DE AN CHURCH'S " BAC ON."*
Jr Bacon were but a more generally attractive subject than he is, we should call this little volume the best and most fascinating volume of this series,—so far, at least, as it is known to the pre- sent writer,—for the Dean of St. Paul's has treated his subject with a master hand, and has given us not only such a picture of Bacon as nobody can fail to be impressed with, but ample means of judging for ourselves that that picture is true. To Dr. Church this must have been a painful task. To sum up against Mr. Spedding, and in favour, on the whole, of the popular view of Bacon, must have been a most invidious duty for him. But the qualifications which he introduces into the unfavourable character he draws are as just as they are generously insisted on. Still, on the whole, no one will read this sketCh of Bacon without being convinced that Bacon for the most part looked on men chiefly as instruments to be played on for his own purposes, as Rosencranz and Guildenstern would have played upon Hamlet had he not seen through them, and that Bacon scrupled at no sycophancy, at no false praise, at no unjust blame, in order to bring men round to his own wishes. Nor, again, can it be questioned that, in spite of Bacon's splendid imaginative genius and his rich stores of moral observation, he failed disastrously, and, with a few exceptions, throughout the greater part of his life, in moulding any inferior man to his mind. Dean Church, however, is equally impressive in dealing with all the sides of Bacon's mind. Not only does he make us see the weakness of the man, but his wisdom also; not only his moral fibrelessness, but his intellectual stamina ; not only the too exclusively physical bent of his speculative genius, but the spiritual grandeur of the horizon within which that speculative genius for physical science displayed itself.
The only remark which Dean Church does not make on Bacon that is, we think, justified by the whole essay, is that there was a strange and most complete want in Bacon of the whole life of healthy impulse. As the Dean says, the essay on "Love" shows "an utter incapacity to come near the subject except as a strange external phenomenon ;" and this we believe to be the root of a great deal of Bacon's singular suppleness and weakness, and of that tendency "to the Italian school of political and moral wisdom, the wisdom of distrust and of reli- ance on indirect and roundabout ways," on which the Dean also comments. Nothing seems to us more astonishing than that, in spite of this most notable feature of Bacon's character, so many wiseacres should have persisted in attributing Shake- speare's plays to Bacon's authorship. We do not scruple to say that the man who could have written Bacon's essay on "Love," —unless it were as a blind,—was simply incapable of writing the least powerful of all Shakespeare's plays ; and yet, if we are not very much mistaken, Bacon's essay on "Love," though one of his weakest, is one of his most characteristic essays, and the character which gave birth to it may be seen cropping up again and again in all his other essays. The genius of Shakespeare was a genius which, while comprehending a great part of Bacon's,—not, however, his grasp of the realm of know- ledge,—was as prodigal of the life of impulse, passion, and affection as of the life of intellectual vision. Bacon had none • Deglish Men of Letters. Edited by John Morley. "Bacon." By R. W. Church, Dean of St. Peril's, Honorary Fellow of Oriel College. London : Mac- millan and Co.
of this. His imagination, powerful as it was, played continually over the world of counsel, of deliberate purpose, of far-sighted self-interest, but hardly entered into the warmer life of the passions at all. It is obvious, for instance, that he had no combativeness, little vindictiveness, little of the soldier's spirit, whether good or bad. Even his great dignity of manner was all intellectual, and totally devoid of that keen sense of personal honour which makes a man feel disgrace less tolerable than death itself. Nothing shows this better than the deliberate way in which he prepares himself for doing what any man of his calibre should have smarted keenly under the sense even of being able to do. Read this private memorandum of Bacon's as to the best way of managing "My Lord of Salisbury," from whom he expected great favours :—
" To furnish my L. of S. with ornaments for public speeches. To make him think how he should be reverenced by a Lord Chancellor, if I were ; Princelike. To prepare him for matters to be bandied in Council or before the King aforehand, and to show him and yield him the fruits of my care. To take notes in tables, when I attend the Coma, and sometimes to move out of a memorial shewed and seen. To have particular occasions, fit and graceful and continual, to main- tain private speech with every the great persons, and sometimes drawing more than one together. Ex imitations Att. This specially in public places, and without care or affectation. At Council table to make good my L. of Salisb. motions and speeches, and for the rest sometimes one sometimes another; chiefly his, that is most earnest and in affection. To suppress at once my speaking, with panting and labour of breath and voice. Not to fall upon the main too sadden, but to induce and intermingle speech of good fashion. To use at once upon entrance given of speech, though abrupt, to compose and draw in myself. To free myself at once from payt. (?) of formality and compliment, though with some show of carelessness, pride, and rudeness.'"
