Sunday, November 23, 2014

Book: The Essays by Francis Bacon

As a fan of Montaigne's essays, I thought the scribbling of the great Francis Bacon would also make for good reading. Alas, I was sorely mistaken. Bacon's essays are all about reason and rhetoric, and his writing is not easy to read. Also, unlike Montaigne, Bacon is not for lofty philosophy or for making intriguing observational insights into human behaviour.

This book provided little more than novelty value, although there were several gems for the picking (see below).



- On Death: Men fear death as children fear to go in to the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other.

- On Death: Consider how long you have been doing the same things, the desire to die may be felt not only by the brave man or by the wretch, but also by the man wearied with ennui (adapted from Seneca).

- On Revenge: Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man's nature runs to it, the more ought law to weed it out.

- On Revenge: Wise men have enough to do with what is present and to come.

- Of Parents and Children: 'choose what is best, and habit will make it pleasant and easy (saying).

- Of Great Place: 'It is a strange desire to seek power and to lose liberty; or to seek power over others and to lose power over a man's self. The rising into place is laborious, and by pains men come to greater pains; and it is sometimes base, and by indignities men come to dignities. ...Certainly great persons had need to borrow other men's opinions to think themselves happy for if they judge by their own feelings they cannot find it: but if they think with themselves what other men think of them...then they are happy, as it were by report, when perhaps they find the contrary within.

- Of Delays: There is surely no greater wisdom than to time well to time the beginnings and onset of things.

- Of Delays: The ripeness or unripeness of the occasion must be well weighed..'

- Of Wisdom for a Man's Self: so true to thyself as thou be not false to others.

- Of Friendship: But little do men perceive what solitude is, and how far it extendeth. For a crowd is not company, and faces are but a gallery of pictures, and talk but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love.

- Of Regiment (Governance) of Health: To be free-minded and cheerfully disposed at hours of meat and of sleep and of exercise, is one of the best precepts of long lasting (prolonging life). As for the passions and studies of the mind, avoid envy, anxious fears, anger fretting inwards, subtle knotty inquisitions, joys and exhilarations in excess, sadness not communicated. Entertain hopes, mirth rather than joy, variety of delights rather than surfeit of them, wonder and admiration (and therefore novelties), studies that fill the mind with splendid and illustrious objects (as histories, fables, and contemplations of nature).

- Of Suspicion: Suspicions amongst thoughts are like bats amongst birds; they ever fly by twilight.

- Of Discourse: It is good, in discourse and speech of conversation, to vary and intermingle speech of the present occasion with arguments, tales with reasons, asking of questions with telling of opinions, and jest with earnest: for it is a dull thing to tire, and, as we say now, to jade, any thing too far. As for jest, there be certain things which ought to be privileged from it; namely, religion, matters of state, great persons, any man’s present business of importance, and any case that deserveth pity.
- Of Discourse: He that questioneth much shall learn much, and content much; but especially if he apply his questions to the skill of the persons whom he asketh; for he shall give them occasion to please themselves in speaking, and himself shall continually gather knowledge. But let his questions not be troublesome; for that is fit for a poser.

- Of Ambition: So ambitious men, if they find the way open for their rising, and still get forward, they are rather busy than dangerous; but if they be checked in their desires, they become secretly discontent, and look upon men and matters with an evil eye, and are best pleased, when things go backward; which is the worst property in a servant of a prince, or state. Therefore it is good for princes, if they use ambitious men, to handle it, so as they be still progressive and not retrograde..

- Of Studies: 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; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books, else distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things. Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.

- Counsels for the Prince: Is there any such happiness as for a man's mind to be raised above the confusions of things, where he may have the prospects of the order of nature and the error of men?

General words and language that tickled my fancy:

- 'base', 'crafty cowards', 'folly', 'revenges', 'superficies', 'imposture', 'contrariwise', 'confutations'.
- 'upon his removes from one places to another'
- 'he must have some entrance into the language before he goeth'
- 'thus he may abridge his travel with much profit.'

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