If the imaginative resources of the new England were seen in the creators of Hamlet and the Faerie Queen, its purely intellectual capacity, its vast command over the stores of human knowledge, the amazing sense of its own powers with which it dealt with them, were seen in the work of Francis Bacon. Bacon was born at the opening of Elizabeth's reign, three years before the birth of Shakspere. He was the younger son of a Lord Keeper, as well as the nephew of Lord Burleigh, and even in boyhood his quickness and sagacity won the favour of the Queen. Elizabeth " delighted much to confer with him, and to prove him with questions: unto which he delivered himself with that gravity and maturity above his years that her Majesty would often term him ' the young Lord Keeper.'" Even as a boy at college he had expressed his dislike of the Aristotelian philosophy, as "a philosophy only strong for disputations and contentions, but barren of the production of works for the benefit of the life of man." As a law-student of twenty-one he sketched in a tract on the "Greatest Birth of Time" the system of inductive enquiry he was already prepared to substitute for it. The speculations of the young thinker were interrupted by hopes of Court success; but these were soon dashed to the ground.
He was left poor by his father's death; the ill-will of the Cecils barred his advancement with the Queen: and a few years before Shakspere's arrival in London he entered as a barrister at Gray's Inn. He soon became one of the most successful lawyers of the time. At twenty-three he was a member of the House of Commons, and his judgement and eloquence at once brought him to the front. "The fear of every man that heard him was lest he should make an end," Ben Jonson tells us. The steady growth of his reputation was quickened by the appearance of his "Essays," a work remarkable not merely for the condensation of its thought and its felicity and exactness of expression, but for the power with which it applied to human life that experimental analysis which Bacon was at a later time to make the key of Science. His fame at once became great at home and abroad, but with this nobler fame Bacon could not content himself. He was conscious of great powers, as well as great aims for the public good; and it was a time when such aims could hardly be realized save through the means of the Crown. But political employment seemed further off than ever.
At the outset of his career in Parliament he had irritated Elizabeth by a firm opposition to her demand of a subsidy; and though the offence was atoned for by profuse apologies, and by the cessation of all further resistance to the policy of the court, the law offices of the Crown were more than once refused to him, and it was only after the publication of his "Essays" that he could obtain some slight promotion as a Queen's Counsel. The moral weakness which more and more disclosed itself is the best justification of the Queen in her reluctance - a reluctance so strangely in contrast with her ordinary course - to bring the wisest head in her realm to her Council-board. The men whom Elizabeth employed were for the most part men whose intellect was directed by a strong sense of public duty. Their reverence for the Queen, strangely exaggerated as it may seem to us, was guided and controlled by an ardent patriotism and an earnest sense of religion; and with all their regard for the royal prerogative, they never lost their regard for the law. The grandeur and originality of Bacon's intellect parted him from men like these quite as much as the bluntness of his moral perceptions. In politics, as in science, he had little reverence for the past.
Law, constitutional privileges, or religion, were to him simply means of bringing about certain ends of good government; and if these ends could be brought about in shorter fashion he saw only pedantry in insisting on more cumbrous means. He had great social and political ideas to realize, the reform and codification of the law, the civilization of Ireland, the purification of the Church, the union - at a later time - of Scotland and England, educational projects, projects of material improvement, and the like; and the direct and shortest way of realizing these ends was in Bacon's eyes the use of the power of the Crown. But whatever charm such a conception of the royal power might have for her successor, it had little charm for Elizabeth; and to the end of her reign Bacon was foiled in his efforts to rise in her service.
"For my name and memory," he said at the close of his life," I leave it to men's charitable speeches, and to foreign nations, and the next age." Amid political activity and court intrigue he still found room for the philosophical speculation which had begun with his earliest years. At forty-four, after the final disappointment of his political hopes from Elizabeth, the publication of the "Advancement of Learning" marked the first decisive appearance of the new philosophy which he had been silently framing. The close of this work was, in his own words, "a general and faithful perambulation of learning, with an enquiry what parts thereof lie fresh and waste, and not improved and converted by the industry of man; to the end that such a plot, made and recorded to memory, may both minister light to any public designation and also serve to excite voluntary endeavours." It was only by such a survey, he held, that men could be turned from useless studies, or ineffectual means of pursuing more useful ones, and directed to the true end of knowledge as "a rich storehouse for the glory of the Creator and the relief of man's estate." The work was in fact the preface to a series of treatises which were intended to be built up into an "Instauratio Magna," which its author was never destined to complete, and of which the parts that we possess were published in the following reign.
The "Cogitata et Visa" was a first sketch of the "Novum Organum," which in its complete form was presented to James in 1621. A year later Bacon produced his" Natural and Experimental History." This, with the " Novum Organum " and the "Advancement of Learning," was all of his projected "Instauratio Magna" which he actually finished; and even of this portion we have only part of the last two divisions. The "Ladder of the Understanding," which was to have followed these and lead up from experience to science, the " Anticipations," or provisional hypotheses for the enquiries of the new philosophy, and the closing account of "Science in Practice," were left for posterity to bring to completion. " We may, as we trust," said Bacon, " make no despicable beginnings. The destinies of the human race must complete it, in such a manner perhaps as men looking only at the present world would not readily conceive. For upon this will depend, not only a speculative good, but all the fortunes of mankind, and all their power." When we turn from words like these to the actual work which Bacon did, it is hard not to feel a certain disappointment. He did not thoroughly understand the older philosophy which he attacked.