Essays (Francis Bacon)  

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"There is no excellent beauty, that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" --"Of Beauty", Francis Bacon

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

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. A much-enlarged second edition appeared in 1612 with 38 essays. 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.


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. 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. 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".


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

Contents listing

The contents page of Thomas Markby's 1859 edition lists the essays and their dates of publication as follows:

Of Truth (1625)
Of Death (1612, enlarged 1625)
Of Unity in Religion/Of Religion (1612, rewritten 1625)
Of Revenge (1625)
Of Adversity (1625)
Of Simulation and Dissimulation (1625)
Of Parents and Children (1612, enlarged 1625)
Of Marriage and Single Life (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
Of Envy (1625)
Of Love (1612, rewritten 1625)
Of Great Place (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
Of Boldness (1625)
Of Goodness and Goodness of Nature (1612, enlarged 1625)
Of Nobility (1612, rewritten 1625)
Of Seditions and Troubles (1625)
Of Atheism (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
Of Superstition (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
Of Travel (1625)
Of Empire (1612, much enlarged 1625)
Of Counsels (1612, enlarged 1625)
Of Delays (1625)
Of Cunning (1612, rewritten 1625)
Of Wisdom for a Man's Self (1612, enlarged 1625)
Of Innovations (1625)
Of Dispatch (1612)
Of Seeming Wise (1612)
Of Friendship (1612, rewritten 1625)
Of Expense (1597, enlarged 1612, again 1625)
Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Estates (1612, enlarged 1625)
Of Regimen of Health (1597, enlarged 1612, again 1625)
Of Suspicion (1625)
Of Discourse (1597, slightly enlarged 1612, again 1625)
Of Plantations (1625)
Of Riches (1612, much enlarged 1625)
Of Prophecies (1625)
Of Ambition (1612, enlarged 1625)
Of Masques and Triumphs (1625)
Of Nature in Men (1612, enlarged 1625)
Of Custom and Education (1612, enlarged 1625)
Of Fortune (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
Of Usury (1625)
Of Youth and Age (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
Of Beauty (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
Of Deformity (1612, somewhat altered 1625)
Of Building (1625)
Of Gardens (1625)
Of Negotiating (1597, enlarged 1612, very slightly altered 1625)
Of Followers and Friends (1597, slightly enlarged 1625)
Of Suitors (1597, enlarged 1625)
Of Studies (1597, enlarged 1625)
Of Faction (1597, much enlarged 1625)
Of Ceremonies and Respects (1597, enlarged 1625)
Of Praise (1612, enlarged 1625)
Of Vain Glory (1612)
Of Honour and Reputation (1597, omitted 1612, republished 1625)
Of Judicature (1612)
Of Anger (1625)
Of Vicissitude of Things (1625)
A Fragment of an Essay of Fame
Of the Colours of Good and Evil

Recent editions

  • Michael J. Hawkins (ed.) Essays (London: J. M. Dent, 1973). No. 1010 in Everyman's Library.
  • Michael Kiernan (ed.) The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985). Vol. 15 of The Oxford Francis Bacon.
  • John Pitcher (ed.) The Essays (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985). In the Penguin Classics series.
  • Brian Vickers (ed.) The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral (New York: Oxford University Press). In the Oxford World's Classics series.

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