The Francis Bacon Society consider that there rests on all members of the Anglo-Saxon race an obligation-imposed upon them by the numerous benefits which they enjoy as a result of Francis Bacon’s work - to read the vindication of his character contained in this book and to reflect on the impossibility of a man with the magnificent intellectual attainments possessed by Francis Bacon falling so low as to prove a faithless friend to The Earl of Essex and upon being raised to one of the highest positions of honour and service in the state becoming a corrupt public servant and a receiver of bribes to pervert justice.

 

First Issued

1949

Price 1/-.

FRANCIS BACON

 

VERSUS

 

LORD MACAULAY

 

 

by

 

EDWARD D. JOHNSON

 

AUTHOR OF

 

“The First Folio of Shakespeare”

“Francis Bacon’s Cypher Signatures”

“Shakespearean Acrostics’’

“Don Adriana’s Letter”

“The Fictitious Shakespeare Exposed’’

“Bacon-Shakespeare Coincidences”

“The Mystery of the First Folio”

“The Bi-literal Cypher of Francis Bacon”

“The Shaksper Illusion”

“Francis Bacon and `Shakespeare. Similarity of Thought”

 

GEORGE LAPWORTH & CO. LTD

- VERNON HOUSE -

SICILIAN AVENUE

- LONDON W.C.I. -

1949


special thanks to: Glen Claston for making this digital copy


The writer makes the following accusations against Macaulay:

(1) That he could never resist the opportunity of showing off his own cleverness.

(2) That he had not the slightest regard for the truth but as Mr. Winston Churchill rightly states -“he glorified or besmirched great men according as it affected his drama.”

(3) That having made up his mind before-hand as to a man’s character -he wilfully suppressed any facts which did not agree with his preconceived notions.

(4) That he delighted in making innuendoes which were nearly always untrue.

(5) That when it was impossible entirely to suppress any facts, he wilfully distorted them.

(6) That he had not the power of reasoning and was shallow and quite inaccurate.

(7) That he was completely ignorant of the subject on which he wrote as he was too lazy to trouble to get at the true facts.

(8) That his judgements were generally harsh and uncharitable.

(9) That in the words of Lord Acton, “he was mean, contemptible, and base.”

 

FRANCIS BACON

- - versus - -

LORD MACAULAY

 

 

The British public have a well deserved reputation for justice and fairness when estimating the characters of public men, but there is one instance where they have been neither just nor fair and this is the case of Francis Bacon, Baron Verulam, Viscount St. Alban, which is really due to the fact that they have relied on the so called authorities for a correct estimation of his character. They have been entirely misled, as the present day estimate of Francis Bacon’s character is mainly founded on the opinions of Lord Macaulay, who wrote an infamous and slanderous essay on Francis Bacon, the general effect of which is to throw contempt on Bacon as a man and to found a vulgar prejudice against him by flat violations of truth or by perverse insinuations and reckless inferences. The authorities like a flock of sheep have followed in the wake of Macaulay, and school teachers, university professors and journalists, have all accented these authorities, making no attempt whatsoever to ascertain the truth for themselves. Macaulay poisoned the well of truth when writing essays on men like Francis Bacon, The Duke of Marlborough, and Warren Hastings, which show clearly that he had misread the earlier authorities or had deliberately left out some essential point, the omission of which vitiated the whole statement.

If Francis Bacon and Thomas Macaulay had lived at the same time, and Bacon had brought an action against Macaulay for libel and defamation of character, it is quite certain that he would have been awarded very substantial damages, as Macaulay’s accusations were based on conjectures and suppositions only and not on fact.

In July 1837, Thomas Babington (afterwards Lord) Macaulay wrote an Essay entitled “Lord Bacon” which was published in the Edinburgh Review and which he had based on”‘ The Works of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England” by Basil Montagu in 16 volumes published in London between the years 1825 and 1834. It seems clear that before Macaulay wrote his essay, he had made up his mind that the character of Bacon was contemptible, so, in the first part of this essay, anything detrimental to Bacon is magnified and exaggerated, and anything favourable to Bacon is minimised or ignored. For instance, Macaulay has nothing to say about the part that Bacon took in the founding of colonies abroad, or the planting of Virginia or the regeneration of Ulster.
These being in Bacon’s favour — they are suppressed.

Macaulay’s prejudice against Bacon made him very unfair. If in Montagu’s text he finds a story creditable to Bacon, he disregards it; if he finds a less creditable story referred to in one of Montagu’s footnotes, he accepts it as gospel. He ignores the statement in the text and gives as the truth the story in the footnote without any hint as to its want of authenticity. When he makes a direct quotation from Montagu he omits any part of it which is unfavourable to his case, when he makes an indirect quotation he paraphrases and gives the words a meaning which the original did not bear.

In the second part of the essay, Macaulay writes that Bacon’s intellect was the most exquisite ever bestowed on the children of men and then proceeds to show that Bacon was the greatest philosopher the world has ever seen, which is totally inconsistent with his character as depicted in the first part of the essay. According to Macaulay -Bacon appears as a kind of Elizabethan Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with the bad angel always predominating. Macaulay forgot that no man can be both good and evil, no man can be both wise and mean. Thomas Carlyle said that the words “wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind” are worthless as the qualities and defects named, were impossible in the same individual. How could Francis Bacon, who was so eminently wise and good be also the false friend, venal judge and dishonest man depicted by Macaulay?

It has been left to modern writers like Macaulay to make these accusations against Bacon. His contemporaries, even his enemies, never questioned his virtues and courage -his abilities of tongue and pen. They spoke of his vanity and presumption, but not one of them ever accused him of meanness of heart or of being a rogue. Nature never made such a man as depicted by Macaulay. Before writing his essay, Macaulay never took the trouble to sift the chaff from the wheat; he had already made up his mind as to Bacon’s character, which is a grave fault in any biographer.

Before dealing with Francis Bacon’s character, it is advisable to deal first with the character of Macaulay. The chief witness against Macaulay is the Rt. Hon. Winston Churchill who, in his great work on the life of his illustrious ancestor John Churchill Duke of Marlborough (“Marlborough and his Times”), gives his personal opinion of Macaulay. Mr. Churchill writes, “Macaulay with his captivating style and devastating self confidence was the prince of literary rogues who always preferred the tale to the truth and smirched or glorified great men according as they affected his drama.” Lord Acton, in his letters to Mary Gladstone wrote, “When you sit down to Macaulay, remember that his essays are really flashy and superficial. His two most famous reviews, on Bacon and Ranke, show his incompetence. The essays are only pleasant reading and a key to half the prejudices of our age. He is, I am persuaded, grossly and basely unfair.” Later on Lord Acton describes Macaulay as, “utterly base, contemptible and odious.”

David Salmon, the Principal of Swansea Training College, in his introduction to Macaulay’s “Essay on Bacon” published forty-five years ago says- “The essay is divided into two sections, the first half the life, and the second the, writings, and if anything could exceed the exaggeration of the faults of Bacon’s life in the first it is the misrepresentation of the aims and results in the second. Macaulay had undertaken a task for which his mental constitution unfitted him. Instead of examining all the facts and then arriving at a conclusion, he began with a strong conclusion and proceeded to state the reasons for it, ignoring or flouting the rest. If he had chosen the wrong conclusion to start with, the farther did he go astray from the truth.”

Augustus C. Buell in his work “William Penn” (published in 1904) wrote, “Macaulay always wrote for an object-party and the peerage. Macaulay dearly loved a lord but all his love was lavished upon live lords. He licked the hand that fed him- a good trait. He bit the hand that did not feed him. Occasionally he made a vicious snap at some hand, which having once fed him had quit.”

Thomas Carlyle sums up Macaulay as “The sublime of the commonplace, not one of whose ideas had the least tincture of greatness and originality or any kind of superior merit, except neatness of expression.”

Macaulay’s political bias often carried him outside the bounds of truth, so it is not surprising to find that the University of Oxford ordered all Macaulay’s works to be placed in a special category as “not trustworthy for History.”

Miss Harriet Martineau wrote, “Thomas Macaulay wanted heart. This was the one deficiency which lowered the value of all his other gifts . . . He had kindliness, and for ought we know, good temper, but of the life of the heart, he knew nothing. He was a conventionalist in morals, an insolent and inconsistent whig in politics, a shallow and inaccurate historian, a poet pouring out light and no warmth and, for an able man, the most unsound reasoner of his time.” There was sure preparation for his failure, as well as success, as an historian, after his article on Bacon in the Edinburgh. That essay disabused the wisest who expected services of the first order from Macaulay. In that article, he not only betrayed his incapacity for philosophy, and his radical ignorance of the subject he undertook to treat, but laid himself open to the charge of helping himself to the very material he was disparaging, and giving as his own large excerpts from Mr. Montagu while loading him with contempt and rebuke.”

Mr. Gladstone wrote, “The judgments of Macaulay we deem harsh, and his examinations superficial.”

* * *

The above opinions of Macaulay clearly show that it is not safe to rely upon Macaulay for a just and impartial estimate of any man’s character.

Macaulay was a strange combination of moral opposites and for a long time his brilliancy as an orator and essayist blinded the public to his moral faults and historical inaccuracies. It is chiefly owing to Macaulay’s famous, or rather infamous, essay that the general public, both learned as well as unlearned, have been much biassed against Bacon. But for Macaulay’s attack on Francis Bacon, his true character would by now have been universally recognised.

