Of Revenge by Francis Bacon — Explanation
by Francis Bacon
Revenge is a kind of wild justice; which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.
Meaning .. The urge to avenge the humiliations, injustices and wrongs heaped on us by others gives us some pleasure, relief and satisfaction. Such tendency to pay back our tormentors in their own coins is so pervasive and universal. However, such a toxic and in-born tendency must be curbed through legal means.
For as for the first wrong, it doth but offend the law; but the revenge of that wrong putteth the law out of office.
Meaning .. When the tormentor inflicts harm on his subject, he breaks the law, as no member of the civilized society is permitted to take law into his hand and cause physical or mental harm to a fellow human. In the same vein, the person who has been wronged, can’t hit back at his adversary. Logically, he should seek legal recourse to the injustice meted out to him, but if he impulsively harms the enemy, he breaks the law himself. Such acts of instant retribution is not permitted under law.
Certainly, in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior; for it is a prince’s part to pardon.
Meaning …. Avenging a wrong, or a defeat or a humiliation lets the wronged person to draw level with his foe, and derive satisfaction. However, he chooses to forgive and forget, and does not allow the perpetrator’s evil act besmirch his self, he emerges as the true victor. Pardoning the evil-doer is not a sign of weakness or timidity. It takes great courage, moral strength, and magnanimity of mind to pardon the sinner. Such ability to ignore the scars left by the wrong-doer needs a big heart and a sagacious soul. Ordinary humans can not bring themselves to rise to the occasion and let the quality of pardon come to the fore.
It is, therefore, seen that a person in exalted position such as a prince is given the authority to grant royal pardons to sinners. A prince, because of his status and clout is seldom harmed or belittled. So, he is not generally gripped by anger against commoners. This allows him to pardon the evil-doers.
And Solomon, I am sure, saith, “It is the glory of a man to pass by an offence.” That which is past is gone, and irrevocable; and wise men have enough to do with things present and to come; therefore they do but trifle with themselves, that labor in past matters.
Meaning … Prophet Solomon had proclaimed, “It is the glory of a man to pass by an offence.”. This means that a person who ignores the hurt and humiliation caused to him by others can lay claim to great glory and adulation.
An evil, once done, becomes history. It can not be reversed. There is little prudency in grumbling and burning in the bitterness left behind. Wise and conscientious people choose to think of works at hand and the tasks in the future. They realize the folly of crying over spilt milk. No doubt, they discern that whining over past injustices is futile, and unproductive. Worrying over the unpleasant past is an unnecessary and ruinous exercise.
There is no man doth a wrong for the wrong’s sake; but thereby to purchase himself profit, or pleasure, or honor, or the like. Therefore why should I be angry with a man for loving himself better than me? And if any man should do wrong merely out of ill-nature, why, yet it is but like the thorn or briar, which prick and scratch, because they can do no other.
Meaning … Seldom does a man indulge in a wicked or immoral act just for the heck of it. What motivates him to do an abominable act can be just anything – the lure of profit, getting some pleasure, get some un-deserved honour, or any such urge. In the process, he stands to gain some material benefit or some mental pleasure.
With great equanimity, and rare sense of accommodation, Bacon asks himself why he should be annoyed if someone does something to amuse himself. In instances where a person does something that is really very upsetting, we must pause and reali8ze that he has been cursed to have a mind that loves sadistic pleasure. Such people are condemned to miserable existence. In a way they deserve to be pitied and forgiven, because, like a thorn, they can’t do anything other than pricking others and inflicting pain. An ill-natured man is like a thorn condemned to live like a mischief-maker and a nuisance in society. This is enough punishment for him.
The most tolerable sort of revenge is for those wrongs which there is no law to remedy; but then let a man take heed the revenge be such as there is no law to punish; else a man’s enemy is still before hand, and it is two for one. Some, when they take revenge, are desirous the party should know whence it cometh. This is the more generous.
Meaning … Bacon now proceeds to make certain concessions for the revenge seeker. He feels, there are can be certain loathsome and irritable acts for which there is no legal remedy. As a result, the perpetrator can not be brought to book, and so, get away with his crime. In such circumstances, taking revenge can be an acceptable recourse. Bacon, however, adds a caveat here. The act of revenge must be carefully chosen. It should be outside the purview of the prevailing law, so that the victim (wrong-doer, earlier) can’t sue the avenger.
In some cases, the avenger sets up his act such that the victim (wrong-doer, earlier) gets to know the source of his trouble. This gives the avenger some satisfaction. Such a move could not be as evil as the leaving the victim to wonder who harmed him. Bacon seems to approve of this as it limits the chance of the person turning on other innocent people.
For the delight seemeth to be not so much in doing the hurt as in making the party repent. But base and crafty cowards are like the arrow that flieth in the dark. Cosmus, duke of Florence, had a desperate saying against perfidious or neglecting friends, as if those wrongs were unpardonable; “You shall read (saith he) that we are commanded to forgive our enemies; but you never read that we are commanded to forgive our friends.
Meaning …. When the perpetrator gets to know that the person he wronged has come back to him with vengeance, he will be deterred from repeating his earlier mischief. He may feel some remorse thinking that he should not have, in the first place, indulged in the evil act. However, vile and crooked persons do not have the moral strength to admit that they did the wrong thing. This complicates the situation.
Cosmus, the Duke of Florence, had some friends who were either deceitful or insincere in their friendship. Their nature used to annoy Cosmus a lot. He admonished their supercilious and favour-seeking attitude rather strongly. He warned them that he would never pardon them, although he was fully empowered to pardon offenders.
” But yet the spirit of Job was in a better tune: “Shall we (saith he) take good at God’s hands, and not be content to take evil also?” And so of friends in a proportion. This is certain, that a man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well. Public revenges are for the most part fortunate; as that for the death of Caesar; for the death of Pertinax; for the death of Henry the Third of France; and many more. But in private revenges it is not so. Nay rather, vindictive persons live the life of witches; who, as they are mischievous, so end they infortunate.
Meaning … Job, the Biblical character, gave some sound advice in the matter. He wondered if we gratefully accept from the hands of God only those things that we like, and refuse those, not to our liking. This is also true in friendship. Both good and not so good friends are to be adored. A vengeful person never allows the scars left by other’s misdeeds to heal. Had he not been so vindictive, memories of hurt and humiliation would fade off with the passage of time.
Acts of revenge, committed in full view of the public, can often have some salutary effect at times. The events such as the death of Caesar, the death of Pertinax, the death of Henry the Third of France were generally considered desirable, although these events were driven by revenge.
On the other hand, urge for revenge lying deep in one’s mind can be really toxic. Surely, but slowly, this devilish passion consumes the bearer. These people live miserably and die miserably.