Of Revenge by Francis Bacon
The essay is a manual of sage advice. Bacon’s essay appears to be primarily concerned with the disadvantages of revenge. Bacon believes that revenge is contrary to both God’s morality and human justice. Bacon convincingly demonstrates that revenge causes more harm than good. The essay begins with a condemnation of revenge, stating that ‘Revenge is a kind of wild justice; which the more man’s nature runs to; the more ought to law to weed out’. This implies that revenge is uncivilised and results in anarchy. Revenge has no place in a society where the rule of law is most respected. According to Bacon, revenge is ignoble and forgiveness is noble, although revenge is tolerable in some circumstances.
Bacon argues in favour of forgiveness, stating that forgiving an enemy demonstrates moral superiority. A man can settle a score with an adversary by exacting revenge. However, by abstaining from revenge, he demonstrates moral superiority over his adversary. Forgiveness of an adversary is a sign of an elevated heart. A guy commits an offence in order to earn financial gain, for pleasure, to obtain a higher position, or for any other comparable cause. As a result, there is no reason to be irritated with a man solely because he is selfish. And if a man commits a wrong solely out of malice, it is best to disregard him, as he is akin to the thorn or briar, which pricks and scratches but serves no useful purpose.
It is quite remarkable that Bacon bans vengeance in one breath and then begins counselling on how to exact revenge in the next. This is a normal morality. Bacon asserts that ‘the most bearable form of revenge is for those wrongs for which no law exists’. However, he suggests that this revenge be carried out with extreme caution, i.e. that the avenger avoid being apprehended by law, as this would give his adversary a twofold edge. He argues that it is generous on the side of the revenge to reveal his name to the victim, because the pleasure of revenge is not so much in inflicting suffering as it is in convincing the adversary to repent of his error. Bacon disapproves of those who are cunning cowards; they conceal their identity from their victim, defeating the aim of revenge. ‘However, vile and cunning cowards are like the arrow that flies in the dark,’ he says. To illustrate another facet of revenge, Bacon contrasts the perspectives of Cosmus and Job. According to Cosmus, a wrong committed by a friend is more unforgivable than a wrong committed by an adversary, however Job believes that if we expect advantages from friends, we should also be prepared to forgive them for any injuries they cause. Thus, as Bacon implies, it is charitable to forgive our friends, and this behaviour strengthens the links of society.
Bacon distinguishes between public and private vengeance near the conclusion of the essay. Revenge for the assassination of certain public people has brought wealth. Bacon is correct in asserting that Augustus, who avenged Julius Caesar’s killing, Septimius Severus, who avenged Pertinax’s murder, and Henry IV, who avenged Henry III’s death, all prospered and flourished. Additionally, their nations have achieved honour in this regard. Bacon, on the other hand, is opposed to private revenge. For him, a revengeful individual who spends his entire life considering and doing acts of violence is comparable to a witch. A witch meets an untimely demise, and a person bent on revenge meets an untimely demise.
The essay demonstrates Bacon’s breadth of knowledge. He illustrates his points with a variety of historical and Biblical allusions. It is replete with examples, similes, and metaphors. Men of foul disposition are contrasted here to thorn and briar that poke and scratch. Cowardly individuals who seek revenge in secret are compared to an arrow that flies in the dark. Revengeful individuals are compared to witches, who suffer a tragic end as a result of their mischief. There is no such thing as thinking obscurity. Sentences are concise but brimming with meaning. The style is concise, with phrases of exceptional quality.