A complete survey of Bacon's works and an estimate of his place in literature and philosophy are matters for a volume. It is here proposed merely to classify the works, to indicate their general character and to enter somewhat more in detail upon what he himself regarded as his great achievement, - the reorganization of the sciences and the exposition of a new method by which the human mind might proceed with security and certainty towards the true end of all human thought and action.
Putting aside the letters and occasional writings, we may conveniently distribute the other works into three classes, Professional, Literary, Philosophical. The Professional works include the Reading on the Statute of Uses, the Maxims of Law and the treatise (possibly spurious) on the Use of the Law. "I am in good hope," said Bacon himself, "that when Sir Edward Coke's reports and my rules and decisions shall come to posterity, there will be (whatsoever is now thought) question who was the greater lawyer." If Coke's reports show completer mastery of technical details, greater knowledge of precedent, and more of the dogged grasp of the letter than do Bacon's legal writings, there can be no dispute that the latter exhibit an infinitely more comprehensive intelligence of the abstract principles of jurisprudence, with a richness and ethical fulness that more than compensate for their lack of dry legal detail. Bacon seems indeed to have been a lawyer of the first order, with a keen scientific insight into the bearings of isolated facts and a power of generalization which admirably fitted him for the self-imposed task, unfortunately never completed, of digesting or codifying the chaotic mass of the English law.
Among the literary works are included all that he himself designated moral and historical pieces, and to these may be added some theological and minor writings, such as the Apophthegms. Of the moral works the most valuable are the Essays, which have been so widely read and universally admired. The matter is of the familiar, practical kind, that "comes home to men's bosoms." The thoughts are weighty, and even when not original have acquired a peculiar and unique tone or cast by passing through the crucible of Bacon's mind. A sentence from the Essays can rarely be mistaken for the production of any other writer. The short, pithy sayings have become popular mottoes and household words. The style is quaint, original, abounding in allusions and witticisms, and rich, even to gorgeousness, with piled-up analogies and metaphors. The first edition contained only ten essays, but the number was increased in 1612 to thirty-eight, and in 1625 to fifty-eight. The short tract, Colours of Good and Evil, which with the Meditationes Sacrae originally accompanied the Essays, was afterwards incorporated with the De Augmentis. Along with these works may be classed the curiously learned piece, De Sapientia Veterum, in which he works out a favourite idea, that the mythological fables of the Greeks were allegorical and concealed the deepest truths of their philosophy.
As a scientific explanation of the myths the theory is of no value, but it affords fine scope for the exercise of Bacon's unrivalled power of detecting analogies in things apparently most dissimilar. The Apophthegms, though hardly deserving Macaulay's praise of being the best collection of jests in the world, contain a number of those significant anecdotes which Bacon used with such effect in his other writings. Of the historical works, besides a few fragments of the projected history of Britain there remains the History of Henry VII., a valuable work, giving a clear and animated narrative of the reign, and characterizing Henry with great skill. The style is in harmony with the matter, vigorous and flowing, but naturally with less of the quaintness and richness suitable to more thoughtful and original writings. The series of the literary works is completed by the minor treatises on theological or ecclesiastical questions. Some of the latter, included among the occasional works, are sagacious and prudent and deserve careful study.
Of the former, the principal specimens are the Meditationes Sacrae and the Confession of Faith. The Paradoxes (Characters of a believing Christian in paradoxes, and seeming contradictions), which was often and justly suspected, has been conclusively proved by Grosart to be the work of another author.