Francis Bacon, Lord High Chancellor of England, wore many hats in his lifetime. While many know him to have been an English statesman and philosopher, he also earned recognition as a scientist, jurist, orator, essayist, and of course, author.
‘I have taken all knowledge to be my province,’ Bacon declared… He held to his course, if not ‘beyond the utmost bound of human thought,’ at least to the uttermost edge discernible in his day – and that, too, in every department of intellectual activity. Bacon’s day was, perhaps, the latest moment in history when anything like omniscience was within the limits of human attainment; even in his day, Bacon’s was, perhaps, the only mind that could achieve it. (Winterich, 205-6)
Born in 1561, young Francis Bacon grew up at York House near the Strand in London, home schooled from a young age due to poor health issues that would follow him throughout his life. Bacon went on to be educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where his courses were taught primarily in Latin and followed the medieval curriculum. It was at Cambridge that Bacon met Queen Elizabeth, who took notice in him for his precocious intellect. While studying science and philosophy at university, Bacon developed a distaste for Aristotelian philosophy, thinking it unfruitful and mainly wrong in what it aimed to achieve.
In the summer of 1576, Bacon went abroad with Sir Amias Paulet, the English ambassador at Paris at the time. He learned valuable lessons in government at this time, when Henry III was in power over France. Bacon traveled around, visiting Blois, Poitiers, Tours, Italy, and Spain and all the while studying subjects such as statecraft, language, civil law, and diplomacy.
Francis Bacon had three goals in life: to uncover truth, to serve his country, and to serve his church. These goals, with the help of good connections to men in power, led him to service in the Parliament, a position as Attorney General in Middlesex, and eventually as Lord High Chancellor of England. He was even knighted in 1603 during the succession of James I. The Complete Works of Francis Bacon capture his brilliant mind in the form of essays, speeches, letters (many to the Queen), philosophical theories, autobiographical works, and more.
Sadly, Francis Bacon’s time in Parliament ended in disgrace, as he was charged with 23 counts of corruption and sentence to never hold a parliamentary position again. While there was no doubt that he accepted gifts from litigants during his time in office, it was not so much corruption as it was customary of the time. There has been speculation that Bacon confessed to the wrongdoing because of debilitating illness that would soon end his life. Despite his disgrace and resulting debt, Francis Bacon was described as a brilliant and tender-hearted man, one who was never more content to “count spots in the sun than to rejoice in its glorious brightness.” Bacon passed away of illness in April of 1626.