A man who was not William Shakespeare by the way. Let's get that out of the way right off. For those of you who don't know, there has been a aberrant school of thought in Shakespearean scholarship which posits that Sir Francis Bacon actually wrote the works of William Shakespeare. Scuttling Occam's Razor, there are books which talk about Bacon's connections to people associated with the London theater, skepticism cast of the production history of Shakespeare's first play, links made between Bacon's passion for English history, and phrases hidden in acrostic in the First Folio. The "Bacon as Shakespeare" school was a hypothesis I've been familiar with for years, but now that I've read Bacon, I feel entirely safe in assuring you of the bêtise of said hypothesis. Utter rot, I say! One need only have the barest grasp of their stylistic differences to bury that theory.
Such ear-tickling theories of esoteric knowledge may sell books, but does not have a place in serious scholarship anymore than suggesting Bacon was also the Merovingian ambassador to the Mole People who live beneath the surface of the hollow Earth. One can speculate anything. That doesn't make it scholarship or worth considering. Even though we are talking about a time 300 years before the invention of television, I'm sure Sir Francis Bacon's life was far too busy to also produce the works of Shakespeare in his free time.
His Essays are a remarkable collection of human thought. He writes about, as I mentioned, aspects of ruling and deportment in positions of power. He also covers general human behavior and experience. They are brilliant and I found it a little unnerving that, for example, a man 400 in the grave observed the formulaic state that atheism will rise when there is widespread, well-known corruption in the clergy coupled with gross disunity in the Church, leading to a culture which condones mocking religion.
There was a great deal in his work that I found rich and rewarding. A few points on which I already heartily agreed with him (I thought his assessment of prophecy was entirely in line with my own experience. He agreed that instances appear to have existed, then went on express his extreme distrust of prophecy and suspicion that most of it is concocted ex post facto.) Also he mentions the stages of a great society in formulaic form. He says that a great empire focuses on diversification of goods, services, peoples, climes, and so forth. There is great wisdom in this although one might level the accusation that this mode of thinking lead to the British imperialism that made life very unpleasant for a lot of people in the following centuries. His formula also states that an early great society focuses their attention on arms, a middle period great society focuses on learning, a period follows of a mixture of the two, and an empire in decline focuses on merchandise and mechanical arts (what Mark Twain would call "gee-gaws.") Although I think I take a little issue when he elsewhere encourages leaders who want a great nation to focus on arms. The Quaker in me objects.
I wont write at length about the individual essays as there are many, but I found this to be a highly valuable volume of human thought. I'm sure it will, like so many books in this series, give me great food for thought for years to come. I would recommend it to anyone.