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There is not, perhaps, in the whole range of biographical research a subject that has been more fully discussed and criticized by historians, philosophers and politicians than the life and works of this remarkable man. A stately library might be filled with the volumes which, year after year, have been sent forth into the world, to explain or reconcile the contrasts and anomalies which are supposed to have entered into the composition of Bacon's mind. Baconian morals and baconian philosophy would seem to have become an imperishable source of commentary and polemical literature. From the first edition of his works by Rawley down to Professor Liebig's ,,Essays and Speeches", the most discordant opinions have been enuntiated in attempts to define the character of Bacon, and his importance in the History of Science. In the midst of judgments so much at variance, one is really at a loss to distinguish truth from fiction; and it is no easy matter to form a just appreciation of his failings and merits as a gentleman and a scholar.
Such conflicting views of the life and of the scientific authority of Bacon, arise, we are convinced, not so much from deep contrasts of light and shade inherent to his character, as from a very natural disposition of some of his biographers to consider his actions and ideas from their particular points of view. Thus Macaulay portrays the moral Bacon as one of the most abject creatures that ever crawled on earth; a reptile full of falsehood, treachery and grovelling servility; and in the next breath, styles the scientific Bacon a soaring angel, the boldest innovator of his age, the founder of a new intellectual empire, the morning-star of modern enlightenment, a second Moses leading his people from the dreary regions
of Scholastic Lore to the genial climes of Modern Inquiry 1). Mr. Montagu, an acute and practised lawyer, takes up the cause of our author, and in his portly volumes, pours forth all his forensic pathos and enthusiasm to wrench his client from the jaws of public censure. Bacon is not only the renovator of science, the benefactor of mankind, but a model of virtue, a victim of the corrupt spirit of the times in which he lived, and of the foul atmosphere by which he was surrounded. Professor Kuno Fischer, in a very able work 2), has examined the life of Bacon from a strictly philosophical point of view, and, on psychological grounds, has endeavoured to establish a reconciliation between the statesman and the philosopher, and so to fill up the chasm which would seem to separate the actions of the man of science from those of the man of the world. Finally Professor Liebig 3), throwing over board his early associations and baconian predilections, denounces the Lord Chancellor not only as a weak and contemptible character, but as a philosophical charlatan, utterly insignificant and impotent in the field of Scientific Discovery.
It is not our intention to enter here into a refutation or justification of the opinions entertained by one or the other of Bacon's commentators; we feel neither called on nor competent for such a task. Neither do we lay claim in the following lines to much novelty or originality. We only say that, animated by the polemical articles of Liebig, we have been induced to form a more intimate acquaintance with the ideas of Bacon, and shall endeavour to reproduce the impressions which a perusal of his works has made upon our mind. We shall, therefore, content ourselves with a succinct review of his eventful life, and a relation of such facts and considerations as may, perhaps, enable us to form an approximate idea of his real importance as a promoter of empirical science. It would appear somewhat audacious to attempt to compress into the small space allotted to us in a school-report the vast subject we are about to consider for what else is a history of Bacon but a history of Modern Learning, and of the great mental phenomena which preceded and accompanied the Revival of Science and Letters in Europe and though we may not succeed in the attempt, we hope, at least, that our contribution will not be entirely worthless, and that the good-will by which it has been dictated. will not be mistaken.
1) Macaulay's Essays Vol. I. Lord Bacon.
2) Franz Baco von Verulam. Die Realphilosophie und ihr Zeitalter. 3) Reden und Abhandlungen. Baco von Verulam.
Francis Bacon, the second son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Keeper of the Great Seal to Queen Elizabeth, and of Anne, the learned daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke, known for his learning and accomplishments, was born in London on the 22nd of January 1561. Sir Nicholas was a pretty good specimen of those long-lived and tenacious functionaries, with whom the Great Queen was wont to surround her administration; a type of men who were to be found on the confines of the middle classes and the nobility, who could not boast of a long line of noble ancestors reaching back to the Conquest or the Heptarchy, but who first came into vogue under the House of Tudor a type whom we find well represented in the Cecils, Walsinghams, Smiths and Ellesmeres men of liberal education, of great practical knowledge of the world, and fully acquainted with the signs of their times prudent and cautious in their relations to the sovereign, and imbued with a moderate and tolerant spirit in the treatment of political and religious affairs. As statesman, Sir Nicholas ranked next to the Lord Treasurer Burghley, and loved and respected by all classes, occupied for more than twenty-eight years the high office entrusted to him. True to his motto: Mediocria firma, he was neither ambitious of the title of Lord Chancellor nor of the peerage, and was, as his son relates,,, A man plain, direct and constant, without all finesse and doubleness; and one that was of the mind that a man in private proceedings and estate, and in the proceedings of state, should rest upon the soundness and strength of his own courses and not upon practice to circumvent others; according to the sentence of Solomon, »Vir prudens advertit ad gressus suos, stultus autem divertit ad dolos «<." 4) Born under such favourable auspices, it might be inferred that young Bacon's prospects could be only of the most hopeful description; and inasmuch as he possessed the necessary talents, a brilliant future was certain to await him.
Francis seems to have been a very precocious youth; for at a comparatively early age, we find him possessed of a readiness of mind and a facility of repartee, a sobriety of deportment and an attachment to study, which are said to have amused and astonished all who knew him. In his thirteenth year he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he made such rapid progress, that in the course of three years he completed his studies, and left Cambridge versed in the learning of the day, particularly in Aristotelian Philosophy, of which that famous university had been one of the most redoubt
4) Bacon's Works. Observations on a libel. Vol. I. Chap. VII. p. 395.