Francis Bacon.

Essays, moral, economical and political online

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Some Account of tje &utjjoi\

THE illustrious author of these Essays is so generally
known as a man and a writer that any particular ac-
count of him on the present occasion would be super-
fluous. To dwell, indeed, on the incidents of my Lord
Bacon's life would be an unpleasant and mortifying
task : for ever must it be deplored by the lover of
literature and his species, that the possessor of this
extraordinary intellect should have been exposed to
the dangers of a situation to which his firmness was
unequal ; and, withdrawn from the retirement of his
study, where he was the first of men, should have
been thrown into the tumult of business, where he dis-
covered himself to be among the last. The superio-
rity, it is true, of his talents rendered him every where
eminent ; and when we see him acting at court, in the
senate, at the bar, or on the bench, we behold an
engine of mighty force, sufficient, as it would appear,
to move the world : but when we carry our research
into his bosom, we find nothing there but the ebulli-
tion and froth of some common or corrupt passions :
and we are struck with the contrast between the little-
ness within and the exhibition of energy without.
But peace be to the failings of this wonderful man !
they who alone were affected by them, his contempo-
raries and himself, have long since passed to their ac-
count ; and existing no more as the statesman or the
judge, he survives to us only in his works, as the
father of experimental physics, and a great luminary
of science.

In his literary character he must alwaj r s be con-
templated with astonishment; and we cannot suffici-
ently wonder at the riches or the powers of his mind ;



at that penetration which no depth could elude ; that
comprehension for which no object was too large ; that
vigour which no labour could exhaust ; that memory
which no pressure of acquisitions could subdue. By
his two great works, " On the Advancement of Learn-
ing, " and ^ The New Organ of the Sciences," written
amid the distraction of business and of cares, sufficient
of themselves to have occupied the whole of any other
mind, did this mighty genius first break the shackles
of that scholastic philosophy, which long had crushed
the human intellect ; and diverting the attention from
words to things, from theory to experiment, demon-
strate the road to that height of science on which the
moderns are now seated, and which the ancients were
unable to reach.

But these grand displays of his genius and know-
ledge are now chiefly regarded as they present to the
curious an illustrious evidence of the powers of the
human mind. Having awakened and directed the
exertions of Europe, the usefulness of these writings
has in a great degree been superseded by the labours
of the subsequent adventurers in science ; who, pur-
suing the track marked out for them by their great
master, have found it opening into a region of clear
and steady light. Of the other works of this great
man, which were objects of admiration to his own
times, the following Essays are, perhaps, the only
ones which retain much of their pristine popularity.
His law treatises have always been restricted by their
subject within the line of a professional circle : of his
state papers and speeches the power has expired with
the interest of those events to which they were attach-
ed ; and his History of Henry the Seventh, blemished
as it is with something more than those defects of
style which, from the example and patronage of a
pedant king, then began to infect the purity of our
composition, is in these days consulted only by the

But these Essays, written at a period of better taste,
and on subjects of immediate importance to the con-
duct of common life, " such as come home to men's


business and bosoms/' are still read with pleasure,
and continue to possess, in the present age, nearly as
much estimation as they did in that which witnessed
their first publication. From the circumstance of
their having engaged his attention at different and re-
mote intervals of his life, they appear to have shared
a more than common portion of their great author's
regard ; and they are evidently composed in his hap-
piest manner, and with the full stretch of his powers.
In them we are presented with all the wisdom which
the deepest erudition could recover from the gulf of
buried ages; and with all that also which the most
sagacious and accurate observation could select from
the spectacle of the passing scene : in them we behold
imagination and knowledge equally successful in
their exertions ; this as the contributor of truths, and
that of opening her affluent wardrobe for their dress ;
one like the earth throwing out of her bosom the
organized forms of matter, and the other like the sun
arraying them in an endless variety of hues.

