OF STUDIES : Essay Written by Francis Bacon

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 pruning, by study; and studies themselves do give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience. Crafty men condemn 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 subtle; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend. Abeunt studia in mores [Studies pass into and influence manners]. 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 [splitters of hairs]. 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.

Summary of the Essay :

The essay Of Studies by Sir Francis Bacon is the first essay in the series of ten essays published in 1597. Later, it was revised in 1612 with the addition of some more sentences and ideas in it along with the alteration in some vocabulary terms. This essay is regarded as Bacon’s masterpiece enriched with stylised Latin vocabulary, fresh and new ideas, logical and relevant themes and wisdom of the world. For these reasons, the essay is still popular among individuals of all ages. Adopting a didactic approach, the essay informs the readers about the benefits and uses of studies in one’s life.

Highlighting the importance of studies, Bacon’s essay illustrates the role studies play in an individual’s daily life. For Bacon, the study is always related to the application of knowledge in practical life.

At the beginning of his essay, Bacon describes the three main purposes of study including studying for gaining delight, studies done for ornamenting one’s life and studying in order to improve one’s ability.

The author is the notion that only learned and well-read men can execute plans effectively, manage their daily affairs with expertise and lead a healthy and stable life. He further states that reading makes a full man; conference leads to a ready man while writing makes an exact man. While throwing light on the advantages and usefulness of studies, Bacon also puts forward some demerits of study as he thinks that studying for a prolonged period of time may lead to laziness.

He also condemns the act of studying from books solely without learning from nature around. The essay Of Studies further asserts the benefits of studies by considering this act as a medicine for the defects of the human mind and the source of enhancing one’s wit.

While discussing the importance of studying in an individual’s life, the essayist informs his readers about the benefits of reading good books. For Bacon, some books are only meant to be tasted; others are there to swallow while some books are meant for chewing and digesting properly. Therefore, the readers must choose wisely before studying any book to enhance his/her knowledge about the world around.

Of Studies : Analysis

In this essay Bacon describes the importance of studies in human life. Bacon begins the essay by enlisting three purposes of studies – “to delight, for ornament and for ability.” Studies delight most when one is secluded and reposed. Knowledge acquired through studies serve as ornament in a conversation. A well read man will have a good vocabulary and greater knowledge which will increase the worth of a conversation. Studies improve one’s judgmental and authoritative abilities.

Ordinary men can no doubt go about their daily business without difficulty but a learned man will do so with higher efficiency. Bacon however says that studying too much is a sign of laziness and using too many ornaments while conversing makes one look pretentious. To make judgments only on the basis of rules is the eccentricity of a scholar. Studies make a man perfect. Studying is not an inborn talent; it is acquired. The natural abilities of man are to be enhanced by studies just like the growth of plants is enhanced by trimming. Studies provide both direction and experience. Practical men often condemn studies but wise men use it. Studies teach man to learn from observation. One must not use knowledge as a means of contradiction or confutation. Studies must also not be used to believe or to take for granted, or to talk and discourse but “to weigh and consider”.

Then Bacon speaks about the different ways in which different books are to be read. He says – “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” This means some books are to be perused lightly, that is, tasted while some other books are to be understood and enjoyed, that is, swallowed. On the other hand certain books are to be digested, that it, to fully extract their meaning and implemented in one’s life. Therefore some books are to be read only in parts, others are to be read with less curiosity, and some books are to be read with attention and diligence. Bacon however also says that sometimes it may be enough to read extracts or reviews of books made by others instead of reading the whole book by oneself. But according to Bacon this is to be done only in case of books of less importance. He considers these “distilled books” to distilled waters which he calls “flashy things”.

Reading makes a man complete, conversation makes a man quick and witty, and writing improves the memory. If a man writes less he will lack a good memory, if he speaks little he will lack wit and presence of mind, and if he reads less he will not have much knowledge. A study of history makes a man wise while a study of poetry makes him witty. Mathematics makes a man exact and precise and natural philosophy increases the depth of the mind. Morals make a man grave whereas a study of logic and rhetoric makes him more comprehensive. Studies pass into character. A man’s character is influenced and defined by the type of books he reads.

There is no disease of the mind that cannot be cured by proper study. Bowling is good for the bladder and the kidneys, shooting for the lungs and breast, walking for the stomach and riding is good for the head. Similarly mathematics is the remedy for a wandering mind because if a man’s mind wanders while solving a problem he will have to begin again. If a man is unable to make distinctions he must study schoolmen and if he is not quick in passing through matters he should study the law. Thus Bacon concludes the essay by establishing that for every deficit of the mind a remedy is to be found in studies.

Mohit Bamal

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