Source: `Pruning by study': Self-cultivation in Bacon's Essays. By: Miller, John J., Papers on Language & Literature, 00311294, Fall95, Vol. 31, Issue 4

The question of the relationship of Bacon's Essays to his scientific project is a recurring commonplace of Bacon criticism. Generally, critics have argued over the degree to which the Essays conform to Bacon's inductive method, as described and demonstrated in The Novum Organon and The Advancement of Learning. Jacob Zeitlin's influential essay of 1928 was one of the first to argue that the Essays represent the application of induction to "civil knowledge [,] . . . which of all others is most immersed in matter, and hardliest reduced to axiom" (III: 445),[1] resulting in a "science of pure selfishness" (503).[2] Some more recent studies suggest a different approach to the question; these stress the coherence of the writings by arguing not so much that the Essays are (or are not) informed by the principles and methods of the scientific writings, as that both are the products of common anxieties, concerns, or socio-political conditions. Robert Faulkner, for instance, discovers underlying the Essays a "foundational" definition of the Baconian subject as "a needy self that must make its own provision to the point of making its own world" (87). From such a self, Faulkner argues, springs both the Essays' concern with personal security and power, and the will to power over nature which is the end of the scientific project.[3]

The following essay will begin, likewise, by exploring the nature of the self--and its "selfishness"--on which the Essays are predicated. The self portrayed in the Essays, and for which they are written, is motivated by a powerful anxiety about its ability to control and distribute its creative energies.[4] This anxiety, in turn, highlights a significant difference between the two projects--The Advancement of Learning and the advancement of the self--and thus illuminates an important methodological distinction between the two. While the scientific writings concern the present and future work of many minds, the Essays address the needs of a single concrete self, bounded by time and space, and ambitious to achieve concrete results within those bounds. Knowledge, the goal of The Advancement of Learning, is long; but life, the subject of the Essays, is short.

While the Novum Organon argues that induction, properly practiced, will proceed more efficiently than science had hitherto, it warns especially against the dangers of haste in method, particularly such haste as is encouraged by the desire to see results, whether in the form of abstract axioms or concrete, practical "fruits."[5] For the individual contingent self, however, results do count. For that self, therefore, efficiency becomes a paramount concern. The contingent self, as both subject and audience of the Essays, thus determines their difference from Bacon's progressive writings.

This difference explains and can be illustrated by a consistent difference in the uses to which a common set of figures are put in the Essays and in the scientific writings. Brian Vickers has described Bacon's use of horticultural metaphors such as seeds, fruit, gardens, and irrigation to represent the potential for the growth of knowledge from the well cultivated "seeds" which the scientific writings are supposed to plant.[6] Such figures figure prominently in the Essays as well. There, however, they are most often used as images of unrestrained growth to an opposite effect: to represent the inefficient expenditure of the self's limited creative resources. Figures of fecundity in The Advancement of Learning become, in the Essays, metaphors for profligacy.

This concern with protecting the resources of the contingent self is most evident in those essays which describe the borders of public life. These include the essays on the relationship between public and domestic life, a relationship which is necessarily competitive within the economy of the selfs limited energies. Among other things, these essays discover a greater security in the public realm, in part because the expression of creative energies is more easily controlled through the fashioning of an artificial public self--a reputation--than through the making of separate and individual selves through physical procreation. The essays on education--the process of transition from private to public life--also endorse a jealous strategy of careful investments in future returns; it is in these essays that the contrast is clearest between the processes of advancing one's own learning and those for the advancement of general knowledge. The following argument will first discuss how the essays on public and private life and on education represent the economy of the self, and will conclude by examining similar representations in two essays which prescribe the matured public relationships which are the fruits of such jealous cultivation.


Three essays first published in the 1612 edition of the Essays--"Of Parents and Children," "Of Marriage and Single Life," and "Of Love"--address more directly than any others the domestic side of men's (and occasionally and indirectly women's) life. If, as has often been suggested, the Essays attempt to fill a gap in The Advancement of Learning's discussion of the "three wisdoms" of "civil knowledge," then these three essays may have been introduced in the 1612 edition to address concerns not attended to in the first edition. Indeed, these essays are primarily concerned not so much with domestic issues as with the relationship between domestic and public life. Each of these essays represent this relationship as a competition between the two spheres for the individual's limited creative energies; the 1625 revisions of these essays only tend to emphasize this theme. The management of that competitive relationship thus involves economic decisions about the allocation of those resources.