Of the Essay, that most agreeable and perhaps most
useful vehicle of instruction, my Lord Bacon must be
considered, at least in our country, as the inventor;
and to the success of his attempt may be ascribed that
numerous race of writers, to whose short and enter-
taining lessons the public mind may be regarded as
principally indebted for its present cultivation and

Thus strongly recommended by their intrinsic worth,
these Essays possess also an additional and accidental
value, from the circumstance of their constituting all
which, in some sense, remains of their admirable
author. His other works, it has been already re-
marked, are, in fact, extinct to the many, and now
generally known only as a mighty name: and the
writer of these short compositions, the great Lord
Bacon, may not improperly be considered as shrunk,
like the ashes of an Alexander in a golden urn, within
the limits of this little but sterling volume.





LOVING and beloved brother, I do now like some
that have an orchard ill neighboured, that gather their
fruit before it is ripe, to prevent stealing. These
fragments of my conceit were going to print : to labour
the stay of them had been troublesome, and subject to
interpretation ; to let them pass had been to adventure
the wrong they might receive by untrue copies, or by
some garnishment which it might please any that
should set them forth to bestow upon them ; therefore
I held it best discretion to publish them myself, as
they passed long ago from my pen, without any fur-
ther disgrace than the weakness of the author ; and as
I did ever hold, there might be as great a vanity in
retiring and withdrawing men's conceit (except they
be of some nature) from the world, as in obtruding
them : so in these particulars I have played myself
the inquisitor, and find nothing to my understanding
in them contrary or infectious to the state of religion
or manners, but rather, as I suppose, medicinable :
only I dislike now to put them out, because they will
be like the late new halfpence, which though the silver
were good, yet the pieces were small ; but since they
would not stay with their master, but would needs
travel abroad, I have preferred them to you that are
next myself; dedicating them, such as they are, to
our love, in the depth whereof, I assure you, I some-
times wish your infirmities translated upon myself,
that her majesty might have the service of so active
and able a mind ; and I might be with excuse con-
fined to these contemplations and studies, for which I
am fittest : so commend I you to the preservation of
the Divine Majesty.

Your entire loving brother,


From my Chamber at Gray's Inn,
this 3Qt/i of January y 15Q7.




MY last Essays I dedicated to my dear brother, Mr.
Anthony Bacon, who is with God. Looking among
iny papers this vacation, I found others of the same
nature : which if I myself shall not suffer to be lost,
it seemeth the world will not, by the often printing of
the former. Missing my brother, I found you next ;
in respect of bond, both of near alliance, and of straight
friendship and society, and particularly of communi-
cation in studies ; wherein I must acknowledge my-
self beholden to you : for as my business found rest
in my contemplations, so my contemplations ever
found rest in your loving conference and judgment :
so wishing you all good, I remain

Your loving brother and friend,



l|ts State Tortf l^tgf) ^Bmiral af CEnglanB.


SOLOMON says, " a good name is as a precious oint-
ment ;" and I assure myself such will your Grace's
name be with posterity : for your fortune and merit
both have been eminent ; and you have planted things
that are like to last. I do now publish my Essays ;
which of all my other works, have been most current ;
for that, as it seems, they come home to men's business


and bosoms. I have enlarged them both in number
and weight ; so that they are indeed a new work : I
thought it, therefore, agreeable to my affection and
obligation to your Grace, to prefix your name before
them, both in English and Latin : for I do conceive,
that the Latin volume of them, being in the universal
language, may last as long as books last. My In-
stauration I dedicated to the King; my History of
Heiiry the Seventh, which I have now translated into
Latin, and my portions of Natural History, to the
Prince ; and these I dedicate to your Grace, being of
the best fruits, that, by the good increase which God
gives to my pen and labours, I could yield. God
lead your Grace by the hand.

