About thirty years ago I read in the will of Lord Bacon—"For my burial, I desire it may be in St. Michael's Church, St. Albans: there was my mother buried, and it is the parish church of my mansion-house of Gorhambury, and it is the only Christian church within the walls of Old Verulam. For my name and memory, I leave it to men's charitable speeches, to foreign nations, and the next ages."
This passage, not to be seen till he was at rest from his labours, impressed me with a feeling of his consciousness of ill-usage, and a conviction that the time would arrive when justice would be done to his memory. Sir Philip Sydney says, "I never read the old song of Percy and Douglas, without feeling my heart stirred as by the sound of a trumpet;" and assuredly this voice from the grave was not heard by me with less emotion.
The words were cautiously selected, with the knowledge which he, above all men, possessed of their force and pregnant meaning, and of their certain influence, sooner or later, upon the community. They spoke to me as loudly of a sense of injury, and of a reliance upon the justice of future ages, as the opening of the Novum Organum speaks with the consciousness of power:
FRANCISCUS DE VERULAMIO
There was also something to me truly affecting in the disclosure of tender natural feeling in the short sentence referring to his mother, which, spanning a whole life between the cradle and the grave, seemed to record nothing else worthy of a tribute of affection.
Thus impressed, I resolved to discover the real merits of the case I found that the subject had always been involved in some mystery. Archbishop Tennison, the admirer of Lord Bacon, and the friend of Dr. Rawley, his domestic chaplain, thus mentions it in the Baconiana: "His lordship owned it under his hand, that he was frail, and did partake of the abuses of the times; and surety he was a partaker of their severities also. The great cause of his suffering is, to some, a secret. I leave them to find it out by his words to King James: 'I wish, that as I am the first, so I may be the last of sacrifices in your times:' and when, from private appetite, it is resolved that a creature shall be sacrificed, it is easy to pick up sticks enough from any thicket whither it hath strayed, to make a fire to offer it with."
Dr. Rawley did not, as it seems, think it proper to be more explicit, because he judged "some papers touching matters of estate, to tread too near to the heels of truth, and to the times of the persons concerned."
Having read this intimation in the Baconiana, I procured, with some difficulty, a copy of the tract that contains the words to which Archbishop Tennison alludes. It is Bushel's Abridgment of the lord chancellor's philosophical theory. This work, written by Bushel more than forty years after his master's death, abounding with constant expressions of affection and respect, states that, during a recess of parliament, the king sent for the chancellor, and ordered him not to resist the charges, as resistance would be injurious to the king and to Buckingham. Upon examining the journals of the House of Lords, I found that this interview between the king and the chancellor was recorded.
Having made this progress, I was informed that there were many of Lord Bacon's letters in the Lambeth Library. I immediately applied to the Archbishop of Canterbury for permission to read and take extracts from them. With this application, his grace, with his usual courtesy and kindness, most readily complied.
In one of the letters there is the following passage in Greek characters.
Οφ μγ οφφενς, φμρ βε φρομ το σαγ, δατ υενεαμ κηρυες; υεξατ κενσυρα κολυμβας: βυτ ι ωιλλ σαγ θατ ι ανε γοοδ ωαρραντ φορ: θεγ ωερε νοτ Οε γρεατεστ οφφενδερς ιν Ισραελ υπον ωηομ θε ωαλλ φελλ.
In another letter he says, "And for the briberies and gifts wherewith I am charged, when the books of hearts shall be opened, I hope I shall not be found to have the troubled fountain of a corrupt heart, in a depraved habit of taking rewards to pervert justice; howsoever I may be frail, and partake of the abuses of the times."
From this ambiguity by a man so capable of expressing himself clearly, and whose favourite maxim was, "Do not inflate plain things into marvels, but reduce marvels to plain things," I was confirmed in the opinion which I had formed. I, therefore, proceeded to collect the evidence.
After great deliberation I arranged all the materials; and, from the chance that I might not live to complete the work, I some years since prepared that part which relates to the charge against him, and intrusted it to a friend, that, in the event of my death, my researches might not be lost.
