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THE SUCCESSORS OF THE ELIZABETHANS.
Baion; Fuller, Jeremy Taylor, Baxter, Bunyan; Walton; Browne;
Clarendon ; Hubbes; Lovelace, Suckling, Herbert, Herrick; Milton ; Donne, Cowley, Denham, Waller.
N this chapter we purpose to deal with the period
between the accession of James I. and the Restoration. The ground we shall have to traverse is one
of the greatest interest to students of English history, full of momentous events and great constitutional changes. In literature, also, it is important. With one illustrious exception, no poet of the first order of merit flourished during this epoch; but that illustrious exception was John Milton, who, by common consent, occupies a place in the brilliant galaxy of English poets second only to that of Shakespeare. In prose writers of great excellence the period was rich. Some of these we can notice only very briefly; others we shall be obliged to omit altogether. Even amid the agitating and perilous times of the Civil War, two or three writers on religious subjects appeared, who, by the fervour of their devotional feeling or the splendour of their imperial eloquence, earned for themselves an imperishable name. Though only fifty-seven years elapsed between the beginning of the reign of James I, and the Restoration, English prose made vast progress during the interval. From a powerful but unwieldy machine, it grew to be a handy, serviceable instrument, still capable, indeed, of great improvement, but infinitely more shapely and methodical than before. The prose of Cowley and Hobbes might, so far as clearness and sentence-arrangement are concerned, have been written in our own day. Many writers, it is true, and these among the greatest, neglected the mechanical part of style; still it was gradually beginning to be much more studied than hitherto.
To this period belong most of the works of Francis Bacon, who, if we ranked authors strictly according to date of birth, would have been placed among the Elizabethans. He was born in London in 1561, the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, LordKeeper of the Great Seal. When a child, his precocious sagacity so attracted Elizabeth that she “delighted much to confer with him, and to prove him with questions ; unto which he delivered himself with that gravity and maturity above his years, that her Majesty would often term him the young LordKeeper.”" At the age of twelve he was sent to Cambridge, where he remained for two years and a half. Even at that early period he is said to have conceived a dislike to the philosophy of Aristotle, as "a philosophy only strong for disputations and contentions, but barren of the production of works for the benefit of man.” After leaving the University he resided for more than two years in Paris, from which he was recalled by the sudden death of his father in 1579. He was left poor, and aster in vain soliciting his uncle Burleigh to obtain for him some sinecure office under Government, devoted some years to the study of the law. At twenty-three he became a member of the House of Commons, where his eloquence and ability soon made his name widely known; but he was unfortunate enough to incur the resentment of Elizabeth by his opposition to her demand for a subsidy, and though he endeavoured to atone for his error in policy by servile apologies, he was never forgiven, and high offices were steadily denied him. His cause was warmly espoused by Lord Essex, whose indiscreet advocacy probably did him more harm than good. He befriended Bacon generously, however, and when, in 1594, he failed to procure for him the vacant office of Attorney-General, he con soled him for his disappointment by the present of an estate of
considerable value Bacon in vain endeavoured to persuade Essex to desist from the course of policy which ended in his execution; but there his gratitude towards his benefactor ended. When Essex was brought to trial for a conspiracy against the Queen, Bacon, as Queen's Counsel, appeared against his old friend, employing all his powers of oratory and argument to substantiate against him the charge of treason ; and, after the Earl's execution, wrote, at the Queen's request, “A Declaration of the Practices and Treasons attempted and committed by the Robert, Earl of Essex.” It is easy to say that Bacon in his conduct in this matter did not exceed the duties appertaining to him as Queen's Counsel, and that he could not have acted otherwise with prudence ; but the fact remains that no high-minded or generous man would have done as he did. After all has been said that can be said to extenuate the part he took in this matter, it remains the great blot on his memory.