The first paragraph of "Of Parents and Children" represents this competition by invoking a commonplace metaphor for public works:

The perpetuity by generation is common to beasts; but memory, merit, and noble works, are proper to men. And surely a man shall see the noblest works and foundations have proceeded from childless men; which have sought to express the images of their minds, where those of their bodies have failed. So the care of posterity is most in them that have no posterity. (VI: 390)

Bacon, however, does not mean the analogy between works and children metaphorically but literally: the two forms of self-reproduction conflict with one another, forcing a choice. The passage clearly suggests that works, which are "proper to men," ought to be valued by the essay's audience above the getting and raising of children, which is "common to beasts" (and women). That generation which is "proper to men" is defined by public perception: its products are "memory, merit, and noble works," objects "a man [can] see." This public approbation seems as integral to the value of such works as their usefulness; even the "care of posterity" suggests not only the future benefits of one's work but one's historical reputation as well. By contrast, according to the essay's opening sentence, "[t]he joys of parents are secret, and so are their griefs and fears." Thus, the first paragraph of "Of Parents and Children" implies that its titular topic is a less valuable and less valued form of creativity, while the creation of works which serve the public is both "proper to men" and validated by the less ambiguous reward of public recognition. Though reputation may seem a less substantial commodity than flesh and blood offspring, it is the coin which buys preferment and other benefits in the public sphere. Despite its subsequent attention to the practical matters of getting and raising children, this essay begins by declaring its topic to be a distraction from the business of "civil life," which is the business of the Essays.

The discussion of these practical matters also involves a concern with conserving resources. The second, longer paragraph of the essay describes how family size and "nature" itself can work to limit parents' control over the development of their offspring. In addition to implying that smaller families are easier to manage, the paragraph describes parenting as primarily concerned with the curbing the child's "affection." One way to do this is to avoid driving the child to "harmful error" through parental "illiberality." In the 1625 version of the essay, however, the paragraph concludes by urging the control and timely amputation of the individual inclinations of one's children:

Let parents choose betimes the vocations and courses they mean their children should take; for then they are most flexible; and let them not too much apply themselves to the disposition of their children, as thinking they will take best to that which they have most mind to. It is true that if the affection or aptness of the children be extraordinary, then it is good not to cross it; but generally the precept is good, Optimum elige, suave et facile illud faciet consuetudo. (VI: 391)

This advice may partially explain why parental joys remain secret, for the engineering of a child's options from an early age involves a kind of deception on the parent's part. Custom (consuetudo), the essay promises, will make the child's imposed career tolerable to him; it may also help to inculcate the retentive habits of adulthood which the essay prescribes for both the getting and raising of children. Throughout the process of self-reproduction, whether through works or through human offspring, the chief danger seems to be a loss of control over these versions of oneself. Thus both the getting and raising of children require strategies to conserve the resources which fuel such "generation" and to control its products.

In another domestic essay that first appears in 1612, "Of Marriage and Single Life," a similar economics or husbandry of the self is the basis for weighing the merits of marriage. The essay's opening sentence formulates a model of the relationship of private and public work used consistently in the essay to compare the suitability of married and single life to a catalog of various occupations and ambitions:

He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief. Certainly the best works, and of greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men; which both in affection and means have married and endowed the public. (VI: 391)

The rhetorical progression of these two sentences seems to promise a third in which the second sentence's discussion of "great enterprises . . . of virtue" will be balanced with one making the same point about those of "mischief." Instead of this second affirmation of the opening maxim, however, we get a series of equivocations on its plausibility which then digresses subtly into a consideration of the causes of bachelorhood before returning to consequences:

Yet it were great reason that those that have children should have greatest care of future times; unto which they know they must transmit their dearest pledges. Some there are who, though they lead a single life, yet their thoughts do end with themselves, and account future times impertinences. Nay, there are some other that account wife and children but as bills of charges. Nay more, there are some foolish rich covetous men, that take a pride in having no children, because they may be though t so much the richer . . . . But the most ordinary cause of a single life is liberty, especially in certain self-pleasing and humorous minds, which are so sensible of every restraint, as they will go near to think that girdles and garters to be bonds and shackles. Unmarried men are best friends, best masters, best servants; but not always best subjects; for they are light to run away; and almost all fugitives are of that condition. (VI: 391-92)

Rather than turning to the costs that bachelors inflict on others, as the opening sentence seem to promise it will do, the essay shifts its attention to the selfish motives of such men. The common denominator in each instance is greed and covetousness of resources, not "great enterprises . . . [of] mischief." Such greed results in the same wasteful draining of potentially productive resources as living dependents inflict on the family man: in each case these resources are taken out of public circulation, in the one case to support an enterprise "common to beasts," in the other simply to be hoarded to appease a familiar form of human folly. After several sentences of delay, we finally arrive at "the most ordinary cause of a single life," a rhetorical, if not logical, completion of the partitio promised in the essay's first sentence. The delayed fulfillment of this expectation adds to the reader's uncertainty about the paragraph's direction and conclusion and particularly about the costs, if any, of not marrying.

