Personal Experience in Bacon’s Essays

An English politician and successful writer, among many other things, Sir Francis Bacon has had great influence on the literary genre of the essay, taking inspiration from the pioneer of the style, Michel de Montaigne. However, he did not provide a great deal of authority in his essays. They had numerous quotes and Biblical references, but these were not regular throughout. He had great familiarity with many of the subjects he wrote about, especially those concerning money and power. Montaigne often digressed into anecdotes and stories from his own life experiences, but Bacon stayed very much away from that area entirely. The arguments that Bacon set forth in a number of his essays could have been backed by his own extensive personal experience, and could have been made far more convincing. However, Bacon failed to do so, and his credibility suffered.

An influentiafrancis_bacon_viscount_st_alban_from_npg_2l politician in England, Francis Bacon served as Lord Chancellor and Attorney General in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. He ran up great debt during his career and was charged with 23 counts of corruption in 1621 by his nemesis, Edward Coke. He was forced to leave Parliament, and devoted the rest of his life to study. Luckily, he escaped degradation, the reduction of his title as Viscount. He made great contributions to the scientific method, which is alternatively referred to as the “Baconian”. His disgrace and the ending of his political career must have had an extraordinary impact on his life, and yet they are not referenced in his works.

Bacon explored the theme of personal riches and wealth in several of his essays, none of which used his valuable personal experience as evidence. His essays Of Fortune, Of Riches, and especially Of Expense do not mention Bacon’s own circumstances. He was no stranger to riches, wealth, or great expense, as he had a large income and huge debt.He had a wealth of experience in the matters he wrote about, but he did not provide examples to attest to his authority on the subject.

In the essay on fortune, Bacon described how good fortune can come to men by accident, but more often “the mould of a man’s fortune is in his own hands.” He did not describe the bad fortune he encountered in his disgrace, and he did not describe his good fortune in avoiding degradation and retaining his noble title. These relevant personal experiences would have given Bacon far more credibility and authority as an essay writer.

The essay on riches is largely critical, and it again fails to provide information from personal experience. Bacon calls riches “the baggage of virtue”, impeding the way of virtue much like baggage impedes an army: “it cannot be spared nor left behind, but it hindereth the march”. Bacon was familiar with riches. He knew what they could do to a man who had them, and no doubt he drew from the knowledge he had acquired during his position in the royal court. However,the source of this valuable knowledge was withheld from the reader, again diminishing Bacon’s credibility.

Finally, Bacon’s essay on expense focused on an extremely relevant topic to him, but like the others, it did not invoke the authority of personal experience. Bacon lost his career because of debt, no doubt brought on by too great expense. The essay is largely concerned with giving good advice for what to do with riches. He said that if money is spent in certain areas, then it must be conserved in others: “A man had need, if he be plentiful in some kind of expense, to be saving again in some other… if he be plentiful in the hall, to be saving in the stable… for he that is plentiful in expenses of all kinds will hardly be preserved from decay.” Bacon knew this, as he himself fell into great debt, which cost him his dignity, his career, and nearly his title.

If Francis Bacon had referenced the great authority of his personal experience, he would have better shown his own credibility. He experienced the effects of both good and bad fortune, the result of what great riches do to a man, and what happens when expenses are not kept in check. All of these things and more did Bacon write about, but none of them invoked the powerful authority of personal experience.

The King James Version Vs. Shakespeare

The influence of the King James Bible is greater than that of of Shakespeare, and it is the reason why the King James Bible is easier to read among members of today’s audiences. It is responsible for many of today’s idioms and phrases, and has had a huge audience since its publishing in 1611. The popularity of the King James Bible has caused its language to become familiar to us because it has influenced the English language itself.

The language of the King James Version (or KJV) is extremely eloquent, and has come down to us through the ages, more so even than Shakespeare. According to David Crystal, the King James Version is responsible for around 257 common idioms used in the English language. This number is double that of Shakespeare. In the modern world people do quote or reference the works of Shakespeare, but these people tend to have studied it to a certain degree. However, idioms from the King James version abound in common everyday language. Phrases such as “a broken heart” (Ps. 34:18), “a two edged sword” (Prov. 5:4), “go the extra mile” (Matt. 5:41), “see eye to eye” (Isai. 52:8), and many more are well-known to almost all English-speakers. One has a greater probability of encountering a King James phrase in everyday life than encountering a phrase from Shakespeare. This is all not to say that Shakespeare has not had a great influence on the English language. Shakespeare has had an absolutely tremendous influence, but the influence of the King James Bible has been greater.

