ePub 版

God, worketh according to the stuff, and is limited thereby; but if it work upon itself, as the spider worketh his web, then it is endless, and brings forth indeed cobwebs of learning, admirable for the fineness of thread and work, but of no substance or profit."

He constantly urged an investigation of nature, whereby philosophy might be planted on a solid foundation, and receive continual accretions of truth. Investigation, experiment, verification — these are characteristic features of the Baconian philosophy, and the powerful instruments with which modern science has achieved its marvellous results.

Francis Bacon was born in London, Jan. 22, 1561. His father, Sir Nicholas Bacon, was a man full of wit and wisdom, comprehensive in intellect, retentive to a remarkable degree in memory, and so dignified in appearance and bearing that Queen Elizabeth was accustomed to say, "My Lord Keeper's soul is well lodged." His mother was no less remarkable as a She was the daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke, tutor to King Edward VI., from whom she received a careful education. She was distinguished not only for her womanly and conjugal virtues, but also for her learning, having translated a work from Italian, and another from Latin.


Thus Bacon was fortunate in his parents, whose intellectual superiority he inherited, and also in the time of his birth, "when," as he says, "learning had made her third circuit; when the art of printing gave books with a liberal hand to men of all fortunes; when the nation had emerged from the dark superstitions of popery; when peace throughout all Europe permitted the enjoyment of foreign travel and free ingress to foreign scholars; and, above all, when a sovereign of the highest intellectual attainments, at the same time that she encouraged learning and learned men, gave an impulse to the arts, and a chivalric and refined tone to the manners of the people."

He was delicate in constitution, but extraordinary in intellectual power. Son of a Lord Keeper, and nephew of a Secre

tary of State, he was brought up in surroundings that were highly favorable to intellectual culture and elegant manners. His youthful precocity attracted attention. Queen Elizabeth, delighted with his childish wisdom and gravity, playfully called him her "Young Lord Keeper." When she asked him one day how old he was, with a delicate courtesy beyond his years, he replied: "Two years younger than your majesty's happy reign." His disposition was reflective and serious; and it is related of him that he stole away from his playmates to indulge his spirit of investigation.

At the early age of thirteen he matriculated in Trinity College, Cambridge, and, with rare penetration, soon discovered the leading defects in the higher education of the time. The principle of authority prevailed in instruction to the suppression of free inquiry. The university was engaged, not in broadening the field of knowledge by discovery of new truth, but in disseminating simply the wisdom of the ancients. Aristotle was dictator, from whose utterances there was no appeal. "In the universities," he says, "all things are found opposite to the advancement of the sciences; for the readings and exercises are here so managed that it cannot easily come into any one's mind to think of things out of the common road; or if, here and there, one should venture to use a liberty of judging, he can only impose the task upon himself without obtaining assistance from his fellows; and, if he could dispense with this, he will still find his industry and resolution a great hindrance to his fortune. For the studies of men in such places are confined, and pinned down to the writings of certain authors; from which, if any man happens to differ, he is presently reprehended as a disturber and innovator."

Though meeting with little sympathy in his spirit of free investigation, Bacon still followed the bent of his genius. While yet a student, he planned the immortal work which was to influence the subsequent course of philosophy. His opinions of the defects existing in the universities were only confirmed by age. Some years after leaving Cambridge he ad

vocated the establishment of a college which should be devoted to the discovery of new truths "a living spring to mix with the stagnant waters." He complained that there was no school for the training of statesmen a fact that seemed to him prejudicial, not only to science, but also to the stateand that the weighty affairs of the kingdom were entrusted to men whose only qualifications were a "knowledge of Latin and Greek, and verbal criticisms upon the dead languages."

After a residence of three years at the university, he went to Paris under the care of the English ambassador at the French Court. He was sent on a secret mission to Elizabeth, and discharged its duties with such ability as to win the queen's approbation. He afterwards travelled in the French provinces, and met many distinguished men statesmen, philosophers, authors -- who were impressed by his extraordinary gifts and attainments. The death of his father recalled him to England in 1579; and finding himself without adequate means to lead a life of philosophic investigation, it became necessary for him, as he expresses it, "to think how to live, instead of living only to think."