Let the reader ask himself this question, “Are the following expressions used by Macaulay those that would be used by a man dealing with his subject in a calm and judicial manner, or are they those that would be used by a man blinded by prejudice, with a malicious tongue spitting venom at his unhappy victim?”

“Once he indulged in a burst of patriotism which cost him a long and bitter remorse, and which he never ventured to repeat. -He condescended to make the most abject apologies, he adjured the Lord Treasurer to show some favour to his poor servant and ally. He bemoaned himself to the Lord Keeper in a letter which may keep in countenance the most unmanly of the epistles which Cicero wrote during his banishment.” Writing of Essex Macaulay said, “His mind, ardent, susceptible, naturally disposed to admiration of all that is great and beautiful, was fascinated by the genius and the accomplishments of Bacon. A close friendship was soon formed between them, a friendship destined to have a dark, a mournful, a shameful end. The person on whom, during the decline of his influence, he chiefly depended, to whom he confided his perplexities, whose advice he solicited, whose intercession he employed, was his friend Bacon. The lamentable truth must be told. This friend, so loved, so trusted, bore a principal part in ruining the Earl’s fortunes, in shedding his blood and in blackening his memory.” We believe that (Bacon) sincerely exerted himself to serve Essex, so long as he thought that he could serve Essex without injuring himself. At length he found that, while he was trying to prop the fortunes of another- he was in danger of shaking his own . . He shaped his course accordingly. When Essex was brought before the council to answer for his conduct in Ireland, Bacon, after a faint attempt to excuse himself from taking part. against his friend, submitted himself to the Queen’s pleasure,. and appeared at the bar in support of the charges. An ordinary man would neither have incurred the danger of succouring Essex, nor the disgrace of assailing him. Bacon did not even preserve neutrality.- Essex was convicted. Bacon made no effort to save him... The unhappy nobleman was executed. . .The Queen thought it expedient to publish a vindication of her late proceedings. The faithless friend who had assisted in taking the Earl’s life was now employed to murder the Earl’s fame. The Queen had seen some of Bacon’s writings and had been pleased with them. He was accordingly selected to write “A Declaration of the Practices and Treasons attempted and committed by Robert Earl of Essex” which was printed by authority. In the succeeding reign, Bacon had not a word to say in defence of this performance, a performance abounding in expressions which no generous enemy would have employed respecting a man who had so dearly expiated his offences. His only excuse was that he wrote it by command and that he considered himself a mere secretary.

Macaulay says, “ Bacon was a servile advocate, that he might be a corrupt judge.” “The moral qualities of Bacon were not of a high order.” “His faults were- coldness of heart and meanness of spirit.” “His desires were set on things below.” “ For these objects he had stooped to everything and endured everything.” As soon as he found that the smallest show of independence in Parliament was offensive to the Queen, he had abased himself to dust before her, and implored forgiveness in terms better suited to a convicted thief than to a knight of the shire. For these he joined, and for these he forsook, Lord Essex. He continued to plead his patron’s cause with the Queen as long as he thought that by pleading that cause he might serve himself . . as long as he thought he could plead it without injury to himself. But, when it became evident that Essex was going headlong to his ruin, Bacon began to tremble for his own fortunes. He exerted his professional talents to shed the Earl’s blood, and his literary talents to blacken the Earl’s memory.”

“Those who survey only one half of his character may speak of him with unmixed admiration, or with unmixed contempt. But those only judge of him correctly who take in at one view Bacon in speculation and Bacon in action. They will have no difficulty in comprehending how one and the same man should have been . . . in one line the boldest and most useful of innovators, in another one, the most obstinate champion of the foulest abuses.”

Writing of Bacon mingling with the crowd which filled the Galleries of Whitehall, Macaulay says: “In all that crowd, there was no man equally qualified to render great and lasting services to mankind. But in all that crowd there was not a heart more set on things which no man ought to suffer to be necessary to his happiness, on things which can often be obtained only by the sacrifice of integrity and honour. During a long course of years Bacon’s unworthy ambition was crowned with success.”

“ In March 1617, Sir Francis Bacon was appointed Keeper of the Great Seal. Having entered his court, he addressed the splendid auditory in a grave and dignified speech, which proves how well he understood those judicial duties which he afterwards Performed so ill. The years during which Bacon held the great Seal were among the darkest and most shameful in English History.”

After stating that Bacon was engaged in the useful work “of the reducing and re-compiling of the Laws of England” Macaulay wrote, “Unhappily he was at that very time employed in perverting those laws to the vilest Purposes of tyranny. When Oliver St. John was brought before the Star Chamber for maintaining that the King had no right to levy Benevolences, and was for his manly and constitutional conduct sentenced to imprisonment during the Royal pleasure and to a fine of five thousand pounds, Bacon appeared as Counsel for the prosecution. About the same time he was deeply engaged in a still more disgraceful transaction. An aged clergyman of the name of Peacham was accused of treason on account of some passages of a sermon which was found in his study. The most servile lawyers of those servile times were forced to admit that there were great difficulties both as to the facts and as to the law. Bacon was employed to remove those difficulties. He was employed to settle the question of law by tampering with the judges and the question of fact by torturing the prisoner.

“ Coke . . . declared that it was a new and highly improper practice in the judges to confer with a law officer of the Crown about capital cases which they were afterwards to try . . But Bacon was equally artful and persevering . . . After some time, Bacon’s dexterity was successful; and Coke sullenly and reluctantly followed the example of his brethren. But in order to convict Peacham it was necessary to find facts as well as law. Accordingly, this wretched old man was put to the rack, and, while undergoing the horrible infliction, was examined by Bacon . . (Bacon) was guilty of attempting to introduce into the Courts of Law an odious abuse for which no precedent could be found. Intellectually, he was better fitted than any man that England has ever produced for the work of improving her institutions. But, unhappily, we see that he did not scruple to exert his great powers for the purpose of introducing into those institutions new corruptions of the foulest kind. Only fourteen years after the time when Bacon went to the Tower to listen to the yells of Peacham, the judges decided that Felton, a criminal who neither deserved nor was likely to obtain any extraordinary indulgence, could not lawfully be put to the question . . . (Bacon) was one of the last of the tools of power who persisted in a practice the most barbarous and the most absurd that has ever disgraced jurisprudence.”

“The difference between the soaring angel and the creeping snake was but a type of the difference between Bacon the philosopher and Bacon the Attorney General, Bacon seeking for truth, and Bacon seeking for the Seals.”

“The vices of the administration must be chiefly ascribed to the weakness of the King and to the levity and violence of the favourite. But it is impossible to acquit the Lord Keeper of all share in the guilt. For those odious patents, in particular, which passed the Great Seal whilst it was in his charge, he must be held answerable. Of all patents in our history, the most disgraceful was that which was granted to Sir Giles Mompesson and to Sir Francis Michell, . . . for the exclusive manufacturing of gold and silver lace. Having assisted the patentees to obtain this monopoly, Bacon assisted them also in the steps which they took for the purpose of guarding it, he committed several people to close confinement for disobeying his tyrannical edict . . In his judicial capacity, his conduct was not less reprehensible. He suffered Buckingham. to dictate many of his decisions. Bacon knew as well as any man that a judge who listens to private solicitations is a disgrace to his post. He had himself, before he was raised to the woolsack, represented this strongly to Villiers (in a letter saying) ‘By no means be you persuaded to interpose yourself, either by word or letter in any cause depending in any court of justice.’ Yet he had not been Lord Keeper a month when Buckingham began to interfere in Chancery suits; and Buckingham’s interference was, as might have been expected, successful. A man who stooped to render such services to others was not likely to be scrupulous as to the means by which he enriched himself. He and his dependents accepted large presents from persons who were engaged in Chancery suits. The amount of the plunder which he collected in this way it is impossible to estimate . . In a few weeks was signally brought to the test the value of those objects for which Bacon had sullied his integrity, had resigned his independence, had violated the most sacred obligations of friendship and gratitude, had flattered the worthless, had persecuted the innocent, had tampered with judges, had tortured prisoners, had plundered suitors, had wasted on paltry intrigues all the powers of the most exquisitely constructed intellect that has ever been bestowed on any of the children of men.”

Macaulay’s Essay on Bacon is the most dreadful indictment of any man in History. What would be the natural reaction of any honest man on reading this Essay? He would say (and quite rightly), “If what Macaulay wrote is true, then there is not the slightest doubt that Francis Bacon was one of the most depraved, debased, loathsome and treacherous men who ever lived. I do not care how brilliant he was as an orator, how eminent as a philosopher or scientist, if Macaulay was right, I have no desire whatever to know anything further of such a man as depicted by Macaulay.” One hundred years ago, in 1848 , a writer whose identity is unknown, after due consideration of Macaulay’s summing up, wrote as follows, “If this were a true picture of Bacon’s mind, how sad and low and grovelling it must have been. Accustomed to grieve that he suffered his soul to be polluted by contact with the world, and bowed his head beneath the love of ill-gotten gold, we have yet found consolation in the thought that the man and the philosopher were two; and that we might dwell with rapture on the latter, take him to our heart, and make him our mind’s companion without defiling ourselves with the former. But if this were a true picture of the philosopher, we must turn from him in disgust, as one whose soul was so imbued with the low and sordid, that no intellectual powers, how sublime soever, could elevate it above what is sordid mean and base.”

