“OF DEATH” is the fruit of Bacon's ripe wisdom and vast experience of the world. In this essay, Bacon illustrates and reinforces his ideas and arguments with appropriate similes, metaphors and quotations and this thing naturally adds to the popular appeal of “OF DEATH". While reading “OF DEATH”, the reader comes upon many aphoristic sentences, which startle and arrest him with neatness and pregnancy. Indeed, in this essay, there are many gems of thought clothed in language that is effective because of its compactness and terseness.
Bacon, as an undeceivable analyst of human nature, startles the reader with the very beginning of the essay "OF DEATH", as:
"Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark."
Bacon seems to suggest that it is childish to fear death. In our youth, we remain oblivious of death but as we grow older and older, thoughts of death come to us often and on such occasions; we experience a feeling of dread. Bacon tries to give us the courage to face death by pointing out that the terrors of death are not as great as they are thought to be. In fact, says Bacon, the circumstances and ceremonies of death frighten people more than death itself would do, as Bacon observes:
"Groans and convulsions, and a discoloured face, and friends’ weeping, and blacks, and obsequies, and the like, show death errible"
However, Bacon is not ignorant of such people and such passions as are not likely to be terrified by death. Death, says Bacon, cannot overcome certain persons who are under the influence of a strong passion such as revenge, love, and grief, as Bacon says:
"Revenge triumphs over death; love slights it; honour aspireth to it; grief flieth to it; fear occupieth it."
Bacon names several ancient Roman emperors such as Caesar and Vespasion who faced death bravely.
Revealing astonishing aspects of death, Bacon in his essay “OF DEATH" says that death has a bright side too. Death paves the way for a man to become famous, because after a man's death, people would remember and praise his good deeds as he points out:
"...when a man hath obtained worthy ends and expectations...it (death) openeth the gate to good fame, and extinguished envy."
It is a sane observation of Bacon when a man is dead, his enemies no longer feel jealous of him. We must admit that, after going through this essay, we feel less afraid of death than we were previously. Showing his Latinism, Bacon quotes Juvenal, a Roman poet aptly regarding his essay
"It is as natural to die as to be born... perhaps; the one is as painful as the other."
Simultaneously, we have to agree to the sanity of the vision of Juvenal and Bacon's dexterity to quote him rightly. With respect to the topic of the essay, Bacon does not pretend to express his original and unique ideas; rather, he never minds to quote the astonishing aspect of the topic on which he is writing propounded by the others as Bacon quotes Seneca:
"A man would die, though he were neither valiant nor miserable, only upon a weariness to do the same thing so oft over and over."
Seneca appears right that one may be as bored of one's life, as one would commit suicide. However, it happens rarely.
Not only we come across the rich thoughts while reading Bacon's essay OF DEATH, but also we find unique literary qualities in the same. Bacon makes his meaning more clearly by using an apt simile as he says that a man who dies in an earnest cause is like the one who is wounded in hot blood. Just as a man wounded in hot blood does not, for the time being, feel any pain, so a man, who is dying with his mind fixed upon some worthy pursuit, escapes the pains of death. Similarly, the first sentence of "OF DEATH" is a masterpiece of comparison. Many sentences in the essay are short, crispy and witty and have aphoristic quality. The use of Latinism to prove and consolidate his arguments, is the indicative of Bacon's classical learning. This essay is unique in the respect that there is not utilitarianism of Bacon for which he is criticized.
To conclude, we can say that “OF DEATH” is a must read regarding the richness of content and manner. “OF DEATH” is of endless interest and profit. The more one reads this essay, the more remarkable seems its compactness and nervous vitality. It shocks sluggish attention into wakefulness as if by an electric contact, and though it may sometimes fail to nourish, it can never fail to stimulate. Like all other essays of Bacon, “OF DEATH” is the model of succinct and lucid prose.
Essays of Francis Bacon
The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral, of Francis Ld. Verulam Viscount St. Albans
Public Domain Books
Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
IT HAD been hard for him that spake it to have put more truth and untruth together in few words, than in that speech, Whatsoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god. For it is most true, that a natural and secret hatred, and aversation towards society, in any man, hath somewhat of the savage beast; but it is most untrue, that it should have any character at all, of the divine nature; except it proceed, not out of a pleasure in solitude, but out of a love and desire to sequester a man’s self, for a higher conversation: such as is found to have been falsely and feignedly in some of the heathen; as Epimenides the Candian, Numa the Roman, Empedocles the Sicilian, and Apollonius of Tyana; and truly and really, in divers of the ancient hermits and holy fathers of the church. But little do men perceive what solitude is, and how far it extendeth. For a crowd is not company; and faces are but a gallery of pictures; and talk but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love. The Latin adage meeteth with it a little: Magna civitas, magna solitudo; because in a great town friends are scattered; so that there is not that fellowship, for the most part, which is in less neighborhoods. But we may go further, and affirm most truly, that it is a mere and miserable solitude to want true friends; without which the world is but a wilderness; and even in this sense also of solitude, whosoever in the frame of his nature and affections, is unfit for friendship, he taketh it of the beast, and not from humanity.
