I actually recommended this edition in another review over the Penguin collection of Bacon's essays - and I still do: there is more here, and it is cheaper. But this is still one of the most horrible pieces of scholarship I have ever come across. Vickers, the editor, has decided that there is absolutely no distinction between what a reader actually needs to know and what Brian Vickers happens to know.
Before I give some examples, here is the editor defending himself in the Preface: "Many of Bacon's words have totally changed their meaning since he wrote, and not to be aware of their intended sense means that readers would receive at best a vague impression."
Now, let me give an example of his helpful elucidations. I am choosing a passage literally at random. Here is first sentence of "Of Death."
Men fear Death, as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other. Certainly, the contemplation of death, as the wages of sin and passage to another world, is holy and religious; but the fear of it, as a tribute due unto nature, is weak
How many footnotes does that passage seem like it requires? Perhaps one, two at most? Vickers gives us six. He helpfully explains that "go" can also mean "walk" - which certainly opened up the entire passage for me. He cites a scholarly paper that analyzes Bacon's use of the word "death" (I'll go right out and read that one); he explains every possible allusion that the passage might contain, and also points out that "tribute" means "something owing."
I want to quote one more example, to show how seriously pathological this guy is. Here is the first sentence from Of Beauty: "Virtue is like a rich stone, best plain set, and surely virtue is best in a body that is comely, though not of delicate features; and that hath rather dignity of presence, than beauty of aspect."
This perfectly ordinary sentence has - get this - five footnotes! "Best plain set" is identified as "Mounted simply." Vickers points out that "comely," in Bacon's distant 17th century English, actually means "attractive." That's still what it means, you nutcase! Anyway, he goes on like this for the entire book, and produces a truly astonishing 300 pages of notes for about 500 pages of actual text.
By the end of a single page, any reader who is actually reading Bacon for pleasure will be unable to tell when to flip to the back of the book, because every other word has a footnote mark next to it. The result is that the genuinely necessary notes, which could actually have been helpful, are lost along with the useless ones.
I showed my friend the book and after flipping through it his first reaction was: "Wow, this guy really hates Francis Bacon." And he might be right. Maybe Vickers resents the fact that he has devoted his life to this writer, and wants to bury him under an avalanche of minutae; or, more charitably, perhaps he feels that you are just too dumb to understand Francis Bacon without Brian Vickers explaining every single word to you.
Well, if the first is true, he is failed; and if the second, he is wrong: Bacon is as readable as ever. Ignore the footnotes and enjoy. But somewhere out there is an older edition of the Major Works edited by a sane man, where useful background notes are concisely provided - try to find it. And if there isn't, Oxford needs to hand these great pieces of writing over to someone else.