BACON THE LORD OF THE DAY
BY Allama Muhammad Yousaf Gabriel
The way in which the two favourites acted towards Bacon was highly characteristic, and may serve to illustrate the old and true saying, that a man is generally more inclined to feel kindly towards one on whom he has conferred invous than towards one from whom he has received them. Essex loaded Bacon with benefits, and never thought that he had done enough. It seems never to have crossed the mind of the powerful and wealthy noble that the poor barister whom he treated with such munificent kindness was not his equal. It was, we have no doubt, with perfect sincerity that the Earl declared that he would willingly give his sister or daughter in marriage to his friend. He was in general more than sufficiently sensible of his own merits; but he did not seem to know that he had eve deserved well of Bacon. On that cruel day when they saw each other for the last time at the bar of the Lords, Essex taxed his perfidious friend with unkindness and insincerity, but never with ingratitude. Even in such a moment, more bitter than the bitterness of death, that noble he art was too great to vent itself in such a reproach.
Villiers, on the other hand, owned much to Bacon. When their acquaintance began, Sir Francis was a man of mature age, of high station, and of established fame asa politician, an advocate, and a writer. Villiers was little more than a boy, a younger son of a house then of no great note. He was but just entering on the career of court favour; and none but the most discerning observers could as yet perceive that he was likely to distance all his competitors.The countenance and advice of a man so highly distinguished as the attorney -General must have been an object of the highest importance to the young adventurer. But though Villiers was the obliged party, he was far less warmly attached to Bacon, and far less delicate in his conduct towards Bacon, than essex had been.
To do the new favourite justice, he early exerted his influence in behalf of his illustrious friend. In 16161 Sir Francis was sworn of the Privy Council, and in March, 1617, on the retirement of Lord Brackley., was appointed Keeper of the Great Seal.
On the seventh of May, the first day of term, he rode in state to Westminster Hall, with the Lord Treasurer on his right hand, the Lord Privy Seal on his left, a long procession of students and ushers before him, anda crowd of peers, prevy-councilors, and judges following in his train. Having entered his court, he addressed the splendid auditory in a grave and dignified speech, which proves how well he understood those judicial duties which he afterwards performed so ill. Even at that moment, the proudest moment of his life in the estimation of the vulgar, and, it may be, even in his own, he cast back a look of lingering affection towards those noble pursuits from which, as it seemed, he was about to be estranged. "The depths of the three long vacations", said he, " I would reserve in some measure free from business of estate, and for studies, arts, and sciences, to which of my own nature I am most inclined".
(Literary Essays page 249-250)
“The years during which Bacon held the Great Seal were among the darkest and most shameful in English history. Every thing at home and abroad was mismanaged. First came the execution of Raliegh, an act which, if done in a proper manner, might have been defensible, but which, under all the circumstances, must be considered as a dastardly murder. Worse was behind, the war of Bohemia, the success of Tilly and Spinola, the Palatinate conquered, the King’s son-in-law an exile, the house of Austria dominant on the continent, the Protestant religion and the liberties of the Germanic body trodden underfoot. Meanwhile, the wavering and cowardly policy of England furnished matter of ridicule to all the nations of Europe. The love of peace which James Professed would, even when indulged to an impolite excess, have been respectable, if it had proceeded from tenderness for his people. But the truth is that, while he had nothing to spare for the defence of the natural allies of England, he resorted without cruple to the most illegal and oppressive devices, for the purpose of enabling Buckingham and Buckingham’s relations to outshine the ancient aristocracy of the realm. Benevolence were exacted. Patents of monopoly were multiplied. All the resources which could have been employed to replenish a beggared exchequer, at the close of a ruinous war, were put in motion during the season of ignominious peace”.
(Literary Essays. page 250-251 )
“Bacon and his dependants accepted large presents from persons who were engaged in chancery suits. The amount of the plunder which he recollected in this way it is impossible to estimate. There can be no doubt that he received very much more than was proved on his trial, though, it may be, less than was suspected by the public. His enemies stated his illicit gains at a hundred thousand pounds. But this was probably an exaggeration.