Throughout this passage the language of economics merges with the language of political restraint, duty, and liberty, contributing to the passage's ambiguities. The connotations of the term "liberty," for instance, shift over the course of the passage. The context initially associates liberty with "self-pleasing and humurous minds," of the kind perhaps produced by the :"illiberality" faulted in parents in "Of Parents and Children." As it turns out, however, the "humorous" conceits of such minds are true: "girdles and garters" are in fact the "bonds and shackles" from which the many "fugitives . . . of that condition" flee. Thus political liberty becomes a figure not for "illiberality" but for liberation from constraining obligations. Marriage seems to enforce social bonds through a kind of hostage-holding similar to that noted in the essay's opening clause; what keeps a man in subjection, whether to society or to family, is what keeps him from the great enterprises through which he might advance society's interests. The man of business must thus be free of such conventional but baser obligations in order to fulfill the greater ones to which he aspires.

The ambiguities arising from the debate between "liberty" and "restraint" lead to the essay's most succinct and resonant de******ion of the dynamics of the conservation of self: "A single life doth well with churchmen; for charity will hardly water the ground where it must first fill a pool" (VI: 392). In context of the Essays, the metaphor is supremely sly. The vehicle of the metaphor strongly suggests the very mechanism of the generation "common to beasts," thus linking charity to the act of fertilization, at the same time that its sense is in fact the opposite. The consequent implication is that the "churchman" who does not marry is in fact more of a father than he who does, for his energies are put to the most efficient creative use. The "pool"--static, enclosed, useless (perhaps a decorative garden pool is the precise referent)--figures the "secret" work of the home; placed beside the fruiffully watered ground it seems almost onanistic.

The same equation of domesticity and wasted resources reappears at the end of the essay "Of Love":

There is in man's nature a secret inclination and motion towards love of others, which if it be not spent upon some one or a few, doth naturally spread itself towards many, and maketh men become humane and charitable; as it is seen sometimes in friars. Nuptial love maketh mankind; friendly love perfecteth it; but wanton love corrupteth and embaseth it. (VI: 398)

The language of this passage relates "Of Love" to the two other "domestic" essays previously discussed, by invoking the "secret" nature of this "inclination." "Of Parents and Children" recommends that this secrecy be used to regulate family life more efficiently, by suppressing both the parents' expressions of joy or grief and the children's expressions of their private inclinations. However, domestic life also seems to bottle up other public forms of self-expression within the "secret" economy of the home. Thus are one's "love," "water," "wealth," or "generation" "spent" rather than "spread, wasted in secret on "one or a few" rather than invested in work validated by public and historical recognition.[7]

As in the early lines of "Of Marriage and Single Life," an initially even-handed presentation of two opposing alternatives is ultimately resolved in favor of alternative about which Bacon has the least to say. Echoing the same opposition between domestic and public life developed in the two earlier essays, the remainder of the sentence equates the "humane and charitable" man, he whose generafive power is greatest, with celibacy and rejection of domesticity. The "Friendly love" of the last sentence, though never defined or discussed elsewhere in the essay, is presumably that which "spreads" one's resources like water across a field, rather than merely filling the domestic pool. Unlike the act of "mak[ing] mankind," which, as we have seen in "Of Parents and Children," is "common to beasts," this "friendly love perfecteth" mankind. It is, in other words, what is "proper" to mankind. As the reader has seen in "Of Parents and Children," what is "proper" to man is the channeling of the creative impulse towards works which receive public validation. "Friendly love" and charity thus involve the careful husbandry of the self required of the public man. Nuptial love, however, as the essay states earlier, "maketh men that they can no ways be true to their own ends" (VI: 398).

In the context of the Essays 'general concern with "the wisdom of business," these three essays on domestic or personal topics attend to issues which do not fall within the realm of public affairs but rather influence it from outside. All share certain themes and concerns. Most striking is the model of the self which informs each essay, according to which the self represents a font of limited resources whose expenditure requires economic decisions. Though each essay makes gestures which seem to reserve judgment on the relative value of using these resources in one sphere or the other, in fact each essay clearly argues for the greater value of public over private work. This conclusion seems to arise from an anxiety over loss of control of the self and its reproductions which is highligh ted by the model of a self motivated by a kind of economic jealousy. This anxiety explains in part the recurring emphasis in these essays on appearances and reputation as measures of public success; such abstract reproductions of the self are easier to manipulate and control than those corporeal offspring which grow inevitably into independent personalities.


Beginning with the 1612 edition, these three essays help determine the audience of the remainder of the Essays as those who have chosen public life over private (or have had it chosen for them by their parents) and are aware of the effects of that choice on their other social and personal relationships. The next step in one's fashioning for "civil life" is education. Though "Of Studies" is the first essay in the 1597 group of ten, in subsequent editions it appeared towards the end of the Essays, following the essays on domestic relations.[8] Nevertheless, "Of Studies" still appears as a kind of preface to the rest of the Essays, offering instructions on how to read, warnings against the misuses of reading, and particular recommendations regarding the therapeutic values of reading for various readers.

