Imágenes de páginas




FRANCIS BACON, afterwards created Baron of Verulam and Viscount St. Alban, was born at York House, in the Strand, on the 22d of January, 1560-1. He was the younger son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, by his second wife, Anne, daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke, of Giddy Hall, in the county of Essex.

At a time when the human disposition is susceptible of impressions which generally continue through life, Francis enjoyed peculiar advantages. His mother, a lady of sound judgment, extensive information, and unaffected piety, directed her whole attention to the formation of his infant mind: while his father, perceiving in this son the promise of extraordinary mental powers, omitted no

means of invigorating and expanding his talents. These parental assiduities were productive of the happiest consequences. Elizabeth, who was no flatterer, often noticed Francis, calling him "her young Lord Keeper," in reference to the abilities which he appeared to inherit from Sir Nicholas Bacon, keeper of the seals during the first twenty years of her reign. There is about this time an anecdote recorded of Francis, which must have confirmed the favourable presentiment of those who were fondly interested in his welfare. Being asked his age, by the queen, he instantly replied"that he was just two years younger than her majesty's happy reign!"

About the age of sixteen Francis is supposed to have quitted Trinity College, where he had made considerable progress in the sciences, under the tuition of Whitgift, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury. From college he repaired to Paris, where he was placed under the direction of Sir Amias Powlet, the English ambassador: this gentleman soon reposed so much confidence in

the abilities of his diplomatic pupil, that he entrusted him with a secret mission to Elizabeth, in which he acquitted himself with uncommon reputation. This was the mode of instruction uniformly adopted towards those who were destined to occupy important situations in the commonwealth, and when a man was considered young enough, at thirty years of age, to enter on the great duties of a statesman. It was during this period of his life that Francis Bacon first ventured to investigate the defects of the Aristotelian. philosophy, which he censured, as a system calculated to engender logical contentions, without producing any great and beneficial discoveries. His "Succinct View of the State of Europe," together with his " Essay on Travel," written at the age of nineteen, on his return from France, remain not only honourable evidences of the use to which he devoted advantages derived from the liberality of a discerning parent, but exhibit a signal instance of that fortitude of mind which, in his early days, enabled him to support the otherwise overwhelming influence of adversity.

It was the loss of his father that rendered him incapable of pursuing his travels, by depriving him of the necessary resources. Sir Nicholas Bacon died suddenly, on the 20th of February, 1579, and at the moment when he was about completing some arrangements for securing the future independence of his favourite son, whose individual provision, owing to this disappointment, became merged, and shared, in the general property of the family. How much of the calamity which afterwards obscured the splendour of the illustrious Bacon, may be traced to this disastrous event! All that would have enabled him at once to have assumed his natural elevation in society, and have qualified him calmly to have prosecuted studies which have conferred immortality on his name; all that would effectually have rescued him from the humility of supplication, the meanness of intrigue, the misery of corruption, and the disgrace of a judicial condemnation,-all, in one afflicting moment, is cut off and annihilated! Such are the dispensations, in the inscrutable order of Providence, which continually change and determine the precarious lot of humanity.

[ocr errors]

Compelled to resort to the study of the law in order to retrieve the shattered state of his fortune, Mr. Bacon entered himself at Gray's Inn. Here he erected an elegant building, which was long distinguished as "Lord Bacon's Lodgings;" here too, in his treatise entitled the "Greatest Birth of Time," he laid the foundation of that philosophy which was afterwards so nobly reared. In his twenty-eighth year he filled the office of reader to the society of Gray's Inn; and, about the same time, was honoured by the queen, in being named one of her counsel learned in the law extraordinary.

Mr. Bacon was chosen a member for Middlesex, in the parliament meeting in Feb. 1592-3. He had now to combat with that envy and malice which are commonly, and sometimes successfully, employed against genius and merit. Many who might naturally have been considered his friends, uneasy at the superiority of his acquirements, secretly laboured to retard his progress; while his senatorial opposition to the court strengthened the prejudices concerning him, which

« AnteriorContinuar »