Of Study by Francis Bacon
Of Study Summary
When a man has leisure time or remains in solitude study of books gives him joy. Study has an ornamental value as well. Through studies one can get enough of materials to decorate his conversation with others. Through studies one can also develop his ability to judge and properly deal with his own affairs. Study helps a learned and experienced man to chalk out his own plans and policies with ease and success. He can manage his own business elegantly and complete in all respect. This is indeed the greatest use of reading.
Yet there are the abuses of study as well. Spending too much time on study is surely a sign of laziness. If one uses too much of what he has studied in mere decorating his speeches and conversations with others, it will indeed be the sign of foolish display of his learning. If a man allows his judgement to depend entirely on the rules what he has learnt from a book, it will simply reveal his eccentricity as a scholar.
By nature man has many deficiencies; studies help him to overcome these deficiencies. Rather his own practical experiences help him to add values to his studies. Studies and practical experiences of life are thus complement to each other. When they are tagged together, they bring perfection to a man’s personality. By themselves they are simply imperfect. It is only study which can mould the natural talent into its proper shape. Studies give us a vague and generalized guidance. Only experience can put it into specific and proper use. The cunning or deceitful man never respects studies, rather to them studies are useless. To the simple man study is always a matter of awe and wonder. Only the wise man knows the worth of study and uses it in their practical life.
Bacon then advised us about what should be our correct attitude towards reading. Should we read books just to oppose and refute others? Surely not. One must not at the same time, read a book just to oppose or refute what is said in it. Books should not be read with a mere intention of criticising it or contradicting its arguments. At the same time, one should also not accept everything that is written or stated in the book. Neither should one read a book only to get enough of materials just to enrich himself while making conversations with others. Instead every one should read books just to enable himself to think properly and carefully about what is said therein and thereby to judge its real merit, value and reasonability.
There are some books which need not to be read thoroughly, they are to be read in parts only. Some books are to be read hastily. One needs not to spend much time for reading them. Only a few books are to be read carefully, because they are meant for assimilation. There are some books which we can read through summaries made by others. But this should be done only in case of those books which are not so important. One cannot get the pleasure of reading a good book only through summaries made by others. To get this pleasure one must read that book thoroughly and all by himself.
There are, of course, the modes of reading and each of these modes have their own uses as well. Through reading books we fill our minds with new ideas and thoughts which develop our whole personality Likewise conversation with others make a man alert and quick-witted. This helps him never to be at a loss for words. He becomes wise enough to use the right word at the right moment. And through writing or taking down notes of what he reads a man becomes systematic in his thoughts and expression, he is precise in his talking and thinking.
Books are written on many subjects and each of these subjects has a value of its own. Bacon explained those values nicely. Studies influence a man’s character. It moulds his total personality. By reading history a man becomes wise and poetry develops his imagination and ingenuity. Human mind can become keen and subtle only through the studies of mathematics, Logic and rhetoric develops a man’s ability to debate and argue properly and efficiently. Natural philosophy helps a man to go deep into a subject and taste its real side while the Moral philosophy helps the growth of serious attitude in man.
Of course, studies have curative power too. As the appropriate physical exercises cure many defects of the body, likewise studies also cure many mental defects of the human being. Bacon exemplified them. Bowling is good for the kidneys, shooting is good for the lungs, walking is good for the digestion. Likewise, for a wandering mind study of mathematics is the only good prescription. If a man suffers from confusion of thoughts, it will be wise for him to study scholastic philosophy. There are persons who are unable to recall references or illustrations to clarify or support his own arguments. Such a man should read law cases seriously. Only in such law cases precedents are used at every step. Thus each and every mental defect has a perfectly suitable remedy in the studies. One should only pick up the proper remedial subject for his own mental defects.
Of Study Line by Line Analysis
- “Studies serve……..those that are learned.” (Lines 1-7)
These lines are from the favourite and popular anthology piece written by Francis Bacon-‘of Studies. In these lines Bacon refers to the triple functions of studies and explains how the study of books are useful to us. The study of books is useful in three aspects. First, it gives us pleasure. In his hour of leisure, when man is alone and has no company, the book acts as his mate and gives him a pleasant company. Secondly, the book has a decorative value. From book the man gets enough of materials like illustrations, quotations etc. with which he decorates himself. With these materials he embellishes his conversations with others. Thus study has a decorative value. Thirdly, study of books increases one’s practical ability. Study of books enables the man to develop an ability to make correct judgements in his daily affairs and teaches him to manage them well. Studies enable him to tackle his practical affairs- be that individual or particular matter or affairs of life. It improves his judgement and efficiency in planning and executing the practical matters. This makes him a more successful man in the world. Learned person means those men who have gained knowledge from wide reading. Moreover, planning of an overall perfect strategy, the formulation and shaping of policies and above all, the designing of a systematic arrangement of the individual fragmented matters into a compact and comprehensive whole, can only be expected from a wide-read and well-read man. Thus in short study is a pleasure in the leisure hours of seclusion, a potential source of entertainment in privacy. Study decorates the mind with enough quotations and illustrations to make nice and attractive conversations with others, that have social values. Studies enable the man to judge everything with ability and handle his own affairs with ease and success.