Your Grace's most obliged and faithful servant,




\VnAT 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 philo-
sophers 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. But it is not
only the difficulty and labour which men take in
finding out of truth; nor again, that, when it is
found, it imposeth upon men's thoughts, that
doth bring lies in favour ; but a natural, though
corrupt love of the lie itself. One of the later
schools of the Grecians examineth the matter,
and is at a stand to think what should be in it,
that men should love lies, whether neither they
make for pleasure, as with poets; nor for advan-
tage, as with the merchant ; but for the lie's sake.
But I cannot tell: this same truth is a naked
and open daylight, that doth not show the
masques, and mummeries, and triumphs of the
world half so stately and daintily as candle-
lights. Truth may perhaps come to the price of
a pearl, that showeth best by day; but it will


not rise to the price of a diamond or carbuncle,
that showeth best in varied lights. A mixture
of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man
doubt, that if there were taken out of men's
minds vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valu-
ations, imaginations as one would, and the like,
but it would leave the minds of a number of
men poor shrunken things, full of melancholy
indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves ?
One of the fathers, in great severity, called
poesy, " vinum daemonum," because it filleth
the imagination, and yet it is but with the sha-
dow of a lie. But it is not the lie that passeth
through the mind, but the lie that sinketh in
and settleth in it that doth the hurt, such as we
spake of before. But howsoever these things
are thus in men's depraved judgments and affec-
tions, yet truth, which only doth judge itself,
teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the
love making or wooing of it; the knowledge of
truth, which is the presence of it; and the be-
lief of truth, which is the enjoying of it; is the
sovereign good of human nature. The first
creature of God, in the works of the days, was
the light of the sense ; the last was the light of
reason ; and his sabbath work, ever since, is
the illumination of the Spirit. First he breathed
light upon the face of the matter, or chaos ; then
he breathed light into the face of man ; and still
he breatheth and inspireth light into the face of
his chosen. The poet that beautified the sect,
that was otherwise inferior to the rest, saith yet
excellently well, *' It is a pleasure to stand upon
the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea;


a pleasure to stand in the window of a castle,
and to see a battle, and the adventures thereof
below : but no pleasure is comparable to the
standing upon the vantage ground of truth (a
hill not to be commanded, and where the air is
always clear and serene), and to see the errors,
and wanderings* and mists, and tempests, in the
vale below :" so always, that this prospect be
with pity, and not with swelling or pride. Cer-
tainly it is heaven upon earth to have a man's
mind move in charity, rest in Providence, and
turn upon the poles of truth.

The pass from theological and philosophical
truth to the truth of civil business, it will be ac-
knowledged, even by those who practise it not,
that clear and round dealing is the honour of
man's nature, and that mixture of falsehood is
like alloy in coin of gold and silver, which may
make the metal work the better, but it ernbas-
eth it : for these winding and crooked courses
are the goings of the serpent; which goeth
basely upon the belly, and not upon the feet.
There is no vice that doth so cover a man with
shame as to be found false and perfidious : and
therefore Montaigne saith prettily, when he in-
quired the reason why the word of the lie should
be such a disgrace, and such an odious charge,
" If it be well weighed, to say that a man lieth
is as much as to say that he is brave towards
God, and a coward towards men: for a lie faces
God, and shrinks from man." Surely the wick-
edness of falsehood and breach of faith cannot
possibly be so, highly expressed as in that it

B 3


shall be the last peal to call the judgments of
God upon the generations of men : it being fore-
told that when " Christ cometh," he shall not
" find faith upon earth."


MEN fear death as children fear to go into the
dark ; and as that natural fear in children is in-
creased with tales, so is the other. Certainly,
the contemplation of death, as the wages of sin
and passage to another world, is holy and reli-
gious ; but the fear of it, as a tribute due unto
nature, is weak. Yet in religious meditations
there is sometimes mixture of vanity and of
superstition. You shall read in some of the
friars' books of mortification, that a man should
think with himself what the pain is, if he have
but his finger's end pressed, or tortured, and
thereby imagine what the pains of death are
when the whole body is corrupted and dissolved;
when many times death passeth with less pain
than the torture of a limb ; for the most vital
parts are not the quickest of sense : and by him
that spake only as a philosopher and natural
man, as was well said, " Pompa mortis magis
terret, quam mors ipsa." Groans, and convul-
sions, and a discoloured face, and friends weep-
ing, and blacks and obsequies, and the like,
show death terrible. It is worthy the observ-
ing, that there is no passion in the mind of man
so weak, but it mates and masters the fear of
death; and therefore death is no such terrible
enemy when a man hath so many attendants


