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Old Monday, May 30, 2005
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Post Francis Bacon: Worldly Wisdom

Bacon was, definitely, a worldly wise man. He was the wisest and the meanest of mankind. He was truly of Renaissance; the age of accumulating knowledge, wealth and power. Being a true follower of Machiavellian principles, he led his life for worldly success. He was a man of shrewd and sagacious intellect with his eyes fixed on the main chance. And what he preached in his essays was also the knowledge, needed for worldly success.

There is no doubt that Bacon’s essays are a treasure house of worldly wisdom. The term worldly wisdom means a wisdom which is necessary for worldly success. It does not need any deep philosophy or any ideal morality. But Bacon was a man of high wisdom, as he himself pronounced, “I have taken all knowledge to be my province”. Bacon also preached morality but his morality is subordinate to worldly success and he never hesitated to sacrifice it for worldly benefit. His essays are rich with the art which a man should employ for achieving success in his life, such as shrewdness, sagacity, tact, foresight, judgment of character and so on.

The subject of Bacon in his essays is the man who needs prosperity in worldly terms. Bacon’s essays bring men to ‘come home to men’s business and bosoms’. He teaches them, how to exercise one’s authority and much more. When he condemns cunning, it is not because of a hateful and vile thing, but because it is unwise. That is why the wisdom in his essay is considered a ‘cynical’ kind of wisdom. He describes his essays as ‘Counsels – civil and moral’.

In his essay “Of Truth”, Bacon appreciates truth and wishes people to speak the truth. He says:

“A lie faces God and shrinks from man.”

He warns human beings against the punishment for the liar on the doomsday. But at the same time, he considers a lie as an ‘alloy’ which increases the strength of gold and feels it necessary for the survival on earth. He says:

“A lie doth ever add pleasure.”

---this is purely a statement of a “worldly wise man”.

The essay “Of Great Places” though contains a large number of moral precepts yet in this very same essay he also preaches worldly success.

“It is a strange desire to seek power and to lose liberty; By pains men come to greater pains”.


“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”

Then Bacon suggests that men in authority should work not only for the betterment of public but also for their own status:

“All rising to great place is by a winding stair; and if there be factions, it is good to side a man’s self whilst he is rising and to behave himself when he is placed.”

It is purely a utilitarian advice and it surely holds a compromise between morality and worldly success. Even when Bacon urges a man not to speak ill of his predecessor, it is not because of high morality but because of the fact that the man who does not follow advice would suffer with unpleasant consequences.

Bacon’s approach towards studies is also purely utilitarian. In his essay “Of Studies”, he does not emphasize on study for its own sake, but for the benefit which it can provide to man to be supplemented by practical experience.

“Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man and writing an exact man.”

And then he says:

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”

Bacon also points out the effects of different branches of studies on a man’s mind and thinks it helpful in the cure of different mental ailments and follies.
His essay “Of Suitors” totally reveals Bacon’s shrewd insight. Although he suggests that a suitor should not be disloyal towards his petition and should tell him the truth about the chances of winning the suit without leaving him wandering in false hopes. Bacon suggests that a patron should not charge extensive amounts for a small case. But then he dilutes all this by saying if the patron wants to support the non-deserving party, he should make a compromise between both of them, so that the deserving party would bear not great loss. This is a purely utilitarian approach and it shows what Bacon himself had been in his career, for it was his own profession.

In the essay “Of Revenge” Bacon shows a certain high morality by saying that:

“Revenge is a kind of wild justice; One who studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green.”

He feels dignity in forgiving ones enemy. But then he says that even revenge is just in the cases when one can save one’s skin from the hands of law.
Bacon showed a certain incapacity for emotions. He took the relation of friendship for its benefit and made a purely worldly approach to the subject which intimately deals between two persons. He gave us the uses and abused of friendship. He says:

“Those that want friends to open themselves unto, are cannibals of their own hearts.”

This essay clearly shows Bacon’s cynical wisdom and that his morality is stuffed with purely utilitarian considerations.

Bacon considers love as a ‘child of folly’. In his essay “Of Love” he says:

“It is impossible to love and to be wise.”

He considers wife and children as hindrance in the way of success and progress. He says:

“He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune.”

Afterwards in his essay “Of Marriage and Single Life” he tells the ‘benefits’ of a wife.

“Wives are young men’s mistresses, companion to middle age and old man’s nurse.”

In his essay “Of Parents and Children” Bacon puts:

“Children sweeten labour, but they make misfortune more bitter.”

All these statements show his essentially mean and benefit seeking attitude, even in the matters of heart. In short, Bacon’s essays are a “hand book” of practical wisdom enriched with maxims which are very helpful for worldly wisdom and success.
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