« AnteriorContinuar »
of his superior talents, represented the latter to the queen as a man of mere speculation; as one wholly given up to philosophical inquiries, new indeed and amusing, but fanciful and unsolid: and therefore more likely to distract her affairs, than to serve her usefully and with proper judgment. Bacon however was this man's cousin-german; his father and the lord Burleigh having married two sisters: but ambition knows neither merit nor relation. This unworthy treatment from so near a kinsman carried Bacon into very free expostulations on his courtly artifices, as he endeavoured in secret to crush the man whom yet he pretended openly to serve: and these repeated disappointments sunk so deep into his spirit, that he was several times on the point of retiring for ever, and even of hiding his grief and resentment in some foreign country. Essex, who could but ill brook the mortification of a denial, finding himself unable to serve his friend in a public way, would needs make up the loss to him out of his own private fortune: and if we may believe Bushell, he bestowed upon him about this time Bushell's Twickenham-park and its garden of Paradise. Whe- abridg. ther it was that or some other of his lands, the donation was so very considerable, that Bacon, as himself acknowledges in his Apology, sold it afterwards, even at an under price, for no less than eighteen hundred pounds. A bounty so noble, accompanied too, as we know it was, with all those agreeable distinctions that to a mind, delicately sensible, are more obliging than the bounty itself, must kindle in the breast of a good man the most ardent sentiments of gratitude, and create an inviolable attachment to such a benefactor. What then are we to think of Bacon, when we find him, after this nobleman's unhappy fate, publishing to all England a Declaration of the treasons of Robert Earl of Essex? This behaviour drew upon him a heavy and general hatred at that time; which was not extinguished even by his death, but continues still, in the writings of more than one historian, an im
post. p. 1.
putation on his memory. As this transaction is of importance to his moral character, I will lay it before the reader as impartially as I can.
Elizabeth had raised that young lord, through a series of honours, to be earl marshal of England: and was every day giving him new proofs of a particular and uncommon esteem. This only served to exasperate his enemies. They were powerful, and closely united. But as they durst not attack him openly, they had recourse to dark and surer arts of vengeance; against which his openness of temper, unsuspecting and improvident, was nowise guarded. In truth, his imperious humour, which he could seldom disguise, aided their designs; for it often broke forth into downright abuse and scorn of those who thwarted his projects, or dissented from his opinions; and he once, in some dispute with the queen herself, turned his back abruptly upon her with all the marks of disrespect and contempt. Provoked at this insolence, Elizabeth forgetting her sex, and the dignity of her character, struck the earl a box on the ear; which he on his part, with a. meanness of passion yet less excusable in a man, resented so highly as to lay his hand on his sword, against a woman and his sovereign. No subsequent favour could wear this imaginary affront out of his memory; though she pardoned him the insult that occasioned it, and sent him shortly after into Ireland, as her vicegerent, with a commission almost unlimited. His conduct there has not escaped the censure of historians, who have remarked severely on the unjustifiable treaty he made with the arch-rebel Tyrone, on the private conference they held together, and on his precipitate return to England, Mem. of against the queen's express orders. This last ill step he was betrayed into, if we may believe Osborn, by an artifice of Cecil, who first inflamed Elizabeth's suspicions of the earl, and then stopped all vessels that were to sail for Ireland, except one, which he ordered thither on purpose with a feigned report of her death. Fatally deceived by this intelligence,
