Francis Bacon.

The works of Francis Bacon, baron of Verulam, viscount St. Alban, and lord high chancellor of England (Volume 1) online

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it is allowed even in divinity, that some interpreta-
tions, yea and some writings, have more of the eagle
than other ; but taking them as instructions for life,
they might have received large discourse, if I would
have broken them and illustrated them by deduce-
ments and examples.

Neither was this in use only with tlie Hebrews, but
it is generally to be found in the wisdom of the more
ancient times ; that as men found out any observation
that they thought was good for life, they would gather j
it and express it in parable, or aphorism, or fable. 1
But for fables, they were vicegerents and supplies )
where examples failed : now that the times abound
with history, tlie aim is better when the mark is alive.
And therefore the form of writing, which of all others
is the fittest for this variable argument of negotiation


and occasions, is that which Machiavel chose wisely
and aptly for government ; namely, discourse upon his-
tories or examples : for knowledge drawn freshly, and
in our view, out of particulars, knoweth the way best
to particulars again ; and it hath m ch greater life for
practice when the discourse attendeth upon the ex-
ample, than when the example attendeth upon the dis-
course. For this is no point of order, as it seemeth
at first, but of substance : for when the example is the
ground, being set down in an history at large, it is set
down with all circumstances, which may sometimes
controul the discourse thereupon made, and sometimes
supply it as a very pattern for action ; whereas the
examples alledged for the discourse's sake, are cited
succinctly, and without particularity, and carry a ser-
vile aspect toward the discourse which they are brought
in to make good.

But this difference is not amiss to be remembered,
that as history of times is the best ground for discourse
of government, such as Machiavel handleth, so history
of lives is the most proper for discourse of business, be-
cause it is more conversant in private actions. Nay,
there is a ground of discourse for this purpose fitter
than them both, which is discourse upon letters; such
as are wise and weighty, as many are of Cicero " ad At-
ticum," and others. For letters have a great and more
particular representation of business than cither chro-
nicles or lives. Thus have we spoken both of the
matter and form of this part of civil knowledge, touch-
ing negotiation, which we note to be deficient.

But yet there is another part of this part, which
difFereth as much from that wliercof we have spoken,
as sapere and sibi sapcre ; the one moving as it were
to the circumference, the other to the centre : for there
is a wisdom of counsel, and again there is a wisdom
of pressing a man's own fortune, and they do some-
times meet, and often sever ; for many are wise in their
own ways that are weak for government or counsel ;
like ants, which is a wise creature for itself, but very
hurtful for the garden. This wisdom the Romans did
take much knowledge of: " Nam pol sapiens," saith


the comical poet, " fingit fortunam sibi ;" and it grew
to an adage, " Faber quisque fortunaj propria^ : " and
Livy attributeth it to Cato the first, " in hoc viro tanta
vis animi et ingcnii inerat, ut quocunqne loco natus
esset, sibi ipse fortunam facturus videretur."

This conceit or position, if it be too much declared
and professed, hath been thought a thing impolitic
and unlucky, as was observed in Timotheus the Athe-
nian ; who having done many great services to the
estate in his government, and giving an account thereof
to the people, as the manner was, did conclude every
particular with this clause, " and in this Fortune had no
part." And it came so to pass that he never prospered
in any thing he took in hand afterwards ; for this is
too high and too arrogant, savouring of that which
Ezekiel saith of Pharaoh, " Dicis, Fluvius est mens, et
ego feci memetipsum :" or of that which another pro-
phet speaketh, that " men offer sacrifices to their nets
and snares ; " and that which tlie poet expresseth,

Dextra mihi Deus, et telum, quod missile libro,
Nunc adsint.

For these confidences were ever unhallowed and un-
blessed : and therefore those that were great politicians
indeed ever ascribed their successes to their felicity,
and not to their skill or virtue. For so Sylla sur-
named himself Felix not Magnus : so Caesar said to
the master of the ship, " ('aesarem portas et fortunam

