Bacon’s Essays – a blend of philosophizing, moralizing and worldly wisdom

Introduction: “I have taken all knowledge for my province” says Bacon and “Beyond any other book of the same size in any literature they are loaded with ripest wisdom of experience.” Says Hudson regarding Bacon’s essays. No body can deny the wisdom of Bacon of his understanding of the affairs of the world.
He shows an extraordinary insight regarding the problems that men face in life. But his wisdom is only practical and not moral. Alexander Pope has given the following remarks about Bacon in his epic:

If parts allure these think how Bacon shin’d
The wisest, brightest and meanest of mankind

There is some basic truth in this contention.  One cannot deny his wisdom, his observation,   intellect and genius. Bacon was a very complex  and enigmatic character. The dichotomy of moral   values what one finds in his essays was to be    found in his character, too.  Compton-Rickett  says, “He had a great brain, not a great soul.” He     wanted to serve humanity with through the  expansion of usable knowledge. He was aware  that no headway could be made in this world without adopting certain mean ways. He was a product of the Renaissance with composite    qualities such as wisdom, meanness and         brightness. Bacon was a man of the Renaissance           and that was an age which tried to explore to the      full, the opportunities of mind and body afforded            to man. The term, Renaissance means Re-birth or         more generally the Revival of Learning. It was a             series of events by which Europe passed from     Medieval to a Modern Civilization. In this age,   there was a new spirit of inquiry, of criticism and            of passionate scientific inventions. Literature of      that age was chiefly marked by this spirit and     Bacon’s essays have several features that show         the spirit of Renaissance. A very important writer           of the Italian Renaissance was Machiavelli whose opportunistic philosophy sacrificed high ethical   ideals in the interest of achieving material           progress. Man is an individual and an end in             himself and this sense of individualism gave rise to the feeling that he must know how to get on in     this world.  The revival of classical learning and the study of ancient Greek and Roman Literature           and history was a hallmark of the Renaissance.        The spirit of learning is very much in the essays of Bacon. There are many allusions to ancient          history and the references to classical mythology            are all evidence of the typical Renaissance    culture. Latin writers such as Seneca and Virgil           and Lucian have frequently been drawn. His love           of learning is portrayed in his essay Of Studies           and he substantiates his arguments in his essay, Of Friendship with instances from history. Blake   on reading the essays of Bacon is supposed to   have remarked that they were good advice for   Satan’s Kingdom. Now, a Satan’s Kingdom     naturally implies a state of affairs in which          morality has no place or in which actions are        governed by a complete lack of principles.  To some extent, it is indeed undeniable that Bacon’s    advice incorporates a certain cool disregard for          high moral ideals. The actual fact is that in          Bacon’s essays, one find dichotomy of values, the     essays present a strange complexity and            contradiction of wisdom and values.  In order to            understand the real meaning of his essays, it is    imperative to understand the underlying purpose            of his writing. Man            was the subject of most             literature and man is the             subject of Bacon’s        essays too.  Thus the wisdom           that Bacon        shows in his essays is regulated by the   practical consideration.  It is frankly utilitarian.          This does not mean that the essays don’t contain           ethical or philosophical values, they do, but the    overall hallmark of his essays is practical use. 
Wisdom, Meanness and Brightness: To a religious-minded man like Blake, advice such as what Bacon offers in his essays must indeed have been shocking. Blake would regard any utilitarian advice as opposite to God’s ways, but Bacon was not so particular, for he a man of the Renaissance.  It is easy to assume that Bacon’s wisdom was cynical because many of his advice calmly ignores ethical standards and seems to imply that nothing succeeds like success.  Bacon is utilitarian, but he is so because he realized that the vast majority of the people in the world are guided by this attitude and success for them has only one meaning – the material success.  His essays reflect the profound wisdom of his mind, his brightness is ascertained by his vast knowledge and literary and classical allusions made in his works, his meanness does not deal with his money. He was reputed to be a very generous man. He was mean because he showed a surprising lack of principle in promoting his selfish interests.
Philosopher – cum – moralist: At least two of his essays present him as entertaining deep regard for high sentiments and the sanctity of truth. Of Truth speaks of truth, love and fair dealings in high terms. Here he is a philosopher who advocates the pursuit of truth. He is also a moralist when he says that “man’s mind should turn upon the “poles of truth.” Falsehood debases man despite his material gains and success. Bacon advocates man to follow a path of truth and truthfulness. Similarly, his essay Of Goodness and Goodness of Nature is on a purely moral plane. He counsels goodness, charity and benevolence and there is a clear condemnation of evil. There are some essays in which he puts a number of moral precepts, not ignoring prudential aspects. When we come to Bacon’s essays dealing with subjects such as love, marriage, family life and parents and children, we are struck by the cold and unemotional treatment of topics what could easily admit an emotional approach.  Prudence governs marriage, love and friendship. Love is an emotion, not fit for life according to Bacon. As a philosopher, he takes a balanced view of every thing, weighs the pros and cons of every issue, presents different aspects of the picture and counsels moderation. This is a rationalist’s approach and it preludes emotion and feeling. The essays are a handbook of practical wisdom. Each essay is a collection of suggestion and guideline for a man of action. His essays lack coherence and logical sequence, otherwise a quality in a standard essay. But his essays are unity of ideas.
Conclusion: But it has to be pointed out that Bacon is not a moral idealist. He does not preach morality, but not ideal morality. The kind of morality he teaches is tinged with what is called worldliness. We might even say that the guiding principle is expediency. Yet one cannot say that Bacon is amoral or immoral in his advice.  In every issue, he balances the advantage and disadvantage. Even within the utilitarian code, there is a code of conduct – a morality that is perhaps as high as is easily practicable in the world as we know it.  His essays embody the wisdom and philosophy and morality of a clear-eyed realist who knows quite well that men should be and but also knew what they actually were.  Bacon is undoubtedly a man whose morality is greater than the average man’s, but it is not of the highest order. The pursuit of good and right are important but not if it proves too costly in worldly terms. His advice is neither for Satan’s Kingdom nor for God’s, but for the Kingdom of man. 

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