PERSONAL HISTORY OF LORD BACON
FROM UNPUBLISHED PAPERS
William Hepworth Dixon
of the Inner Temple
Death of Robert Cecil to The Vast Popularity of the Attorney General (Francis Bacon)
....So long as his kinsman Robert Cecil lives, Bacon sees no hope of rising in the world. In May, 1612, the Earl of Salisbury, Lord Treasurer of England, premier Secretary of State, and Master of the Court of Wards, worn out by fag of brain not less than by disease of blood, dies, and a burst of gladness breaks over court and country at the news. His companions of the Privy Council traduce his fame, his tenants at Hatfield attack his park. Of all men living,the cousin he so deeply hurt is the least unjust. In an edition of the Essays, now in the press, Bacon paints him to the life: every one knows the portrait; yet no one can pronounce this picture of a small shrewd man of the world, a clerk in soul, without a spark of fire, a dash of generosity in his nature, unfair or even unkind. The spirit of it runs in a famous ancedote.
"Now tell me truly," says the King, "what think you of your cousin that is gone?"
"Sir," answers Bacon, "since your Majesty charges me, I'll give you such a character of him as if I were to write his story. I do think he was no fit councillor to make your affairs better. But yet he was fit to have kept them from growing worse."
"On my so'l, man!" says James, " in the first thou speakest like a true man, in the second like a kinsman."
From the day of Cecil's death Bacon's prospects,
clouded till now, begin to clear. If promotion pauses, it is only
because the crowds of suitors perplex the King. Carr and Northampton
claim the Treasurer's staff. Everybody begs the Court of Wards and
Liveries. Sir Thomas Lake, Sir Henry Wotton, Sir Ralph Winwood, Sir
Henry Neville, each aspires to the rank of Secretary of State. The
patriots put up Bacon's name for this great office, and shrewd
osbservers fancy him nigh success. Poor James, unable to decide,
hankering, though afraid, to make Carr his chief minister, puts the
Treasury into commission for six months, gives the Wards to Carew,
and startles the gossips of Whitehall by announcing that, instead of
employing either Bacon or Wotton, Winwood or Lake, he means for the
future to be his own Secretary of State.
Carew dying suddenly six months after his nomination, Bacon applies for the Court of Wards. His pay as Solicitor-General is only seventy pounds a year. Promised for his service to the Crown of a place of profit, he points out in a letter to Carr that the Court of Wards is one for a lawyer rather than a courtier to hold.
Bacon to Lord Rochester, Nov. 14, 1612
It May Please Your Good Lordship,
This Mastership of the Wards is like a mist--sometimes it goeth upwards and sometimes it falleth downwards. If it go up to great lords, then it is as it was the first,-- if it fall down to mean men, then it is as it was at the last. But neither of these ways concerns me in particular,--but if it should in a middle region go to lawyers, then I beseech your Lordship have some care of me. The attorney and solicitor are as the King's champions for civil business, and they had need have some place of rest in their eye for their encouragement. The Mastership of the Rolls, which was the ordinary place kept for them, is gone from them. If this place should go to a lawyer, and not to them, their hopes must diminish. Thus I rest, your Lordship's affectionate, to do you humble service,
He feels so certain of this suit that he orders
the new clothes for his servants; yet the suit fails. He wants the
Court of Wardss and Liveries as a right, and will not buy it. Sir
Walter Cope, a man of larger fortunes and smaller scruples, while
Bacon alleges service, tells down his money and buys the place. The
wags of the Mitre have their laugh. "Sir Walter," they say, "has got
the Wards, Sir Francis the Liveries."
If he sue without success for the Court of Wards, he is constantly consulted or employed in the most weighty, the most delicate business of the Crown. Most conspicuous, perhaps, of the cases which now engage his mind is the old, old story of Irish broils.
Of Ireland itself he never speaks but in words of
tenderness and grief. With him the green lustrous island is " a
country blessed with almost all the dowries of nature--with rivers,
havens, woods, quaries, good soil, temperate climate, and a race and
generation of men, valiant, hard, and active, as it is not easy to
find such confluence of commodities, if the hand of man did join with
the hand of nature; but they severed,--the harp of Ireland is not
strung or attuend to concord." More the pity, thinks its generous and
Sir Arthur Chichester, the wisest, firmest man ever sent from England to rule the Celt,---after driving out the rebels O'Neile and O'Donnel, crushing O'Dogherty and the assassins who ravished and destroyed Derry,---has built, a new city on Lough Foyle, garrisoned and calmed Strabane, Ballyshannon, Omagh, and the forts along the lines from Kerry to Inishoan, and peopled with the germs of a new race the wastes of Antrim and Down, of Londonberry and Coleraine. Strong in his genius and in his success, after founding an English state in Ulster on the ruins of the great Celtic insurrection, he calls a Parliament in Dublin to sanction what has been done, and to resume, for the first time in the rememberance of living men, a regular mode of civil and popular governement. For seven years he has ruled by the sword. He wishes to lay it down. But blood is hot and feuds run high.
