INTRODUCTION

1. The Latin version of Sir Francis Bacon’s Essays warrants inclusion in the Philological Museum because it was omitted from the great multi-volume The Works of Francis Bacon edited by James Spedding and others in the nineteenth century, and has not, I believe, appeared in print since the seventeenth century. NOTE 1 At first, the experience of reading Bacon’s Essays in Latin may seem as strange and unsettling as seeing a familiar friend wearing a false beard. Yet Latin was the language in which he expected them to endure. In an introduction to the 1623 London edition of De Augumentis Scientiarum, which contained a Latin version of The Advancement of Learning, his chaplain - secretary William Rawley wrote: NOTE 2

Non ita pridem animum adiecit ut in Latinam linguam verteretur. Inaudierat siquidem illud apud exteros expeti. Quinetiam solebat subinde dicere libros modernis linguis conscriptas non ita multo post decocturos. Eius igitur translationem ab insignioribus quibusdam eloquentia viris elaboratam propria quoque recensione castigatam iam emittit.

[“Not long ago he formed the intention that it should be translated into Latin, since he had heard that the work was being sought after by foreigners. Nay, he was wont frequently to say that books written in modern languages would not very long after go bankrupt. And so he now publishes his translation of the work, which has been worked on by certain men who are fairly well known for their eloquence, and then purified by his own revision too.”]

He therefore had two motives for wanting the Essays to be turned into Latin. The first was to make his works available for Continental readers. In a letter written to Dr. Playfere, Cambridge’s Professor of Divinity, he disparaged the English in which The Advancement of Learning was originally written as a “private” (i. e. parochial) language:

And therefore the privateness of the language considered wherein it is written, excluding so many readers (as, on the other side, the obscurity of the argument in many parts of it excludeth many others) I must account it as a second birth of that work, if it might be translated into Latin, without manifest loss of the sense and matter.

Yet this concern for acquiring a foreign readership was probably the lesser reason in his mind. His works could always be translated into other modern tongues, and indeed an Italian translation of the Essays and de Sapientia Veterum had been published at London in 1618. A more important concern was an awareness that modern languages change and evolve rapidly, so that the passage of time would eventually render his English works unintelligible. If one needed an example of this phenomenon, one could always point to Chaucer, and indeed not many years later Sir Francis Kynaston translated Troilus and Criseyde into Latin verse precisely to rescue it from this fate of linguistic obscurity.
2. Such views might strike many readers as whimsical and quaint, but it would be historically wrongheaded to blame Bacon (or Kynaston) for having backed the wrong horse. In an essay printed as recently as 1847, Walter Savage Landor recommended Latin for these same two reasons, that it purveys both universality and longevity. NOTE 3 The Latin text of the Essays was only published posthumously, in 1638, but the fact that, even when he published the expanded English version in 1625, Bacon actually wanted the work to be read in Latin is shown by a remark that stands in the prefacing dedicatory letter of the English version as well as the Latin:

Consentaneum igitur duxi affectui et obligationi meae erga illustratissimam dominationem tuam, ut nomen tuum illius praefigam, tam in editione Anglica quam Latina. Etenim in bona spe sum volumen earum in Latinam (linguam scilicet universalem) versum posse durare, quamdiu libri et literae durent.

[“I thought it therefore agreeable to my affection and obligation to your Grace to prefix your name before them, both in English and in Latin. For I do conceive that the Latin volume of them (being in the universal language) may last as long as books last.”]

