« PreviousContinue »
cumstances surrounding Bacon by right of birth. He was brought up in the society of the greatest personages in England and was known to the Queen as a child. Dr. William Rawley, his chaplain and first biographer, tells the story of Elizabeth's attraction towards the bright boy. The Queen "delighted much then to confer with him, and to prove him with questions; unto whom he delivered himself with that gravity and maturity above his years, that Her Majesty would often term him, The Young Lord-Keeper. Being asked by the Queen how old he was, he answered with much discretion, being then but a boy, That he was two years younger than Her Majesty's happy reign; with which answer the Queen was much taken." This anecdote, furnishing the only glimpse of Francis Bacon as a child, is as picturesque as it is authentic.
In April, 1573, Francis and Anthony Bacon, boys of twelve and fourteen, respectively, were entered as fellow-commoners of Trinity College, Cambridge, under the care of John Whitgift, then Master of Trinity and Vice-Chancellor of the University, and afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury. Whitgift's account-book tells us incidentally what was the general course of study at Trinity College in Bacon's boyhood. It shows that between April, 1573, and Christmas, 1575, he supplied the Bacon boys with the following books,-Caesar, Cicero, Livy, Sallust, Xenophon, Homer's Iliad, Hermogenes, Demosthenes's Olynthiacs, Aristotle, and Plato. We do not know how these authors were studied, but it is certain that Francis Bacon left Cambridge in his six
teenth year with a good knowledge of the Greek and Latin classics and a love of reading. There are those who doubt whether any system of education can produce a better result than that. Bacon was “drenched” in classicism, to use one of his own telling words. In after years when he sat down in his study to marshal his thoughts on any subject he recalled as if by instinct the wisdom of the ancients. He could command as easily the judgments of the great Greek and Roman historians as the imagination of the great Greek and Roman poets. Tacitus sums up for him in immortal phrase a contemporary character, and Homer and Vergil guide his expression in the vivid imagery that embroiders and illumines his language, like old carving in wood or stone, or the rich binding of a rare and princely book.
Besides Whitgift's accounts, two anecdotes of Bacon's undergraduate days survive, both as characteristic of the future philosopher as the story of the young Lord Keeper is of the future courtier. One is a reminiscence of his own recorded in Sylva Sylvarum, (Century II. 151),—
"I remember in Trinity College in Cambridge, there was an upper chamber, which being thought weak in the roof of it, was supported by a pillar of iron of the bigness of one's arm, in the midst of the chamber; which if you had struck, it would make a little flat noise in the room where it was struck, but it would make a great bomb in the chamber beneath." Dr. Rawley relates the other story,"Whilst he was commorant [a resident] in the Uni
versity, about sixteen years of age, (as his lordship hath been pleased to impart unto myself), he first fell into the dislike of the philosophy of Aristotle; not for the worthlessness of the author, to whom he would ever ascribe all high attributes, but for the unfruitfulness of the way; being a philosophy (as his lordship used to say) only strong for disputations and contentions, but barren of the production of works for the benefit of the life of man; in which mind he continued to his dying day."
This early interest in the physics of sound, a subject which always attracted Bacon, is as significant as the youthful judgment on the unfruitfulness of the philosophy of Aristotle. The judgment makes the distinction between philosophy embracing all knowledge, as the ancients understood it and as indeed it does, and science, for which Bacon's term "natural history" is now old-fashioned. With Bacon, essentially a literary man, science was to lose its moorings to letters.
At the end of three years Bacon left Cambridge, and at the age of about sixteen and a half years, was entered into the Society of the "Ancients" of Gray's Inn. Almost immediately after he had begun the study of law, an opportunity offered for him to travel and see the world. Sir Amias Paulet, who was sent to France as the Queen's ambassador, in 1576, invited Francis Bacon to go with him as a member of his household. Dr. Rawley says,-"He was after awhile held fit to be entrusted with some message or advertisement to the Queen; which having performed with great approbation, he returned
back into France again, with intention to continue for some years there." He remained about two years, spending most of the time in Paris, but following the French Court to Blois, Tours, and Poictiers. Henry III, of Valois, was the French King and Catharine de' Medici the queen mother. The wars and intrigues of the Holy League were going on and the events stirring which led to the assassination of Henry III. The essays, Of Revenge, Of Custom and Education, and Of Prophecies, allude to the political and social influences that surrounded the young attaché of the English ambassador. In Prophecies, "one Dr. Pena" tells the inquiring lad a story about an astrologer and "the queen mother, who was given to curious arts." Another personal allusion to his stay in France occurs in the sixth book of the De Augmentis Scientiarum where he describes a biliteral cipher he invented in the intervals of his diplomatic leisure in Paris. Writing in cipher was a curious art then widely practised, and Bacon's early interest in it reveals the natural turn of his mind for the observation of signs, that is, facts, and their recombination into new relations. Distinctly scientific is the observation of an echo at Pont-Charenton, near Paris, which the young diplomat investigated and reports in Sylva Sylvarum (Century III. 249, 251). "And thereby I did hap to find that an echo would not return S, being but a hissing and an interior sound." The description was written many years later, but the boy's experiment had remained perfectly clear and fresh. He says he heard the echo
"return the voice thirteen several times," and describes it as "a tossing of the voice, as a ball, to and fro; like to reflections in looking-glasses. Further on the Sylva Sylvarum (Century X. 986) gives a biographical note .concerning the event which changed the whole course of Francis Bacon's life. Writing on what he calls "the secret virtue of sympathy and antipathy," now named telepathy, Ba
"I myself remember, that being in Paris, and my father dying in London, two or three days before my father's death I had a dream, which I told to divers English gentlemen, that my father's house in the country was plastered all over with black mortar."
Sir Nicholas Bacon died February 20, 1579. Dr. Rawley's statement of the situation in which Francis Bacon was left by his father's sudden death is,— "In his absence in France his father the lordkeeper died, having collected (as I have heard of knowing persons) a considerable sum of money, which he had separated, with intention to have made a competent purchase of land for the livelihood of this his youngest son (who was only unprovided for; and though he was the youngest in years, yet he was not the lowest in his father's affectíon); but the said purchase being unaccomplished at his father's death, there came no greater share to him than his single part and portion of the money dividable amongst five brethren; by which means he lived in some straits and necessities in his younger years." Anthony Bacon had been estab