Francis Bacon’s early political career was anything but meteoric in its trajectory. Born into an influential family, an accident of timing left him simultaneously fatherless and landless, necessitating his entry into Gray’s Inn as training for a profession Bacon noted as one of ‘Burden’, rather than as a gentleman’s finishing school, a function it served for John Donne, amongst others.1 Add to this his unfortunate crossing of Elizabeth in Parliament over the small matter of a triple subsidy, his equally unfortunate choice of the Earl of Essex as patron, and the unwillingness of his powerful relations to help him gain the positions his talent and breeding demanded, and it’s no wonder that in 1592 he wrote to his uncle, Lord Burleigh, effectively giving up on politics, suggesting that he would rather concentrate on his passion, philosophy:
No matter how much he protested otherwise, however, Bacon continued to try to climb the ‘winding staire’ to ‘great place’, and the accession of James I in 1603 presented him with new opportunities. A self-proclaimed intellectual, James was the perfect recipient of Bacon’s first work of philosophy, the Advancement of Learning. Bacon’s subsequent advancement, however, predicated as it was on
his talents as a lawyer, left rather less time for his philosophy than he might have hoped. Between 1605 and 1620, Bacon wrote several incomplete rehearsals of what he termed the instauration, the restoration of the sciences, but published only one new work, the De sapientia veterum (1609).