Essays (Francis Bacon)

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1696 title page Bacon Essays 1696.jpg
1696 title page

Essayes: Religious Meditations. Places of Perswasion and Disswasion. Seene and Allowed (1597) was the first published book by the philosopher, statesman and jurist Francis 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. While the original edition included 10 essays, a much-enlarged second edition appeared in 1612 with 38. 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. [1] [2]


Critical reception

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. [3] [4] 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. [5] [6] 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". [7]

The Essays stimulated Richard Whately to republish them with annotations, somewhat extensive, that Whately extrapolated from the originals. [8]


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. [9] The phrase "hostages to fortune" appears in the essay Of Marriage and Single Life – again the earliest known usage. [10] 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. [11] The 1999 edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations includes no fewer than 91 quotations from the Essays. [12]

Contents listing

The contents pages of Thomas Markby's 1853 edition list the essays and their dates of publication as follows: [13]

Recent editions

See also


  1. Burch, Dinah (ed). "The Essays". The Oxford Companion to English Literature . Oxford Reference Online (Subscription service). Retrieved 12 May 2012.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  2. "Catalogue entry". Copac . Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  3. 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.
  4. Bacon, Francis (2000) [1985]. Kiernan, Michael (ed.). The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall. New York: Oxford University Press. p. xlix. ISBN   0198186738 . Retrieved 13 May 2012.
  5. Matthew, H. C. G.; Harrison, Brian, eds. (2004). The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 3. Oxford University Press. p. 142.
  6. Ward, A. W.; Waller, A. R., eds. (1907–27). The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. Cambridge University Press. pp. 395–98.
  7. Hallam, Henry (1854). Introduction to the Literature of Europe in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries, Vol 2. Boston: Little, Brown. p. 514.
  8. Richard Whately (1858) Bacon’s Essays with Annotations via Internet Archive
  9. Simpson, John (1993). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. Oxford University Press. p. 176.
  10. The Oxford English Dictionary Vol 7. Oxford. 1989. p. 418.
  11. Huxley, Aldous (1930). Jesting Pilate. London: Chatto and Windus.
  12. Knowles, Elizabeth M., ed. (1999). The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations . Oxford University Press. pp. 42–44.
  13. 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.

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