Quotes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. . . . But it is not the lie that passeth through the mind, but the lie that sinketh in, and settleth in it, that doth the hurt.

The above quote, from the essay "On Truth," typifies much of Bacon's method. Although Bacon often invokes God and Christian ideals in his essays, the essays are not (as it almost always was the case before Bacon) primarily religious or pious exercises. Bacon posits empirical analyses of virtues such as truth. Therefore, he pragmatically discusses gradations in truth. This allows him to argue that certain types of lies—such as flattery, fictions, art, drama, or embellishment—can be truly pleasant. Lies, in the rational world of Bacon, are not unequivocally bad.

Bacon goes on the analyze, fine-tune, and categorize the idea of truth. He argues that the really bad and damaging lies are not those we know from the start to be lies but those that "sinketh in": in other words, those that deceive and mislead us. Bacon will end this essay by using God to support the worth of truth but, significantly, not until he has established truth as a rational good in its own right.

Certainly fame is like a river, that beareth up things light and swoln, and drowns things weighty and solid.

This quote occurs in the essay "Of Praise." Part of why we still read Bacon is due to the way he writes—his way with words. He often devises memorable metaphors that make the abstract understandable by comparing it to something concrete. Here, he memorably likens fame to a river, a natural element that moves rapidly and lets the lightweight and insubstantial rise to the top and be seen (i.e., become "famous") while heavier and more valuable objects to sink. In other words, what becomes famous is often of least value.

. . . the folly of one man, is the fortune of another.

This aphoristic statement, from the essay "Of Fortune," is again typical of Bacon's way with words. The alliteration, in which the "f" of "folly" balances and brings emphasis to the "f" of "fortune," shows how the two are interconnected.

In this essay, he examines fortune (or good luck) using a rational, pragmatic lens rather than a strictly religious lens. This is typical of Bacon's style, and it is why he is sometimes called the "father" of the Enlightenment. Fortune is good because, when others see it, it raises their confidence in that person, aiding to the rise of that individual's reputation and, hence, happiness. But, as the above statement says, this fortune often comes at the expense of someone else. This does not present fortune as primarily the will of God but as a force to be examined for its role in good or ill in the world.

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