Изображения страниц

practical wisdom, which should "come home to men's business and bosoms." Human nature was to be dealt with, not as it ought to be or might become, but as it was. To act wisely men must have a knowledge of both good and evil arts, that they might use the former and shun the latter. Bacon does not invariably counsel us to shun the evil arts; if one would work a man, one must know his defects as well as his virtues; and there are times when Bacon justifies dissimulation and falsehood. Moreover, there is a too constant reference to self-interest for our approval to-day. Yet with these exceptions the morality of the Essays is on the whole healthy.

In the ten Essays of the first edition (see below) the style is simple and concise to the last degree. Indifferent to literary finish, the author is bent on applying a homely common sense to some every-day problems. The mood of exalted style is out of the question. In the second edition a distinctly higher level is reached, both in the character of the new subjects treated and in the style. The consideration of such subjects as goodness, beauty, empire, death, and the greatness of kingdoms could not fail to elevate the thought and perhaps induce a statelier and more measured style. In the third edition the practical point of view is still maintained; but Bacon occasionally rises to philosophic heights, as when he speaks of the inquiry, knowledge, and belief of truth as the sovereign good of human nature, or when he remarks that "adversity doth best discover virtue."

Let us now glance at the method of the Essays. An outline of Essay xxi (see above) may run as follows:


a. Sometimes by waiting, you get a lower price.

x. Again, you pay more dearly.

b. Failing to take Occasion by the forelock, we can get no hold.

c. There is no greater wisdom than knowing when to begin.

d. Better meet dangers half way than watch too long.

y. But to shoot too soon is another extreme.

e. Success depends first upon secrecy in counsel; 2. then upon quickness in execution.

From this it will appear that Bacon does not attempt to arrange his material, but weaves together his antitheses in pairs much as points are developed in a debate. There is rarely a formal introduction, and only in the longer Essays (cf. iii, vi, ix, xiv, xv, xix, xx, etc.) does he give evidence of care in planning; we cannot infer, however, that Bacon did not always arrange his heads carefully. He is fond of quoting from his favorite historians and moralists, Plutarch, Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius, Dion Cassius, Cicero, Erasmus-usually from memory, sometimes so inaccurately that some have concluded he was trying to improve their expression. A conclusion that summarizes does not often occur; the shortness of most of the Essays renders this un


Bacon's point of view in general is that of the patriotic supporter of a limited monarchy. For him the best form of government was that of an intelligent king, whose power should be attempered by nobles not too great. From such a government a much more enlightened rule might be expected than from the as yet crude and unorganized Commons, meeting irregularly and unaccustomed to power; and Bacon saw no reason to favor the extension of the people's powers. At the same time, though "a peremptory royalist," Bacon supported a policy of conciliation and wished to see the people contented and prosperous. He opposed excessive taxation, since a people burdened with taxes could never "become valiant and martial." He favored the protection of infant industries and the regulation of waste and excess through sumptuary laws. In general he opposed monopo

lies. He believed that the wealth of the state should not be gathered into a few hands. He strongly urged the planting of colonies and a generous colonial policy.

His foreign policy was not so enlightened. War, he believed, was as essential to national health as exercise to the body. No nation could be great that was not ready, when the time came, with a pretext for war. The character of the soldiery, however, was more important than its numbers. Men downtrodden by evil legislation, as well as mercenaries, made poor soldiers. A large standing army,

being a possible internal menace, was not so desirable as an efficient navy. Bacon warmly favored the union of England and Scotland, if only for strategic reasons; commerce also demanded it. On account of trade and commerce he likewise desired friendly relations with Holland.

On matters of religion and theology Bacon expresses himself less freely. Of religion he says very little formally; Essay iii is concerned mainly with religious politics, or church unity and harmony. A devout Christian, Bacon was yet very much of a man of the world, and had no disposition to confuse morality with religion. Elizabeth herself could lie unblushingly when policy demanded it; yet she was the head and overseer of the Church. Of the life to come, Bacon has no thoughts to record. He only knows that death is as natural as birth; and he has a certain stoical fearlessness of what lies beyond.