It was long before the day of reckoning arrived, During the interval between the second and the third parliaments of James, the nation was absolutely governed by the crown. The prospects of the Lord Keeper were bright and serene. His great place rendered the splendour of his talents even more conspicuous, and gave an additional charm to the serenity of his temper, the courtesy of his manners, and the eloquence of his conversation. The pillaged suitor might mutter. The austere Puritan patriot might, in his retreat, grieve that one on whom God had bestowed without measure all the abilities which qualify men to take the lead in great reform, should be found among the adherents of the worst abuses. But the murmurs of the suitor and the lamentations of the patriot had scarcely any avenue to the ears of the powerful. The king, and the minister who was the king’s master, smiled on their illustrious flatterer. The whole crowd of courtiers and nobles sought this favour with emulous eagerness. Men of wit and learning hailed with delight the elevation of one who had so signally shown that a man of profound learning and of brilliant with might understand, far better than any plodding dunce, the art of thriving in the world”.
(L.Essays. page 254).
“ In the main, however, Bacon’s life, while he held the great seal, was, in outward appearance, most enviable. In London he lived with great dignity at York House, the venerable mansion of his father. Here it was that, in January 1620, he celebrated his entrance into his sixtieth year amidst a splendid circle of friends. He had then exchanged the appellation of keeper for the higher title of chancellor. Ben Jonson was one of the party, and wrote on the occasion some of the happiest of his rugged rhymes. All things, he tells us, seemed to smile about the old house, “the fire, the wine, the men”. The spectacle of the accomplished host, after a life marked by no great disaster, entering on a green old age, in the enjoyment of Riches, power, high honours, undiminished mental activity, and vast literary reputation, made a strong impression on the poet, if we may judge from those well-known lines:-
“England's high Chancellor, the destined heir,
In his soft cradle, to his father’s chair,
Whose even thread the Fates spin round and full
Out of their choicest and their whitest wool”.
In the intervals of rest which Bacon's political and judicial functions afforded, he was in the habit of retiring to Gorhambury. At that place his business was literature, and his favourable amusement gardening, which in one of his most interesting Essays he calls “the purest of human pleasures”. In his magnificent grounds he erected, at a cost of ten thousand pounds, a retreat to which he repaired when he wished to avoid all visitors, and to devote himself wholly to study. On such occasions, a few young men of a distinguished talents were sometimes the companions of his retirement; and among them his quick eye soon discerned the superior abilities of Thomas Hobbes. It is not probable, however, that he fully appreciated the powers of his disciple, or foresaw the vast influence, both for good and for evil, which that most vigorous and acute of human intellects was destined to exercise on the two succeeding generations”. (L. Essays page 256-257).
“In January, 1621, Bacon had reached the zenith of his fortunes. He had just published the "Novum Organum" and that extraordinary book had drawn forth the warmest expressions of admiration from the ablest men in Europe. He had obtained honours of a widely different kind, but perhaps not less valued by him. He had been created Baron or Verulam. He had subsequently been raised to the higher dignity of Viscount St. Albans. His patent was drawn in the most flattering terms, and the prince of Wales signed it as a witness. The ceremony of investiture was performed with great state at Toebalds, and Buckingham condescended to be one of the chief actors. Posterity has felt that the greatest of English philosophers could derive no accession of dignity from any title which James could bestow, and in defiance of the royal letters patent, has obstinately refused to degrade Francis Bacon into viscount St. Albans”.
(L.Essays page 257-258)
“In a few weeks was signally brought to the test the value of those objects for which Bacon had sullied his integrity, had resigned his independence, had violated the most sacred obligations of friendship and gratitude, had flattered the worthless, had persecuted the innocent, had tempered with judges, had tortured prisoners, had plundered suitors, had wasted on paltry intrigues, all the powers of the most exquisitely constructed intellect that has ever been bestowed on any of the children of Men. A sudden and terrible reverse was at hand. A parliament had been summoned. After six years of silence the voice of the nation was again to be heard. Only three days after the pageant which was performed at theobalds in honour of Bacon, the houses met”.
