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Among the innumerable editions of Bacon's Essays that have been published, there are only four which, as authorities for the text, have any original or independent value ; namely those published by Bacon himself in 1597, in 1612, and in 1625; and the Latin version published by Dr. Rawley in 1638.
The rest are merely reprints of one or other of these.
The edition of 1597 contained ten essays, together with the Meditationes Sacroe, and the Colours of Good and Evil. That of 1612, a small volume in 8vo. contained essays only; but the number was increased to thirty-eight, of which twenty-nine were quite new, and all the rest more or less corrected and enlarged. That of 1625, a 4to. and one of the latest of Bacon's publications, contained fifty-eight essays, of which twenty were new, and most of the rest altered and enlarged.
The gradual growth of this volume, containing as it does the earliest and the latest fruits of Bacon's observation in that field in which its value has been most approved by universal and undiminished popularity, is a matter of considerable interest ; and as the successive changes are not such as could be represented by a general description or conveniently specified in foot-notes, I have thought it best to reprint the two first editions entire, and add them in an appendix. Considering also that, although it has been thought expedient throughout the text of this edition of Bacon's works to modernize the spelling, it may nevertheless be convenient to the reader to have a specimen of the orthography of Bacon's time, I have taken this opportunity of giving one; and preserved the original spelling throughout both these reprints.
I have also been able to supply from a manuscript in the British Museum evidence of another stage in the growth of this volume, intermediate between the editions of 1597 and 1612; of which manuscript, in connexion with the reprint of the latter, a complete account will be given.
The text of the Essays is taken of course from the edition of 1625; a correct representation of which is nearly all that a modern reader requires. The only points in which the audience to which they now address themselves stands in a different position towards them from that to which they were originally addressed, appear to be, — first, knowledge of Latin, which is probably a less general accomplishment among
the readers of books now than it was then; and secondly, familiarity with the ordinary language of that day, in which some expressions have worn out of use with time, and some have acquired new meanings. To meet these changes, I have in the first place translated the Latin quotations, in the same manner and upon the same principle which I have explained at length in my preface to the Advancement of Learning (Vol. VI. of this edition); and in the second place, I have added an explanatory note wherever I have observed any expression which a modern reader is likely to misunderstand or not to understand. But I have not attempted to develop allusions, or to canvass historical statements, or to point out inaccuracies of quotation, where the difference does not affect the argument, — still less to entertain the reader with discourses of my own; conceiving that the worth of writings of this kind depends in great part upon the rejection of superfluities, and that an annotator who is too diligent in producing all that he can find to say about his text runs a great risk of merely encumbering the reader with the very matter from which it was the author's labour to disembarrass him. I have even had my doubts whether in writings which remain as fresh as these, the very insertion of references to passages quoted be not an unwelcome interruption and an unwarrantable liberty. When a modern writer introduces, for ornament or illustration or impression, a line from Virgil or Milton, he never thinks of adding a reference to the book and verse; and I suppose that Mr. Singer would not look upon an asterisk and a footnote, with Hor. Carm. I. 12. 45., as any improvement to the elegant motto which occupies the blank page fronting the title of his very elegant edition of these Essays. Bacon's philosophical works stand in many respects in a different position. Their value is in great part historical and antiquarian. They no longer speak to us as to contemporaries. To understand their just import, we must be carried back to the time, and it is of importance to know what books were then in estimation and what authors were familiarly appealed to, and carried weight as vouchers. The Essays, on the contrary, have for us precisely the same sort of interest which they had for the generation to which they were immediately addressed; they “come home to men's business and bosoms” just in the same way; they appeal to the same kind of experience; the allusions and citations are still familiar, and produce the same kind of impression on the imagination. So that I do not see why the reason which induced Bacon to cite an ancient saying, a tradition of the poets, an observation of one of the fathers, or a sentence from some classical writer, without specifying the volume and page where he found it, should not still be held a reason for leaving them to produce the effect which he intended, unincumbered with a piece of information which I suppose he thought superfluous or inconvenient.
The Latin translation of the Essays, published by Dr. Rawley in 1638 among the Opera Moralia et Civilia, under the weightier à title of Sermones Fideles sive Interiora Rerum, has (as I said) an original and independent value. Whether any of them were actually translated by Bacon himself, or how far he superintended the work, it seems impossible to know. Mr. Singer indeed represents them, on the authority of the title,2 as having been put into Latin by Bacon himself præterquam in paucis : ” but the words which he quotes occur in the title not of the Sermones Fideles, but of the whole volume, which contains four other works; the Sermones Fideles forming less than a fourth of the whole : so that for any thing these words imply they may themselves have been among the things excepted. As it is certain however that Bacon himself regarded the Latin version as that in which they were to live, we may be sure that he took care to have it properly done: only as it was not published till twelve years after his death, we cannot be sure that it was all finished before he died. Several hands are said to have been employed in the work, and in the absence of all specific information, it is not improbable that there are parts of it which he did not live to see completed. Taken with this caution however, the Latin translation must be accepted as a work of authority, and in one respect of superior authority to the original, because of later date. I have therefore treated it in the same way as the translation of the history of Henry the Seventh ; see Vol. XI. p. 19.
1 Deinde sequetur libellus ille quem vestra lingua Saggi Morali appellastis. Verum illi libro nomen gravius impono: scilicet ut inscribatur Sermones Fideles, sive Interiora Rerum. - Bacon's Letter to Fulgentio.
2 “In the year 1038, Dr. Rawley, who had been Bacon's chaplain, published a folio volume, containing, amongst other works in Latin, a translation of the Essays, under the title of "Sermones Fideles, ab ipso Honoratissimo Auctore, præterquam in paucis, Latinitate donati.?" -- Pref. p. xvi.
I am not aware that any such value belongs to any of the translations into modern languages. An Italian translation of the Essays and the De Sapientia Veterum published in London in 1618, with a dedicatory letter from Tobie Matthew to Cosmo de' Medici, may be presumed to have been made with Bacon's sanction; both because Matthew was so intimate a friend, and because it includes one essay which had not then been published, as well as a large extract from the letter to
1 Francisci Baconi .... operum moralium et civilium tomus.
Historiam Regni Henrici Septimi Regis Angliæ.
Sermones Fideles, sive Interiora Rerum.
Tractatum de Sapientia Veterum.
Dialogum de Bello Sacro.
Et Novam Atlantidem.. Ab ipso Honoratissimo Auctore, præterquam in paucis, Latinitate do
2 Mr. Singer says two: but one of those he quotes, – the Essay “Of Honour and Reputation," — will be found in the edition of 1597.