Biography of Francis Bacon


Index

FRANCIS BACON, VISCOUNT ST. ALBANS, one of the most extraordinary men that any age can boast - a scholar, a wit, a lawyer, a statesman and a philosopher, whose writings will endure as long as the language in which they are written, was born in London, January 22nd, 1561. His father was Sir Nicholas Bacon, and his mother the learned Anne Cooke. In early childhood he manifested superior powers, and an ardent love of knowledge. His intelligence was so precocious that Queen Elizabeth took pleasure in calling him her "young Lord Keeper." At the age of thirteen he was sent to the university of Cambridge, which he quitted after a residence of three years, with a low opinion of the course of study. Before he was sixteen he wrote a thesis against the Aristotelian philosophy. On leaving the university he went to Paris in the suite of Sir Amias Paulet, the English Ambassador, and as the result of his studies he wrote, at the age of nineteen, a work called "Of the State of Europe," which gave astonishing evidence of acute observations and mature judgment. The death of his father in 1580, recalled him to England, where he betook himself to the study of law, and before he was twenty eight, was made Counsel Extraordinary to the Queen. A few years afterwards he entered parliament as member from Middlesex. It was not however, till the reign of James I that he made rapid progress. He was knighted in 1603, and in the following year was appointed salaried counsel to the crown, and by 1613, he had advanced to the office of Attorney-general. In 1617; he was appointed keeper of the Great Seal, and in 1619, attained the dignity of the Lord Chancellorship, with the title of Lord Verulam. In the year following he was created Viscount St. Albans.

But his rapid advancement was only the precursor to a sudden fall. He was accused before the House of Lords of accepting bribes for grants of office and privileges under the seal of the state, and was convicted on his own confession, of twenty three acts of corruption. In consequence he was condemned to pay a fine of 100,000 and to be confined in the Tower during the King's pleasure. The fine however, was remitted; the imprisoment lasted only two days: he was allowed again to appear at court, and, indeed was summoned to sit in the very next parliament. Age, however, failing health, and perhaps shame, prevented him from appearing. Henceforth he devoted himself to literature and science, which indeed, had occupied much of his attention during his active political life. The immediate cause of his death which occurred in 1626, was cold caught in making an experiment to test the power of snow to preserve flesh.

Bacon's writings, which embrace almost all subjects, are everywhere irradiated by the light of a powerful intellect, which towered over those of other men. His "Advancement of Learning," and "Novum Organum," laid the foundation of the true scientific method, which changed the philosophy of the world. As a writer he presents us in combination, an intellet at once of the most capacious and profound, that ever appeared among men - one of the most penetrating and one of the most far-reaching - and an imagination almost equally remarkable. In no other writer is so much profound thought to be found, expressed in such splendid eloquence.