THE LETTERS AND THE LIFE OF FRANCIS BACON.*
Piton Mr. Spedding's previous labours we had reason to expect that lie would bring to hear upon the perplexing questions connected with Bacon's personal and political history an amount of learning and thoughtfulness they had never received before. In the philosophical works there was little scope (Or novelty. It was not to be expected that fresh light could be thrown on the "Essays" or " Novum Organum " by any discovery of additional papers. There were no lost parts to be recovered, no omissions to be supplied. Unlike his great contemporary, -Shakspeare, all Bacon's works, on which his lame depends, were prepared for the press under his own eye, and carefully revised by himself in their progress through the press. It is otherwise with the materials contained in the volumes now before US, consisting of his letters and occasional writings. So perplexing are the questions connected with Bacon's personal and political career, so much in them is mysterious and inexplicable to common sense and ordinary judgment, that every scrap is welcome which can * Tlatletteraaatat Zile of Francis BaCon, including ellSü Ocussionsa Work By James Sped/limy. Vuls. L mid H. LeBiceasils.
help to clear up these topics. From the earliest collection of his letters by his chaplain, Rowley, in 1657, to the present day, curiosity has been upon the rack for fresh documents to dispel or confirm the stigma connected with his name.
It has been Mr. Speilding's good fortune to come in the rear of many laborious pioneers who have assidnously sifted and examined the materials for Bacon's life. He has availed himself of the re- searches of his predeoessors, ant perhaps with the acknowledgment due to them, but with praiseworthy diligence and scrupulous ac- curacy. What before was confused he has arranged ; what was dubious he has made certain • and if in his previous volumes he had collected whatever could throw light on the philosophy of Lord Bacon, in the volumes before us he has brought together and arranged whatever materials exist for the due knowledge of the personal or political events of Bacon's life. "Of Bacon's writings upon the various occasions of the times," says Mr. Spedding, "a large portion has been preserved ; and if it can be placed in such a light as to present a true view of what he thought about them—if it can be arranged into a collection over which we may write: Frateciscus Baconsts sic coyitasit-1 suppose a more valuable contribution to the history of the period could scarcely be offered." In conformity with this design Mr. Spedding has brought together in chronological order all Bacon's letters and occasional writings. Personal details found in his litters are supplemented by political and official mani- festoes, not excluding spurious tracts, or, at least, papers of question- able authenticity. No one would venture to dispute the soundness of Mr. Spedding's position. Nothing could be more instructive or more delightful than to have Bacon acting as a chorus to the drama of his own tiniest and pouring into the ear of his readers his inmost thoughts and precious warnings. But unfortunately in these volumes Bacon and his thoughts are too often eclipsed by the cumbrous appendages with which he is overlaid. - Like the tragic heroes of Addison's stage he too often nods under such a formidable plume, and such ample folds, that he, his voice and his thoughts, are lost and forgotten in a mass of uninteresting and irrelevant matter. All that is positively known of Bacon's career till the age of thirty is exhausted in a couple of pages by his chaplain, Bewley, and half a dozen brief letters. In Mr. Spedding's account the corresponding portion of the narrative occupies a hundred closely printed pages. From letters containing supplications for favour to Lord Burghley, bff his "lord- ship's dutiful and bounden nephew," the reader is suddenly started on the grand tour of Europe ; or from the tittle-tattle of Ladyllacon and her maternal doses of piety and physic, he is sent to grapple with the whole policy of the reign of Elizabeth. This is a tax upon our patience to which even Bacon, in his proper person, could hardly reconcile us without grumbling, the more so as these excrescences contain neither his thoughts nor observations, and might wisely have been consigned to an appendix. The two volumes bring us down to the year 1600. The most in- teresting portion of them relates to the Earl of Essex and his con- nexion with Bacon. Mr. Spedding who is no half devotee, pro- nounces Bacon's conduct throughout absolutely faultless. All the faults were on the other side. This is the proposition he places before the reader, and resolutely sets himself to establish and de- fend. Following the example of Mr. Dixon, but with more learn- ing and