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, flowers 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.
It is a strange thing to observe, how high a rate great kings and monarchs do set upon this fruit of friendship, whereof we speak: so great, as they purchase it, many times, at the hazard of their own safety and greatness. For princes, in regard of the distance of their fortune from that of their subjects and servants, cannot gather this fruit, except (to make themselves capable thereof) they raise some persons to be, as it were, companions and almost equals to themselves, which many times sorteth to inconvenience. The modern languages give unto such persons the name of favorites, or privadoes; as if it were matter of grace, or conversation. But the Roman name attaineth the true use and cause thereof, naming them participes curarum; for it is that which tieth the knot. And we see plainly that this hath been done, not by weak and passionate princes only, but by the wisest and most politic that ever reigned; who have oftentimes joined to themselves some of their servants; whom both themselves have called friends, and allowed other likewise to call them in the same manner; using the word which is received between private men.
L. Sylla, when he commanded Rome, raised Pompey (after surnamed the Great) to that height, that Pompey vaunted himself for Sylla’s overmatch. For when he had carried the consulship for a friend of his, against the pursuit of Sylla, and that Sylla did a little resent thereat, and began to speak great, Pompey turned upon him again, and in effect bade him be quiet; for that more men adored the sun rising, than the sun setting. With Julius Caesar, Decimus Brutus had obtained that interest as he set him down in his testament, for heir in remainder, after his nephew. And this was the man that had power with him, to draw him forth to his death. For when Caesar would have discharged the senate, in regard of some ill presages, and specially a dream of Calpurnia; this man lifted him gently by the arm out of his chair, telling him he hoped he would not dismiss the senate, till his wife had dreamt a better dream. And it seemeth his favor was so great, as Antonius, in a letter which is recited verbatim in one of Cicero’s Philippics, calleth him venefica, witch; as if he had enchanted Caesar. Augustus raised Agrippa (though of mean birth) to that height, as when he consulted with Maecenas, about the marriage of his daughter Julia, Maecenas took the liberty to tell him, that he must either marry his daughter to Agrippa, or take away his life; there was no third way, he had made him so great. With Tiberius Caesar, Sejanus had ascended to that height, as they two were termed, and reckoned, as a pair of friends. Tiberius in a letter to him saith, Haec pro amicitia nostra non occultavi; and the whole senate dedicated an altar to Friendship, as to a goddess, in respect of the great dearness of friendship, between them two. The like, or more, was between Septimius Severus and Plautianus. For he forced his eldest son to marry the daughter of Plautianus; and would often maintain Plautianus, in doing affronts to his son; and did write also in a letter to the senate, by these words: I love the man so well, as I wish he may over-live me. Now if these princes had been as a Trajan, or a Marcus Aurelius, a man might have thought that this had proceeded of an abundant goodness of nature; but being men so wise, of such strength and severity of mind, and so extreme lovers of themselves, as all these were, it proveth most plainly that they found their own felicity (though as great as ever happened to mortal men) but as an half piece, except they mought have a friend, to make it entire; and yet, which is more, they were princes that had wives, sons, nephews; and yet all these could not supply the comfort of friendship.
It is not to be forgotten, what Comineus observeth of his first master, Duke Charles the Hardy, namely, that he would communicate his secrets with none; and least of all, those secrets which troubled him most. Whereupon he goeth on, and saith that towards his latter time, that closeness did impair, and a little perish his understanding. Surely Comineus mought have made the same judgment also, if it had pleased him, of his second master, Lewis the Eleventh, whose closeness was indeed his tormentor. The parable of Pythagoras is dark, but true; Cor ne edito; Eat not the heart. Certainly, if a man would give it a hard phrase, those that want friends, to open themselves unto, are carnnibals of their own hearts. But one thing is most admirable (wherewith I will conclude this first fruit of friendship), which is, that this communicating of a man’s self to his friend, works two contrary effects; for it redoubleth joys, and cutteth griefs in halves. For there is no man, that imparteth his joys to his friend, but he joyeth the more; and no man that imparteth his griefs to his friend, but he grieveth the less. So that it is in truth, of operation upon a man’s mind, of like virtue as the alchemists use to attribute to their stone, for man’s body; that it worketh all contrary effects, but still to the good and benefit of nature. But yet without praying in aid of alchemists, there is a manifest image of this, in the ordinary course of nature. For in bodies, union strengtheneth and cherisheth any natural action; and on the other side, weakeneth and dulleth any violent impression: and even so it is of minds.
The second fruit of friendship, is healthful and sovereign for the understanding, as the first is for the affections. For friendship maketh indeed a fair day in the affections, from storm and tempests; but it maketh daylight in the understanding, out of darkness, and confusion of thoughts. Neither is this to be understood only of faithful counsel, which a man receiveth from his friend; but before you come to that, certain it is, that whosoever hath his mind fraught with many thoughts, his wits and understanding do clarify and break 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. It was well said by Themistocles, to the king of Persia, That speech was like cloth of Arras, opened and put abroad; whereby the imagery doth appear in figure; whereas in thoughts they lie but as in packs. 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 picture, than to suffer his thoughts to pass in smother.
