Francis Bacon, Viscount St. Albans and Baron Verulam, an English philosopher and lord chancellor, born at York house, in the Strand, London, Jan. 22, 1561, died at High-gate, April 9, 1626. He was the youngest son of Sir Nicholas Bacon. Early in life he gave signs of great fertility of talent. His health was exceedingly delicate, so that he was often affected to fainting by slight atmospheric changes. This constitutional infirmity accompanied him even to his latest days. Nothing is known of the process of his education, except that, as both his parents were learned persons, in the highest walks of life, he must have been early accustomed to study, and he did not miss the lessons of the courtly society by which he was surrounded. When Queen Elizabeth asked him, yet a child, how old he was, he replied, "Two years younger than your majesty's happy reign." In his 11th year he speculated on the laws of the imagination. A year later he was sent to Trinity college, Cambridge, where he was matriculated at the same time with his brother Anthony, June 10, 1573. As a student he was diligent and laborious, but thought for himself, and before he was 16 had already conceived a dislike for the philosophy of Aristotle, still greatly in vogue at the university. " They learn nothing at the universities," he afterward said, in the "Praise of Knowledge," "but to believe.
They are like a becalmed ship; they never move but by the wind of other men's breath, and have no oars of their own to steer withal." Some years after he quitted Cambridge he published a tract on the defects of universities, in which, after having premised that colleges were established for the communication of the knowledge of our predecessors, he proposed that a college be appropriated to the discovery of new truth, " to mix, like a living spring, with the stagnant waters." These sentiments he adhered to all his life, for in his will he endowed two lectures, in either of the universities, "by a lecturer, whether stranger or English, provided he is not professed in divinity, law, or physic." And in one of his latest works, the unfinished philosophical romance called "New Atlantis," he developed at considerable length the idea of a college for the "interpreting of nature," under the name of the " college of the six days' works." At the close of his collegiate course his father sent him to Paris, under the care of Sir Amyas Paulet, the English ambassador at that court, by whom he was shortly after intrusted with a mission to the queen.
He then travelled in the French provinces, spending some time at Poitiers, where he prepared a work upon ciphers, and also one upon the state of Europe; but his father dying (1579) while he was engaged upon them, he instantly returned to England. He applied for an office, which he failed to get, when he entered as a student of law in Gray's Inn (1580). On June 27, 1582, he was called to the bar; in 1586 he was made a bencher, and in 1590, when he was but 28, counsel extraordinary to the queen - " a grace," says his biographer Raw-ley, "scarce known before." At that time the court was divided into two parties, of which one was headed by the two Cecils, and the other by the earl of Leicester, and afterward by his son-in-law, the earl of Essex. Bacon was allied to the Cecils, being a nephew of Lord Burleigh, and first cousin to Sir Robert Cecil, the principal secretary of state; and yet his affections lay with Essex. His advancement, however, did not correspond either with his abilities or his connections. The Cecils represented him as rather a speculative man, not fitted for business. After renewed solicitations they procured for him the reversion of the registrar of the star chamber, with about £1,600 a year, but he did not come into possession of it for 20 years.
In 1593 he was returned to parliament as a knight of Middlesex. His first speech there was delivered in favor of his plan for the improvement of the law; another speech related to the postponement of certain subsidies which created popular discontent, whereby he provoked the anger of the queen; and being remonstrated with, he replied that he "spoke in discharge of his conscience and duty to God, to the queen, and to his country " - a noble reply, which he did not himself always in after life remember. Ben Jonson compliments his parliamentary eloquence highly, alleging that "no man ever spake more neatly, more pressly, more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness in what he uttered; no member of his speech but consisted of its own graces. His hearers could not cough or look aside from him without loss; he commanded when he spoke, and had his judges angry or pleased at his devotion. The fear of every man that heard him was lest he should make an end." In the spring of 1594 the solicitorship became vacant, by the promotion of Sir Edward Coke to the office of attorney general, and Bacon applied for it, strenuously backed by Essex; but he did not succeed, the superior influence of the Cecils being against him.
