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THE LETTERS AND THE LIFE
INCLUDING ALL HIS
LETTERS SPEECHES TRACTS STATE PAPERS MEMORIALS DEVICES
THE last volume ended with the first work of Bacon's Attorney Generalship. The present carries him almost, but not quite, to the end of the period during which he held that office. It was one of his periods of highest political activity; in which many matters of great immediate importance in their own day, and probably of great ultimate importance to the whole subsequent history of England, fell to his charge. The Parliament of 1614, with its high hopes, fair promises, and disastrous issue; the attempt to raise supplies by a "Benevolence," which followed; -the legal proceedings against Talbot, for refusing to repudiate the Jesuits' doctrine of king-killing; against Peacham, for treasonable words intended to be preached; against Owen, for treasonable words spoken; against Oliver St. John, for slander of the King and Council;-the consultation of Judges single and apart; the deliberations concerning the calling of another Parliament, with the precautions to be used, the subjects to be proposed, and the courses to be held;-the trial of the Earl and Countess of Somerset for the murder of Overbury ;—the dispute between the Crown and the Judges in the case of Rege inconsulto; the assault by the Court of King's Bench upon the Court of Chancery, in the case of Præmunire;-the first essay of government in Ireland through a Parliament of its own;-All these come within the period embraced in this volume; and they were all matters in which Bacon was, one way or other, personally engaged,-in some as adviser and manager, in some as actor under the direction of superiors, in some as a kind of intruder with advice unasked. Of his papers relating to them, some have remained till now, not only unprinted, but unknown;
and supply new and unexpected information as to his political views and action. Among these I may especially mention the sketch of the speech which he wished the King to make to the two Houses at the meeting of Parliament in 1614, for the knowledge of which, with permission to print it, I am indebted to Mr. David Laing; and the long letter of advice, printed by permission of the Masters of the Bench from a copy in the Inner Temple library, which he addressed to him in the following year. Taken along with the letters and notes on the same subject which appeared in the last volume (pp. 365-373), these two papers complete our knowledge of Bacon's part in that well deserving and ill succeeding enterprise, and disclose to us the whole history, from his point of view, of the design, the hopes, the preparations, the errors, the causes of failure, and the instructions for the future to be gathered therefrom.
The short paper of "points to be observed" in the collection of the Benevolence (from which we learn for the first time how far and with what conditions and limitations he was a party to that measure), may also be mentioned among the more notable novelties. And the Decree on the Præmunire question, in the absence of which the history of that business was left very incomplete, may be added to the list. Though not new absolutely (for the substance of it may be gathered from a treatise in the first volume of the Collectanea Juridica), it is not to be found, so far as I know, in any more common book, and will therefore be quite new, I presume, to the great majority of readers.
With regard to the other subjects contained in the volume, the more orderly arrangement of the papers and the collateral information supplied in the Commentary form the chief novelty. But it will be found to be a novelty of some consequence. It has been the fashion for the last thirty years to find great fault with Bacon for the part he took in some of these transactions. I think it will now appear that the judgment has in most cases been pronounced under a considerable misapprehension of the facts; and that when the story is truly told, the asp ct of it in relation to him is materially altered: so much so that the same Judges, if the case had been so presented to them at first, would
probably have judged differently. Whether my version of the story be really the truer, is a question no doubt which may and will be disputed. But it is a question of fact. Where it differs from the common version, it aspires to differ by being in better accordance with the evidence. Now the evidence is within anybody's reach. Though I cannot hope that among my many references there are no wrong figures (for a mistake of that kind, once made, is of all mistakes the most likely to escape detection), I am quite sure that none of them are imaginary; I have tried to make them all distinct; and I hope that before my statements of the case are condemned as inaccurate, the evidence to which I appeal will be examined and weighed. The question which I have undertaken to deal with is not whether Bacon was wise or foolish, virtuous or wicked, but what he thought about the occasions of his time; and to make that knowledge of any value it is necessary to ascertain correctly what the occasions really were.