Bacon’s importance is very limited. He was using the essay form, no doubt, for the first time, but he has only a historical importance. Arnold: “Really estimating, Bacon’s importance is little or none.” The later development of Lamb and Hazlitt has nothing to do with Bacon’s method. His impress is not found in any of the essays that followed his. He is discursive and is capable of uttering pregnant thoughts upon any subject – platitudinous and penetrating – he was not an expert in any subject. His place is only as a signpost – Bacon stands at the cross-roads. Bacon – like the old scholars possessed an encyclopaedic mind – “thriftiness of his thoughts” – He is not an extravagant writer. He tended to concentrate rather than to expand.
- (i) indifference to truth (ii) importance of truth (iii) application of truth
difficulty of finding Truth – Truth, when found, calls for real following; demanding certain sacrifices – but people have a “corrupt love of lie itself.” Truth is like daylight.
“A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure.” Bacon seems to assert that if one is wicked, let one be crafty also, to escape the prying eyes of the world. Bacon’s moral is only this.
Analysis: (1) Indifference to Truth – the sceptic school of philosophers did not care for Truth, today it is only the light-hearted wit who is unconcerned about Truth. Such indifference springs from the difficulty of finding it and the obligations it imposes upon human conduct when it is found. There is also the natural, though, “corrupt love of the lie itself.” Truth would expose our vanities and pretensions and lies delight us because they flatter us. (2) Importance of Truth: The pursuit and perception of Truth is a “sovereign good of human nature.” Truth alone is infalliable and its attainment renders reason superfluous. It was a climax of God’s creation and to guide man to Truth is His continuing concern. According to Lucretius, the vantage ground of Truth is the most serene position a man may assume. (3) Application: People are agreed that truthfulness in mutual dealings is the honour of man. There is cowardice in lying as Montaigne has pointed out and the general indifference to Truth will bring down the judgment of God upon man.
II. “OF DEATH”
Fear of death in men – a weak kind of fear. “contemplation of death as the wages of is and passage to another world, is holy and religious.” Even in religious meditations – superstition and vanity. It is the trappings of death that scare us more than death itself. But, “revenge triumphs over death, slights it, humour aspireth to it, grief flieth it, fear pre-occupateth it…” And, a man would die, “only upon a weariness to do the same thing so oft over and over again.” “It is as natural to die as to be born.”
III. “OF UNITY IN RELIGION”
I. Religion – the chief “band of human society” – it needs true band of unity. The heathen’s religion being in rites and ceremonies than in constant belief, had no factions. The fruits of unity, the bounds and means. (i) towards those that are without the Church. (ii) towards those that are within. Breach of unity drives men out of Church. Atheists and profane persons “sit down in the chair of the scorners” because of the breach of unity. (iii) “Peace, which containeth infinite blessings” is the fruit of unity for the faithful – it establisheth faith, it kindleth charity.
II Bounds of Unity: two extremes (i) for certain zealots all speech of pacification is odious. (ii) Certain lukewarm people think that they may accommodate points of religion by middle ways, and taking part in both, and witty reconcilements, as if they would make an arbitration between God and man – These two extremes are to be avoided. “He that is not with us is against us” and “He that is not against us is with us.”
If the superficial looking is discarded and looked deeper and with less bias, it would be good.
Rending God’s Church by two kinds of controversy: (i) the matter of the point converted is too small and light. (ii) the matter of the point converted is great but it is driven to a over-great subtlety and obscurity, so that it becomes a thing rather ingenious than substantial. Men create oppositions which are not, and put them into new terms, so fixed, as whereas the meaning ought to govern the term, the term, in effect, governeth the meaning.
There are also two peaces or unities: (i) the peace grounded but upon an implicit ignorance (for all colours will agree in the dark) (ii) when it is based upon a direct admission of contraries in fundamental points.