sobriety, Mr. Spading believes that Essex intended by aid from Scotland to invade England, murder the Queen, and possess him- self of the throne. The charge is not altogether novel. It had been insinuated already in the Declaration of the Treasons of the Earl, written to command by Bacon himself, and published shortly after the death of Essex to allay popular dissatisfaction. To remove all doubts of the accuracy of this -pamphlet and the depositions con- tained in it, Mr. Spedding has collated them with the originals in the State Paper Office, and with one or two remarkable exceptions, finds the result favourable to the Government. But here we join issue with Mr. Spedding. How these depositions were taken, what leading questions were put to the witnesses to train them into the statements desired, what ,hopes and inducements were held out to them, what temptations to shift the blame from themselves, and render their own guilt less flagrant by deepening the guilt and activity of others, Mr. Spedding does not tell us; he accepts thentas undeni- able evidence, and demands his readers to do the same. Yet he is himself unable to reconcile the discrepancies that occur in them; and even prints a letter from Cecil to Coke irreconcilable with this hypothesis (ii. 310). We admit that Essex was passionate and indiscreet. The man who could turn his back upon his sovereign, and provoke a box of the ear from Elizabeth, was not likely to be cautious in his words. "When his humours, grew tart," and the wiles of his political oppo- nents had contrived to shut him out of the Queen's graces, no one can feel surprised that he should talk big and wildly- of forcing himself back to favour. Such was his character. He despised the
obsequiousness and servility of the Hattons and the Leicesters. His pride and, we must say, his honesty (though Mr. Speckling Will hardly allow us that word), would not suffer him to descend to artifice or servility. In vain Bacon recommended submission. "He had a settled opinion," says Bacon, "that the Queen could be brought to nothing but by a kited of necessity and authority ; and I well remember when by violent courses at any time he had got his will, he would ask me, Now, Sir, whose principles be true?" We think that this sufficiently accounts for his violent and unrea- sonable proceedings. But if any other proof were needed that even his enemies did not really believe in the dark design of invasion attributed to him by Mr. Spedding, it is to be found in the iiistruc-
tions sent by Cecil to Winwood, then ambassador in Paris 7th March, 1600-1, to justify the execution of the Earl. In that letter not one word is said of this graver charge ; yet no stronger justification could have been urged had it been true.
But we do not see how the guilt of Essex materially affects the question of Bacon's ingratitude. Among the depositions of the wit- nesses at the trial preserved in the State Paper Office, bat not in- eluded in "The Declaration," is one of Henry Cuffe, March 2, 1600, the secretary of the Earl, in which the following passage occurs : "He bath often heard that Anthony Bacon (Brother of Francis) conveyed divers letters from the Earl to the King of Scots, was an agent between the Earl and the King of Scots,* and so he was accounted." Now there is a passage in Sir Henry Wotton's "Parallel of Essex and Buckingham," overlooked by Mr. Spedding (and Sir Henry was also a secretary to Essex), which receives a curious confirmation from this deposition, and implicates one brother at least in the proceedings of the Earl. "The Earl of Essex," says Wotton, "had accommo- dated Master Anthony Bacon to a partition of his house and had assigned him a noble entertainment. This was a genfleman of impotent feet, but a nimble head, and through his hand ran all the intelligences of Scotland. Who being of a provident nature, contrary to his brother the Lord Viscount St. Albans, and well knowing the advantage of a dangerous secret, would many times cunningly let fall some words, as if he could much amend his fortunes under the Cecilians to whom he was near of alli- ance and in blood also." Sir Henry goes on to say that the Earl was obliged to bribe him to silence by giving him Essex House, which Lady Walsingham redeemed by 2500/. How far other parts of this scandalous story may be true—and it comes from high authority—we are not concerned to inquire ; but connected with Cuffe's Declara- tion, with Bacon's letter at a later date to James I., in which he insists on his brother's services, it is proof conclusive that Anthony Bacon was privy to the treasonable correspondence with Scotland (if it deserve that name) ; and it is hardly possible that Francis, con- sidering the cordial intimacy and mutual confidence of the two brothers, could have been ignorant of it.