Essex, however, as some compensation for his disappointment, made him a present of Twickenham court, worth about £1,800, and so beautiful that Bacon called it the garden of paradise. It is worthy of remark that Elizabeth rejected the official claims of Bacon on the ground that although he was a man of wit and learning, he was yet "not very deep." During this year Bacon published his first political tract, entitled "A Declaration of the Causes of the Great Troubles," a vindication of the course of England in respect to continental policy. Three years later (1597) he issued a small 12mo called "Essays, Religious Meditations, and a Table of the Colors of Good and Evil." It contained but 10 essays in all, of which he says that he hopes they will be "like the late new halfpence, which, though the pieces are small, the silver is good." Abounding in condensed and practical thought, expressed with much simplicity, and without much imagery, they yet evinced a mind of wonderful sagacity and comprehensive reach. They were translated almost immediately into French, Italian, and Latin, and have proved, as subsequently augmented both in number and length, the most popular of his writings.
Dugald Stewart has properly remarked of the book that "it may be read from beginning to end in a few hours, and yet, after the twentieth reading, one seldom fails to remark in it something overlooked before." Dr. Whately published in 1857 a new edition, with an excellent introduction and many valuable notes. By Bacon's contemporaries it was gratefully received. - Bacon's pecuniary affairs at this time were in a wretched state; in order to retrieve them he twice tried to form lucrative matrimonial connections; but these plans also miscarried, and he was twice arrested for debt. Early in 1599 a large body of the Irish, denied the protection of the laws, and hunted like wild beasts by an insolent soldiery, tied the neighborhood of cities, sheltered themselves in their marshes and forests, and grew every day more intractable and dangerous. It became necessary to subdue them, and Essex was appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland; but his conduct in his office was so rash and haughty that Bacon, after vainly remonstrating with him, was at length compelled to turn against him. By this means he lost the aid of that powerful noble, without making either very many or very sincere friends on the other side.
His conduct in respect to Essex, who was tried and condemned for his offences in the year 1600, exposed Bacon to the charge of ingratitude and double-faced friendship; and though Mr. Basil Montagu, in his life of Bacon, labored hard, and to some degree justly, to acquit him of the obloquy with which he was then visited, he has scarcely escaped all blame in the judgment of posterity. Bacon not only appeared in the court against the man who had been his benefactor and friend, but, in pursuit of the good will of the queen, he used all his skill as a lawyer to heighten the guilt of his crime. He did not, however, gain much from his fidelity to this sovereign, who either did not discern or wilfully neglected his merits. On the accession of James in 1603 he had everything to expect from the disposition of that monarch, who was a lover of letters, and desired to distinguish himself as a patron of learning. Bacon possessed the additional title to his favor that his eloquence and information gave him great weight in parliament. Appointed by the house on the committee to make a representation of the misconduct of the royal purveyors, he discharged the task with so much discretion that while he satisfied the king, he won from the house a vote of thanks.
James made him one of his counsel, an office to which a small pension was attached, and from that time he continued to. rise in spite of the opposition of the Cecils, and the rivalry of Sir Edward Coke, the attorney general. In 1607 he was made solicitor general, by which his practice in Westminster hall was rapidly extended. About the same time he married Alice, daughter of Benedict Barnham, a wealthy alderman of London - thus succeeding in his third attempt at a wealthy marriage. His tact, his knowledge, and his eloquence combined, raised him to the highest point of reputation in the commons, while his standing at the bar was every day confirmed, and his favor at court was increased. But these political and personal struggles did not separate him from those philosophical inquiries which were the first love of his heart. In 1605 he published "The Advancement of Learning" (subsequently expanded into the De Augmentis), a work which inaugurated an era in the history of English literature and science. It professed to be a survey of existing knowledge, with a description of the parts of science yet unexplored, and might be regarded as a picture both of the cultivated parts of the intellectual world, and of its outlying, untrodden deserts.