But yet nevertheless these positions, " Faber quis-
que fortunae sua? ; Sapiens doniinabitur astris ; In via
virtuti nulla est via ; " and the like, being taken and
used as spurs to industry, and not as stirrups to in-
solency, rather for resolution than for presumption or
outward declaration, have been ever thought sound and
good, and are, no question, imprinted in the greatest
minds, who are so sensible of this opinion, as they
can scarce contain it within : As we see in Augustus
Caesar, who was rather diverse from his uncle, than in-
ferior in virtue, how when he died, he desired his friends
about him to give him a Plaudite, as if he were con-
scient to himself that he had played his part well upon


the stage. This part of knowledge we do report also
as deficient ; not but that it is practised too much, but
it hath not been reduced to writing. And therefore
lest it should seem to any that it is not comprehensi-
ble by axiom, it is requisite, as we did in the former,
that we set down some heads or passages of it.
Faberfortu- Whcrciu it may appear at the first a new and un-
ambhuvits. wouted argument to teach men how to raise and make
their fortune; a doctrine, wherein every man perchance
will be ready to yield himself a disciple till he seetli
difficulty ; for fortune layeth as heavy impositions as
virtue, and it is as hard and severe a thing to be a
true politician, as to be truly moral. But the hand-
ling hereof concerneth learning greatly, both in ho-
nour and in substance : In honour, because pragmati-
cal men may not go away with an opinion that learn-
ing is like a lark, that can mount, and sing, and please
herself, and nothing else ; but may know that she
holdeth as well of the hawk, that can soar aloft, and
can also descend and strike upon the prey. In sub-
stance, because it is the perfect law of inquiry of truth,
" that nothing be in the globe of matter, which should
not be likewise in the globe of crystal, or form ; " that
is, that there be not any thing in being and action,
which should not be drawn and collected into contem-
plation and doctrine. Neither doth learning admire
or esteem of this architecture of fortune, otherwise than
as of an inferior work : for no man*s fortune can be an
end worthy of his being, and many times the worthiest
men do abandon their fortune willingly for better re-
spects ; but nevertheless fortune, as an organ of vir-
tue and merit, deserveth the consideration.

First, therefore, the precept which I conceive to be
most summary towards the [)rcvailing in fortune, is to
obtain tliat window which JNIomus did require ; who
seeing in the frame of man's heart such angles and re-
cesses, found fault there was not a window to look in-
to tlicm ; tliat is, to procure good informations of par-
ticulars touching persons, their natures, their desires
and ends, their customs and fashions, their helps and
advantages, and whereby they chiefly stand ; so again


their weaknesses and disadvantages, and v/heie they
lie most open and obnoxious ; their friends, factions,
and dependcnrjies ; and again their op))osites, enviers,
competitors, their moods and times, " Sola viri moUes
aditus ct tempora noras ; " tlioir principles, rules, and
observations, and the like : and this not only of persons
but of actions, what are on foot from time to time, and
how they are coiiducted, favoured, ()})posed, and
how they import, and the like. For the knowledge of
present actions is not only material in itself, but with-
out it also the knowledge of persons is very erroneous ;
for men change with the actions, and whilst they
are in pursuit they are one, and v.hen thqy return to
their nature, they are another. These informations of
particulars, touching persons and actions, are as the
minor propositions in every active syllogism, for no
excellency of observations, which are as the major
propositions, can suffice to ground a conclusion if there
be error and mistaking in the minors.

That this knowledge is possible, Solomon is our
surety, who saith, " Consilium in corde viri tanquam
aqua profunda, sed vir prudens exhauriet illud : "
And althoug-h the knowledge itself falleth not under
precept, because it is of individuals, yet the instruc-
tions for the obtaining of it may.

We will.. begin -iberefore with this precept,- accord-
ing to the ancient opinion, that the sinews of wisdom
are slowness of belief and distrust : that more trust
be given to countenances and deeds than to woids ;
and in words rather to sudden passages and surprised
words than to set and purposed words. Neither let
that be feared which is said, Fronti nulla Jidts; which
is meant of a general outward behaviour, and not of
the private and subtle motions and labours of the
countenance and gesture; which, as Q. Cicero ele-
gantly saith, is ammijanua, " the gate of the mind."
None more close than Tiberius, an.d yet Tacitus saith
of Gallus, " Etenim vultu ofFensionem conjectaverat."
So again, noting the differing character and manner of
his commending Germanicus and Drusus in the senate,
he saith, touching his fashion, wherein he carried his

VOL. I. o


speech of Gerinanicus, thus ; " Magis in speciem ador-
natis verbis, quam ut penitus sen tire videretur ;" but
of Urusus thus, " Paucioribus, sed intentior, et fida
oratione : " and in another place, speaking of this cha-
racter of speech when he did any thing that was gra-
cious and popuhir, lie saith, that in other things he
was '• velut eluctantium verborum : " but then again,
" Solutius vero loquebatur quando subveniret." So that
there is no such artificer of dissimulation, nor no such
commanded countenance, vuitiis Justus, that can se-
ver from a feigned tale some of these fashions, either
a more slight and careless fashion, or more set and
formal, or more tedious and wandering, or coming from
a man more drily and hardly.

