Of Great Place by Francis Bacon – Summary
The Essays of Francis Bacon evolved in three distinct stages, as indicated by the editions of 1597, 1612, and 1625. The initial edition contained ten essays; the second edition contained thirty-eight pieces, with a few earlier essays revised; and the final edition contained fifty-eight essays, some of which were reworked versions of earlier ones. “Of Great Place” first appeared in the 1612 edition.
Bacon titled his essays “Counsels,” and they contained sound advice on a variety of topics of broad interest. “Of Great Place” is an excellent illustration of this. It establishes a code of conduct for individuals holding high public office and details the do’s and don’ts for them. The essay is replete with the worldly wisdom Bacon acquired during his political career, as evidenced by statements such as “The rising unto place is laborious; and by pains, men come to greater pains…” or “The standing is slippery, and the regress is either a downfall or at least an eclipse.” Or again, “All rising to a great place is by a winding staircase.”
“Of Great Place” is concerned with public affairs and politics. In this essay, Bacon demonstrates how to reach a position of high authority and also advises on how to conduct yourself once in the chair, in addition to recognising some of the downsides of occupying power. “Men in great places are thrice servants.”
To begin with, they are servants to the sovereigns of state in their person; secondly, in their acts, as their reputation brings all they do under public scrutiny; and thirdly, in their time, which is consumed entirely by business. He reiterates that ascending to a great position is rigorous work. To attain a better position, great effort and tenacity are required. A man who attains this coveted position is occasionally forced to use dishonourable tactics to protect his dignity and status. A person who maintains a great position frequently stands on precarious ground, and he may be fearful of receding into nonexistence or suffering downfall.
Bacon makes two distinctions between the two methods in which men can acquire high positions: via hard work and through dubious means. Men achieve high positions via great effort and agony, but they must endure greater pain and exert greater effort to maintain their positions. Men can also get higher positions using unethical and dishonourable techniques such as flattery, bribery, and treachery. However, regardless of the means, the end is endowed with dignity and honour. Once a person attains a position of high honour, he or she must inspire fear or respect in others. Bacon also observes that people who attain high positions are constantly plagued by a sense of uneasiness. The crown-wearing head seems uneasy. A guy in a high position is perpetually on shaky ground, as there is always the possibility of losing the position he has gained. His position is perilous and precarious, as it is now subject to the whims and caprices of those for whom he works. The incumbent is constantly in danger of losing his authority permanently or of being eclipsed or superseded in the race for power by someone else. Such a loss of power and status is certain to make the individual concerned depressed and dissatisfied.
Bacon then advises on what should be done after occupying power. To begin with, a great man should study examples of both good and evil. They should set the best examples of people who have achieved glory and distinction before them. They must also take into account the factors that contributed to the prior individuals’ shame and demise. “Seek to make thy course regular, that man may know beforehand what they may expect,” a man in authority should strive to set a good example. Bacon also cautions the man in a great position against four vices: tardiness, corruption, rudeness, and facility. The suggestion is great and rational. Bacon talks of the difficulties and discomforts experienced by high-ranking individuals: “it is good to side a man’s self whilst he is on the rise, and to balance himself when he is placed.” Through a strong, detailed, and accurate argument, the essay demonstrates practical knowledge.
Questions and Answers
Q. Give a critical analysis “Of Great Places”, written by Francis Bacon.
Answer: The essay “Of Great Place” by Francis Bacon, a great English philosopher and scientist whose dictum “sciencia potentia est” is well-known worldwide contains a wealth of intriguing philosophical ideas. These thoughts and principles are easily applicable to modern-day life. Francis Bacon’s worldview is summarized by the fact that the primary purpose of scientific knowledge is to serve humanity.
The main idea of the essay is to show the readers the position of men in great places. Francis Bacon discusses the life, duties, and behaviour of those people who occupy high positions in society. He writes that all the people who live in great places are “thrice servants.” They are servants of the sovereign or state, fame, and business. Moreover, they have no freedom, although they enjoy power. It is a very interesting idea that powerful people have no liberty. But it’s true. They have power over other people who occupy lower positions in society, but they “lose power” over themselves.
Francis Bacon argues that it is very difficult “to raise into place.” People should be strong and self-confident to take a high position in society. He writes that “by indignities, men come to dignities.” Moreover, they can easily lose their position. That is why they should be uncompromising in their goals and desires.
Even in old age, great men should not change their manners. Bacon also dwells upon the problem of other people’s opinions concerning “great men.” He writes that great people should “borrow other men’s opinions” because they can get a lot of interesting and important things for them. Great men cannot judge themselves. They should learn what other people think of them in order to remain at the top of the ladder.
Bacon expresses a very interesting thought when he writes that great men are “the first to find their own griefs, though they be the last to find their own faults.” He is sure that it is very difficult for those people who have money and power to find their own faults. They do not see their faults. It seems to them that they have no faults while they actually have a lot of them. Francis Bacon calls these people “strangers to themselves.” Great men are so fully involved in their business that they “have no time to tend to their health,” their body, and their mind. The only things they are thinking about are power and money. Sometimes they simply forget about their health. And only when they have problems with health do they come down to earth and realise that they are merely human beings.
In his essay, Bacon also touches upon the theme of good and evil. He argues, “in place, there is a licence to do good and evil.” Evil is a curse. Only those people who do good will be able to rest. Good thoughts are better than good dreams because men have an opportunity to bring their good thoughts to life. Bacon writes that “merit and good works are the end of man’s motion”. Any man should learn to do good in his life in order to get an award from God at the end of “the motion.” Any man can be “a partaker of God’s theatre,” but he should deserve it.
Further, Bacon touches upon the theme of law: “to preserve the right of thy place, but stir no questions of jurisdiction.” He also wants everyone to preserve the rights of other places.
Bacon argues that there are four major vices of authority. They are corruption, delays, roughness, and facilities. In order to overcome delays, great people should be punctual. Bacon writes: “Give easy access; keep time appointed.”
Special attention is paid to corruption. Bacon writes that great people should be sincere to avoid corruption. In order to avoid roughness, it is necessary to be kinder.
Francis Bacon argues that great men should respect other people even if they are not as powerful as they are. He writes: “If you have colleagues, respect them.” To conclude, an intellectual man like Francis Bacon could not only show the strengths and weaknesses of the great men of society, but could also give them some suggestions concerning their way of life, their behaviour, and their principles. He was interested in the investigation of human nature. His natural philosophy was greatly appreciated because he represented completely new philosophical ideas concerning the essence of life.
Q. What was Bacon’s idealism like? Illustrate with examples from “Of Great Places.”
Answer: Bacon’s idealism can be realised through his intellectual works. Bacon, a contemporary of Galileo and Descartes, was a harsh critic of his era’s intellectual culture. Descartes and Galileo were exceptions; in fact, the latter was a victim of the church due to his scientific expertise. Bacon abandoned alchemist science in favour of pushing and pursuing the scientific method.
“Of Great Places” refines Bacon’s ideas about personal and professional idealism. This essay captures readers’ attention with its brevity, as it is filled with short literary words that represent the Baconian style. The first sentence of the essay, “Men in great places are thrice servants,” is a good illustration. He was well balanced. The essay is written in mysterious and exquisite sentences: “It is a strange desire to seek power and to lose liberty, or to seek power over others and to lose power over one’s self.”
Bacon’s language and subject matter attempt to show that success in public life is a “science” in and of itself. It is hardly a case of starry-eyed humanistic idealism. “Rising to high places is laborious.” However, it is critical to ascend to these places in order to serve the greater good.