« AnteriorContinuar »
his profession, and by several rich marriages, he was of a sordid avarice, a severe master, a griping landlord; in prosperity insolent, dejected and fawning in adversity: the same poorness of spirit influencing his behaviour in both conditions. One example of this may serve in place of several: after his disgrace, he submissively courted Buckingham's brother to a match with his daughter: in the height of his favour he had rejected the same proposal with scorn. His profound skill in the common law has been universally allowed: and to this we cannot have a more unquestionable witness than Sir Francis Ba- State Tr. con; one every way fit to judge, and an enemy. He Vol. II. was raised to be chief justice of the Common Pleas in 1606, and of the King's Bench in 1613. On the bench he was above corruption: and had this saying frequently in his mouth, that a judge should neither give nor take a bribe. In the case of Peacham, in Bacon, the business of Commendams, he behaved himself Vol. V. with the honesty and firmness of one who knew that a judge ought neither to be flattered nor menaced out of his integrity. Towards the latter part of his life, he struck in with the country party in parliament, and stood in the breach against the arbitrary measures of James and Charles. He died in the reign of the latter, aged 88 years.
At length Sir Francis Bacon obtained the place An. 1607. he had so long expected; and in 1607 was declared solicitor general. This preferment was the effect of many letters and much instance on his part, to the earl of Salisbury, the lord chancellor Egerton, and the king himself. Neither do I find that he was ever promoted to any post without repeated and earnest application to ministers and favourites: a reflection that may serve at once to mortify and instruct an ambitious man of parts.
James had, from the beginning of his reign, passionately desired a union of Scotland and England: but his unreasonable partiality to the former, reckoning it as an equal half of the island, rendered the design abortive. Though Sir Francis Bacon laboured
this argument with all the arts of wit and reason, his eloquence, powerful as it was, had no effect on the house of commons. The parliament even shewed itself averse to this union, in proportion as the court appeared zealous for it. The new sovereign's conduct had alarmed them. They saw that, with a strong disposition to be profuse, he was absolutely in the power of favourites; and that some of the least valuable among his subjects were most in his favour. They saw farther, that he began already to propagate maxims of government destructive to liberty, and inconsistent with the whole tenor of the constitution. These things filled observing men with apprehensions for the future, which unhappily were but too well founded. The whole sum of his politics, both now and afterwards, was to distaste and alienate his subjects at home; to dishonour both himself and them abroad. It was a reign of embassies and negotiations, alike fruitless and expensive: a reign of favourites and proclamations, of idle amusements and arbitrary impositions. It was besides the great era of flattery. The ancient national simplicity of manners which ever accompanies magnanimity, and manly freedom of speech, the noble effect of both, were now in a great measure lost; altered and effeminated into prostitute adulation and servile homage. This was become the fashionable language among the clergy as well as laity, and James heard himself daily addressed to, by the titles of sacred and divine: titles which discover the meanness rather than the dignity of human nature; and which, applied to him, were glaringly ridiculous. He had not one princely quality. The arts of governing a kingdom in peace he either did not, or would not understand: and his horror of war was constitutional and unconquerable. It may therefore seem unaccountable that a king of this temper should treat his parliaments with more haughtiness than any of his predecessors, had ever done. But he had been told that England was neither to be exhausted nor provoked: and his actions shewed that he believed so, according to the letter.
The truth is, that as pusillanimity will talk bigger on some occasions than true valour on any; he meant to make himself formidable to his people, that they might not discover how much he was afraid of them.
Though he did not succeed in the union of the kingdoms, he found his judges, in an affair of a similar kind, more complaisant than the great council of the nation had been: I mean the naturalization of all Scotsmen born since his accession to the throne of England. This was adjudged by Sir Edward Coke Case of the in the great case of Calvin; as it had been argued at large before all the judges by Sir Francis Bacon. p. 319. The affair is now no longer of importance to cither kingdom: but one assertion of our author, on that occasion, ought not to be forgot. He roundly affirms that monarchies do not subsist like other governments, by a precedent law; and that submission to them is grounded upon nature.