The method of critical reading advocated in "Of Studies" in 1597 is seconded eight years later in The Advancement of Learning, where a cautious, "Probative" approach to textual authority is prescribed:

Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. ("Of Studies," VI: 497-98)

. . . disciples do owe unto masters only a temporary belief and a suspension of their own judgment until they be fully instructed, and not an absolute resignation or perpetual captivity . . . (Advancement of Learning; III: 290)

As Croll and others have argued, the aphoristic style of the Essays appears consistent with Bacon's de******ion of the style appropriate to scientific investigation:

. . . Aphorisms, except they should be ridiculous, cannot but be made of the pith and heart of sciences for discourse of illustration is cut off; recitals of example are cut off; discourse of connection and order is cut off; de******ions of practice are cut off; so there remaineth nothing to fill the Aphorisms but some good quantity of observation . . . Aphorisms, representing a knowledge broken, do invite men to enquire farther . . . (Advancement of Learning; III: 405)

Thus the pursuit of knowledge, whether through the study of texts or through direct observation of phenomena, is presented in both "Of Studies" and the Advancement as requiring a cautious skepticism of hasty generalization and precedent authorities.

Both texts also place importance on the distinction between the discovery of knowledge and the application of that knowledge. Their use of this distinction, however, reveals the fundamental difference between the situation of the scientist and the predicament of the sell While the ultimate goal of Bacon's scientific method is useful knowledge, consideration of the practical "fruits" of knowledge threatens to warp the process of scientific inquiry by polluting the inductive process with predetermined ends. Thus the application of the scientist's discoveries is left to the "arts mechanical," i.e., to technology. In education, however, studies and experience must be combined in a single enterprise in order to achieve the proper end common to both: the formation of the self. In describing how these two elements combine in the education of the individual, Bacon uses language familiar from our examination of the conflict between the public and the private self:

[Studies] perfect nature, and are perfected by experience: for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need pruning by study; and studies themselves do give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience. (VI: 497)

Insofar as "perfection" here implies the unique and proper telos of a thing, study would appear to be the proper activity of man, actualizing his "natural abilities."[9] The simile which expands on the aphorism emphasizes the idea of a growth directed towards a predetermined end. Pruning a "natural plant" directs the plant's growth by blocking the wasteful or inefficient use of its resources in order that they may be expended, and the plant expanded, in a narrower yet more fruitful direction. The educational process thus resembles the secret prunings of illiberality in children prescribed in "Of Parents and Children." Studies and experience direct the individual's energies by a careful, cooperative modulation of control and release.

The subordinate clause in which the "pruning" simile appears in this sentence, was added in the final 1625 edition. The other 1625 additions to this essay are likewise interesting for what they suggest about Bacon's developing conception not only of the essay's form but of the Essays'audience and purpose as well. As many critics have noted, Bacon's revisions of earlier essays, as well as those essays which appear for the first time in 1612 and 1625 editions, evince a greater emphasis on formal partitio (Vickers 217-24; Kiernan xxxv-vi). If this tendency seems less evident in the revisions of "Of Studies," it is because the initial version of 1612 already divides its topic quite artfully into a series of roughly parallel triplicates, starting with the opening sentence: "Studies serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability." Many of the 1625 additions to this essay--among them the "pruning" simile--tend to expand on the third element of a triplicate. These elaborations tend to mark more clearly the boundaries of the various topics; they also confirm that each triplicate represents an ascending order of importance: thus "delight" is a less valuable application of studies than "ornament," which is in turn less valuable than "ability." At the same time, however, many such elaborations in the later editions of the Essays tend to render an initial aphorism ambiguous by illustrating it with observations which qualify rather than confirm it.

The revisions of"Of Studies" reveal both of these tendencies in the structural development of the Essays. In addition, however, they seem to reflect a parallel development in the student towards a kind of self-organization. In the following passage from "Of Studies," the 1625 additions have been underlined to illustrate this new emphasis:

[Studies'] chief use . . . for ability, is in the judgment and disposition of business. For expert men can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars, one by one; but the general counsels, and the plots and marshalling of affairs, come best from those that are learned. [In the 1597 and 1612 versions the last clause reads: "but learned men are fittest to judge or censure."] (VI: 497,525, 575)

The revision of this passage clarifies the distinction between execution and judgment by elaborating on each one. Moreover, though, the revision is itself an act of the "disposition" and "marshalling" which are the results of study. The concern with such organization is not, in this essay at least, simply a rhetorical revision; rather it seems to incorporate the "wisdom" of business which the later version of the essay emphasizes both here and in the earlier "pruning" simile. The martial connotations of the words "disposition" and "marshalling" suggest the potential dangers contained and controlled by learning; the "expert," on the other hand, deals with such "affairs" only case-by-case. A consequence of learning is thus an increased sense of security, maintained by strategies of containment and control.

Another major revision to "Of Studies," added in 1612 and expanded in 1625, likewise describes study as a process of channeling and controlling creative energies.

