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FRANCIS BACON, whose name stands next after Shakespeare's in the brilliant period of Elizabeth and the first James, was the younger of two sons born in second marriage to Sir Nicholas Bacon, a famous lawyer and statesman, who was keeper of the Great Seal from the accession of Queen Elizabeth till his own death in 1579. The date of his birth was the 22d January, 1561, and he was therefore some three years Shakespeare's senior. Educated during his boyhood under the immediate direction of his mother, a member of a family prominent in the Protestant cause, and herself a
woman of stern and uncompromising piety, young Bacon early saw something of life in the world's high places, and even by his wit and sagacity attracted the special attention of the Queen, who was wont jestingly to salute him as her “young Lord Keeper.” At the age of twelve, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he remained till 1575. It was during this period, we are told by his first biographer, that boy as he still was, he already became dissatisfied with the current Aristotelian philosophy, as “ strong for disputations and contentions,” but “ barren of the productions of works for the benefit of the life of man.” Sir Nicholas destined the
wonderful youth for statesmanship, and, as a fitting
Meanwhile, absorbing as his legal pursuits must
For a time, notwithstanding the miscarriage of various ambitions, things prospered with him; though unfortunately his worldly success was from the outset bound up with the persistent practice of the arts of the place-seeker and the time-server. He began by
seeking political promotion through the influence of his maternal uncle, the powerful Lord Burghley; and
when convinced that nothing was to be gained in this i direction, he went over to the party of Burghley's
rival, the Earl of Essex. That nobleman did what he could for his protégé, and failing to obtain any one of several desirable offices for him, gave him a grant of land at Twickenham, which he afterwards sold for £1800 — or, roughly speaking, $60,000, at the present value of money. Then presently came the earl's fall from power, and subsequent open rebellion against the Queen. Over what followed, were it possible to do so, the biographer of Bacon would willingly draw the veil. He took an active part in the proceedings against his former friend and benefactor; did his utmost to get him condemned; and after his execution, undertook the official drafting of the charges against him. After Elizabeth's death, Bacon found it desirable to publish an explanation of his conduct, in which he contended that duty to the State must have preference over the demands of private friendship; but the best that can be said of this document, it is to be feared, is that it shows that Bacon's conscience was ill at ease. Apologists have not been wanting; and it may be conceded to them that a full survey of the facts tends to mitigate the first severity of our judgment. Yet the incident has left a stain on Bacon's memory which no amount of special pleading will succeed in wiping away.
Two years after the execution of Essex, Elizabeth died, and under James I. Bacon's prosperity increased.
He sought and won the new king's favor by profuse
tenc Baca Yet. and clai
ber of wit has the