Page images
PDF
EPUB

--

In the third and last division of the entire works, according to the scheme already explained, every authentic writing and every intelligibly reported speech of Bacon's (not belonging to either of the other divisions) which can be found in print or in manuscript will be set forth at full length, each in its due chronological place; with an explanatory narrative running` between, in which the reader will be supplied to the best of my skill and knowledge with all the information necessary to the right understanding of them. In doing this, since the pieces in question are very numerous, and scattered with few and short intervals over the whole of Bacon's life,—I shall have to enter very closely into all the particulars of it; so that this part when finished will in fact contain a complete biography of the man, — a biography the most copious, the most minute, and by the very necessity of the case the fairest, that I can produce; for any material misinterpretation in the commentary will be at once confronted and corrected by the text. The new matter which I shall be able to produce is neither little nor unimportant; but more important than the new matter is the new aspect which (if I may judge of other minds by my own) will be imparted to the old matter by this manner of setting it forth. I have generally found that the history of an obscure transaction becomes clear as soon as the simple facts are set down in the order of their true dates; and most of the difficulties presented by Bacon's life will be found to disappear

when these simple records of it are read in their natural sequence and in their true relation to the business of the time. By this means a great deal of controversy which would disturb and encumber the narrative, and help to keep alive the memory of much ignorant and superficial criticism which had better be forgotten, will I hope be avoided. And until this is done I do not think it desirable to attempt a summary biography in the ordinary form. Such a biography may be easily added, if necessary, in a supplemental volume; but I am persuaded that the best which could be written now would be condemned afterwards as altogether unsatisfactory.

It is true however, that a reader, before entering on the study of an author's works, wants to know something about himself and his life. Now there exists a short memoir of Bacon, which was drawn up by Dr. Rawley in 1657 to satisfy this natural desire, and prefixed to the Resuscitatio, and is still (next to Bacon's own writings) the most important and authentic evidence concerning him that we possess. The origin of Dr. Rawley's connexion with Bacon is not known, but it must have begun early. It was in special compliment to Bacon that he was presented on the 18th of January, 1616-17, (being then 28 years old,) to the rectory of Landbeach; a living in the gift of Benet's College, Cambridge.1 Shortly after, Bacon becoming

1" Ad quam præsentatus fuit per honorand. virum Franciscum Bacon mil. Regiæ maj. advocatum generalem, ejusdem vicaria [rectoriæ] pro hac

Lord-Keeper selected him for his chaplain; and during the last five years of his life, which were entirely occupied with literary business, employed him constantly as a kind of literary secretary. Nor did the connexion cease with life; for after Bacon's death Rawley was intrusted by the executors with the care and publication of his papers. Rawley's testimony must therefore be regarded as that of a witness who, however favourable and affectionate, has the best right to be heard, as speaking not from hearsay but from intimate and familiar knowledge during many years and many changes of fortune; and as being moreover the only man among Bacon's personal acquaintances by whom any of the particulars of his life have been recorded. This memoir, which was printed by Blackbourne, with interpolations from Dugdale and Tenison, and placed in front of his edition of 1730, but is not to be found I think in any more modern edition, I have printed entire in its original shape; adding some notes of my own, by help of which it may serve a modern reader for a sufficient biographical introduction.

The Latin translation of it, published by Rawley in 1658 as an introduction to a little volume entitled Opuscula Philosophica, and now commonly prefixed to the De Augmentis Scientiarum, I have thought it superfluous to reproduce here; this edition being of little

unica vice, ratione concessionis magistri et sociorum Coll. C. C. (uti asserebatur) patronus." Collections prefixed to Blackbourne's edition 1730, i. 218. Bacon's father was a member and benefactor of Benet's; which accounts for this compliment.

use to those who cannot read English, and the translation being of no use to those who can. And this brings me to the second innovation which I have ventured to introduce.

Bacon had no confidence in the permanent vitality of English as a classical language. "These modern languages," he said, “will at one time or other play the bankrupts with books." Those of his works therefore which he wished to live and which were not originally written in Latin, he translated or caused to be translated into that language-"the universal language," as he called it. This, for his own time, was no doubt a judicious precaution. Appearances however have greatly changed since; and though it is not to be feared that Latin will ever become obsolete, it is certain that English has been rapidly gaining ground upon it, and that of the audience whom Bacon would in these days have especially desired to gather about him, a far greater number would be excluded by the Latin dress than admitted. Considering also the universal disuse of Latin as a medium of oral communication, and the almost universal disuse of it as a medium of communication in writing, even among learned men, and the rapid spreading of English over both hemispheres, it is easy to predict which of the two languages is likely to play the bankrupt first. At any rate the present edition is for the English market. To those who are not masters of English it offers few attractions; while of those who are,

not one I suppose in a hundred would care to read a translation even in Baconian Latin, when he had the choice of reading the original in Baconian English. And since the translations in question would increase the bulk of this work by four or five hundred pages and the cost in proportion, it has been thought better to leave them out.

In one respect, it is true, they have a value independent of the English originals. Having been made later and made under Bacon's own eye, the differences, where they are greater than can be naturally accounted for by the different idiom and construction of the languages, must be considered as corrections ; besides which, when the meaning of the original is obscure or the reading doubtful, they serve sometimes as a glossary to decide it. This being an advantage which we cannot afford to sacrifice, I have thought it my duty in all instances to compare the translation carefully with the original, and to quote in foot-notes those passages in which the variation appeared to be material; and as this is a labour which few readers would take upon themselves, I conceive that by the course which I have adopted the English student will be a gainer rather than a loser.

I have also departed from the practice of former editors in not keeping the Latin and English works separate. Such separation is incompatible with the chronological arrangement which I hold to be far preferable. I see no inconvenience in the change

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »