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Sir Francis Bacon


Essay 14

Of Nobility.            
1 WE will speake of Nobility, first as a Portion of an Estate; Then as a Condition of Particular Persons. A Monarchy, where there is no Nobility at all, is euer a pure, and absolute Tyranny; As that of the Turkes. For Nobility attempers Soueraignty, and drawes the Eyes of the People, somewhat aside from the Line Royall. But for Democracies, they need it not; And they are commonly, more quiet, and lesse subiect to Sedition, then where there are Stirps of Nobles. For Mens Eyes are vpon the Businesse, and not vpon the Persons: Or if vpon the Persons, it is for the Businesse sake, as fittest, and not for Flags and Pedegree. Wee see the Switzers last well, notwithstanding their Diuersitie of Religion, and of Cantons. For Vtility is their Bond, and not Respects. The vnited Prouinces of the Low Countries, in their Gouernment, excell: For where there is an Equality, the Consultations are more indifferent, and the Payments and Tributes more cheerfull. A great and Potent Nobility addeth Maiestie to a Monarch, but diminisheth Power; And putteth Life and Spirit into the People, but presseth their Fortune. It is well, when Nobles are not too great for Soueraignty, nor for Iustice; And yet maintained in that heigth, as the Insolencie of Inferiours, may be broken vpon them, before it come on too fast vpon the Maiesty of Kings. A Numerous Nobility, causeth Pouerty, and Inconuenience in a State: For it is a Surcharge of Expence; And besides, it being of Necessity, that many of the Nobility, fall in time to be weake in Fortune, it maketh a kinde of Dispoportion, betweene Honour and Meanes.
2 As for Nobility in particular Persons; It is a Reuerend Thing, to see an Ancient Castle, or Building not in decay; Or to see a faire Timber Tree, sound and perfect: How much more, to behold an Ancient Noble Family, which hath stood against the Waues and weathers of Time. For new Nobility is but the Act of Power; But Ancient Nobility is the Act of Time. Those that are first raised to Nobility, are commonly more Vertuous, but lesse Innocent, then their Descendants: For there is, rarely, any Rising, but by a Commixture, of good and euill Arts. But it is Reason, the Memory of their vertues, remaine to their Posterity; And their Faults die with themselues. Nobility of Birth, commonly abateth Industry: And he that is not industrious, enuieth him, that is. Besides, Noble persons, cannot goe much higher; And he that standeth at a stay, when others rise, can hardly auoid Motions of Enuy. On the other side, Nobility extinguisheth the passiue Enuy, from others towards them; Because they are in possession of Honour. Certainly Kings, that haue Able men of their Nobility, shall finde ease in imploying them; And a better Slide into their Businesse: For People naturally bend to them, as borne in some sort to Command.

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Edited by Ian Lancashire (Dept. of English, University of Toronto) Assisted by Allison Hay.
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