Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was born in London to parents who were members of the court of Queen Elizabeth I. He attended Trinity College, entered the practice of law in his late teens, and became a member of the House of Commons at the age of 23. His career flourished under King James I, but later scandals ended his life as a politician. A philosopher/scientist by nature and one of the most admired thinkers of his day, Bacon was a founder of the modern empirical tradition based on closely observing the physical world, conducting controlled experiments, and interpreting the results rationally to discover the workings of the universe. Of his many published works, he is best remembered for his Essays (collected from 1597 until after his death), brief meditations noted for their wit and insight.
In his classic essay, “Of Studies,” Francis Bacon explains how and why study—knowledge—is important. Along with Michel de Montaigne, who published his first essays less than twenty years before Francis Bacon published his first collection in 1597. Bacon is considered the father of the English essay (with Montaigne the father of the French essay). Bacon’s essays differ from Montaigne’s in being more compact and more formal. Where Montaigne conceived of the essays as an opportunity to explore a subject through mental association and a casual ramble of the mind, Bacon envisioned the essay as an opportunity to offer advice. The title of his essay collection: “Essays or Counsels: Civil and Moral,” suggests that didactic intent. In “Of Studies,” Bacon lays out the value of knowledge in practical terms. Bacon considers to what use studies might be put. He is less interested in their theoretical promise than in their practical utility—a proclivity more English, perhaps, than French. Bacon’s writing in “Of Studies” is direct and pointed. It avoids the meandering find-your-way free form of Montaigne’s essays. From his opening sentence Bacon gets directly...
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