Thus, at last, at the age of fifty-two, Bacon had gained the place which Essex had tried to get for him at thirty-two. The time of waiting had been a weary one, and it is impossible not to see that it had been hurtful to Bacon. A strong and able man, very eager to have a field for his strength and ability, who is kept out of it, as he thinks unfairly, and is driven to an attitude of suppliant dependency in pressing his claim on great persons who amuse him with words, can hardly help suffering in the humiliating process. It does a man no good to learn to beg, and to have a long training in the art. And further, this long delay kept up the distraction of his mind between the noble work on which his soul was bent, and the necessities of that “civil” or professional and political life by which he had to maintain his estate. All the time that he was “canvassing” (it is his own word) for office, and giving up his time and thoughts to the work which it involved, the great Instauration had to wait his hours of leisure; and his exclamation, so often repeated, Multum incola fuit anima mea, bears witness to the longings that haunted him in his hours of legal drudgery, or in the service of his not very thankful employers. Not but that he found compensation in the interest of public questions, in the company of the great, in the excitement of state-craft and state employment, in the pomp and enjoyment of court life. He found too much compensation; it was one of his misfortunes. But his heart was always sound in its allegiance to knowledge; and if he had been fortunate enough to have risen earlier to the greatness which he aimed at as a vantage-ground for his true work, or if he had had self-control to have dispensed with wealth and position—if he had escaped the long necessity of being a persistent and still baffled suitor—we might have had as a completed whole what we have now only in great fragments, and we should have been spared the blots which mar a career which ought to have been a noble one.
The first important matter that happened after Bacon’s new appointment was the Essex divorce case, and the marriage of Lady Essex with the favourite whom Cecil’s death had left at the height of power, and who from Lord Rochester was now made Earl of Somerset. With the divorce, the beginning of the scandals and tragedies of James’s reign, Bacon had nothing to do. At the marriage which followed Bacon presented as his offering a masque, performed by the members of Gray’s Inn, of which he bore the charges, and which cost him the enormous sum of L2000. Whether it were to repay his obligations to the Howards, or in lieu of a “fee” to Rochester, who levied toll on all favours from the King, it can hardly be said, as has been suggested, to be a protest against the great abuse of the times, the sale of offices for money. The “very splendid trifle, the Masque of Flowers,” was one form of the many extravagant tributes paid but too willingly to high-handed worthlessness, of which the deeper and darker guilt was to fill all faces with shame two years afterwards.