The Saxon and the Celt, the Protestant and the Papist, meet in Dublin, less disposed to sit on the same benches and hear each other prate than to pluck out the sharp skean and fly at each other's throats. At the first meeting they fall to blows. One party says Sir John Everard shall be Speaker; the other, Sir John Davis. Everard is in opposition, Davis the Irish Attorney-General; Everard the candidate of the monks, Davis of the Crown. Chichester can but follow the Imperial law. Usage good in Westminster must be held good in Dublin. Davis must be Speaker. Indeed, the majority elect him. But a crowd of men summoned from the Bog of Allen, from the banks of Lough Swilly; from the wilds of Sligo and Mayo,---representatives of the MacOiraghtys and MacCoghlans, of the O'Dogherty's, O'Donnels, and O'Cocannons,--- who have scarcely ever heard of a precedent, have not learned to respect a majority of votes. When the Protestants file into the right lobby, instead of filing into the left the Roman Catholic members seat Everard in the chair. They refuse to move or to be counted like a drove of sheep! Davis, voted into the chair by a majority of twenty-eight, is taken up to his seat by two members, as in the English House of Commons. Everard will not stir. Davis plumps into his lap. In a wild Irish uproar, Everard, caught by the crowd, is thrust out neck and crop. The Celtic members grasp their skeans. If Chichester, wise in time, had not prudently set them in a ring of steel, the members, instead of hearing each other's grievances, would have cut each other's throats. Such a House of Commons is an impracticable instrument for preserving the peace of Ireland, and Chichester dissolves it. On the evening of the row, to show his scorn of such brabbles, the Lord Deputy goes out to play his usual rubber.
Everard and his friends come over to complain at
Whitehall. They talk of their wrongs. They object to the new boroughs
planted by the English; they require that these boroughs shall not be
allowed to send representatives to an Irish House of Commons! They
wine of danger to their persons, of a Gunpowder Plot to blow them
into the sky.
The Kings consults Bacon. Anxious for Parliaments, but aware that Parliaments presuppose habits of order and discussion, respect for opinion, submission to majorities, Bacon gives the King this advice :
Bacon to James, August, 13, 1613
May It Please Your Most Excellent Majesty,
I was at my house in the country what time the commission and instructions for Ireland were drawn by Mr. Attorney, but I was present this day the forenoon, when they were read before my Lords and excepted to, some points whereof use was made, and some alterations followed, but I could not not in decency except to so much as I thought there might be cause, lest it might be thought a humour of contradiction or an effect of emulation, which, I thank God, I am not much troubled with, for, so your Majesty's business be well done, whosoever be the instrument, I rest joyful. But because this is a tender piece of service, and that which was well directed by your Majesty's high wisdom may be marred in the manage, and taht I have so happy as to have my poor service in this business of Ireland, which I have minded with all my powers, because I thought your estate laboured, graciously accepted by your sacred Majesty, I do presume to present to your Majesty's remembrance (whom I perceive to be on of the most truly politic princes that ever reigned, and the greatest height of my poor abilities is but to understand you well) some few points in a memorial enclosed which I wish to be changed. They tend to this scope principally, that I think it safest for your Majesty at this time, hoc agre, which is to effect that you may hold a parliament in Ireland, with sovereignty, concord, contentment, and moderate freedom, and so bind up the wound made without clogging the commision with too many matters....whereas these instruments are so marshalled as if the grievances were the principal. The grievances which were not commended to these messengers from the party in Ireland, but slept at least a month after their coming hither, and.... are divers of them so vulgar a nature as they are complained of both in England and Ireland, and both now and at all times. For your majority to give way upon this ground, to so particular an inquiry of all these points, I confess I think is unworthy of majesty, for they are set down like interrogatories in a suit in law. And my fear is they will call up and stir such a number of complaints and petitions, which not being possible to be satisfied, this commission meant for satisfaction will end in murmur. But these things which I write are perhaps but my errors and simplicities. Your Majestie's wisdom must steer and ballast the ship. So most humbly craving pardon, I ever rest your Majesty's most devoted and faithful subject and servant,
Government acts on this counsel of maintaining in
Dublin a firm and inflexible justice. A Parliament meets within
twelve months, the members of which quarrel indeed among themselves,
as is only national and natural; but which proves itself as capable
of transacting public business as almost any Parliament in Palace
Yard. It gives peace to Ireland for thirty years.
For nearly all that is most gracious and noble, most wise and forseeing in the Irish policy of the Crown in this reign, thanks are due, next after Arthur Chichester, to Francis Bacon. Yet Lord Campbell, a statesman and a lawyer, has not one word on this theme!
