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Sir Francis Bacon


Essay 22

Of Cunning.
1 WE take Cunning for a Sinister or Crooked Wisedome. And certainly, there is great difference, between a Cunning Man, and a Wise Man; Not onely in Point of Honesty, but in point of Ability. There be that can packe the Cards, and yet cannot play well ; So there are some, that are good in Canuasses, and Factions, that are otherwise Weake Men. Againe, it is one thing to vnderstand Persons, and another thing to vnderstand Matters; For many are perfect in Mens Humours, that are not greatly Capable of the Reall Part of Businesse; Which is the Constitution of one, that hath studied Men, more then Bookes. Such Men are fitter for Practise, then for Counsell; And they are good but in their own Alley: Turne them to New Men, and they haue lost their Ayme; So as the old Rule, to know a Foole from a Wise Man; Mitte ambos nudos ad ignotos, & videbis; doth scarce hold for them. And because these Cunning Men, are like Haberdashers of Small Wares, it is not amisse to set forth their Shop.
2 It is a point of Cunning; to wait vpon him, with whom you speake, with your eye; As the Iesuites giue it in precept: For there be many Wise Men, that haue Secret Hearts, and Transparant Countenances. Yet this would be done, with a demure Abasing of your Eye sometimes, as the Iesuites also doe vse.
3 Another is, that when you haue any thing to obtaine of present dispatch, you entertaine, and amuse the party, with whom you deale, with some other Discourse; That he be not too much awake, to make Obiections. I knew a Counsellor and Secretary, that neuer came to Queene Elizabeth of England, with Bills to signe, but he would alwaies first put her into some discourse of Estate, that she mought the lesse minde the Bills.
4 The like Surprize, may be made, by Mouing things, when the Party is in haste, and cannot stay, to consider aduisedly, of that is moued.
5 If a man would crosse a Businesse, that he doubts some other would handsomely and effectually moue, let him pretend to wish it well, and moue it himselfe, in such sort, as may foile it.
6 The breaking off, in the midst of that, one was about to say, as if he tooke himselfe vp, breeds a greater Appetite in him, with whom you conferre, to know more.
7 And because it workes better, when any thing seemeth to be gotten from you by Question, then if you offer it of your selfe, you may lay a Bait for a Question, by shewing another Vsage and Countenance, then you are wont; To the end, to giue Occasion, for the party to aske, what the Matter is of the Change? As Nehemias did; And I had not before that time been sad before the King.
8 In Things, that are tender and vnpleasing, it is good to breake the Ice, by some whose Words are of lesse weight, and to reserue the more weighty Voice, to come in, as by chance so that he may be asked the Question vpon the others Speech. As Narcissus did, in relating to Claudius, the Marriage of Messalina and Silius.
9 In things, that a Man would not be seen in, himselfe; It is a Point of Cunning, to borrow the Name of the World; As to say; The World sayes, Or, There is a speech abroad.
10 I knew one, that when he wrote a Letter, he would put that which was most Materiall, in the Post-script, as if it had been a By-matter.
11 I knew another, that when he came to haue Speech, he would passe ouer that, that he intended most, and goe forth, and come backe againe, and speake of it, as of a Thing, that he had almost forgot.
12 Some procure themselues, to be surprized, at such times, as it is like, the party that they work vpon, will suddenly come vpon them: And to be found with a Letter in their hand, or doing somewhat which they are not accustomed; To the end, they may be apposed of those things, which of themselues they are desirous to vtter.
13 It is a Point of Cunning, to let fall those Words, in a Mans owne Name, which he would haue another Man learne, and vse, and thereupon take Aduantage. I knew two, that were Competitors, for the Secretaries Place, in Queene Elizabeths time, and yet kept good Quarter betweene themselues; And would conferre, one with another, vpon the Businesse; And the one of them said, That to be a Secretary, in the Declination of a Monarchy, was a Ticklish Thing, and that he did not affect it: The other, straight caught vp those Words, and discoursed with diuers of his Friends, that he had no reason to desire to be Secretary, in the Declination of a Monarchy. The first Man tooke hold of it, and found Meanes, it was told the Queene; Who hearing of a Declination of a Monarchy, tooke it so ill, as she would neuer after heare of the others Suit.
14 There is a Cunning, which we in England call, The Turning of the Cat in the Pan; which is, when that which a Man sayes to another, he laies it, as if Another had said it to him. And to say Truth, it is not easie, when such a Matter passed between two, to make it appeare, from which of them, it first moued and began.
15 It is a way, that some men haue, to glaunce and dart at Others, by Iustifying themselues, by Negatiues; As to say, This I doe not: As Tigillinus did towards Burrhus; se non diuersas spes, sed Incolumitatem Imperatoris simpliciter spectare.
16 Some haue in readinesse, so many Tales and Stories, as there is Nothing, they would insinuate, but they can wrap it in to a Tale; which serueth both to keepe themselues more in Guard, and to make others carry it, with more Pleasure.
17 It is a good Point of Cunning, for a Man, to shape the Answer he would haue, in his owne Words, and Propositi- Propositions; For it makes the other Party sticke the lesse.
18 It is strange, how long some Men will lie in wait, to speake somewhat, they desire to say; And how farre about they will fetch; And how many other Matters they will beat ouer, to come neare it. It is a Thing of great Patience, but yet of much Vse.
19 A sudden, bold, and vnexpected Question, doth many times surprise a Man, and lay him open. Like to him, that hauing changed his Name, and walking in Pauls, Another suddenly came behind him, and called him by his true Name, whereat straightwaies he looked backe.
20 But these Small Wares, and Petty Points of Cunning, are infinite: And it were a good deed, to make a List of them: For that nothing doth more hurt in a State, then that Cunning Men passe for Wise.
21 But certainly, some there are, that know the Resorts and Falls of Businesse, that cannot sinke into the Maine of it: Like a House, that hath conuenient Staires, and Entries, but neuer a faire Roome. Therfore, you shall see them finde out pretty Looses in the Conclusion, but are no waies able to Examine, or debate Matters. And yet commonly they take aduantage of their Inability, and would be thought Wits of direction. Some build rather vpon the Abusing of others, and (as we now say;) Putting Tricks vpon them; Then vpon Soundnesse of their own proceedings. But Salomon saith; Prudens aduertit ad Gressus suos: Stultus diuertit ad Dolos.

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