It should be remembered that Bacon was a utilitarian to the core and to him, a thing’s goodness depended on its usefulness. He was not an armchair philosopher, rather he wanted to evaluate everything in terms of its utility. He was a lover of that knowledge which leads to action and action that brings profit in the long run. He was, indeed, a man of both action and contemplation. The three-fold balances of the sentences are indeed significant and noteworthy. They are written with absolute ease yet sounds like maxims and proverbs.
- “To spend…….a scholar” (Lines 7-10)
In these lines Francis Bacon reminds us that excess of everything is bad. This maxim is applicable in case of studies too. One needs not to spend too much time in reading because that would simply be marked as a sign of laziness. Only a temperamentally lazy man devotes too much time to study. Study is a source of delight no doubt, but for that one should spend only a reasonable time to study. Otherwise instead of feeling delighted we will simply induce laziness and make us unfit for any practical work. From studies we get the required materials to make our conversations impressive and charming to others. But if we depend too much on studies to make our language florid or ornamental, that will simply become a pedantry-an offensive show of learning. Instead of being attractive, such a conversation will become a vain display of learning. Blind faith on the rules learned from the book and its unquestioned follow up reveals the eccentricity of a scholar who remains unconcerned with the realities of practical life. Such knowledge is useless and the utilitarian Bacon did not welcome it either. Hence he advised us to spend only a reasonable length of time for studies and also not to allow the mere bookish: knowledge overwhelm us.
- “They perfect nature…….. by experience.” (Lines 10-14)
According to Sir Francis Bacon, study and experience must go hand in hand, because they have mutually complementary nature. Natural abilities are never enough until they are properly substantiated. Natural deficiencies of man can only be substantiated through the study of books. On the other hand practical experience teaches man how to make use of the knowledge gained from the books. To present the relation between natural or inherent qualities of man and studies, Bacon used a nice simile. He compared natural abilities with a natural wild plant. Plants which are left to nature will soon grow out of shape if they are not subjected to regular pruning. Only proper trimming can keep them in shape. Likewise man’s natural abilities are to be trimmed, shaped and developed properly by the study of books. But just as nature is to be subjected to studies, studies also are to be subjected to experience which is very much essential. Studies by themselves are not enough. They merely provide us with too vague and abstract guidance. They are based upon some broad principles which can never be applied to practical problems or particular issues unless they are mingled and tuned with our own experiences. Only when experiences of practical life are associated with studies, the latter become useful and meaningful
- “Crafty men………observation”. [Lines 15-18]
In these lines Francis Bacon discussed the different attitudes of different people towards books and studies. Crafty men are the shrewd cunning people and these men never consider book as something useful to them. They look down upon the books because they think, their cunning is much superior to bookish knowledge. It should be remembered that cunning is now-a-days used in a bad sense, but Francis Bacon used the term ‘crafty’ to mean those men who have enough of practical knowledge and experience, but no accepted education. Such men always condemn’ or hate or disregard studies because they are confident that their own experience and cleverness are much superior to the bookish knowledge and can help them to become successful in life. On the other hand, the ‘simple’, or unsophisticated illiterate or uneducated man neither condemns study nor use the fruit of it. Rather they look upon studies in sheer amazement and awe. They wander at them who devoted themselves to studies, knowing fully well that these people belong to a world far above their own, which they can only gaped and gazed at but can never approach or acquire. It is only the wise men who put studies to its best use. The wise, intelligent and mature man read books and derives the best advantage of their studies. They are not bookish or merely doctrinaire, rather they perfect their natures by studies and mingling their bookish knowledge with experience and observation of life, try to make their knowledge perfect. “Observation and experience of life give the coup de grace to the fruits of study. Unlike the crafty man and the simple shallow man the wise man undertake studies to allow their inherent wisdom role upon the knowledge they gained from the books and assimilate it in their practical affairs of life to gain the maximum personal advantages out of it.
- “Read not to contradict…….consider.” [Lines 18-20]
Whatever we read that always reacts upon us and in these lines Bacon discusses the nature of these reactions. He advised us not to read just to contradict and confute the arguments made by other people. He asked us not to believe and take for granted what is written in the books. While reading books we should not merely try to find talks and discourses. Rather we should always weigh and consider whatever we read. While reading a book we must not be pre-occupied with prejudices, rather we should approach a book with an open and alert mind. A book may contain many views quite contrary to that of ours. But for this we must not condemn the book outright. Instead we should give a mature thought to it and try to make proper analysis and explanations. Whatever we read in the books are not gospel truth and hence, if we take everything on faith we will make a mistake. This will exhibit our intellectual poverty and childish credulity. We must judge and examine every proposition that we read in course of our studies, be that befitting to our ideas or contradicts our confirmed ideas, opinions and humours. Books give varieties of ideas and precepts. It demands the cultivation of an open mind and corrects discernment of them.
