“The Purer Fountains”: Bacon and Legal Education
Daniel R. Coquillette
J. Donald Monan, S.J. University Professor
Lester Kissel Visiting Professor
Harvard Law School
I. “This Evil is an Old One”: Bacon’s Education
a) Bacon’s University Education
Bacon had a low opinion of his formal education, both at Trinity College, Cambridge,
and at Gray’s Inn of the Inns of Court, where he studied law.
But in examining his ideas for
education reform, it is logical to start with what happened to him.
As was customary for his day, Bacon was matriculated at university at what was, by
modern standards, a very early age—thirteen.
In June of 1573, he “went up” to Trinity College,
Cambridge with his older brother, fifteen year-old Anthony, whose progress had been delayed by
severe health problems.
(Anthony, like his father, had severe asthma, which ran in the family.)
The two boys roomed together at Trinity College, subject to the constant concern of their
mother, whose anxious letters are still a primary source on Bacon’s life.
Bacon stayed at Cambridge until March of 1576.
He left before obtaining a degree.
From his later criticisms in
The Advancement of Learning
, it was clear he
experienced the typical curriculum and pedagogy of an undergraduate at Trinity College, under
its first statutes of 1552.
Trinity was no ordinary college.
As Arthur Gray observed, under these
statutes, “[e]laborate provision is made for a teaching staff within the College, and a schedule of
the subjects of education is drawn up which conforms to the new curriculum of study which in
the reign of Edward VI [1547-1553] was substituted for the old routine prescribed for
This course was rigorous.
A preliminary version of this article was presented as the Francis Bacon Annual Lecture at the Huntington Library,
San Marino, California on May 8, 2003.
I am most grateful to the Bacon Foundation and its devoted trustees and to
Dr. David Sieburg and his colleagues at the Huntington Library. I am also particularly grateful to my Administrative
Assistant, Brendan Farmer, and Deborah H. Goldstein, Boston College Law School, 2003.
Their intelligence and
hard work was invaluable.
See Daniel R. Coquillette,
(Edinburgh and Stanford, 1992), pp. 23-69, 311-315; Catherine Drinker
Francis Bacon: The Temper of a Man
(Boston, 1963), 23-37 (hereafter, “
See also the highly
entertaining biographies by
Daphne du Maurier, Golden Lads
(London, 1975) and
The Winding Stair: Francis
Bacon, His Rise and Fall
(New York, 1977).