Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/263

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FRIAR ROGER BACON.

255

FRIAR ROGER BACON.

By EDWARD S. HOLDEN, LL.D.

A RECENT perusal of the published works of Bacon leads me to attempt to set forth, in this place, something of his life and of his times. He is, beyond a doubt, one of the great illustrations of our race. Let us in the first place set down the facts of his checquered life in a story, without seeking too deeply for the causes of his defeats and perils. It will be time enough to examine the reasons when we know the results. He was born of a good and wealthy family, in England, between the years 1210 and 1215. He first appears in history in the year 1233. King Henry the Third had just listened, at Oxford, to a long sermon and to reprimands from a relative of Bacon's—probably an uncle—who charged the king to dismiss from his council Pierre Des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, who was hated by the English. A young clerk—it was Bacon—dared to address the king with this audacious raillery, says Matthew Paris in his chronicle.

"Seigneur Roi, savez-vous les dangers qu'on a le plus à redouter quand on navigue au-delà de la mer?

"Ceux-là le savent, répartit Henri, qui ont l'habitude de ces voyages.

"Eh bien, je vais vous le dire, reprit le clerc, ce sont les pierres et les roches—et il voulait désigner par là Pierre Des Roches, l'évêque de Winchester.'

Bold and reckless speaking regardless of consequences was a lifelong characteristic of Bacon, and the first and only anecdote that we have represents him bold with kings, as he afterwards was bold towards popes, cardinals, generals of his order, doctors of the church and the society in which he lived. It may, for a moment, seem to us to be a merit. In sad fact, it was never so in his life, and it led to his undoing.

He learned this temerity from a great man who was his master at Oxford and afterwards the illustrious Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grossteste, the first English scholar of his time—he who browbeat the pope and called him 'heretic' and 'anti-Christ.' Robert was Superior of the Franciscans at Oxford and lectured there on optics. Athelard of Bath, the first translator of Euclid, was not forgotten in those schools, which were then marked by great intellectual freedom and by a strong leaning towards science.

Here Bacon passed years in ardent research. He mastered all the book learning of the schools—philosophy and mathematics; and ex-