A man of Bacon's calibre could hardly have thus deliberately counselled himself, though a man of Bacon's calibre might have played the sycophant as completely, without being wholly de- ficient in those sharp stings of shame which so often paralyse such craft as this. Men as great as Bacon might have actually played such a part, trying hard all the time to conceal from themselves what part they were really playing; but only a man deficient in some of the chief auxiliaries of . conscience, only a man never visited by those pangs by which the sense of honour keeps clean the conscience, could have paraded before himself in this deliberate fashion the means of getting illegitimate access to Lord Salisbury's favour. Yet Bacon, who flattered Elizabeth, who flattered James, who flattered Salisbury, and flattered Buckingham, though it was
perfectly obvious that he saw the evil and the weakness in all whom he thus flattered, and could point out clearly, when it was safe to do so, what that evil and weakness was, never seems
to have had one flush of shame to help him to realise how base this flattery was. So far as we can see, he regarded it only as the machinery by which to tarn them to his own ends, and thought that,—if his ends were not evil in themselves,—all machinery for this purpose was perfectly justifiable, just as he afterwards defended himself for receiving bribes by saying that as the bribes had never induced him to alter
the course of what he believed to be justice, he had thought it venial to receive the bribes. There was no impetuous
nobility in Bacon ; no healthy pride ; no moral dignity ; he ought not, therefore, to be judged as a man of his calibre should usually be judged, for some of the most effective of the instinc- tive allies of conscience seem to have been almost wholly deficient in him. He was abjectly grateful to Buckingham for getting him the Lord Chancellorship, abjectly grateful to him afterwards for interceding with the King against his de- privation, abjectly grateful to him after his own fall for getting him a pardon ; and yet he knew his own infinite intellectual superiority to Buckingham as well as he knew anything, and knew that wherever they had differed he himself had been in the right, and Buckingham in the wrong. In Bacon, "the natural man" was even more exceptionally defective than "the spiritual man."
Even his wonderful imagination itself never lighted up for him the world of passion and feeling. A vacuum seemed to intervene between the higher intellectual and imaginative life and the
practical life of this wonderful man,—a vacuum which in ordinary persons is filled and guarded by a large company of healthy sentiments, impulses, and instincts.
Even in this admirable sketch of Bacon, the Dean of St. Paul's has done nothing better than his picture of what Bacon did, and what he did not do, for the enlargement of knowledge,— the ideal end of Bacon's life and love. It would be impossible to describe what Bacon aimed at, and the measure of his success in achieving that aim, more comprehensively than the Dean describes it in the following fine passage :—
"It is this imaginative yet serious assertion of the vast range and possibilities of human knowledge which, as M. de Remceat remarks; the keenest and fairest of Bacon's judges, gives Bacon his claim to the undefinable but very real character of greatness. Two men stand out, the masters of those who know,' without equals up to their time, among men—the Greek Aristotle and the Englishman Bacon. They agree in the universality and comprehensiveness of their conception of human knowledge; and they were absolutely alone in their serious practical ambition to work out this conception. In the separate departments of thought, of investigation, of art, each is left far behind by numbers of men, who in these separate depart- ments have gone far deeper than they, have soared higher, have been more successful in what they attempted. But Aristotle first, and for his time more successfully, and Bacon after him, ventured on the daring enterprise of taking all knowledge for their province ;' and in this they stood alone. This present scene of man's existence, this that we call nature, the stage on which mortal life begins and goes on and ends, the faculties with which man is equipped to act, to enjoy, to create, to hold his way amid or against the circumstances and forces round him—this is what each wants to know, as thoroughly and really aa can be. It is not to reduce things to a theory or a system that they look around them on the place where they find themselves with life and thought and power : that were easily done, and has been done over and over again, only to prove its futility. It is to know, as to the whole and its parts, as men understand knowing in some one subject of successful handling, whether art, or science, or practical craft. This idea, this effort, distinguishes these two men We shall never again see an Aristotle or a Bacon, because the conditions of knowledge have altered. Bacon, like Aristotle, belonged to an age .of adventure, which went to sea little knowing whither it went; and ill furnished with knowledge and in- struments. He entered with a vast and vague scheme of discovery on these unknown seas and new worlds, which to us are familiar and daily traversed in every direction. This new world of knowledge has turned out in many ways very different from what Aristotle or Bacon supposed, and has been conquered by implements and weapons very different in precision and power from what they purposed to rely on. But the combination of patient and careful industry, with the cour- age and divination of genius, in doing what none had done before, makes it equally stupid and idle to impeach their greatness."