Translation in to Latin, therefore, seems to have been no mere afterthought, but rather an integral feature of the project of overhauling and expanding a set of essays first published in 1597 and then somewhat enlarged in 1612.
3. The Latin version of the Essays first appeared in a 1638 volume issued by secretary Rawley (vol. II of the Opera Moralia et Civilia), together with Historia Regni Henrici Septimi Regis Angliae, Tractatus de Sapientia Veterum, Diaologus de Bello Sacro, and Nova Atlantis, and the title page of the volume has the words ab ipso honoratissimo auctore, praeterquam in paucis, Latininate donatus. Spedding argued that these words embrace the volume’s entire contents, and therefore leave open the question of who translated the Essays. Had he been a more cynical man, he could also have voiced the suspicion that this assurance was added to enhance the volume’s market value. He therefore left open the possibility that the Essays were put into Latin by somebody else: “Whether any of [the Essays] were actually translated by Bacon himself, or how far he superintended the work, it seems impossible to know,” and one encounters variants on this conclusion in a goodly number of other writers (the Dictionary of National Biography life of Bishop John Hacket asserts that the Essays were translated into Latin by Hacket and Ben Jonson, but cites no evidence in support of this claim, and I have seen no reference to it elsewhere). Even Binns (p. 253) only felt able to go so far as to write that the Latin version was “probably but not certainly Bacon’s own.” Yet Spedding’s dismissal of the title-page claim that almost all of the Latin the volume was Bacon’s work (made by a man in a position to know) seems ill-advised. The statement in the dedicatory epistle, in both languages, appears to indicate that the production of the English and Latin texts was conceived as a single creative act, not merely to express Bacon’s hope for the eventual production of a Latin translation by himself or somebody else. The priority of the English version is not taken for granted, and Bacon’s words do not discourage the idea that the Latin text was already in existence when he wrote the dedication. If so, we have no idea what his working procedure would have been. The standard description of the Latin text as a translation may conceal a more complex reality. We need not necessarily assume that Bacon’s invariable practice was to write a text in English first, and only afterwards to translate it into Latin. It is scarcely out of the question that at least some portions of the English Essays are in fact translations of material first written in Latin. Lest this idea strike the reader as impossibly weird, one should remember that in Bacon’s day educated men were virtually bilingual, and it does not unduly strain credibility to suppose that an Englishman might think and write in Latin, particularly when dealing with a difficult or complex subject, or wrestling with concepts not easily set forth in English. So Bacon may have adopted the same working method as did Walter Savage Landor in writing his epic poem Gebir, working on both versions more or less simultaneously, sometimes running ahead on one, sometimes on the other. In discussing the limited capacity of Renaissance English for expressing abstruse ideas, Binns (p. 298) observed that, for this reason, “it is not an accident that Francis Bacon is usually much easier to read in Latin than in English.” In view of this consideration, it is not unreasonable to imagine that Bacon might occasionally have resorted to the strategy of first in setting out his ideas in Latin when special precision or lucidity of thought was needed.
spacer4. Further supporting the idea that Bacon was responsible for the Latin version is the fact that a number of the stylistic idiosyncracies of this text also appear in Bacon’s Historia Regni Henrici Septimi, written slightly earlier. These include a predilection for beginning sentences or parts of a sentence following a heavy stop with adeo, etenim, ita, quinetiam, and verum (doing this with adeo and ita make result clauses stand as independent sentences), the tam…quam… construction, some overworked pet words such as autem (with no genuinely adversitive connotation), huiusmodi, instar, nimirum, and quatenus ad, and the invariable spelling caussa for causa. In the dedicatory letter prefacing the Essays we have Bacon’s explicit statement that the Latin version of the former work was his own responsiblity: Historia Regni Henrici Septimi (quam etiam in Latinum verti — here Bacon’s use of the word etiam, i. e., “also,” would seem to be of decisive importance). Because of the stylic resemblances just noted, this would appear to be cogent evidence that Bacon himself wrote the Latin version of the Essays as well. Furthermore, it would appear likely that the farming out of Latin translating to assistants was an expedient adopted under the pressure of official duties when he was Lord Chancellor. After Bacon’s fall from power in 1621, he would have had plenty of time to do the job himself. I admit that these arguments may strike the reader as falling short of definitive proof. But no Latinist with a modicum of professional training will share Spedding’s feeling of helplessness about this subject. It should be possible to compare in detail the Latin of the Essays with that of works undoubtedly written in Latin by Bacon himself and arrive at some firm conclusions, and one hopes that such a future stylistic study may answer the question beyond dispute.
5. Certainly, the style of the Latin text exactly matches that of Bacon’s English. Here, transcribed in its original form, is a passage from the beginning of Essay I:

Verùm nec difficultas sola, laborque quem homines subeunt, in Veritate inveniendâ; Nec quae ex eâ inventa Cogitationibus imponitur Captivitas; Mendaciis Favorem conciliat; Sed ipsius Mendacii Naturalis, (utcunque corruptus,) Amor. E recentiore Graecorum scholâ quidam, rem ad examen vocans, haeret attonitus; dum excogitare nequit, quorsum mortales amarent Mendacium, ipsius Mendacii causâ; Cum nec Voluptati sit, ut Mendacia Poetrum; Nec utilitati, ut illa Mercatorum. Sed nescio quomodo, Veritas, ista, (utpote nuda et manifesta Lux Diurna,) personatas huius Mundi Fabulas, Ineptiásque, non tam magnificè et eleganter ostendet, quam Taedae, Lucernaeque Nocturnae. Ad Unionis, forsàn Valorem, pervenire poterit Veritas, quae per Diem speciosissima apparet: Sed ad pretium Adamantis, aut Carbunculi, qui Lumine vario pulcherrimè spendent, nunquàm ascendet.