Two years of fag and moil cure James of his ambition to be thought the best scribe in Christendom. Dissolving the commission of the Treasury, he gives the Staff to Northampton. He brings Winwood forward as Secretary of State; but ere passing his commission under the Seal, James raises the great competitor fo that post a step in his profession; Coke going up to the King's Bench, Hobart to the the Common Pleas, but of fewer fees. James has to interfere. "This is all your doing, Mr. Attorney," says the irascible Lord Chief Justice; "it is you that that have made this great stir." Witht the light laugh that has so often maddened Coke, he answers, "Your lordship all this while hath grown in breadth; you must needs now grow in height, or you will be a monster."
Lord Campbell sees in these promotions not the natural changes brought about by time, such as every year occur at the bar, but a mean trick, a court intrigue, an affair of secret letters, of back stairs interest, in short, a dodge and a cheat! To this reading of events may be opposed the judgments of those among Bacon's contemporaries who knew him best, the electors of the University of Cambridge, the members of the House of Commons. Their judgments, happily for us, are given in a very conspicous and decisive way.
Bacon's first advice to the Crown in his new
office is to abandon its irregular, unproductive methods of raising
funds, inventions of the Meercrafts and Overreaches of the court; to
call a new Parliament to Westminster, to explain frankly the
political situation, and to trust the nation for supplies. The
advice, though hotly opposed by Northampton and the whole gang of
Spanish pensioners, men paid to provoke hostility between the Commons
and the Crown, so far prevails that writs go down into the
For thirteen years Bacon has represented Ipswhich in the House of Commons. Ipswich clings to him with the love of a bride. But Cambridge, a more splendid and gracious constituency, claims him for its own. In the ambition of a public man there is nothing more pure than the wish to represent in Parliament the University at which he has been trained; nor is there for the scholar and the writer any reward more lofty than the confidence implied in the votes of a great constituency of scholars and gentlemen. In Bacon's case there are peculiar obstacles. He left Cambridge early in disdain; he has kept no friendly intercourse with its dons; the business of his intellectual life has been to destroy the grounds on which its system of instruction stands. Yet the members of the University feel that as a writer and a philosopher he is not only the most brilliant Cambridge man alive, but the most brilliant Englishman who ever lived. They elect him.
The burgesses of Ipswhich also elect him. The burgesses of St. Albans also elect him. Such a return is unprecedented in parliamentary annals. Only the most popular and patriotic candidates are rewarded in this Parliament by double returns. Sandes is elected for Hendon and Rochester, Whitelock for Woodstock and Corffe Castle. No one save the new Attorney-General can boast of a triple return.
Of course he sits for Cambridge; a fact,
overlooked by his biographers from Rawley to Lord Campbell , which
connects his fame in a gentle and gracious form with the political
history of Cambridge.
Nor is this gracious confidence of his University the most striking proof of popularity which he now receives. When the Houses meet in April, a whisper buzzes round the benches that the elections for Cambridge, Ipswhich, and St.Albans are null and void. No man holding the office of Attorney-General has ever been elected to serve in Parliament : and some of the members seem resolved that so powerful an officer of the Crown never ought to sit, and never shall sit, in that House. The Attorney-General is the Crown trier; he sets the law in motion; he gathers the evidence, weighs the words, sifts the facts for prosecution. Unless scrupulous beyond the virtue of man, such an officer, hearing everything, noting everything, forgetting nothing, may become, in a House of Commons bent on free speech as its sacred right, the worst of inquisitors and tyrannts. He shall not sit. Yet, notwithstanding their jealousy of power, the representative gentlemen of England have no heart to put the wisest and best among them to the door. They seek for precedents, that he may sit. No case is on the rolls. An Attorney-General, chosen after his nomination, cannot sit by precedent. What then? They waive their right. They take him as he is. Crown lawyer or not, Crown lawyer, he is Sir Francis Bacon. As Sir Francis Bacon he shall sit. But the case shall stand alone. This tribute paid to personal merit and public service must not be drawn, say the applauding members, into a precedent dangerous to their franchise. He is the first to sit, he must be the last.
That an exception in favour of the new Attorney-General should have been made by men so hostile to the court that they broke up without passing a single bill which the Crown could assent to, is most strange. The results are yet more strange. As if to witness the latest generations the profound estimation in which Bacon was held by a House of Commons which had known him closely for thirty years, and which had seen him vote and act under every form of temptation that can test the virtue and tax the genius of a public man, this exception, made in his favour solely, became the rule for his successors and for succeeding times. Once only has the restriction been referred to in the House. That was in the case of his immediate successor. Since his time the precence of the Attorney-General among the representatives of the people has been constant. This fact suggests not only that a change has taken place in public thought, but that the character of the Crown official has undergone a change. Such is the truth. Before Bacon's day the Attorney-General was the personal servant of the prince : from Bacon's day he has been the servant of the State. Bacon was the first of a new order of public men. The fact is scarcely less creditable to his political purity than the composition of the Novum Organum is glorious to his intellectual powers. Bad men kill great offices. Good men found them.