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But when the stumbling-blocks have been removed from the vocabulary, it happens now and then that the thought remains obscure. Sometimes the relevance of a remark is not obvious: sometimes the terseness of a sentence conceals its drift. In such cases an explanation or a paraphrase is given in the Notes.
Lastly, though obscurities of diction and of argument may have been cleared away, Bacon's historical and mythological allusions cause perplexity. Of such allusions the number contained in the whole series of Essays exceeds three hundred. In the 19th Essay there are forty; in the 27th there are close upon thirty. An Index of Proper Names furnishes the necessary details respecting every person and place mentioned in Bacon's text and a reference to the Essay in which the allusion occurs. As a means of making the Essays intelligible to the ordinary student, I believe that this Index will be found of far greater service than disquisitions upon Bacon's politics, morals, or philosophy.
The student who understands Bacon's language, the drift of his argument, and the point of his allusions, has attained the principal object with which, presumably, he read Bacon's book. But there are some readers for whom questions of grammatical usage possess considerable interest, and a classified enumeration is therefore supplied in the Appendix of the differences between the English of the Essays and the English of our own day.
As we are concerned in the Essays with Bacon only as the man of letters, I have said nothing of his work in philosophy or of his political career. I have also abstained from quoting at length parallel passages from his other writings. Bacon was careful of his good things and when he had said them once he liked to say them again. Δὶς ἢ τρὶς τὰ καλά.
A repetition, from the Advancement of Learning or from the History of Henry VII., of remarks which already figure in the Essays seems unnecessary. The desire to economise space has led me to supply, as a rule, merely the numbered reference to passages in other authors.
For the spelling I have generally followed Mr Aldis Wright's text, but I have modified the punctuation by removing some thousands of stops which, at the present day, are a source only of embarrassment. After a short acquaintance with the book, the reader will find no difficulty in the profusion of capital letters and the liberal disregard of orthographical conventions, but will probably like his old-world author all the better in the author's oldworld dress.
To Mr Aldis Wright, Dr Abbott, and Mr S. H. Reynolds, among the many editors of Bacon's Essays, my indebtedness is very great. I have also made use occasionally of the Notes furnished by Mr Hunter, Mr Selby, and Messrs Storr and Gibson. An acknowledgment in this general form will, I trust, be accepted as covering particular instances in which I may have borrowed without making explicit reference to the source. My thanks are due to Mr John Sargeaunt, of University College, Oxford, for helpful suggestions on several points respecting which I have asked his advice.
January 1st, 1897.
A. S. WEST.