On Bacon by Ben Jonson
ONE, though he be excellent and the chief, is not to be imitated alone; for never no imitator ever grew up to his author; likeness is always on this side truth. Yet there happened in my time one noble speaker who was full of gravity in his speaking; his language, where he could spare or pass by a jest, was nobly censorious.2 No man ever spake more neatly, more presly,3 more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness, in what he uttered. No member of his speech but consisted of his own graces. His hearers could not cough, or look aside from him, without loss. He commanded where he spoke, and had his judges angry and pleased at his devotion.4 No man had their affections more in his power. The fear of every man that heard him was lest he should make an end.
Scriptorum catalogus.5—Cicero is said to be the only wit that the people of Rome had equalled to their empire. Ingenium par imperio. We have had many, and in their several ages (to take in but the former seculum6) Sir Thomas More, the elder Wyatt, Henry Earl of Surrey, Chaloner, Smith, Eliot, B[ishop] Gardiner, were for their times admirable; and the more, because they began eloquence with us. Sir Nico[las] Bacon was singular, and almost alone, in the beginning of Queen Elizabeth’s times. Sir Philip Sidney and Mr. Hooker (in different matter) grew great masters of wit and language, and in whom all vigor of invention and strength of judgment met. The Earl of Essex, noble and high; and Sir Walter Raleigh, not to be contemned, either for judgment or style; Sir Henry Savile, grave, and truly lettered; Sir Edwin Sandys, excellent in both; Lo[rd] Egerton, the Chancellor, a grave and great orator, and best when he was provoked; but his learned and able, though unfortunate, successor7 is he who hath filled up all numbers, and performed that in our tongue which may be compared or preferred either to insolent Greece or haughty Rome. In short, within his view, and about his times, were all the wits born that could honor a language or help study. Now things daily fall, wits grow downward, and eloquence grows backward; so that he may be named and stand as the mark and ἀκμή8 of our language.
De augmentis scientiarum.9—I have ever observed it to have been the office of a wise patriot, among the greatest affairs of the State, to take care of the commonwealth of learning. For schools, they are the seminaries of State; and nothing is worthier the study of a statesman than that part of the republic which we call the advancement of letters. Witness the care of Julius Cæsar, who, in the heat of the civil war, writ his books of Analogy, and dedicated them to Tully. This made the late Lord S[aint] Alban10 entitle his work Novum Organum; which, though by the most of superficial men, who cannot get beyond the title of nominals,11 it is not penetrated nor understood, it really openeth all defects of learning whatsoever, and is a book
Qui longum noto scriptori porriget ævum.12
My conceit of his person was never increased toward him by his place or honors. But I have and do reverence him for the greatness that was only proper to himself, in that he seemed to me ever, by his work, one of the greatest men, and most worthy of admiration, that had been in many ages. In his adversity I ever prayed that God would give him strength; for greatness he could not want. Neither could I condole in a word or syllable for him, as knowing no accident could do harm to virtue, but rather help to make it manifest.
Note 1. Francis Bacon, Lord Verulam.
Note 2. Severe.
Note 3. Concisely.
Note 4. Choice, disposal.
Note 5. Catalogue of writers.
Note 6. Century.
Note 7. Bacon.
Note 8. Acme.
Note 9. Concerning the advancement of the sciences.
Note 10. Bacon.
Note 11. Names of things.
Note 12. “Which extends to the famous author a long future.”—Horace, Ars. Poet., 346.