The public life of Francis Bacon

The public life of Francis Bacon

McCann, Samuel Glenn

The Rice Institute Pamphlet, Volume 13, Number 1 (1926)


T0 the majority of readers, the name Francis Bacon suggests immediately one of the most versatile geniuses of all time. So voluminous and so diversified was the output of his mind in the fields of philosophy, science, and literature, that it is easy to overlook the fact that the man had also a busy career in the alien field of politics, one that possibly was hardly in keeping with the nobility of his other work. Could we but have a true picture of Bacon’s entire career, it would, like the life and even the art of his day, reveal strong contrasts of light and of shadow. The philosopher seems hardly the same being as the courtier and politician.

A picture of such irreconcilable contrasts is always difficult to evaluate permanently and fairly. Some see only the bright portions while others are more strongly affected by the shadows. So it is with the picture of Bacon. Spedding, his greatest biographer, has sought to gloss over many of his defects; and others, carried away by conspicu- ous political failures, have adopted the un-Baconian attitude of refusing to believe that much good could originate with this political manipulator of the seventeenth century.

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