The Essays of Francis Bacon
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Along with Shakespeares works, Bacons Essays is the supreme achievement of the English Renaissance. Philosopher, statesman, author, Bacon made all knowledge his province, and in the Essays is to be found more worldly wisdom than in any other book. My essays come home, to mens business and bosoms. And Pope penned the epitaph, If parts allure thee think how Bacon shined, The wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind. These essays, though, need a gloss for the modern reader to understand Bacons cramped yet erudite prose and Latin quotations, as is provided in Pitchers edition.
Its useless to dig for just one or two epigrams to stand in for the totality of Bacons penetrating genius in the Essays. Though it is perhaps fashionable today to detract from him in order to praise Montaigne, it should be clear that Bacon is at least as indispensable. As terse as Emerson is expansive, Bacons Essays are perhaps the most truly Classical (in spirit) prose in the English language. Fans of the Leo Strauss school should have a fieldday reading between the lines of the essays On Atheism and On Superstition; for the rest of us, nobody can come away from even one of these essays without gaining invaluable insights. Though Bacon is rightly heralded for the radical newness of his pragmatic methods, he is ensteeped in history-- those mindful of Napoleons dictum that history is the only true philosophy will certainly respond enthusiastically to Bacons approach.
From the post-Machiavellian insights of Of Empire to the pre-Enlightenment ethics of Of Goodness and Goodness of Nature, one will find in reading Bacons prose what the youth of Athens must have found in following Socrates: the presence of a benevolent, worldly-wise, supremely rational mind determined to show you the order of the world.
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