Macaulay’s aspersions on Bacon’s character will be answered in due course but before doing so, let us see what Bacon’s personal friends and contemporaries have to say about his character.

Sir Tobie Mathew, probably Bacon’s greatest friend, wrote, “Praise is not confined to the qualities of his intellect, but applies as well to which are matters of the heart, the will and moral virtue; being a man both sweet in his conversation and ways, grave in his judgments, invariable in his fortunes, splendid in his expenses, a friend unalterable to his friends, an enemy to no man, a most indefatigable servant of the King, and a most earnest lover of the public, having all the thoughts of that large heart of his set upon adorning the age in which he lived and benefitting, so far as possible, the whole human race. I never yet saw any trace in him of a vindictive mind, whatever injury were done him nor ever heard him utter a word to any man’s disadvantage which seemed to proceed from personal feeling against the man. It is not his greatness that I admire, but his virtue, it is not the favours that I have received from him that have so enthralled and enchanted my heart but his whole life and character; which are such that were he of an inferior condition, I could not honour him the less, and if he were mine enemy, I should not the less love and endeavour to serve him.”

Dr. William Rawley- his friend and chaplain- wrote, “There is a commemoration due as well to his ability and virtues as to his course of life. He was free from malice, which, as he said, he never bred nor fed. I have been induced to think, that if there were a Beam of Knowledge derived from God upon any man in these modern times, it was upon him. Francis Bacon, the glory of his age and nation- the adorner and ornament of learning.”

John Aubrey, a contemporary, wrote, “All that were great and good loved and honoured him.”

Peter Boener, his domestic apothecary, wrote “I wish that a statue of him might be erected, not for his learning and research, but as a memorable example to all of virtue, kindness, peacefulness and patience.”

Thomas Bushel, his gentleman usher, wrote, “I confess that myself and other of his servants were the occasion of exhaling his virtues into a dark eclipse- he who in his own nature scorned the least thought of any base, unworthy, or ignoble act.” (Thomas Bushel in his book “The First Part of Youth’s Errors” admitted that he and other servants pocketed the presents intended for Bacon.)

Ben Jonson who lived for some years with Bacon at Gorhambury when he was assisting in the translation of Bacon’s works from English into Latin, in his “Discoveries” wrote, “In his adversity I ever prayed that God would give him strength for greatness he could not want. Neither could I condole in word or syllable for him, as knowing that no accident could do harm to virtue but rather help to make it manifest.”

These extracts show the veneration and love that Bacon inspired in his own personal friends and contemporaries. Here we have the answer to Macaulay given by Bacon’s personal friends. Are not their views of Bacon to be preferred to those of a man who was born 239 years after Bacon and whose opinions are in any case second-hand? It seems almost incredible that (with the exception of Basil Montagu and Hepworth Dixon) no one had ever attempted to lift the veil of obscurity that hid the cause of Bacon’s fall until Mr. Alfred Dodd set out the facts in his book “The Martyrdom of Francis Bacon” which contains a complete history of the disgraceful plot against Bacon engineered by his inveterate enemy Sir Edward Coke and others. Until Mr. Alfred Dodd came upon the scene no modern writer had made any attempt to find out the truth of the cause of the fall of the greatest and wisest Lord Chancellor England ever possessed.

William Hepworth Dixon in the year 1861 wrote a magnificent biography of Francis Bacon entitled “The Personal History of Lord Bacon” and the reader is referred to this book for the true facts as Hepworth Dixon was an impartial historian and spent many years studying his subject.

Macaulay at the beginning of his essay referring to Mr. Montagu’s enthusiasm for his subject, wrote, “The fanaticism of the devout worshipper of genius is proof against all evidence and all argument. The most decisive proofs are rejected, the plainest rules of morality are explained away; extensive and important Portions of History are completely distorted. The enthusiast misrepresents facts with all the effrontery of an advocate.” This is really amusing coming from Macaulay, who, in his essay, entirely rejects the most decisive proofs, completely distorts extensive and important portions of History, and mis-represents facts in a wholesale manner. He goes on to say, “To take a man’s character for granted and then from his character to infer the moral quality of all his actions is surely a process the very reverse of that which is recommended in the Novum Organum.” What Macaulay does is to take it for granted that Bacon’s character was contemptible and from such a character to infer the immoral quality of all his actions, and then on these lines he goes on to say, “We shall attempt . . . to frame such an account of Bacon’s life as may enable our readers correctly to estimate his character.” Macaulay states that Bacon was a more illustrious man than Lord Burleigh, Sir Nicholas Bacon, Sir Walter Mildmay, Sir Thomas Smith or Sir Francis Walsingham. Illustrious means “distinguished by greatness, eminent, renowned, famous and honoured.” Having given Bacon those qualities, Macaulay, in his usual inconsistent manner, then makes an attempt to prove that Bacon was the exact opposite.

Macaulay wrote, “A serenity bordering on meanness . . . his fault was meanness of spirit. The mind of Waller . . . coincided with that of Bacon . . . a narrowness to the lowest degree, an abjectness and want of courage to support him in any virtuous undertaking.”

Professor Fowler wrote, “On the other hand, he was generous, open hearted, affectionate, peculiarly sensitive to kindness, and equally forgetful of injuries.”

Macaulay wrote, “Fearful even to a fault of offending the powerful . . . his supplications almost servile. He excused himself . . . in terms which must be considered as shamefully servile.”

Dr. Abbott wrote “ He must have been most of all a stranger amid the alien servility imposed upon him by the Court of King James. He was altogether too vast and grand for an easy flatterer.’’

If Bacon was servile as stated by Macaulay, how was it that Lord Burleigh wrote to him complaining of his arrogance and over weening which is the exact reverse of servile. Burleigh takes Bacon to task for not sufficiently cultivating the courtly subservience which was required in those days, and which has to some extent survived down to the present time. Even to-day civil servants always sign their letters “your obedient servant” and a man is addressed as “Esquire” although he has no right to this appellation.

Bacon, on Burleigh accusing him of “arrogancy and over weening,” replied as follows: “I find that such persons as are of nature as bashful as myself are often mistaken for proud. But I know well that arrogancy and over weening is so far from my nature, as if I think well of myself in any thing, it is this, that I am free from that vice.”

Dr. Abbott says, “Bacon had by nature a large faculty of hope, but it was hope from things that lay out of and beyond himself— he attached little importance to himself except as an instrument for their accomplishment. No correct notion can be formed of Bacon’s character till this suspicion of self conceit is scattered to the winds.”

With regard to Macaulay’s charge that Bacon was servile, Bacon in the “Advancement of Learning” recounts what happened to Aristippus, who was reproved for kneeling to the tyrant Dionysius to obtain his suit, and Aristippus’s reply, “It was not his fault but the fault of Dionysius that he had his ears in his feet.”

Macaulay wrote, “Once, however, he indulged in a burst of patriotism which cost him a long and bitter remorse and which he never ventured to repeat. The Court asked for large subsidies and for speedy payment. The remains of Bacon’s speech breathe all the spirit of the Long Parliament. ‘The gentlemen’ said he, ‘must sell their plate and the farmers their brass pots ere this will be paid, and for us we are here to search the wounds of the realm and not to skim them over. The dangers are these. First, we shall breed discontent and endanger her Majesty’s safety, which must consist more in the love of the people than their wealth: Secondly, this being granted in this sort, other Princes hereafter will look for the like, so that we shall put an evil precedent on ourselves and on our posterity, and in histories, it is to be observed of all nations the English are not to be subject base or taxable.’ The Queen and her Ministers resented this outbreak of public spirit in the highest manner. Indeed, many an honest member of the House of Commons, had, for a much smaller matter, been sent to the Tower by the proud and hot blooded Tudors. The young patriot condescended to make the most abject apologies. He adjured the Lord Treasurer to show some favour to his poor servant and ally. He bemoaned himself to the Lord Keeper in a letter which may keep in countenance the most unmanly of the epistles which Cicero wrote during his banishment. The lesson was not thrown away. Bacon never offended in the same manner again.”

Here are the facts suppressed by Macaulay.

Burghley sought from the House of Commons a very extra-ordinary grant of money and asked for a yearly subsidy of four shillings in the pound and requested the House of Commons to confer with the Peers on this grant of money for the Queen’s service. In the meantime, Burghley had called together a committee of the Peers and to the astonishment of the Commons Cecil reported to them the next day, “That the Peers had already decided for the Commons what they were to give and at what times: three subsidies in three years- four shillings in the pound each year. The Commons were furious- the matter being decided without their consent and they being robbed of even the credit of their own gifts. Bacon stood up and declared that he should not touch the proposed grant as no man would grudge the funds to fit out ships and man the guns, but that to give was the prerogative of the People—to dictate what they should give was not the Prerogative of the Lords. In framing the Bill the Lords had gone beyond their powers and he counselled the Commoners to decline any further conferences on a money bill. He prepared an answer to be sent to the Lords. This answer was referred to a committee of the Lords who, being unable to agree, returned it to the Commons. The courtiers sided with Cecil and the Reformers with Bacon for resisting an encroachment on the constitutional laws. Coke put the question, should there be a conference or not? 128 gentlemen cried yea: 217 gentlemen nay. Burghley was furious as this stopped the machinery of legislation and covered him and his friends with public shame, and he threatened Bacon with the Queen’s ire. Bacon in a spirited reply said that, “If words not used by him were put upon him, he would deny them, if his words were misunderstood, he would explain them; but to the sense of his speech he must hold fast. If her Highness, as they urged, was angry with him, he should grieve; if she commanded him into silence, he must obey, but in thwarting this invasion of popular rights by the House of Peers, he had done no more than his duty to his country and his Queen.” Does this sound like the “most abject apology” mentioned by Macaulay?

