Francis Bacon had many accomplishments. He was a scientist, a philosopher, and a politician, and he was adept, too, at taking bribes; for this he had been imprisoned. It is, however, as a literary man that he is perhaps best remembered, a writer so competent with the pen that for decades there have been some persons willing to argue that Bacon wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare.
The essay form is rare in the modern age, although there are some faint signs of its revival. As Bacon used it, the essay is a carefully fashioned statement, both informative and expressive, by which a person comments on life and manners, on nature and its puzzles. The essay is not designed to win people to a particular cause or to communicate factual matter better put in scientific treatises. Perhaps that is one reason why it is not so popular in an age in which the truth of claims and their practical importance are always questioned.
The Essays first appeared, ten in number, in 1597. They were immediately popular because they were brief, lively, humane, and well-written. Perhaps they were effective in contrast to the rambling, florid prose written by most writers of the time. A considerable part of their charm lay in their civilized tone. In these essays, Bacon reveals himself as an inquisitive but also an appreciative man with wit enough to interest others. The first edition contained the following essays: “Of Studies,” “Of Discourse,” “Of Ceremonies and Respects,” “Of Followers and Friends,” “Of Suitors,” “Of Expense,” “Of Regiment of Health,” “Of Honour and Reputation,” “Of Faction,” and “Of Negociating.”
By 1612, the number of essays had been increased to thirty-eight, the earlier ones having been revised or rewritten. By the last edition, in 1625, the number was fifty-eight. Comparison of the earlier essays with those written later shows not only a critical mind at work but also a man made sadder and wiser, or at least different, by changes in fortune.
The essays concern themselves with such universal concepts as truth, death, love, goodness, friendship, fortune, and praise. They cover such controversial matters as religion, atheism, “the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Estates,” custom and education, and usury, and they consider such intriguing matters as envy, cunning, innovations, suspicion, ambition, praise, vainglory, and the vicissitudes of things.
The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral, as they are called in the heading of the first essay, begins with an essay on truth entitled “Of Truth.” The title formula is always the same, simply a naming of the matter to be discussed, as, for example, “Of Death,” “Of Unity in Religion,” “Of Adversity,” “What is Truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.” One expects a sermon, and one is pleasantly surprised. Bacon uses his theme as a point of departure for a discussion of the charms of lying, trying to fathom the love of lying for its own sake. “A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure,” he writes. This pleasure is ill-founded, however; it rests on error resulting from depraved judgment. Bacon reverses himself grandly: “ . . . truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making or wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature.”
When it comes to death, Bacon begins by admitting that tales of death increase humanity’s natural fear of it, but he reminds the reader that death is not always painful. By references to Augustus Caesar, Tiberius, Vespasian, and others, Bacon shows that, even...
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Essayes: Religious Meditations. Places of Perswasion and Disswasion. Seene and Allowed (1597) was the first published book by the philosopher, statesman and juristFrancis Bacon. The Essays are written in a wide range of styles, from the plain and unadorned to the epigrammatic. They cover topics drawn from both public and private life, and in each case the essays cover their topics systematically from a number of different angles, weighing one argument against another. A much-enlarged second edition appeared in 1612 with 38 essays. Another, under the title Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall, was published in 1625 with 58 essays. Translations into French and Italian appeared during Bacon's lifetime.
Though Bacon considered the Essays "but as recreation of my other studies", he was given high praise by his contemporaries, even to the point of crediting him with having invented the essay form. Later researches made clear the extent of Bacon's borrowings from the works of Montaigne, Aristotle and other writers, but the Essays have nevertheless remained in the highest repute. The 19th century literary historian Henry Hallam wrote that "They are deeper and more discriminating than any earlier, or almost any later, work in the English language".
Bacon's genius as a phrase-maker appears to great advantage in the later essays. In Of Boldness he wrote, "If the Hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the hill", which is the earliest known appearance of that proverb in print. The phrase "hostages to fortune" appears in the essay Of Marriage and Single Life – again the earliest known usage.Aldous Huxley's book Jesting Pilate took its epigraph, "What is Truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer", from Bacon's essay Of Truth. The 1999 edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations includes no fewer than 91 quotations from the Essays.