During the life of Queen Elizabeth, Bacon's efforts to advance his fortunes were constantly thwarted, but in the succeeding reign he attained the summit of his ambition. In 1603 he was knighted, in 1607 he became Solicitor-General, in 1613 Attorney-General, and in 1618 Lord Chancellor. He was also created Baron Verulam, and at a late period Viscount St. Albans. In 1621 he was charged before the House of Lords with corruption in the exercise of his office. He pleaded guilty, was deprived of the Great Seal, disqualified írom holding any public office in future, fined £40,000, and condemned to imprisonment in the Tower during the King's pleasure. He was released from confinement after a single night, and his fine was commuted by the King; but his public career was for ever at an end. His guilt, rightly viewed, does not seem to have been great ; if, as regards receiving gists from successful litigants, he was no better than the majority of his contemporaries, he was no worse. He died in 1626 from the effects of a chill he had caught while making an experiment as to the preservative qualities of snow.
We have related the story of Bacon's life very briefly, partly
because, in spite of the labours of the late Mr. Spedding, who devoted a lifetime of painstaking industry to its elucidation, portions of it are still matter of dispute; partly because to enter into details about his public career would have led us greatly beyond our limits. He was a little, square-shouldered, nervous-looking man, with a finely intellectual head and small features. Speaking of his powers as an orator, Ben Jonson says, “No man ever spake more neatly, more pressly, more weightily, or suffered less emptiness or less idleness in what he uttered. No member of his speech but consisted of his own graces. His hearers could not cough or look aside from him without loss. He commanded where he spoke, and had his judges angry or pleased at his devotion. No man had their affections more in his power. The fear of every man that heard him was lest he should make an end.” "My conceit of his person,” writes the same authority, increased towards him by his place or honours; but I have and do reverence him for his greatness that was only proper to himself, in that he seemed to me ever by his work one of the greatest men, and most worthy of admiration, that had been in many ages. In his adversity I ever prayed that God would give him strength; for greatness he could not want.” Ben Jonson is not an impartial witness; nevertheless what he says is sufficient to prove that Bacon was a man whose intellectual power impressed stronglythose with whom he came into contact.
Of Bacon's most generally read work, the “Essays," the first edition, containing only ten, appeared in 1597. In 1612 the second edition, containing thirty-eight, appeared ; and in 1625 the complete edition, containing fifty-eight, was published. There is not much room for difference of opinion regarding these productions. They contain little or nothing to gratify any high moral ideal; people who think, with John Wesley, that one of the first things a Christian ought to pray to be delivered from is prudence, will not find much in Bacon's “ Essays” to please them. They are the counsels of a shrewd, politic man of the world, who has looked with eager and penetrating eye upon mankind as it appears in the senate-house,
in courts of law, in the commercial world ; of a man who is firmly convinced that self-interest is the actuating principle of humanity. Even when treating of themes which might have made a more enthusiastic writer rise to flights of poetry and warm human feeling, Bacon remains cold and unimpassioned. The severe terseness of the style of the “ Essays,” in which every sentence is packed with as much matter as it can possibly hold, makes their intelligent perusal at first a task of some difficulty ; but fresh perusals reveal their inexhaustible wealth of matter,-indeed, as Dugald Stewart said, after the twentieth perusal, one seldom fails to remark in them something overlooked before.
The chief other English works of Bacon are the “Advancement of Learning;" “ History of Henry VII.," a very masterly piece of work of its kind, and, as has been elaborately demonstrated, wonderfully accurate in all its leading statements; the “New Atlantis," a philosophical romance; and “Sylva Sylvarum,” a treatise on natural history, which was the last work of his life. His great philosophical work, the “Novum Organum,” which is written in Latin, appeared in 1620. “It would be presumptuous to attempt anything like an exact valuation of Bacon's intellectual power. We state only what lies upon the surface when we say that the character and products of intellect are very often as much over-estimated upon one side as they are under-estimated upon another. He is frequently praised as if he had originated and established the inductive method, as if he had laid down the canons appealed to in modern science as the ultimate conditions of sound induction. This is going too far. Bacon was an orator, not a worker; a Tyrtæus, not a Miltiades. He rendered a great service by ur_ing recourse to observation and experiment rather than to speculation; but neither by precept nor by example did he show how to observe and experiment well, or so as to arrive at substantial conclusions. Not by precept; for if modern inductive method were no better than Bacon's inductive method, Macaulay's caricature of the process would not be so very unlike the reality. Nor by example; for the majority of his