The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral

The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral

The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral

The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral

Synopsis

'their excellence and their value consisted in being the observations of a strong mind operating upon life; and in consequence you find what you seldom find in other books.' Samuel Johnson Celebrated today as a writer and scientist, Francis Bacon was for the most part of his life occupied with the law and public affairs at a high level. Although personally devastating, his fall from public office in 1621 nonetheless served to liberate him for his own work and the last five years ofhis life saw an enormous output in the most varied fields. It is to this period that we owe the last and most popular work published in his lifetime, the Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral (1625) Focusing on the ethical, political and historical constraints and influences on human behaviour andfollowing principles laid down by rhetorical theory, Bacon sought to systematize his observations on such diverse topics as beauty, deformity, fortune, adversity, ambition, friendship, truth, marriage, atheism and superstition. Persuasive and diagnostic, his Essays are valued for many reasons, notleast their combination of a dispassionate observation of human life with powerfully expressed moral judgements. This edition is based on the Oxford Authors series complete with notes on Bacon's rich vocabulary and substantial annotation.

Excerpt

Francis bacon was born on 22 January 1561, at York House in the Strand, the London residence of his father Sir Nicholas Bacon (1509-79), who was Lord Keeper of the Great Seal to Queen Elizabeth I from 1558 until his death. Sir Nicholas had risen from humble origins to one of the highest offices of state, through the classic route of study at Cambridge followed by training as a lawyer at Gray's Inn, the inns of court which formed England's 'third university'. Sir Nicholas's first wife bore him six surviving children (three sons and three daughters), and after her death in 1552 he married Ann Cooke (1528-1610), who bore him two further sons, Anthony (1558-1601), and Francis. Taught at first privately, they went up to Trinity College in 1573, studying under John Whitgift, Master of Trinity and subsequently Archbishop of Canterbury. After two years at Cambridge (sons of the gentry often left without taking a degree) they were both entered at Gray's Inn, following their father and other family members. But in September 1576 a better opportunity emerged for Francis to begin the career in public service which his father had designed for him, and he joined the retinue of Sir Amyas Paulet, Queen Elizabeth's ambassador to France. Bacon worked in various diplomatic functions, and was making a good reputation for himself when, in February 1579, his father suddenly died. Returning from France the following month, he entered Gray's Inn and began his studies as a lawyer.

When Sir Nicholas died he had settled land on his first four sons, guaranteeing them a stable existence among the country gentry, where they could farm their land, enjoy hunting and other field sports, and perhaps indulge some hobbies. Left without patrimony, Francis Bacon had no option but to work for his living, depending on the products of his brain and pen, as a lawyer, counsellor, and public servant. He made rapid progress at Gray's Inn, being appointed to lectureships far earlier than was usual, and sitting on several government legal committees (see Chronology, p. xli, for details). At the same time he began a parliamentary career that was to last from 1581 to 1621, and was soon in demand on various committees, where his intellectual abilities in . . .

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