Page images

Soon after the arrival of James, which was on the 7th of May, Bacon, having had an audience, and a promise of private access, thus describes the King to the Earl of Northumberland: "Your lordship shall find a prince the farthest from vain glory that may be, and rather like a prince of the ancient form than of the latter time. His speech is swift and cursory, and in the full dialect of his country; in speech of business, short; in speech of discourse, large. He affecteth popularity by gracing such as he hath heard to be popular, and not by any fashions of his own. He is thought somewhat general in his favours; and his virtue of access is rather, because he is much abroad and in press, than that he giveth easy audience. He hasteneth to a mixture of both kingdoms and occasions, faster perhaps than policy will well bear. I told your lordship once before, that methought his majesty rather asked counsel of the time past, than of the time to come: but it is yet early to ground any settled opinion." (m)

The title of knighthood had hitherto been considered an especial mark of royal favour; but the King, who perceived that the English gentry were willing to barter their gold for an empty honour, was no less ready to barter his honours for their gold. A general summons was, therefore, issued for all persons possessing £40 a year in land (») either to accept this title, or to compound with the King's commissioners; and on the 23rd, the day of his coronation, not less than three hundred gentlemen received the honour of knighthood, amongst whom was Sir Francis Bacon, who thought that the title might gratify the

(m) See vol. xii. p. 48.

n) Hume, who has shown great tenderness to the character of James upon many occasions, is quite silent as to this extraordinary expedient to raise money. See Progresses of James, 203.

1604. Et. 44.

daughter of Alderman Barnham, whom he soon after married. (e)

In the opening of the year 1604 it was publicly announced that a parliament would be assembled early in the spring; and never could any parliament meet for the consideration of more eventful questions than at that moment agitated the public mind. It did not require Bacon's sagacity to perceive this, or, looking forward, to foresee the approaching storm. Revolutions are sudden to the unthinking only. Political disturbances happen not without their warning harbingers. Murmurs, not loud but portentous, ever precede these convulsions of the moral world: (a) murmurs which were heard by Bacon not the less audibly from the apparent tranquillity with which James ascended the throne. "Tempests of state," he says, "are commonly greatest when things grow to equality; as natural tem

(e) Bacon's sentiments of the value of knighthood may be seen by the following letters:

To Robert, Lord Cecil.

It may please your good Lordship,-Lastly, for this divulged and almost prostituted title of knighthood, I could without charge, by your honour's mean, be content to have it, both because of this late disgrace, and because I have three new knights in my mess in Gray's Inn commons; and because I have found out an alderman's daughter, a handsome maiden, to my liking. So as if your honour will find the time, I will come to the court from Gorhambury upon any warning. So I remain your Lordship's most bounden, FR. BACON.

3rd July, 1603.

To Robert, Lord Cecil.

It may please your good Lordship,-For my knighthood, I wish the manner might be such as might grace me, since the matter will not: I mean, that I might not be merely gregarious in a troop. The coronation is at hand. It may please your lordship to let me hear from you speedily. So I continue your Lordship's ever much bounden, FR. BACON.

From Gorhambury, this 16th of July, 1603.

See some observations respecting Lady Bacon, in note HHH at the end. (a) See Coleridge's Friend, vol. ii. P. 243.

pests are greatest about the equinox; and as there are certain hollow blasts of wind and secret swellings of seas before a tempest, so are there in states:

Ille etiam cæcos instare tumultus

Sæpe monet, fraudesque et operta tumescere bella." (a)

These secret swellings and hollow blasts, which arise from the conflicts between power, tenacious in retaining its authority, and knowledge, advancing to resist it, are materials certain to explode, unless judiciously dispersed. Of this Bacon constantly warned the community, by recommending the admission of gradual reform. "In your innovations," he said, "follow the example of time, which innovateth greatly, but quietly." (b)-The advances of nature are all gradual: scarce discernible in their motions, but only visible in their issue. The grass grows and the shadow moves upon the dial unperceived until we reflect upon their progress.

