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The Essays, or counsils, civil and moral, of sir Francis Bacon (1597)

by Francis Bacon (Author)

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I'd been meaning to tackle Bacon's Essays for years; they're listed among the "100 Significant Books" in Good Reading; this edition has been in my household since before I was born, the better to mark up and highlight, since it's hardly pristine. Bacon's essays didn't impress at first. For one, so many of the best lines in the early essays are quotes from classical sources (almost all in Latin, so it's a good thing my edition provided translations within brackets.) But also reading the short provided biography provided lots of reasons for cynicism. Bacon was stripped of high office for bribery, and never had any children, and knowing that made me look upon such essays as "On Truth," "Of Great Place" (where he speaks of avoiding even the suspicion of bribery) and "Of Parents and Children" with a jaundiced eye. That last essay and his take on "Of Marriage and Single Life" and "Of Love" made me feel Bacon's was a cold heart, that only went pitter patter with ambition. (His essay "Of Friendship," one of my favorites in the collection ameliorated that impression a great deal.) At the same time, his life story just underlined that here was a shrewd politician, and that lends all the more interest to essays on power and statesmanship such as "Of Seditions and Troubles," "Of Empire," "Of Counsel" and "On Cunning." Some of his insights certainly still seemed current:

Princes have need, in tender matters and ticklish times, to beware what they say; especially in these short speeches, which fly abroad like darts, and are thought to be hot out of their secret intentions - Of Seditions and Troubles

For their merchants; they are the gate-vein [that distributes nourishment to the body] and if they flourish not, a kingdom may have good limbs, but will have empty veins, and nourish little. Taxes and imposts upon them do seldom good to the king's revenue; for that that he wins in the hundred he loses in the shire; the particular rates being increased, but the total bulk of trading rather decreased. - Of Empire

Besides essays mentioned above, two of my favorites were "Of Travel" (his advice on how to make the most of foreign travel is still relevant) and "Of Studies" with this famous passage:

Read not to contradict, and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: That is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read but not curiously; And some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. - Of Studies

Besides which, just look in any index of a book of quotations. The essays influence on literature, thinking and common phrases is prodigious, making this a must-read. Just make sure you get an edition like mine that translates the Latin phrases and provides some definition of period words in handy footnotes and you're all set. (One that regularizes the capitalizations and spellings are a help as well for enjoyment and comprehension.) They're short--ranging from only a few hundred to a few thousand words--mostly on that short end of that spectrum, and despite the period language I found them, if not easy, then not difficult reads. I certainly found Bacon far more lively and accessible reading than such descendents as Thoreau and Emerson. ( )
  LisaMaria_C | Jul 24, 2012 |
These essays were written about 400 years ago, and are often credited as being the first "essays" ever written. Francis Bacon is often credited with starting off the scientific revolution, sometimes credited for writing Shakespeare's plays, and also of being a secret child of Elizabeth I, and he was involved with the Freemasons, and the Rosicrucians too. What isn't in doubt though is that a lot of his philosophy is still poignant today. My copy is second hand, and the previous owner saw fit to underline a good number of lines of particular interest. The thing is, he could have underlined a lot more, the book is full of wit and the serious alike. You probably wouldn't want to read this book from cover to cover in one go, but it is good to dip into. Some of the essays seem a bit outdated, but many of them are not. Bacon's New Atlantis, a short utopian novel, is a bit more interesting, but if you have any interest in literature from around this time, or philosophy, then you could enjoy reading this. ( )
1 vote P_S_Patrick | Mar 29, 2008 |
At times pretentious, at other times very insightful. ( )
  stpnwlf | Jul 16, 2007 |
Wikipedia: Francis Bacon's essays, published in book form in 1597, 1612, and 1625, were the first works in English that described themselves as essays.
This review has been flagged by multiple users as abuse of the terms of service and is no longer displayed (show).
  billyfantles | Sep 12, 2006 |
Interesting discussions (approximately 16th century) on a hodgepodge of topics that were of interest to Bacon and relevant to the time. Many of his observations would hold up in present day debates on issues of the day with a philosophical approach. ( )
  WhatTheDickens | Dec 31, 1969 |
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» Add other authors (38 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bacon, FrancisAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bailey, Philip H.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hawkins, MichaelEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hudson William H.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morley, ChristopherIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Newbolt, Sir HenryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Quinton, LordIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosenbach, Dr. A. S. W.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Selby, F. G.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smeaton, William Henry OliphantIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vickers, BrianEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To the Right Honorable My Very Good Lo. The Duke of Buckingham, His Grace, Lo. High Admirall of England - Excellent Lo. Salomon saies; A good Name is as a precious oyntment; and I assure my selfe, such wil your Graces Name bee, with Posteritie. For your Fortune, and Merit both, have beene Eminent. And you have planted Things, that are like to last. I doe now publish my Essayes; which of all my other workes, have beene most Currant: For that, as it seemes, they come home, to Mens Businesse, and Bosomes. I have enlarged them, both in Number, and Weight; So that they are indeed a New Worke. I thought it therefore agreeable, to my Affection, and Obligation to your Grace, to prefix your Name before them, both in English, and in Latine. For I doe conceive, that the Latine Volume of them, (being in the universall Language) may last, as long as Bookes last. My Instauration, I dedicated to the Kind: My Historie of Henry the Seventh, (which I have now also translated into Latine) and my Portions of Naturall History, to the Prince: And these I dedicate to your Grace; Being of the best Fruits, that by the good Encrease, which God gives to my Pen and Labours, I could yeeld. God leade your Grace by the Hand. Your Graces most Obliged and Faithfull Servant, Fr. St. Alban
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Essays or Counsels Civil and Moral Essay I.--Of Truth 'What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer. Certainly there be that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief; affecting free-will in thinking, as well as in acting. And though the sects of philosophers of that kind be gone, yet there remain certain discoursing wits which are of the same veins, though there be not so much blood in them as was in those of the ancients.
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From the Introduction - 'departed, carrying with him a profound contempt for the course of study pursued there, a fixed conviction that the system of academic education in England was radically vicious, a just scorn for the trifles on which the followers of Aristotle had wasted their powers, and no great reverence for Aristotle himself.' - Macaulay
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140432167, Paperback)

One of the major political figures of his time, Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) served in the court of Elizabeth I and ultimately became Lord Chancellor under James I in 1617. A scholar, wit, lawyer and statesman, he wrote widely on politics, philosophy and science - declaring early in his career that 'I have taken all knowledge as my province'. In this, his most famous work, he considers a diverse range of subjects, such as death and marriage, ambition and atheism, in prose that is vibrant and rich in Renaissance learning. Bacon believed that rhetoric - the force of eloquence and persuasion - could lead the mind to the pure light of reason, and his own rhetorical genius is nowhere better expressed than in these vivid essays.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:54 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Discusses truth, death, revenge, adversity, envy, marriage, love, goodness, superstition, friendship, ambition, aging, beauty, gardens, and honor.

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