When Parliament met on January 30, 1620/21, and Bacon, as Lord Chancellor, set forth in his ceremonial speeches to the King and to the Speaker the glories and blessings of James’s reign, no man in England had more reason to think himself fortunate. He had reached the age of sixty, and had gained the object of his ambition. More than that, he was conscious that in his great office he was finding full play for his powers and his high public purposes. He had won greatly on the confidence of the King. He had just received a fresh mark of honour from him: a few days before he had been raised a step in the peerage, and he was now Viscount St. Alban’s. With Buckingham he seemed to be on terms of the most affectionate familiarity, exchanging opinions freely with him on every subject. And Parliament met in good-humour. They voted money at once. One of the matters which interested Bacon most—the revision of the Statute Book—they took up as one of their first measures, and appointed a Select Committee to report upon it. And what, amid the apparent felicity of the time, was of even greater personal happiness to Bacon, the first step of the “Great Instauration” had been taken. During the previous autumn, Oct. 12, 1620, the Novum Organum, the first instalment of his vast design, was published, the result of the work of thirty years; and copies were distributed to great people, among others to Coke. He apprehended no evil; he had nothing to fear, and much to hope from the times.
His sudden and unexpected fall, so astonishing and so irreparably complete, is one of the strangest events of that still imperfectly comprehended time. There had been, and were still to be, plenty of instances of the downfall of power, as ruinous and even more tragic, though scarcely any one more pathetic in its surprise and its shame. But it is hard to find one of which so little warning was given, and the causes of which are at once in part so clear, and in part so obscure and unintelligible. Such disasters had to be reckoned upon as possible chances by any one who ventured into public life. Montaigne advises that the discipline of pain should be part of every boy’s education, for the reason that every one in his day might be called upon to undergo the torture. And so every public man, in the England of the Tudors and Stuarts, entered on his career with the perfectly familiar expectation of possibly closing it—it might be in an honourable and ceremonious fashion, in the Tower and on the scaffold—just as he had to look forward to the possibility of closing it by small-pox or the plague. So that when disaster came, though it might be unexpected, as death is unexpected, it was a turn of things which ought not to take a man by surprise. But some premonitory signs usually gave warning. There was nothing to warn Bacon that the work which he believed he was doing so well would be interrupted.