Of Studies – Francis Bacon (1597)

Cover of Bacon's essaysOne in a long series of very short essays (is there a name for a short essay like “novella” for novel?), Francis Bacon was a politician during the sixteenth century in England, and although he himself was not above scandal, he did have some good points about being a good person/leading a good life in his numerous essays.

This particular short essay discusses studies and learning: who should do it, how they should do it, and what they should do with the end results. It’s all very down-to-earth and pragmatic about it, and there is a lot with which I agree and that just makes sense.

It’s not the easiest essay to read, but it is packed with points with which I just nodded my head and said “yup” to. I’m not sure why he wrote this huge series of short essays or who his audience was.   They were initially packaged into a series of ten and published in 1597, but then revised about ten years later.

He was also a strong writer, and although doesn’t seem to have a big fan of paragraphs, he did make good use of parallel sentence construction to emphasize a point (see below).

I had seen some of these sayings referred to in various book-related settings before reading this, but didn’t know it was Bacon who was the author. He seems to have been enamored of reading as much as I am…

• 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.


• 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.


• 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.


• Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.

Just a delight to read (and I don’t say that very often about sixteenth century writing!)

Portrait of Bacon

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