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was not his own. If he could but have been persuaded, and been able, to seize the moment of Salisbury's death for an entire change in his own ways—if he could from that moment have laid his former character aside and shown himself a new man,—he might I think have succeeded. It would have been thought that his true nature had been obscured till then by his minister, and appeared now in its natural lustre. Nor is it impossible that a successful experiment of that kind might really and permanently have changed him. For certainly his untaught sympathies and natural impulses were always with the people and human nature, and I cannot help thinking that if he had once tried the experiment of wearing his prerogative a little more carelessly, he would have found it so much more comfortable and becoming that he would have continued the fashion. But if this was to be done, it must be done suddenly. It is in times of change that new impressions are wrought in so as to last: when they have been allowed to settle, the new will hardly incorporate with the old.
Now therefore was the time: and now once more Bacon was tempted to step out of his course. Hitherto the very few (and I hope I may now say the very modest) applications which he had. made to the King on his own behalf had been merely for ordinary advancement in the regular course of his profession. But upon Salisbury's death it could not but occur to him that the King might have much more important use of him as a councillor of State than merely as a State lawyer. The King had in fact to choose a new prime minister; which in this case was almost as much as forming a new administration. Whom had he to choose from? He had in his Council the Lord Chancellor; a man bred under Elizabeth, but now nearly worn out, chiefly occupied with the business of his Court, and never much of a politician. He had the Earl of Northampton; a man in high repute for learning and talent, especially as a writer, (being indeed a great artist with his pen according to the fashionable taste of the day), but unpopular, from a suspected leaning to Popery, and not a man of any real judgment or ability (so far as I can make him out), nor patriotic in his ends, nor scrupulous in his methods of pursuing them. He had Robert Carre, now Lord Rochester; an inexperienced and uninstructed youth, given to pleasure, greedy of gain, intoxicated by his sudden elevation, disliked by the people because he was a Scotchman and getting all the good things, and having an interest in the King's affections which gave him an influence over his counsels greater probably than the King was aware of. He had the Earl of Suffolk; a great courtier, and a magnificent sort of person, but of whose ideas (if he had any) we know
nothing. The rest were either instruments, or ciphers, or quiet people who minded only their own business and did not affect to interfere with the management of the State. By far the best head (I take it) in James's Council was his own: and a very sufficient head it would have been if it had been applied steadily to its work. But he was far too easy a master both to himself and to those about him. He was for ever excusing himself from following his own judgment-from doing what he would have advised any one else to do in the same situation-when it was opposed by his favourites or disagreeable to himself; and on that account, in such times as he had fallen upon,-with a debt of 500,0007., an annual deficiency of 160,000l., and a House of Commons newly awakened to a sense as well of his necessities as of their own powers, and determined to make the most of their advantage,—he was no fit man to be his own prime minister.
What course Bacon actually took in this exigency, I cannot certainly say for in a matter which requires delicate walking a man will sometimes draw up a letter in due form by way of experiment, to see how it looks on paper, and keep it back if he does not like the look of it but the course he meditated and wished to take may be gathered from the following letters,-two of them certainly written at this time, and the third probably not long after, and all found among the drafts and copies preserved in his own cabinet. That none of the three was included in his "register-book of letters," may be sufficiently explained perhaps by their private and confidential character, without supposing that they were ultimately withheld. And if they were withheld, it may have been only because he had had an opportunity in the mean time of speaking to the King in private; which it would appear from one of the "apophthegms" that he really had upon this very occasion. But however that may be, his private thoughts and intentions are what we are chiefly concerned with, and of these they afford the best evidence.
The first is evidently the beginning of a letter, with the progress of which he was so ill satisfied that he laid it by and began another. It is a rough draft, written in his own hand and partly in Greek
"Soon after the death of a great officer who was judged no advancer of the King's matters, the King said to his Solicitor Bacon, who was his kinsman, 'Now tell me truly, what say you of your cousin that is gone?' Mr. Bacon answered 'Sir, since your Majesty doth charge me, I'll e'en deal plainly with you, and give you such a character of him as if I were to write his story. I do think he was no fit counsellor to make your affairs better; but yet he was fit to have kept them from growing worse.' The King said 'on my so'l man, in the first thou speakest like a true man, and in the latter like a kinsman.' (Lit. and Prof. Works, ii. p. 175.) We must not however infer too much from the wording of this apophthegm, for it comes from the collection in the Baconiana, many of which, I suspect, have too much of the editor in them.
characters-a precaution which he took occasionally when he wished to keep a writing more private; and has the following docket, also in his own hand.
THE BEGINNING OF A LETTER TO THE KING IMMEDIATELY AFTER MY LORD TREASURER'S DECEASE.1
It may please your Majesty,
May 29, 1612.