Neither are deeds such assured pledges, as that
they may be trusted without a judicious consideration
of their magnitude and nature : " Fraus sibi in parvis
fidem prcestruit, ut majore emolumento tallat : " and
the Italian thinketh himself upon the point to be bought
and sold, when he is better used than he was wont to be,
without manifest cause. For small favours, they do but
lull men asleep both as to caution and as to industry,
and are, as Demosthenes calleth them, " Alimenta so-
cordiae." So again we see how false the nature of some
deeds are, in that particular which Mutianus practised
upon Antonius Primus, upon that hollow and unfaithful
reconcilement which was made between them : where-
upon Mutianus advanced many of the friends of An-
tonius: " simul amicis ejus pra}fecturas ct tribunatus
largitur :" wherein, under pretence to strengthen him,
he diddesolate him,andwon from liim his dependencies.

As for words, though they be, like waters to phy-
sicians, full of flattery and uncertainty, yet they arc
not to be despised, specially with the advantage of pas-
sion and affection. For so wc sec Tiberius, upon a sting-
ing and incensing speech of Agrippina,came a step forth
of his dissimulation, when lie said, " You arc hurt be-
cause you do not reign ; " of which Tacitus saith, " Au-
dita Ikcc raram occulti pectoris vocem clicuere, correp-
tamquc ( rineco versu admonuit : ideo laedi, quia non
rognarct." And therefore the poet doth elegantly call


passions, tortures, that urge men to confess their secrets :

Vino tortus ct ira.
And experience sheweth, there are few men .so true to
themselves, and so settled, but that sometimes upon
heat, sometimes upon bravery, sometimes upon kind-
ness, sometimes upon trouble of mind and ■weakness,
they open themselves ; specially if they be put to it
with a counter-dissimulation, according to the proverb
of Spain, " Di mentira, y sacaras verdad," *' Tell a
lie, and find a truth."

As for the knowing of men, which is at second hand
from reports: mens weakness and faults are best known
from their enemies, their virtues and abilities from
their friends, their customs and times from their ser-
vants, their conceits and opinions from their familiar
friends, with whom they discourse most. General fame
is light, and the opinions conceived by superiors or
equals are deceitful ; for to such, men are more masked,
" Verior fama e domesticis emanat."

But the soundest disclosing and expounding of men
is, by their natures and ends ; wherein the weakest
sort of men are best interpreted by their natures, and
the wisest by their ends. For it was both pleasantly
and wisely said, though I think very untruly, by a
nuncio of the pope, returning from a certain nation,
where he served as lieger ; whose opinion being asked
touching the appointment of one to go in his place, he
wished that in any case they did not send one that was
too wise ; because no very wise man would ever ima-
gine, what they in that country were like to do : and
certainly it is an error frequent for men to shoot over,
and to suppose deeper ends, and more compass reaches
than are : the Italian proverb being elegant, and for
the most part true,

Di danari, di senno, e di fede,
Ce' ne manco che noii credi:

" There is commonly less money, less wisdom, and less
good faith, than men do account upon."

But princes, upon a far other reason, are best inter-
preted by their natures, and private persons by their ^
ends : for princes being at the top of human desires,

o 2


they have for the most part no particular ends whereto
they aspire, hy distance from which a man might take
measure and scale of the rest of their actions and de-
sires ; which is one of the causes that maketh their
hearts more inscrutable. Neither is it sufficient to
inform ourselves in mens ends and natures of the va-
riety of them only, but also of the predominancy, what
humour reigneth most, and wliat end is principally
sought. For so we see, when Tigellinus saw himself
out-stripped by Petronius Turpilianus in Nero*s hu-
mours of pleasures ; '• metus ejus riraatur," he wrought
upon Nero's fears, whereby he broke the other's neck.

