Critical appreciation of the essay "Of Revenge" by Francis Bacon?

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Stephen Holliday | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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"On Revenge" (1625) is a typical, highly logical Bacon argument against private revenge and acknowledges that "public revenges are for the most part fortunate."  The language is direct and free of convoluted syntax.

Bacon's chief argument is that revenge is a perversion of the law--the first wrong is governed by the law (but it's offensive), but the act of revenge is outside the law.  Immediately appealing to a sense of moral superiority, Bacon points out that ignoring a wrong makes a man superior to the person who committed the first wrong.  And, in an attempt to add common sense to the mix of reasons, Bacon points out that wise men have enough to do with the present and the future.  Since a wrong in the past cannot be made right, it's best to concentrate on trying to influence the present and future.

Bacon continues to appeal to common sense in his argument that no man seeks to do harm for its own sake (we can argue that one) and that getting mad at someone for trying to better himself is not a worthwhile exercise.  And if a man does harm because he's just bad, well, that's his nature, and his ill nature dictates his actions.

If, Bacon argues, one engages in revenge that has no lawful remedy, then that revenge might be tolerable, but he warns that the person seeking revenge should make sure there is no law that will punish him.  And it's only right that the person one is seeking revenge upon understands that he's the target because that knowledge may make him sorry for his original action.

Bacon ends the essay pointing out that public revenge on bad leaders is "for the most part fortunate" but reminds his reader that private revenge is "unfortunate."


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