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Francis Bacon (1561–1626).  Apophthegms New and Old.  1857.


Published by Dr. Tenison in the Baconiana

  1. PLUTARCH 1 said well, It is otherwise in a commonwealth of men than of bees. The hive of a city or kingdom is in best condition when there is least of noise, or buz in it.   1
  2. The same Plutarch said of men of weak abilities set in great place, That they were like little statues set on great bases, made to appear the less by their advancement.   2
  3. He said again, Good fame is like fire. When you have kindled it, you may easily preserve it; but if once you extinguish it, you will not easily kindle it again; at least, not make it burn as bright as it did.   3
  4. The answer of Apollonius to Vespasian is full of excellent instruction: Vespasian asked him, What was Nero’s overthrow? He answered, Nero could touch and tune the harp well; but in government sometimes he used to wind the pins too high, sometimes to let them down too low. And certain it is, that nothing destroyeth authority so much as the unequal and untimely interchange of power pressed too far, and relaxed too much.   4
  5. Queen Elizabeth seeing Sir Edward —— in her garden, looked out at her window, and asked him in Italian, What does a man think of when he thinks of nothing? Sir Edward (who had not had the effect of some of the Queen’s grants so soon as he had hoped and desired) paused a little, and then made answer, Madam, he thinks of a woman’s promise. The Queen shrunk in her head; but was heard to say, Well, Sir Edward, I must not confute you. Anger makes dull men witty, but it keeps them poor. 2   5
  6. When any great officer, ecclesiastical or civil, was to be made, the Queen would inquire after the piety, integrity, learning of the man. And when she was satisfied in these qualifications, she would consider of his personage. And upon such an occasion she pleased once to say to me, Bacon, how can the magistrate maintain his authority when the man is despised? 3   6
  7. In eighty-eight, when the Queen went from Temple-bar along Fleet-street, the lawyers were ranked on one side, and the companies of the city on the other; said Master Bacon to a lawyer that stood next him, Do but observe the courtiers; if they bow first to the citizens, they are in debt; if first to us, they are in law. 4   7
  8. King James was wont to be very earnest with the country gentlemen to go from London to their country houses. And sometimes he would say thus to them; Gentlemen, at London you are like ships in a sea, which shew like nothing; but in your country villages you are like ships in a river, which look like great things.   8
  9. Soon after the death of a great officer, who was judged no advancer of the King’s matters, the King said to his solicitor Bacon, who was his kinsman; Now tell me truly, what say you of your cousin that is gone? Mr. Bacon answered, Sir, since your Majesty doth charge me, I’ll e’en deal plainly with you, and give you such a character of him, as if I were to write his story. I do think he was no fit counsellor to make your affairs better; but yet he was fit to have kept them from growing worse. The King said, On my so’l, man, in the first thou speakest like a true man, and in the latter like a kinsman.   9
  10. King James, as he was a prince of great judgment, so he was a prince of a marvellous pleasant humour; and there now come into my mind two instances of it.   10
  As he was going through Lusen by Greenwich, he asked what town it was? They said Lusen. He asked a rood while after, What town is this we are now in? They said, still ’twas Lusen. On my so’l, said the King, I will be King of Lusen. 5   11
  11. In some other of his progresses, he asked how far it was to a town whose name I have forgotten. They said, Six miles. Half an hour after, he asked again. One said, Six miles and a half. The King alighted out of his coach, and crept under the shoulder of his led horse. And when some asked his Majesty what he meant; I must stalk, (said he) for yonder town is shy and flies me. 6   12
  12. Count Gondomar sent a compliment to my Lord St. Albans, wishing him a good Easter. My Lord thanked the messenger, and said, He could not at present requite the Count better than in returning him the like; That he wished his Lordship a good Passover. 7   13
  13. My Lord Chancellor Elsmere, when he had read a petition which he disliked, would say, What! you would have my hand to this now? And the party answering, Yes; he would say further; Well, so you shall. Nay, you shall have both my hands to it. And so would, with both his hands, tear it in pieces. 8   14
  14. I knew a wise man, that had it for a by-word, when he saw men hasten to a conclusion, Stay a little, that we may make an end the sooner.   15
  15. Sir Francis Bacon was wont to say of an angry man who suppressed his passion, That he thought worse than he spake; and of an angry man that would chide, That he spoke worse than he thought. 9   16
  16. He was wont also to say, That power in an ill man was like the power of a black witch; he could do hurt, but no good with it. And he would add, That the magicians could turn water into blood, but could not turn the blood again to water.   17
  17. When Mr. Attorney Cook, in the Exchequer, gave high words to Sir Francis Bacon, and stood much upon his higher place; Sir Francis said to him, Mr. Attorney, the less you speak of your own greatness, the more I shall think of it: and the more, the less. 10   18
  18. Sir Francis Bacon coming into the Earl of Arundel’s garden, where there were a great number of ancient statues of naked men and women, made a stand, and as astonished, cried out, The resurrection. 11   19
  19. Sir Francis Bacon (who was always for moderate counsels) when one was speaking of such a reformation of the Church of England as would in effect make it no Church; said thus to him, Sir, the subject we talk of is the eye of England; and if there be a speck or two in the eye, we endeavour to take them off; but he were a strange oculist who would pull out the eye.   20
