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TO NEW YORK PUBLIC I L'ANY
130871A ASTOR, LTNOX AND TILDEN FOUNDATIONS R
University Press, Cambridge : Printed by Welch, Bigelow and Company.
HAVING been accustomed to write down, from time to
time, such observations as occurred to me on several of Bacon's Essays, and also to make references to passages in various books which relate to the same subjects, I have been induced to lay the whole before the Public in an edition of these Essays. And in this I have availed myself of the assistance of a friend, who, besides offering several valuable suggestions, kindly undertook the task of revising and arranging the loose notes I had written down, and adding, in footnotes, explanations of obsolete words and phrases. These notes are calculated, I think, to throw light on the language not only of Bacon's Essays, but also of our Authorized Version of the Scriptures, which belongs to the same Age. There are, in that language, besides some few words that are now wholly obsolete, many times more (as is remarked in the Annotations' on Essay XXIV.), which are now as commonly in use as ever, but with a change in their meaning, which makes them far more likely to mislead than those quite obsolete.
In order to guard against the imputation of presumption in venturing to make additions to what Bacon has said on several subjects, it is necessary to call attention to the circumstance that the word ESSAY has been considerably changed in its application since the days of Bacon. By an Essay was originally meant--according to the obvious and natural sense of the word—a slight sketch, to be filled up by the reader; brief hints, designed to be followed out; loose thoughts on some subjects, thrown out without much regularity, but sufficient to suggest further inquiries and reflections. Any more elaborate, regular, and finished composition, such as, in our days, often bears the title of an Essay, our ancestors called a treatise, tractate, dissertation, or discourse. But the more unpretending title
of 'Essay' has in great measure superseded those others which were formerly in use, and more strictly appropriate.
I have adverted to this circumstance because it ought to be remembered, that an Essay, in the original and strict sense of the word, —an Essay such as Bacon's, and also Montaigne's,was designed to be suggestive of further remarks and reflections, and, in short, to set the reader a-thinking on the subject. It consisted of observations loosely thrown out, as in conversation; and inviting, as in conversation, the observations of others on the subject. With an Essay, in the modern sense of the word, it is not so. If the reader of what was designed to be a regular and complete treatise on some subject (and which would have been 80 entitled by our forefathers) makes additional remarks on that subject, he may be understood to imply that there is a deficiency and imperfection—a something wanting—in the work before him; whereas, to suggest such further remarksto give outlines that the reader shall fill up for himself—is the very object of an Essay, properly so called—such as those of Bacon. A commentary to explain or correct, few writings need less: but they admit of, and call for, expansion and development. They are gold ingots, not needing to be gilt or polished, but requiring to be hammered out in order to display their full value.
He is, throughout, and especially in his Essays, one of the most suggestive authors that ever wrote. And it is remarkable that, compressed and pithy as the Essays are, and consisting chiefly of brief hints, he has elsewhere condensed into a still smaller compass the matter of most of them. In his Rhetoric he has drawn up what he calls · Antitheta,' or common-places, “locos,' i.e., pros and cons,-opposite sentiments and reasons, on various points, most of them the same that are discussed in the Essays. It is a compendious and clear mode of bringing before the mind the most important points in any question, to place in parallel columns, as Bacon has done, whatever can be plausibly urged, fairly or unfairly, on opposite sides; and then you are in the condition of a judge who has to decide some cause after
having heard all the pleadings. I have accordingly appended to most of the Essays some of Bacon's 'Antitheta' on the same subjects.
Several of these 'Antitheta' were either adopted by Bacon from proverbial use, or have (through him) become Proverbs. And, accordingly, I prefixed a brief remark (which I here insert) to the selection from Bacon's 'Antitheta' appended to the Elements of Rhetoric. For, all the writers on the subject that I have met with (several of them learned, ingenious, and entertaining) have almost entirely overlooked what appears to me the real character, and proper office, of Proverbs.
Considering that Proverbs have been current in all ages and countries, it is a curious circumstance that so much difference of opinion should exist as to the utility, and as to the design of them. Some are accustomed to speak as if Proverbs contained a sort of concentrated essence of the wisdom of all Ages, which will enable any one to judge and act aright on every emergency. Others, on the contrary, represent them as fit only to furnish occasionally a motto for a book, a theme for a school-boy’s exercise, or a copy for children learning to write.
"To me, both these opinions appear erroneous.
“That Proverbs are not generally regarded, by those who use them, as, necessarily, propositions of universal and acknowledged truth, like mathematical axioms, is plain from the circumstance that many of those most in use are-like these common-places of Bacon-opposed to each other; as, e. g., “Take care of the pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves;' to 'Be not penny-wise and pound-foolish ;' and again, The more haste, the worse speed;' or, “Wait awhile, that we
1 There is appended to Prof. Sullivan's Spelling-book superseded, a collection (which is also published separate) of PROVERBS for Copy-lines, with short explanations annexed, for the use of young people. As a child can hardly fail to learn by heart, without effort or design, words which he has written, over and over, as an exercise in penmanship, if these words contain something worth remembering this is so much clear gain,
may make an end the sooner;' to "Take time by the firelock, or, ‘Time and tide for no man bide,' etc.
'It seems, I think, to be practically understood, that a Prov. erb is merely a compendious expression of some principle, which will usually be, in different cases, and with or without certain modifications, true or false, applicable or inapplicable. When, then, a Proverb is introduced, the speaker usually employs it as a Major-premise, and is understood to imply, as a Minor, that the principle thus referred to is applicable in the existing case. And what is gained by the employment of the Proverb, is, that his judgment, and his reason for it, are conveyed—through the use of a well-known form of expression, clearly, and at the same time in an incomparably shorter space, than if he had had to explain his meaning in expressions framed for the occasion. And the brevity thus obtained is often still further increased by suppressing the full statement even of the very Proverb itself, if a very common one, and merely alluding to it in a word or two.
*Proverbs, accordingly, are somewhat analogous to those medical Formulas which, being in frequent use, are kept readymade-up in the chemists' shops, and which often save the framing of a distinct Prescription.
* And the usefulness of this brevity will not be thought, by any one well conversant with Reasoning, to consist merely in the saving of breath, paper, or time. Brevity, when it does not cause obscurity, conduces much to the opposite effect, and causes the meaning to be far more clearly apprehended than it would have been in a longer expression. More than half the cases, probably, in which men either misapprehend what is said, or confuse one question with another, or are misled by any fallacy, are traceable, in great measure, to a want of sufficient conciseness of expression.'
Perhaps it may be thought by some to be a superfluous task to say anything at all concerning a work which has been in most people's hands for about two centuries and a half, and