(L. Essays. page 258)
“The parliament had no sooner met than the House of Commons proceeded, in a temperate and respectful, but most determined manner, to discuss the public grievances. Their first attacks were directed against those odious patents, under cover of which Buckingham and this creatures had pillaged and oppressed the nation. The vigour with which these proceedings were conducted spread dismay through the court. Buckingham thought himself in danger, and, in his alarm, had recourse to an advisor who had lately acquired considerable influence over him, William's, Dean of Westminster............. He advised the favourite to abandon all thoughts of defending the monopolies, to find some foreign Embassy for his brother Sir Edward, who was deeply implicated in the villanies of Mompesson, and to leave the other offenders to the justice of parliament. Buckingham received this advice with the warmest expressions of gratitude, and declared that a load had been lifted from his heart. He then repaired with William to the royal presence. They found the King engaged in earnest consultation with Prince Charles. The plan of operations proposed by the dean was fully discussed, and approved in all its parts”. (L.Essays. page 259-260)
"The first victims whom the court abandoned to the vengeance of the Commons were Sir Giles Mompesson and Sir Francis Michell. It was some time before Bacon began to entertain any apprehensions. His talents and his address gave him great influence in the house of which he had lately become a member, as indeed they must have done in any assembly. In the house of commons he had many personal friends and many warm admirers. But at length about six weeks after the meeting of parliament, the storm burst”.
(L.Essays page 260)
"A committee of the lower house had been appointed to inquire into the state of the courts of justice. On the fifteenth of march the Chairman of that Committee, Sir Robert Philips, member for Bath, reported that great abuses had been discovered. “ The person” said he, “against whom these things are alleged is no less than the Lord Chancellor, a man so endued with all parts, both of nature and art, as that I will say no more of him, being not able to say enough”. Sir Robert then proceeded to state, in the most temperate manner, the nature of the charges. A person of the name of Aubrey had a case depending in chancery. He had almost been ruined by the law-expenses, and his patience had been exhausted by the delays of the court. He received a hint from some of the hangers -----on of the chancellor that a present of one hundred pounds would expedite matters. The poor man had not the sum required. However, having found out an usurer who accommodated him with it at high interest, he carried it to York house. The Chancellor took the money, and his dependants assured the suitor that all would go right. Aubrey was, however, disappointed; for, after considerable delay, “ a killing decree” was pronounced against him. Another suitor of the name of Egerton complained that he had been induced by two of the chancellor's jackals to make his Lordship a present of four hundred pounds, and that, nevertheless, he had not been able to obtain a decree in his favour. The evidence to these facts was overwhelming. Bacon’s friends could only entreat the house to suspend its judgement, and to send up the case to the lords, in a form less offensive than an impeachment”.
(L.Essays. page 260)
"On the nineteenth of March the King sent a message to the Commons, Expressing his deep regret that so eminent a person as the Chancellor should be suspected of misconduct. His majesty declared that he had no wish to screen the guilty from justice, and proposed to appoint a new kind of tribunal, consisting of eighteen commissioners, who might be chosen from among the members of the two houses, to investigate the matter. The commons were not disposed to depart from their regular course of proceeding. On the same day they held a conference with the Lords, and delivered in the heads of the accusation against the Chancellor. At this conference Bacon was not present. Overwhelmed with shame and remorse, and abandoned by all those in whom he had weakly put his trust, he had shut himself up in his chamber from the eyes of men. The dejection of his mind soon disordered his body. Buckingham, who visited him by the Kings’ orders, “found his Lordship very sick and heavy”. It appears from a pathetic letter which the unhappy man addressed to the peers on the day of the conference, that he neither expected nor wished to survive his disgrace. During several days he remained in his bed, refusing to see any human being. He passionately told his attendants to leave him, to forget him, never again to name his name, never to remember that there had been such a man in the world. In the meantime, fresh instances of corruption were every day brought to the knowledge of his accusers. The number of charges rapidly increased from two to twenty-three. The lords entered on the investigation of the case with laudable alacrity. Some witnesses were examined at the bar of the house. A select committee was appointed to take the depositions of others; and the inquiry was rapidly proceeding, when, on the twenty sixth of march, the king adjourned the parliament for three weeks”.
