Letters concerning the English Nation

By Voltaire; Nicholas Cronk | Go to book overview

LETTER XII. On the Lord Bacon.

NOT long since, the trite and frivolous Question following was debated in a very polite and learned Company, viz. who was the greatest Man, Cœsar, Alexander, Tamerlane, Cromwell, &c.

Some Body answer'd, that Sir Isaac Newton excell'd them all. The Gentleman's Assertion was very just; for if true Greatness consists in having receiv'd from Heaven a mighty Genius, and in having employ'd it to enlighten our own Minds and that of others; a Man like Sir Isaac Newton, whose equal is hardly found in a thousand Years, is the truly great Man. And those Politicians and Conquerors, (and all ages produce some) were generally so many illustrious wicked Men. That Man claims our Respect, who commands over the Minds of the rest of the World by the Force of Truth, not those who enslave their Fellow Creatures; He who is acquainted with the Universe, not They who deface it.

Since therefore you desire me to give you an Account of the famous Personages which England has given birth to, I shall begin with Lord Bacon, Mr. Locke, Sir Isaac Newton, &c. Afterwards the Warriors and Ministers of State shall come in their order.*

I must begin with the celebrated Viscount Verulam, known in Europe by the Name of Bacon, which was that of his Family. His Father had been Lord Keeper, and himself was a great many Years Lord Chancellor under King James the First. Nevertheless, amidst the Intrigues of a Court, and the Affairs of his exalted Employment, which alone were enough to engross his whole Time, he yet found so much Leisure for Study, as to make himself a great Philosopher, a good Historian, and an elegant Writer; and a still more surprizing Circumstance is, that he liv d in an Age in which the Art of writing justly and elegantly was little known,

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