This work alone would have been sufficient to place Bacon among the intellectual giants of his race. Yet his active and vigorous mind continued to busy itself with other speculations; besides his many speeches in the commons and his arguments at the bar, he wrote numerous tracts, such as "A Discourse on the Happy Union," "An Advertisement touching the Controversy of the Church of England," and pamphlets upon law reform and other topics of prevalent interest. All the while he was also employed in meditating the great Novum Organum Scientiarum, of which sketches were prepared in the shape of his Cogitata et Visa, Filum Labyrinthi, and Temporis Partus Maximus. His lesser writings he under-took, as he says, to secure him a degree of respect and consideration in the general mind, which might afterward serve to conciliate it toward the peculiarity of his opinions, or to answer as a bulwark against unfriendly assaults. In this intention he wrote and sent forth in 1609 "The Wisdom of the Ancients," a book in which the classical fables are made the vehicles of original and striking thoughts, clothed in remarkable beauty of language, and ornamented with graceful figures. Meantime his political advancement went steadily forward.
In 1611 he was a joint judge of the knight marshal's court; and the next year he was appointed attorney general, and elected a member of the privy council. While he held the office of attorney general he was engaged in several important causes. He was the prosecutor of Oliver St. John, of Owen and Talbot, and of the old clergyman Peacham, who was indicted for the treason contained in a sermon which was never preached. It is said that he was examined in the Tower under torture, and that Bacon was present assisting at the operation. It is a curious fact that the founder of modern philosophy should have consented to the barbarous system of extorting evidence by the rack. A more important trial was that of the earl and countess of Somerset and their accomplices for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, in the conduct of which he earned the highest distinction. The pecuniary embarrassments under which he once suffered were of course now at an end. His professional practice was large; the office of attorney general was worth £6,000 per annum; as registrar of the star chamber he was entitled to £1,600 per annum; his father's seat at Gorhambury had passed to him in consequence of the death of his brother; and he was also possessed of a considerable estate in Hertfordshire, besides the fortune acquired through his wife.
In 1616 Bacon relinquished the bar, but retained his chamber practice. In the spring of the following year the lord chancellor, Ellesmere, resigned the seals, which were handed over to Bacon, with the title of lord keeper. In January, 1618, he was created lord high chancellor, and the same year was raised to the peerage as baron of Verulam. His higher title of Viscount St. Albans was not conferred upon him till 1621. Bacon entered upon his judicial duties with elaborate pomp, and delivered a long and eloquent speech in the presence of the judges and the nobility. - The Novum Or-ganum, the great restoration of the sciences, which had been the burden of the thoughts of his life, was first printed in October, 1620. Twelve times it had been copied and revised before it assumed the shape in which it was committed to posterity. The full title of Bacon's work was the Novum Organum sive Indicia Vera de Interpretation Naturce, et Regno Hominis, and the title sums up its principal object. He proposed to replace the scholastic logic represented in the Organon of Aristotle by a new organon, in which the true and solid principle of investigating nature should supplant the old principle of mere verbal dialectics, and lead to "fruit" in the shape of genuine knowledge.
It was written in Latin, because it was addressed especially to the learned men of Europe, and in axioms, or short pithy sentences, that it might strike upon their minds by its repetitions, and be easily engraved upon the memory. It is yet, however, but a part of a larger work - of that Instauratio Magna - in which he designed to rehabilitate not only the methods of science, but science itself, and of which the De Augments was an opening chapter, and the whole of modern discovery the completion. Bacon's leading thought was the good of humanity. He held that study, instead of employing itself in wearisome and sterile speculations, should be engaged in mastering the secrets of nature and life, and in applying them to human use. His method in the attainment of this end was rigid and pure observation, aided by experiment, and fructified by induction. Instead of hypotheses he asked for facts, gathered laboriously from the watch of nature's silent revolutions, or extorted skilfully by instruments and trials, and carried forward by careful generalizations from the world of the known to the unknown. From effects to causes, and not from causes to effects, was the spirit of his recommendations.
