About Bacon and his Essays
1. Bacon (afterwards Viscount St. Albans), the son of Nicholas Bacon was born in 1561 and died in 1626.
2. The first edition of the Essays (ten included); the second edition (forty included) appeared in 1625. Tennyson said, “ There is more wisdom compressed into small volume than into any other book of the same size that I know” Many of the essays are made up of extracts, complied from commonplace books and his other published works, and woven together into a new whole.
3. There are three divisions of Bacon’s works: Philosophical as The Advancement of Learning, Literary as The Essays and Professionals as Maxims of Law.
4. Bacon made no scientific discovery as Newton and Harvey made, but he laid the solid foundation of Science because he was the first man to point out the importance of experiment in the study of knowledge.
5. The great influence on Bacon is Bacon himself, his own keen observation of life and manners. He set forth to propound a doctrine of human conduct – a theoretical scheme in which the man of active virtue should not be baffled by the vices of others, but use their vices for his own advantage and the advantage of the state. In opposition of Aristotle who proffered the life of contemplation, Bacon cries up the life of action. Dr. Johnson defined an Essay as “a loose sally of the mind, an irregular undigested piece, not a regular and orderly composition.” The essay as a distinct literary form was born in 16th century with the publication of Frenchman, Montaigne’s Essays. Bacon borrowed the form from him, but suited it to his own purpose.
A brief introduction to Bacon’s Essays
1. Of Great Place:
— The rising onto place is laborious and by pains men come to greater pains; and it is sometimes base and by indignities men come to dignities.
— Death falls heavy upon him who dies too well known to others, but unknown to himself.
— It is a strange desire to seek power and lose liberty; or to seek power over others and to lose power over a man’s self.
— Men in great place are thrive servants: servants of the sovereign or state; servants of fame and servants of business.
Summary: Men are servants of the state, their desires for fame and time restriction. Man should follow the good examples set in the past. There are faults of men in great place such as delays, corruption etc. We should refuse bribes. One may while rising to a position use crooked methods and join sides but after reaching a position, one should become neutral.
2. Of Friendship:
— Whoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.
— For a crowd is not company; and faces are but a gallery of pictures.
— A great city is a great solitude.
Summary: Aristotle’s remarks that who so likes solitude is either is a best or an angle is according to Bacon half true. Friendship helps disburden heart. If frustration is kept in heart, it causes depression and tension for man. Friendship brings better understanding. A man with a friend has two lives. He can do many things for him and when he dies, he can fulfill his desires etc. A friend can advise and even praise and flatter us. Friendship increases joys and lessens the intensity of grief. Man may feel lonely in a crowd in the absence of love.
3. Of Studies:
— Studies serve delight, for ornament and for ability.
— To spend too much time in studies is sloth, to use it too much for ornament is affectation.
— Crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire them and wise men use them.
— Read not to contradict and confute, nor to — believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested.
— Reading makes a full man, conference a ready man and writing an exact man.
— Distilled books are like common distilled water flashy things.
Summary: Studies are a source of delight in one’s leisure and solitude. Studies help people develop abilities. It is a sign of laziness to spend too much time on studies. We should study important books and find mere summary of unimportant ones. Books are good companions. Deferent genres and subjects enlighten our mind differently.
4. Of Parents and Children:
— The joys of parents are secret; and so are their griefs and fears.
— Children increase the cares of life; but they mitigate the remembrance of death.
— Children sweeten labor, but they make misfortune more bitter.
Summary: Children get benefit because of their parents. Parents usually have unequal favoritism towards their children. They should give enough pocket money. They should choose a suitable profession for their child.
5. Of Ambition:
— Ambition is like Choler which is a humor that makes men active and earnest.
Summary: Ambition makes man active but if it is checked it can also be dangerous. Ambitious people are highly required fro the war. If ambition is allowed without control, it can be harmful for the king and the government. Ambitious people can also be used by the king as instruments.
6. Of Truth:
— What is Truth? said jesting Pilate and would not stay for an answer.
— But I cannot tell: this same truth is a naked and open day-light, that doth not shew the masks and mummeries and triumphs of the world, half so stately and daintily as candle- lights.