III Means of Procuring Unity: Men should not “dissolve and deface the laws of charity and of human society” in procuring unity. The two swords – the spiritual and temporal – both have their due office and place in the maintenance of religion. But never one should propagate religion by wars or by sanguinary persecutions. Such use of force on conscience only tends to promote explosive forces in society. “This is to bring down the Holy Ghost, instead of likeness of a dove, in the shape of a vulture or a raven, and to set out of the barque of a Christian Church a flag of a barque of pirates and assassins. Church and those in power should use their full influence to eradicate such tendencies. “Those which held and persuaded pressure of consciences were commonly interested therein themselves for their own ends.”
IV. “OF REVENGE”
Revenge – a kind of wild justice – the law is to be very strict – since revenge throws law out of office. But, a man who lets revenge pass over is a prince since he pardons a wounder. “It is the glory of a man to pass by an offence.” Also, past is gone and is irrevocable – men have enough concerns of the present and the future. Generally men seek vengeance to purchase themselves “profit, or pleasure, or honour, or the like.” Those who do wrong wantonly are like the thorny bushes whose nature is to prick and wound. But revenge is tolerable when the arm of law could do nothing towards the atrocity grieved. It is more generous to let the party know who avenger is. Crafty cunning revenges are deeds of shame. But anyway, “a man that studieth revenge keeps his wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.” “Public revenges are more fortunate.” (Caesar’s etc.) But in private revenges it is not so. Vindictive persons live the life of witches, who, as they are mischievous, so end they in misfortune.
V. “OF ADVERSITY”
Seneca’s statement – good things which belong to prosperity are to be wished, but the good things that belong to adversity are to be admired. The virtue of prosperity is temperance, the virtue of adversity is fortitude. Prosperity is not without many fears or distastes; adversity is not without comforts and hopes. Virtue is like precious odours most fragrant when they are incensed or crushed. For prosperity doth best, discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue.
VI. “OF SIMULATION AND DISSIMULATION”
Bacon reveals himself – Dissimulation – a faint kind of policy – “it asketh a strong wit and a strong heart to know when to tell truth and to do it.” If a man has that penetration of judgement as he can discern what things are to be laid open, and what to be secreted, and what to be showed at half-lights and to whom and when, to him a habit of dissimulation is a hindrance and a poorness. For others, it is useful. Three degrees of hiding and veiling of a man’s self (i) closeness, reservation and secrecy, (ii) when a man lets fall signs and arguments, that he is not that he is. (iii) a man industriously and expressly feigns and pretends to be that he is not.
(i) Secrecy is the virtue of a confessor. The secret a man hears many confessions. Mysteries are due to secrecy. “An habit of secrecy is both political and moral.” Also, the face should not betray his inner thoughts.
(ii) Dissimulation – “No man can be secret except he give himself a little scope for dissimulation, which is, as it were, but the skirts or train of secrecy.” Because, a man forcing secrecy is likely to be sounded and the secrets pumped out by crafty men.
(iii) Simulation – it is” more culpable and less politic.” – it is a vice.
The great advantage of simulation and dissimulation are three – (i) to lay asleep opposition and to surprise (ii) to reserve a man’s self a fair retreat. For if a man engages himself by a manifest declaration, he must go through or take a fall (iii) better to discover the mind of others. “Tell a lie, and find a truth.”
Disadvantages: (i) Show of fearfulness (ii) the dissembler is not understood by others and is left alone. (iii) trust and belief are completely absent. Therefore, the best thing is, “to have openness in fame and opinion, secrecy in habit, dissimulation in seasonable use, and a power to feign if there is no remedy.
VII. “OF PARENTS AND CHILDREN”
Children – burden – they mitigate the remembrance of death. Mere perpetuity only in animals – memory, merit and noble works proper to men. Also, the care of posterity is most in them that have no posterity. “A wise son rejoiceth the father, but an ungracious son shames the mother.” Parents should keep their authority towards their children, but no their purse. Breeding an emulation between brothers in childhood brings discord only. It is better that the parents choose the vocation and courses for their children except in cases where real aptitude for particular things is known.
