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with other objects than those of a faithful historian written not to reproduce a true image of Henry the Seventh, but to flatter the humour of James the First by drawing such a picture of his ancestor as should \indirectly reflect honour on himself. I do not know into whose imagination this idea first entered, but it lies at the bottom of most modern criticisms, and is set forth at large by Sir James Mackintosh in a note appended to the second volume of his History of England, in Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopædia. The question being too serious to be passed over, and the authority too respectable to be overruled without showing reasons, I shall quote his note at length.
“Lord Bacon was the man of highest intellect among the writers of history; but he was not the greatest historian. History ought to be without passion ; but if it be without feeling, it loses the interest which bestows on it the power of being useful. The narrative of human actions would be thrown aside as a mere catalogue of names and dates, if it did not maintain its sway by inspiring the reader with pity for the sufferer, with anger against the oppressor, and with earnest desires for the triumph of right over might. The defects of Bacon's nature conspired with the faults of his conception of history to taint his work with lukewarm censure of falsehood and extortion, with a cool display of the expedients of cunning, and with too systematic a representation of the policy of a monarch in whose history he chose to convey a theory of kingaraft and the likeness of its ideal model. A writer who has been successful in unravelling an intricate character often becomes indulgent to the man whose seeming inconsistencies he has explained, and may at length regard the workings of his own ingenuity with a complacency which prevails over his indignation. Aristotle, who first attempted a theory of usurpation, has escaped the appearance of this fault, partly because sensibility is not expected, and would displease in a treatise on government. Machiavel was unhappily too successful in silencing his abhorrence of crimes; but this fault is chiefly to be found in “ The Prince," which is a treatise on the art of winning and keeping tyrannical
power; which was destined by the writer neither to instruct tyrants nor to warn nations against their arts, but simply to add the theory of these arts to the stock of human knowledge; as a philosophical treatise on poisons might be intended only to explain their nature and effects, though the information contained in it might be abused by the dealer in poison, or usefully employed for cure or relief by the physician.
" Lord Bacon displayed a much smaller degree of this vice, but he displayed it in history, where it is far more unpardonable. In the singular passage where he lays down the theory of the advancement of fortune (which he knew so well and practised so ill), he states the maxim which induced the Grecian and Italian philosophers to compose their dissertations, that there be not anything in being or action which should not be drawn into contemplation or doctrine.' He almost avows an intention of embodying in the person of his hero (if that be the proper term) too much of the ideal conception of a wary, watchful, unbending ruler, who considers men and affairs merely as they affect him and his kingdom; who has no good quality bigher then prudence; who is taught by policy not to be cruel when he is secure, but who treats pity and affection like malice and hatred, as passions which disturb his thoughts and bias his judgment. So systematic a purpose cannot fail to distort character and events, and to divest both of their power over feeling. It would have been impossible for Lord Bacon, if he had not been betrayed by his chilling scheme, to prefer Louis XI. to Louis XII., and to declare that Louis XI., Ferdinand the Catholic, and Henry VII., were the "three magi among the kings of the age ;' though it be true that Henry was the least odious of the three royal sages.
“ It is due in the strictest justice to Lord Bacon not to omit, that the history was written to gratify James I., to whom he was then suing for bitter bread, who revised it, and whom he addressed in the following words:— “I have therefore chosen to write the reign of Henry VII., who was in a sort your forerunner; and whose spirit as well as his blood is doubled upon your majesty.' Bacon had just been delivered from prison : he had passed his sixtietn year, and was galled by un honoured poverty. What wonder if in these circumstances even his genius sunk under such a patron and such a theme !”1
i Lardner's Cyclopædia, Hist. of England, vol. ii. p. 362.
Now setting aside for the present the general question as to the spirit in which history ought to be written, and the particular question as to the spirit in which this history is written, upon both which points I shall have a word to say presently, let us first consider the more positive and definite imputations contained in the foregoing passage. That Bacon wrote the book to gratify James ; that in order to gratify James he represented Henry as a model of king-craft; and that the systematic purpose of so representing Henry as a model of king-craft “ distorted character and events;
this is what the charge amounts to. And it is important to know how far it is true. For if it were so, to set about detecting and rectifying historical inaccuracies would be a mere waste of time and a mistaking of the proper duty of an editor. In that case the book as a history would be merely worthless. It would be curious only as a record of Bacon's idea — or rather of what he supposed to be James's idea — of a model king, and should be treated accordingly.
It seems to me however that the hypothesis is not only uncalled for, but utterly untenable.
That he “ wrote the book to gratify James I.” is indeed in one sense true enough. He wanted to do some service which James would appreciate, and he knew that a good history of so important a reign was one of the best services he could perform, and one the inost certain to be appreciated. But it is plain that Sir J. Mackintosh meant something more than this ; and if he meant, as I presume he did, that Bacon chose the subject because it gave him an opportunity for flattering James, — I would first ask, why anybody should think so? Is it not the very same subject
which at least fifteen years before he had wished some one else to undertake for the simple purpose of supplying a main defect in our national literature ?i Did not the defect still remain ? And was he not now at leisure to undertake the subject himself? Why then seek any further for his motive in choosing it ?
But suppose he did choose the subject for the purpose of flattering James, how did he propose to treat it, so as to produce that effect ? By setting up Henry the Seventh (we are told) as the model of a king ! Now Henry was in his entire character and in all his ways, both as a man and as a king, the very contrast and opposite to James himself. Both indeed professed to love peace; and both were constant, without being uxorious, to their wives. But there the resemblance ends. In all other respects, to set up either as the model of what a king should be is little less than to point out the other as the model of what a king should not be. Neither was this a difficulty inherent in the subject. For however obvious and ineffaceable those features of Henry's character may appear to us, which mark him as so peculiarly the opposite of James, we are to remember that we read it by the light which Bacon himself threw upon it; that it was Bacon himself who brought them to light, - brought them to light in this very history for the first time. Henry's character as drawn by preceding historians might have been used for purposes of flattery well enough. “He was a Prince,” says Stowe, reporting the substance,
i See his " Letter to the Lord Chancellor touching a History of Britain;" the original of which, preserved at Bridgwater House, is dated 2 April, 1605. — Collier's Descriptive Catalogue, p. 17. See also Ad cuncement of Learning, the Second Book, paragraph 5.
without the flourishes, of what he found in Hall and Polydore, “ of marvellous wisdom, policy, justice, temperance, and gravity, and notwithstanding many and great occasions of trouble and war he kept his realm in right good order, for the which he was greatly reverenced of foreign princes.” Such a passage would have been a very fair foundation in fact for a fancyportrait of a great and wise king. A man combining in himself all the cardinal virtues and reigning in a continued succession of victorious achievements in peace and war (so history reported him) might easily by a less skilful hand than Bacon's, using a of the novelist's or rhetorician's licence, have been turned into a handsome likeness of James - or of anybody else. And who can believe that if Bacon had been really studying, not to draw the man as he was, but to produce such a representation of him as should seem to reflect honour upon his descendant, he would have introduced into the portrait those traits of coldness, reserve, suspicion, avarice, parsimony, partyspirit, partiality in the administration of justice when he was himself interested, finesse which was not policy, strength of will which blinded judgment, closeness and darkness which bred danger ;-traits which are now inextricably interwoven with our idea of the man ; but for traces of which the pages of Fabyan, of Polydore Vergil, of Hall, of Holinshed, and of Stowe, will be searched in vain ? If it were necessary to believe that in introducing such features into the portrait he was thinking to gratify James at all, we must suppose that it was not by raising Henry to an ideal eminence which did not belong to him, but by degrading him from that ideal eminence wþich he enjoyed; and there