So much for the subject-matter of the Essays. In the form in which we read them Bacon thought little of them; they were trifles that would last no longer than the ephemeral language in which they were written. To endure, he thought, they must be turned into Latin. Yet it is by the Essays, in English, that Bacon has long been best known; and of all his writings they give the greatest promise of endurance. What is the reason for this? They are not infallible; most of them are out of date; their moral and political wisdom is sometimes frankly questioned. Their merit lies in the serious and fruitful manner in which a great mind has considered some familiar and some great problems of life, and has allowed us to follow his meditations. And these meditations reflect both Bacon and his environment. For this reason they have taken their place among the classics of the world. For the thinker men have always had admiration and respect; and the great mind of Francis Bacon was not the least important fruit of the English Renaissance.



The first edition of the Essays, published in 1597, contained the following ten: L, XXXII, LII, XLVIII, XLIX, XXVIII, XXX, LV, LI, and XLVII. The volume was dedicated to Bacon's brother Anthony.

Between 1607 and 1612 was transcribed the draft known as Harleian мs. 5106 (never published), now in the British Museum. This contained twenty-four more essays and was dedicated to Henry, Prince of Wales, who died November 3, 1612.

The second edition appeared in 1612. Omitting LV, it contained, in addition to the remaining nine, the following twenty-nine: XXVII, XXIII, XIV, XIII, XLIII, XXVI, XXXVI, XXXIV, XXV, XLIV, XLII, VIII, VII, XI, XIX, XX, XVI, XVII, LIII, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XL, II (all of which, with some variations, occur in Harl. мs. 5106); III, XXII, X, LVI, LIV, XXIX. Prince Henry having died, this volume was dedicated to Bacon's brother-in-law, Sir John Constable.

The third edition, 1625, contained nineteen new essays: I, IV, V, VI, IX, XII, XVIII, XXI, XXIV, XXXI, XXXIII, XXXV, XXXVII, XLI, XLV, XLVI, LVII, LVIII. Essay xv, which occurs in Harl. мs. 5106, was now first published, and Essay LV was restored.

The Latin translation, though practically complete in 1625, was not published until 1638. It was edited by the Rev. William Rawley, Bacon's chaplain. Two Essays, LII and LIII, were omitted. Numerous additions and variations were made, some of which, as helping to explain Bacon's meaning, are indicated in the Notes.

The best of recent editions are those of Whately (1856), Wright (3d edition 1865), Abbott (7th edition 1886; the text is poor), and Reynolds (Oxford, 1890, for intensive study indispensable). Edward Arber published in 1871 a valuable Harmony of the Essays.

The standard edition of Bacon's complete works is that of Spedding, Ellis, and Heath, London, 1857-62 (Boston,

Houghton, Mifflin and Company). The standard life of Bacon is the Letters and Life by Spedding, in seven volumes (London, 1861-74). The best accessible biographies are Spedding's abridged Life, Boston, 1878, and Nichol's Francis Bacon, His Life and Philosophy (Philadelphia, 1888-89). The biographies by Church (English Men of Letters), 1884, and Abbott, 1885 (see, also, his Bacon and Essex, London, 1877), while valuable in many ways, are by many considered unjust to Bacon's character. Macaulay's superficial essay in The Edinburgh Review for July, 1837, was mercilessly probed by Spedding (Evenings with a Reviewer, London, 1881), and pronounced wholly untrustworthy. Consult further the articles by S. R. Gardiner and T. Fowler in The Dictionary of National Biography, 1885; Minto's Manual of English Prose Literature, 3d edition, 1886; Michael Macmillan's "Bacon's Moral Teaching," Intern. Journal of Ethics, October, 1906. For interesting particulars of the times, see Hubert Hall's Society in the Elizabethan Age, London, 1886.



1561. Francis Bacon born.

1564. Shakespeare and Galileo born. 1573. Bacon went to Cambridge.

1576. Bacon admitted to Gray's Inn. 1579. Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar. Lyly's Euphues.

1580-81. Sidney's Arcadia and Apology for Poetrie


1584. Bacon entered Parliament.

Letter of Advice to Queen Elizabeth.

1587. Execution of Mary Stuart.

1588. Defeat of the Spanish Armada.

1589. Advertisement touching the Controversies of the Church of England.

1596. Maxims of the Law.

Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »