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LIFE OF LORD BACON.
FRANCIS BACON was born at York House in the Strand, 22d January 1560-1. His father was Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal to Queen Elizabeth. His mother Ann was one of the accomplished daughters of Sir Anthony Coke, the tutor of Edward VI, and sister to Mildred Coke, who was married to Lord Burleigh, which famous man was therefore Bacon's uncle.
In his early youth he seems to have shown promise of unusual ability, and at the age of thirteen was sent to Trinity College, Cambridge. He left the university, however, without taking a degree, and his father, who designed him for the public service, sent him abroad in the suite of Sir Amyas Paulet, the queen's ambassador at the court of Paris. He remained abroad until 1579, when he was hastily summoned home by the death of his father, and he found his elder brother Anthony in possession of the family property, and himself left with very slender means. After having in vain solicited his jealous uncle for some public employment, he entered Gray's Inn, and for ten or eleven years gave himself up to the study of law with earnestness and assiduity, and when called to the bar in 1582 shortly acquired considerable practice and a high professional reputation. His advancement into office was, however, consistently opposed by Lord Burleigh, who dreaded the possibility of Bacon's rivalry with his own son, Robert Cecil; and when the office of Solicitor-General became vacant, although his case was pleaded personally with the queen
by the Earl of Essex, he contrived to have him passed
To console him in his disappointment, Essex generously presented him with a beautiful estate and residence on the banks of the Thames called Twickenham Park; but their friendship had a deplorable ending, for soon afterwards, when the favourite fell into disgrace, and was put upon his trial for treason, Bacon was named by the queen as one of Her Majesty's counsel against his former friend, and not only took a prominent part in his prosecution, but afterwards wrote a pamphlet justifying his execution.
Probably with the idea of acquiring that fortune by marriage which he seemed debarred from in his profession, he made matrimonial overtures to Lady Hatton, who, however, had read her suitor's essays upon Love, and Marriage and Single Life, and therefore declined him. On the accession of James I his prospects somewhat brightened; he was knighted (with a crowd of more than two hundred other gentlemen), and in 1606 married Alice Barnham, daughter of a wealthy alderman of the city of London. The next year he was made SolicitorGeneral, and then Attorney-General, when he at once renounced his private legal practice, and gave himself up to his official duties and to study.
In 1617 he was made Lord Keeper and Lord Chancellor. He was also raised to the peerage as Baron Verulam, a title which three years afterwards was replaced by the higher one of Viscount St Albans.
In 1621 the House of Commons, indignant at the abuses and corruptions connected with the government, ordered an investigation into certain matters, the result of which was that evidence was obtained seriously implicating Bacon himself, and he was formally impeached before the House of Lords on twenty-three counts of bribery and corruption. He confessed his guilt, urging in palliation, what no doubt was true, that his faults were not vitia hominis but vitia temporis. He was condemned to pay a fine of £40,000, and to be imprisoned
during the king's pleasure. He was also declared to be incapable of holding state office, and was forbidden ever to appear at court again. He was imprisoned for one night only, and then retired heart-broken and in disgrace to his house at Gorhambury, near St Albans.
He died in 1626 near London, from a chill caught while trying an experiment of preserving meat by freezing, the chill being aggravated by his being put into a damp bed at Lord Arundel's house near Highgate. He was buried at St Albans.
To make a just estimate of the moral character of Lord Bacon is a task of great difficulty, and no doubt he has been over-blamed by some writers who have made no allowance in the individual for corruptions which were too generally winked at in society; while on the other hand his friends have advanced on his behalf excuses which cannot possibly clear him. His early life was embittered by disappointments, his later life stained with covetousness and extravagance. He always lived splendidly and far beyond his means, and his creditors were constantly harassing him. To escape from his pecuniary embarrassments he sought to increase an income, already princely, by accepting bribes which a corrupt age was too ready to offer; and exposure and disgrace were the legitimate consequence of his loss of honour and self-respect. No reader of Bacon's Essays would ever infer from them that he was a good man, but they bespeak a shrewd and clever man.
As a philosopher, enunciating and enforcing the true mode of philosophical inquiry, Bacon has rendered to subsequent generations services of incalculable value. He established beyond all controversy the superiority of the method of induction and analysis over the old Aristotelian method of deduction and synthesis, and there is hardly a department of knowledge but can show wonderful achievements which are the practical and direct result of his teaching.
The great work conceived and sketched out in many details by him, but never finished, was to have consisted of six books, and to have been called Instauratio Magna, to which the Advancement of Learning (1605), enlarged and republished in Latin (1623) as De Augmentis Scientiarum, is an introduction, while the Novum Organum was to be the second book.