Of Love by Francis Bacon — Explanation
Of Love by Francis Bacon
THE stage is more beholding to love, than the life of man. For as to the stage, love is ever matter of comedies, and now and then of tragedies; but in life it doth much mischief; sometimes like a siren, sometimes like a fury.
Meaning .. Romance is generally portrayed somewhat unrealistically in plays, theaters, and in stages. Love is shown to be mostly as a human very noble trait that leads to joy, ecstasy, and a sense of fulfilment. In very small number of instances, love leads to tragedy and sorrow. It brings with it ends that are dark and foreboding. The consequence leads to disaster.
You may observe, that amongst all the great and worthy persons (whereof the memory remaineth, either ancient or recent) there is not one, that hath been transported to the mad degree of love: which shows that great spirits, and great business, do keep out this weak passion.
Meaning … Many great men of today who have been besotted leading to a tumultuous and eventful phase in their lives. History, also, has in its record many great men who have been swayed by turbulent winds of romance that has tended to throw them off their feet. However, there are umpteen instances where wise and sagacious men have refused to be gripped by such a distracting passion. They have not allowed their wisdom and intellectual pursuits to be held hostage to any form of infatuation.
You must except, nevertheless, Marcus Antonius, the half partner of the empire of Rome, and Appius Claudius, the decemvir and lawgiver; whereof the former was indeed a voluptuous man, and inordinate; but the latter was an austere and wise man: and therefore it seems (though rarely) that love can find entrance, not only into an open heart, but also into a heart well fortified, if watch be not well kept.
Meaning .. Marcus Antonius, the able, ambitious and powerful member of the royalty was given the right to rule over almost a third of the Roman empire. Appius Cladius, the second member of the triumvirate, was also given a third of the empire to rule over. Antonius was amorous, un-restrained, and impulsive. He had little control of his heart that wandered wildly in pursuit of love and lust. Apius Cladius, his friend and compatriot, was a sober, contented and sage-like person of great wisdom and restraint. He never let his desires to overwhelm him and influence his decisions. So, he never erred, never strayed, and never brought himself to disrepute while chasing romantic passions.
It is a poor saying of Epicurus, Satis magnum alter alteri theatrum sumus; as if man, made for the contemplation of heaven, and all noble objects, should do nothing but kneel before a little idol, and make himself a subject, though not of the mouth (as beasts are), yet of the eye; which was given him for higher purposes.
Meaning … Bacon cites the case of the Greek philosopher Epiurus who advocated discipline, restraint and self-control in leading on’s lives. In his writings, he has cautioned against the perils of chasing worldly pleasures that invariably ravage our lives. He said, “Satis magnum alter alteri theatrum sumus” which literally means, ‘we are big enough theater for one another’. Through this sermon, he says that we all can live our lives in full, without getting into conflicts, revenge, and other such misdeeds. He deprecates the way valiant men of great worth kneel before the women of their love looking so miserable and small. Such capitulation is unwarranted, and degrading for worthy and gifted men.
It is a strange thing, to note the excess of this passion, and how it braves the nature, and value of things, by this; that the speaking in a perpetual hyperbole, is comely in nothing but in love. Neither is it merely in the phrase; for whereas it hath been well said, that the arch-flatterer, with whom all the petty flatterers have intelligence, is a man’s self; certainly the lover is more. For there was never proud man thought so absurdly well of himself, as the lover doth of the person loved; and therefore it was well said, That it is impossible to love, and to be wise.
Meaning ….. Unfettered love is a passion that invariably overwhelms, and thus, undermines a man. In a way it devalues him and trivializes his standing before others. In romantic discourses, exaggeration of the beauty and persona of the beloved is routinely resorted to. Such effusive praise or embellishment looks apt only in romance, and not in practical life. A lover who sacrifices his discerning power to pour honeyed words on his woman obviously compromises with his intelligence, and power of judgment. In the process, he devalues his inner self. No man with some amount of pride in him will ever lavish so much of undeserved praise on his beloved. So, Bacon feels, indulging in superfluous praise of his woman is both demeaning and unbecoming. Such men can not be said to be wise at all.
Neither doth this weakness appear to others only, and not to the party loved; but to the loved most of all, except the love be reciproque. For it is a true rule, that love is ever rewarded, either with the reciproque, or with an inward and secret contempt. By how much the more, men ought to beware of this passion, which loseth not only other things, but itself! As for the other losses, the poet’s relation doth well figure them: that he that preferred Helena, quitted the gifts of Juno and Pallas.
Meaning …..Such penchant to flatter the woman becomes easily evident as a weakness of character to others in the society. When the lady does not feel like reciprocating the love, she treats the romantic overtures as a pathetic weakness of the man’s character. Love of a man towards a woman can lead to two consequences. Either the lady would enthusiastically reciprocate it, or it would create a secret contempt towards the man making the unsolicited proposition. So, men must be aware of such passion that could prove to be wasteful and ruinous. It could lead to self-doubt and loss of self-esteem in the man’s mind. Bacon reminds his readers about the lover, unduly infatuated by Helena, lost the two loveliest women, Juno and Pallas.
For whosoever esteemeth too much of amorous affection, quitteth both riches and wisdom. This passion hath his floods, in very times of weakness; which are great prosperity, and great adversity; though this latter hath been less observed: both which times kindle love, and make it more fervent, and therefore show it to be the child of folly. They do best, who if they cannot but admit love, yet make it keep quarters; and sever it wholly from their serious affairs, and actions, of life; for if it check once with business, it troubleth men’s fortunes, and maketh men, that they can no ways be true to their own ends.
Meaning …… The men who see nothing in this world except sensual pleasures amidst women bring ruin onto themselves. In their senseless pursuit of carnal pleasures, they lose both wealth and wisdom. During unguarded times, such passions come rushing as floods swamping the lover miserably. Such overpowering of the lover by passion happens more during times of great prosperity. Rarely, during times of adversity, urge for carnal pleasures inundate the lover’s mind. Both during times of great happiness and affluence, and during periods of sorrow, want and distress, yearning for carnal pleasures get accentuated. So, such a slide to a state when the man is gripped by passion can be termed as ‘a child of folly’. Unbridled pursuit of sensual pleasures, if allowed to continue, might ruin business, profession, health and wealth. Men can seldom follow their noble goals of their lives.
I know not how, but martial men are given to love: I think, it is but as they are given to wine; for perils commonly ask to be paid in pleasures. There is in man’s nature, a secret inclination and motion, towards love of others, which if it be not spent upon some one or a few, doth naturally spread itself towards many, and maketh men become humane and charitable; as it is seen sometime in friars. Nuptial love maketh mankind; friendly love perfecteth it; but wanton love corrupteth, and embaseth it.
Meaning … Warriors, army generals, and professional fighting men have a special attraction for both wine and women. They seem to compensate the dangers they face in the battlefields with the pleasures derived from the company of sensuous women. However, there is another angle to the trait of ‘love’ so ingrained in human nature. Instead of loving a single person or a group, if he expands his love much farther, he makes it universal. Such love in indeed very benign, very noble. People belonging to certain religious orders have such love inherent in them. Love arising out of marriage is at the root of creation of mankind, love of friends ennobles it, but philandering love debases the man.