Francis Bacon, Baron Verulam Of Verulam, Viscount St Albans (1561 - 1626) flourished in an age of paradoxes, violent contrasts, and sudden reversals. In it, more markedly than in other periods, the whirl of Fortune's wheel tossed men to summits of fame and power and cast illustrious leaders down to ignominy or death. It was an age which revelled in gorgeous facades, splendour, and display, masques, metamorphoses, and triumphal processions, a time of extraordinary virtuosity and versatility. Bacon's career and works manifest the rich baroque diversity of his times, not typically but in a heightened degree. In him were mixed greatness and pettiness, magnanimity and craftiness; and his life was punctuated by sudden dislocations and reversals of policy, position, and wealth. After long delay and frustration, he soared to rank and power and balanced on the slippery pinnacle of judicial office for eight years, only to be precipitated into disgrace and retirement at the very moment when he seemed most secure.
Bacon's zest for grandeur was colossal, but he also cherished reading 'in privateness and retiring' and savoured gardening as 'the purest of human pleasures'. Most of his works begin as splendid facades, and some of them consist of little more than a front of vast promises, dedications, introductions, and preliminaries. But his range as an author also extended to long treatises and brief essays. Though his life glittered with costly stores of fine raiment, grand mansions, vast staffs of liveried servants, and superb ceremonials, he also found contentment in retreating to the relative simplicity of his rooms in Gray's Inn. Since he lived extravagantly, his debts and generosity were as grand as his tastes and talents.
Above all, he was endowed with suppleness of mind, virtuosity which has few parallels, and universality of interests. He is the supreme English exemplar of the Baroque Man, a master of the traditions and methods of the past, able to exploit or surpass or vary them with adroit dislocations, reversals, and twistings — in short, with the incredibly flexible technique of a baroque artist. Though his career and ideas fell into a pattern, they were constantly shifting focus and undergoing transformations, resembling the metamorphoses in the court masques of his time. His goal was power for grand ends and philanthropic glory. He won both, and contempt as well. Like baroque art, he embraced a dialectic of opposites and extremes and a vastness of scope which intricated the sacred and the secular, the sublime and the sordid, the practical and the ideal, and somehow involved them all in precarious balance.