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which hurled him degraded from the office he had so long and so earnestly sought, which led Pope to characterize him as the
"Wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind,"
has rendered it almost impossible to estimate his moral and religious character. To this sad period of Bacon's life, his character, so far as we know, except as a man fond of display, and ambitious, was beyond reproach. In the offices which he held, and in his private deportment, he was never suspected of a want of integrity. Hume declares that he was not only the ornament of his age and nation, but also "beloved for the courteousness and humanity of his behaviour." It is natural for us to seek some palliation for Bacon's great offence; and, happily, there were circumstances, which, while they by no means justify his crime, yet serve in some measure to modify its character, and render it much less base and ignominious than such an offence would be deemed in our times.
The parliament which was assembled by James in 1621, entered immediately into an investigation of the existing abuses of the nation. Unhappily they found in this, their favourite employment, an ample field of labour. Abuses had crept into the government under James, which this vain monarch either would not believe could exist under his wise administration, or which he was unwilling to correct. The necessity of the case, however, compelled him to yield to a determined and inflexible House of Commons. That House, he already saw, was disposed to apply an unsparing hand to all the abuses of the government, and even to most of the royal prerogatives. The necessity of the case compelled him to express his royal gratification with their labours, and to encourage them in their work. "I assure you," said he, “had I before heard these things complained of, I would have done the office of a just king, and out of parliament have punished
them, as severely, and peradventure more, than you now intend to do."
Encouraged in this manner, and resolved to strike an effectual blow, they commenced their investigations respecting the character and deeds of the lord chancellor. Unhappily, here also they found an ample field for the work of reform. The result is well known. Charges of extensive bribery were brought against him. It was alleged that he had received money and other presents, to the amount of many thousand pounds, while causes in chancery were depending on his decision. As to these charges, Bacon made a general acknowledgement of guilt. With this confession the parliament was wholly unsatisfied. Determined to humble the greatest man of their time, they demanded an explicit confession, in detail, of each act of corruption. Power they knew was in their hands. A weak, vain, and silly, though learned monarch, trembled before them. They had commenced a process which could terminate only in the fall of the reigning sovereign; and they resolved that the highest man in the realm should feel the weight of their power. Bacon made them an ingenuous, frank, full, and most mortifying confession of guilt, and bowed himself before the representatives of the people. He acknowledged his guilt in twenty-eight articles; specified the amount he had received; detailed, as far as was then practicable, the circumstances, and left himself at the mercy of an indignant parliament. "For extenuation," says he, "I will use none concerning the matters themselves; only it may please your lordships, out of your nobleness, to cast your eyes of compassion upon my person and estate. I was never noted for an avaricious man; and the apostle saith that covetousness is the root of all evil. I hope also that your lordships do the rather find me in a state of grace; for that in all these particulars, there are few or none that are not almost two years old; whereas those that are in the habit of corruption
do commonly wax worse; so that it hath pleased God to prepare me by precedent degrees of amendment to my present penitency; and for my estate, it is so mean and poor, as my care is now chiefly to satisfy my debts." Being asked by a committee of the House of Lords, whether this was his true and real confession, he used the following noble and touching language, "My lords, it is my act, my hand, my heart; I beseech your lordships to be merciful to a broken reed." The sentence for the crime we have already recorded.
We have no wish to justify these deeply humiliating and disgraceful crimes. We know not an instance in all history where we could weep over human weakness, as over the fall of this great man. It is one of the thousands of instances that everywhere meet us of human depravity; but, if it fixes us in grief, and appals the soul, it shows us man, scarcely "less than an archangel, ruined," and arrests our thoughts, not like the obscuration of a planet, or the withdrawal of the beams of a twinkling star, but with the deep melancholy which is shed over created things, when the sun
"In dim eclipse disastrous twilight sheds
O'er half the nations, and with fear of change
The only way in which this offence can be in any manner palliated, is by a detail of the acknowledged circumstances of the case. 1. Bacon was distinguished for want of economy during his whole life. It is clear, as he says, that he was not an avaricious man," but his great error was a love of office and honour; his great foible, a fondness for display. This fondness had involved him in debts which he was unable to
pay. 2. The affairs of his domestic economy, it appears, he intrusted to servants who were regardless of expense, and, probably, unconcerned about the dignity, virtue, or solvency of their master. One article of the charge against him was,
that "the lord chancellor hath given way to great exactions by his servants." To this he replies, "I confess it was a great fault of neglect in me, that I looked no better to my servants." 3. It is indisputable that Bacon was not enriched by these bribes. 4. It is more than probable, that Bacon only followed a custom which, until that time, had been regarded as no violation of the oath of the lord chancellor. Hume affirms that "it had been usual for former chancellors to take presents." If this was the case, it lessens greatly the enormity of the crime. It also casts much light on the character of the parliament which was thus resolved to make him a victim. 5. It is said that the presents which Bacon reIceived did in no instance influence his decisions. It was never alleged, even by parliament, that he had given an unjust or erroneous sentence. None of his decisions were ever reversed; and it is affirmed that he "had given just decrees against those very persons from whom he had received wages of iniquity." It is further to be remarked, that of the twenty-eight charges of corruption against Bacon, but seven occurred during the existence of the suit. It remains yet to be demonstrated- a thing which he did not acknowledge, and which neither the witnesses in the case, nor the nature of his decisions proved-that even those presents influenced in the least his decisions. The more we contemplate the case of Bacon, the more we are disposed to think that injustice has been done to his character. We believe, in relation to the errors and failings of the men of those times-of such men as Calvin, and Cranmer, and Luther, and Bacon,-that men have pronounced sentence with a severity drawn rather from the present views of morals, than from the sober estimate which we ought to make, if thrown into the circumstances of their times. This we think particularly true with regard to the
crime of Bacon. While we feel assuredly that crimes such as those with which he was charged deserve the abhorrence of mankind, and go to impair and destroy all justice in the administration of laws, we are still inclined to look upon the errors of that age, and in those circumstances, with less severity than we should be disposed to apply in the more enlightened periods of the world. It is not easy to form an estimate of Bacon's religious character. We are favoured with so few and imperfect details of his private habits; we have so little that tells us the true biography of the man—his feelings, his usual deportment, his private modes of action; we are let so little into the interior arrangements of his life, that we cannot easily pronounce on his personal character. Charity would lead us to hope, notwithstanding his fondness for preferment, and the great error of his life, that he may have exemplified in his private life, the principles which he has so ably and so constantly inculcated. On the subject of his religious opinions he has left us no room to doubt. There is scarcely to be found in any language or in any writer, so constant a reference to the great religious interests of man, as in the writings of Bacon. There is nowhere to be found a more profound deference to the authority of the Bible. There is, perhaps, nowhere more caution displayed, lest the profoundness, variety, compass, and originality of investigation, should lead the mind astray, than in his investigations. It was one of his recorded sentiments-one of the results of his investigations, which he has expressed without hesitancy or qualification," that a little philosophy inclineth a man to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion; for while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them and go no farther; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and