« PreviousContinue »
RICHARD WHATELY, D.D.
ARCHBISHOP OF DUBLIN.
SIXTH EDITION, REVISED AND ENLARGED,
HAVING been accustomed to write down, from time to u 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 But the more unpretending title of • Essay' has in great measure superseded those others which were formerly in use, and more strictly appropriate.
1 There is a very useful little work by the Rev. Mr. Booker, a Vocabulary of the Obsolete Words and Phrases in our Version. It is a manual which no reader of the Bible ought to be without.
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 so 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 remarks—to 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.
My Annotations were, by one of the reviewers, described as "slipshod gossip.' This description, though not designed to be complimentary, is one which perhaps there is no reason to complain of. By 'gossip’ is probably meant, discussions not of deep metaphysical questions, but of the concerns of every-day-life, such as men are accustomed to converse about : and by a "slipshod' style, language simple, perspicuous, and homely, without any attempt at high-flown declamation. Now all this is precisely what I have aimed at. Some passages indeed, of splendid eloquence, I have cited from other Authors; and for doing so, I have been, by some critics, censured. But I conceive no one of good taste, even though he may have read those passages before, will object to seeing them brought forward as illustrative of Bacon's Essays.
Bacon 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
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 bas written, over and over, as an exercise in penmanship, if these words contain something worth remembering, this is so much clear gain.