English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History eBook

Henry Coppée
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 540 pages of information about English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History.

II.  Again, Bacon is the most notable example among natural philosophers of a man who worked for science and truth alone, with a singleness of purpose and entire unconcern as to immediate and selfish rewards.  Bacon the philosopher was in the strongest contrast to Bacon the politician.  He left, he said, his labors to posterity; his name and memory to foreign nations, and “to (his) own country, after some time is past over.”  His own time could neither appreciate nor reward them.  Here is an element of greatness worthy of all imitation:  he who works for popular applause, may have his reward, but it is fleeting and unsatisfying; he who works for truth alone, has a grand inner consequence while he works, and his name will be honored, if for nothing else, for this loyalty to truth.  After what has been said of his servility and dishonesty, it is pleasing to contemplate this unsullied side of his escutcheon, and to give a better significance to the motto on his monument—­Sic sedebat.

HIS ESSAYS.—­Bacon’s Essays, or Counsels Civil and Moral, are as intelligible to the common mind as his philosophy is dry and difficult.  They are short, pithy, sententious, telling us plain truths in simple language:  he had been writing them through several years.  He dedicated them, under the title of Essays, to Henry, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of King James I., a prince of rare gifts, and worthy such a dedication, who unfortunately died in 1612.  They show him to be the greatest master of English prose in his day, and to have had a deep insight into human nature.

Bacon is said to have been the first person who applied the word essay in English to such writings:  it meant, as the French word shows, a little trial-sketch, a suggestion, a few loose thoughts—­a brief of something to be filled in by the reader.  Now it means something far more—­a long composition, dissertation, disquisition.  The subjects of the essays, which number sixty-eight, are such as are of universal interest—­fame, studies, atheism, beauty, ambition, death, empire, sedition, honor, adversity, and suchlike.

The Essays have been ably edited and annotated by Archbishop Whately, and his work has been republished in America.

CHAPTER XVII.

THE ENGLISH BIBLE.

   Early Versions.  The Septuagint.  The Vulgate.  Wiclif; Tyndale. 
   Coverdale; Cranmer.  Geneva; Bishop’s Bible.  King James’s Bible. 
   Language of the Bible.  Revision.

EARLY VERSIONS OF THE SCRIPTURES.

When we consider the very extended circulation of the English Bible in the version made by direction of James I., we are warranted in saying that no work in the language, viewed simply as a literary production, has had a more powerful historic influence over the world of English-speaking people.

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