The two roads open to him were law and politics; and with his antecedents he naturally inclined to the latter. He applied to his uncle, Lord Burleigh, for a position; but the prime minister, fearing, it is said, the abilities of his nephew, used his influence to prevent the young applicant from obtaining a place of importance and emolument. Thus disappointed in his hopes, Bacon was reluctantly obliged to betake himself to the law. He gave himself with industry to his calling, and in a few years attained distinction for legal knowledge and skill. As might naturally be supposed from the philosophic cast of his mind, his studies were not confined to precedents and authorities, but extended to the universal principles of justice and the whole circle of knowledge. In 1590 he was made counsel-extraordinary to the queen a position, it seems, of more honor than profit.

With this appointment began his political career. He

sought worldly honors and wealth, but chiefly, as there is reason to believe, in order that he might at last enjoy a competency, which would allow him to retire from official cares and pursue his philosophical studies without distraction.

he was elected a member of Parliament from Middlesex. He advocated comprehensive improvements in the law. On one occasion he incurred the queen's displeasure by opposing the early payment of certain subsidies to which the House had consented. When her displeasure was formally communicated to him, he calmly replied that "he spoke in discharge of his conscience and duty to God, to the queen, and to his country."

His connection with Parliament was characterized by activity, and his integrity at this time kept him from sacrificing the interests of England at the foot of the throne. As an orator he became affluent, weighty, and eloquent. "No man," says Ben Jonson, "ever spake more neatly, more pressly, more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness in what he uttered: no member of his speech but consisted of its own graces. His hearers could not cough or look aside from him without loss; he commanded when he spoke, and had his judges angry and 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."

In 1594 the office of solicitor-general became vacant, and Bacon set to work to obtain it. Every influence within his reach was brought to bear upon the queen. Lord Essex, the favorite of Elizabeth, interested himself especially in his behalf. But every effort proved unavailing. Bacon, like Spenser, felt the bitterness of seeking preferment at court, and complained that he was like a child following a bird which, when almost within reach, continually flew farther. "I am weary of it," he said, as also of wearying my friends.”


To assuage his keen disappointment, Essex bestowed upon him an estate, valued at eighteen hundred pounds, in the beautiful village of Twickenham. The earl continued to befriend

him through a long period. When Bacon wished to marry Lady Hatton, a woman of large fortune, Essex supported his suit with a strong letter to her parents. But in spite of Bacon's merit and his noble patron's warmth, the heart of the lady remained untouched; and fortunately for Bacon, as a biographer suggestively remarks, she afterwards became the wife of his great rival, Sir Edward Coke.

When, a few years later, Essex, through his imprudence, incurred the queen's disfavor, and by his treason forfeited his life, Bacon appeared against him. For this act he has been severely censured. Macaulay especially, in his famous essay, displays the zeal of an advocate in making him appear in a bad light, affirming that "he exerted his professional talents to shed the earl's blood, and his literary talents to blacken the earl's memory." Though it cannot be maintained that Bacon acted the part of a high-minded, generous friend, or that his course was in any way justifiable, an impartial survey of the facts does not justify Macaulay's severity.

In 1597 Bacon published a collection of ten essays, which were afterwards increased to fifty-eight. If he had written nothing else, these alone would have entitled him to an honorable place in English literature. Though brief in form, they are weighty in thought. The style is clear; and the language, as in the essay on " Adversity," often rises into great beauty. They were composed, as he tells us, as a recreation from severer studies, but contain, nevertheless, the richest results of his thinking and experience. They were popular from the time of their publication; they were at once translated into French, Italian, and Latin, and no fewer than six editions appeared during the author's life.

Though it is through his other writings-the Novum Organum and "The Advancement of Learning" that he has exerted the greatest influence, it is the "Essays" that have been most widely read, coming home, as he says, "to men's business and bosoms." Archbishop Whately said: "I am oldfashioned enough to admire Bacon, whose remarks are taken in

« 上一頁繼續 »