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There he opens an exoteric school, and talks to plain men, in language which every body understands, about things in which every body is interested. He has thus enabled those who must otherwise have taken his merits on trust to judge for themselves; and the great body of readers have, during several generations, acknowledged that the man who has treated with such consummate ability questions with which they are familiar may well be supposed to deserve all the praise bestowed on him by those who have sat in his inner school.
Without any disparagement to the admirable treatise De Augmentis, we must say that, in our judgment, Bacon's greatest performance is the first book of the Novum Organum. All the peculiarities of his extraordinary mind are found there in the highest perfection. Many of the aphorisms, but particularly those in which he gives examples of the influence of the idola, show a nicety of observation that has never been surpassed. Every part of the book blazes with wit, but with wit which is employed only to illustrate and decorate truth. No book ever made so great a revolution in the mode of thinking, overthrew so many prejudices, introduced so many new opinions. Yet no book was ever written in a less contentious spirit. It truly conquers with chalk and not with steel. Proposition after proposition enters into the mind, is received not as an invader, but as a welcome friend, and, though previously unknown, becomes at once domesticated. But what we most admire is the vast capacity of that intellect which, without effort, takes in at once all the domains of science, all the past, the present, and the future, all the errors of two thousand years, all the encouraging signs of the passing times, all the bright hopes of the coming age. Cowley, who was among the most ardent, and not among the least discerning followers of the new philosophy, has, in one of his finest poems, compared Bacon to Moses standing on Mount Pisgah. It is to Bacon, we think, as he appears in the first book of the Novum Organum, that the comparison applies with peculiar felicity. There we see the great Lawgiver looking round from his lonely elevation on an infinite expanse; behind him a wilderness of dreary sands and bitter waters in which successive generations have sojourned, always moving, yet never advancing, reaping no harvest, and building no abiding city; before him a goodly land, a land of promise, a land flowing with milk and honey. While the multitude below saw only the flat sterile desert in which
they had so long wandered, bounded on every side by a near horizon, or diversified only by some deceitful mirage, he was gazing from a far higher stand on a far lovelier country, following with his eye the long course of fertilising rivers, through ample pastures, and under the bridges of great capitals, measuring the distances of marts and havens, and portioning out all those wealthy regions from Dan to Beersheba.
It is painful to turn back from contemplating Bacon's philosophy to contemplate his life. Yet without so turning back it is impossible fairly to estimate his powers. He left the University at an earlier age than that at which most people repair thither. While yet a boy he was plunged into the midst of diplomatic business. Thence he passed to the study of a vast technical system of law, and worked his way up through a succession of laborious offices to the highest post in his profession. In the meantime he took an active part in every Parliament; he was an adviser of the Crown : he paid court with the greatest assiduity and address to all whose favour was likely to be of use to him ; he lived much in society; he noted the slightest peculiarities of character and the slightest changes of fashion. Scarcely any man has led a more stirring life than that which Bacon led from sixteen to sixty. Scarcely any man has been better entitled to be called a thorough man of the world. The founding of a new philosophy, the imparting of a new direction to the minds of speculators, this was the amusement of his leisure, the work of hours occasionally stolen from the Woolsack and the Council Board. This consideration, while it increases the admiration with which we regard his intellect, increases also our regret that such an intellect should so often have been unworthily employed. He well knew the better course, and had, at one time, resolved to pursue it. “I confess,” said he in a letter written when he was still young, “ that I have as vast contemplative ends as I have moderate civil ends.” Had his civil ends continued to be moderate, he would have been, not only the Moses, but the Joshua of philosophy. He would have fulfilled a large part of his own magnificent predictions. He would have led his followers, not only to the verge, but into the heart of the promised land. He would not merely have pointed out, but would have divided the spoil. Above all, he would have left, not only a great, but a spotless name. Mankind would then have been able to esteem their illustrious benefactor. We should not then be compelled to regard his character with mingled
contempt and admiration, with mingled aversion and gratitude. We should not then regret that there should be so many proofs of the narrowness and selfishness of a heart, the benevolence of which was yet large enough to take in all races and all ages. We should not then have to blush for the disingenuousness of the most devoted worshipper of speculative truth, for the servility of the boldest champion of intellectual freedom. We should not then have seen the same man at one time far in the van, and at another time far in the rear of his generation. We should not then be forced to own that he who first treated legislation as a science was among the last Englishmen who used the rack, that he who first summoned philosophers to the great work of interpreting nature was among the last Englishmen who' sold justice. And we should conclude our survey of a life placidly, honourably, beneficently passed, “ in industrious observations, grounded conclusions, and profitable inventions and discoveries,”* with feelings very different from those with which we now turn away from the checkered spectacle of so much glory and so much shame.
