Francis Bacon. (15611626). Essays, Civil and Moral.
The Harvard Classics. 190914.
WE take cunning for a sinister or crooked wisdom. And certainly there is a great difference between a cunning man and a wise man; not only in point of honesty, but in point of ability. There be that can pack the cards, and yet cannot play well; so there are some that are good in canvasses and factions, that are otherwise weak men. Again, it is one thing to understand persons, and another thing to understand matters; for many are perfect in mens humors, that are not greatly capable of the real part of business; which is the constitution of one that hath studied men more than books. Such men are fitter for practice than for counsel; and they are good but in their own alley:1 turn them to new men, and they have lost their aim; so as the old rule to know a fool from a wise man, Mitte ambos nudos ad ignotos, et videbis [Send them both naked to those they know not, and you will see], doth scarce hold for them. And because these cunning men are like haberdashers of small wares, it is not amiss to set forth their shop.
It is a point of cunning, to wait upon him with whom you speak, with your eye; as the Jesuits give it in precept: for there be many wise men that have secret hearts and transparent countenances. Yet this would be done with a demure abasing of your eye sometimes, as the Jesuits also do use.
Another is, that when you have anything to obtain of present despatch, you entertain and amuse the party with whom you deal with some other discourse; that he be not too much awake to make objections. I knew a counsellor and secretary, that never came to Queen Elizabeth of England with bills to sign, but he would always first put her into some discourse of estate, that she mought2 the less mind the bills.
And because it works better when anything seemeth to be gotten from you by question, than if you offer it of yourself, you may lay a bait for a question, by showing another visage and countenance than you are wont; to the end to give occasion for the party to ask what the matter is of the change? As Nehemias did; And I had not before that time been sad before the king.
In things that are tender and unpleasing, it is good to break the ice by some whose words are of less weight, and to reserve the more weighty voice to come in as by chance, so that he may be asked the question upon the others speech: as Narcissus did, relating to Claudius the marriage of Messalina and Silius.
Some procure themselves to be surprised at such times as it is like the party that they work upon will suddenly come upon them; and to be found with a letter in their hand, or doing somewhat which they are not accustomed; to the end they may be apposed3 of those things which of themselves they are desirous to utter.
It is a point of cunning, to let fall those words in a mans own name, which he would have another man learn and use, and thereupon take advantage. I knew two that were competitors for the secretarys place in Queen Elizabeths time, and yet kept good quarter4 between themselves; and would confer one with another upon the business; and the one of them said, That to be a secretary in the declination of a monarchy was a ticklish thing, and that he did not affect5 it: the other straight caught up those words and discoursed with divers of his friends, that he had no reason to desire to be secretary in the declination of a monarchy, The first man took hold of it, and found means it was told the Queen; who hearing of a declination of a monarchy, took it so ill as she would never after hear of the others suit.
There is a cunning, which we in England call the turning of the cat6 in the pan; which is, when that which a man says to another, he lays it as if another had said it to him. And to say truth, it is not easy, when such a matter passed between two, to make it appear from which of them it first moved and began.
It is a way that some men have, to glance and dart at others by justifying themselves by negatives; as to say, This I do not; as Tigellinus did towards Burrhus, Se non diversas spes, sed incolumitatem imperatoris simpliciter spectare [That he had not several hopes to rest on, but looked simply to the safety of the Emperor.
Some have in readiness so many tales and stories, as there is nothing they would insinuate, but they can wrap it into a tale; which serveth both to keep themselves more in guard, and to make others carry it with more pleasure.
It is strange how long some men will lie in wait to speak somewhat they desire to say; and how far about they will fetch; and how many other matters they will beat over, to come near it. It is a thing of great patience, but yet of much use.
A sudden, bold, and unexpected question doth many times surprise a man, and lay him open. Like to him that, having changed his name and walking in Pauls,7 another suddenly came behind him and called him by his true name, whereat straightways he looked back.
But certainly some there are that know the resorts and falls8 of business, that cannot sink into the main of it; like a house that hath convenient stairs and entries, but never a fair room. Therefore you shall see them find out pretty looses in the conclusion, but are no ways able to examine or debate matters. And yet commonly they take advantage of their inability, and would be thought wits of direction. Some build rather upon the abusing of others, and (as we now say) putting tricks upon them, than upon soundness of their own proceedings. But Solomon saith, Prudens advertit ad gressus suos; stultus divertit ad dolos [The wise taketh heed to his steps; the fool turneth aside to deceits.