Essays Questions and Answers
by Francis Bacon

Essays book cover
Start Your Free Trial

How can I critically analyze Francis Bacon's essay "Of Delays"?

Expert Answers info

D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write11,096 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Bacon's essay "Of Delays" might well be called "Of Proper Timing" because its subject is the importance of weighing carefully when to move ahead with a plan and when to wait. The essay opens with the word "fortune" and compares fortune to a market where, if you wait, prices might fall, or as we would say today, products might go on sale. But the word fortune held a significance to Bacon's audience that we might not understand today, especially when coupled with the idea of prices rising and falling. People would have understood that Bacon was talking about the wheel of fortune, a widely used image at that time. Luck or fortune was seen as cyclical--it went round and round like the seasons. Sometimes you hit good fortune, sometimes bad, but it would always change: you would never always have good fortune or bad. 

If we think of fortune as like a merry-go-round, Bacon is saying we need to weight when to jump on. If we wait too long we may miss the proper point of good fortune, but if we jump on too soon, that might also be a mistake. Timing is everything. As Bacon puts it:

There is surely no greater wisdom than well to time the beginnings and onsets of things.

While Bacon advises meeting dangers "halfway" and advises against the "extreme" of either waiting too long or too short a time before acting, he doesn't offer any advice as to when would be the right time to act. Bacon, who as a rationalist and an empiricist is always going to look very carefully at what is around him and weigh the evidence, advises others to do the same: before we act, we should watch with the "hundred eyes" of Argus, a monster from Greek mythology whose many eyes later became the "eyes" on the peacock's feathers, according to the myth.

But while we should carefully observe and weigh our options before acting, when we do act, we must do so with "celerity," which means speed. In other words, once you have a made a reasoned decision, act on it a swiftly as you can, with the speed of a bullet, and don't second guess yourself. 

check Approved by eNotes Editorial