Philosophy Index

Francis Bacon

The Advancement of Learning

First Book

III. (1) Now therefore we come to that third sort of discredit or diminution of credit that groweth unto learning from learned men themselves, which commonly cleaveth fastest: it is either from their fortune, or from their manners, or from the nature of their studies.  For the first, it is not in their power; and the second is accidental; the third only is proper to be handled: but because we are not in hand with true measure, but with popular estimation and conceit, it is not amiss to speak somewhat of the two former.  The derogations therefore which grow to learning from the fortune or condition of learned men, are either in respect of scarcity of means, or in respect of privateness of life and meanness of employments.

(2) Concerning want, and that it is the case of learned men usually to begin with little, and not to grow rich so fast as other men, by reason they convert not their labours chiefly to lucre and increase, it were good to leave the commonplace in commendation of povery to some friar to handle, to whom much was attributed by Machiavel in this point when he said, “That the kingdom of the clergy had been long before at an end, if the reputation and reverence towards the poverty of friars had not borne out the scandal of the superfluities and excesses of bishops and prelates.”  So a man might say that the felicity and delicacy of princes and great persons had long since turned to rudeness and barbarism, if the poverty of learning had not kept up civility and honour of life; but without any such advantages, it is worthy the observation what a reverent and honoured thing poverty of fortune was for some ages in the Roman state, which nevertheless was a state without paradoxes.  For we see what Titus Livius saith in his introduction: Cæterum aut me amor negotii suscepti fallit aut nulla unquam respublica nec major, nec sanctior, nec bonis exemplis ditior fuit; nec in quam tam sero avaritia luxuriaque immigraverint; nec ubi tantus ac tam diu paupertati ac parsimoniæ honos fuerit.  We see likewise, after that the state of Rome was not itself, but did degenerate, how that person that took upon him to be counsellor to Julius Cæsar after his victory where to begin his restoration of the state, maketh it of all points the most summary to take away the estimation of wealth:

Verum hæc et omnia mala pariter cum honore pecuniæ desinent; si neque magistratus, neque alia vulgo cupienda, venalia erunt.  To conclude this point: as it was truly said that Paupertas est virtutis fortuna, though sometimes it come from vice, so it may be fitly said that, though some times it may proceed from misgovernment and accident.  Surely Solomon hath pronounced it both in censure,

Qui festinat ad divitias non erit insons; and in precept, “Buy the truth, and sell it not; and so of wisdom and knowledge;” judging that means were to be spent upon learning, and not learning to be applied to means.  And as for the privateness or obscureness (as it may be in vulgar estimation accounted) of life of contemplative men, it is a theme so common to extol a private life, not taxed with sensuality and sloth, in comparison and to the disadvantage of a civil life, for safety, liberty, pleasure, and dignity, or at least freedom from indignity, as no man handleth it but handleth it well; such a consonancy it hath to men’s conceits in the expressing, and to men’s consents in the allowing.  This only I will add, that learned men forgotten in states and not living in the eyes of men, are like the images of Cassius and Brutus in the funeral of Junia, of which, not being represented as many others were, Tacitus saith, Eo ipso præfulgebant quod non visebantur.

(3) And for meanness of employment, that which is most traduced to contempt is that the government of youth is commonly allotted to them; which age, because it is the age of least authority, it is transferred to the disesteeming of those employments wherein youth is conversant, and which are conversant about youth.  But how unjust this traducement is (if you will reduce things from popularity of opinion to measure of reason) may appear in that we see men are more curious what they put into a new vessel than into a vessel seasoned; and what mould they lay about a young plant than about a plant corroborate; so as this weakest terms and times of all things use to have the best applications and helps.  And will you hearken to the Hebrew rabbins?  “Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:”

say they, youth is the worthier age, for that visions are nearer apparitions of God than dreams?  And let it be noted that howsoever the condition of life of pedantes hath been scorned upon theatres, as the ape of tyranny; and that the modern looseness or negligence hath taken no due regard to the choice of schoolmasters and tutors; yet the ancient wisdom of the best times did always make a just complaint, that states were too busy with their laws and too negligent in point of education: which excellent part of ancient discipline hath been in some sort revived of late times by the colleges of the Jesuits; of whom, although in regard of their superstition I may say, Quo meliores, eo deteriores; yet in regard of this, and some other points concerning human learning and moral matters, I may say, as Agesilaus said to his enemy Pharnabazus, Talis quum sis, utunam noster esses.  And that much touching the discredits drawn from the fortunes of learned men.