In 1610 he published another treatise, entitled, "Of An. 1610. the Wisdom of the Ancients." This work bears the same stamp of an original and inventive genius with his other performances. Resolving not to tread in the steps of those who had gone before him, men, according to his own expression, not learned beyond certain common places; he strikes out a new tract for himself, and enters into the most secret recesses of this wild and shadowy region; so as to appear new on a known and beaten subject. Upon the whole, if we cannot bring ourselves readily to believe that there is all the physical, moral, and political meaning veiled under those fables of antiquity, which he has discovered in them, we must own that it required no common penetration to be mistaken with so great an appearance of probability on his side. Though it still remains doubtful whether the ancients were so knowing as he atteinpts to shew they were, the variety and depth of his own knowledge are, in that very attempt, unquestionable.
Hobart being advanced to the place of chief jus- An. 1613. tice of the Common Pleas, Sir Francis Bacon suc
ceeded him as attorney general in 1613; about three months after the death of his kinsman and enemy, the lord treasurer Salisbury: a minister fertile in expedients for supplying his master's wants, and well acquainted with the temper of England: a man of dexterity, craft, and intrigue, rather than a great man. The office that Bacon now entered upon was of exorbitant profit for that age. He owns, in one of his letters to the king, that it was worth to him 60001. a year; and his employment of register to the Star-chamber, which I mentioned above, now brought him in 16001. a year more. By what fatality was it that so extraordinary a man did not add to his other virtues that of a reasonable economy ? Ha he done so, it had preserved him from one transcendent fault: and the other blemishes on his moral name had been lost in the brightness of his intellectual qualities. But he was remarkably subject to the same weakness that so much dishonoured his master. His dependants had him wholly in their power, and squandered his fortune away, shamefully and without measure. In a private family, this begot disorder, necessity, corruption: and all England beheld, from the same management in administering the public, the same effects; only more felt and fatal, as they were universal.
It was not however till the year 1611 that James abandoned himself to one sole favourite. About that time was brought to court Robert Car, a Scotsman, then in the first bloom of his youth, and of distinguished beauty; by which he at once engaged the king's attention, and in a little while engrossed all his affection. As he was wholly illiterate, James himself would needs be his preceptor: and it must have been a scene altogether new and ridiculous, to see the sovereign of three kingdoms daily instructing in the first elements of grammar, the man who was shortly after to govern those kingdoms. In his bounty to this stripling, he observed no other measure but that of his passion, which was as extreme as it seemed unaccountable. Car, in four or five of
Truth brought to light, p. 89.
favour, from a mere adventurer was raised to be earl of Somerset: and amassed an enormous estate of nineteen thousand pounds a year in land; besides plate, money, and jewels, to the amount of two hundred thousand pounds more. And yet he deserves a place in history, only for his scandalous amour with the countess of Essex; for procuring her An. 1615. to be divorced from her husband, and for combining with her to poison his friend, who had dissuaded him from that ill step. The fate of Sir Thomas Overbury; the dark and dreadful scene of guilt that ushered it in; and the part those two great criminals acted in that tragedy, are recounted by all historians. Though the horrible transaction yet lay wrapt up in darkness, and was not discovered till two years after, remorse and the upbraidings of conscience pursued Somerset every where. Through all the splendour of fortune and favour, the trouble of his mind was visible in his countenance, in his whole deportment. He grew by degrees to neglect his person and dress; his Coke. sprightliness of temper left him: and his conversation, from being gay and entertaining, was become cold, serious, and gloomy. This alteration in him was quickly followed by a change in the king's affections; which had no deeper or more solid foundation than these external and slight accomplishments. The courtiers, whom envy and interest render extremely sharpsighted, quickly discovered this change, and improved it. Luckily for their designs, there now ap- An. 1615. peared at court another young man, fitted by nature to draw the curiosity of James, and to supplant the earl of Somerset in his favour. This was the famous Wilson, George Villiers, the younger son of a good family in P 79. Leicestershire; afterwards duke of Buckingham. As the surprising elevation of this youth had a particular influence on the future fortunes, and even on the fall, of Sir Francis Bacon, his character will deserve a place at large in this history.
His mother, who could not give him a fortune, bestowed on him such an education as might enable him to acquire one, especially in a court like this. The