Q. Eliz. p. 458.
Essex sailed away in a hurry for England, attended only by a few of his friends. The queen received him without any emotion either of anger or affection, and, having confined him to his own house, ordered his conduct to be examined in the Starchamber. At this usage of him, however gracious and moderate, the people, whose idol he was, loudly exclaimed: and their unseasonable partiality, represented by his adversaries as of dangerous tendency to the state, kindled anew the queen's indignation against him. Thus that popularity he had so eagerly courted, and so much depended upon, served now only to hasten forward his destruction. He was sentenced by the council to be removed from his place at that board; to be suspended from his offices of earl marshal and master of the ordnance, and to be imprisoned during the queen's pleasure. Having humbled him thus far, she stopped short, forbidding his sentence to be entered on record, and still con tinuing him master of the horse. She even gave him the full enjoyment of his liberty, upon his expressing a perfect resignation to her pleasure; but withal advised him to be his own keeper. His seeming repentance was of short duration; for upon the queen's refusal to grant him the farm of sweet wines, which he had very imprudently petitioned for, he returned out of the country, and again abandoned himself to all the impetuosity of his temper; or rather to the pernicious suggestions of his followers. Indeed the presumption that naturally grows out of successful ambition, and the interested counsels of those whose fortunes were involved with his, seem to have entirely turned his head: for his actions henceforward were the genuine effects of frenzy and despair. In conjunction with his friends, of several conditions, he meditated no less an attempt than to seize on the palace, to make himself master of the queen's person, and to banish from about her all those whom he reputed his enemies. Never was conspiracy so ill laid, or conducted with so little probability of success. The court was presently
alarmed, his house invested, himself and his friends made prisoners, without any resistance on his part; for though he was embarked in a kind of rebellion, State Tri- he knew not how to be a rebel. The particulars of als, Vol. I. his trial are foreign to my purpose. It was managed against him by Sir Edward Coke, the attorney general, and by Bacon as one of the queen's counsel. It ought not to be forgot that the former treated this unfortunate nobleman with a strain of petulant dulness and scurrility that makes us contemn his talent as a pleader, while we abhor the purpose to which he made it subservient. Bacon was moderate and decent. The crime was proved by a cloud of witnesses: and the unanimous suffrage of his peers found him guilty. After his sentence he appeared wholly indifferent to life or death: though the queen seemed still irresolute, or rather inclining to save him. He died with the tenderness of a penitent, and the firmness of a hero: though the marshal de Biron jested on his deportment in that last scene of life, as suiting rather a monk than a soldier.
The untimely fate of this nobleman, who died on a scaffold in the prime and vigour of his years, excited universal pity, and was murmured against by all conditions of people. Their reflections on the prevailing party at court, even on the queen herself, were so bold and injurious, that the administration thought it necessary to vindicate their conduct in a public V. A de- appeal to the people. This task was assigned to that of Bacon, even then in high esteem for his excellencies sons of as a writer. Some say it was by his enemies insidiof Essex, ously imposed on him, to divert the national resentVol. III. ment from themselves upon a particular person, who was known to have lived in friendship with Essex, and whom they intended to ruin in the public esteem. If such was their intention, they succeeded but too well in it. Never man incurred more universal or more lasting censure than Bacon by this writing. He was every where traduced as one who endeavoured to murder the good name of his benefactor, after the ministry had destroyed his person;
his life was even threatened; and he went in daily hazard of assassination. This obliged him to publish, in his own defence, the Apology we find among his writings. It is long and elaborate; but not, perhaps,
in every part satisfactory. Let us believe him on his Apology, own testimony, that he had never done that noble- Vol. III. man any ill offices with the queen; though she herself had, it seems, insinuated the contrary: that on the other hand he had always, during the time of their intimacy, given him advice no less useful than sincere; that he had wished, nay endeavoured the earl's preservation even at last, purely from affection to him, without any regard to his own interest in that endeavour : let all this be allowed; some blemish will still remain on his character.
Essex deserved the fate he underwent : but he had paid his debt to justice: and the commonwealth had now nothing to fear from any of his party. The declaration above mentioned could therefore be intended, only to still the present clamours of the multitude; and though the matter of it might be true, Bacon was not the man who should have published those truths. He had been long and highly indebted to the earl's friendship, almost beyond the example even of that age. In another man this proceeding might not have been blameable; in him it cannot be excused. In the next reign Sir Henry Aul. CoYelverton ventured on the displeasure both of the qui. p. 186. king and his minion, rather than do the ministry of his office, by pleading against the earl of Somerset, who had made him solicitor-general. Had Bacon refused that invidious part, there were others, among the herd of aspiring and officious lawyers, ready enough to have performed it: and his very enemies must have thought more advantageously of him for declining a task, in itself of no essential importance to the state, and in him unjust to friendship, obligation, gratitude, the most sacred regards among
Elizabeth survived her favourite about a year: and, Osborn, if we may credit Osborn, grief and remorse for his P. 459.