Nonfiction > Harvard Classics > Francis Bacon > Essays, Civil and Moral
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Francis Bacon. (1561–1626).  Essays, Civil and Moral.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
XXIII
 
Of Wisdom for a Man’s Self
 
 
AN ANT is a wise creature for itself, but it is a shrewd 1 thing in an orchard or garden. And certainly men that are great lovers of themselves waste the public. Divide with reason between self-love and society; and be so true to thyself, as thou be not false to others; specially to thy king and country. It is a poor centre of a man’s actions, himself. It is right earth. 2 For that only stands fast upon his own centre; whereas all things that have affinity with the heavens move upon the centre of another, which they benefit. The referring of all to a man’s self is more tolerable in a sovereign prince; because themselves are not only themselves but their good and evil is at the peril of the public fortune. But it is a desperate evil in a servant to a prince, or a citizen in a republic. For whatsoever affairs pass such a man’s hands, he crooketh them to his own ends; which must needs be often eccentric to 3 the ends of his master or state. Therefore let princes, or states, choose such servants as have not this mark; except they mean their service should be made but the accessory. That which maketh the effect more pernicious is that all proportion is lost. It were disproportion enough for the servant’s good to be preferred before the master’s; but yet it is a greater extreme, when a little good of the servant shall carry things against a great good of the master’s. And yet that is the case of bad officers, treasurers, ambassadors, generals, and other false and corrupt servants; which set a bias 4 upon their bowl, of their own petty ends and envies, to the overthrow of their master’s great and important affairs. And for the most part, the good such servants receive is after the model 5 of their own fortune; but the hurt they sell for that good is after the model of their master’s fortune. And certainly it is the nature of extreme self-lovers, as they will set an house on fire, and it were but to roast their eggs; and yet these men many times hold credit with their masters, because their study is but to please them and profit themselves; and for either respect they will abandon the good of their affairs.  1
  Wisdom for a man’s self is, in many branches thereof, a depraved thing. It is the wisdom of rats, that will be sure to leave a house somewhat before it fall. It is the wisdom of the fox, that thrusts out the badger, who digged and made room for him. It is the wisdom of crocodiles, that shed tears when they could devour. But that which is specially to be noted is, that those which (as Cicero says of Pompey) are sui amantes, sine rivali [lovers of themselves without a rival] are many times unfortunate. And whereas they have all their times sacrificed to themselves, they become in the end themselves sacrifices to the inconstancy of fortune, whose wings they sought by their self-wisdom to have pinioned.  2
 
Note 1. Mischievous. [back]
Note 2. Precisely like the earth. Bacon here is thinking of the old astronomy, according to which all the heavenly bodies moved round the earth. [back]
Note 3. Have a different center from. [back]
Note 4. A weight let into one side, to make the bowl describe a curve. [back]
Note 5. Scale. [back]
 

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