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BEST ENGLISH ESSAYS
MASTER OF CONDENSATION
F all English prose writers Bacon is the
most condensed. His successive sen
tences approach the condensation of the proverb and the aphorism. In the essay Of Studies” there are half a dozen sentences any one of which a modern writer might take as a text and expand into a good-sized volume. Moreover, it is very interesting to note how he attains this unusual condensation, namely, in the simplest way that condensation can be attained. He does no more than state a simple truth in the most direct and simple language imaginable. A child may do that; but the difference between a child and Bacon is that Bacon's simple truth has such profound and far-reaching applications. When a man has spent a lifetime in investigation of a subject, so that it is as familiar to him as his A B C's, nothing could be easier or simpler for him than to put his finger on the central point, the heart of the whole subject. If he displays
any peculiar literary skill, it is chiefly in refraining from doing anything beside putting his finger on the point of interest in his subject. The profundity of Bacon's knowledge, the accuracy and comprehensiveness of his thought, are the essential things in his essays. Little as he suspected it when he wrote them, these essays afford us a key to the conclusions regarding life of one of the profoundest thinkers, one of the keenest observers, and one of the most learned men the world has ever produced. As Bacon is our first essayist
, the history of his essays, is interesting. As a brilliant conversatiónist: he was in the habit of jotting down in his notebook any terse or suggestive saying he heard, or any particularly good sentence that occurred to him in the ordinary rounds of his life and studies. In 1597 he published a dozen groups of these notes. They formed only a few pages in a book that contained other matter. Nearly every sentence was marked with the sign of the paragraph, showing that Bacon presented them merely as a collection of epigrammatic sentences. By far the best of these ten original essays was the one called “Of Studies." The book as a whole, however, was popular, and in 1612 a new edition was published, in which nearly all the original essays were enlarged and the disjointed notes were more closely welded together. Many essays were added. In 1625 the final edition, as we now have it, appeared, and the collections of notes had grown into something more nearly resembling the modern essay, while the numerous additions were written connectedly and at greater length.
That the student may observe this process of development for himself, we present first the original form of the essay "Of Studies” very nearly as it appeared in 1597, and then the same essay as we find it in the edition of 1625. This is followed by two essays, “Of Truth and
Of Friendship,” which were first presented in the edition of 1625. The latter is the most elaborate and connected, and it will be very interesting to compare this essay with Emerson's essay
Friendship.” Emerson was the same sort of writer that Bacon was, but he wrote in an age when people read too hurriedly and too extensively to permit the classic brevity of Bacon to have its just effect.
(Version of 1597)*
TUDIES serve for pastimes, for ornaments and
for abilities. Their chief use for pastime is in privatenes and retiring; for ornamente is in discourse, and for abilitie is in judgement. For expert men can execute, but learned men are fittest to judge or censure.
1 In this essay the original spelling is retained.
To spend too much time in them is slouth, to use them too much for ornament is affectation: to make judgement wholly by their rules, is the humour of a Scholler. They perfect Nature, and are perfected by experience. Craftie men contemne ? them, simple men admire them, wise men use them: For they teach not their owne use, but that ? is a wisedome without them: and above them wonne by observation. (Reade not to contradict, nor to believe, but to waigh and consider. [Some bookes are to bee tasted, others to bee swallowed, and some few to bee chewed and digested: That is, some bookes are to be read only in partes; others to be read, but cursorily, and some few to be read wholly and with diligence and attention. (Reading maketh a full man, conference a readye man, and writing an exacte man. And therefore if a man write little, he had neede have a great memorie, if he conferre little, he had neede have a present wit, and if he reade little, hee had neede have much cunning, to seeme to know that he doth not. (Histories make men wise, Poets wittie: the Mathematickes subtle, naturall Phylosophie deepe: Morall grave, Logicke and Rhetoricke able to contend.
(Version of 1625) 3
TUDIES serve for delight, for ornament, and for
ability. Their chief use for delight is in privateness and retiring; for ornament is in discourse;
1 Misprinted in first edition “continue.” 2 The meaning calls for “there."
8 In this and the following essays, the spelling has been modernized.