(L.Essays page 261)
"This measure revived Bacon’s hopes. He made the most of his short respite. He attempted to work on the feeble mind of the king. He appealed to all the strongest feelings of James, to his fears, to his vanity, to his high notions of prerogative. Would the Solomon of the age commit so gross an error as to encourage the encroaching spirit of parliaments? Would God’s anointed, accountable to God alone, pay homage to the clamorous multitude? “Those”, exclaimed Bacon, “who now strike at the chancellor will soon strike at the crown. I am the first sacrifice. I wish I may be the last”. But all his eloquence and address were employed in vain. Indeed, whatever Mr. Montague may say, we are firmly convinced that it was not in the King's power to save Bacon, without having recourse to measures which would have convulsed the realm. The crown had not sufficient influence over the parliament to procure an acquittal in so clear a case of guilt. And to dissolve a parliament which is universally allowed to have been one of the best parliaments that ever sat, which had acted liberally and respectfully towards the sovereign, and which enjoyed in the highest degree the favour of the people, only in order to stop a grave, temperate, and constitutional inquiry into the personal integrity of the first judge in the kingdom, would have been a measure more scandalous and absurd than any of those which were the ruin of the house of Stuart. Such a measure, while it would have been as fatal to the Chancellor’s honour as a conviction, would have endangered the very existence of the monarchy. The king, acting by the advice of Williams, very properly refused to engage in a dangerous struggle with his people, for the purpose of saving from legal condemnation a minister whom it was impossible to save from dishonour. He advised Bacon to plead guilty, and promised to do all in his power to mitigate the punishment. Mr. Montague is exceedingly angry with James on this account. But though we are, in general, very little inclined to admire that Prince’s conduct, we really think that his advice was, under all the circumstances, the best advice that could have been given”.
(L.Essays. Pages 261-262)
"On the seventeenth of April the houses reassembled, and the Lords resumed their inquiries into the abuses of the court of chancery. On the twenty-second, Bacon addressed to the peers a letter, which the prince of Wales condescended to deliver. In this artful and pathetic composition, the chancellor acknowledged his guilt in guarded and general terms, and, while acknowledging, endeavoured to palliate it. This, however, was not though sufficient by his judges. They required a more particular confession, and sent him a copy of the charges. On the thirtieth, he delivered a paper in which he admitted, with few and unimportant reservations, the truth of the accusations brought against him, and threw himself entirely on the mercy of his peers. “Upon advised consideration of the charges”, said he, “descending into my own conscience, and calling my memory to account so far as I am able, I do plainly and ingenuously confess that I am guilty of corruption, and do renounce all defence”.
The Lord came to a resolution that the chancellor’s confession appeared to be full and ingenuous, and sent a committee to inquire of him whether it was really subscribed by himself. The deputies, among whom was Southampton, the common friend, many years before, of Bacon and Essex, performed their duty with great delicacy. Indeed the agonies of such a mind and the degradation of such a name might well have softened the most obdurate natures. “My lords”, said Bacon, “it is my act, my hand, my heart. I beseech your Lordships to be merciful to a broken reed”. They withdrew; and he again retired to his chamber in the deepest dejection. The next day, the sergeant-at-arms and the usher of the House of Lords came to conduct him to Westminster hall, where sentence was to be pronounced. But they found him so unwell that the could not leave his bed; and this excuse for his absence was readily accepted. In no quarter does there appear to have been the smallest desire to add to his humiliation”.
(L.Essays page 262-263)
"The sentence was, however, severe; the more sever, no doubt, because the Lords knew that it would not be executed, and that they had an excellent opportunity of exhibiting, at small cost, the inflexibility of their justice, and their abhorrence of corruption. Bacon was condemned to pay a fine of forty thousand pounds, and to be imprisoned in the tower during the king’s pleasure. He was declared incapable of holding any office in the state or of sitting in parliament; and he was banished for life from the verge of the court. In such misery and shame ended that long career of worldly wisdom and worldly prosperity”.
(L.Essays. page 263).
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.