about him that can win the combat of him. Re-
venge triumphs over death; love slights it;
honour aspireth to it; grief flieth to it; fear
preoccupieth it; nay, we read, after Otho the
emperor had slain himself, pity (which is the
tenderest of affections) provoked many to die
out of mere compassion to their sovereign, and
as the truest sort of followers. Nay, Seoeca
adds, niceness and satiety : " Cogita quamdiu
eadem feceris; mod velle, non tantum fortis,
aut miser, sed etiam fastidiosus potest." A
man would die, though he were neither valiant
nor miserable, only upon a weariness to do the
same thing so oft over and over. It is no less
worthy to observe, how little alteration in good
spirits the approaches of death make ; for they
appear to be the same men till the last instant.
Augustus Caesar died in a compliment: " Livia,
conjugii nostri memor, vive et vale/' Tiberius
in dissimulation, as Tacitus saith of him, " Jam
Tiberium vires et corpus, non dissimulatio, de-
serebant:" Vespasian in a jest, sitting upon the
stool, " Ut puto Deus fio :" Galba with a sen-
tence, " Fed, si ex re sit populi Romani," hold-
ing forth his neck : Septimus Severus in dis-
patch, " Adeste, si quid mini restat agendum/'
and the like. Certainly the Stoics bestowed
too much cost upon death,, and by their great
preparations made it appear more fearful. Bet-
ter, saith he, " qui finem vitae extreinum inter
munera ponat naturae." It is as natural to die
as to be born ; and to a little infant, perhaps,
one is as painful as the other. He that dies in
an earnest pursuit is like one that is wounded in


hot blood; who, for the time, scarce feels the
hurt; and therefore a mind fixed and bent upon
somewhat that is good doth avert the dolours of
death ; but, above all, believe it, the sweetest
canticle is, " Nunc dimittis," when a man hath
obtained worthy ends and expectations. Death
hath this also, that it openeth the gate to good
fame, and extinguished! envy : " Exstinctus
amabitur idem."


RELIGION being the chief bond of human so-
ciety, it is a happy thing when itself is well
contained within the true bond of unity. The
quarrels and divisions about religion were evils
unknown to the heathen. The reason was, be-
cause the religion of the heathen consisted rather
in rites and ceremonies than in any constant be-
lief : for you may imagine what kind of faith
theirs was, when the chief doctors and fathers
of their church were the poets. But the true
God hath this attribute, that he is a jealous
God ; and therefore his worship and religion
will endure no mixture nor partner. We shall
therefore speak a few words concerning the
unity of the church ; what are the fruits thereof;
what the bonds ; and what the means.

The fruits of unity (next unto the well pleas-
ing of God, which is all in all) are two ; the
one towards those that are without the church,
the other towards those that are within. For
the former, it is certain, that heresies and schisms
are of all others the greatest scandals; yea,