(4) As touching the manners of learned men, it is a thing personal and individual: and no doubt there be amongst them, as in other professions, of all temperatures: but yet so as it is not without truth which is said, that Abeunt studua in mores, studies have an influence and operation upon the manners of those that are conversant in them.

(5) But upon an attentive and indifferent review, I for my part cannot find any disgrace to learning can proceed from the manners of learned men; not inherent to them as they are learned; except it be a fault (which was the supposed fault of Demosthenes, Cicero, Cato II., Seneca, and many more) that because the times they read of are commonly better than the times they live in, and the duties taught better than the duties practised, they contend sometimes too far to bring things to perfection, and to reduce the corruption of manners to honesty of precepts or examples of too great height.  And yet hereof they have caveats enough in their own walks.  For Solon, when he was asked whether he had given his citizens the best laws, answered wisely, “Yea, of such as they would receive:” and Plato, finding that his own heart could not agree with the corrupt manners of his country, refused to bear place or office, saying, “That a man’s country was to be used as his parents were, that is, with humble persuasions, and not with contestations.”  And Cæsar’s counsellor put in the same caveat, Non ad vetera instituta revocans quæ jampridem corruptis moribus ludibrio sunt; and Cicero noteth this error directly in Cato II. when he writes to his friend Atticus, Cato optime sentit,

sed nocet interdum reipublicæ; loquitur enim tanquam in republicâ Platonis, non tanquam in fæce Romuli.  And the same Cicero doth excuse and expound the philosophers for going too far and being too exact in their prescripts when he saith, Isti ipse præceptores virtutis et magistri videntur fines officiorum paulo longius quam natura vellet protulisse, ut cum ad ultimum animo contendissemus, ibi tamen, ubi oportet, consisteremus: and yet himself might have said, Monitis sum minor ipse meis; for it was his own fault, though not in so extreme a degree.

(6) Another fault likewise much of this kind hath been incident to learned men, which is, that they have esteemed the preservation, good, and honour of their countries or masters before their own fortunes or safeties.  For so saith Demosthenes unto the Athenians: “If it please you to note it, my counsels unto you are not such whereby I should grow great amongst you, and you become little amongst the Grecians; but they be of that nature as they are sometimes not good for me to give, but are always good for you to follow.”  And so Seneca, after he had consecrated that Quinquennium Neronis to the eternal glory of learned governors, held on his honest and loyal course of good and free counsel after his master grew extremely corrupt in his government.  Neither can this point otherwise be, for learning endueth men’s minds with a true sense of the frailty of their persons, the casualty of their fortunes, and the dignity of their soul and vocation, so that it is impossible for them to esteem that any greatness of their own fortune can be a true or worthy end of their being and ordainment, and therefore are desirous to give their account to God, and so likewise to their masters under God (as kings and the states that they serve) in those words, Ecce tibi lucrefeci, and not Ecce mihi lucrefeci; whereas the corrupter sort of mere politiques, that have not their thoughts established by learning in the love and apprehension of duty, nor never look abroad into universality, do refer all things to themselves, and thrust themselves into the centre of the world, as if all lines should meet in them and their fortunes, never caring in all tempests what becomes of the ship of state, so they may save themselves in the cockboat of their own fortune; whereas men that feel the weight of duty and know the limits of self-love use to make good their places and duties, though with peril; and if they stand in seditious and violent alterations, it is rather the reverence which many times both adverse parts do give to honesty, than any versatile advantage of their own carriage. 

But for this point of tender sense and fast obligation of duty which learning doth endue the mind withal, howsoever fortune may tax it, and many in the depth of their corrupt principles may despise it, yet it will receive an open allowance, and therefore needs the less disproof or excuse.

