Francis Bacon Questions and Answers

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In Francis Bacon's "Of Truth", why did Bacon say that truth may come to the price of a pearl instead of a diamond?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Bacon makes the statement that the unvarnished truth has the lesser value of a pearl compared to a diamond. People value lies more, as they would a diamond, because they like and need some flashes of illusion in their life mingled with the truth.

Comparing truth to a pearl is an apt metaphor; as Bacon points out, a pearl, smooth and white, shows best in the plain light of day, just as the truth does. Both a pearl and truth are plain, pure, and unvarnished. Both are valuable but not of the highest value, as it were.

A diamond, however, shows best at night, perhaps in a candlelit room with "varied lights." It is variable, flashing, and inconstant, but it is more brilliant and exciting than a pearl. Therefore, it is worth more than a pearl. A lie and a half-truth are the same, variable and inconstant, but because these can make people seem more brilliant or exciting than they are, people often value it more than unvarnished truth. As Bacon puts it:

A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of men's minds, vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds, of a number of men, poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves?

This essay, like all of Bacon's essays, marks a break with the past because Bacon is trying to be objective, not simply preach pieties. He tries to tell the truth about truth.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In this short essay, Bacon is examining reasons why, in his opinion, people tell lies instead of the truth.  In the line you cite, Bacon argues that people like likes better because lies embellish the truth and make it prettier and more palatable.

Truth, says Bacon, is like a pearl because a pearl only looks good in the daylight.  A diamond, by contrast, can look good in many sorts of lights.  What he means by this is that the truth is bare and plain and is only palatable in limited circumstances.  Lies, on the other hand, are fancier and can seem beautiful in many different circumstances.

Truth is therefore less valuable to most people because it does not really dress up and/or hide reality.  People prefer lies because they make things look better than they really are.

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