* From a Letter of Bacon to Lord Burleigh.
SIR WILLIAM TEMPLE. (OCTOBER, 1838.)
Memoirs of the Life, Works, and Correspondence of Sir William Temple.
By the Right Hon. THOMAS PEREGRINE COURTENAY. 2 vols. 8vo. London : 1836.
MR. COURTENAY has long been well known to politicians as an industrious and useful official man, and as an upright and consistent member of Parliament. He has been one of the most moderate, and, at the same time, one of the least pliant members of the Conservative party. His conduct has, indeed, on some questions, been so Whiggish, that both those who applauded and those who condemned it have questioned his claim to be considered as a Tory. But his Toryism, such as it is, he has held fast through all changes of fortune and fashion; and he has at last retired from public life, leaving behind him, to the best of our belief, no personal enemy, and carrying with him the respect and good will of many who strongly dissent from his opinions.
This book, the fruit of Mr. Courtenay's leisure, is introduced by a preface in which he informs us that the assistance furnished to him from various quarters “has taught him the superiority of literature to politics for developing the kindlier feelings, and conducing to an agreeable life.” We are truly glad that Mr. Courtenay is so well satisfied with his new employment, and we heartily congratulate him on having been driven by events to make an exchange which, advantageous as it is, few people make while they can avoid it. He has little reason, in our opinion, to envy any of those who are still engaged in a pursuit from which, at most, they can only expect that, by relinquishing liberal studies and social pleasures, by passing nights without sleep and summers without one glimpse of the beauty of nature, they may attain that laborious, that invidious, that closely watched slavery which is mocked with the name of power.
The volumes before us are fairly entitled to the praise of diligence, care, good sense, and impartiality; and these qualities are sufficient to make a book valuable, but not quite sufficient to make it readable. Mr. Courtenay has not sufficiently studied the arts of selection and compression. The information with which he furnishes us must still, we apprehend, be considered as so much raw material. To manufacturers it will be highly useful; but it is not yet in such a form that it can be enjoyed by the idle consumer. To drop metaphor, we are afraid that this work will be less acceptable to those who read for the sake of reading, than to those who read in order to write.
We cannot help adding, though we are extremely unwilling to quarrel with Mr. Courtenay about politics, that the book would not be at all the worse if it contained fewer snarls against the Whigs of the present day. Not only are these passages out of place in a historical work, but some of them are intrinsically such that they would become the editor of a third-rate party newspaper better than a gentleman of Mr. Courtenay's talents and knowledge. For example, we are told that “it is a remarkable circumstance, familiar to those who are acquainted with history, but suppressed by the new Whigs, that the liberal politicians of the seventeenth century and the greater part of the eighteenth, never extended their liberality to the native Irish, or the professors of the ancient religion.” What schoolboy of fourteen is ignorant of this remarkable circumstance ? What Whig, new or old, was ever such an idiot as to think that it could be suppressed ? Really we might as well say that it is a remarkable circumstance, familiar to people well read in history, but carefully suppressed by the Clergy of the Established Church, that in the fifteenth century England was in communion with Rome. We are tempted to make some remarks on another passage, which seems to be the peroration of a speech intended to have been spoken against the Reform Bill : but we forbear.
We doubt whether it will be found that the memory of Sir William Temple owes much to Mr. Courtenay's researches. Temple is one of those men whom the world has agreed to praise highly without knowing much about them, and who are therefore more likely to lose than to gain by a close examination. Yet he is not without fair pretensions to the most honourable place among the statesmen of his time. A few of them equalled or surpassed him in talents; but they were men of no good repute for honesty. A few may be named whose patriotism was purer, nobler, and more disinterested