The chief charges that Macaulay makes against Bacon are-

1. That he betrayed his great friend The Earl of Essex by taking part in his trial and that he afterwards defamed his memory.

2. That he was responsible for the prosecution of Oliver St. John and for the torture of Edmund Peacham.

3. That he was guilty of taking bribes and perverting the course of justice.

These charges will be dealt with in turn.

Macaulay wrote, “When Essex was brought before the Council to answer for his conduct in Ireland, Bacon, after a faint attempt to excuse himself from taking part against his friend, submitted himself to the Queen’s pleasure and appeared at the bar in support of the charges.” This is not strictly true. Here are the facts. When Bacon was told that, like Yelverton, Coke and Fleming, he must bear his part in those proceedings, he wrote to the Queen, “That if she would be pleased to spare him from that service, he would esteem it one of her greatest favours, adding that he knew his duty and, if .she imposed the task upon him, no obligation to Particular Persons should supplant or weaken his devotion to her and to her service.” This is what Macaulay terms “a faint attempt to excuse himself.” It is nothing of the kind. Macaulay appears to have been entirely ignorant of the duties of the law officers in Elizabethan times. He seems to think that if a judge or counsel did not desire to take part in any proceedings, he had only to make a request to this effect and that such request would be granted. He could of course make such request, but it would be the last he would make before being removed to prison or the block. It was only Bacon’s friendship both with the Queen and Essex that justified him in asking to be excused from taking part in the prosecution of Essex. The moment the Queen refused it, his oath to the crown forced him to carry out his duties as an officer of the crown. Yelverton opened the charge, and he was followed by Coke, and then Bacon closed the case in an eloquent and memorable speech. He said that his own relations with Essex were now at an end, but he clearly spoke as the advocate of Essex rather than of the Queen’s, and although he charged Essex with using hasty expressions- he was careful to free him from the charges of disloyalty. There is no doubt whatever that Bacon’s speech at that time was instrumental in saving Essex from the block. Essex was released, but he had not learned his lesson, and very shortly afterwards ventured on a criminal enterprise which rendered him liable to the highest penalties of the Law.

When Essex was finally brought to book, Macaulay wrote, “Bacon did not even preserve neutrality. He appeared as counsel for the prosecution. He employed all his wit, his rhetoric and his learning, not to insure a conviction? for the circumstances were such that a conviction was inevitable,- but to deprive the unhappy prisoner of all those excuses which, though legally of no value, yet tended to diminish the moral guilt of the crime.” This is a travesty of the facts. Macaulay gives his readers the impression that Bacon was the sole prosecuting counsel: he suppresses the fact that Yelverton and Coke were also employed. Bacon had not sought the em-ployment neither did he shrink from it when it was forced upon him. He was called to his duty by an order of the council, which he had to obey as an officer of the crown. In his speech- although he condemned Essex’s offence- he abstained from any needless condemnation of the offender. Bacon in his speech appealed to Essex saying, “Oh my Lord, strive with yourself and strip off all excuses, the persons whom you aimed at, if you rightly understand it, are your best friends. All that you have said or can say, in answer to these matters, are but shadows. It were your best course to confess and not to justify.” Macaulay wrote, “(Essex) interrupted his ungrateful friend by calling on him to quit the part of an advocate, to come forward as a witness, and to tell the Lords whether, in old times, he, Francis Bacon, had not, under his own hand, repeatedly asserted the truth of what he now represented as idle pretexts.” This is not true. Essex declared that Bacon had once held a better opinion of him, had been the means of entreating the Queen for him, and had drafted a letter from him to Her Majesty. This declaration of Essex was true. Macaulay wrote, “Bacon returned a shuffling answer to the Earl’s question.” This is what Bacon said, “My Lord, I spent more hours to make you a good subject than upon any man in the world besides. But since you have stirred up this point, my Lord, I dare warrant you this letter will not blush; for I did but perform the part of an honest man, and ever laboured to do you good, if it might have been and to no other end.” This is what Macaulay calls “a shuffling answer.” Let the reader judge for himself if Macaulay was justified in making such an outrageous accusation.

Macaulay wrote, “Essex was convicted. Bacon made no effort to save him.” This is an abominable lie. Essex was deserted by all his former friends with one exception only and that was Bacon. Bacon went out of his way to try and persuade the Queen to show mercy. He pestered her continually on the subject; he lavished all his wit and eloquence on this ungrateful course. In a note to Essex’s former friend Lord Henry Howard he wrote, “I have been much bound to him. I have spent more time and more thought about his well being than I ever did about mine own.” On one occasion, Bacon said to the Queen, “In the case of my Lord of Essex, your princely word is, that you mean to reform his mind, not to ruin his fortune. Have you not drawn the tumour? Is it not time to apply the cure?” On another occasion she said to Bacon, “Speak to your business, speak for yourself; for the Earl not a word.”

Macaulay wrote that after Essex’s execution, “it is certain that his (Bacon’s) conduct excited at the time great and general disapprobation.” There is no evidence anywhere to support this statement of Macaulay’s. Essex was executed on 23rd February, 1601. In the following October Bacon was returned to Parliament as a member both for Ipswich and St. Albans, which does not bear out Macaulay’s statement as it is doubtful if Bacon would have been returned to Parliament if the electors had disapproved of his conduct in the trial of Essex.

Macaulay wrote, “Essex was convicted . . (The Queen) thought it expedient to publish a vindication of her late proceedings. The faithless friend, who had assisted in taking the Earl’s life, was now employed to murder the Earl’s fame.” The Queen had seen some of Bacon’s writings and had been pleased with them. He was accordingly selected to write “A Declaration of the Practices and Treasons attempted and committed by Robert Earl of Essex” which was printed by authority.”

Here are the facts. When law and justice were appeased, the Queen commanded Bacon to draw up for publication a brief and simple narrative of these events. Bacon was chosen because he was an expert on the writing of state papers. The Queen therefore requested him, on materials supplied by herself and the members of her Privy Council, to draft a state paper justifying her action in bringing Essex to trial for treason. Bacon, from the materials supplied, produced an account which was much more generous to Essex than to the Queen and which, in the opinion of the Queen, sounded like an excuse for the misdemeanours of Essex. She therefore with her own pen altered Bacon’s words justifying her own actions and returned the account to Bacon, requesting him to rewrite the whole paper. He did so, but not to the satisfaction of the Queen, so she altered it again and sent it to the printers. The paper as printed was not the original as conceived by Bacon but even so it was very moderate and contained very little beyond the needs of the case. The whole Declaration was so mercifully worded that it saved the memory of Essex from public execration, and this is what Macaulay calls “murdering the Earl’s fame.”

Having perused the true facts as set out above the reader may ask- what grounds has Macaulay for his wicked and outrageous statement that Bacon “exerted his professional talents to shed the Earl’s blood and his literary talents to blacken the Earl’s memory?”

Macaulay, dealing with the trial of Essex, wrote, “Mr. Montagu attempts to show that Bacon lay under greater obligations to the Queen than to Essex. What these obligations were it is not easy to discover.” It would have been quite easy for Macaulay to discover what those obligations were if he had taken the trouble to do so.

Bacon as one of the Queen’s counsel was called to his duty by the Crown. He owed his allegiance to his country and to the Queen. He was as much the Queen’s officer, armed with her commission, bound to obey her commands, as her Captain of the Guard.

With further reference to the trial of Essex Macaulay wrote, “Again, we can hardly think Mr. Montagu serious when he tells us that Bacon was bound for the sake of the public not to destroy his own hopes of advancement and that he took part against Essex from a wish to obtain power which might enable him to be useful to his country.”

Montagu does not tell us this. What Montagu said was, “He saw that if he (Bacon) did not plead against Essex all his hopes of advancement might, without any benefit to his friend, be destroyed, and if he did plead against him, he should be exposed to obliquy and misrepresentation,” which will not bear the construction that Macaulay puts on this paragraph.

The reader may say, “Granted that Essex was guilty I do think that as Bacon was a friend of Essex he ought to have refused to have taken any part in his trial.”

As Essex was clearly guilty of treason and was bound to be convicted, it did not matter if Bacon took any part in his trial or not, but if he had refused to do so, the consequences would have been disastrous to Bacon’s future. The reader must .remember that Francis Bacon when a youth of fifteen conceived his magnificent idea of educating the world by the publication of books on every conceivable subject. The reason for all Bacon’s actions lay in his deep laid plan for the universal reformation of the whole world through science and religion. The chief objects of his life were- the cause of reformed religion, the cause of his Queen and country, and of the human race through all its generations, and he was determined that nothing should prevent him from carrying out those aims. If his life were to be cut short before he could carry out his schemes, then all the work which he had done and which he intended to do for the advancement of learning and the benefit of the human race would be lost for ever.