If so, here is a strong motive why Francis Bacon should have volunteered his services against his benefactor; for, notwithstand- ing his disavowal, we cannot consider his statement in any other light. He was not of her Majesty's council, and no proposition had as yet been made to him that he should be employed in the trial. It was, of course, important to the Government that the Bacons,.the most intimate friends and dependents of Essex, should be used against him. It sheltered Cecil- and his party from an odium they feared to incur. Nothing could look more convincing or better substantiate the justice of the proceedings than that Bacon, his most zealous friend and advocate, should, by desertion of the Earl, give a sanction to the Government prosecution. Had Bacon proved refractory, Cecil, who well knew all that had been going on with Scotland, could have effectually ruined both brothers for ever in the Queen's favour. But as yet not a word had been said to Francis. Of his own accord he wrote to the Queen, "that if she would be pleased to spare him in Essex's cause, out of the consideration she took of his obligation towards the Earl, he should reckon it for one of her greatest favours ;" bat., as if courting denial, he added, "otherwise, he knew the degrees of duties ; and no particular obligation whatsoever to any subject could supplant or weaken that entireness of duty he did owe to her." He acknowledges he had a further intention in this offer; that he might keep his credit with the Queen "by declaring himself fully according to her mind," that is, by acting according to her wishes, seeing the Earl could take no harm from such compliance. And with the greatest naivete he admits (what Mr. Spedding seems to us to deny), that upon the trial he overdid his part. He did not handle the accusation against Essex tenderly, "but that your Lordship knoweth must be ascribed to the superior duty I did owe to the Queen's" fame and honour in a publick proceeding, and partly to the intention I had to uphold myself in credit and strength with the Queen;" the better, as he says, to help the Earl afterwards. This is not the language of a man of high principle or faultless virtue, which Mr. Spedding would have us accept as the true pic- ture of Bacon. Instinctively, Bacon's conscience revolted from the thought of appearing against his benefactor, of betraying his confidence and violating that friendship which hitherto had remained unbroken. Willingly would he have saved the Earl, if at the same time he could have saved himself. He -put the Queen in the place of
his conscience; and then justified himself by the Jesuit's plea, that the end sanctified the means—the snare and weakness of his life. He justified compliance with the Queen's wishes, which in heart he condemned, for a problematical good which he never achieved. He justified abuse of the Earl at his trial, that he might gain power to serve him, and lost the power he otherwise might have had. We have met this in his life before, and we shall meet it again. In a remarkable letter to Essex, Bacon recommends him to gain her favour by arts he knew too well to practise himself. He tells Essex p. 42) to urge the Queen's favour for those whom he knows she will oppose, that he may have the grace of dropping them out of sup- posed compliance to her wishes. In fact, he was a courtier from his birth; born in the atmosphere of obsequiousness, familiar with it from his earliest days, learning as a child not out of his teens to pay compliinents to crowned heads.
We acquit him of cruelty and deliberate treachery. But as he was not the meanest, so assuredly he was not the faultless, man represented by Mr. Spedding. Poor, extravagant, involved, hating
• sett stand, in Mr. Spedding's work, IL 343. The passage in italics Is struck outi the law, as a profession which brought him little honour or emolu- meat, he was constantly bent on pushing his fortunes at court, at a time when success at court was not to be purchased except by ser- vility. Whatever may have been the glories of Elizabeth's reign, when Bacon started on the path of ambition those glories had been succeeded by intrigues, by jealousy and distrust. Her vanity and foibles as a woman too often ministered occasion to these evils. She treated her ministers as ladies do their lovers. No longer controlled by the old Lord Treasurer, she mortified the son by showing favours to Essex ; she mortified Essex, in the height of his triumph, by slighting his suits and disparaging his friends. It was thus that she hoped to rule, and keep all parties immediately dependent on herself. It was ffir this reason she refused to nominate her successor; and for this reason she discarded Essex when she found how deeply he had allied himself to James. Bacon, like the rest of the world, was deceived. He believed Essex was the winning favourite. To the last moment he was persuaded that Essex would be restored to' favour. In spite of his intimate relations with the Cecils, he joined the Earl and opposed them ; all that persuasion, industry, and genius could do to promote the Earl's interests Bacon and his brother did, with the perfect consciousness that his advancement must overthrow their own relatives the Cecils. When Essex, by his wilfulness, had made the game desperate, then, for the first time, Bacon is seen in favour at court, and acting in concert with the Cecils; if not really, ostensibly he is a willing instrument in the prosecution of his friend and benefactor, outdoing his apart to please the Queen, but privately doing what he can to mitigateler anger, believing to the last Essex would be restored. For three years he endured patiently, without a murmur, the public imputation of ingratitude ; then, when James ascended the throne, and the friends of Essex were triumphant, when there was no chance of contradiction, he brought out his cele- brated Apology, in which, with true Baconian subtlety, he endea- voured to show that all his actions had been regulated by the nicest calculations of the Earl's interests. Such was his preliminary train- ing for fifteen years' service as the great law adviser and minister of James L, the complaisant courtier, the associate of Kerr and Buck- ingham. We do not condemn him as a hypocrite; but to pronounce him faultless, as Mr. Spedding does, as a moral Achilles, not vulnerable even in the heel, seems to us a perversion of the plainest facts of his history, and subversive of the dictates of morality.