If I shall seem in these few lines to write majora quam pro
take it to be an effect For of the one I was
fortuna, it may please your Majesty to not of presumption but of affection. never noted; and for the other I could never shew it hitherto to the full; having been as a hawk tied to another's fist, that mought sometimes bait and proffer but could never fly. And therefore if as it was said to one that spake great words, Amice, verba tua desiderant civitatem, so your Majesty say to me, "Bacon, your words require a place to speak them;" I must answer, that place or not place is in your Majesty to add or refrain: and though I never go higher but to Heaven, yet your Majesty
The next is probably the letter which he substituted; and either sent, or wrote with the intention of sending. Whether sent or not, it is one of the most important in the collection; for it proves unquestionably that the only remedy for the King's difficulties which Bacon would at this time have advised him to seek was to be sought through Parliament.
This is only a copy; but it is a contemporary copy, made by one of his own scribes. It has no flyleaf: and the indorsement, which is in a comparatively modern hand, was probably copied from the original docket. It runs thus:
31 MAY: LETTER TO THE KING, IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE LORD TREASURER'S DEATH.2
It may please your excellent Majesty,
I cannot but endeavour to merit, considering your preventing graces, which is the occasion of these few lines.
Your Majesty hath lost a great subject and a great servant. But if I should praise him in propriety, I should say that he
Lambeth MSS. Gibson Papers, vol. viii. fo. 6.
2 Gibson Papers, vol. viii. f. 7.
was a fit man to keep things from growing worse but no very fit man to reduce things to be much better. For he loved to have the eyes of all Israel a little too much upon himself, and to have all business still under the hammer and like clay in the hands of the potter, to mould it as he thought good; so that he was more in operatione than in opere. And though he had fine passages of action, yet the real conclusions came slowly on. So that although your Majesty hath grave counsellors and worthy persons left, yet you do as it were turn a leaf, wherein if your Majesty shall give a frame and constitution to matters, before you place the persons, in my simple opinion it were not amiss. But the great matter and most instant for the present, is the consideration of a Parliament, for two effects: the one for the supply of your estate; the other for the better knitting of the hearts of your subjects unto your Majesty, according to your infinite merit; for both which, Parliaments have been and are the antient and honourable remedy.
Now because I take myself to have a little skill in that region, as one that ever affected that your Majesty mought in all your causes not only prevail, but prevail with satisfaction of the inner man; and though no man can say but I was a perfect and peremptory royalist, yet every man makes me believe that I was never one hour out of credit with the lower house: my desire is to know, whether your Majesty will give me leave to meditate and propound unto you some preparative remembrances touching the future Parliament.
Your Majesty may truly perceive, that, though I cannot challenge to myself either invention, or judgment, or elocution, or method, or any of those powers, yet my offering is care and observance and as my good old mistress was wont to call me her watch-candle, because it pleased her to say I did continually burn (and yet she suffered me to waste almost to nothing), so I must much more owe the like duty to your Majesty, by whom my fortunes have been settled and raised. And so craving pardon, I rest
Your Majesty's most humble servant devote,
The exact date of the third is uncertain. It is a rough draft in Bacon's own handwriting, and whether it ever proceeded further we
have no means of knowing: for it is quite exceptional, and points to a project to which I have found no other allusion anywhere. It is quite possible that it was only a thought which perished in the setting down. But the meaning cannot be mistaken, and the date cannot be far removed from where we now are.
As the only remedy for the King's affairs was to be sought from Parliament, so his principal difficulty lay in the Lower House. Salisbury had had long experience as a member of the Commons before he was raised to the Peerage, and had a party there of personal adherents afterwards. Yet even in his time the Government was but weakly represented. "I must tell you," writes Sir Edward Hoby to Sir Thomas Edmunds, 7 March 1605-6, "that I think the State scorneth to have any privy counsellors of any understanding in that house." And after Salisbury's death it would be difficult to name any member either of the Council or of Parliament whose position in the government combined with his personal weight would have enabled him to conduct the Government business in the Lower House with effect. I suppose Sir Julius Cæsar would have been considered the highest representative of the Council in the last house, but he does not appear to have had any personal influence in debate. What was wanted was some man who could fill the position which Salisbury had filled in Elizabeth's two last parliaments : -a principal secretary of state, qualified to lead the Lower House. And though, among the many candidates for the vacant secretaryship, there was more than one who might have done well enough, the difficulties of one kind or another in the choice were so great, that the appointment remained still, and seemed likely to remain, in suspense. That rumour never suggested the name of Bacon, was owing probably to the fact that the office lay out of the ordinary line of promotion for a lawyer. And yet there can hardly be a doubt that he would have been the fittest man: nor was there any apparent objection to his being transferred to that department, if he were himself willing. It was this consideration, I suppose, which prompted him about this time to write the following letter.
TO THE KING.2
It may please your excellent Majesty,
My principal end being to do your Majesty service, I crave leave to make at this time to your Majesty this most humble oblation of myself. I may truly say with the psalm, Multum
1 'Court and Times of James I.,' vol. i. p. 60.
2 Gibson Papers, viii. fo. 224. Rough draft in Bacon's hand.