Nay, there is no stond or impediment in the wit, but may be wrought out by fit studies; . . . So if a man's wit be wandring, let him study the mathematics; for in demonstrations, if his wit be called away never so little, he must begin again. [If his wit be called away never so little, he must begin again. If wit be not apt to distinguish or find differences, let him study the schoolmen; for they are cymini sectores. If he be not apt to beat over matters, and to call up one thing to prove and illustrate another [in 1612 edition: "find out resemblances"], let him study the lawyer's cases. (VI: 498, 576; 1625 additions underlined)

Those essays which deal with domestic ties tended to recommend a redirecting of energy which would otherwise be bottled up in less profitable pursuits; this passage argues that studies can both unclog and fortify the channels through which those energies will be translated into action. In addressing questions of conduct in the world of action more directly, the majority of the remaining essays develop this notion of husbandry into a more jealous view of the self which places a much greater premium on conservation than on useful or creative production.

One other essay focuses primarily on the process of education. Unlike "Of Studies," "Of Travel," which appears only in 1625, and thus well after the formulation of the scientific method, describes education as a project clearly distinct in both method and intent from scientific investigation. The inductive method of investigation is an inherently inefficient process: it resists the efficiencies offered by the "Idols" of received opinion which prematurely exclude, preclude, or edit new observations and information. It defers as long as possible the formation of coherent axioms and keeps those it does form provisional and insecure. Education, on the other hand, because it is concerned with forming a discrete self which has to exist in the real world, cannot afford such inefficiencies. Unlike induction, the aim of education is not just discovery but use.

The aim in "Of Travel" is efficiency. Though recommending exposure to a variety of objects of study, it encourages a specific, narrow focus on points of practical, contemporary interest, especially commercial and governmental institutions. Thus the "havens and harbors" of the Continent are as worthy of study as its "antiquities and ruins." The structure of the essay itself, centered on a lengthy list of such "things to be seen and observed," suggests an almost comical haste. The whirlwind pace of this catalog justifies the recommendation which precedes it, that a diary "be brought in use." The aim of the tour is to "have a young man to put his travel into a little room, and in short time to gather much," to "abridge his travel with much profit." Important above all, therefore, is to keep moving:

Let him keep also a diary. Let him not stay long in one city or town; more or less as the place deserveth, but not long; nay, when he stayeth in one city or town, let him change his lodging from one end and part of the town to another . . . (VI: 418)

In his rush, Bacon seems to forget that he has already packed his diary several sentences earlier.

In seeking out guides--like the diary, another efficient mediation between the student and the objects of his studies--Bacon recommends employing ambassadorial staff:

As for the acquaintance which is to be sought in travel; that which is most of all profitable is acquaintance with the secretaries and employed men of ambassadors: for so in travelling in one country he shall suck the experience of many. (VI: 418)

Such vampirism (deriving from the conventional figure of the student as a bee who sups at many flowers) complements the premium placed on efficiency in "Of Studies." The influx of information is susceptible to and ought to be controlled by the same mechanisms of conservation which are elsewhere recommended to regulate the student's future output. The xenophobic impulse which seems to want to hurry the student through this necessary step in his education arises in part from a related fear of allowing the self to be absorbed into the massive selflessness represented by the detailed variety of the world outside both one's country and oneself.


The essays examined so far represent supporting arches buttressing the central structure of the project of the Essays, a structure which, not unlike the scientific project is composed of discrete units of knowledge. The primary difference between the two projects is that science is allowed the luxury of reaching its fulfillment in properly developed axioms, unhurried by any pressure to produce useful results on a schedule. Science can wait for its results. The project of the essays, however, aims at the production of a man who can participate in the world. While some of the essays, including those already discussed, are primarily concerned with guiding such a man to the world, the majority aim at guiding him through it. The same model of the self, expressed in similar metaphors, informs the majority of these essays on the "science of negociation." "Of Counsel" and "Of Friendship" are a useful pair by which to illustrate the persistence and use of this underlying model of the self, because both concern the relationship of the self to other selves.

"Of Counsel" focuses on the self in what would seem to be its most secure and efficiently potent state: kingship. However, the paranoia which in fact characterizes the self's position at the top of the hierarchy of its fellow selves is not unique to that position. Rather, kingship represents the paradigm of the matured self in the world: now able to exercise its power, yet all the more susceptible to and jealous of losing control of how that power is deployed. "Of Counsel" is consequently concerned with almost nothing but the maintenance of control over one's power, as epitomized in the problems of kingship. The myth of Athena's birth figures the desire of the matured self jealously to guard its own powers so as neither to depend on the infusions of others nor to disperse wastefully one's own vital energies.