Macaulay compares the character of Bacon with that of a man named Waller of the next generation. Macaulay wrote “The mind of Waller, as far as it extended, coincided with that of Bacon, and might so to speak have been cut out of that of Bacon. They wanted warmth of affection and elevation of sentiment. There were many things that they loved better than virtue, and which they feared more than guilt. Yet even after they had stooped to acts of which it is impossible to read the account in the most partial narratives without strong disapprobation and contempt, the public still continued to regard them with a feeling not easily to be distinguished from esteem.”

Who was this man Waller whom Macaulay considers had the same character as Bacon? Edmund Waller was born in 1606 and died in 1687. He was a renegade with no moral sense who sided first with the Roundheads and afterwards with the Cavaliers. In 1643 he hatched a plot to secure the City of London for Charles. The conspiracy was discovered and the conspirators seized. Waller tried to save himself by informing against his accomplices and his treachery won for him a much lighter sentence than he could have expected. Macaulay digresses for the purpose of comparing the character of Bacon with that of a despicable treacherous rogue in the next generation.

The reader is requested to turn back and read Bacon’s personal friends’ opinions as to his virtue and warmth of affection. If Bacon had been the man depicted by Macaulay, the public would not have regarded him with the esteem which they showed by returning him to Parliament for three constituencies at the same time, namely Ipswich, St. Albans and Cambridge, he being the only man in Parliament who could boast of a triple return.

Macaulay wrote, “Mr. Montagu’s notion that Bacon desired power only in order to do good to mankind appears somewhat strange to us, when we consider how Bacon afterwards used power and how he lost it. Surely, the service which he rendered to mankind by taking Lady Wharton’s broad pieces and Sir John Kennedy’s cabinet was not of such vast importance as to sanctify all the means which might conduce to that end. If the case were fairly stated it would, we much fear, stand thus: Bacon was a servile advocate, that he might be a corrupt judge.” This paragraph is typical of Macaulay’s method. He makes innuendoes without giving his readers the facts. He suppresses the fact that Lady Wharton’s gift was openly made in the presence of two clerks, and that Kennedy’s present of a cabinet was never accepted, Bacon having heard that the artizan who made it had never been paid for such services by Kennedy.

 

2. OLIVER ST. JOHN

 

Macaulay wrote, “When Oliver St. John was brought before the Star Chamber for maintaining that the King had no right to levy benevolences, and was for his manly and constitutional conduct sentenced to imprisonment during the Royal pleasure and to a fine of £5,000, Bacon appeared as counsel for the prosecution.” Benevolences were free gifts made by the Towns and private individuals to enable the King to maintain the Navy and for other public purposes. No rate was laid down- no one was forced to give (although incurring the Kings displeasure if they did not give)—so it is absurd to write about the King levying benevolences. St. John was not content merely to decline to give- he would not let other people give, and wrote a letter to the Mayor of Marlborough in which he declared that the King, in asking his people for a free gift of money, was violating his oath. This letter was not only scandalous to the King, but also injurious to the National cause. St. John was only a lying politician and when caught recanted his words and whined for mercy. It is difficult to understand why Macaulay considered St. John to be a hero for maintaining that benevolences were illegal. Bacon, when prosecuting St. John, did not defend the raising of money by benevolences, but he proved that the particular benevolence denounced by St. John as a violation of the King’s oath had no character of a forced loan. For Macaulay to write that the St. John case was an example of Bacon perverting the laws of England to the violent purposes of tyranny is sheer nonsense.

 

EDMUND PEACHAM

 

Macaulay wrote, “An aged clergyman, of the name of Peacham, was accused of treason on account of some passages of a sermon, which was found in his study. The sermon, whether written by him or not, had never been preached. It did not appear that he had any intention of preaching it.” Macaulay suppressed the fact that the records of her Majesty’s State Paper Office contain clear evidence that Peacham was one of the most despicable wretches who ever brought shame and trouble on the Church, evidence that he was a libeller and liar, evidence that he was a scandalous minister, evidence that he had outraged his bishop by a scandalous personal libel, and evidence that he had done his worst to get the patron to whom he owed his living hung. Macaulay gives his readers the impression that Peacham was a poor inoffensive old clergyman instead of a vicious old sinner who deserved to be hung.

It was only Macaulay’s prejudice against Bacon that made him single Bacon out for special condemnation in this case. Macaulay says that Bacon was employed “to settle the question of fact by torturing the prisoner.” The warrant for the torture of Peacham was issued by The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Treasurer, the Lord Steward, the Lord Privy Seal, the principal Secretary for State, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Master of the Rolls and Lord Stanhope. Bacon had nothing whatever to. do with the warrant but he was one of the persons to whom it was addressed as an officer of the crown—he did not instigate the torture but was called upon to be present only in the discharge of his official duties.

Macaulay seems to have been quite ignorant of the law. He should have known that the judges and members of the Bar have to swear an oath of fealty to their sovereign and undertake to carry out the law of the land, whether it be right or wrong. If there happened to be a judge who personally did not believe in capital punishment but who was presiding in a murder case where the jury had found the prisoner guilty- Macaulay apparently would say, that as the judge did not believe in capital punishment,. he would have the right to refuse to pronounce the death sentence, in spite of his oath to carry out the law of the land. If he did so, he would quite rightfully be dismissed and punished. Bacon in the case of Peacham was exactly in the same position- if he refused to carry out his duties he might have been sent to the block.

Macaulay says that Peacham was examined by Bacon. There is no authority for this statement. The report of the first examination is in the handwriting of Winwood and the second examination is expressly stated to be made by four law officers, none of which was Bacon. How does Macaulay know that Bacon went to the Tower “to listen to the yells of Peacham”? There is no evidence of this, so it is quite unfair criticism.

Macaulay wrote, “No confession could be wrung out of him; and Bacon wrote to the King complaining that he had a dumb devil.”

This is what Bacon wrote to King James, “It grieveth me exceedingly that your Majesty should be so much troubled with this matter of Peacham, whose raging devil seems to have turned into a dumb devil. But although we are driven to make our way through questions (that is torture) which I wish were otherwise yet I hope with the end will be good.” Here Bacon expresses the wish that it had not been necessary to resort to torture, which does not agree with Macaulay’s innuendo that Bacon approved of torture.

Macaulay wrote that, “The years during which Bacon held the Great Seal were among the darkest and most shameful in English History.” This can only be read as an innuendo that it was because Bacon was Lord Chancellor that these years were dark and shameful, which is totally unwarranted and inexcusable in any honest biographer.

Macaulay wrote “The difference between the soaring angel and the creeping snake was but a type of the difference between Bacon the philosopher and Bacon the Attorney general, Bacon seeking for truth and Bacon seeking for the Seals.” This shows malice and passes the bounds of even unfair criticism. It is totally untrue and uncalled for, and is an example of Macaulay exerting all the resources of rhetoric to show off his own cleverness. It is gross injustice and contemptible, and a warning to his readers to be chary in accepting the opinion of a man who could write in such a vein, and Lord Acton was perfectly justified in describing Macaulay as “mean, con-temptible, and base.”

Macaulay, referring to an interview which Bacon had with Buckingham, wrote, “He flung himself on the floor, kissed the favourite’s feet and vowed never to rise until he was forgiven. Sir Anthony Weldon, on whose authority this story rests, is likely enough to have exaggerated the meanness of Bacon and the insolence of Buckingham. But it is difficult to imagine that so circumstantial a narrative written by a person who avers that he was present on the occasion, can be wholly without foundation, and unhappily there is little in the character either of the favourite or of the Lord Keeper to make the narrative improbable.” Macaulay does not mention that Montagu in his book, which Macaulay was reviewing, refers to numerous falsehoods of Weldon. Macaulay made no inquiry as to the bona fides of Weldon- if he had troubled to do so- he would have found that Weldon was a Court scandalmonger, a lover of filth, a circulator of scandal, a writer without veracity, who delighted in disparagement, and who was capable of gross and circumstantial misrepresentation. Any statement from such a man is suspect and of no value whatsoever.

Mr. Spedding dismisses as not deserving to be so much as quoted the above story, which Macaulay considers to be true on the authority of a thorough paced scoundrel like Sir Anthony Weldon.

Macaulay wrote, “He (Bacon) suffered Buckingham to dictate many of his decisions. Bacon knew as well as any man that a judge who listens to private solicitations is a disgrace to his post. He had himself, before he was raised to the woolsack, represented this strongly to Villiers, then just entering on his career. ‘By no means,’ said Sir Francis, in a letter of advice addressed to the young courtier, ‘by no means be you persuaded to interpose yourself, either by word or letter, in any cause depending in any court of justice, nor suffer any great man to do it where you can hinder it. If it should prevail, it perverts justice; but, if the judge be so just and of such courage as he ought to be, as not to be inclined thereby, yet it always leaves a taint of suspicion behind it.’ Yet he had not been Lord Keeper a month when Buckingham began to interfere in Chancery suits; and Buckingham’s interference was, as might have been expected, successful.”