VIII. “OF MARRIAGE & SINGLE LIFE”
“The best works, and of greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from unmarried or childless men, which, both in affection and means, have married and endowed the public. Yet those who have children have greater responsibilities. There are also those who have no worldly cares who simply live and die. There are others who consider wife and children as wanton items of expense. There are yet others who are very proud that they have no children, just to be considered that they are “rich” – as if children were an abatement to their wealth. Unmarried men are best friends, best masters, best servants, but not always best subjects. A single life is good for a churchman. But not so necessary in the case of judge. “Certainly, wife and children are a kind of discipline of humanity. Wives are young men’s mistresses, companions for middle-ages and old men’s nurses.” But when is one supposed to get married? “A young man not yet, an elder man not at all.”
IX. “OF ENVY”
Love and envy – both noted to fascinate – both have vehement wishes. They frame themselves readily into imagination and suggestions – the scriptures term envy an evil eye. “A man that hath no virtue in himself ever envieth virtue in others. A man that is busy and inquisitive is also envious. He who minds his business has no matter for envy.” Men of noble birth are envious towards new upstarts in ascension. Each has a grievance to nurse. Those who desire to excel in many things and show off are envious. Friends or relations, both in the same office in same status find cause for envy when one of them is promoted. (ii) Those who will be envied: Persons of eminent virtue, when they are advanced, are less envied. Envy is along with finding out a comparison between a man and another. Where a parallel is lacking, as in the case of great kings, envy disappears. Anyway, persons of worth and merit are most envied when their fortune continues for long. But, persons of noble blood are less envied when they are in ascension – it is accepted that ascension is their birthright. Also those that are advanced by degrees are less envied than those who advance suddenly. Great perils, cares, travels, etc. linked with one’s honour and position invites less envy, as people pity in a way and pity ever heals envy. But those who carry on in a most insolent and proud manner are those who are never well save when they are showing how great they are, either by outward pomp or by triumphing over all opposition or competition.
There is some good in public envy, whereas in private there is none. For “Public envy is an ostracism that eclipseth men when they grow too great, and therefore is a bridle also to great ones to keep them within bounds.” Love and envy do make a man pure, which other affections do not, because they are not so continual. It is also the vilest affection and the most depraved.”
X. “OF LOVE”
Love in life is bringing only mischief – only on the boards it holds good. Great men – Marcus Antony etc. – love can find entrance not only into an open heart, but also into a heart well-fortified, if strict vigilance is not observed love seems to exaggerate the value of the object loved – it is impossible to love and be wise – love is rewarded either with the reciproque or with an inward and secret contempt – “for whosoever esteemeth too much of amorous affection quitteth both riches and wisdom.” Nuptial love maketh mankind; friendly love perfecteth it, but wanton love corrupteth an embaseth it.
- “OF GREAT PLACES”
Men in positions are thrice servants – of the State or King, of fame and of business. Hence they lose their liberty. The ascension is laborious. “By pains men come to greater pains, and it is sometimes base; and by indignities men come to dignities. The standing is slippery, and the regress is either a downfall, or at least an eclipse, which is a melancholy thing.” Men in great fortunes are strangers to themselves, and while they are in the puzzle of business, they have no time to tend their health, either of body or mind.” Opportunity and power – power to do good is a noble thing. “Merit and good works is the end of man’s motion, and conscience of the same is the accomplishment of man’s rest; for if a man can be a partaker of God’s theatre, he shall be likewise a partaker of God’s rest.” Imitation – setting of principles – omitting the error of predecessors – are good. The position must be maintained smoothly, as a matter of course – and not as a matter of force. Also it is good to keep subordinates in good spirits. Accepting criticism openly is nice. Delay, corruption, roughness and facility – are the vices of authority. Even reproofs from authority ought to be grave, and not taunting. Honour should be and is the place of virtue.
XII. “OF BOLDNESS”
Human nature more gullible by external ranting – What first? Boldness. What second and third? Boldness. Yet boldness is “a child of ignorance and baseness, far inferior to other parts. It has done wonders in popular states. But boldness is an ill keeper of promise. To men of great judgment, bold persons are a sport to behold. Anyway, boldness is ever blind for it does not see the dangers and inconveniences. So bold persons should be only in secondary and advisory councils. But in execution they must not be present.