Beyond his own country Francis Bacon is remembered as a great man, founder of modern science and philosophy, a just judge and a teacher of kings. In England and America, however, he is seen more as a cruel, corrupt and power-hungry politician. Which appraisal is correct? In this fascinating re-evaluation of one of Britain's most significant figures, Nieves Mathews examines the charges against Bacon and reveals how distorted facts can be recast as historical truths. In 1621 Bacon fell from power as Lord Chancellor, the highest position in the land. Charged with accepting bribes, he was convicted, fined, imprisoned and exiled from the Court. He died five years later, disgraced and deeply in debt. In this illuminating study of the Jacobean administration - a system which depended on corruption at every level - Nieves Mathews shows Bacon to have been among the least tainted of the King's officials, the scapegoat in a political conspiracy aimed at dislodging the royal favourite. The destruction of Bacon's reputation followed Thomas Babington Macaulay's eloquent 'Essay on Bacon', published in 1837. Macaulay's depiction of a cloven-hearted genius, at once the greatest and meanest of mankind, launched a tireless search among Bacon's biographers for evidence of malice and corruption. Now, with the benefit of recent scholarship, Nieves Mathews portrays a man both single-minded and fallible, with qualities and flaws. Her penetrating reappraisal rescues Bacon from a long tradition of abuse and misrepresentation.
The subtitle of Mathews's book indicates her steadfast intent: she seeks to restore to English essayist and philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626) his good name. Bacon's personal reputation, she contends, has been unduly defamed by historians (in particular, Thomas Babington Macaulay). The crimes traditionally ascribed to Bacon have involved his supposed betrayal of his patron, the Earl of Essex, and his corruption during his tenure as Lord Chancellor. Few will question the thoroughness of Mathews's exhaustive research, especially with regard to the primary sources, which she quotes with sureness and frequency. Indeed, in the first third of the book, scarcely three sentences pass without a quotation. Though this plenitude creates some tortuous passages and risks a lulling effect (many of the quotes could be better placed in footnotes or assimilated more smoothly through paraphrasing), it does fulfill the stated aim of "let[ting Bacon] speak with his own voice." The middle and final portions sustain greater interest in their presentation of Bacon's unjust fall and the survey of his personal reputation in history. If the discussion of the anti-Bacon historians verges on name-calling now and then ("we all know how satisfying it is to human as well as shark nature to see blood drawn"), this rigorous yet heartfelt study should find its audience in those interested in Elizabethan and Jacobean politics and the slippery nature of historical truth. (June)
While recognized as a brilliant scientist, lawyer, and philosopher, Bacon (1561-1626) has been maligned as a self-seeker, liar, and crook. Chief among his detractors was Thomas Macaulay, whose opinions have been accepted and repeated uncritically by later writers. Matthews, a Bacon scholar, explores the motivations of Bacon's detractors and uses her knowledge of him and the people and conventions of his time to show where he was either misquoted or quoted out of context to prove a point against him. She demonstrates how writers often used quotes from Bacon to prove opposite opinions of him in a single work, many acknowledging that they could not adequately explain the dichotomy. Matthews makes her case that this would not happen if they researched their subject and sources more carefully. This scholarly study is recommended for libraries with large British history collections.Marilyn Dailey, Natrona Cty. P.L., Casper, Wyo.