Bacon was one of those men to whom posterity forgives a great deal for the greatness of what he has done and attempted for posterity. It is idle, unless all honest judgment is foregone, to disguise the many deplorable shortcomings of his life; it is unjust to have one measure for him, and another for those about him and opposed to him. But it is not too much to say that in temper, in honesty, in labour, in humility, in reverence, he was the most perfect example that the world had yet seen of the student of nature, the enthusiast for knowledge. That such a man was tempted and fell, and suffered the Nemesis of his fall, is an instance of the awful truth embodied in the tragedy of Faust. But his genuine devotion, so unwearied and so paramount, to a great idea and a great purpose for the good of all generations to come, must shield him from the insult of Pope’s famous and shallow epigram. Whatever may have been his sins, and they were many, he cannot have been the “meanest of mankind,” who lived and died, holding unaltered, amid temptations and falls, so noble a conception of the use and calling of his life: the duty and service of helping his brethren to know as they had never yet learned to know. That thought never left him; the obligations it imposed were never forgotten in the crush and heat of business; the toils, thankless at the time, which it heaped upon him in addition to the burdens of public life were never refused. Nothing diverted him, nothing made him despair. He was not discouraged because he was not understood. There never was any one in whose life the “Souverainete du but” was more certain and more apparent; and that object was the second greatest that man can have. To teach men to know is only next to making them good.
The Baconian philosophy, the reforms of the Novum Organum, the method of experiment and induction, are commonplaces, and sometimes lead to a misconception of what Bacon did. Bacon is, and is not, the founder of modern science. What Bacon believed could be done, what he hoped and divined, for the correction and development of human knowledge, was one thing; what his methods were, and how far they were successful, is another. It would hardly be untrue to say that though Bacon is the parent of modern science, his methods contributed nothing to its actual discoveries; neither by possibility could they have done so. The great and wonderful work which the world owes to him was in the idea, and not in the execution. The idea was that the systematic and wide examination of facts was the first thing to be done in science, and that till this had been done faithfully and impartially, with all the appliances and all the safeguards that experience and forethought could suggest, all generalisations, all anticipations from mere reasoning, must be adjourned and postponed; and further, that sought on these conditions, knowledge, certain and fruitful, beyond all that men