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Some Account of the Author.
The illustrious author of these Essays is so generally known as a man and a writer that any particular account of him on the present occasion would be superfluous. To dwell, indeed, on the incidents of my Lord Bacon's life would be an unpleasant and mortifying task: for ever must it be deplored by the lover of literature and his species, that the possessor of this extraordinary intellect should have been exposed to the dangers of a situation to which his firmness was unequal ; and, withdrawn from the retirement of his study, where he was the first of men, should have been thrown into the tumult of business, where he discovered himself to be among the last. The superiority, it is true, of his talents rendered him
wbere eminent; and when we see him acting at court, in the senate, at the bar, or on the bench, we behold an engine of mighty force, sufficient, as it would appear, to move the world: but when we carry our research into his bosom, we find nothing there but the ebullition and froth of some common or corrupt passions : and we are struck with the contrast between the littleness within and the exhibition of energy without. But peace be to the failings of this wonderful man! they who alone were affected by them, his contemporaries and himself, have long since passed to their account; and existing no more as the statesman or the judge, he survives to us only in his works, as the father of experimental physics, and a great luminary of science.
In his literary character he must always be contemplated with astonishment; and we cannot sufficiently wonder at the riches or the powers of his mind;
at that penetration which no depth could elude; that comprehension for which no object was too large; that vigour which no labour could exhaust; that memory which no pressure of acquisitions could subdue. By his two great works, “On the Advancement of Learning,” and “ The New Organ of the Sciences," written amid the distraction of business and of cares, sufficient of themselves to have occupied the whole of any other mind, did this mighty genius first break the shackles of that scholastic philosophy, which long had crushed the human intellect; and diverting the attention from words to things, from theory to experiment, demonstrate the road to that height of science on which the moderns are now seated, and which the ancients were unable to reach.
But these grand displays of his genius and knowledge are now chiefly regarded as they present to the curious an illustrious evidence of the powers of the human mind. Having awakened and directed the exertions of Europe, the usefulness of these writings has in a great degree been superseded by the labours of the subsequent adventurers in science; who, pursuing the track marked out for them by their great master, have found it opening into a region of clear and steady light. Of the other works of this great man, which were objects of admiration to his own times, the following Essays are, perhaps, the only ones which retain much of their pristine popularity. His law treatises have always been restricted by their subject within the line of a professional circle: of his state papers and speeches the power has expired with the interest of those events to which they were attached; and his History of Henry the Seventh, blemished as it is with something more than those defects of style which, from the example and patronage of a pedant king, then began to infect the purity of our composition, is in these days consulted only by the few.
But these Essays, written at a period of better taste, and on subjects of immediate importance to the conduct of common life, “such as come home to men's business and bosoms,” are still read with pleasure, and continue to possess, in the present age, nearly as much estimation as they did in that which witnessed their first publication. From the circumstance of their having engaged his attention at different and remote intervals of his life, they appear to have shared a more than common portion of their great author's regard; and they are evidently composed in his happiest manner, and with the full stretch of his powers. In them we are presented with all the wisdom which the deepest erudition could recover from the gulf of buried ages; and with all that also which the most sagacious and accurate observation could select from the spectacle of the passing scene: in them we behold imagination and knowledge equally successful in their exertions; this as the contributor of truths, and that of opening her affluent wardrobe for their dress; one like the earth throwing out of her bosom the organized forms of matter, and the other like the sun arraying them in an endless variety of hues.
Of the Essay, that most agreeable and perhaps most useful vehicle of instruction, my Lord Bacon must be considered, at least in our country, as the inventor; and to the success of his attempt may be ascribed that numerous race of writers, to whose short and entertaining lessons the public mind may be regarded as principally indebted for its present cultivation and refinement.
Thus strongly recommended by their intrinsic worth, these Essays possess also an additional and accidental value, from the circumstance of their constituting all which, in some sense, remains of their admirable author. His other works, it has been already remarked, are, in fact, extinct to the many, and now generally known only as a mighty name: and the writer of these short compositions, the great Lord Bacon, may not improperly be considered as shrunk, like the ashes of an Alexander in a golden urn, within the limits of this little but sterling volume.
TO MR. ANTHONY BACON,
AIS DEAR BROTHER.
Loving and beloved brother, I do now like some that have an orchard ill neighboured, that gather their fruit before it is ripe, to prevent stealing. These fragments of my conceit were going to print: to labour the stay of them had been troublesome, and subject to interpretation; to let them pass had been to adventure the wrong they might receive by untrue copies, or by some garnishment which it might please any that should set them forth to bestow upon them; therefore I held it best discretion to publish them myself, as they passed long ago from my pen, without any further disgrace than the weakness of the author; and as I did ever hold, there might be as great a vanity in retiring and withdrawing men's conceit (except they be of some nature) from the world, as in obtruding them: so in these particulars I have played myself the inquisitor, and find nothing to my understanding in them contrary or infectious to the state of religion or manners, but rather, as I suppose, medicinable: only I dislike now to put them out, because they will be like the late new halfpence, which though the silver were good, yet the pieces were small; but since they would not stay with their master, but would needs travel abroad, I have preferred them to you that are next myself; dedicating them, such as they are, to our love, in the depth whereof, I assure you, I sometimes wish your infirmities translated upon myself, that her majesty might have the service of so active and able -a mind; and I might be with excuse confined to these contemplations and studies, for which I am fittest: so commend I you to the preservation of the Divine Majesty. Your entire loving brother,
FRANCIS BACON. From my Chamber at Gray's Inn,
this 30th of January, 1597.
TO MY LOVING BROTHER,
SIR JOHN CONSTABLE, KT.
My last Essays I dedicated to my dear brother, Mr. Anthony Bacon, who is with God. Looking among my papers this vacation, I found others of the same nature: which if I myself shall not suffer to be lost, it seemeth the world will not, by the often printing of the former. Missing my brother, I found you next; in respect of bond, both of near alliance, and of straight friendship and society, and particularly of communication in studies; wherein Í must acknowledge myself beholden to you: for as my business found rest in my contemplations, so my contemplations ever found rest in your loving conference and judgment: so wishing you all good, I remain
Your loving brother and friend, 1612.
RIGHT HONOURABLE MY VERY GOOD LORD
THE DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM,
His Grace Lord High Admiral of England.
EXCELLENT LORD, SOLOMON says,
a good name is as a precious ointment;" and I assure myself such will your Grace's name be with posterity: for your fortune and merit both have been eminent; and you have planted things that are like to last. I do now publish my Essays; which of all my other works, have been most current; for that, as it seems, they come home to men's business