Sunday, August 22, 2010

Introduction to Bacon’s “Essays”

(A) THREE EDITIONS OF BACON’S “ESSAYS”
(1597, 1612 AND 1625)
Bacon’s Essays went into three editions in his life-time and each succeeding edition went adding on the number of the essays.
First Edition (1597)
The volume of 1597 contained the following ten essays:

1)      Of Study.
2)      Of Discourse.
3)      Of Ceremonies and Respects.
4)      Of Followers and Friends.
5)      Of Suitors.
6)      Of Expense.
7)      Of Regiment of Health.
8)      Of Honour and Reputation.
9)      Of Faction.
10)   Of Negotiating.
Second Edition (1612)
The second edition of the Essays was published in 1612 The new titles added were as follows:
1)      Of Religion.
2)      Of Death.
3)      Of Goodness and Goodness of Nature.
4)      Of Cunning.
5)      Of Marriage and Single Life.
6)      Of Parents and Children.
7)      Of Nobility.
8)      Of Great Place.
9)      Of Empire.
10)   Of Counsel.
11)   Of Dispatch.
12)   Of Love.
13)   Of Atheism.
14)   Of Superstition.
15)   Of Wisdom for a Man’s Self.
16)   Of Seeming Wise
17)   Of Riches.
18)   Of Ambition.
19)   Of Young Men and Age.
20)   Of Beauty.
21)   Of Deformity.
22)   Of Nature in Man.
23)   Of Custom and Education
24)   Of Fortune.
25)   Of Followers.
26)   Of Praise.
27)   Of Judicature.
28)   Of Vain Glory.
29)   Of Greatness of Kingdoms.
Third Edition (1625)
The third and last edition of the Essays published under Bacon’s own supervision, came out in 1625 in quarto form. The new titles were as follows:
1)      Of Truth. (This essay now leads off the whole collection of these Essays).
2)      Of Revenge.
3)      Of Adversity.
4)      Of Simulation and Dissimulation.
5)      Of Envy.
6)      Of Boldness.
7)      Of Seditions and Troubles.
8)      Of Delays.
9)      Of Innovations.
10)   Of Honour and Reputation.
11)   Of Suspicion.
12)   Of Planatations.
13)   Of Prophecies.
14)   Of Masques and Triumphs.
15)   Of Usury.
16)   Of Buildings.
17)   Of Gardens.
18)   Of Anger.
19)   Of Vicissitudes of Things.
(B) VARIOUS INFLUENCES UPON
BACON’S “ESSAYS”
Bacon’s Vast Experience In Life
The great influence upon Bacon is Bacon himself, his own keen observance of life and manners. He set forth to propound a doctrine of human conduct - a theoretical scheme in which the man of active virtue should not be baffled by the vices of others, but use their vices for his own advantage and the advantage of the State. The theory of ethics for the “pragmatic man” - i.e. the man of action must not be merely “like the lark that can moult and sing and please herself and nothing else,” but must be likewise also “like the hawk, that can soar aloft, and can also descend and strike upon the prey.” Men of action must therefore have high aspiration—the aspiration of the lark, almost like Shelley’s Skylark, and yet not living in a world of isolation—in the light of their own thoughts, like Shelley and his Skylark, these gentlemen must cultivate also the virtues of the hawk and the cormorant, for in the stress of battle, in the “struggle for existence”, only the fittest will survive and these share the virtues of the vulture. If a man would not fall, he must keep on rising, he must rise to a high position, and Bacon discourses to us about the virtues and vice of such a position in his essay Of Great Place. All this he writes from his observation. For this he requires no teacher, but his own experience in life, the greatest teacher of them all. Now in Bacon’s time there were four important maxims for rising in the world and they were in full operation in the world around him, especially in the heated atmosphere of public life and the public service. They are verified in the lines:
“Cog, lie, flatter, and face,
Four ways in court to win thee place.”
The verses proceed to tell us that if you could not do any of these, you should rather turn away from London to consume your home-made butter and cheese in the country. Now Bacon’s Essays gives us all the prescriptions for the practice of these arts to rise in the world, for making your “Fortune” (Vide Essay XL) or success in Life, Bacon tells us that “overt and apparent virtues” bring us praise, but “there be certain hidden virtues that bring forth fortune; certain deliveries of a man’s self that have no name.” No man prospers suddenly but by another man’s error. Unless a serpent cats up a serpent he does not become a dragon. Now the verse “Cag, lie, flatter and face” expresses the most important of these “secret and hidden virtues” and the ‘certain devilries of a man’s self” referred to in Bacon’s essay Of Fortune. The most important of these is Cog i.e. Cogging or deceiving. Bacon had a vast experience of cogging or deceiving. In his essay Of Cunning (Essay XXII) Bacon gives us a whole catalogue of the “hidden and secret virtues” comprised under this colloquial term: Cogging. What is here described as varieties of cunning are the very pith and marrow of the honourable art of deceiving and misleading other people. What an astonishing harvest must Bacon have reaped by ploughing the thorny fields of political intrigue to have been able to put together in his essay Of Cunning.
Influence of Greek and Roman History on Bacon’s “Essays”
Next to the Bible is the influence of Greek and Roman History, Greek and Roman Mythology, and Greek and Roman Literature, especially the historians and the philosophers. It will not be unfair to say of Bacon that like all Renaissance scholars he is better posted in the Latin authorities than the Greek, Bacon delighted in the moral writers of classical antiquity like Seneca and Lucian biographers like Plutarch and Suetonus, historians like Livyan Tacitus; critics like Cicero and Pliny, philosophers like Plato and Aristotle.
Influence of Latin version of the bible on Bacon’s “Essays”
Bacon constantly quotes from the Vulgate, or Latin Version of the Bible, to illustrate his precepts. Parallel situation in the Bible seems to govern his thought. He does not quote from the English Version of the Bible, the Authorised Version, which was published in 1611, just one year before the publication of the second edition to his Essays. In his references to the Bible, he sometimes misquotes or mistranslates but this is often so because he changes the context.
