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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. Crown 8vo.
56. Files .
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 5TH S. VOL. X. NO. II.
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