The eloquence of the King James Version has been lost on other more recent publications, such as the English Standard Version of 2001, but the KJV still is more recognizable. In the King James, the extremely well-known verse, Matthew 7:6, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.“, is reworded in the English Standard Version as follows: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” Which version seems more familiar? “cast ye your pearls before swine”, or “throw your pearls before pigs”? This is but one of the many examples of the eloquence of the King James Bible which has been lost in later versions. However, the eloquence of the KJV has lasted beyond the modern versions in the simple facet that “pearls before swine” is more recognizable than “pearls before pigs”.

The King James version has had a greater audience than the works of Shakespeare. While Shakespeare has been watched and read by many people for pleasure and for academic study in the English-speaking world, the King James version was read to nearly every single citizen who went to church. Shakespeare was a form of entertainment, while the King James Bible was a necessity. Up until recently, the King James Version was the most widely used Bible in protestant churches. The extensive exposure to this version by the general public has lead to the familiarity that we have with its language.

The reason it is easier to understand the language of the King James Bible over the language of Shakespeare is simply the fact that the King James Bible has had more overall influence. It has given around 257 idioms to the English language, whereas Shakespeare has given roughly half that number. The King James was widely read across protestant circles over the world among common people, while Shakespeare was read for entertainment and study among, at least these days, by the intellectual elite. The King James Version has enjoyed enormous popularity over the centuries, but as its influence wanes in the future, so will the quality of the English language.

The Importance of Covenant Sanctions in Selected Sections of the Bible

In certain sections of the Bible, we find examples of the threat or promise of sanctions, and in some cases the fulfillment of these sanctions. These sanctions can be either positive or negative, bringing benefits or curses. They are incurred in a systematic manner by either the breaking or the keeping of the covenant with God. In Deuteronomy 28, Moses tells of the positive sanctions that will come from obeying this covenant. In the book of Ruth, positive sanctions are provided to a woman who enters into the covenant with God. In Lamentations, there is shown the outcome of negative sanctions incurred from breaking the covenant. These are all examples of the sanctions that can (and in some cases are) incurred by acts contrary to or in accordance with the covenant. Sanctions are very important in these selections form the Bible.

Deuteronomy 28 through 34 are referred to sometimes as the Farewell of Moses. The first chapter of the farewell deals with positive sanctions if the commandments of God are upheld: “Now if thou wilt hear the voice of the Lord thy God, to do and keep all his commandments, which I command thee this day, the Lord thy God will make thee higher than all the nations that are on the earth.” (Deut. 28:1). However, also in this chapter negative sanctions are promised to those who fail: “But if thou wilt not hear the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep and to do all his commandments and ceremonies, which I command thee this day, all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee.” (Deut. 28:15), and then a bunch of curses were listed. This chapter is an example of covenant sanctions, both positive and negative, being proclaimed.

In the Book of Ruth we not only see the promise or threat of sanctions, but the fulfillment of these sanctions. Ruth was a woman from Moab who married a man from Juda who was escaping a famine. The man died eventually, along with his father and brother, leaving only Ruth’s mother-in-law. The mother-in-decided to travel back to Juda, but the widowed Ruth refused to stay behind in Moab and traveled back to Juda with her. She offered to join the covenant of the Israelites and accept their God as her God, saying to her mother-in-law: “For whithersoever thou shalt go, I will go: and where thou shalt dwell I also will dwell. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” (Ruth 1:16). According to Mosaic law, a widow shall marry her husband’s closest relative so as to carry on his name. Therefore, she sought out and decided to marry Boaz, a man she had also been gleaning (collecting the extra of a harvest) from. She was encouraged by her mother-in-law, who told her to go to his room and offer him marriage. He accepted, and she was married to him and received the positive sanctions associated with it. He was a wealthy man, and she was very happy, in addition to having her husband’s name carried on through his relative. In contrast to Deuteronomy 28, this section shows positive sanctions received from the entry into God’s covenant in action.