Buckingham wrote a letter to Bacon in which he said, “Sir John Wentworth, whose business I now recommend, is a gentleman whom I esteem in more than an ordinary degree, and therefore I desire your lordship to show him what favour you can for my sake in his suit which his Majesty hath referred unto your lordship.” Bacon expostulated against Buckingham’s interference. Bacon could not stop Buckingham from writing letters such as this—the only thing he could do would be to ignore them, and there is no evidence that this attempted interference ever led Bacon to pervert justice.

* * *

Before coming to the question of Bribery and Corruption, it is necessary to say something about “The Monopolies” as they were the primary cause of Bacon’s fall.

King James was always in need of money and to get this he insisted on his feudal rights and the letting of Monopolies and patents so that no one could deal in certain commodities unless a patent was purchased. Monopolies of every description were granted to Buckingham and his hangers on, who bled the citizens of London causing great indignation and a constant outcry at the rapacity of the Monopoly owners in exacting large fees. King James himself was at the head of this despicable gang and shared in the proceeds. Macaulay blames Bacon for sealing the patents granted to two rascals, Sir Giles Mompesson and Sir Francis Michell, in respect of the exclusive manufacture of gold and silver lace. Questions had arisen as to whether the King had power to grant these monopolies as part of his feudal rights but, until the question was settled, they were legal and Bacon had no option but to seal them. Macaulay implies that Bacon approved of those monopolies, which is untrue because Bacon in his “Letter of Advice to Villiers” said, “Care must be taken that monopolies, which are the canker of all trades, be by no means admitted under the pretence of the specious colour of the Public Good.”

To settle the question whether Monopolies were valid or not, a King’s Council was called termed “the Referees” as a result of advice which Bacon in his capacity of Lord Keeper gave to King James, as Bacon himself was concerned because as Lord Keeper of the Great Seal all monopolies had to be sealed by him. The King very grudgingly gave his consent, which was necessary as any matter touching the King’s prerogative could not be dealt with without it. Bacon reported that “The King did wisely put it upon a consult whether the patents were at this time to be removed by Act of Council before Parliament.” A meeting of the Referees was called at which Bacon presided and gave his opinion that patents and monopolies were right in law but wrong in convenience and action and that any that were being exploited for private gain and not for the national interest should be declared illegal. He said that he was opposed to them on principle and advised that all indefeasible and obnoxious patents be cancelled. The King and Buckingham natur-ally objected to this as they were both sharing in the profits and, as the majority of the Referees knew this, they dare not vote against the King’s wishes, so on a count being taken it was found that the majority had decided that the King possessed the necessary legal rights. Francis Bacon voted with the minority against the continuation of patents and monopolies and this disposes of Macaulay’s unfair insinuation that Bacon approved of them. As mentioned, the Referees had decided that patents and monopolies were legal. In spite of this, when Parliament assembled in January 1621, the Commons were sick of King James’ extravagance. They were determined to obtain redress of the grievances caused by the Monopoly Patents and all members knew that it was intended to attack these offensive patents and the abuses caused by their collection, and that it had been decided to question their legality once more. Although Bacon had voted at the meeting of the Referees against the continuation of the Monopoly Patents, yet, as the person presiding over the Referees, he was technically responsible for the Referees’ decision that the Monopoly Patents were valid, and this gave Sir Edward Coke, Bacon’s inveterate enemy, the opportunity that he had been looking for to ruin Bacon. He moved that there should be a committee to enquire into “The Grievances of Monopolies.” A committee was appointed who decided that the Monopoly Patents were invalid and reported accordingly to the Commons, who as a first step proceeded against Sir Giles Mompesson and Sir Francis Michell— the former fleeing the country and the latter being sent to the Tower. Coke with his two jackals, Cranfield and Phillips, then attacked the Referees by name, Coke saying that,” Enough had been done to condemn Mompesson, let us now go deeper,” followed by Phillips who said that, “The Lord Chancellor was one of the Referees” and was backed up by Cranfield who said, “The Referees are the guilty men.”

There was next a conference with the Lords in which the Referees were named with the Lord Chancellor at the head, it being clear that, under a pretext of a general attack on the Referees, Francis Bacon was the one man whom the House were disposed to make the scape-goat, in spite of the fact that he had voted against the Monopolies when the question first cropped up.

King James, afraid of the wrath of his people against himself and his favourite who had benefitted from the Monopolies, appeared before the House of Lords and threw the whole blame on the Referees—saying, “I am not guilty of those grievances which have been discovered. I grounded my judgment upon others who have misled me.”

 

THE CHARGE OF BRIBERY AND CORRUPTION

 

In the meantime, Coke had been busy with the setting up of another committee to enquire into “The abuses of the Courts of Justice and to receive complaints from litigants with particular reference to the Court of Chancery.” Even then Bacon did not realise that there was a plot against him, because the Reform of the Law had been his theme for over thirty years. In his own court there were no arrears or unheard cases. In the first four terms he had made no less than 8798 orders and decrees—not a single one of which had ever been questioned. He welcomed the enquiry and told the Commons that they had his full leave to make any searches in his court that they might think fit. (Does this sound like the action of a man who knew that he had been guilty of bribery and corruption?) Coke was jubilant that Bacon had fallen into the trap—because he knew that without Bacon’s consent— no inquiries could be made.

Coke, with great ingenuity, had made his preparations beforehand.

It must be explained that the Lord Chancellor on being appointed to his office had the power to make new rules but he had no power to appoint a new staff as he had to take over the existing staff. He also had. no power to dismiss his staff, even for gross misconduct, his only power was to suspend them from active duty. Among the Chancery staff was a man John Churchil, who had been pocketing the fees and cheating the clients. Complaints were made against Churchil, so Bacon suspended Churchil from his duties and thus made an enemy of him for life. As Bacon had no power to dismiss him, he forbade Churchil’s appearance in court and hinted at a prosecution in the King’s Bench.

Coke heard of this incident, got in touch with Churchil and, between them, they engineered a plot for Bacon’s destruction.

Coke employed Churchil to nose round and see if he could find any discontented litigants in the Chancery Court. Churchil, who had been registrar of the court, had been privy to the entry of all orders and to the payment of all fines and fees. He knew every knave who had been exposed and every man who might bear a grudge against the Lord Chancellor. Churchil was successful so, on the 14th March, the Commons heard a rumour that a charge was to be preferred against the Lord Chancellor for bribery and corruption. The next .day, Sir Robert Philips reported to the House that two witnesses, Kit Aubrey and Edward Egerton, were prepared to make complaints against the Lord Chancellor. Those two men came up to the Bar and told their story. Aubrey said that having a suit in Chancery he was advised by his counsel to send a present of £100 to the court- this sum he paid to Sir George Hastings. Egerton said that he had presented the Lord Chancellor with a basin and ewer worth fifty guineas and then on the persuasion of Sir George Hastings and Sir Richard Young had given them a purse of £500. Each complained that, though he had paid his money, he got nothing by his gift. Bacon on hearing of these accusations sent for Hastings and Young.

To Hastings he said, “What is this story about the £100?” Hastings replied that it was true that he had taken the money from Aubrey. Bacon was amazed and, in the presence of Lord Cavendish, said that until that moment he had never even heard of Aubrey’s fee or bribe and that he must deny it on his honour. To Young he said, “And what is this story of the Purse?” Young replied that he had received from Egerton the sum of £500. Bacon turned to Lord Cavendish and said, “Take note my Lord, if they say I took this money, it is a falsehood and I shall deny it on my honour.” The next day Hastings confessed that he had taken Aubrey’s money and kept it himself.

By their own confessions Hastings and Young were rogues and, when Sir Thomas Wentworth on the floor of the House of Commons denounced them as guilty men, they remained silent. Let it be remembered that Bacon had pronounced judgment against both Aubrey and Egerton, which is sufficient evidence that he had never accepted bribes from either of them. The Commons moved that these two accusations should be laid before the Peers as a mere relation “without prejudice or opinion.” On the 20th March the two cases were accordingly sent to the House of Lords. Bacon at once wrote a letter to the Lords saying that, “He would be glad to preserve his honour and fame, so far as he was worthy, hearing that some complaints of base bribery were come before their Lordships and requesting that they would maintain him in their good opinion until his case be heard.” Coke now produced a list of criminal abuses prepared by Churchil, who had been raking over all the cases tried by Bacon, the result being twenty two cases in which bribery was alleged. Bacon had pronounced judgment during a period of four years in over 8000 cases and the combined skill of Coke and the roguery of Churchil could only frame accusations in twenty-two cases.

Churchil now appeared before the Commons, when Sir Thomas Meautys at once protested that a forger, rogue and cheat by his. own confession should not be heard or any credence paid to his. stories. The case proceeded, but in not one of these twenty-two cases could it be shown that any fee traced to the Chancellor could, by any fair construction, be called a bribe—none appeared to have been given on any promise made, none appeared to have been given in secret, none appeared to have corrupted justice.

Now read Macaulay’s garbled version of the charges of corruption against Bacon.

