Eggs & Bacon

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was one of the great intellectual lights of Elizabethan and Jacobean England and the father of the essay in English. Though his essays are famous for their wisdom and elegance, he is best known for his establishment of the Baconian Method, a way of scientifically deducing the cause of a phenomenon. His Idols of the Mind listed common causes of error in human reasoning.

Bacon was born into an aristocratic family and attended Cambridge University, where he impressed Queen Elizabeth with his wit. After studying in France, he practiced law and then served in Parliament. Subsequently, he served as both Attorney General and Lord Chancellor before resigning in disgrace (merited or not) in 1621. The rest of his life was devoted to study and writing.

Here is one of Bacon’s most famous essays, “Of Studies”:


STUDIES serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability. Their chief use for delight, is in privateness and retiring; for ornament, is in discourse; and 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. To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar. They perfect nature, and are perfected by experience: for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need proyning, by study; and studies themselves, do give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience. Crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them; for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation. Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books, else distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things. Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know, that he doth not. Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtile; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend. Abeunt studia in mores (that is, Any activity practiced with diligence becomes a habit.). Nay, there is no stond or impediment in the wit, but may be wrought out by fit studies; like as diseases of the body, may have appropriate exercises. Bowling is good for the stone and reins; shooting for the lungs and breast; gentle walking for the stomach; riding for the head; and the like. So if a man’s wit be wandering, 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 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, let him study the lawyers’ cases. So every defect of the mind, may have a special receipt.

(1597, enlarged 1625)

Photo:  Dejeuner, Boite Gourmande; WikiCmns; Author: Justin Quintal; License: CC3.0 Unported.


  1. aubrey
    September 9, 2011 at 8:28 am

    “if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know, that he doth not.”

    I am glad that I stopped over, so that I might digest this essay before I go to bed. (although that breakfast photo looks pretty tasty too!)

    • September 13, 2011 at 9:43 pm

      aubrey: Mr. Bacon was apt at memorable quote (& why haven’t I visited your blog recently…an oversight I’ll have to correct *soon*). RT

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