Page images
[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

This illustrious man, who has been beautifully called the “ Chancellor of Human Nature,” was the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, lord keeper of the great seal in the reign of queen Elizabeth. Sir Nicholas was a man of great talents, profoundly skilled in the law, and of spotless integrity. His leading maxim—"Let us stay a little, that we may have done the sooner ;” and his mottoMediocra firma, 'firm in the middle state,' shew the caution and equanimity of his temper. He was a man of great modesty, and of uncommon corpulence, and when the queen visited him at the house which he built at Redgrave, she told him that his house was too little for him : 'Not so, Madam,' said he, but your Majesty has made me too great for my house.' After having held the great seal above twenty years, he died suddenly in the following remārkable manner :-he was under the hands of his barber, and the weather being sultry, the lord keeper ordered a window to be opened before which he sat. He soon after fell asleep, in the current of fresh air that was blowing strong upon him. When he awoke, he found himself in a feverish state, and asked the servant “Why he suffered hiin to sleep so exposed ?" The fellow replied that he durst not


presume to disturb him; “ then,” said the lord keeper,“ by your ċivility I shall lose my life,”— which accordingly happened a few days after, viz. in 1579. Camden's character of him is concise, but very expressive, Vir præpinguis, ingenio acerrimo, singulari prudentia, summa eloquentia, tenaci memoria, et sacris conciliis alterum columeni. e. 'a man of a gross body, but most quick wit, singular prudence, supreme eloquence, happy memory, and in judgment the other pillar of the state.

His youngest son, Francis, has gained an immortal name by his inestimable writings, though some failings planged him into disgrace in his life-time, and have given occasion to writers of little judgment or liberality to pour abuse upon his name. He was born at York-house, in the Strand, in 1561, and so soon did the extraordinary powers of his mind expand themselves, that even in his tender years persons of the highest rank and abilities delighted in his conversation. Queen Elizabeth, being one day at the lord keeper's, took particular notice of Francis, and asked him his age, to whom he elegantly replied,

that he was just two years younger than her majesty's happy reign !' From that time she took a pleasure in conversing with him, and was accustomed to call him her young lord keeper.'

At the age of twelve he was sent to Trinity-college, Cambridge, where he had for his tutor that able divine, Dr. John Whitgift, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, who conducted the church of England safely, when attacked on the one hand by the harpy and sacrilegious avarice of the venal courtiers, and on the other by the virulent malice, superstition, and bigotry of the papists and puritans. Under such a man, Bacon could not but acquire sound principles as well as solid learning, and so great was his progress, that at the age of sixteen he quitted college, and was sent by his father in the suite of Sir Amias Pawlet, the English ambassador at Paris. His conduçt there was such as to gain him the esteem and confidence of Sir Amias, who sent him to queen Elizabeth, upon a business of considerable importance. --This commission he executed in a manner which procured both himself and the ambassador great credit. He then returned to France, where he wrote at the age of nineteen, ? A succinct View of the State of Europe, a piece which discovers singular penetration and genius for so young a man. The death of his father made him return home, and the narrowness, of his circumstances, occasioned by that event, obliged him to enter upon the study of the law at Gray's Inn. This place was so agreeable to him, that he afterwards erected a building there which for many years went by the name of Lord Bacon's lodgings, and it is to the honour of that learned society, that they have recently commemorated the honour of having had so bright a name on their roll, by giving to an elegant row of houses,

[ocr errors]

fronting Gray's Inn-lane, the appellation of Ver rulam Buildings. .. . ,

At the age of twenty-six, Mr. Bacon's reputation was so great, that he was especially appointed her Majesty's counsel extraordinary.-He may therefore be considered now as in the fair way of advancement, but he received no preferment till the reign of James I, when the honour of knighthood was conferred on him, and he was appointed one of the king's counsel with a yearly fee. In 1607 he obtained the place of solicitor-general, in which capacity he went through a great variety of laborious business, yet amidst all his professional pursuits he found some time for his literary and philosophical studies, the result of which he communicated to his friends, in a piece entituled Cogitata et Visa,' which contained the ground werk, or plan, of his Novum Organum.' In 1610 appeared his celebrated treatise. Of the Wisdom of the Antients,' in which he furnishes a key to allegorical poetry and mythology. This tract was written in Latin, and an English translation, by Sir Arthur Gorges, is usually appended to our author's essays,

In 1613 Sir Francis became attorney-general, in which office he distinguished himself in the prosecution of the earl and countess of Somerset, for their concern in the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury. On the resignation of lord chancellor Egerton, in 1617, the great seal was delivered by the king to Sir Francis Bacon, accompanied with


« PreviousContinue »