Essayes Or Counsels

The Oxford Francis Bacon I: Early Writings 1584-1596, ed. by Alan Stewart with Harriet Knight (Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 1,136. ISBN: 978-0-19-818313-6.

“It was during these years of frustrated ambition and conflicting objectives that Bacon composed the works contained in the collection edited by Alan Stewart with Harriet Knight. The Oxford Francis Bacon is a major scholarly project conceived by the late Graham Rees and administered nowadays by an editorial advisory board of 16 experts under the direction of Brian Vickers, the leading Baconian scholar. Early Writings 1584-96 is the seventh volume to be published and there will be 15 altogether.

… scholars will be grateful for the vast amount of labour it embodies. It fully justifies Graham Rees’s belief that a fresh edition of Bacon’s work was needed. New writings by him have been discovered since Spedding’s day, and better versions of the old ones. Spedding’s preference for modernised spelling has been abandoned. So has his artificial division of Bacon’s oeuvre into three distinct categories: ‘Philosophical Works’, ‘Literary and Professional Works’ and ‘Occasional Works’. Instead, Bacon’s writings are now arranged chronologically. This makes it easier to follow the development of his thought; and, by its juxtaposition of compositions on a wide range of subjects, it reminds the reader of the multifarious nature of his preoccupations.”

– Keith Thomas, London Review of Books 35 (2013)

“One of the most fundamental and obvious reminders offered by Alan Stewart’s edition of Bacon’s early writings is that his work took the form of writing. It can prove dangerous to describe this writing with reference to such anachronistic terms as ‘objectivity’, but the Oxford Francis Bacon I reminds us that Bacon’s significance for the history of science may lie as much in the way in which he wrote as in what he wrote.

… Stewart’s edition allows an examination of the kind of writing that Bacon developed in his early pieces, which played a role in shaping his natural philosophical work.”

– James Everest, Intellectual History Review 24 (2014)

Bacon's essays reflect the experience and wide reading of a Renaissance man - philosopher, historian, judge, politician, adviser to the Prince - above all, astute observer of human nature. With uncompromising candour, he exposes man as he is, not as he ought to be, examining such givens of Renaissance power as negotiating for position, expediting a personal suit, speaking effectively, and the role of dissimulation in social and political situations. He scrutinizes judicial prerogatives and probes the causes and dangers of atheism and superstition. Even such topics as boldness or love or deformity have a practical bent. In Bacon's own phrase, these essays 'come home to Mens Businesse and Bosomes.' It is especially through their matchless style that they come home–with imaginative vigour, concrete language, and the colloquial force of individual sentences. An introduction places the essays in their original context, examines their evolution over Bacon's lifetime, and elucidates their form and prose style; a commentary examines his sources and relates essays to his other writings; a glossary and index are also included.


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