Letter To King James I

by Francis Bacon
Start Free Trial

"I Would Live To Study, And Not Study To Live"

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 648

Context: Bacon, remembered today for his philosophical writings, was an important political figure in his own time. A member of Parliament and a personal friend of James I, a magistrate trained in the legal profession, he acquired an impressive list of titles: Baron of Verulam, Viscount St. Albans, Lord High Chancellor of England. He was careful to attach himself to royal favorites; one was the ill-starred Essex. When the latter attempted rebellion, Bacon helped to convict him. Another such attachment was George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. This wise relationship brought Bacon numerous royal favors and advancements, until Buckingham's popularity waned. On January 22, 1621, Bacon observed his sixtieth birthday; on January 27, he was made Viscount St. Albans. In March the blow fell: he was charged with accepting bribes from persons who had appeared in his court. Admitting that the charges were true, Bacon nonetheless insisted he had not allowed any gratuities to influence his decisions. Perhaps he had not; however, he had bowed to Buckingham's wishes whenever any of the latter's friends had appeared in court. Early in May he was stripped of his offices, fined forty thousand pounds, and imprisoned briefly in the Tower of London. He was also forbidden to sit in Parliament again and banned from the court. The last two rulings were never lifted entirely; some of the others were eased. Buckingham, still powerful, coveted Bacon's house; Bacon had to sell it to him in order to gain readmission to the court. He now entered upon his retirement, going to live at Gorhambury, and devoted himself to the writing which has won him lasting fame. His History of Henry VII was completed in October; he then embarked upon The Advancement of Learning. He appealed to the king for mercy, but with little result. In one letter he pleads his case at some length, pointing out his long service and reminding the king of their old friendship. Apparently undated, it was written when Bacon was "a year and a half old in misery;" this statement would seem to indicate that he wrote the letter during the winter of 1622–23. In it he summarizes his troubles, combining politely veiled rebuke with the lavish flatteries demanded by custom, and ends by begging abjectly that he not be reduced to utter destitution:

. . . Therefore as one that hath had the happiness to know your Majestie near hand, I have (most gracious Sovereign) faith enough for a miracle, much more for a grace, that your Majestie will not suffer your poor creature to be utterly defaced, nor blot that name quite out of your book, upon which your sacred hand hath been so oft for new ornaments and additions.
Unto this degree of compassion, I hope God above . . . will dispose your princely heart, already prepared to all piety. And why should I not think, but that thrice noble Prince . . . will help to pull me (if I may use that homely phrase) out of the mire of an abject and sordid condition in my last days. . . .
But, if it may please your Majestie (for Saints, I shall give them reverence, but no adoration, my address is to your Majestie, the fountain of goodness;) your Majestie shall by the grace of God, not feel that in gift, which I shall extremely feel in help; for my desires are moderate, and my courses measured to a life orderly and reserved, hoping still to do your Majestie honour in my way. Only I most humbly beseech your Majestie to give me leave to conclude with those words which necessity speaketh: help me (dear Sovereign Lord and Master) and pity me so far, as I that have born a bag, be not now in my age forced in effect to bear a wallet; nor I that desire to live to study, may not be driven to study to live. I most humbly crave pardon of a long letter. . . .

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access