Francis Bacon: The History of a Character Assassination

Nieves Mathews, Author Yale University Press $75 (606p) ISBN 978-0-300-06441-4
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)
Reviewed on: 05/27/1996
Release date: 05/01/1996
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