But to all this part of inquiry, the most compendi-
ous way restcth in three things ; the first, to have ge-
neral acquaintance and inwardness with those which
have general acquaintance, and look most into the
world ; and especially according to the diversity of
business, and the diversity of persons, to have pri-
vacy and conversation w-ith some one friend at least,
which is perfect and well intelligenced in every se-
veral kind. The second is, to keep a good mediocrity
in liberty of speech and secrecy : in most things
liberty, secrecy where it importcth; for liberty of speech
inviteth and provckcth liberty to be used again, and
no bringeth much to a man's knovvdcdge; and secrecy,
on the other side, induceth trust and inwardness. The
last is the reducing of a man's self to this watchful
and serene habit, as to make account and purpose, in
every conference and action, as well to observe as to
act. For as Epictetus would have a philosopher in
every particular action to say to himself, '•' Ethoc volo,
et etiam institutum servare : " so a politic man in
every thing should say to himself, " Et hoc volo, ac
etiam aliquid addisccrc^ I hjuC-JStaycd the longer
upon this precept of obtaining good iufoi-mationj^^i?-
cause it is a main part by itself, which answereth to
all the rest. But above all things caution must be
taken, that men have a good stay and hold of them-
selves, and tliat this nuich knowing do not draw on
much nieddling : for nothing is more unfortunate than
light and rasji intermeddling in many matters. So that
this variety of knowledge tendeth in conclusion but


only to this, to make a better and freer choice of those
actions which may concern us, and to conduct them
with the less error and the more dexterity.

Th e seco nd precept concernin^this knovvledgej^is for
men J^'xak^L-^^MliifofmHIoirtoiicKug their own per-
sons, and well to understand themselves: knowing
tnat, asl?t. James saitb., though men look oft in a
glass, yet they do suddenly forget themselves; wherein
as the divine glass is the word of God, so the j)olitic
glass is the state of the world, or times wherein we
live, in the which we are to behold ourselves.

For men onght to take an impartial view of their own
abilities and virtues ; and again of their wants and
impediments ; accounting these with the most ; and
those other with the least ; and from this view and
examination, to frame the considerations following.

First, to consider how the constitution of their nature
sorteth with the general state of the times ; w'hich it
they find agreeable and nt, then in all things to give
themseh es more scope and liberty ; but if differing
and dissonant, then in the whole course of their life
to be more close, retired, and reserved : as we see in
Tiberius, who was never seen at a play, and came
not into the senate in twelve of his last years ; where-
as Augustus Caesar lived ever in mens eyes, which Taci-
tus observeth : " Alia Tiberio morum via."

Secondly, to consider how their nature sorteth with
professions and courses of life, and accordingly to make
election, if they be free ; and, if engaged, to make the
departure at the first opportunity, as we see was done
by duke Valentine, that was designed by his father to
a sacerdotal profession, but quitted it soon after in re-
gard of his parts and inclination ; being such never-
theless, as a man cannot tell •well whether they were
worse for a prince or for a priest.

Thirdly, to consider how they sort with those whom
they are like to have competitors and concurrents, and
to take that course wherein there is most solitude, and
themselves like to be most eminent ; as Julius
did, who at first was an orator or pleader ; but when
he saw the excellency of Cicero, Hortensius, Caiulus,


and others, for eloquence, and saw there was no man
of reputation for the wars but Porapeius, upon whom
the state was forced to rely ; he forsook his course
begun toward a civil and popular greatness, and
transferred his designs to a martial greatness.

Fourthly, in the choice of their friends and depen-
dences, to proceed according to the composition of
their own nature ; as we may see in Caesar ; all whose
friends and followers were men active and effectual,
but not solemn, or of reputation.

Fifthly, to take special heed how they guide them-
selves by examples, in thinking they can do as they
see others do; whereas perhaps their natures and car-
riages are far differing. In which error it seemeth Pom-
pey was, of whom Cicero saith, that he was wont often
to say, " Sylla potuit, ego non potero ? " Wherein he
was much abused, the natures and proceedings of him-
self and his example being the unlikest in the world ;
the one being fierce, violent, and pressing the fact ;
the other solemn, and full of majesty and circum-
stance ; and therefore the less effectual.

