Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/From Gray's Inn to Gorhambury




This Doll Tear-Sheet should be some road!” is an exclamation familiar to the readers of every edition of Shakspeare,—from the first folio of 1623, price one hundred and twenty-three pounds, (shades of Heminge and Condell!), down to the Penny Acting Edition of the great poet, published in numbers, and on Dickinson paper, price one hundred and twenty-three pence. And what is the equally familiar reply? It is much to our point, “Aye, as common as the road from London to St. Alban’s.”

Scotch trampers, and Hobson, your twice-a-week carrier, of course, excluded, who is now familiar with the road from London to the land of Lord Bacon? Here, in this disfranchised borough in which I write, two-thirds of the residents under twenty years of age are ignorant of the road—new or old, Roman or macadamised—from the town of the Sainted Alban of Cologne to William Cobbett’s Wen. Neither a Palmer’s mail nor a Saracen’s Head coach runs, in the year 1862, to or from London and St. Alban’s. We have a single line of rail, it is true—a bit of an off-shoot of a thing—from Watford-on-the-Main, just enough to remind the inhabitants what fools they were in resisting the construction of a directer road from London to St. Alban’s.

When the large-browed Lord of Verulam himself rolled in his high and strong-built chariot from London to St. Alban’s, what road did he take? Let us “call him up” as Milton would have called him up,

The story owho left untold
The story of Cambuscan bold.

Without Dr. Dee’s stone, or Simon Forman’s cap, we have him photographed before us. We see him lolling, in sic sedebat fashion, in what we should now call a cumbrous and un-Long-Acre-like coach, with four stout, punchy, corn-and-grass-fed Flemish mares, a full-bottomed beans-and-bacon Jehu on the box, flanked by a hammer-cloth richly wrought with the Bacon crest—a boar—and his servants in the Gorhambury livery, each wearing a silver boar on his left arm. Thus travelled in woolsack ease—his seals and his mace before him—the great Lord Chancellor of Human Nature, Queen Elizabeth’s Attorney-General, King James’s Lord High Chancellor, “the greatest, wisest, meanest of mankind” of the undying satire of Alexander Pope. He, the great poet of modern philosophy, makes his customary journey in this wise. He has twenty-two miles of road to travel before he reaches his fish-ponds and oaks, or drinks his favourite ales in the manor-house of his own building, on what were the lands of Abbot de Gorham—a mitred abbot, let us bear in mind, and one of three entitled to sit so mitred in the Parliament of England.

My lord’s horses are better than the road, for each takes kindly to his collar, and paws and curvets as if proud to carry the great dignitary of England’s law over or through ruts of long standing and ruts but half repaired. The well-fed Jehu laughs with his fellow servants at the Horns at Highgate, dedicated to cuckolds, has his tankard of ale at my Lord Arundel’s Arms, and, while wiping his lips, somewhat sarcastically contrasts the deep draught he has taken with the kilderkin he has left at Gray’s Inn, and the kilderkin he is to taste at Gorhambury. His master, the great Bacon, is differently employed.

One memorable winter—and England’s philosopher will be at work, and at Highgate, with the cold snow and living flesh and blood, putting theory to the test of truth. He will rue the delay: England is to lose one of her greatest men by this experiment, for the snow sinks to and chills the blood of six-and-sixty years. This is to be Francis Bacon’s last practical experiment—Francis Bacon’s last journey from Gray’s Inn to Gorhambury, or from Gorhambury to Gray’s Inn:

The glories of our birth and state
Are shadows, not substantial things:
There is no armour against fate,
Death lays his icy hand on Kings.

Who does not wish for Bacon to have foreseen that the writer of these noble lines[1] was then an ill-paid tutor, and unknown in his little borough of St. Alban?

At other times his thoughts will be indifferently with his experiments, or with the Howards, Earls of Arundel, at Barnet, or at London-Colney with the red and white roses of York and Lancaster. The woods of North Mimms remind him of Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More, of the scaffold and the axe; the trees of Tittenhanger, of Lord Chancellor Wolsey and the dying words of the great cardinal.

