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INTRODUCTION TO BACON'S ESSAYS.
IN 1597 Bacon published a small volume, dedicated to his brother Anthony, containing, among other things, ten of his essays.
In 3612 he reprinted them, increased in number to thirty-eight, and dedicated to his brother-in-law, Sir John Constable, death having overthrown his first intention of dedicating them to Prince Henry.
In 1625 he again issued them, now fifty-eight in number, and dedicated to the Duke of Buckingham.
It is interesting, in reading the deliberately recorded opinions of a great man, to know whether they belong to his earlier or later life, and how far they were influenced by contemporary history: I have, therefore, at the head of each essay placed its date.
It would be a work as superfluous as presumptive to put before the reader any commendation of the study of Bacon's Essays. They are not only remarkable, but unequalled for their conciseness, their pertinence, their practical suggestiveness, their vivacity, even when treating of trite subjects, and their compression of many thoughts into the smallest possible compass in words. No student can satisfactorily paraphrase them without much expansion; no annotator, I fear, can adequately elucidate them without himself writing essays upon their various points.
ESSAYS CIVIL AND MORAL.
I.-OF TRUTH. (1625.) "What is Truth ?' said jesting Pilate;1 and would not stay for an answer.
Certainly there be that delight in giddiness; and count it a bondage to fix a belief; affecting4 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.
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 8 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 10 to think what should be in it, 11 that men should love lies; where neither they make for pleasure, 12 as with poets; nor for advantage, 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 masks, and mummeries, and triumphs 18 of the world half so stately 14 and daintily as candle-lights. Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that showeth 15 best by day, but it will not rise 16 to the price of a diamond or carbuncle,17 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 valuations, imaginations as one would, 18 and the like, but it would leave the minds of a number of men poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves ? One of the fathers, in great severity, called poesy 'vinum dæmonum,'19 because it filleth the imagination, and yet it is but with the shadow 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 20 these things are thus in men's depraved judgments and affections, yet Truth, which only doth judge itself,21 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 belief of Truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature. The first creature 22 of God, in the works of the days, was the light of the sense;23 the last was the light of reason; and His Sabbath work ever since is the illumination of His 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,24 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 25 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 26 always that this prospect 27 be with pity, and not with swelling or pride. Certainly it is heaven upon earth to have a man's mind move in Charity, rest in Providence, and turn upon the poles of Truth.
To pass from theological and philosophical Truth to the truth of civil business, it will be acknowledged, even by those that practise it not, that clear and round 28 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 embaseth 29 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; 30 and therefore Montaigne 31 saith prettily when he inquired the reason why the word of the lie should be such a disgrace and such an odious charge, saith he, '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 wickedness of falsehood and breach of faith cannot possibly be so highly expressed as in that it shall be the last peal to call the judgments of God upon the generations of men : it being foretold that when Christ cometh, He shall not 'find faith 32 upon the earth.'
NOTES ON ESSAY I. 1. jesting Pilate.' He refers to the passage in the New Testa
ment, John xviii, 38, where, however, it does not appear that Pilate asked the question in a jesting but rather a perplexed and distracted mood. This first sentence was not originally part of the essay, and occupies merely the place
of an introduction, or introductory motto. 2. The nominative to the verb is omitted ; 'there be' (some); be is
merely an old form of the indicative for are. 3. 'giddiness-i.e. inconstancy, unsteadiness, frivolity. He is
speaking of those persons who neither have, nor care to have, settled opinions and principles by which to rule their conduct; hence the expression immediately following, 'fix a
belief.' 4. 'affecting'-i.e. seeking, aiming at, endeavouring to attain.
The verb to affect was formerly used in this sense. Cf. 'This proud man affects imperial sway'-DRYDEN. 'The drops of every fluid affect a round figure' by the mutual attraction of their parts'-NEWTON. Hence the word passes to its kindred meaning, which it now commonly bears—to pretend to.
Bacon means that there are frivolous and inconstant persons who do not care at all about truth, and who profess to