The Book of Lamentations is just the opposite of the Book of Ruth in that it shows the negative sanctions incurred from breaking the oath with God. It is told by Jeremias, who laments the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. This is precisely the warning that was given by Moses in his farewell, and is the fulfillment of the negative sanctions threatened if the covenant oath was broken.

These sections of the Bible are heavily reliant on the idea of covenant sanctions, positive and negative. The Farewell of Moses laid down the sanctions associated with either keeping or breaking the covenant. The Book of Ruth showed positive sanctions that came from joining the covenant, and the Book of Lamentations showed what would come of disobeying and breaking the covenant. These sections of the Bible all focused on the issue of sanctions, and gave accounts of why and how they were incurred, and what they entailed.

Enlightened Absolutism

During the 18th century, in the age of the Enlightenment, some European rulers who had embraced the idea of absolute monarchy became interested in Enlightenment philosophy. These rulers believed in the absolute rule of the sovereign, but they also advocated the ideas of the Enlightenment, and in some cases even corresponded with major Enlightenment thinkers.

Frederick William II, king of Prussia, had a personal relationship with one of the most famous Enlightenment thinkers, Voltaire. Voltaire had tried to persuade Frederick William to keep out of the War of the Austrian Succession, but to no effect. In fact, he was later sent back by France to encourage him to redouble his efforts when the tides turned agianst . Frederick William himself was concerned with judicial reform and religious toleration, both of which were encouraged by the Enlightenment.

In Russia, Catherine the Great also had a correspondence with Voltaire, in addition to a friendship with Diderot. Diderot was the famous contributor and editor of the Encyclopédie, the most significant work of the Enlightenment. Catherine the Great instituted a new education policy, but it was not widely taken advantage of because the population was hesitant. She also encouraged religious toleration, extending it to Catholics and Jews. Under Catherine Church lands were made into government lands, and the offices of the clergy were paid by the crown, ensuring their allegiance. Catherine engaged in judicial reform as well, which, although not a great victory, did succeed in abolishing torture.

Under Joseph II in Austria many Enlightenment ideas, especially those having to do with religion, were promoted. His mother, Maria Theresa, banned the Jesuit order and used their seized wealth to fund schools. Joseph instituted a program of religious toleration that was the most extensive of any Catholic country of the time. He also passed the Edict on Idle Institutions, which suppressed one third of all the monasteries in Austria. Joseph reformed the legal system, punishing the Aristocracy in a manner similar to the commoners and making these punishments better fit their respective crimes. He eased the condition of the serfs, but they reverted back to their previous state when he died. He also started a compulsory education system to foster greater patriotism.

These countries are some examples of the phenomena of “Enlightened Absolutism” which spread across Europe in the 18th century. In some cases, the rulers of these countries had correspondence and even friendship with prominent Enlightenment thinkers. The ideas of the Enlightenment, including religious toleration, social and legal reform, and a greater reliance on reason above religion were all promoted in this form of absolutism.

The War of the Austrian Succession

During the mid 18th century, the king of Prussia, Frederick William II, took advantage of an opportunity to grab lands in Austria. The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV, was without male children, so he brought about the Pragmatic Sanction which ensured that his domains could be inherited by his daughter, Maria Theresa. Frederick William I, the father of Frederick William II, had agreed to this. However, Frederick William II had a claim to Silesia, which belonged to Austria. The acquisition of Silesia would make the Prussian territories more continuous. In addition, Frederick William was maintaining an extremely costly 100,000 strong standing army that was doing nothing, so why not put it to use? He had to overcome the problem that his father had approved the Pragmatic Sanction, so he got someone to write an argument against it that he even said was totally absurd. Frederick William invaded Austria in 1740, and began the War of the Austrian Succession. Austria found itself with no friends, so it turned to the Hungarians for assistance but they provided only a little over 20,000 men when they promised 100,000. Eventually the Austrians seemed to be gaining the upper hand and Prussia slacked off a little, so France stepped in and encouraged them to continue in their efforts. The war was concluded with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 in which Austria gave up Silesia to Prussia. The Austrians never got over the loss of Silesia, and this animosity lead to the Seven Years’ War which in turn led to the Diplomatic Revolution.

