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In the early part of the year 1597, Lord Bacon's first publication appeared. It is a small 12mo. volume, entitled Essayes, Religious Meditations, Places of Perswasion and Disswasion. It is dedicated
• To M. Anthony Bacon, his deare Brother. • Louing and beloued Brother, I doe nowe like some that have an Orcharde ill Neighbored, that gather their Fruit before it is ripe, to preuent stealing. These Fragments of my Conceites were going to print, To labour the staie of them had bin troublesome, and subiect to interpretation; to let them passe had beene to aduenture the wrong they mought receiue by vntrue Coppies, or by some Garnishment, which it mought please any that should set them forth to bestow vpon them. Therefore I helde it best as they passed long agoe from my Pen, without any further disgrace, then the weaknesse of the Author. And as I did euer hold, there mought be as great a vanitie in retiring and withdrawing mens conceites (except they bee of some nature) from the World, as in obtruding them : So in these particulars I haue played myself the Inquisitor, and find nothing to my vnderstanding in them contrarie or infectious to the state of Religion, or Manners, but rather (as I suppose) medecinable. Only I disliked now to put them out, because they will be like the late new Halfe-pence, which, though the Siluer were good, yet the Peeces were small. But since they would not stay with their Master, but would needes trauaile abroade, I haue preferred them to you that are next my selfe, Dedicating them, such as they are, to our Loue, in the depth whereof (I assure you) I sometimes wish your Infirmities translated vppon my selfe, that her Maiestie mought haue the Seruice of so actiue and able a Mind, and I mought be with excuse confined to these Contemplations and Studies for which I am fittest, so commend I you to the Preseruation of the Diuine Maiestie : From my Chamber at Graies Inne, this 30 of Januarie, 1597. Your entire Louing Brother, Fran. Bacon.'
The Essays, which are ten in number, abound with condensed thought and practical wisdom, neatly, pressly, and weightily stated, and, like all his early works, are simple, without imagery. They are written in his favorite style of aphorișins, although each essay is apparently a continued work, and without that love of antithesis and false glitter to which truth and justness of thought are frequently sacrificed by the writers of maxims.
A second edition, with a translation of the Meditationes Sacræ, was published in the next year; and another edition enlarged in 1612, when he was solicitor-general, containing thirty-eight essays; and one still more enlarged in 1625, containing fifty-eight essays, the year before his death.
The Essays in the subsequent editions are much augmented, according to his own words: “ I always alter when I add, so that nothing is finished till all is finished,” and they are adorned by happy and familiar illustration, as in the essay of Wisdom for a Man's self, which concludes in the edition of 1625, with the following extract, not to be found in the previous edition : “ Wisdom for a man's self, is, in many branches thereof, a depraved thing. It is the wisdom of rats, that will be sure to leave a house, somewhat before it fall. It is the wisdom of the fox, that thrusts out the badger, who digged and made room for him. It is the wisdom of crocodiles, that shed tears, when they would devour. But that which is specially to be noted is, that those, which (as Cicero says of Pompey) are, Sui Amantes sine Rivali, are many times unfortunate. And whereas they have all their time sacrificed to themselves, they become in the end themselves sacrifices to the inconstaney of Fortune ; whose wings they thought, by their self-wisdom, to have pinioned.”
So in the essay upon Adversity, on which he had deeply reflected, before the edition of 1625, when it first appeared, he says: “ The virtue of prosperity is temperance; the virtue of adversity is fortitude; which in morals is the more heroical virtue. Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New, which carrieth the great benediction, and the clearer revelation of God's favor. Yet, even in the Old Testament, if you listen to David's harp, you shall hear as many hearse-like airs, as carols; and the pencil of the Holy Ghost hath labored more, in describing the afflictions of Job, than the felicities of Solomon. Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes. We see in needle-works and embroideries, it is more pleasing to have a lively work, upon a sad and solemn ground, than to have a dark and melancholy work upon a lightsome ground ; judge, therefore, of the pleasure of the heart by the pleasure of the eye. Certainly, virtue is like precious odors, most fragrant when they are incensed, or crushed; for prosperity doth best discover vice; but adversity doth best discover virtue.”