And again, as regards Bacon's comparatively poor analysis of the mind itself, and yet splendid treatment of the various weak- nesses and prepossessions by which the mind stands, as it were, in its own way, and interferes with the clearness and efficiency of its own vision,—the "idols," as he called them, of our social and individual life,—what could be better than what Dean Church tells us in the following beautiful passage ?—
" Bacon has been charged with bringing philosophy down from the heights, not as of old to make men know themselves, and to be the teacher of the highest form of truth, but to be the purveyor of material utility. It contemplates only, it is said, the commode uitn;' about the deeper and more elevating problems of thought it does not trouble itself. It concerns itself only about external and sensible nature, about what is of the earth, earthy.' But when it comes to the questions which have attracted the keenest and hardiest thinkers, the question, what it is that thinks and wills,—what is the origin and guarantee of the faculties by which men know anything at all and form rational and true conceptiami about nature and them- selves, whence it is that reason draws its powers and materials and rules—what is the meaning of words which all use but few can explain—Time and Space, and Being and Cause, and consciousness and choice, and the moral law—Bacon is content with a loose and superficial treatment of them. Bacon certainly was not a meta. physician, nor an exact and lucid reasoner. With wonderful flashes of sure intuition or happy anticipation, his mind was deficient in the powers which deal with the deeper problems of thought, just as it was deficient in the mathematical faculty. The subtlety, the intuition, the penetration, the severe precision even the force of imagination, which make a man a great thinker on any abstract subject were not his ; the interest of questions which had interested metaphysicians had no interest for him : he distrusted and under- valued them. When he touches the ultimities ' of knowledge he is as obscure and hard to be understood as any of those restless Southern Italians of his own age, who famed with him the ambition of recon- structing science. Certainly the science which most interested Bacon, the science which he found, as he thought, in so desperate a condition, and to which be gave so great an impulse, was physical science. But physical science may be looked at and pursued in different ways, in different tempers, with different objects. It may be followed in the spirit of Newton, of Boyle, of Herschel, of Fara- day; or with a confined and low horizon it may be dwarfed and shrivelled into a mean utilitarianism. But Bacon's horizon was not a narrow one. He believed in God, and immortality, and the Christian creed and hope. To him the restoration of the Reign of Man was a noble enterprise, because man was so great and belonged to so great an order of things, because the things which he was bid to search into with honesty and truthfulness were the works and laws of God, because it was so shameful and so miserable that from an ignorance which industry and good sense could remedy, the tribes of mankind passed their days in self-imposed darkness and helplessness. It was God's appointment that men should go through this earthly stage of their being. Each stage of man's mysterious existence had to be dealt with, not according to his own fancier, but according to the conditions imposed on it ; and it was one of man's first duties to arrange for his stay on earth according to the real laws which he could find out if he only sought for them. Doubtless it was one of Bacon's highest hopes that from the growth of true knowledge would follow in surprising ways the relief of man's estate ; this, as an end, runs through all his yearning after a fuller and surer method of in.
terpreting nature. The desire to be a great benefactor, the spirit of sympathy and pity for mankind, reign through this portion of his work—pity for confidence so greatly abused by the teachers of man, pity for ignorance which might be dispelled, pity for pain and misery which might be relieved. In the quaint bat beautiful picture of courtesy, kindness, and wisdom, which he imagines in the New Atlantis, the representative of true philosophy, the Father of Solomon's House,' is introduced as one who had an aspect as if be pitied men.' But unless it is utilitarianism to be keenly alive to the needs and pains of life, and to be eager and busy to lighten and assuage them, Bacon's philosphy was not utilitarian. It may deserve many reproaches, but not this one."
Or once more, who can say anything of the style of Bacon's Essays that is more perfectly descriptive of it than this ?—
" These short papers say what they have to say without preface, and in literary undress, without a superfluous word, without the joints and bands of structure ; they say it in brief, rapid sentences, which come down, sentence after sentence, like the strokes of a great hammer. No wonder that in their disdainful brevity they seem rugged and abrupt, 'and do not seem to end, but fall.' But with their truth and piercingness and delicacy of observation, their rough- new gives a kind of flavour which no elaboration could give."
Dean Church, though he deals justly, deals tenderly with Bacon. He makes us see the richness, the grandeur, the astonishing elasticity of his genius ; he makes us see the remarkable supple- ness and want of manliness about him, which probably sowed distrust in Elizabeth, in Burghley and Cecil, and which, if it did not sow distrust in James, did not do so only because he had the same defect himself; he makes us see
the curious innocence, we had almost said, of Bacon's meanest actions ; the unconsciousness with which he deliberately sets himself to the work of adulation ; the bland self-approbation with which be takes bribes and assures himself that they do not make him swerve from what is just ; the ndivetg with which he writes to Buckingham that in the proceedings before the Star Chamber against Suffolk, the Lord Treasurer, "he had taken care that the evidence went well." Bacon's own words were —" I will not say I sometimes holp it, as far as was fit for a judge," and he tells us how, "a little to warm the business, I spake a word, that he that did draw or milk treasure from Ireland, did not emulgere, milk money, but blood." In fact, if the Dean shows us clearly how mean Bacon was, he shows us
equally clearly that he was mean from a sort of moral impotence to feel how mean he was, not from deliberately sinning against the light. And he does full justice to the strangely transient but evidently genuine piety of Bacon's self-humiliation.
The book is a perfect model of what such a book should be, and the charm of its style is at least as great as the terseness and closeness of its matter. It is the most perfect and the most final summing-up of the verdict of posterity on a great man, after counsel on both sides have been fully heard, with which the present writer is acquainted.