French Materialists

A product of the French Enlightenment, mechanism (or materialism) was a philosophy that centered around the idea that man was simply a machine, incapable of being held morally accountable for his actions. The materialists believed that there was no spiritual aspect to the human body, and that morality was totally unnatural. La Mettrie, an important materialist thinker, wrote a book titled The Human Machine that said the greatest virtue is self love, and that the pursuit of pleasure the greatest occupation. Helvetius, another French materialist, attempted to create laws of humanity that governed what humans do and why they do it. He also believed that people have no free choice between right or wrong. Called the personal enemy of the Almighty, Baron d’Holbach thought that crime and moral degeneracy were just mental imbalances, and not manifestations of good or evil. These ideas were directly influenced by the period of the Enlightenment, and most especially the French Enlightenment.

Heliocentrism and its Proponents

During the late middle ages, the prevailing theory of the solar system was based on a geocentric model, in which the earth was the center of the universe. According to this model the earth was surrounded by spheres, in which were the planets, the sun, and the stars. The planets were perfectly spherical and orbited in perfect circles at a constant speed. However, this model ran into difficulties. For example, at certain times of the year the orbit of mars and the other known planets seemed to reverse in direction, so epicycles were added to account for these faults in the model. Eventually over 80 epicycles were added to the geocentric model.

The 15th-16th century astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus, published in his work, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, a theory in which the sun was at the center of the universe. Copernicus was hesitant to publish this work for fear of ridicule by fellow astronomers, but finally decided to do so in 1543. The heliocentric model  was a better way of accounting for the motion of the planets, and Copernicus was able to reduce the number of epicycles. Johannes Keplar expanded in the 17th century by saying that the orbits of the planets were not perfectly circular, but elipses, and that the planets increased in speed when they approached the sun.

Galileo Galilei was an Italian astronomer who had great influence over modern science. He overturned the objection to the heliocentric model that stated that if the earth orbited the sun, then the moon would be left behind, by observing that moons also orbited Jupiter. He also observed that the moon had large craters scattered about it, overturning the theory that the planets were perfectly spherical.

Galileo urged the members of the Church to reinterpret Scripture to come into accordance with his theories, which made him unpopular with them. The Church was also under pressure to deny the findings of Galileo because the Protestants, the primary enemies of heliocentrism, were using  the Church’s indecision on the issue to claim that the Catholics were not in accordance with Scripture. It was not necessarily the idea of helicentrism that the Church rejected, as Pope Gregory XIII used Copernicus’s ideas to reform the calendar. Virtually all condemnation disappeared after Galileo’s death, with his books being removed from the banned list in the 18th century.

These men contributed greatly to our current understanding of the universe. They, through observation and calculation, were successful in overturning the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic theory of a geocentric solar system.

The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment was a period in the 17th and 18th centuries in which new ideas came onto the scene that centered around skepticism of all inherited knowledge and emphasized the use of reason. However, the employment of reason in this period fell short of accomplishing the great things that had been done in the period of the Scholastic philosophers.

This skepticism was partially due to the fact that new discoveries were being made in the scientific revolution  that had overturned many ideas of the past. This led people to become suspicious of the theories of the past. Since the Ptolemaic model of the solar system that had been firmly planted in the minds of the people had crumbled in the light of new technology and discoveries, what can be said about the other fields of science? Religion also came into the line of fire of the Enlightenment thinkers, who believed that there is a creator deity, but there should not be any ritual or ceremony surrounding its worship.

Reason was emphasized greatly in the Enlightenment as the thing that makes man unique among the creatures. However, among these champions of reason the use of it to prove the existence of God and other things that were generally delegated to faith was not emphasized. The ultimate triumph of reason, the ability to prove that which was thought to be believable only to the spirit, the existence of God, was neglected. In the 13th century the Scholastic philosopher and theological giant, Thomas Aquinas, did just that: prove that God must exist according to human reason. However much the Enlightenment glorified the use of reason, it ultimately detracted from it by neglecting to affirm that it was capable of proving that which Scholastic philosophers had done five centuries before.

The Enlightenment championed reason and skepticism of inherited ideas, as well as much of religion. One of the key works of Enlightenment literature, the Encylopédie, used veiled language to detract from and undermine Catholicism. Although it was an advocate of human reason, the Enlightenment failed to use reason to its greatest potential. This period was very important in the history of Western Civilization as, among other things, part of the catalyst that sparked the French Revolution.