The difficulty with Bacon’s punctuation is not merely that punctuation marks appear at unexpected and what a modern reader will feel are unnecessary places, or that the value that Bacon placed on the semicolon is very obviously different than the one we do. The real problem is that, in working through his long procession of clauses, or word-groups, separated by semicolons and colons, one is not always quite sure where one sentence ends and the next one begins. What one often finds is a concatenation of thought-units linked together in a highly paratactic manner, as if Bacon is spontaneously throwing down his thoughts on paper as they occur to him. Sometimes one imagines the sentence is over, then finds one or more extra statements tacked on the end, as if they had just entered Bacon’ head. All this is quite different from the highly syntactic, structured Ciceronian period, in which, like the author of a mystery novel, the writer has to know where he is going from the very outset. This paratactic way of writing is precisely the style of Bacon in his English.
6. Which is the whole idea. Bacon in his style, English as well as Latin, was caught up in the so-called anti-Ciceronian movement, a very conscious revolt against the dominance of Cicero as a sylistic paradigm. The editors of Morris W. Croll’s essays on this movement describe precisely what has been observed in the preceding paragraph: NOTE 4

Essentially, Croll’s idea…is that instead of subordinating ideas, spontaneity, and feelings to Ciceronian externals, forms, and dictates, men like Lipsius, Muret, and Bacon imitated Latin authors of the Silver Age, especially Seneca and Tacitus, who adjusted, manipulated, and subordinated form to make it answer the fire and feeling of a mind in the process of thinking. But it is probably more just to say that they strove for the effect of a mind developing ideas naturally, flexibly, and freely; that they imitated the thinking mind …The reader has the impression that he develops ideas and feelings along with such authors and participates in the dynamics of their thought.

Surely one of an editor’s duties is to present a text in a form that facilitates comprehension by modern readers, and so it seems imperative to abandon Bacon’s pointing and impose modern conventional punctuation. Nevertheless, one must admit that, if something necessary is gained, something else valuable is at the same time lost, for, in a sense, Bacon’s choppy sense-units linked by semicolons accurately reflects his style (as does the similarly unorthodox and idiosyncratic use of semicolons in Carlyle’s The French Revolution). And the same generalizations can be made about his style in English and in Latin without any need for introducing important modifications.
7. At least in the English-speaking world, historians and critics who have discussed the anti-Ciceronian movement have written about it almost exclusively as a stylistic development, NOTE 5 which is a great mistake. The movement had to do with imitatio of a new set of Silver Age paradigmatic authors of a sort that was scarcely limited to style, for it also engendered new developments in literary form and content. Thus, for example, there arose a vogue for imitating Martial’s short, barbed epigrams, by such vernacular writers as Sir John Harington, and such Anglo-Latin ones as Thomas Campion, Charles Fitzgeoffrey, John Owen, and John Stradling. Then too, there was something of a vogue for Tacitus, a favorite author of Bacon’s, who quotes him frequently. This originated on the Continent with Tacitus’ great advocate Justus Lipsius [1547 - 1606]. More locally, Tacitus had achieved enhanced visibility in England thanks in large part to the work of Sir Henry Savile, who in 1591 issued his The Ende of Nero and Beginning of Galba. Fower Bookes of the Histories, a work popular enough to require reprinting in 1598, 1604, 1612, and 1639. Increased interest in Tacitus can also be seen from the fact that playwrights began to turn to the historian as a source for plots. Besides, of course, Jonson’s Sejanus his Fall, one can mention such other Tacitus-based plays as Matthew Gwinne’s 1603 Nero. This interest in Tacitus finally led to full-blown imitation, in William Camden’s monumental Annales Rerum Anglicarum et Hibernicarum Regnante Elizabetha (the first portion of which was issued in 1615). In the same way, the immediate inspiration for Bacon’s Essays may have been Montaigne (whom he quotes in the first essay) but surely the development of the essay form, as practiced by Montaigne, Bacon, and such other contemporary English essayists as Sir William Cornwallis, ultimately took its inspiration from Seneca. Many of Bacon’s essays are short moralizing disquisitions or homilies that find their closest classical precedent in the essays of Seneca, and Croll (178 - 188) demonstrated that Montaigne himself was deeply influenced by Seneca. In Bacon’s case, although he studiously eschews Seneca’s verbal mannerisms (of which he elsewhere expressed his disapproval) NOTE 6 in the Latin as well as the English version, on the levels of form and at least sometimes of content his Essays are profoundly Senecan in their inspiration.
spacer8. Spedding was aware that there are many points at which the Latin text of the Essays is in some way superior to the English one, and wrote (p. 370), “Taken with this caution however, the Latin translation must be accepted as a work of authority, and in one respect of superior authority tot he original, because of later date.” And at some points he illustrated this observation about the superiority of the Latin by quoting it in footnotes on the English version. But there are many other passages where he could have done so, but did not. All in all, one comes to the conclusion that it was a great mistake not to include the Latin text of the Essays (and probably of the History of the Reign of Henry VII as well) in his edition. There are cogent reasons for thinking these Latin versions are by Bacon himself, and in any event comparing the Latin version with the English produces an uneasy feeling that our English text of the Essays may not be as sound as it could be. Spedding (VI.535) also writes, “The earliest evidence of additions and alterations which I have met with, is contained in a volume preserved among the Harleian MSS. in the British Museum, No. 5106.; a volume undoubtedly authentic; for it contains interlineations in Bacon's own hand; and transcribed some time between 1607, when Bacon became Solicitor-general, and 1612, when he brought out a new edition of the Essays with further additions and alterations.” Since Spedding was aware of this evidence, one wonders why he did not use it, and why he pointed out discrepancies between the printed English version and the Latin one only sporadically. It would seem that the full range of textual evidence has not been examined and collated, and surely the Latin version is an important part of that evidence.
9. The volume in which the Latin version of the Essays appeared, the second volume of Bacon’s Operum Moralium et Civilium was printed at London by Edward Griffin in 1639 (Short Title Catalogue 1109, Early English Books reel 617); almost immediately thereafter this printing was reissued with an additional title page and the sheets of the 1620 edition of the Novum Organon (Short Title Catalogue 1110, Early English Books reel 1089). Reel 1089 provided the basis for the present text, since the version included on reel 617 is of such poor quality that many pages can be read only with extreme difficulty. The printed text is not free of typographical errors, which I have corrected, and, as stated above, I have also imposed modern punctuation. Readers who compare the Latin essays with their English equivalents will observe that their articulation into paragraphs is not always the same; there seemed no good reason to bring it into conformity with the English. In the Latin text (even more than in the English one) italics are used for at least two reasons, to indicate quotations and to introduce special emphasis. I have done my best to retain the former but not the latter, but I cannot assure the reader I have got it right in every instance. The text of the English version employed here for quotations in commentary notes is that printed by Spedding in 1878. I have tried to identify all of Bacon’s quotations, but this has proven difficult to do, as many are not accurate ones, because he sometimes provides paraphrases in his own words, occasionally altered his quotes to suit the context, and sometimes badly misquoted or mis-attributed, probably because he was citing from memory. Likewise, I have identified those historical references likely to be unfamiliar to the modern reader. Although I have scarcely cavassed all the myriad modern editions of the Essays for help in this process, but, of those I have seen, the one edited and annotated by Gordon S. Haight (Roslyn, N. Y., 1942) has proven the most helpful, and I take this opportunity to make a blanket acknowledgement of my indebtedness to Haight’s notes.
spacer10. Thanks to Karl Maurer of the University of Dallas for suggesting a couple of ways in which the Latin text could be improved and discussing with me the question of discrepancies between the English and Latin versions.