The ancient times do set forth in figure both the incorporation and inseparable conjunction of counsel with kings, and the wise and politic use of counsel by kings: the one, in that they say Jupiter did marry Metis, which signifieth counsel; whereby they intend that Sovereignty is married to Counsel: the other in that which followeth, which was thus: They say, after Jupiter was married to Metis, she conceived by him and was with child, but Jupiter suffered her not to stay till she brought forth, but eat her up; whereby he became himself with child, and was delivered of Pallas armed, out of his head. Which monstrous fable containeth a secret of empire; how kings are to make use of their counsel of state. That first they ought to refer matters unto them, which is the first begetting or impregnation; but when they are elaborate, moulded, and shaped in the womb of their Counsel, and grow ripe and ready to be brought forth, that then they suffer not their Counsel to go through with the resolution and direction, as if it depended on them; but take the matter back into their own hands, and make it appear to the world that the decrees and final directions (which, because they come forth with prudence and power, are resembled to Pallas Armed) proceeded from themselves; and not only from their authority, but (the more to add reputation to themselves) from their head and device. (VI: 424)

The force of this "monstrous Fable"--a rare device in the Essays--is not so much in its illumination of the political stratagem described, but rather in its almost literal embodiment of the problem of personal power. The figure is an assertion--similar to others noted above--of the dependence of physical body on the control of creative power. The jealousy it represents is not simply a jealousy of one's "Authority" but of one's personal security. For the close reader of the essays, the politics of the counsel room recalls the economics of the self detailed in the essays on domestic relations and education. The fable also illustrates, however, that with proper handling this threat of loss or dismemberment can in fact be turned to profit, for the marriage to Metis can be redeemed as marriage to one's wife cannot. As the domestic essays have shown, a wife cannot increase the efficiency of the economy of self-hood, but is rather a drain on the self. Metis, on the other hand, can be swallowed by the clever king; in fact, it is his ability to do so which constitutes and preserves his power over others. Authority is maintained by maintaining the appearance that ideas gleaned from others in fact emanate from oneself. As in several of the domestic essays, the efficient use of personal power is validated by public recognition, though "Of Counsel" suggests that, like domestic exertions, public work may also involve a certain secrecy. To main-rain this fiction of self-sufficiency, and thus personal power, counselors must be made dependent for their own safety on the safety of the king.

Most of the rest of this essay is devoted to enumerating "the inconveniences of counsel, and . . . the remedies" (VI: 424). These "inconveniencies" are three: the difficult of maintaining secrecy, the threat to authority described in the "Fable," and the more specific threat posed by "unfaithful" or self-interested counsellors. In each case counsel represents a threat to the process of maintaining power; absent is any mention of the benefits of counsel.

This, it turns out, is the subject addressed in the 1625 revision of "Of Friendship." In 1612, this topic generated only a brief, highly aphoristic essay, one of the shortest in the collection. The revised version retains the flavor of the earlier essay only in its opening paragraph. The rest details the three "fruits" of friendship. This metaphor echoes figural language used in both the essays on domestic life and those on education. As in those, here the concern is exclusively with the fruits which grow on the boughs of the self. The first and most completely discussed of these "fruits" sets the tone for all the rest:

A principal fruit of friendship is the ease and discharge of the fulness and swellings of the heart, which passions of all kinds do cause and induce. We know diseases of stoppings and suffocations are the most dangerous in the body; and it is not much otherwise in the mind; you may take sarza to open the liver, steel to open the spleen, flower of sulphur for the lungs, castoreum for the brain; but no receipt openeth the heart, but a true friend; to whom you may impart griefs,joys, fears, hopes, suspicions, counsels, and whatsoever lieth upon the heart to oppress it, in a kind of civil shrift or confession. (VI: 437-38)

Thus the "principal fruit of friendship" is based on the model of the self sketched out so far, on both the necessity of giving its energies proper outlets and the attendant jealousy with which those energies ought to be husbanded. The ideal friend is a confessor: an anonymous receptacle of potentially dangerous passions, into which the overflowings of the self are vented and in which they are contained in secrecy: Like the ends of education, the ******** of a "true friend" is not understood to exist in any benefits beyond those to the self, but only in terms of his ability to help safely direct and secure the creative--and thus potentially disruptive--forces of the self.

The second and third fruits of friendship are no less selfish. The second fruit arises from conversation, the benefit of which proceeds not from the combination of two perspectives or opinions but from hearing one's own ideas aired:

. . . certain it is that whosoever hath his mind fraught with many thoughts, his wits and understanding do clarify and bread up, in the communicating and discoursing with another; he tosseth his thoughts more easily; he marshalleth them more orderly; he seeth how they look when they are turned into words: finally, he waxeth wiser than himself; and that more by an hour's discourse than by a day's meditation. (VI: 440)

The military figure for the disposition of energies is familiar, as is the ultimately selfish nature of this sort of improvement. One might almost as well be talking to oneself; it is the regulation of an internal pressure--here apparently intellectual though elsewhere less clearly specified--that is important, not the regulator itself:

Neither is this second fruit of friendship, in opening the understanding, restrained only to such friends as are able tO give a man counsel; (they indeed are best;) but even without that, a man learneth of himself, and bringeth his own thoughts to light, and whetteth his wits as against a stone, which itself cuts not. In a word, a man were better relate himself to a statua or a picture, than to suffer his thoughts to pass in smother. (VI: 440-41)

The final fruit of friendship--the ability of friends to do things one cannot do oneself--is likewise couched entirely in terms of a profitable economy the self. Friends become one's "deputies," lesser yet ********al extensions of the self. Though by this point in the essay the more specific initial focus on the friends of kings has been dropped, interpersonal relations at all levels continue to be represented hierarchically: the self is sovereign and as such embodies its own state and its own bounded economy striving for self-sufficiency (see Faulkner 116-26).


This economy represents the mature stage of the self first developed in the essays on domestic relations and education. Those introductory essays represent the self as an entity possessed of limited resources which must be profitably employed within a limited span of time and opportunity. The essays on domestic life are concerned with harnessing those energies so as to maximize their productivity; metaphors of agriculture and husbandry help these essays to argue that domesticity exploits these energies inefficiently and even dangerously. The essays on education offer ways to develop the self and its energies as quickly and efficiently as possible. Finally, in at least two essays addressing the apparently matured self, the economic model of the self culminates in the view of the self as a jealous sovereign anxious about maintaining and securing its power and dominion in the public sphere.

A consistent corollary of this model is that the self's security is a ******** of public perception. Thus Bacon's Essays return consistently to the importance of fashioning a specifically public self which is constituted in the responses of others. These responses are the final, delicate fruit of the self-cultivation the Essays recommend to the public man. Compared to the fruits which are the goals and justification posited for Bacon's scientific methods, reputation might seem an ephemeral good and one even opposed to truth (however conceived[10]). Within the tangible spatial and temporal compass of an individual life, however, reputation produces concrete benefits. The scientist, on the other hand, working his way carefully and warily towards truths, must acknowledge, as Bacon did of his own unfinished scientific project, that the work may not bear fruits in his lifetime.

The individual self is the object of the Essays. Though their model of induction may inform the style of the Essays, the scientific writings differ in both object and, consequently, purpose. The scientific works set forth a program which encourages patience in the interests of a cautious expansion of knowledge in the public interest. The Essays, however, reveal--and in fact arise from--an anxiety over the concerns of personal and professional security to which the individual, political flesh is heir. The Essays therefore value efficiency over methodological rigor, conservation over progress, personal over public good, the self over truth. The Essays demonstrate a recognition of the limits of the scientific program as a guide of practical conduct, for the methods of Baconian science do not apply within the micro-economics of the bounded self.

  1. All citations are from The Works of Francis Bacon. Ed. James A. Spedding (London, 1878). Other editions consulted include: The Advancement of Learning and New Atlantis. Ed. Arthur Johnston (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974); The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall. Ed. Michael Kiernan (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985); The New Organon and Related Writings. Ed. Fulton H. Anderson (New York: Liberal Arts, 1960).
  2. Morris Croll and Stanley Fish arrive at similar conclusions in their studies of the style and rhetorical strategies of the Essays. Such prominent Baconists as Brian Vickers and Lisa Jardine, however, have argued that the F. Essays are "magistral" rather than "probative" in form and effect.
  3. In addition to Faulkner's, recent studies by Charles Whitney and Julian Martin have argued that common assumptions underly or inform both Essays and the scientific writings. In Francis Bacon and Modernity (New Haven: Yale UP, 1986), Whitney finds in the Essays 'ambiguities a reflection of the dilemmas of modernity wrestled with in the scientific writings (180-89). Though dealing with the Essays only in passing, Julian Martin's Francis Bacon, the State, and the Reform of Natural Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992) argues that the scientific writings are informed by the assumptions and conventions which governed Tudor political and legal practice--the very, sphere of behavior with which the Essays is primarily concerned.
  4. The following account of the anxiety evident in the Essays is not intended as a refutation of Faulkner's emphasis on the Bacon's assumption of a primal desire for "enduring" and "long-lasting," of "the self's revulsion from the death that nature finally visits on us" (92). Rather, the present essay hopes to offer a more precise de******ion and analysis of the anxious jealousy which underlies and propels especially the essays on the formation of the self.
  5. On the efficiency of induction, see, for instance, Aphorism LXXXII:

[S]imple experience . . . , if taken as it comes, is called accident; if sought for, experiment. But this kind of experience is not better than a broom without its band, as the saying is--a mere groping, as of men in the dark, that feel all round them for the chance of finding their way, when they had much better wait for daylight, or light a candle, and then go. But the true method of experience, on the contrary, first lights the candle, and then by means of the candle shows the way; commencing as it does with experience duly ordered and digested, not bungling or erratic, and from it educing axioms, and from established axioms again new experiments; even as it was not without order and method that the divine word operated on the created mass. Let men therefore cease to wonder that the course of science is not yet wholly run, seeing that they have gone altogether astray, either leaving and abandoning experience entirely, or losing their way in it and wandering round and round as in a labyrinth. Whereas a method rightly ordered leads by an unbroken route through the woods of experience to the open ground of axioms.