(7) Another fault incident commonly to learned men, which may be more properly defended than truly denied, is that they fail sometimes in applying themselves to particular persons, which want of exact application ariseth from two causes—the one, because the largeness of their mind can hardly confine itself to dwell in the exquisite observation or examination of the nature and customs of one person, for it is a speech for a lover, and not for a wise man, Satis magnum alter alteri theatrum sumus.  Nevertheless I shall yield that he that cannot contract the sight of his mind as well as disperse and dilate it, wanteth a great faculty.  But there is a second cause, which is no inability, but a rejection upon choice and judgment.  For the honest and just bounds of observation by one person upon another extend no further but to understand him sufficiently, whereby not to give him offence, or whereby to be able to give him faithful counsel, or whereby to stand upon reasonable guard and caution in respect of a man’s self.  But to be speculative into another man to the end to know how to work him, or wind him, or govern him, proceedeth from a heart that is double and cloven, and not entire and ingenuous; which as in friendship it is want of integrity, so towards princes or superiors is want of duty.  For the custom of the Levant, which is that subjects do forbear to gaze or fix their eyes upon princes, is in the outward ceremony barbarous, but the moral is good; for men ought not, by cunning and bent observations, to pierce and penetrate into the hearts of kings, which the Scripture hath declared to be inscrutable.

(8) There is yet another fault (with which I will conclude this part) which is often noted in learned men, that they do many times fail to observe decency and discretion in their behaviour and carriage, and commit errors in small and ordinary points of action, so as the vulgar sort of capacities do make a judgment of them in greater matters by that which they find wanting in them in smaller.  But this consequence doth oft deceive men, for which I do refer them over to that which was said by Themistocles, arrogantly and uncivilly being applied to himself out of his own mouth, but, being applied to the general state of this question, pertinently and justly, when, being invited to touch a lute, he said, “He could not fiddle, but he could make a small town a great state.”  So no doubt many may be well seen in the passages of government and policy which are to seek in little and punctual occasions.  I refer them also to that which Plato said of his master Socrates, whom he compared to the gallipots of apothecaries, which on the outside had apes and owls and antiques, but contained within sovereign and precious liquors and confections; acknowledging that, to an external report, he was not without superficial levities and deformities, but was inwardly replenished with excellent virtues and powers.  And so much touching the point of manners of learned men.

(9) But in the meantime I have no purpose to give allowance to some conditions and courses base and unworthy, wherein divers professors of learning have wronged themselves and gone too far; such as were those trencher philosophers which in the later age of the Roman state were usually in the houses of great persons, being little better than solemn parasites, of which kind, Lucian maketh a merry description of the philosopher that the great lady took to ride with her in her coach, and would needs have him carry her little dog, which he doing officiously and yet uncomely, the page scoffed and said, “That he doubted the philosopher of a Stoic would turn to be a Cynic.”  But, above all the rest, this gross and palpable flattery whereunto many not unlearned have abased and abused their wits and pens, turning (as Du Bartas saith) Hecuba into Helena, and Faustina into Lucretia, hath most diminished the price and estimation of learning.  Neither is the modern dedication of books and writings, as to patrons, to be commended, for that books (such as are worthy the name of books) ought to have no patrons but truth and reason.  And the ancient custom was to dedicate them only to private and equal friends, or to entitle the books with their names; or if to kings and great persons, it was to some such as the argument of the book was fit and proper for; but these and the like courses may deserve rather reprehension than defence.

(10) Not that I can tax or condemn the morigeration or application of learned men to men in fortune.  For the answer was good that Diogenes made to one that asked him in mockery, “How it came to pass that philosophers were the followers of rich men, and not rich men of philosophers?”  He answered soberly, and yet sharply, “Because the one sort knew what they had need of, and the other did not.”  And of the like nature was the answer which Aristippus made, when having a petition to Dionysius, and no ear given to him, he fell down at his feet, whereupon Dionysius stayed and gave him the hearing, and granted it; and afterwards some person, tender on the behalf of philosophy, reproved Aristippus that he would offer the profession of philosophy such an indignity as for a private suit to fall at a tyrant’s feet; but he answered, “It was not his fault, but it was the fault of Dionysius, that had his ears in his feet.”  Neither was it accounted weakness, but discretion, in him that would not dispute his best with Adrianus Cæsar, excusing himself, “That it was reason to yield to him that commanded thirty legions.”  These and the like, applications, and stooping to points of necessity and convenience, cannot be disallowed; for though they may have some outward baseness, yet in a judgment truly made they are to be accounted submissions to the occasion and not to the person.

The Advancement of Learning by Francis Bacon.