But this precept touching the politic knowledge of
ourselves, hath many other branches whereupon we
cannot insist.
^ Next to the well understanding and discerning of a
1 man's self, there fojlpwcth the well opening and reveal-
ing a man's self; wherein .we see iVothing more usual
than for the more able man to make the less shew.
For there is a great advantage in the well setting forth
of a man's virtues, fortunes, merits ; and again, in the
artificial covering of a man's weaknesses, defects, tlis-
graccs, staying upon the one, sliding from the other ;
cherishing the one by circumstances, gracing tlie other
by exposition, and the like ; wherein we see what Ta-
citus saith of Mutianus, who was the greatest politician
of his time, " Omnium, quae dixerat, feceratque, arte
quadam ostentator ;" wliicli requireth indeed some art,
lest it turn tedious and arrogant ; but yet so, as osten-
tation, thougli it be to the first degree of vanity, seemeth
to me rather a vice in manners tlian in policy : for as
it is said, " Audacter calumniarc, semper aliquid hac-



ret ; " so except it be in a ridiculous degree of de-
formity, " Audacter tc veudita, semper aliquid haeret."
For it will stick with the more ignorant and inferior
sort of men, though men of wisdom and rank do smile
at it, and despise it ; and yet tlic authority won with
many, doth countervail the disdain of a few. But ii
it be carried with decency and government, as with a
natural, pleasant, and ingenuous fashion, or at times
when it is mixed with some peril and unsafety, as in
military persons, or at times when others are most
envied ; or with easy and careless passage to it and
from it, without dwelling too long, or being too
serious ; or with an equal freedom of taxing a man's
self, as well as gracing himself; or hy occasion of re-
pelling or putting down others injury or insolence ; it
doth greatly add to reputation : and surely not a few
solid natures that want this ventosity, and cannot sail
in the height of the winds, are not without some pre-
judice and disadvantage by their moderation.

But for these flourishes and enhancements of virtue,
as they arc not perchance unnecessary, so it is at least
necessary tliat virtue be not disvalued and embased
under tlie just price, which is done in three manners;
by offering and obtruding a man's self, wherein men
think he is rewarded, wlien he is accepted: by doing too
much, which will not give that which is well done
leave to settle, and in the end inducetli satiety : and
by finding too soon the fruit of a man's virtue, in com-
mendation, applause, honour, favour ; wherein if a
man be pleased witli a little, let him hear what is truly
said ; " Cave ne insuctus rebus majoribus videaris, si
haec te res parva, sicuti magna, delectat."

But the covering of defects is of no less importance
than J^lie valuing of good parts: which maybe done like-
wise in three manners, by caution, by colour, and by
con^dence. Caution is, when men do ingeniously and
discreetly avoid to be ]Hit into those things for which
they are not proper : whereas contrariwise, bold and
unquiet spirits will thrust themselves into matters
without difference, and so publish and ])roclaim all
their wants : colour is, when men make a way for them-


selves, to have a construction made of their faults or
wants, as proceeding from a better cause, or intended
for some other purpose : for of the one it is well said,

Saepe latet vitium proximilate boni.

And therefore whatsQevex . w.aula.mmiia$b«JigJOa»st
see that he pretend tlie virtue that shadowetl;! |j; j §§_,if
he be dull, he must affect g-ravitv : if a cow^r^ j ^ J^^^^-
ness ; and so the rest. For the second, a man must
frame some probable cause why he should not do his
best, and why he should dissemble his abilities ; and
for that purpose must use to dissemble those abilities
which are notorious in him, to give colour that his
true wants are but industries and dissimulations. For
confidence, it is the last, but surest remedy ; namely,
to depress and seem to despise whatsoever a man can-
not attain, observing the good principle of the mer-
chants, who endeavour to raise the price of their own
commodities, and to beat down the price of others.
But there is a confidence that passeth this other, which
is, to face out a man's own defects, in seeming to con-
ceive that he is best in those things wherein he is fail-
ing ; and, to help that again, to seem on the other
side that he hath least opinion of himself in those
things wherein he is best ; like as we shall see it com-
monly in poets, that if they shew their verses, and you
except to any, they will say, " that that line cost them
more labour than any of the rest ; " and presently will
seem to disable and susjiect rather some other line,

Online LibraryFrancis BaconThe works of Francis Bacon, baron of Verulam, viscount St. Alban, and lord high chancellor of England (Volume 1) → online text (page 25 of 52)