In Francis Bacon's essay "Of Anger," what is the meaning of the paragraph that begins "To contain anger from mischief"?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In the 1601 edition of Francis Bacon’s Essays, the penultimate (that is, next-to-last) paragraph reads as follows:

To contain anger from mischief, though it take hold of a man, there be two things, whereof you must have special caution. The one, of extreme bitterness of words, especially if they be aculeate and proper; for cummunia maledicta are nothing so much; and again, that in anger a man reveal no secrets; for that, makes him not fit for society. The other, that you do not peremptorily break off, in any business, in a fit of anger; but howsoever you show bitterness, do not act anything, that is not revocable.

This paragraph might be paraphrased as follows:

If you want to prevent someone’s anger from breaking out into violent conduct, even when a person is indeed angry, there are two ways in which you must really be cautious. First, you should avoid using any deeply offensive language, particularly any words that are stinging and highly personal. Avoid saying anything that seems a direct attack on a single person in particular. Commonly offensive words (such as curse words) are not particularly insulting to any specific person, but if you attack another human being in very personal terms, you are likely to make that person extremely angry. In addition, be careful, if you are expressing your anger toward someone, that you don’t say anything about that is supposed to be a secret.  If you do that, no one (not just the person you have angered) will ever trust you or consider you worthy of their company. Furthermore, never suddenly end an encounter with someone when you are angry.  Even if you show anger to someone, don’t do anything that cannot be undone. Always leave open at least the possibility of some reconciliation.

Here as in many of his essays, Bacon gives very practical advice.  He doesn’t merely theorize in highly general terms. Instead, he gets down to very specific situations and gives advice that is likely to be very useful in day-to-day conduct. One senses, when reading passages such as this one, that Bacon is either writing from personal experience or that he is writing from personal observation. He is not merely repeating clichéd or customary advice but is offering highly pragmatic and useful counsel.


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