Macaulay wrote, “It was some time before Bacon began to entertain any apprehension.” Apprehension of what? Macaulay does not say but he evidently implies that Bacon had been guilty of something which had not been brought to light, which is a most unfair insinuation. Macaulay then gives his readers the impression that Aubrey and Egerton were two poor innocents who had been persuaded to give bribes to Bacon in the hope that he could be persuaded to give verdicts in their favour. Macaulay says that the Chancellor took the money, a lie which Bacon at once nailed down. He then speaks of the Chancellor’s jackals, giving his readers the impression that Bacon kept a gang of men whom he employed to persuade litigants in his court to make presents to get verdicts given in their favour, which is another lie. Macaulay then says that the evidence to these facts was overwhelming. The evidence was not overwhelming- there was no evidence at all which would support any charges of corruption. In the twenty-two cases, the gifts were openly made not to Bacon himself, but to an officer of his court. It is perfectly clear that no man in his senses would have done an illegal and immoral act in the company of any officer of his court, nor would Bacon have been such a fool as to brave exposure of his fraud by turning out Churchil, who was a proved extortioner, forger and thief.

At this point it is necessary to digress, because the reader, if he is unfamiliar with the method of rewarding officials for their services in Elizabethan times, is quite likely to say, “Whether Bacon was guilty or not, it was an immoral proceeding for him to receive presents from litigants whether or no they were given to influence verdicts.” In those days there was no civil list. Very few officials received salaries, they had to keep up their establishments and make their fortunes out of fees and gifts. From the Lord Chancellor downwards, all the functionaries of law and justice took fees. In the Courts of Justice the amount of the fee was left open, but a fee was due and paid for every act done. A judge was not considered to be a public servant (as he is to-day) but his income depended on the fees which he received. No fixed salary was paid to the Lord Chancellor but the place was worth between ten and fifteen thousand pounds a year- derived from fees. The Attorney General’s place was worth six thousand pounds a year- his fixed salary was £81 6s. 8d. a year. The Solicitor General’s place was worth three thousand a year- his fixed salary was £70 a year. All these men lived in great style and were able to accumulate .goods and land. Their wages were the fees paid by those who resorted to justice in their courts. The gifts and presents made by the litigants were termed fees. This was a system which ought to have been abolished by law and this was the personal opinion of Bacon, .and he was no doubt referring to this when he said that he welcomed the inquiry suggested by Coke into the abuses of the Courts of Justice. Bacon had not invented this system of rewarding the Court officials, which was immemorial, but so long as it was in existence Bacon had to abide by it. Macaulay admits that these practices were common, but he goes on to say that, “They were common though prohibited by law.”

They were not prohibited by law and Macaulay, if he had any knowledge of the subject on which he was writing, which appears extremely doubtful, must have known that they were universal, that they were according to the manner and custom of those times, and were operative in all the law courts and were not peculiar to Bacon alone. The taking of presents by the Judges and their officials was a custom and not a crime, so Macaulay’s statement, “though many were guilty of them, none had the audacity publicly to avow and defend them,” is a deliberate falsehood.

Macaulay wrote on the question of bribes, “The amount of the plunder, which he collected in this way, it is impossible to estimate. There can be no doubt that he received very much more than was proved on his trial.” This is a wilful distortion of the facts. Macaulay uses the words proved on his trial: the fact being that there was no trial at all. Bacon pleaded guilty for the reason which will be shown later. Macaulay implies that Bacon gained a great fortune through bribery. Coke and Popham were both servile and corrupt and they both left immense fortunes. If Bacon was also servile and corrupt, why did he not do likewise? Why, among the great lawyers of his time, was he the only one to die poor?

To proceed with the story.

At the preliminary inquiry Coke construed every fee paid into a bribe- on the other hand Heneage Finch denied that any fee could be called a bribe unless it could be shown to have been taken as part of a contract to pervert justice, and asked how could a judge retain in his recollection the name of every suitor in his court? The House of Commons consented to let the case go to the Lords, but as an inquiry only and not as an impeachment. They said that they wished the system of fees amended but that they did not make a personal charge against the Lord Chancellor.

Bacon, in letters addressed to the King, the favourite Buck-ingham, and the House of Lords, said, “There are three degrees or cases, as I conceive, of gifts or rewards given to a judge. The First is- of bargain, contract, or promise of reward, pendente lite. And this is properly called Venalis sententiae, or baratua,. or corruptelae numerum, and of this my heart tells me I am innocent; that I had no bribe or reward in my eye or thought when I pronounced my sentence or order.

“The second is-—a neglect of a judge to inform himself whether the cause be fully at an end or not, what time he receives the gift, but takes it upon the credit of the party that all is done, or otherwise omits to enquire.

“And the third is- when it is received, sine fraude, after the cause is ended; which it seems, by the opinion of civilians, is. no offence.

“Only the first of these cases, a contract to defeat justice for a personal gain implies moral guilt or invites legal censure.

“For the first, I take myself to be as innocent as any babe born on St. Innocent’s day in my heart.

“For the second, I doubt in some particulars I may be faulty, and for the last, I conceive it to be no fault.”

On the 19th day of March, the case going to the Lords- they appointed committees to examine the witnesses sent them from the Commons and to investigate the matter. On hearing that the case had gone to the Peers Bacon at last realized that he was in the toils and that Coke meant his ruin, as the majority of the Peers were followers of Buckingham and would give their votes as he decided.

Macaulay wrote, “The Commons were not disposed to depart from their regular course of proceedings. On the same day they held a conference with the Lords and delivered in the heads of the accusations against the Chancellor. At this conference Bacon was not present. Overwhelmed with shame and remorse and abandoned by all those in whom he had weakly put his trust, he had shut himself up in his chamber from the eyes of men. It appears from a pathetic letter which the unhappy man addressed to the Peers on the day of the conference that he neither expected nor wished to survive his disgrace.” These statements by Macaulay are totally untrue. Bacon was not overwhelmed with shame and remorse as he knew that he was innocent. What Macaulay calls a pathetic letter was instead of being pathetic a very spirited one in which he asked the Peers, “To maintain him in their good opinion until his cause be heard, to give him convenient time to advise with his counsel and to make his answer, and that he might be allowed to object to the witnesses brought against him and to move questions for their cross examinations, and that he might be allowed to make answer to the complaints, according to the Rules of Justice.” In Macaulay’s eyes this is a letter showing that Bacon neither expected or wished to survive his disgrace. On the contrary— it shows quite clearly that Bacon intended to defend the charges against him. After referring to the letter which Bacon had written to the Peers Macaulay wrote, “During several days, he remained in his bed, refusing to see any human being. He passionately told his attendants to leave him, to forget him, never to name his name, never to remember that there had been such a man in the world.” There is not a word of truth in this statement, which was inserted by Macaulay in order to try and show what a contemptible man Bacon was in his opinion.

The King and Buckingham were aghast at the thought that Bacon intended to defend himself- a defence was the very last thing that the King, Buckingham or Coke wanted. They knew if Bacon’s defence was successful, and that if he was acquitted, the wrath of the people must fall on the King and his favourite, that the vexed questions of the Monopolies would arise once more, that the gross immorality of the court, the squandering of public moneys by King James, and Coke’s conspiracy against Bacon would all be disclosed. Buckingham visited Bacon to enquire if he really meant to defend himself. Bacon in an indignant letter to Buckingham said “I know I have clean hands and a clean heart” and two days after in another letter to Buckingham Bacon wrote, “I praise God for it, I never took a penny for any benefice or ecclesiastical living, I never took a penny for releasing anything I stopped at the Seal, I never took a penny for commission on things of that nature, I never shared with any servant for any second or ulterior profit.” These letters and the previous letter to the House of Lords protesting his innocence are either deliberately suppressed by Macaulay or else he was not aware of them; if he was not aware of them it shows his ignorance of his subject. The King and Buckingham now knew that Bacon was determined to defend the charges in spite of the fact that he had not been supplied with a list of the alleged offences- a copy of Aubrey’s petition was refused him, neither was he supplied with particulars of Churchil’s evidence. Macaulay wrongfully writes of Bacon’s Trial. There was no Trial. At a Trial, the defendant appears to answer charges of which he has been given particulars.

A few days after on 26th March Parliament was adjourned, Bacon retired to his country seat at Gorhambury, riding there accompanied by a large retinue of his friends, who so showed their belief in his innocence. On arriving at Gorhambury he started on the preparation of his defence, being resolved to battle for his honour in spite of the hostile attitude of the King and Buckingham. If the Lords had already made up their minds to brand him as a criminal- he had made up his mind that it should only be after a public Trial, so that there should be a full record made to enable future generations to judge whether he was guilty or innocent.

The day before the re-opening of Parliament on 17th April, Bacon was fully prepared to face all his accusers. On the following day a bombshell fell when it became known that Bacon had deserted his defence and was prepared to plead guilty to all the charges. What had happened during those days to cause Bacon to plead guilty? Here are the facts. On the 16th day of April King James commanded the Lord Chancellor’s attendance at Whitehall and there ordered him not to resist the charges, as resistance would be injurious both to the King and Buckingham, and implored Bacon to abandon his defence, to yield his place, and trust his honour and his safety to the Crown.