The contents pages of Thomas Markby's 1853 edition list the essays and their dates of publication as follows:
- Of Truth (1625)
- Of Death (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Unity in Religion/Of Religion (1612, rewritten 1625)
- Of Revenge(1625)
- Of Adversity (1625)
- Of Simulation and Dissimulation (1625)
- Of Parents and Children (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Marriage and Single Life (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
- Of Envy (1625)
- Of Love (1612, rewritten 1625)
- Of Great Place (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
- Of Boldness (1625)
- Of Goodness and Goodness of Nature (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Nobility (1612, rewritten 1625)
- Of Seditions and Troubles (1625)
- Of Atheism (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
- Of Superstition (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
- Of Travel (1625)
- Of Empire (1612, much enlarged 1625)
- Of Counsels (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Delays (1625)
- Of Cunning (1612, rewritten 1625)
- Of Wisdom for a Man's Self (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Innovations (1625)
- Of Dispatch (1612)
- Of Seeming Wise (1612)
- Of Friendship (1612, rewritten 1625)
- Of Expense (1597, enlarged 1612, again 1625)
- Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Estates (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Regiment of Health (1597, enlarged 1612, again 1625)
- Of Suspicion (1625)
- Of Discourse (1597, slightly enlarged 1612, again 1625)
- Of Plantations (1625)
- Of Riches (1612, much enlarged 1625)
- Of Prophecies (1625)
- Of Ambition (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Masques and Triumphs (1625)
- Of Nature in Men (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Custom and Education (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Fortune (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
- Of Usury (1625)
- Of Youth and Age (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
- Of Beauty (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
- Of Deformity (1612, somewhat altered 1625)
- Of Building (1625)
- Of Gardens (1625)
- Of Negotiating (1597, enlarged 1612, very slightly altered 1625)
- Of Followers and Friends (1597, slightly enlarged 1625)
- Of Suitors (1597, enlarged 1625)
- Of Studies (1597, enlarged 1625)
- Of Faction (1597, much enlarged 1625)
- Of Ceremonies and Respects (1597, enlarged 1625)
- Of Praise (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Vain Glory (1612)
- Of Honour and Reputation (1597, omitted 1612, republished 1625)
- Of Judicature (1612)
- Of Anger (1625)
- Of Vicissitude of Things (1625)
- A Fragment of an Essay of Fame
- Of the Colours of Good and Evil
- Michael J. Hawkins (ed.) Essays (London: J. M. Dent, 1973). No. 1010 in Everyman's Library.
- Michael Kiernan (ed.) The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985). Vol. 15 of The Oxford Francis Bacon.
- John Pitcher (ed.) The Essays (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985). In the Penguin Classics series.
- Brian Vickers (ed.) The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral (New York: Oxford University Press). In the Oxford World's Classics series.
- ^Burch, Dinah (ed). "The Essays". The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford Reference Online (Subscription service). Retrieved 12 May 2012.
- ^"Catalogue entry". Copac. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
- ^Heard, Franklin Fiske. "Bacon's Essays, with annotations by Richard Whately and notes and a glossarial index". Making of America Books. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
- ^Bacon, Francis (2000) . Kiernan, Michael, ed. The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall. New York: Oxford University Press. p. xlix. ISBN 0198186738. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
- ^Matthew, H. C. G.; Harrison, Brian, eds. (2004). The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 3. Oxford University Press. p. 142.
- ^Ward, A. W.; Waller, A. R., eds. (1907–27). The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. Cambridge University Press. pp. 395–98.
- ^Hallam, Henry (1854). Introduction to the Literature of Europe in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries, Vol 2. Boston: Little, Brown. p. 514.
- ^Simpson, John (1993). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. Oxford University Press. p. 176.
- ^The Oxford English Dictionary Vol 7. Oxford. 1989. p. 418.
- ^Huxley, Aldous (1930). Jesting Pilate. London: Chatto and Windus.
- ^Knowles, Elizabeth M., ed. (1999). The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Oxford University Press. pp. 42–44.
- ^Markby, Thomas (1853). The Essays, or, Counsels, Civil and Moral; With a Table of the Colours of Good and Evil. London: Parker. pp. xi–xii. Retrieved 13 May 2012.