more than corruption of manners : for as in the
natural body a wound or solution of continuity
is worse than a corrupt humour, so in the spiri-
tual : so that nothing doth so much keep men
out of the church, and drive men out of the
church, as breach of unity ; and, therefore,
whensoever it cometh to pass that one saith,
" ecce in deserto," another saith, " ecce in pe-
netralibus ;" that is, when some men seek Christ
in the conventicles of heretics, and others in an
outward face of a church, that voice had need
continually to sound in men's ears, u nolite
exire," " go not out." The doctor of the Gen-
tiles (the propriety of whose vocation drew him
to have a special care of those without) saith,
(t If a heathen come in, and hear you speak
with several tongues, will he not say that you
are mad?" and, certainly, it is little better:
when atheists and profane persons do hear of so
many discordant and contrary opinions in reli-
gion, it doth avert them from the church, and
maketh them " to sit down in the chair of the
scorners." It is but a light thing to be vouched
in so serious a matter, but yet it expresseth well
the deformity. There is a master of scoffing,
that, in his catalogue of books of a feigned
library, sets down this title of a book, " The
Morris Dance of Heretics :" for, indeed, every
sect of them hath a diverse posture, or cringe,
by themselves, which cannot but move derision
in worldlings and depraved politics, who are apt
to contemn holy things.

As for the fruit towards those that are within,
it is peace, which containeth infinite blessings ;


it established! faith ; it kindleth charity ; the
outward peace of the church distilleth into peace
of conscience, and it tiirneth the labours of writ-
ing and reading controversies into treatises of
mortification and devotion.

Concerning the bonds of unity, the true plac-
ing of them importeth exceedingly. There ap-
pear to be two extremes : for to certain zealots
all speech of pacification is odious. " Is it
peace, Jehu?" " What hast thou to do with
peace? turn thee behind me." Peace is not
the matter, but following and party. Contrari-
wise, certain Laodiceans and lukewarm persons
think they may accommodate points of religion
by middle ways, and taking part of both, and
witty reconcilements, as if they would make an
arbitrement between God arid man. Both these
extremes are to be avoided ; which will be done
if the league of Christians, penned by our Saviour
himself, were in the two cross clauses thereof
soundly and plainly expounded : " He that is
not with us is against us ;" and again, " He that
is not against us is with us ;" that is, if the
points fundamental, and of substance in religion,
were truly discerned and distinguished from
points not merely of faith, but of opinion, order,
or good intention* This is a thing may seem to
many a matter trivial, and done already ; but if
it were done less partially, it would be embraced
more generally.

Of this I may give only this advice, according
to my small model. Men ought to take heed of
rending God's church by two kinds of contro-
versies; the one is, when the matter of the point


controverted is too small and light, not worth
the heat and strife about it, kindled only by con-
tradiction; for, as it is noted by one of the
fathers, Christ's coat indeed had no seam, but
the church's vesture was of divers colours ;
whereupon he saith, " in veste varietas sit, scis-
sura non sit/' they be two things, unity and uni-
formity ; the other is, when the matter of the
point controverted is great, but it is driven to
an over great subtilty and obscurity, so that it
becometh a tbing rather ingenious than substan-
tial. A man that is of judgment and under-
standing shall sometimes hear ignorant men dif-
fer, and know well within himself, that those
which so differ mean one thing, and yet they
themselves would never agree : and if it come
so to pass in that distance of judgment, which
is between man and man, shall we not think that
God above, that knows the heart, doth not dis-
cern that frail men, in some of their contradic-
tions, intend the same thing, and accepteth of
both ? The nature of such controversies is ex-
cellently expressed by St. Paul, in the warning
and precept that he giveth concerning the same,
" devita profanas vocum novitates, et opposi-
tiones falsi nominis scientise." Men create op-
positions which are not, and put them into new
terms so fixed, as whereas the meaning ought to
govern the term, the term in effect governeth the
meaning. There be also two false peaces, or
unities: the one, when the peace is grounded
but upon an implicit ignorance ; for all colours
will agree in the dark : the other, when it is
pieced up upon a direct admission of contraries


in fundamental points : for truth and falsehood,
in such things, are like the iron and clay in the
toes of Nebuchadnezzar's image ; they may
cleave, but they will not incorporate.

Concerning the means of procuring unity, men
must beware, that, in the procuring or m unit-
ing of religious unity, they do not dissolve and
deface the laws of charity and human society.
There be two swords amongst Christians, the

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Online LibraryFrancis BaconEssays, moral, economical and political → online text (page 1 of 14)