And that he might not mislead any one by mere general views, Bacon constructed the new logic of observation and induction, and sought to exemplify it in numerous instances. It is in this latter process that he has the least succeeded; but it would be unjust to judge of Bacon's system by its failures. He did not propose to himself in the Novum Organum to make discoveries, but simply to cause them to be made, or to teach the art by which they could be made. He compared himself to those statues of Mercury which indicate the way although they do not pass over it themselves, or to a trumpet which sounds the charge while it takes no part in the battle. Yet even in this, the least happy part of his work, Bacon exhibits a fine scientific sense, and anticipates discoveries reserved as the reward of later research. He clearly, for instance, invented a thermometer (1. ii. aph. 13); he instituted ingenious experiments on the compressibility of bodies, and on the density and weight of air; he suggests chemical processes (aph. 48); he suspected the law of universal attraction (aph. 35, 36, and 45), afterward demonstrated by Newton; he foresaw the true explication of the tides (aph. 45, 48), and the cause of colors, which he ascribes to the manner in which bodies, owing to their different texture, reflect the rays of light.
Nor did Bacon, as some have wrongly supposed, confine his method to the natural sciences alone; he clearly intended its use in psychological investigations as well; and the metaphysics of the Scotch school are an attempt to render mental science according to his rules. This immense and unprecedented book was received with admiration by a discerning few, but with ridicule and scorn by the would-be wits and geniuses. Bacon's old enemy Coke wrote upon the title page of a presentation copy, having the device of a ship passing the pillars of Hercules, "It deserveth not to be read in schools, But to be freighted in the ship of fools."
Others said that he wrote of philosophy like a lord chancellor. King James, in his pedantic conceit, compared it to the peace of God, which passeth all understanding. Yet there were some who perceived its truth, among the rest Ben Jonson and Sir Henry Wotton; the latter of whom, addressing him, said, "Your lordship hath done a great and everlasting benefit to all the children of nature, and to nature herself in her uppermost extent of latitude: who never before had so noble and so true an interpreter, never so inward a secretary of her cabinet." - But the glory of Bacon ascended on the eve of a most disgraceful fall. His moral dignity was not on a level with his intellectual penetration. He had a broad, and deep, and vigorous, but not a lofty nature. Giving himself up to improvidence, his need of money betrayed him into practices of corruption. In the house of commons on March 15, 1621, Sir Robert Phillips reported from a committee appointed to inquire into the abuses of courts of justice, two cases of corruption against the lord chancellor.
One of these was on a petition of a man named Aubrey, who alleged that he had paid Bacon £100 to advance a suit; and another on that of one Egerton, who had given him a gratuity of £400. Before the close of the proceedings, similar cases to the number of 24 were presented. The commons referred the case to the house of peers, as the only tribunal capable of trying the lord chancellor. Bacon resolved to stand up manfully against his accusers; but, his health giving way, he could only write to the lords. He requested that his case should be conducted according to the strictest rules of justice, to which the lords replied that it should be. His friends he assured in the strongest terms of his innocence. In 14 cases it was shown that the presents were given long after the suits were terminated; in other cases the decrees which he rendered had been against the donors; and in other cases the presents were considered not as gifts but as loans, and he had decided against his creditors. Yet, when brought to the test, Bacon submitted to the accusations. His submission, it is alleged, was brought about by the king, who even persuaded Bacon to sacrifice himself to the popular excitement.
On April 22, 1621, he wrote to the lords that he abandoned his defence, and moved them to condemn and censure him. The house required that he should furnish categorical answers to the several articles of charge, which he did, saying to each, "I do plainly and ingenuously confess that I am guilty of corruption, and do renounce all defence," etc. A deputation of the lords being appointed to wait on him, to ask if the confession was his, he said: "It is my act, my hand, my heart. I beseech your lordships, be merciful to a broken reed." His humiliation was complete, and his spirit was crushed within him. He hoped that the king, or his son, or their favorite Buckingham, would interfere to stay the sentence; but they refused. On the 3d of May he was sentenced to a fine of £40,000, and to imprisonment in the Tower during the king's pleasure. He was released from imprisonment after two days, and the fine was subsequently remitted; but his disgrace was final. Once afterward he was summoned to attend parliament; but he never recovered his standing, and he spent the remainder of his days in scientific studies, and among the few friends whom adversity had left him.
