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The Christian Examiner.
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ART. I.—LORD BACON.
The Works of Lord Bacon. Boston: Brown and Taggard. 15 vols.
WE begin this paper without any biographical sketch of Francis Bacon, afterwards Baron of Verulam, Viscount St. Albans, and Lord High Chancellor of England. Such a sketch within the limits of an essay like this would of necessity be bald, disjointed, and unsatisfactory. It would also be needless. The name and glory of the man are known to all who read English, at least to all who read English history; and so are the leading events of his life. There are vexed and complicated questions connected with the personal history of Lord Bacon, on which volumes have been written, on which, possibly, volumes will again be written, and leave the questions still unsolved, at least, leave mankind as divided in opinion concerning them, as they are at present. As all that could here be said in the discussion would be superficial or incomplete,—would, indeed, amount to little more than evasive generalities or assertive dogmatism, it is better for us, on the whole, to keep entirely clear of the controversy.
One fact there is about which all parties are agreed, and that is the greatness of Bacon's genius. It is interesting to observe how the absorbing impression which this one fact has left on the general mind has weakened the interest on nearly all else that concerns Bacon. This is always the case with the genius of a supremely original, bold, and revolutionary VOL. LXXII. - - 5TH S. VOL. X. NO. II. 14
thinker. It is as a thinker the world at large recognizes Bacon, and it is as a thinker the world at large will the longest remember and revere him. The other elements and relations of his life are comparatively lost in this one central vocation, by which alone he has a universal ministry and a perpetual fame. Bacon had many other high offices; he had also other marvellous gifts; but the politician, the statesmen, the lawyer, the orator, and the judge are nearly forgotten in Bacon the thinker; and if we note still with admiration the splendor of his eloquence and the poetic vigor of his imagination, it is ever in subordination to the glory and achievements of his thought. In the same way, we lose sight of Bacon's personal character, or cease to take any serious interest in the controversies which the discussion of it has excited. True, men will constantly take sides, and even with the passions of partisans, as to the conduct of Bacon in his personal and public relations. But the dispute will be always temporary, while the general aggregate of educated minds, little influenced by the dispute, will ever hold the immortal thinker in changeless veneration.
What Bacon was as a man will, as time rolls on, be an inquiry for ethical antiquarians; what Bacon is as a mind, every reader can learn for himself directly from Bacon's own writings. No character so much as the great thinker becomes so thoroughly dissociated from accessories. Who recalls Plato as the mere citizen of Athens? Who in his mind gives any prominence to the fact, that Aristotle was the tutor of Alexander? though Alexander himself deserves to be called the ideal of heroic warriors, and the very demigod of battles. Few traces of the conquests which he made are now to be found in the material or social civilization of the world; but the deathless influence of his tutor has its witness in every cultivated mind. Who now lays any stress on the irritable ness of Newton's personal temper, or on his occasional misjudgments of opponents in scientific controversy ? Who brings Spinoza much to mind in connection with details of his private life? Yet there is much of interest in what is recorded of that life; much in his thoughtful youth; — his trouble with the synagogue; his narrow escape from assassination; his pupilship with Van Ende; his unsuccessful court
ship of Van Ende's brilliant and learned daughter; his retired, frugal, and simple habits; his quiet and tender manners; his grinding optical glasses for his daily bread; his honorable poverty; his indifference to wealth or patronage; his hatred of personal, pecuniary, or mental dependence; his patience under suffering; his meekness against persecution; his moveless adherence to his sense of truth and right; his scorn of falsehood, evasion, or prevarication; and, to crown the whole, his lonely, his almost solitary death; - these would seem to furnish matter even for a romance; but we forget them all when we recall Spinoza as a philosopher, and his sublime, stern, and remorseless logic. Kant was much else than the analyzer of our mental faculties; - he was a mathematician, a natural philosopher, a natural theologian, a powerful and eloquent writer and lecturer, and for more than forty years a learned, versatile, admired teacher in the University of Königsberg: but the world only knows Kant as the founder of the Critical or Transcendental Philosophy, and as such he has had an influence only less than Plato or Aristotle.
It is thus that, in sublime and original organizers of thought, all that is incidental to the time and the individual fades into obscurity, and the thinker alone stands clearly and openly in the light. Contrary to what we might expect, the greatest thinkers hold an equal race in time with the greatest poets; for if the poets have advantage at the start, the thinkers, in the long run, overtake, and sometimes pass them. The thinkers may never at any one period have large audience, but always they continue to have students; at last, even the poets themselves cease to be popular, and the thinkers have one circumstance in their favor, they can be more easily translated than the poets. It is probable that Plato and Aristotle find at present more readers in translation than Eschylus, Euripides, or even Homer, find in the original; and the translated thinker is likely to give more of his thought to the reader than the translated poet can give of his passion, imagination, pathos, music, and beauty.
It was, we fancy, as a thinker that Bacon at last felt he would have done to him the widest and the most lasting jus
tice. In the turmoil of ambition, he may not have seen this, or he may have left it out of sight; but in the retirement and calm reflection of his closing years it must have occurred to him that it would be mainly as a thinker and philosopher the world would regard him with its most unanimous gratitude and admiration. He could not on other grounds have been certain of an unquestionable verdict from posterity. However undeserved he may have deemed the odium which tarnished his reputation in the later portion of his life, however unjust he may have considered the treatment he received from some of his contemporaries, no illusion of self-regard- not even the conviction of innocence could have hindered him from knowing that some parts of his conduct must always and everywhere appear to be at least of doubtful meaning. Viewed as a whole, he did not fear that his character would fail of charitable and candid judgment; and he was sure that, when once men were clear from local and temporary passions, they would do the fullest justice to his merits. But in any such expectation he must have depended largely on the potency of his thought, on the greatness of his intellectual claims; and it is on such, we believe, he must have placed his prophetic confidence when he wrote that famous and pathetic passage in his will: "My name and memory I leave to foreign nations, and to my own countrymen after some time be passed over." His confidence has been justified; for if there are some who cannot hold him to have been innocent, there are none who hold that any such guilt was his as to deprive him of his title to the fame of ages and the praise of nations.
The most sure, the most indisputable, and the most undoubted title to these, Bacon has in his genius, and it is on this genius that we propose to offer some general observations.
In contemplating Lord Bacon's genius, the first and most direct impression which we receive is that of its wonderful magnitude. It is not that Bacon's genius has all the mental dimensions of height and depth and scope, but it has them in enormous measure; not as the cube with its sharply defined surfaces, lines, and angles, but as the sphere, with its centre of unity and its harmonious wholeness. For this