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A READER'S TREASURYThe Essays of Francis Bacon
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Bacon wrote all these essays around 1600, and with the evolution of consciousness and language in the time since then, it's like jogging through a swamp to read his essays: slow-going but you get a lot of exercise, and some rich fertile material will attach itself to you at times. In this review, I will share some of that fertile material in form of quotes that stuck to me as I read his essays. Each essay has liberal endnotes with sources credited.
[page 32] Men in great place are thrice servants: servants of the sovereign or state; servants of fame; and servants of business. So as they have no freedom; neither in their persons, nor in their actions, nor in their times. 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.
Doesn't that sound very familiar? One only has to think of the politicians whose marital affairs have become fodder for the monstrous news media of our times. There is also a nuance of meaning that, lest it be lost on those who need it most, those "thrice servants," Bacon makes it explicit thus:
[page 33] It is a sad fate for a man to die too well known to everybody else, and still unknown to himself.
In the endnote, the old saying "The last straw breaks the camel's back" is cited as a reference for this next quotation, but note the subtle difference in this Spanish version of the saying, which says, in effect, those who tackle a job first have the toughest job, and those come last may finish the job with minor effort. [The remainder of the quotations are mostly self-explanatory, so my readers are advised to figure them out for themselves or to hold them as unanswered questions.]
[page 46] The cord breaketh at the last by the weakest pull.
[page 79] The French are wiser than they seem, and the Spaniards seem wiser than they are.
[page 82] A principal fruit of friendship is the ease and discharge of the fulness and swellings of the heart, which passions of all kinds do cause and induce. We know diseases of stoppings and suffocations are the most dangerous in the body; and it is not much otherwise in the mind.
[page 88] After these two noble fruits of friendship (peace in the affections, and support of the judgment), followeth the last fruit; which is like the pomegranate, full of many kernels; I mean aid and bearing a part in all actions and occasions. Here the best way to represent to the life the manifold use of friendship is to cast and see how many things there are which a man cannot do himself; and then it will appear that it was a sparing speech of the ancients, to say, that a friend is another himself; for that a friend is far more than himself.
[page 125] Faver quisque fortunæ suæ — Every one is the architect of his own fortune, saith the poet. And the most frequent of external causes is, that the folly of one man is the fortune of another. For no man prospers so suddenly as by others' errors.
[page 126] The way of fortune is like the Milky Way in the sky; which is a meeting or knot of a number of small stars; not seen asunder, but giving light together.
[page 155] 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.
[page 160] It was prettily devised of Æsop, The fly sat upon the axle-tree of the chariot wheel, and said, What a dust I do raise!
[page 162] They that write books on the worthlessness of glory, take care to put their names on the title page.
[page 165] There is an honor, likewise, which may be ranked amongst the greatest, which happeneth rarely; that is, of such as sacrifice themselves to death or danger for the good of their country; as was M. Regulus, and the two Decii.
This is a fitting sentiment for a man who almost single-handedly propelled humankind into materialism. For the greatest honor he chose as examples a Roman general and two Roman soldiers. There was one man, not a general, but a common carpenter, who sacrificed his own life, not for his country, but for all of humanity. Compared to the sacrifices of the Roman soldiers, the sacrifice of Christ Jesus, whose deed on Golgotha marked the turning point of the history of the Earth, was not only rare, but unique.
Certainly Bacon's books are among those that should be "read wholly, and with diligence and attention," even though at times he sounds a bit like a fly on the axle of a chariot yelling, "What a dust do I raise!"
Any questions about this review, Contact: Bobby Matherne
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