What could Bacon do? Bacon had never allowed his own interests to interfere or conflict with the interests of the State. He wrote, “Of Majesty, it is the centre of the State and must be so regarded. The safety and honour of the Monarch is the country’s good, and wise deference to the wishes of Majesty is the common duty of the subject.” Bacon’s fall from power was owing to the fact that this conception of majesty was a guiding motive throughout the whole of his career. He never opposed the wishes of the reigning sovereign unless he thought that such wishes were unreasonable, when he spoke out boldly without regard to the consequences. Bacon was no servile courtier as depicted by Macaulay. This was his plea when he argued with, and wrote letters to, Essex in an endeavour to get Essex to return to his allegiance to the Crown. It was the same plea which caused him to take part in the prosecution by the Crown when the guilt of Essex could no longer be doubted- all attempts which Bacon had made for a reconciliation having failed. It was the same plea which led him to plead guilty to charges of which he knew himself to be quite innocent. The King could do no wrong- the King commanded so he must be obeyed, although Bacon had to pay the price of his own loyalty to his sovereign lord.

Bacon passionately remonstrated with the King for calling upon him to plead guilty and abandon his defence, but all remonstrances proved fruitless, so Bacon took leave of the King saying, “I was the first of sacrifices in your times; so may I be the last.” The King at once informed the Lords that he had seen the Lord Chancellor and the nature of his request, that he had referred Bacon to the Lords, and that therefore his Majesty willed his Lordship to make report to their Lordships. On 27th April the Prince of Wales signified unto the Lords that the Lord Chancellor had sent a submission to the Lords which had previously been approved by Buckingham and the King. In this letter, which Macaulay describes as an artful and pathetic composition, Bacon wrote, “I do ingenously confess and acknowledge that, having understood the particulars of the charge, not formally from the House but enough to inform my conscience and memory, I find matter sufficient and full to move me to desert the defence and to move your Lordships to condemn and censure me.”

Artful and pathetic composition.—Macaulay purposely uses the word artful with a sinister meaning which the letter does not justify. In this letter Bacon also professes ‘gladness in some things’: ‘The first is, that hereafter the greatness of a judge or magistrate shall be no sanctuary or protection of guiltiness; which, in few words, is the beginning of a golden world. The next, that after this example, it is like that judges will fly from anything that is in the likeness of corruption (though it were at a great distance), as from a serpent; which tendeth to the purging of the courts of justice, and the reducing them to their true honour and splendour. And in these two points God is my witness that, though it be my fortune to be the anvil whereupon these good effects are beaten and wrought, I take no small comfort.’ (Spedding, ‘Letters,’ VII, 242).

On this letter being read Lord Southampton at once said, “There is no confession of any corruption in the Lord Chancellor’s submission. It is necessary to have the party hear the charge and we to hear the party’s answers.” The Lords demanded that Bacon should plead guilty to each particular offence. Bacon’s submission as worded by him was not enough, as it contained no plea of guilty. Without a plea of guilty the House of Lords were powerless for the following reasons: (1) no part of the case against Bacon had been proved; (2) no court to try him had been constituted; (3) no evidence against him had been taken under cross examination; (4) no particulars of the charges against him had been supplied to him and (5) no counsel in his defence had been heard. And yet Macaulay in his ignorance writes about Bacon’s Trial! The Lords could not vote on rumour alone- what they must have was a plea of guilty, so particulars on the charges of corruption were at last sent to Bacon. This was the first time he had ever seen the details. The list contained particulars of twenty-two counts.

Bacon in four years had given judgment in over 8,000 cases. Churchil in raking through all these could only find twenty-two where there was a suspicion of any bribery, and in those twenty two cases only 12 persons were found who were willing to come forward and give evidence. Eight of the counts fell through as they were not suits in law but debt cases or arbitrations: ten of them were cases where the fees had been paid long after the cases had been decided, which left four cases out of 8,000 suits. What are we to think of Macaulay who wrote that, “The evidence of bribery was overhwhelming and the amount of the plunder which he collected it is impossible to estimate. There can be no doubt that he received very much more than was proved at his trial.” Four possible cases out of 8,000!

Thus we find that, on a scrutiny, unparalleled for rigour and vindictiveness, with the exception of four doubtful cases not a single fee traced to Bacon himself could be called a bribe— not one appeared to have been given on any promise, not one appeared to have been given in secret, not one appeared to have corrupted justice. Yet Bacon had promised King James to plead guilty, so on 30th April he sent to the House of Lords a confession in which pleaded guilty, answering the various counts fully. He admitted the receipt of several gifts, fines, fees and presents, some by his officers, some by himself. If the receipt of such fees and gifts is held by the Peers to be proof of corruption, he confesses to the offence. But nowhere does he admit, nowhere does he allow his judges to infer, that he has ever accepted a fee or reward to pervert justice.

On 3rd May, the Peers met, the charges and submission were read, and then the Peers adjourned to consider what sentence should be passed. The House being in committee no details of the speeches are on record. On resuming, the Lords, having agreed upon their sentence, sent a message to the House of Commons to say that they were ready to give judgment. The Commons came, headed by the Speaker, who in their name demanded and prayed judgment against the Lord Chancellor as the nature of his offence and demerits demanded. The Lord Chief justice then gave judgment?

(1) That the Lord Viscount St. Alban, Lord Chancellor of England shall undergo fine and ransom of £40,000.

(2) That he shall be imprisoned in the Tower during the King’s pleasure.

(3) That he shall for ever be incapable of any office, place, or employment, in the State or Commonwealth.

(4) That he shall never sit in Parliament nor come within the verge of the Court.

Bacon received the Verdict in the spirit in which they passed it, as a necessary consequence of his plea of guilty, but neither the King, nor the Lords, nor the public, nor he himself , considered it as an act to be enforced. Macaulay’s comment on the sentence is, “In such misery and shame ended that long career of worldly wisdom and worldly prosperity.

As against Macaulay’s statement, it may be pointed out that the most noble and generous men, the most upright judges, the best scholars, the most pious clergymen, all gathered round Bacon in his adversity, more loving, more reverential than they had been in his days of splendour. Does Macaulay think that men such as the Bishops Andrewes, Neile and Montague; the Earls of Arundel, Pembroke, Dorset and Montgomery, the Lords Mandeville, Digby and Cavendish, the Knights and Baronets Greville, Cotton, Danvers and Saville, the writers Selden, Jonson, Herbert and Hobbes, would still have remained Bacon’s closest friends if he had been guilty? Would they have corresponded and associated with a convicted rogue? Macaulay states that Bacon was abandoned by all those in whom he had put his trust. The attitude ofall those men to Bacon proves the falseness of Macaulay’s statement. They knew the truth. How could a rogue inspire in these men the admiration, affection, esteem and reverence with which they regarded Francis Bacon?

When Bacon was sentenced— did the reformers proceed with the reformation of the Court of Chancery or any inquiry into the evil practices of the King’s Bench? They did not. All such questions were dropped, which shows clearly that they were simply a pretext to remove Bacon from office. The plot having succeeded so well, the old abuses still continued and the officials still continued to receive presents and fees and the vaunted desires of the Government for reform died off. Bacon’s situation grew less painful- the fine was remitted, his freedom was restored, he applied to Parliament for a complete reversal of his sentence, which was granted, and his annuity of £1,200 was restored.

If Bacon had really been guilty, why was the verdict more or less quashed, and why was he almost immediately released and the fine remitted? Two days after his conviction Bacon wrote to the Duke of Buckingham as follows:

“Good my Lord, procure the warrant for my discharge this day. . . When I am dead, he is .gone that was always a true and perfect servant to his master, and one that was never author of any immoderate, no, nor unsafe, nor unfortunate counsel, and one that no temptation could ever make other than a trusty and honest and thrice loving friend to your Lordship; and howsoever I acknowledge the sentence just, and for reformation sake fit, the justest Chancellor that hath been in the five changes since Sir Nicholas Bacon’s time. Your Lordship’s true friend, living and dying, Fr. St. Alban. Tower, 31st May, 1621.”

Does this letter sound like the letter of a guilty man or a cringing, whining prisoner, or does it sound like the letter of a man who knew he was innocent and therefore demandednot asked for—his immediate release?

The man whom Macaulay has so wickedly libelled was restored to his legal rights, recalled to his seat among the Peers and surrounded by his friends, all men of the highest types of piety and scholarship, devoted the remainder of his days to his literary work, at last at peace with the world.

It is interesting to note the fate that befell the men who were the cause of Bacon’s fall. Coke was permanently degraded from the Privy Council and banished from the Court. Cranfield was found guilty of accepting bribes and sentenced to lose all offices, to be imprisoned in the Tower, and ordered to pay a fine of £50,000. Churchil, who had been up to his old tricks again, was convicted of forgery and fraud, and Buckingham was assassinated. Each of these men had in turn been overwhelmed with misery and shame, but Bacon felt no joy in their misfortunes. He spoke no evil word of these three men- breathed no word against the House of Commons, nor questioned the justice of the House of Lords, which was. in keeping with his character as depicted by his personal friends and contemporaries. He knew that the time would come when the truth would prevail and in his last will declared, “For my name and memory I leave it to men’s charitable speeches, and to foreign nations and the next ages.”

It is strange to think that the world has relied on Macaulay for a true estimate of the character of Francis Bacon—a noble man who devoted the whole of his life and all his money and resources, to the welfare of his fellow men.

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