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Bacon, Francis

Bacon, Francis, Lord Verulam and Viscount St. Alban, born 1561 in the Strand, was the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, the famous Lord Keeper. His mother was Anne Cooke, whose eldest sister was married to Lord Burleigh. He had a brother, Anthony, two years his elder. Both of them matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1573. Little is known of Francis Bacon at the University. He appears to have been a delicate youth, but quick and studious. According to tradition Queen Elizabeth herself noted his ability. In 1576 he was admitted to Gray's Inn, and went to Paris with Sir Amyas Paulet, the British Ambassador. He remained in France till the sudden death of his father in 1579, when he returned, and finding himself scantily provided for, settled down to the profession of the bar. In 1584 he took his seat in the House of Commons as member for Melcombe Regis, representing Taunton two years later, and Liverpool in 1588. At this period he was evidently anxious to secure some official position which would allow him to follow up the philosophical aims that he already had in view, but, though he received the reversion of the valuable clerkship to the Star Chamber, this place did not fall vacant for twenty years, and meanwhile he was in very straitened circumstances, his habits being decidedly extravagant. In 1593 he was returned for Middlesex. His opposition to the interference of the Lords in a matter of supply and to the granting of a threefold subsidy in less than six years incurred the queen's displeasure. He had already attached himself strongly to the Earl of Essex, but even the influence of the favourite was unable to procure him the post either of Attorney or Solicitor-General. He was, however, employed occasionally in legal business by the Crown, was made a Queen's Counsel, and received a grant of land and a gift also from his patron. He was again disappointed in seeing Lady Hatton, Burleigh's granddaughter, married to his rival Coke. In 1597 he sat for Ipswich, and seems to have endeavoured in vain to exchange his reversion of the clerkship of the Star Chamber for the Mastership of the Rolls. Meanwhile, in spite of his admonitions, Essex was pursuing a headstrong - if not a treasonable - course, and Bacon found himself in an awkward position. He estranged himself for a time from the queen by endeavouring to shelter his protector, but was in the end compelled to take part in the prosecution that sent the Earl to the scaffold, and to draw up a justification of the course that Elizabeth pursued. At the death of the queen his circumstances were still so bad that he had to sell part of his land to clear off debts. He begged for the honour of knighthood, having in view marriage with an alderman's daughter, and by his advocacy of the Union, as well as by his reputation for science, he hoped to conciliate the favour of James I., to whom in 1605 he dedicated the first two books of the Advancement of Learning. In 1606 he married Alice Barnham, the lady above referred to, who survived him many years. There appears to be no ground for the assertion that he was influenced in his choice by mercenary motives. In 1607 he opposed the conference between the Lords and Commons on the question of the Union, and in the same year became Solicitor-General. This office and the reversion of the clerkship to the Star Chamber, which fell in next year, gave him the tranquillity which he needed for grappling with his philosophical task, and the Instauratio Magna was begun with zeal. Three years were spent in professional work and in re-editing his essays, till at last in 1612 he became Attorney-General. His conduct as regards the cases of St. John and Peacham has been much discussed, but it is admitted that he merely performed his official duty, as he also did in 1616 with reference to the murderers of Sir Thomas Overbury. Next year he became Lord Keeper, and in 1618 was made Lord Chancellor, when with marvellous industry he cleared off all the arrears of cases in the course of a month. In 1620 he dedicated to the king his Novum Organum. But in 1621 his enemy Coke once more returned to Parliament, and at his motion a committee was appointed to inquire into public grievances. The report contained accusations of corruption against the Lord Chancellor, who at first stoutly repelled the charge. Finally twenty-three specific cases were alleged, and, after seeing the king, Bacon in somewhat guarded language admitted his guilt. That he received gifts from suitors there can be no doubt, but it is contended that he never took money for giving a judgment. He was sentenced to pay a fine of 40,000, to be imprisoned in the Tower during the king's pleasure, and to be disqualified from all offices, his titles being left undisturbed. His incarceration lasted but a few days and the fine was practically remitted, but he lost all his income, except a pension of 1,000 from the king and his small private fortune. He was summoned to return to Parliament, but a sense of shame or a love of science led him to prefer retirement. At first he resided at Gorhambury, where he wrote his History of Henry VII. and translated the Advancement of Learning into Latin. Then he came to Bedford House, and lived there or at Highgate engaged in scientific or literary pursuits. In 1626 he caught a cold whilst investigating the value of snow as a preservative of meat, and died of fever on April 9. He was buried in the church of St. Michael at St. Albans. Though Bacon's knowledge of natural science was not on a level with the most advanced science of his age ("the Lord Chancellor writes on science," said Harvey, "like a Lord Chancellor"), yet the Novum Organum, which embodies his attempt to formulate a new method of discovery, is the basis of modern inductive logic, and contains many anticipations of modern scientific ideas.