Influence of foreign travel on Bacon’s “essays”
Bacon’s curiosity had been whetted and his mind enlarged by foreign travel. His essay Of Travel helps us to see what knowledge he thought most worthy to be acquired by travel, as also in what manner to acquire it, though the Traveller whom Bacon has in mind is a scion of the nobility, who proposes to use his knowledge in diplomatic and political service under the crown.
(C) BACON’S IDEAS IN HIS “ESSAYS”
OR
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE THOUGHT IN BACON’S “ESSAYS”
Bacon appears before the reader in these essays not in the character of a scientist or philosopher, but as a man of the world. We may call him “a citizen of the world”, a term which he himself has used in one place in these essays, but for the fact that he is too much an Englishman, a Protestant Englishman, and an Elizabethan-Jacobean Englishman. He writes of thoughts his “dispersed meditations” - about human life and society.
Bacon: Not an idealist in his “Essays”
To Bacon ethics is a younger sister to Theology. But for the practical man, there is no gospel of Duty for Duty’s sake. Bacon is no idealist. He views human action from the point of view of Machiavelli. He considers what men do: he rarely bothers to trouble himself with what men ought to do. One test only he recognises as regards this ought: namely, is the action under consideration of advantage to the state? He is therefore one of the earliest pioneers of Utilitarianism. In fact in every issue, he balances the advantage and the disadvantage. But with this difference: it is not merely the advantage to the individual he cares for: it is always the public good. Hence seeming Wisdom is condemned finally because such persons harm the state. Boastfulness and self-love are condemned for the same reason.
(Vide: Essays XXVI, IIV, and XXIII).
Bacon is a pragmatist in his “Essays”
He will consider wisdom and goodness in action rather than in theory. The tree is known by the fruit. The Tightness of an action is known by its effects and these, as stated above, are the bearing or influence they have on the public good, rather than that of the individual. The individual is merged in the state.
Bacon’s worldly-mindedness in his “Essays”
Numerous instances of Bacon’s worldly-mindedness can be given from his essays. In his essay entitled, Of Truth he highly extols truth. The knowledge of Truth and the belief of truth are “the sovereign good of human nature.” Bacon admits that “clear and round dealing is the honour of man’s nature.” But he also points out that “mixture of falsehood is like alloy in coins of gold and silver, which may make the metal work the better. In his essay, Of Simulation and Dissimulation, Bacon admits that honesty of expression and frankness of manner are the mark of great men. But he also points out that even they take recourse to dissimulation whenever necessary, though in their case dissimulation is not noticed because of their reputation for frankness and honesty. In the same essay, Bacon recommends secrecy.
No Consciousness for the Poor Man
Bacon has a high idea of the Public Good (which unfortunately is all concentrated in the august personality of kings, and princes), but none at all of democracy, of social equality, of any opportunity of culture or self-consciousness for the poor man. hi this regard, this Renaissance philosopher falls far behind Shakespeare, though the latter is out and out a child of medievalism. Both Bacon and Shakespeare had Montaigne before them. At least tentatively and hesitatingly Shakespeare in his Tempest reproduced from Montaigne a picture of a socialistic or communistic state. Nowhere does Bacon lend countenance to the idea of the equality of one man with another, though it lies at the very roots of the gospel of Christ which he believed in. In his New Atlantis he drew a picture of a new Commonwealth where the great men are all scientists, engaged in the absorbing pursuit of discovery—not exactly of the philosopher’s stone but of the ways and means for the conquest of Nature - but certainly not for the conquest of the illiteracy of the common man.
Bacon’s ‘Essays’ Full of the Teachings of Machiavelli - The Life of Action
While nearly half of these essays are thus written more for the advice of the king than for the good of the man in the street—essays full of the teachings of Machiavelli, breathing a gospel of territorial aggrandisement, expansion of colonies, increase of revenue by commerce, manufacture and navigation, and unblushing (Cf. Essay XXIX), there are of course a few essays in which the ethics of private life are dealt with. In opposition of Aristotle who preferred the life of contemplation, Bacon cries up the life of action.
The half of the essays of Bacon are written to give wise counsel to the king on various aspects of statecraft. His political views bear comparison to those of Machiavelli. Like Machiavelli, he-thinks the common code of morality which does not apply to the king. In many an essay he advises the king to rule by craft and cunning. The king ought to be selfish and self-centred but not the common people, who should recognise the claim of the state and society on the individual. It is the duty of the judges and the ministers of state to palacate the wishes of the king. The judges are, no doubt, lions, but they are lions under the throne. To the kings he suggests ways and means of self-aggrandisement, expansion of colonies, increase of revenue, avoidance of factions and suppression of seditions in the state.
Bacon’s Essays Lack Moral Consideration
Bacon remains singularly aloof from moral consideration. He judges the validity of a course of action not on moral but prudential grounds. He condemns cunning not as a thing loathsome and vile, but as a thing-unwise. Likewise, he considers the disadvantages of simulation and dissimulation not as a moralist but as a practical man of the world. In three ways they prove disadvantageous to man in the practical affairs of life.

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