 

NOTES

NOTE 1 James Spedding, Robert Leslie Ellis, and Douglas Denon Heath, The Works of Francis Bacon, Baron of Verulam, Viscount St. Alban, and Lord High Chancellor of England (London, 1878 - 1889). Vol. VI, edited by Spedding, contains the Essays. While the editor did not include the Latin text, he quoted from it at some (but scarcely all) points where it diverges from, or assists the interpretation of, the English. The Latin text was reprinted at Leiden in 1641, 1644, and 1659, and at Amsterdam in 1662 and 1685.

NOTE 2 Quoted (like the letter to Dr. Playfere below) and translated by J. W. Binns, Intellectual Culture in Elizabethan England: The Latin Writings of the Age (Leeds, 1990) 252.

NOTE 3 Landor’s essay Quaestio Quamobrem Poetæ Latini Recentiores Minus Legantur, actually written in about 1820, was reprinted in expanded form in his Poemata et Inscriptiones (1847).

NOTE 4 Essays by Morris W. Croll: “Attic” and Baroque Prose Style (edited by J. Max Patrick and Robert O. Evans with John W. Wallace, Princeton, 1966) 6.

NOTE 5 Besides Croll’s essays, cf. George Williamson, The Senecan Amble; A Study in Prose Form from Bacon to Collier (Chicago, 1966), and Gilbert Highet, The Classical Tradition (Oxford, 1957) 322ff. But, as as suggested above, since these studies are almost entirely limited to style, they are woefully inadequate, and this important chapter in the history of English literature remains to be written. One question that the author of such a study would have to ask is the possible impact of the anti-Ciceronian movement on Shakespeare. Is this a reason for his eventual cessation of using Livy as a source for this plays, and why the luxuriant and ostentatious use of classical references in his early plays becomes severely pruned later on?

NOTE 6 See the discussion of Senecan style added to the 1622 Latin version of De Augmentis Scientarum quoted by Croll, p. 190.