Francis Bacon’s essay “Of Truth” is one of the more famous of his works of prose. The essay begins by mocking those who refuse to admit that there is any certain, objective truth. Bacon argues that people have a natural love of lying, even when lying brings no obvious advantage. Truth, Bacon says, resembles light, but he suggests that many people prefer to flirt with darkness because they take some pleasure in lies and lying. Bacon, however, asserts that truth is the greatest good humans can possess. Truth comes from God and attaches us to God, and it is from truth that we derive our deepest pleasure.
Bacon’s essay is structured in various ways. It begins, for instance, by mentioning Pilate, a symbolic Christ-killer and enemy of God, but it ends by elaborately celebrating God’s goodness and creativity. Pilate (Bacon says) was dismissive of truth; God, on the other hand, created truth and celebrates truth and, in a sense, personifies truth. Thus the essay is framed by references especially relevant to Christians. Inside that frame, Bacon cites various classical authorities and discusses various classical opinions. He alludes to classical philosophical sects who doubted the existence of truth, but he also alludes to classical thinkers who agree with Christians that truth should be highly valued. As the essay continues to develop, Bacon discusses the attractiveness of lying – an attractiveness that coincides with Christian ideas about the fallen state (and natural sinfulness) of human nature. People lie, Bacon suggests, even when lying is of no practical use to them; they seem in fact to find pure truth boring. Poetry, he suggests, seems to appeal to this natural human interest in lies, although he implies that the lies told by poets are not especially harmful. By the conclusion of the essay, the structure comes full circle, concluding with a very heavy emphasis on standard Christian doctrine.
Stylistically, the essay employs a number of different techniques. One of the most important of these involves allusions to other texts and other authors, especially classical texts and classical authors. Bacon also uses questions effectively. He begins with Pilate’s short and famous question, which Bacon regards as frivolous, and then, throughout the essay, Bacon poses various, and quite serious, questions of his own, thus provoking readers to think for themselves and use the reason that he later says is one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity. Besides using allusions and questions, the essay also uses imagery effectively, especially imagery of light and darkness and imagery involving various kinds of jewels:
Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that showeth best by day; but it will not rise to the price of a diamond, or carbuncle, that showeth best in varied lights.
In short, Bacon’s essay is solid in its structure, intriguing in its stylistic and rhetorical methods, and (for many readers then and now) persuasive in the arguments in presents.
Essayes: Religious Meditations. Places of Perswasion and Disswasion. Seene and Allowed (1597) was the first published book by the philosopher, statesman and juristFrancis Bacon. The Essays are written in a wide range of styles, from the plain and unadorned to the epigrammatic. They cover topics drawn from both public and private life, and in each case the essays cover their topics systematically from a number of different angles, weighing one argument against another. A much-enlarged second edition appeared in 1612 with 38 essays. Another, under the title Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall, was published in 1625 with 58 essays. Translations into French and Italian appeared during Bacon's lifetime.
Though Bacon considered the Essays "but as recreation of my other studies", he was given high praise by his contemporaries, even to the point of crediting him with having invented the essay form. Later researches made clear the extent of Bacon's borrowings from the works of Montaigne, Aristotle and other writers, but the Essays have nevertheless remained in the highest repute. The 19th century literary historian Henry Hallam wrote that "They are deeper and more discriminating than any earlier, or almost any later, work in the English language".
Bacon's genius as a phrase-maker appears to great advantage in the later essays. In Of Boldness he wrote, "If the Hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the hill", which is the earliest known appearance of that proverb in print. The phrase "hostages to fortune" appears in the essay Of Marriage and Single Life – again the earliest known usage.Aldous Huxley's book Jesting Pilate took its epigraph, "What is Truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer", from Bacon's essay Of Truth. The 1999 edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations includes no fewer than 91 quotations from the Essays.
