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In his essays “Of Study” and “Of Travaile” (that is, of travel), Sir Francis Bacon plays the dual roles of explorer of knowledge and counselor, respectively. One essay deals with the knowledge that can be gained from books; the other essay deals with the knowledge that can be gained by travel – especially from foreign travel.
The essay “Of Study” opens with a sentence that splendidly exemplifies Bacon’s taut, crisp, so-called "curt" style:
Studies serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability.
Bacon’s habit of thinking in threes is well illustrated here, as is his habit of wasting no words and getting directly to the point. He then begins to develop each of these ideas, showing a familiarity with how the world really works. Bacon is not a pie-in-the-sky idealist; his arguments are almost always rooted in observation of the everyday reality, although he usually calls little personal attention to himself as an observer. His essay on study is rooted in an ideal of balance: balance between books and the “real world,” balance between theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge, and balance between book learning and common sense. He also shows, in another clause based in threes, that he is familiar with the varieties of human types:
Crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them . . . .
Likewise, he also shows (in a very famous aphorism) that not all books are of equal value and that since time is not unlimited, readers must be practical in their choices of reading matter:
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested . . . .
Later, he reveals the comprehensiveness of his knowledge and of his advice:
Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.
All in all, Bacon provides sane, sensible, and highly practical advice about the nature, uses, and rewards of study.
The same is true of his essay on foreign travel. The two essays, in fact, are highly complementary, although the essay on travel is, if anything, even more practical than the other piece. In the essay on travel, Bacon, without ever dwelling on himself, seems to draw on personal experiences in order to offer sage advice to young people.
Here as in the other essay, Bacon covers many bases, offering highly comprehensive advice, as when he provides a long list of valuable sights (and sites) to see. Travel, for Bacon, is not merely a matter of pleasure or diversion; it is serious business, from which the young can and should learn and profit. In both essays, then, Bacon emphasizes the importance of education, and in both essays he makes clear that education should produce practical wisdom.
Finally, in both essays, Bacon shows an impressive familiarity with a wide range of possible sources of knowledge and different kinds of learning. In the essay on travel, this familiarity is displayed by the very long sentence that begins “The things to be seen and observed are . . . ." In the essay on study, a similar comprehensiveness is shown in the following sentence in the so-called “curt” style that Bacon loved:
Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtile; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend.
It is not surprising that Bacon, with his characteristic emphasis on balance, should write two essays with complement each other so well.
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