These admonitions have always been disregarded or resisted by governments, and, wanting this safety valve, states have been periodically exposed to convulsion. In England this appeared at Runnymede in the reign of John, and in the subversion of the Pope's authority in the reign of Henry the Eighth.

When the spirit of reform has once been raised, its progress is not easily stayed. Through the ruins of catholic superstition various defects were discovered in other parts of the fabric: and the people, having been spirit-broken during the reign of Henry, and lulled during the reign of Elizabeth, reform now burst forth with accumulated impetuosity. So true is the doctrine of Bacon, that "when any of the four pillars of government are mainly shaken,

(a) Essay on Sedition, vol. i. p. 44.
(b) Essay on Innovations, vol. i. p. 82.

or weakened, which are religion, justice, counsel, and treasure, men had need to pray for fair weather." (a)

The state of Bacon's mind at this period may be easily conceived. The love of order (b) and the love of improvement, apparently not really opposed to each other, were his ruling passions: and his mode of improvement was the same in all science, (c) natural or human, (d) by experiment, and only by experiment; by proceeding with the greatest caution, and by remembering that, after the most careful research, we may be in the greatest error: "for who will take upon him, when the particulars which a man knows and which he hath mentioned, appear only on one side, there may not lurk some particular which is altogether repugnant: as if Samuel should have rested in those sons of Jesse which were brought before him in the house, and should not have sought David, who was absent in the field." (e) He never presumed to act until he had tried all things: never used one of Briareus's hundred hands, until he had opened all Argus's hundred eyes. (f) He acted through life upon his father's favourite maxim, "stay a little that we may make an end the sooner."

This was his general mode of proceeding, which, when the experiment was attended with difficulty, generated more caution; and he well knew that, of all experiments, state alterations are the most difficult, the most fraught with danger.

Zealous as he was for all improvement; believing, as he did, in the omnipotence of knowledge, that "the spirit of man is as the lamp of God, wherewith he searcheth the inwardness of all secrets ;"(g) and, branding the idolaters of

(a) Essay on Sedition, vol. i. p 44.
(b) Vol. ii. p. 63. Adv. of Learning.
(c) See postea, under Novum Organum.
(d) This is Bacon's division.

(e) Adv. of Learn. vol. ii. p. 180.

(f) Essay of Delays, vol. i. p. 73. (g) Adv. of Learning, vol. ii. p. 11.

[ocr errors]

old times as a scandal to the new, he says, "It is good not to try experiments in states, except the necessity be urgent, or the utility evident: and well to beware that it be the reformation that draweth on the change, and not desire of change that pretendeth the reformation: that novelty, though it be not rejected, yet be always suspected; and, as the scripture saith, that we make a stand upon the ancient way, and then look about us, and discover what is the straight and right way, and so to walk in it;'(q) always remembering that there is a difference in innovations, between arts and civil affairs. In civil affairs, a change, even for the better, is to be suspected, through fear of disturbance because they depend upon authority, consent, reputation, and opinion, and not upon demonstration; but arts and sciences should be like mines, resounding on all sides with new works and further progress." (r)

Such was the state of his mind upon entering into public life at the commencement of the parliament, which assembled on the 19th of March, 1604, when having already made some progress in the King's affections, (s) he was

[blocks in formation]

(s) Mr. Constable was Bacon's brother-in-law; and was, as it seems knighted on March 14 (James's Progresses, 322), and knighted upon the interposition of Bacon, as appears by the following letter:

A Letter to Mr. Murray, of the King's bedchamber.

Mr. Murray,—It is very true, that his majesty, most graciously at my humble request, knighted the last Sunday my brother-in-law, a towardly young gentleman; for which favour I think myself more bound to his majesty than for the benefit of ten knights; and to tell you truly, my meaning was not, that the suit of this other gentleman, Mr. Temple, should have been moved in my name. For I should have been unwilling to have moved his majesty for more than one at once, though many times in his majesty's courts of justice, if we move once for our friends, we are allowed to move again for our fee. But indeed my purpose was, that you might have been pleased to have moved it as for myself. Nevertheless, since it

« PreviousContinue »