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Old Monday, May 30, 2005
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Post Francis Bacon: Wisest, Brightest, Meanest

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

Bacon was the wisest because of his worldly wisdom, he was brightest owing to his powerful intellect and the art of writing terse essays, and he was meanest due to his treacherous character.

The above mentioned remark on Bacon was made by a renowned and marvelous poet, “Alexander Pope”. If we observe critically, this statement holds its validity. For Bacon appeared to be a true child of Renaissance. Undoubtedly he was a man of wisdom and powerful intellect. But all at once he was a calculating character, keeping an eye on the main chance. He was a true follower of Machiavelli. He failed to harmonize his mixed motives, complex principles and high aims together. He wanted to strive after the selfless scientific truth but he was conscious that nothing could be done without money and power. So, he strived after material success. Bacon belonged to the age of glory and greatness, surprising meanness and dishonest conduct and he could not avoid these evils.

Bacon was a man of multi-talents. His wisdom was undeniable. The thirst for infinite knowledge and his versatility was truly astonishing. He possessed an intellect of the highest order. He was learned in Greek, French, Latin, English, Science, Philosophy, Classics and many other fields of knowledge. He is regarded as the creator of the modern school of experimental research. He held that “man is the servant and interpreter of nature”. He supplied the impulse which broke with the medieval preconceptions and set scientific inquiry on modern lines. He emphasized on experimentation and not to accept things for granted. Bacon was indeed an eloquent prophet of new era and the pioneer of modern sciences.

The essays of Bacon also portray his intellect and practical wisdom. The varied range of subjects too expresses that ‘he had taken all knowledge to be his province’. Bacon could utter weighty and pregnant remarks on almost any subject, from “Greatness of Kingdoms” to “Gardens”. The essays are loaded with the ripest wisdom of experience and observation conveyed through short, compact and terse sentences. One cannot deny the sagacity and shrewdness of his counsels. Bacon’s essays deal with man. He is an able analyst of human nature, and his conduct in public and private affairs. His comments regarding man’s behaviour may at times sound cynical but they are undeniable truths. He says:

“A mixture of a lie doth even add pleasure.”

Bacon is true here for most of the people would find life terrible without false hopes and false impressions. His views about friendship, though lacks in feelings and emotions, yet these are undeniably true to human nature.
Following are a few examples of his wisdom.

“One who studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green”.


“Men in great places are thrice servants”.

So, like a very wise man he coin ideas and teaches them to make people wise in worldly terms.

Bacons brightness is best illustrated in the way in which he clothes his wisdom into brevity and lends the readers a great pleasure. The compactness of thought and conciseness of expression was a virtue in an age when looseness in thought and language was the rule. The essays are enriched with maxims and proverbs. He supports his ideas and arguments with innumerable quotations, allusions and analogies which prove his wide knowledge and learning. The aptness of the similes, the witty turn of phrases and the compact expression of weighty thoughts are evidence enough of the brightness of his intellect.

§ “Suspicions among thoughts are like bats among birds.”

§ “Money is like much, except it be spread.”

§ “Virtue is like precious adours --- most fragrant, when they are incensed or crushed.”

Moreover, the precise and authentic turn of sentences and the condensation of thoughts in them have been enhanced by the antithetical presentation. Such as:

“A lie faces God and shrinks from man.”

“The ways to enrich are many and most of them are foul.”

“It is a strange desire to seek power and to lose liberty.”

“Through indignation, men rise to dignity.”

Thus with the tool of antithesis, Bacon made his argument many times stronger and influential than a simple sentence. He created so much wit and strength in such precise writings that they are still valid and famous. No man individually did provide such strength and simplicity to the English language than Bacon. Bacon tried to reach the reader’s mind by a series of aphoristic attacks. Therefore he is considered as the pioneer of modern prose. There is hardly any equal of him for clear, terse and compact writing.

Now, it appears to be an irony of nature that a man with such a tremendous intellect and wisdom had such a mean character. Bacon was not mean in the sense of being a miser. He was indeed reputed to be a very generous. The manner in which Bacon betrayed his friends, especially Essex, proved him most ungrateful and ignoble man. He made friendship and uprightness subordinate to his success. He always kept his eye on the main chance, worshipping the rising sun and avoiding of the setting one.

His marriage was also a marriage of convenience. He did not hesitate to take part in political intrigues in order to promote his ambition. His letter to the king and queen were also full of flattery that it was hard to believe that they came from the pen of such an intellectual man.

Though he was wise yet he showed certain incapacity of emotions and this trait can also be witnessed in his essays. He took the purely personal and domestic matters of a man – like marriage, friendship, love etc in terms of pure utility. Such as:

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


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

In short, Bacon was a man of the world – worldly wisdom and worldly convenience. He had a “great brain” but not a “great soul”. His complex and contradictory characters will continue to be a psychological enigma for the readers to understand. So, he was definitely the wisest, brightest and meanest of mankind.
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