on 20 June 2003
Francis Bacon was an important and extremely influential thinker. An understanding of the origins of modern philosophy and science is incomplete without some appreciation of Bacon's thought. He has been a much debated figure (and occasionally, and often unfairly, a much maligned one). His ideas are frequently difficult, but they repay close study. A complete edition of his works was published in the nineteenth century and can be found in most respectable scholarly libraries, and a modern complete, scholarly and definitive edition is in progress (some volumes have already been published). But it has often been hard to purchase good, accessible and affordable editions of his writings.
As a scholar working on Bacon I can recommend this edition - it is ideal for students and the casual reader and provides a solid introduction to several facets of Bacon's thought. It contains some of Bacon's most important works, notably The Advancement of Learning (an encyclopaedic account and reorganization of knowledge), the Essays (which touch on a number of themes, often of a moral or political nature) and the New Atlantis (a short 'utopian' work which outlines an ideal society, in particular the organized scientific research at the heart of it). The volume also presents some lesser known pieces, including some poems and letters, that provide an interesting context for the longer works. The endnotes are very good and are especially helpful when dealing with Bacon's occasionally difficult style and the many now obsolete words and meanings, and they source (and where necessary translate) the many quotations used by Bacon. Brian Vickers' introduction to the volume as a whole and his several introductions to the individual texts are decent, and they frequently contain some interesting analysis of rhetorical and linguistic features of Bacon's writing, an area on which Vickers has done extensive work.
I have one caveat however. The book contains some major works (the title rather misleadlingly suggests all the major works), but because it only includes texts that were originally written in English it omits a number of important Latin writings. Among the works not here are the Novum organum (Bacon's most important philosophical treatise and a key text; several English translations exist), De augmentis scientiarum (the hugely expanded version of The Advancement of Learning and another important philosophical work) and De sapientia veterum (The wisdom of the ancients - a mythological treatise that was extremely popular in the seventeenth century and sheds some interesting light on the formation of Bacon's ideas). Also absent are any of Bacon's many writings on natural history - works central to his philosophical programme. Bacon wrote extensively on numerous subjects and a single-volume work can do no more than scratch the surface of his ideas (the new definitive and complete edition of Bacon's writings will extend to no less than 15 volumes). Vickers' volume is useful and serves as an excellent introduction to Bacon as a literary figure and prose stylist - but it falls short of being a good introduction to Bacon as a philosopher.
Overall this volume represents excellent value. To those unfamiliar with Bacon's thought and works it makes a good starting-point; those familiar will still find it useful as it brings together some important writings within a single volume. However, for a fuller understanding of Bacon's philosophy the Novum organum (and other works if possible) should be read in addition to the pieces in Vickers' edition.
on 14 January 2015
This is not, repeat not, "The Major Works" of Sir Francis Bacon; it is "Some of the Major Works" - only the works written in English, not the works written in Latin (see Preface, p. v). This is a bit of a problem, because Bacon wrote most of his works about science in Latin, and he is most famous for "inventing" experimental science as we know it. (The preface says that many of the Latin works had already been translated into English, but require editing, which the editor did not have the time to do.)
The book itself is very well written and the editing process seems to have been meticulous; I have no beef with the editor (Brian Vickers). But whoever chose the title, presumably the publisher, should hang their head in shame.
Here are some of the Baconian works NOT included: Thema Coeli (Theory of the Heavens), Instauratio Magna (Great Instauration), Novum Organum Scientiarum (New Method), Historia Naturalis (Natural History). There are many more.
on 10 May 2013
It is with great regret I feel that Bacon did not write the works collected here, in Latin. Had he done so OUP might have provided us with a crisp modern translation, thus obviating the need for some three hundred pages of notes, explaining in modern English what Bacon wrote in 17th Century English - Shakespeare is never this difficult.
At the same time the 864 pages - surely a labour of love by Vickers - is surely too unwieldy. I would thus have preferred three volumes; that is to say, the real Major (English) works, The Essays, New Atlantis and The Advancement of Learning in separate volumes, perhaps filled out with some of the other stuff here. For example the 1597 version of the essays could be included as a short Appendix to the final version.
But what to do about those essential notes!