  20. The same Sir Francis Bacon was wont to say, That those who left useful studies for useless scholastic speculations, were like the Olympic gamesters, who abstained from necessary labours, that they might be fit for such as were not so.   21
  21. He likewise often used this comparison; The Empirical philosophers are like to pismires; they only lay up and use their store. The Rationalists are like to spiders; they spin all out of their own bowels. But give me a philosopher, who like the bee, hath a middle faculty, gathering from abroad, but digesting that which is gathered by his own virtue.   22
  22. The Lord St. Alban, who was not over hasty to raise theories, but proceeded slowly by experiments, was wont to say to some philosophers who would not go his pace, Gentlemen, Nature is a labyrinth, in which the very haste you move with, will make you lose your way.   23
  23. The same Lord, when he spoke of the Dutchmen, used to say, That we could not abandon them for our safety, nor keep them for our profit. And sometimes he would express the same sense on this manner; We hold the Belgic lion by the ears. 12   24
  24. Sir Francis Bacon said upon occasion (meaning it of his old retinew) That he was all of one piece: his head could not rise but his tail must rise too. 13   25
  25. The Lord Bacon was wont to commend the advice of the plain old man at Buxton, that sold besoms. A proud lazy young fellow came to him for a besom upon trust; to whom the old man said, Friend, hast thou no money? borrow of thy back, and borrow of thy belly; they’ll ne’er ask thee again, I shall be dunning thee every day. 14   26
  26. Solon said well to Crœsus, (when in ostentation he shewed him his gold) Sir, if any other come that has better iron than you, he will be master of all this gold.   27
  27. Jack Weeks said of a great man (just then dead) who pretended to some religion, but was none of the best livers, Well, I hope he is in heaven. Every man thinks as he wishes; but if he be in heaven, ’twere pity it were known. 15   28
Note 1. See Preface, pp. 317. 321. [back]
Note 2. Queen Elizabeth saw Sir Edward Dier in her garden, she looking out at window, and asked him in Italian, What does a man think of when he thinks of nothing? Sir Edward Dier, after a little pause, said in Italian, Madam, of a woman’s promise. The Queen shrunk in her head and shut the window.—Lamb. MS. p. 21. [back]
Note 3. My Lo. St. Albans hath often told me that Queen Elizabeth when she was to make a bishop or a great officer, besides his learning, piety, and integrity, she would have some respect to the person of the man.—Lamb. MS. p. 34. [back]
Note 4. Lamb. MS. p. 35. [back]
Note 5. King James was going through Lusen by Greenwich. He asked what town it was. They said Lusen. He asked about half an hour after. ’Twas Lusen still. Said the king, I will be king of Lusen.—Lamb. MS. p. 84. [back]
Note 6. He asked how far to a town. They said six miles. Half an hour after he asked again. One said six miles and an half. He lighted from his coach and crept under his horse’s shoulder. Some asked him what his M. meant. He said he must stalk, for yonder town fled from him.—Lamb. MS. p. 84. [back]
Note 7. Lamb. MS. p. 72. Gondomar, I presume, was about to return to Spain. I cannot believe that his message was meant for an insult, as has been supposed; though I can well believe that the popular hatred of Spain and everything Spanish was apt enough to put that construction upon it. But there are no traces of any unkindness between Gondomar and Bacon. These compliments may have been exchanged at Easter-tide in 1622. Easter-day fell on the 21st of April that year, and a new Spanish ambassador arrived a week after.—See Court and Times of James I., ii. 309. [back]
Note 8. He asked how far to a town. They said six miles. Half an hour after he asked again. One said six miles and an half. He lighted from his coach and crept under his horse’s shoulder. Some asked him what his M. meant. He said he must stalk, for yonder town fled from him.—Lamb. MS. p. 84. [back]
Note 9. If one suppresseth his anger he thinks worse than he says; but when he chides, then he says worse than he thinks.—Lamb. MS. p. 24. [back]
Note 10. When Mr. Attorney Cooke gave in the Exchequer high words to Mr. Bacon, he replied, Mr. Attorney, &c.—Lamb. MS. p. 7. [back]
Note 11. My Lo. St. Albans coming into the Earl of Arundel’s garden where there were many statues of naked men and women, made a stand and said, “The resurrection.”—Lamb. MS. p. 65. [back]
Note 12. My Lo. St. Albans was wont to say that it was our greatest unhappiness, that we could not abandon those for our safety who were the greatest enemies to our profit.—Lamb. MS. p. 85. [back]
Note 13. So Lamb. MS. p. 5. In the Baconiana it is given thus: “The same Lord when a gentleman seemed not much to approve of his liberality to his retinue, said to him, Sir, I am all of apiece; if the head be lifted up, the inferior parts of the body must too.” It will be observed that Rawley’s notes of these apophthegms are in almost every case better than Dr. Tenison’s version, by whom they have evidently been dressed for company. In this case I thought the improved version too bad, and made the note and the text change places. That such an alteration could have been sanctioned by Bacon is utterly incredible. [back]
Note 14. The old man at Buxton that answered him that would have been trusted for brooms: Hast thou no money? borrow of thy back and borrow of thy belly: they’ll ne’er ask thee again: I shall be ever asking thee.—Lamb. MS. 5. [back]
Note 15. Jack Weeks said of the Bishop of London, Montagu; I hope he is in heaven. Every man thinks as he wisheth; but if he be there ’twere pity it were known.—Lamb. MS. p. 55. [back]