Add now, to make this second fruit of friendship complete, that other point, which lieth more open, and falleth within vulgar observation; which is faithful counsel from a friend. Heraclitus saith well in one of his enigmas, Dry light is ever the best. And certain it is, that the light that a man receiveth by counsel from another, is drier and purer, than that which cometh from his own understanding and judgment; which is ever infused, and drenched, in his affections and customs. So as there is as much difference between the counsel, that a friend giveth, and that a man giveth himself, as there is between the counsel of a friend, and of a flatterer. For there is no such flatterer as is a man’s self; and there is no such remedy against flattery of a man’s self, as the liberty of a friend. Counsel is of two sorts: the one concerning manners, the other concerning business. For the first, the best preservative to keep the mind in health, is the faithful admonition of a friend. The calling of a man’s self to a strict account, is a medicine, sometime too piercing and corrosive. Reading good books of morality, is a little flat and dead. Observing our faults in others, is sometimes improper for our case. But the best receipt (best, I say, to work, and best to take) is the admonition of a friend. It is a strange thing to behold, what gross errors and extreme absurdities many (especially of the greater sort) do commit, for want of a friend to tell them of them; to the great damage both of their fame and fortune: for, as St. James saith, they are as men that look sometimes into a glass, and presently forget their own shape and favor. As for business, a man may think, if he win, that two eyes see no more than one; or that a gamester seeth always more than a looker-on; or that a man in anger, is as wise as he that hath said over the four and twenty letters; or that a musket may be shot off as well upon the arm, as upon a rest; and such other fond and high imaginations, to think himself all in all. But when all is done, the help of good counsel, is that which setteth business straight. And if any man think that he will take counsel, but it shall be by pieces; asking counsel in one business, of one man, and in another business, of another man; it is well (that is to say, better, perhaps, than if he asked none at all); but he runneth two dangers: one, that he shall not be faithfully counselled; for it is a rare thing, except it be from a perfect and entire friend, to have counsel given, but such as shall be bowed and crooked to some ends, which he hath, that giveth it. The other, that he shall have counsel given, hurtful and unsafe (though with good meaning), and mixed partly of mischief and partly of remedy; even as if you would call a physician, that is thought good for the cure of the disease you complain of, but is unacquainted with your body; and therefore may put you in way for a present cure, but overthroweth your health in some other kind; and so cure the disease, and kill the patient. But a friend that is wholly acquainted with a man’s estate, will beware, by furthering any present business, how he dasheth upon other inconvenience. And therefore rest not upon scattered counsels; they will rather distract and mislead, than settle and direct.
After these two noble fruits of friendship (peace in the affections, and support of the judgment), followeth the last fruit; which is like the pomegranate, full of many kernels; I mean aid, and bearing a part, in all actions and occasions. Here the best way to represent to life the manifold use of friendship, is to cast and see how many things there are, which a man cannot do himself; and then it will appear, that it was a sparing speech of the ancients, to say, that a friend is another himself; for that a friend is far more than himself. Men have their time, and die many times, in desire of some things which they principally take to heart; the bestowing of a child, the finishing of a work, or the like. If a man have a true friend, he may rest almost secure that the care of those things will continue after him. So that a man hath, as it were, two lives in his desires. A man hath a body, and that body is confined to a place; but where friendship is, all offices of life are as it were granted to him, and his deputy. For he may exercise them by his friend. How many things are there which a man cannot, with any face or comeliness, say or do himself? A man can scarce allege his own merits with modesty, much less extol them; a man cannot sometimes brook to supplicate or beg; and a number of the like. But all these things are graceful, in a friend’s mouth, which are blushing in a man’s own. So again, a man’s person hath many proper relations, which he cannot put off. A man cannot speak to his son but as a father; to his wife but as a husband; to his enemy but upon terms: whereas a friend may speak as the case requires, and not as it sorteth with the person. But to enumerate these things were endless; I have given the rule, where a man cannot fitly play his own part; if he have not a friend, he may quit the stage.
Preface • Of Truth • Of Death • Of Unity • Of Revenge • Of Adversity • Of Simulation and Dissimulation • Of Parents • Of Marriage • Of Envy • Of Love • Of Great Place • Of Boldness • Of Goodness & Goodness of Nature • Of Nobility • Of Seditions • Of Atheism • Of Superstition • Of Travel • Of Empire • Of Counsel • Of Delays • Of Cunning • Of Wisdom Fo a Man’s Self • Of Innovations • Of Dispatch • Of Friendship • Of Expense • Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Estates • Of Regiment • Of Health • Of Suspicion • Of Discourse • Of Plantations • Of Riches • Of Prophecies • Of Ambition • Of Masques • Of Nature • Of Custom • Of Fortune • Of Usury • Of Beauty • Of Deformity • Of Building • Of Gardens • Of Negotiating • Of Followers and Friends • Of Suitors • Of Studies • Of Faction • Of Ceremonies and Respects • Of Praise • Of Vain-glory • Of Honor and Reputation • Of Judicature • Of Anger • Of Vicissitude of Things • Of Fame •