Oaths in ‘Don Quixote’

In the book, Don Quixote, an old man in the 16th century became obsessed with tales of chivalry and knight-errantry. He eventually abandoned his family and his estate to pursue his delusion of being a knight, vanquishing evil and winning the love of his lady. In truth knighthood in the medieval sense had died out long before, and Don Quixote was embracing a culture that was extinct. At the end of his life he renounced his oath of knighthood and came to his senses, realizing that he had been completely mad.

Don Quixote had an estate and a small family, along with a few friends. Locked away in his library he devoured book after book on chivalry until he was totally obsessed. He eventually resolved to leave his family and his property to become a knight, and travel around righting wrongs to win the love of his lady. In truth he hardly knew this woman, who was simply a local farm-girl. He gallivanted off in search of someone to dub him a knight. He eventually found himself at an inn, which he saw as a castle, and was dubbed by the innkeeper who was just playing along. What followed were a series of misadventures in which Don Quixote went about trying to destroy what he thought were villains, but in truth were just normal people and objects. Perhaps most famous is the case of the tilting at windmills, in which Don Quixote charged at what he thought were giants, but turned out to be windmills.

Don Quixote lured a peasant, Sancho Panza, to be his squire with promises of wealth and fortune. Sancho also abandoned his family, breaking his obligation to his wife an children. Eventually it seemed as though Sancho was just as mad as Don Quixote, playing along with his flights of fancy to such an extent that it seemed impossible to think otherwise.

Don Quixote’s oath of knighthood was at odds with the oath of his state of life, that is, as the head of his household. On his deathbed, Don Quixote finally realized that the books of chivalry he had once been enthralled by were nonsense and a waste of time. He realized that he had wasted the latter half of his life pursuing ridiculous dreams. He renounced his knight-errant oath and re-embraced the original oath that he had abandoned. It was almost too late, but he finally realized the errors of his ways.

Cycle of Death in Macbeth

In Shakespeare’s classic play, Macbeth, the violence that started with the murder of King Duncan morphed into an uncontrollable loop. Murder after murder took place, justified only by the previous ones. Macbeth found himself in an inescapable cycle when he committed his act of treason. His only way out was for the score to be settled and for him to be killed.

The witches in the beginning of the play were the ones who seeded the idea of treason into Macbeth’s head. Macbeth was already Thane (a form of Anglo-Saxon nobility) of Gladis, but the witches predicted that he would be the Thane of Cawdor as well. In addition they said he would be “king hereafter”. Macbeth was puzzled because he knew who the Thane of Cawdor  was and that he did not hold that title. However, this had all taken place during a war with the invading Norwegian king, and Macdonwald, the original Thane of Cawdor, had defected to the Norwegian side. For that he was stripped of his title and executed. A fellow Scotsman informed Macbeth of what had happened, and that he was the new Thane of Cawdor. This got Macbeth thinking; if the witches’ first prediction came true, than what about the second? It now seemed feasible that he could become king.

Macbeth’s thoughts that were inspired by the witches were greatly amplified by his wife, Lady Macbeth. She was an extremely ambitious woman, and she encouraged her husband into committing the act that he was already contemplating. He held a party at his estate, at which the king and his guardians attended. After everyone was asleep Macbeth resolved (with the help of his wife) to kill Duncan. Then the string of violence began. He had to kill the two guardians because he intended to blame them for Duncan’s murder. His plan was to admit to killing them in a fit of rage for having killed the king, which he did. The cycle had started, and there was no way of stopping it.

After the killings, Macbeth remembered something else the witches had said which troubled him. They had said to his close friend and cousin, Banquo, “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none”. This meant that Banquo’s heirs would be kings even though Banquo himself would not be one. Macbeth worried that all he had done succeeded only in paving the way for the heirs of Banquo. He resolved then to murder Banquo and his son, Fleance. At this point Lady Macbeth consoled her husband by saying “what’s done is done”. Banquo was killed, but Fleance managed to escape. Lady Macbeth was wrong in her statement because it was not done. The killings would continue when Macbeth felt threatened by Macduff and killed his family to lure him back to Scotland. The killings would have continued had not the witches’ prophesy turned against him and he was slain by Macduff.

Lady Macbeth’s remark, “what’s done is done”, was not accurate. In fact, what was done could not ever be undone. The only thing that broke the cycle of murder was the retribution of Macduff in the killing of Macbeth.