The Essays were immediately translated into French and Italian, and into Latin by some of his friends, amongst whom were Hacket, Bishop of Lichfield, and his constant affectionate friend, Ben Jonson.
His own estimate of the value of this work is thus stated in his letter to the Bishop of Winchester: “ As for my Essays, and some other particulars of that nature, I count them but as the recreations of my other studies, and in that manner purpose to continue them ; though I am not ignorant that these kind of writings would, with less pains and assiduity, perhaps yield more lustre and reputation to my name than the others I have in hand.”
Although it was not likely that such lustre and reputation would dazzle him, the admirer of Phocion, who, when applauded, turned to one of his friends and asked: “ What have I said amiss ? ” although popular judgment was not likely to mislead him who concludes his observations upon the objections to learning, and the advantages of knowledge, by saying: “ Neve ess, I do not pre
tend, and I know it will be impossible for me, by any pleading of mine, to reverse the judgment either of Æsop's cock, that preferred the barleycorn before the gem; or of Midas, that being chosen judge between Apollo, president of the Muses, and Pan, god of the Hocks, judged for plenty ; or of Paris, that judged for beauty and love against wisdom and power
For these things continue as they have been ; but so will that also continue, whereupon learning hath ever relied and which faileth not, Justificata est sapientia a filiis suis : " yet he seems to have undervalued this little work, which, for two centuries, has been favorably received by every lover of knowledge and of beauty, and is now so well appreciated that a celebrated professor of our own times truly says: “ The small volume to which he has given the title of
Essays,' the best known and the most popular of all his works, is one of those where the superiority of his genius appears to the greatest advantage, the novelty and depth of bis reflections often receiving a strong relief from the triteness of the subject. It may be read from beginning to end in a few hours ; and yet after the twentieth perusal one seldom fails to remark in it something overlooked before. This, indeed, is a characteristic of all Bacon's writings, and is only to be accounted for by the inexhaustible aliment they furnish to our own thoughts and the sympathetic activity they impart to our torpid faculties.”
During his life six or more editions, which seem to have been pirated, were published ; and after his death, two spurious essays, “ Of Death,” and “Of a King,” the only authentic posthumous essay being the Fragment of an Essay on Fame, which was published by his friend and chaplain Dr. Rawley.
This edition is a transcript of the edition of 1625, with the posthumous essays. In the life of Bacon, there is a minute account of the different editions of the Essays and of their contents.
They may shortly be stated as follows:-
1 By B. Montagu. Appendix, note 3, I.
There are two copies of this edition in the university library at Cambridge; and there is Archbishop Sancroft's copy in Emanuel Library ; there is a copy in the Bodleian, and I have a copy. Second edition, 1598, genuine.
Third edition, 1606, pirated. Fourth edition, entitled “ The Essaies of Sir Francis Bacon, Knight, the Kings Solliciter Generall. Imprinted at London by lohn Beale, 1612,” genuine. It was the intention of Sir Francis to have dedicated this edition to Henry, Prince of Wales; but he was prevented by the death of the prince on the 6th of November in that year. This appears by the following letter:
To the Most High and Excellent Prince, Henry, Prince
of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, and Earl of Chester. It may please your Highness: Having divided
life into the contemplative and active part, I am desirous to give his Majesty and your Highness of the fruits of both, simple though they be. To write just treatises, requireth leisure in the writer and leisure in the reader, and therefore are not so fit, neither in regard of your Highness's princely affairs nor in regard of my continual service; which is the cause that hath made me choose to write certain brief notes, set down rather significantly than curiously, which I have called Essays. The word is late, but the thing is ancient; for Seneca's Epistles to Lucilius, if you mark them well, are but essays; that is, dispersed meditations though conveyed in the form of epistles. These labors of mine, I know, cannot be worthy of your Highness, for what can be worthy of you? But my hope is, they may be as grains of salt, that will rather give you an appetite than offend you with satiety. And although they handle those things wherein both men's lives and their persons are most conversant; yet what I have attained I know not; but I have endeavored to make them not vulgar, but of a nature whereof a man shall find much in experience and little in books; so as they are neither repetitions nor fancies. But, however, I shall most humbly desire your Highness to accept them in