The whip, the spur, and the cloak, those attendant Jehus of the road, bring him at length in sight of his beloved abbey and of his own woods. He sees before him the rough, huge, and square-built tower of the mitred abbey of St. Alban’s; the clock-tower, with its fabled and poetic origin; the ruins of the suppressed nunnery of Sopwell (now at the distance marked by nine tall poplars), with its fish-ponds, not, as now, dried up, but full of carp and tench, fit food for fasting nuns on Fridays and in Lent. Here the historian of Henry VII. could not fail to remember that Anna Boleyn, the mother of England’s Elizabeth, and his own royal mistress, was married to King Henry VIII.; that here, as a nun, lived Lady Juliana Berners, whose taste and skill gave us a volume so much coveted by collectors, that “Boke of St. Albans” on hunting and hawking, on hounds and scents, on tarsels and lures, which gold cannot buy, so scarce has it become, that it is now only to be seen in a few of our noblest libraries.

He is now at home, in his own manor, in a house of his own design, and among his own books. He can walk under the shadow of his own oaks, and gain health anew, in his own broad acres. Suitors in Chancery may murmur at delays—his thoughts are not now in law, or of law. Here he will receive Ben Jonson on his foot-pilgrimage towards Scotland, and, in parting, tell Ben pleasantly (Jacobuses not forgotten), that he did not care to see poetry go on any other feet than dactyls and spondees. Here he can walk and talk with Master Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, who then, young as he was, was most skilled in catching the thoughts that breathe and words that burn—falling at every second step from a head so wise and lips so ready. Here, playing with the strings of his band all the while (as was his wont), he can fathom the instability of human greatness, and think little, and care less, for what posterity may say about him.

He who visits St. Alban’s to see Lord Bacon, as it were, in the flesh, must bring a well-filled mind with him. Let us see, then, how far a residence in the place, and no lack of reading or diligence will accomplish in furnishing others with what we know ourselves touching the man Bacon, when at home. Of his habits of life, his biographers, in the penury of their knowledge, have told literally nothing. What there is remaining that he must have seen and saw are these. First and foremost, the mute unchanging glory of the eternal hills; then the site and ruins of Roman Verulam, rich in Roman tiles and Roman coins. Then his own house, now a ruin, not from the hands of Time, but from the hands of a Grimston; one who bore the title of England’s great Lord Chancellor, by another creation and from another king; one whose descendants—the Grimstons, Earls of Verulam—sold the “materials” of Bacon’s Gorhambury and live on a different site in the larger Gorhambury House of the reign of George III., which Bacon, of course, never saw, and would have cared so little to have seen.

For a general view of the land in which Lord Bacon lived and died, it is best to ascend the great tower of St. Alban’s Abbey and look around. A goodly prospect lies before one of hill and dale, and wood and lawn, fields of waving corn, rich pasturage for sheep, wild and waste lands, threaded by a narrow stream, the Ver, which winds its way, at its own sweet will, into the river Colne, and by the Colne into the Thames, and so by the Thames into that world of waters, not the German sea alone, but the wide ocean itself. Here, at your feet, lie two of the foundation-stones of the exquisite Cross, where rested the body of Queen Eleanor, wife of Edward I., on its way to Waltham and Westminster Abbey. It was one of twelve crosses so erected, the most touching memorials ever set up by any widower of any wife. In the distant glades, now chequered with sunshine and shade, ran the stately hart of Hertfordshire. Here Peter the Wild-boy ran wild in woods, a savage of the human species; here, at our feet, is the scene of the first battle of St. Alban’s; there, and not far off, the scene of the second; further south lies the field of Barnet; here then, as in a ring fence, were fought three of the decisive battles of the long Lancastrian “jars” of heroic England. Here we have Queen Margaret of Anjou; there the King-maker, Earl of Warwick. Hitchin-wards, was born George Chapman the poet, the learned shepherd of fair Hitchin Hill, and the earliest translator of Homer into English. At Berkhampstead, to the west, was born William Cowper, the poet of “The Task,” and of other noble works, not for an age, but for all time. To your right lies Ware, with its great bed of honour (ask Shakspeare and George Farquhar) and Ware Park, memorable as the residence of King Charles I.’s Sir Richard Fanshaw, the earliest translator of Camoens; whose more than charming wife—a Harrison by birth—lived at Balls, a little to the east of Ware. Who knows not Argentile and Curan, in Percy’s ballads? Its author, William Warner, is buried at Am well, to the south of Ware—the very Amwell which the Quaker John Scott has celebrated in one of the very best of our local poems. Look this way—at King’s Langley lies buried Edmund of Langley, one of the sons of Edward III.; yon New River, finding water for a third of London proper (of which a glimpse may be caught by a Galileo-Dollond), was the work of Sir Hugh Middleton in the reign of King James I.; those Moor Park trees were planted, not a few of them, when Lucy Harrington, Countess of Bedford, the patroness of Ben Jonson and of Dean Donne, was a child. Those pollarded trees were beheaded by Anne Scott, Duchess of Monmouth and Buccleuch, when the head of her husband James, Duke of Monmouth, was taken off by his half-uncle King James II. Those apricots from Moor Park which your imagination may see on their way to St. Alban’s, “with Lord Ebury’s compliments to the Countess of Verulam,” were gathered from trees planted and made famous by George Lord Anson, the famous circumnavigator, and are known and coveted as the Moor Park apricots beyond the fruit shops of Covent Garden, and the dessert tables of the choicest givers of dinners in Epicurean London. Such was and is the land of Francis Bacon; and there at our feet stands the only Christian church actually within the walls of Roman Verulam—the little church of St. Michael, in which Bacon is buried:—

Fond fool! six feet shall serve for all thy store;
And he that cares for most shall find no more.

So says, or rather sings good satiric Bishop Hall, a name not unknown to my Lord Chancellor Bacon; and with this couplet on our tongue and ringing in our ears, we descend on a pilgrimage to the untapered shrine of Sir Francis of St. Alban’s.

It is not far off. What is not far off? The burial-place of Lord Bacon. Here is the church, and here—as luck will have it—is the sexton with the keys of the church. We make friends with the holder of the holy spade. We will enter reverentially, by the west door. The dead man was carried this way by human hands to his last home. We cannot enter by the chancel and rush unprepared into his presence. The sexton looks surprised, for we are mute—our thoughts are not with him. One minute more and he is before us—as he sat. There cannot be a doubt that this was he, such as he was in the flesh, and that we are standing, as far as is possible, before him.

A little time, and our lips are muttering, “This, then, is Francis Bacon, son to the Great Lord Keeper of the Great Seal in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Her Majesty’s Solicitor-General, Attorney-General, Bencher of Gray’s Inn, Essayist, and Sir Francis Bacon, knight; in the days of King James (when Scotland ‘condescended’ to accept of England), Baron Verulam, Viscount St. Alban and Lord High Chancellor; in our time, (and for all time) ‘something more and better,” the Prophet of Arts which Newton is to reveal a century later. Beneath the recess in which this impressive statue is placed rest the remains of Francis Bacon—buried here by his own desire, by the side of his mother, a woman of note in her day, of a remarkable race—a Cooke of Gidea Hill, in Essex, connected by marriage and intermarriage with the truly great of the Court of Queen Elizabeth—

Whom a wise King anThe mighty man
Whom a wise King and Nature chose
To be the chancellor of both their laws

sleeps here—all that could or can die of the man Francis Bacon is entombed here.

The Sic sedebat of the inscription marks it for a portrait statue—if, indeed, proof were wanting of what it is. Look, and you see at a glance a great man among great men:—

With reverence look on his majestic face,
Proud to be less, but of his godlike race.

Again look, and you have before you the thoughtful figure, as he “sat,” of the wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind, the incorrupt servant of Queen Elizabeth, the corrupt Lord Chancellor of King James, the man Bacon, whose name gives an enduring, and if possible an increasing interest to the once corrupt borough from which he thought fit to take his peerage. Ask the sexton how many shillings he receives a year from pilgrims to the grave of Bacon—ask mine hosts of the “Peahen” and the “George” how many pounds a year they are in pocket by catering good dinners, and the very best of their wines, to hungry enthusiasts from the four quarters of the world, who wisely deem it a duty as well as a pleasure to see the statue and the land of Bacon—to stand reverentially and thoughtfully by the grave of so great a man.

Wotton wrote the epitaph—that Wotton

Who had so many languages in store,
That only fame shall speak of him in more.

Admirable as it is, it has but one fault (shade of Samuel Johnson, we humbly ask your pardon), the language in which it is written is not the language of Lord Bacon—“words which wise Bacon and brave Raleigh spake” might surely have been found to have pointed the “here lies,” or “hic jacet,” if you will, of Francis Bacon.

The name of the sculptor of the statue is unknown. Who could have cut and fashioned this once rude block of Italian marble into life? Was it Gerard Johnson, of the parish of St. Thomas the Apostle in Southwark, who carved the bust of Shakspeare over the poet’s grave at Stratford-upon-Avon? Was it Cornelius Cure, who made the monumental tomb of Mary Queen of Scots in Westminster Abbey? Was it William Cure, the king’s mason (son and successor to Cornelius), who made the painted and gilded tomb “set up” at Cranford, in Middlesex, to the memory of Sir Roger Aston, Master of the Great Wardrobe to King James I .? Was it Gerard or Garrett Christmas, citizen of London, and carver, who made the effigy of Archbishop Abbot, at Guildford, in Surrey? or was it John or Mathias Christmas—or both together? They were the sons of Garrett, of whose skill with the chisel the marble busts of Ralph Hawtrey and his wife, at Riselip, in Middlesex, are favourable examples? Was it Fanelli, the Florentine, who made the busts in metal of Lady Cottington, Lady Venetia Digby, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, and of Sir Robert Ayton? Was it the unknown sculptor of the fine monument of Sir Francis Vere, so much admired by no less a sculptor than Roubiliac? Was it Nicholas Stone, William Cure’s successor as master-mason, towards the end of the reign of James I., “esteemed,” as his epitaph informs us, “for his knowledge in sculpture and architecture, which his works in many parts do testify.” Hardly, for there is no mention of it in his pocket-book, preserved by Vertue and printed by Walpole? Was it Mr. Jansen, in Southwark, who worked jointly with Nicholas Stone on the monument of Sutton, the founder of the Charter House? Was it Mr. Marshall, the stone-cutter, who made the monumental bust which Anne, Countess of Pembroke, Dorset, and Montgomery set up in Westminster Abbey to the memory of Michael Drayton?

There is no telling. Of the sculptors we have named, the best claim would seem to lie with Nicholas Stone; and the following entry, made by Stone in his pocket-book, would seem to justify our belief that Stone was the man. That he worked for the Bacons, the following entry is proof unmistakeable:—

1620. In Suffolke I made a tomb for Sir Edmund Bacon’s ladys, and in the same church of Redgrave I made another for his sister Lady (Gawdy), and was very well payed for them. And in the same place I made two pictors of white marbell of Sir N. Bacon and his lady, and they were layed upon the tomb that Bernard Janson had made there, for the which two pictors I was payed by Sir Edmund Bacon, £200.

This looks like coming near to the name of the statuary; the more so as Stone made monuments to Edmund Spenser, the author of the “Faerie Queene,” and to Donne, the Dean of St. Paul’s; but the silence of the pocket-book is, we unwillingly repeat, fatal to his claim.

Who then made this far-famed Sic sedebat statue of the great Lord Chancellor Bacon? We have a fancy of our own, and it is this—the sculptor was no less a person than Sir Nathaniel Bacon of Culford in Suffolk. And who was Sir Nathaniel Bacon of Culford? We will answer the question.

Sir Nathaniel was a son of the Lord Keeper, Sir Nicholas Bacon, by his second wife, and was consequently half-brother to Lord Chancellor Bacon. At Gorhambury, the last hold in broad acres of the Bacon family, there is a fine life-size full length of him seated with his dog. He also wears a Sic sedebat look on canvas: sits ad vivum with the air of an ambassador. In his right hand he holds his hat and plume; in his left, a sheet of paper; his sword hangs on a cabinet by his side; he has before him his palette, his brushes, his compasses, and his square; and what Walpole calls (conjecturally, no doubt) a half-length portrait of his mother. At Culford, in Suffolk, where he is buried, is his bust, with his palette and pencils. Dallaway (the editor of Walpole), who has a right to be heard on such a point, thinks that the Culford monument was “probably after his own design.” Nor are we disinclined to agree with him. Sir Nathaniel died in 1627. His will is to be seen in the Prerogative Will Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, but unhappily art is nowhere mentioned in it.