His "History of Henry VII.," "Apophthegms," some works on natural history, and a new and enlarged edition of the "Essays" (1025), were all that he published after his fall. The imputations on his honor were doubtless exaggerated by the prejudices of the day, but his own confessions force us to believe that they were well founded, or else that he, in base subserviency to the court, subscribed himself a liar. Mr. Basil Montagu, in his life of Bacon, adopts the latter alternative, and argues against his corruption in favor of his weakness. The practice of receiving gifts was an habitual one; and Bacon probably spoke the truth when he averred that he had been the justest chancellor for many years. He died, saying in his will that "my name and memory I leave to foreign nations and to my own countrymen, after some time be passed over." - Lord Bacon had a capacity no less adapted to grapple with the principles of legal science than to illustrate other departments of knowledge. He lived, however, at a time when the English law consisted mostly of barren precedents, and judges were adverse to any reasoning that had not some analogy to cases already decided.
The earliest of his writings on law, which he entitled "Elements of the Common Law of England," consisting of two treatises on "Maxims of the Law and the other Uses of the Law," appears to have been written.in 1596. It was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, but he elicited no encouragement to proceed in the work. The "Maxims" exhibit the same nice discrimination of analogies that was afterward shown in his popular treatise on the "Colors of Good and Evil." Bacon says in the preface that he had collected 300 maxims, but that he thought best first to publish some few, that he might from other men's opinions either receive approbation in his course, or advice for the altering of those which remain. He received neither. The "Maxims " expounded were but 24 in number, and all the residue were by this cold reception lost to the world. Few cases are cited from the books, for which he gives the reason that it will appear to those who are learned in the laws that his instances "are mostly judged cases, or sustained by similitude of reason, but that in some cases he intended to weigh down authorities by evidence of reason, and therein rather to correct the law than either to soothe a received error, or by unprofitable subtlety, which corrupteth the sense of the law, to reconcile contrarieties." It is a common remark that he was not equal to some others, particularly Sir Edward Coke, in applying and reasoning from cases, but it is entirely untrue if by that be meant less discrimination of adjudged cases.
On the contrary, no man excelled him in exact judgment of authorities; but often he found these authorities unsupported by just principles, or so conflicting that the rule was to be sought from reasoning, independent of reported cases. Sixteen years later, when he had become attorney general, he again referred to this subject in "A Proposal for Amending the Laws of England," a tract addressed to King James, in which he speaks of the method of expounding the laws upon the plan which he had attempted in his early treatises, as certain to be productive of great advantage, and professes his willingness to resume his labors if desired by the king to do so. The king, however, did not accept the proposal. During the five years that he survived his impeachment and removal from office, Bacon again recurred to this favorite project, or rather he seems never to have laid it aside. A treatise on universal justice, consisting of 97 aphorisms, is contained in the Be Augmentis, published during that period, which, he says, he wishes " to serve as a specimen of that digest which we propose and have in hand." The digest referred to is explained in an offer addressed to the king about that time. The plan he had in view was somewhat different from that which he had formerly proposed.
It was to arrange into some order all the laws, whether statute or common law. The offer met with the same fate as the preceding one. Bacon says, in a letter to Bishop Andrews: "I had a purpose to make a particular digest or recom-pilement of the laws of mine own nation; yet because it is a work of assistance and that which I cannot master by my own forces and pen, I have laid it aside." Of his other law writings, the "Readings on the Statute of Uses" is the most elaborate. It has now no practical value, in consequence of the change in the laws wrought by time, but it is esteemed by those who have examined it critically a very profound treatise. - Bacon's.lite has been written by the Rev. William Rawley, who was his secretary and chaplain (London, 1658); by W. Dugdale, in the "Baconiana" of Thomas Tenison (1679); by Robert Stephens (1734); by David Mallet, at the head of an edition of his works (1740); by M. de Vauzelles (Paris, 1833); and by William Hepworth Dixon, " Personal History of Lord Bacon" (London, 1859). The best and most complete edition of his works is that of Spedding, Ellis, and Heath (London, 1857). Basil Montagu's edition (1825 -34) was the occasion of Macaulay's famous essay on Lord Bacon. Bacon, sa vie et son influence, by Remusat (Paris, 1857), is a valuable work.
An important monograph on Lord Bacon, entitled Franz Bacon ton Verulam, by Kuno Fischer, was published in Leipsic in 1856.