— A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure.
— It is a pleasure to stand upon the shore and to see ships tost upon the sea, a pleasure to stand in the window of a castle and to see a battle and the adventures thereof below. But no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of the Truth.
— A lie faces God; but shrinks from man.
— But it is not the lie that passes through the mind, but the lie that sinketh in and settleth in it that doth the hurt.
Summary: Pilate the Roman emperor was very casual about the truth at Christ’s trial and did not bother to find it out. Certain people have great delight in changing their opinions. Human mind is basically attracted to lies, so it dislikes truth. The value of truth is realized only by those who have experienced and understood it. Truth is important in not only in philosophical and theological fields, but also in day to day life. Montaign has rightly said that a man who tells lies is afraid of his fellow men but is unafraid of defying God who is all perceiving.
7. Of Revenge:
— Revenge is a kind of wild justice.
— It is the glory of man to pass by an offense. That which is past is gone and irrevocable: wise men have enough to do with things present and to come: therefore they do but trifle with themselves, that labor in past matters.
— A man that studies revenge keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal.
Summary: Revenge is uncivilized and can only be found among the brutes. Forgiving an enemy is supreme moral superiority. Man should be forwarding looking and forget the past to brood over the present and the future. Man does wrong to others out of his selfish love for himself. In taking revenge, it is generous to reveal his identity to the victim, because the pleasure of revenge lies not so much in causing pain than in making the enemy realize and repent of his mistake.
8. Of Simulation and Dissimulation:
— Tell a lie and find a troth.
Summary: The practice of dissimulation is followed by the weak man, for the strong minds and hearts have the power to tell the truth. The man of secret nature never gives a hint of what is in his heart. The advantage of simulation and dissimulation is that they keep the opposition guessing and unprepared and so to be easily surprised at the proper moment. They also help us discover the intentions of the other. The disadvantage is that they indicate a weakness of the disposition and one who uses these methods is considered unreliable.
9. Of Death:
— Revenge triumphs over death.
— It is as natural to die as to be born; and to a little infant perhaps, the one is as painful as the other. He that dies in an earnest pursuit is like one that is wounded in hot blood.
Summary: Death is a natural phenomenon. Violent passions enable a man to overcome death. Revenge, love, honor, grief and fear make him bold enough to meet death. A noble cause makes a man insensible to pain and torture.
10. Of Adversity:
— It is true greatness to have in one the frailty of man and the security of a God.
Summary: One may wish prosperity and all the good things it brings with it; but one should admire adversity and all the good things that belong to it. It is true greatness to be weak and yet to be careless and indifferent like a God. The pleasure of the heart is better than the pleasure of the eye. Prosperity can discover vice; adversity discovers virtue.
11. Of Nobility:
— Nobility attempts sovereignty.
Summary: In a democracy, there is no need of nobility and people are commonly quieter and do not like rebellion, when there is no nobility. Numerous nobility causes poverty and inconvenience in a state.
12. Of Superstition:
— It were better to have no opinion of God at all than such an opinion as is unworthy of him.
— The master of superstition is the people and in all superstition wise men follow the fools.
Summary: Superstition or a false notion of God is highly insulting and irreligious. Atheism is better than superstition because an atheist uses his sense and reason, has respect for natural piety and laws and cares for reputation. Atheism doesn’t cause disturbances in the states, but superstition disregards our moral values and desires men to follow its dictates blindly. The causes of superstition are certain festivals and rituals which appear charming and to the senses.
Examples from Other Essays:
a. Money is like muck, not good if not spread (of Seditions and troubles)
b. The ways to enrich are many, and most of them foul (of Riches)
c. Wives are young men’s mistresses, companions for middle-age and old men’s nurses. (Of marriage and single life)
d. He that hath wife and children, hath given hostages to fortune (Of Marriage and Single Life)
e. Travel in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience. (Of Travel)
f. Nuptial love maketh mankind; friendly love perfecteth it; but wanton love corrupteth and embaseth it.
g. Unmarried men are the best friends, best masters, best servants, but not always the best subjects. (advantages and disadvantages of unmarried men)
h. Secrecy in suits is a great mean of obtaining. (Of Suitors)