What is a summary for "Of Beauty," written by Francis Bacon?

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Francis Bacon's short essay "Of Beauty" begins by arguing that extreme physical beauty and virtue are antithetical. He claims that it's better for a person to be "comely, though not of delicate features" and to have "dignity of presence" because it is rare that "very beautiful persons are otherwise of great virtue." This means that Bacon doubts that extreme physical beauty and a high level of virtue can exist in the same person. Bacon does, however, follow these statements by saying that no rule is without exception and that there have been some men who are both virtuous and "the most beautiful men of their times."

As Bacon continues to examine what is meant by beauty, he posits that beauty is a result of "some strangeness of the proportion." Bacon explains that beauty may not be found in each or any of the individual parts of a person's face, but the effect of the whole, of all the parts in relation to one another, creates beauty. He also argues that the very beautiful often need to grow into their beauty: "beautiful persons have a beautiful autumn." Bacon ends his essay with a simile:

Beauty is as summer fruits, which are easy to corrupt, and cannot last; and for the most part it makes a dissolute youth, and an age a little out of countenance; but yet certainly again, if it light well, it maketh virtue shine, and vices blush.

Beauty can easily fade and if beauty is found in the young, it may ruin them ("dissolute" meaning lax or licentious). However, beauty can have a positive effect, "if it light well," in which case the virtue will be emphasized rather than the "vices." Overall, Bacon describes a definition of beauty and its relation to virtue that is rather complex despite the brevity of the essay.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Francis Bacon's essay "Of Beauty" is one essay in his collection denoted by the title Essayes: Religious Meditations. Places of Perswasion and Disswasion. Seene and Allowed. The collection, from 1597, included ten essays. The 1612 edition included thirty-eight essays and the 1625 collection (the title was changed to Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall) contained fifty-eight essays. The essay in question, "Of Beauty," appeared in the 1612 edition of Bacon's collected essays.

"On Beauty" is an essay which details the importance of virtue in deciding the beauty of something (being a person or a piece of art). Bacon states that,

There is no excellent beauty, that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.

What Bacon is saying basically mirrors the saying: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Bacon is supporting the fact that not all can find beauty in the same things.

Outside of that, Bacon makes another poignant stand:

A man shall see faces, that if you examine them part by part, you shall find never a good; and yet altogether do well.

What Bacon is saying, here, is that sometimes examining the pieces of something will not be beautiful. It takes one examining the whole to find the beauty in the object.

Overall, the essay details what one should search for, and use to determine, in real beauty. Bacon is offering his suggestion, in the essay, what real beauty includes.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As was mentioned in the previous post, Francis Bacon describes his thoughts on virtue and beauty throughout his essay "Of Beauty." Bacon begins by mentioning that virtue is a quality rarely found in attractive people. However, Bacon then lists several famously beautiful and virtuous individuals throughout history, such as Augustus Caesar, Titus Vespasianus, and Alcibiades of Athens. Bacon believes that in regards to beauty, features such as virtue and integrity are more important than outward appearances. He then comments on how pictures cannot express an attractive person's inner qualities. People cannot tell whether someone is a "trifler" by simply looking at them, and painters have the freedom to add to the beauty of their subjects which makes it even harder to discern a person's actual merit. Francis Bacon concludes by commenting that people become more beautiful later on in life as they develop into more amiable individuals. He believes that young, attractive people can easily be corrupted, which ruins their beauty. However, the quality of virtue in an attractive young person shines brightly and is truly magnificent.

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