The contents pages of Thomas Markby's 1853 edition list the essays and their dates of publication as follows:
- Of Truth (1625)
- Of Death (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Unity in Religion/Of Religion (1612, rewritten 1625)
- Of Revenge(1625)
- Of Adversity (1625)
- Of Simulation and Dissimulation (1625)
- Of Parents and Children (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Marriage and Single Life (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
- Of Envy (1625)
- Of Love (1612, rewritten 1625)
- Of Great Place (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
- Of Boldness (1625)
- Of Goodness and Goodness of Nature (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Nobility (1612, rewritten 1625)
- Of Seditions and Troubles (1625)
- Of Atheism (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
- Of Superstition (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
- Of Travel (1625)
- Of Empire (1612, much enlarged 1625)
- Of Counsels (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Delays (1625)
- Of Cunning (1612, rewritten 1625)
- Of Wisdom for a Man's Self (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Innovations (1625)
- Of Dispatch (1612)
- Of Seeming Wise (1612)
- Of Friendship (1612, rewritten 1625)
- Of Expense (1597, enlarged 1612, again 1625)
- Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Estates (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Regiment of Health (1597, enlarged 1612, again 1625)
- Of Suspicion (1625)
- Of Discourse (1597, slightly enlarged 1612, again 1625)
- Of Plantations (1625)
- Of Riches (1612, much enlarged 1625)
- Of Prophecies (1625)
- Of Ambition (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Masques and Triumphs (1625)
- Of Nature in Men (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Custom and Education (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Fortune (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
- Of Usury (1625)
- Of Youth and Age (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
- Of Beauty (1612, slightly enlarged 1625)
- Of Deformity (1612, somewhat altered 1625)
- Of Building (1625)
- Of Gardens (1625)
- Of Negotiating (1597, enlarged 1612, very slightly altered 1625)
- Of Followers and Friends (1597, slightly enlarged 1625)
- Of Suitors (1597, enlarged 1625)
- Of Studies (1597, enlarged 1625)
- Of Faction (1597, much enlarged 1625)
- Of Ceremonies and Respects (1597, enlarged 1625)
- Of Praise (1612, enlarged 1625)
- Of Vain Glory (1612)
- Of Honour and Reputation (1597, omitted 1612, republished 1625)
- Of Judicature (1612)
- Of Anger (1625)
- Of Vicissitude of Things (1625)
- A Fragment of an Essay of Fame
- Of the Colours of Good and Evil
- Michael J. Hawkins (ed.) Essays (London: J. M. Dent, 1973). No. 1010 in Everyman's Library.
- Michael Kiernan (ed.) The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985). Vol. 15 of The Oxford Francis Bacon.
- John Pitcher (ed.) The Essays (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985). In the Penguin Classics series.
- Brian Vickers (ed.) The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral (New York: Oxford University Press). In the Oxford World's Classics series.
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- ^Heard, Franklin Fiske. "Bacon's Essays, with annotations by Richard Whately and notes and a glossarial index". Making of America Books. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
- ^Bacon, Francis (2000) . Kiernan, Michael, ed. The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall. New York: Oxford University Press. p. xlix. ISBN 0198186738. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
- ^Matthew, H. C. G.; Harrison, Brian, eds. (2004). The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 3. Oxford University Press. p. 142.
- ^Ward, A. W.; Waller, A. R., eds. (1907–27). The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. Cambridge University Press. pp. 395–98.
- ^Hallam, Henry (1854). Introduction to the Literature of Europe in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries, Vol 2. Boston: Little, Brown. p. 514.
- ^Simpson, John (1993). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. Oxford University Press. p. 176.
- ^The Oxford English Dictionary Vol 7. Oxford. 1989. p. 418.
- ^Huxley, Aldous (1930). Jesting Pilate. London: Chatto and Windus.
- ^Knowles, Elizabeth M., ed. (1999). The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Oxford University Press. pp. 42–44.
- ^Markby, Thomas (1853). The Essays, or, Counsels, Civil and Moral; With a Table of the Colours of Good and Evil. London: Parker. pp. xi–xii. Retrieved 13 May 2012.