- “Some books ………. flashy things.” [Lines 20-29]
In these lines Francis Bacon classifies books in accordance with the amount of attention that a reader should give in their reading. This famous and evenly balanced three clauses has passed into an aphorism of universal value. With wonderful skill Bacon used at once three figure of speeches-metaphor, antithesis and climax. He used the metaphor of eating by which he indicated the different ways of studying. In a full course dinner or supper, a number of courses are served for eating. Some items of the foods are merely appetizers just for tasting-bitters and pickles. A few items are to be swallowed quickly. They are either of bad taste or no taste at all but of course good for health. Only a few items remain as staple dishes. These items need well mastication and digestion. In the same way, books are so many dishes at a banquet. They are to be consumed in various ways. Some books are only to be tasted. They are not to be consumed fully and hence meant for mere cursory reading. These books are just to be sampled and require no conscious reading from title to title. There are the second category of books which are to be swallowed. These books are to be read completely but not with much labour or attention. We require only a hurried reading of them. Only a very few number of books are really selected books. They need to be read with complete and perfect attention. They demand a full grasp. They are to be read thoroughly line to line, page to page. Some books are also there which may be read with the help of an assistant or secretary or by oneself. Instead of reading these books thoroughly one can have the summary of it for his knowledge. Of course, Bacon also warned us that summaries and extracts of books are always tasteless, insipid reading. Bacon compared them with distilled water equally tasteless but, of course equally hygienic.
- “Reading maketh ….. he doth not.” [Lines 29-35]
In these lines Francis Bacon describe the total outcome of reading, conference and writing. All these three yield three types of results. The exact mode of study is always reading books, making discussions with others about what we have read and then, noting down the excerpts from the books that we have gone through. Through reading a man matures his understanding and enriches himself with many information. A man who is not well-read, often suffers from many loop-holes in his understanding and only adequate reading helps him to plug those loop-holes. He thus becomes a full man, a man with fully developed power of mind, knowledge and information. Conversation and discussion with others about what he has read simply sharpen and burnish a man’s wit. It makes him a ready man, a man who can give a quick and apt reply according to the occasion. Thus conversation makes him quick witted, precise and accurate. The habit of writing makes a man precise or accurate even to the minor details. In fact, the habit of writing down or taking down the notes and comments fixes the ideas permanently in the memory which cannot easily be forgotten. A man who is gifted with a tenacious memory can dispense with writing as he can preserve in his memory whatever he has read. But there are very few people who are gifted with such a fine memory. Too much reading keeps our mind vague and many thing go out of our mind. It is only writing that makes us accurate, an exact man. If a man has much cleverness or intelligence he can of course do well without much reading. He will behave in such a manner that people may not find his ignorance. Likewise a quick witted man with a sharp presence of mind he can equally do without much talking or conversation to get that quality. If a man has good memory he can do a lot without much writing. But we seldom find these qualities among the common men. In fact, Bacon’s antithetical sentence proceeds from his own experience. He was an avid reader of books. He himself realised that to derive maximum advantages from the books all these three modes must go on successively.
- “So if a man’s wit……..a special receipt.” [Lines 43-51]
Studies have great curative value and in these lines Francis Bacon analyzed how the studies can be used to cure different mental shortcomings. Different kinds of diseases of the body can be cured with different kinds of exercises. Very often, many men are suffering from the formation of stone in their kidney and the gall-bladder. For such patients playing at bowls is a good prescription. To cure the diseases of the lungs and the heart, shooting or archery, that is an exercise with bow and arrow will prove good. For all sorts of stomach troubles like acidity, indigestion and the like, slow walking is a very good exercise. To cure the diseases of head like giddiness, headache etc. riding is the best remedy. So also various defects of the mind can be removed or cured by proper kind of study. The study of mathematics is beneficial for a man who cannot keep his mind away from wandering or cannot in spite of his best effort, keep his mind concentrated on a particular point. If he can engage himself for a mathematical proof for a proposition he can concentrate into one thing only and thus, in case of lapse, can start all over again. If a man cannot distinguish between one thing and the other or fails to notice any subtle distinctions, Bacon recommends for him the study of scholastic philosophy. The Christian scholars of the Middle Ages who applied Aristotelian logic to the doctrine of Christianity were known as the Schoolmen. They were expert heir splitters (Cymini Sectors) “cymini”in Latin means the very small cumin-seed which cannot be possibly split. These Schoolmen even distinguished and analysed those points of differences which normally the men of ordinary merit or understanding could even think of. For a man who cannot go from one point to another quite logically, who cannot prove one thing or explain the other, the study of legal cases is useful for him. Lawyers always give particular attention to all such things. Thus, all defects of mind can be cured very normally if one can select the specific studies for specific cases.
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