No one has informed us when the custom was introduced, and by whom it was introduced, of affixing the name and fecit of the sculptor above the hic jacet of the poor inhabitant below. We have seen some early tombs in Hertfordshire, carrying the names of sculptors unrecorded in Walpole. In Westminster Abbey, that historical gallery of our English school of sculpture, the earliest monument bearing the name of its artist belongs to the reign of Charles I. On the monument at Guildford, of Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury, who died in 1633, the curious eye will find what local historians fail to tell us, the name of the sculptor—not an unknown name—Gerard, or Garrett Christmas, “citizen of London and carver:”—“an exquisite master in his art, and a performer above his promises.”[2]

The Guildford monument is an unusual instance of an early sculptor marking the marble with his name. Bird, and Scheemaker, and Roubiliac invariably placed their names conspicuously on their works; so did, nearer our own time, Wilton, Banks, Bacon, Nollekens, Flaxman, Westmacott, and Chantrey. The “Chantrey fecit,” on a monument in St. Paul’s, gave rise to a rather equivocal witticism from the lips of a learned Canon, the Reverend Sydney Smith.

It is an evening in autumn, and I am in the chancel of the church of St. Michael’s, alone, and lost in thought. A numbness and fear creep over me. I would fain be outside, but feel a fascination in trying to unsphere the soul of the great man who lies below. I cannot move. What fell? The wing of an angel from a stone corbel in the nave. I find relief in murmuring to myself Bacon’s own thoughts told in verse, by Bacon himself.

The world’s a bubble, and the life of man
Less than a span,
In his conception, wretched from the womb;—
So to the tomb;
Curst from his cradle, and brought up to years
With cares and fears.
Who, then, to frail mortality shall trust,
But limns on water, or but writes in dust?

Yet, whilst with sorrow here we live opprest,
What life is best?
Courts are but only superficial schools
To dandle fools:
The rural part is turned into a den
Of savage men:
And where’s a city from foul vice so free
But may be termed the worst of all the three?

Domestic cares afflict the husband’s bed,
Or pains his head;
Those that live single take it for a curse,
Or do things worse:
These would have children, those that have them moan,
Or wish them gone:
What is it, then, to have, or have no wife,
But single thraldom or a double strife?

Our own affections still at home to please
Is a disease:
To cross the seas to any foreign soil,
Peril and toil:
Wars with their noise affright us: when they cease
We’re worse in peace:
What then remains, but that we still should cry
For being born, and being born—to die?

This intensely thoughtful poem was found among the papers of the writer of Bacon’s epitaph, and is by him ascribed to the great Lord Chancellor. It is much in Cowley’s manner; aye, and in Cowley’s best manner. Nor is other evidence of its paternity wanting. It is given to Bacon in 1629 by Farnaby in his “Florilegium,” and referred to as his by Aubrey in his instructive and often-quoted “Anecdotes” compiled for the use of Anthony à Wood.

But see “dun night has veiled the solemn view;” farewell to mitred abbots; good night to monk Matthew Paris; good night, Duke Humphrey; good night, Lady Juliana; battle-fields and hawking-fields, farewell—farewell to Bacons, and Jermyns, and Grimstons; my Lord Lovat and Tom Jones, good night. Thanks to James Watt and George Stephenson, we are once more in London, and at Gray’s Inn, with a bottle of ’20 port before us, and with thoughts reverting to the fine old ale for which Gorhambury, under the Grimstons, is still famous, and (less pleasantly) to “the small beer of Grays Inn,” which Aubrey assures us was in no way to the “liking” of the palate of Francis Bacon.

Peter Cunningham.


  1. Shirley, the dramatist.
  2. Thomas Heywood, the dramatist, describes him in the above terms.