Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

"Empericks of State": Manuscript Verse and the Impeachment of Francis Bacon

Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

"Empericks of State": Manuscript Verse and the Impeachment of Francis Bacon

Article excerpt

Sometimes April really is the cruelest month. On 27 January 1621, Francis Bacon was created Viscount St Alban; by 30 April, the "Confession and humble Submission" in which he declared himself guilty of corruption had been read to the House of Lords. The great seal that he held as Lord Chancellor was taken from him on 1 May, and, on 2 May, when Bacon was required by the Lords to attend them on the following morning, the Gentleman Usher and the Serjeant-at-Arms bearing the notice found its intended recipient "sick in bed" and unable to attend. (1) The sentence pronounced against him in his absence, as John Chamberlain reported, was to be "fined at 40000 , to be imprisoned in the Towre during the Kings pleasure, disabled ever to beare office in the court or commonwealth, to have no voyce in parlement, not to come within the vierge (or twelve miles) of the court." As Brian Vickers intones, having echoed Chamberlains precise, headlong summary: "Few public figures in Britain have experienced so rapid and so complete a reversal." (2) It certainly seemed so to Bacons contemporaries, as also to Bacon himself; and what mattered particularly was the place of this vertiginous fall between the public and the private. Writing on 2 May, the day on which the Lords issued their notification to Bacon, Chamberlain clearly anticipated the differences between a public and a private resolution to the impeachment proceedings and clearly thought that it would matter to his correspondent, Dudley Carleton: "Whether he shall come to aunswer and receve sentence in publike or private is not yet knowne." (3)

The distinction between public and private offered by Chamberlain is important, but it has not often been easily drawn, for all that writers, including Bacon, were regularly drawn to it. This can be seen in the advice Bacon offered to Elizabeth following the Essex Rebellion "that he should not be called in question in the open and ordinary place of offenders in the Star Chamber, ... but in a more private manner at my Lord Keeper's house." (4) Yet here as later in Bacon's own case, when the polarity offers temptingly to align a series of oppositions--such as those between the open and the private, the state and the family, or the public and the domestic--so does that polarity prove in use resistant to fixed definitions. Bacon found himself the victim of just such a slippery set of oppositions: caught between, and to some extent the victim of, a tension between the high politics of the House of Commons and (so it was alleged) the low mismanagement of his household. Across these overlapping spheres, but particularly in the household, the mirroring interchangeability with which personal (and so private) domestic behavior reversed into and was understood in the light of professional (and so public) actions continued to multiply and refract his actions in others' view. (5) Bacon employed the same precise legal phrasing reported earlier by Chamberlain (disable could mean "to incapacitate legally": see OED v.2) in the dedicatory epistle to addressed to Lancelot Andrewes that prefaced An Advertisement Touching An Holy Wane, begun in the spring of 1622, circulated in early manuscript forms, but not first printed until its inclusion in William Rawley's posthumous collection, Certain Miscellany Works of 1629. (6) There Bacon reflected by comparison on the relationship of his own situation to those of "Demosthenes, Cicero, and Seneca; Persons" as he put it, "that I durst not claime Affinity with, except the Similitude of our Fortunes had contracted it. When I had caste mine Eyes vpon these Examples, I was carried on further to obserue, how they did beare their Fortunes, and principally, how they did employ their Times, being banished, and disabled for Publike Businesse." (7) In the semiprivate space of the dedicatory epistle, Bacon saw the uneasy paradox that the consequences of his enforced public disgrace were nothing so much as an enforced privacy. …

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