FRANCIS BACON, 1561-1626
[Illustration: FRANCIS BACON. From the painting by Van Somer, National Portrait Gallery.]
Life.—A study of Bacon takes us beyond the limits of the reign of Elizabeth, but not beyond the continued influences of that reign. Francis Bacon, the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal under Elizabeth, was born in London and grew up under the influences of the court. In order to understand some of Bacon’s actions in later life, we must remember the influences that helped to fashion him in his boyhood days. Those with whom he early associated and who unconsciously molded him were not very scrupulous about the way in which they secured the favor of the court or the means which they took to outstrip an adversary. They also encouraged in him a taste for expensive luxuries. These unfortunate influences were intensified when, at the age of sixteen, he went with the English ambassador to Paris, and remained there for two and a half years, studying statecraft and diplomacy.
When Bacon was nineteen, his father died. The son, being without money, returned from Paris and appealed to his uncle, Lord Burleigh, one of Elizabeth’s ministers, for some lucrative position at the court. In a letter to his uncle, Bacon says: “I confess I have as vast contemplative ends as I have moderate civil ends; for I have taken all knowledge to be my province.” This statement shows the Elizabethan desire to master the entire world of the New Learning. Instead of helping his nephew, however, Lord Burleigh seems to have done all in his power to thwart him. Bacon thereupon studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1582.
Bacon entered Parliament in 1584 and distinguished himself as a speaker. Ben Jonson, the dramatist, says of him “There happened in my time one noble speaker who was full of gravity in his speaking. No man ever spoke more neatly, more presly, more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness, in what he uttered. His hearers could not cough or look aside from him without loss. The fear of every man that heard him was lest he should make an end.” This speaking was valuable training for Bacon in writing the pithy sentences of his Essays. A man who uses the long, involved sentences of Hooker can never become a speaker to whom people will listen. The habit of directness and simplicity, which Bacon formed in his speaking, remained with him through Life.
Among the many charges against Bacon’s personal code of ethics, two stand out conspicuously. The Earl of Essex, who had given Bacon an estate then worth L1800, was influential in having him appointed to the staff of counselors to Queen Elizabeth. When Essex was accused of treason, Bacon kept the queen’s friendship by repudiating him and taking an active part in the prosecution that led to the earl’s execution. After James I. had made Bacon Lord