Passages on the danger of hasty generalization are too frequent to need citation, but the reader may be referred in Aphorisms XXXVIII-LXVIII, where the Idols are introduced and discussed.

  • 6 Such figures are discussed by Vickers at some length but with few references to the Essays (Vickers 193-98). Joan Wylie Hall has discussed use of such metaphors in the Essays, noting their antecedents in medical aphorisms (see "Bacon's Triple Curative: The 1597 Essayes, Meditations, and Pierces, "Papers on Language and Literature 21 [1985]: 345-58) and, more interestingly, Bacon's use of such a figure in the "Epistle Dedicatorie" of the 1597 edition to explain why he has decided to publish his essays: "I do now like some that have an orchard ill neighbored, that gather their fruit before it is ripe, to prevent stealing" (VI: 523); see "'Loving Brothers' and 'Excellent Lords': The 'Epistles Didicatorie' to Bacon's Essays, "CLA Journal 32 (1988):81-90.
  • 7 In Book II of The Advancement of Learning, Bacon makes a similar defense of public works, in the process of outlining a "Georgics of the mind, concerning the husbandry and tillage thereof" (III: 419):

There is formed in every thing a double nature of good: the one, as every thing is a total or substantive in itself; the other, as it is a part or member of a greater body; whereof the later is in degree the greater and the worthier, because it tendeth to the conservation of a more general form. (III: 420)

The opposition here, however, is between public and personal good rather than between public and domestic exertions. For a discussion of Bacon's thoughts on the value of "communicative good" and its analogies in his writings on other subjects, particularly mechanics, see Johann Mouton, "'The Summary Law of Nature': Revisiting Bacon's Views on the Unity of Sciences" in Francis Bacon's Legacy of Texts. Ed. William A. Sessions (New York: AMS, 1990), 139-50.

  • 8 This rearrangement suggests, perhaps, an increasing sense on Bacon's part that decisions about the relationship between one's personal life and public career ought property to be made before taking the preparatory steps of such a career. It may be that the importance of such issues occurred to Bacon, who himself married late in life and had no children, only as an afterthought.
  • 9 The assumption that there exists a unique and proper goal towards which the self might develop also seems antithetical to the scientific method's abhorrence of predetermined ends. The question of whether Bacon, in either his scientific writings or the Essays, believes that an objective Truth should the proper goal of such investigations--or even exists--has been the subject of continued scholarly debate. For a recent discussion of the question, see Faulkner 267-78.
  • 10 On "truth," see Vickers 217-24; Keirnan xxxv-vi

Bacon, Francis. The Works of Francis Bacon. Ed. James Spedding. 14 vols. London, 1864-74.

-----. The New Organon and Related Writings. Ed. Fulton H. Anderson. New York: Liberal Arts, 1960.

----- The Advancement of Learning and New Atlantis. Ed. Arthur Johnston. Oxford: Clarendon, 1974

----- The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall. Ed. Michael Kiernan. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985.

Croll, Morris W. "Attic Prose: Lipsius, Montaigne, Bacon." Style, Rhetoric, and Rhythm. Ed.J. Max Patrick. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1966. 167-202.

Faulkner, Robert K. Francis Bacon and the Project of Proffress. Lanham, MD: Rowman, 1993.

Fish, Stanley. "Georgics of the Mind: The Experience of Bacon's Essays." Self-Consuming Artifacts. Berkeley: U of California P, 1972.78-155.

Hall, Joan Wylie. "Bacon's Triple Curative: The 1597 Essayes, Meditations, and Places. "Papers on Language and Literature 21 (1985): 345-58.

-----. "'Loving Brothers' and 'Excellent Lords': The 'Epistles Dedicatorie' to Bacon's Essays. "CLA Journal 32 (1988): 81-90.

Jardine, Lisa. Francis Bacon: Discovery and the Art of Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1974.

Martin, Julian. Francis Bacon, the State, and the Reform of Natural Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.

Mouton, Johann. "'The Summary Law of Nature': Revisiting Bacon's Views on the Unity of Sciences:" Francis Bacon's Legacy of Texts. Ed. William Sessions. New York: AMS, 1990. 139-50.

Urbach, Peter. Francis Bacon's Philosophy of Science: An Account and a Reappraisal. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1987.

Vickers, Brian. Francis Bacon and Renaissance Prose. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1968.

Whitney, Charles. Francis Bacon and Modernity. New Haven: Yale UP, 1986.

Zeitlin, Jacob. "The Development of Bacon's Essays and Montaigne." JEGP 27 (1928): 503.



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