Happy birthday, Lord Verulam!


Nicolas Hilliard. Portrait of Francis Bacon, 1578. London, National Portrait Gallery

Francis Bacon was born on January 22, 1561, 453 years ago. His mother, Lady Anne Bacon, was renowned for her education and her fervent Calvinism. I’ll write about her next week. His father, Nicholas Bacon, was the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. I’ll write about him in 2 weeks. In subsequent weeks, I’ll post about his ancestors and his gentility; his siblings; and the places in which he spent his youth.

These posts will highlight the features of interest to me, as a curious cat and a novelist. I draw information from many sources, including Wikipedia (great for dates). I’ll give you those links for your research pleasure. Over the course of this blog, I will also write reviews of my favorite biographies and other reference works. For example, I’ve read four biographies of Francis Bacon, each of which has its strengths and weaknesses. They’re as interesting taken together as they are individually, but that’s a topic for a future post. The ones on my desk as I type are Catherine Drinker Bowen, The Temper of a Man (1963); Brian Vickers, Francis Bacon (1978); and Lisa Jardine & Alan Stewart, Hostage to Fortune (1998.) I have the indispensable James Spedding, ed., The Letters and the Life of Francis Bacon (1890) in pdf format, handy at all times.

Spedding describes Francis at about the age when this portrait was painted as ” a hopeful, sensitive, bashful, amiable boy, wise and well-informed for his age, and glowing with noble aspirations.” Painter Nicholas Hilliard captioned the portrait, “If one could but paint his mind.” I would add arrogant, pretty, and possessed of an unimpeachable ruff.

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