Essayes: Religious Meditations. Places of Perswasion and Disswasion. Seene and Allowed (1597) was the first published book by the philosopher, statesman and juristFrancis 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.
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 fewer than 91 quotations from the Essays.
The contents pages of Thomas Markby's 1853 edition list 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 Regiment 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
- 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.
- ^Burch, Dinah (ed). "The Essays". The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford Reference Online (Subscription service). Retrieved 12 May 2012.
- ^"Catalogue entry". Copac. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
- ^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.
- ^Bacon, Francis (2000) . Kiernan, Michael, ed. The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall. New York: Oxford University Press. p. xlix. ISBN 0198186738. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
- ^Matthew, H. C. G.; Harrison, Brian, eds. (2004). The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 3. Oxford University Press. p. 142.
- ^Ward, A. W.; Waller, A. R., eds. (1907–27). The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. Cambridge University Press. pp. 395–98.
- ^Hallam, Henry (1854). Introduction to the Literature of Europe in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries, Vol 2. Boston: Little, Brown. p. 514.
- ^Simpson, John (1993). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. Oxford University Press. p. 176.
- ^The Oxford English Dictionary Vol 7. Oxford. 1989. p. 418.
- ^Huxley, Aldous (1930). Jesting Pilate. London: Chatto and Windus.
- ^Knowles, Elizabeth M., ed. (1999). The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Oxford University Press. pp. 42–44.
- ^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.
A related question to your question would be, What was Bacon's idealism like? I would first answer this question. Then, I will discuss the essay, "Of Great Places," in the light of his idealism -- as I understand it.
Francis Bacon's Essays were published in 1597. He described his essays as "counsels..civil and moral." Apparently, these essays were written for ambitious university educated young men who aspired to "great places," i.e., --in our parlance --high ranking officers in administration.
Bacon himself was a very high ranking officer; served as both Attorney General and Lord Chancellor in Queen Elizabeth's court. (Lord Chancellor used to be the old name for prime minister. The difference was that in those days the monarch chose her own prime minister whereas in Parliament the elected officials choose a leader to serve as prime minister). Add to that the fact that Bacon is also regarded as a pioneer of modern science as we know it, arguing for the importance of accurate observation of natural processes, faithful recording of the observations and making logical conclusions from the observation -- we have a formidable intellect and a philosopher.
The critical opinion of Bacon used to be that he was a Machiavellian; meaning, Bacon was like Machiavelli, the Italian statesman of the later middle ages given to perhaps a bit too much practical wisdom! But, in my opinion, that sort of critical estimate was based on the written histories of England. I am willing to concede that Bacon privileged pragmatism to abstract idealism; what I have more trouble with is the moralistic pronouncement on the man.
Bacon's idealism may be deduced from his intellectual productions. A contemporary of Galleleo and Descartes, Bacon was a severe critic of the intellectual milieu that pervaded his times (Descartes, Galleleo were exceptions -- the latter was, in fact, a victim of the church because of his scientific knowledge). Bacon discarded old science of the alchemists and kept on pushing relentlessly to the scientific method that I have briefly outlined above.
In his personal-professional life, he worked tirelessly and rose from position to position. Then, there was the fall. He was convicted of corruption and imprisoned and forcibly retired from public life, not unlike what happens, time and again, in the US today.
It was during this period of forced retirement that Bacon produced most of his written work. In the essay under discussion, "Of Great Places," Bacon writes which, in hindsight, is no small irony: "Nay, retire, men cannot when they would, neither will they, when it were reason; but are impatient of privateness."
"Of Great Places" distills Bacon's idealism about personal and professional idealism. Brimming with terse, literary sentences, typically Baconian, this essay attracts readers' attention through stylized brevity. The very first sentence of the essay --" Men in great places are thrice servants" -- would be a very good example. He had a sense of balance. His sentences were cryptic and elegant: "It is a strange desire, to seek power and to lose liberty: or to seek power over others, and to lose power over a man’s self. "
I think what Bacon tries to convey with this style, and with his subject matter, is that triumphing in public life is in itself a "science." It is not a matter of hot-eyed humanistic idealism. Rising to high places is laborious, he says. But it is important to rise to these places in order to do public good.