The life is now submitted to public consideration. I cannot conclude without returning my grateful acknowledgments to the many friends to whom I am much indebted:—particularly to Archdeacon Wrangham, with the feeling of more than forty years' uninterrupted friendship;—to my intelligent friend, B. Heywood Bright, for his important co-operation and valuable communication from the Tanner Manuscripts; to my dear friend, William Wood, for his encouragement during the progress of the work, and for his admirable translation of the Novum Organum. How impossible is it for me to express my obligations to the sweet taste of her to whom I am indebted for every blessing of my life!
I am well aware of the many faults with which the work abounds, and particularly of the occasional repetitions. I must trust to the lenient sentence of my reader, after he has been informed that it was not pursued in the undisturbed quiet of literary leisure, but in the few hours which could be rescued from arduous professional duties; not carefully composed by a student in his pensive citadel, but by a daily "delver in the laborious mine of the law," where the vexed printer frequently waited till the impatient client was despatched; and that, to publish it as it is, I have been compelled to forego many advantages; to relinquish many of the enjoyments of social life, and to sacrifice not only the society, but even the correspondence of friends very dear to me. I ask, and I am sure I shall not ask in vain, for their forgiveness. One friend the grave has closed over, who cheered me in my task when I was weary, and better able, from his rich and comprehensive mind, to detect errors, than any man, was always more happy to encourage and to commend. Wise as the serpent, gall-less as the dove, pious and pure of heart, tender, affectionate, and forgiving, this, and more than this, I can say, after the trial of forty years, was my friend and instructor, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
I am now to quit forever a work upon which I have so long and so happily been engaged. I must separate from my companion, my familiar friend, with whom, for more than thirty years, I have taken sweet counsel. With a deep feeling of humility I think of the conclusion of my labours; but I think of it with that satisfaction ever attendant upon the hope of being an instrument of good. "Power to do good is the true and lawful end of aspiring. Merit and good works is the end of man's motion, and conscience of the same is the accomplishment of man's rest; for, if man can be a partaker of God's theatre, he will be a partaker of God's rest."
I please myself with the hope that I may induce some young man, who, at his entrance into life, is anxious to do justice to his powers, to enjoy that "suavissima vita indies sentire se fieri meliorem," to look into the works of our illustrious countryman. I venture also to hope that, in these times of inquiry, the works of this philosopher may, without interfering with academical studies, be deemed deserving the consideration of our universities, framed, as they so wisely are, for the diffusion of the knowledge of our predecessors. Perhaps some opulent member of the university, when considering how he may extend to future times the blessings which he has enjoyed in his pilgrimage, may think that, in the University of Cambridge, a Verulamian Professorship might be productive or good: but these expectations may be the illusions of a lover; and it is not given to man to love and to be wise. There are, however, pleasures of which nothing can bereave me; the consciousness that I have endeavoured to render some assistance to science and to the profession, the noble, intellectual profession of which I am a member. How deeply, how gratefully do I feel; with what a lofty spirit and sweet content do I think of the constant kindness of my many, many friends!
And now, for the last time, I use the words of Lord Bacon: "Being at some pause, looking back into that I have passed through, this writing seemeth to me, 'si nunquam fallit imago,' as far as a man can judge of his own work, not much better than the noise or sound which musicians make while they are tuning their instruments, which is nothing pleasant to hear, but yet is a cause why the music is sweeter afterwards: so have I been content to tune the instruments of the muses, that they may play that have better hands."
To posterity and distant ages Bacon bequeathed his good name, and posterity and distant ages will do him ample justice. Wisdom herself has suffered in his disgrace, but year after year brings to light proof of the arts that worked Bacon's downfall, and covered his character with obloquy. He will find some future historian who, assisted by the patient labours of the present editor, with all his zeal and tenfold his ability; with power equal to the work, and leisure to pursue it, will dig the statue from the rubbish which may yet deface it; and, obliterating one by one the paltry libels scrawled upon its base, will place it, to I lie honour of true science, in a temple worthy of his greatness.
November 17, 1834.