Francis Bacon Questions and Answers

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Why does Francis Bacon describe his essays as "Counsels, Civil and Moral"?

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Lorna Stowers eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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To understand why Francis Bacon titled his text The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral, readers must understand what the terms counsels, civil, and moral mean.

Counsel refers to advice that is formally given. Since the essays have been officially published and Bacon is recognized as an English philosopher and author, his advice can be identified as formal advice.

Civil refers to citizens and their concerns. Civil does not include military or religious ideologies or practices. Instead, as noted by the definition, civil relates more to the "everyman." One could also examine another meaning of civil: courtesy and politeness. Under these circumstances, Bacon's essays could be identified as ones which he illustrates the importance of these positive characteristics through modeling these specific practices in both his life and his writings.

Finally, moral refers to right and wrong or to good and bad. Many people possess a similar acceptance and understanding of what is considered morally good or bad behavior. By examining different ideas and topics from a moral standpoint, readers have some prior knowledge with which to traverse Bacon's own ideas.

Therefore, as Bacon traverses subjects like studies, ceremonies, honor, truth, and death, he does so as one who feels he has the ability to educate others based upon his own experiences, expertise, and moral/civil knowledge.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I believe that Francis Bacon gave this title to his collection of essays because that is exactly what he thought they were.  He sees these essays as advice (counsels) to young men who were trying to achieve positions of power.

In the essays he addresses a wide range of topics that would have applications for people's moral lives as well as for their civil (meaning more practical and even political) lives.

He discusses such ideas as truth and atheism as well more practical ideas such as how to handle adversity.

Overall, then, these 58 essays are meant to help ambitious young men with issues that are both moral and political/practical.  This is why he gave the collection the title he did.

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kc4u | Student

"Counsels" are advices/prescriptions, and Bacon's Essays--published in three volumes--are indeed prescriptive and of advisory nature. These brief but compact pieces were born out of the varied entries in Bacon's Commonplace Books that he used during his programme called "Instauratio Magna." Written in a terse, epigrammatic language, Bacon's Essays were meant for the young diplomats and courtiers who used to hold Bacon in a very high esteem.

Bacon's Essays deal with a wide variety of subjects--"civil" and "moral," that is to say, subjects relating to civil/social/secular domains of life, and subjects relating to moral/ethical/spiritual domains of life. Just a passing look at the table of contents affirms this: Studies, Travel, Love, Death, Empire, Truth and so on.

Bacon is always precise, organised, his Essays being prescriptions, nevertheless full of wisdom and expertise. These pieces, modelled on Montaigne's essays, have proved the effectiveness of Bacon's prose beyond doubt.