Michael's, where I desire to be buried, because the day of death is better than the day of birth, fifty pounds; to the poor of St. Andrew's, Holborn, in respect of my long abode in Gray's Inn, thirty pounds." To the poor of St. Albans' three parishes, of Twickenham and of Redburn and of Hampstead, each twenty pounds. He bequeathed to his widow an ample income, and to the Marquis of d'Effiat his books of orison, "curiously rhymed." The residue of his estate he gave to the endowment, at four hundred pounds a year, of two lectureships at the universities, one on the Physical Sciences and the other on Natural Philosophy. If such a name as his as Bacon's has been too long connected with the "sacred name of philosophy," it would be interesting to know whencesoever we look at Bacon or at philosophy whose name more nobly deserves the association. He did not die until he had seen every one of the men who wrought his downfall, ruined and dishonored. To quote Dixon again : " 'All that were great and good,' says Aubrey, 'loved and honored him.' Great and good; the emphasis is Aubrey's own." This is the tribute of John Aubrey, who was competent to speak of Bacon's personal character and his place in the world of men and society. Of his place in the world of intellect, Lewes, who was at first disposed to adopt what Dixon calls the "fictitious biography," observes : "We have not dwelt upon his errors; neither have we dwelt upon the wondrous and manifold excellencies of that mind which Macaulay has so felicitously compared to the tent the fairy Paribanou gave to Prince Ahmed : 'Fold it; and it seemed a toy for the hand of a lady. Spread it; and the armies of powerful Sultans might repose beneath its shade.' "

Bacon's uses as a statesman have not endured. His importance to civil history may be of the slightest concern to that new and scientific method of considering history which is teaching us to regard the stories of individuals, of battles, of dynasties and of royal pedigrees as matters to be barely touched, if touched at all; that would dwell upon the history of Man and not upon the history of men. And if it be taught that a history of the growth of human knowledge is the highest concern of this new method, then Bacon's name will ever occur to the makers of the books in which such history is written down. His work, as part of the continuous process whereby man's mind assumes a larger and stronger growth, will be given its proper place for what he so confidently believed it to be "the greatest birth of Time."

Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com