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Sir Francis Bacon


Essay 32

Of Discourse.   
1 SOme in their Discourse, desire rather Commendation of Wit, in being able to hold all Arguments, then of Iudgment, in discerning what is True: As if it were a Praise, to know what might be Said, and not what should be Thought. Some haue certaine Common Places, and Theames, wherein they are good, and want Variety: Which kinde of Pouerty is for the most part Tedious, and when it is once perceiued Ridiculous. The Honourablest Part of Talke, is to giue the Occasion; And againe to Moderate and passe to somewhat else; For then a Man leads the Daunce. It is good, in Discourse, and Speech of Conuersation, to vary, and entermingle Speech, of the present Occasion with Arguments; Tales with Reasons; Asking of Questions, with telling of Opinions; and Iest with Earnest: For it is a dull Thing to Tire, and, as we say now, to Iade, any Thing too farre. As for Iest, there be certaine Things, which ought to be priuiledged from it; Namely Religion, Matters of State, Great Persons, Any Mans present Businesse of Importance, And any Case that deserueth Pitty. Yet there be some, that thinke their Wits haue been asleepe; Except they dart out somewhat, that is Piquant, and to the Quicke: That is a Vaine, which would be brideled; Parce Puer stimulis, & fortiùs vtere Loris. And generally, Men ought to finde the difference, between Saltnesse and Bitternesse. Certainly, he that hath a Satyricall vaine, as he maketh others afraid of his Wit, so he had need be afraid of others Memory. He that questioneth much, shall learne much, and content much; But especially, if he apply his Questions, to the Skill of the Persons, whom he asketh: For he shall giue them occasion, to please themselues in Speaking, and himselfe shall continually gather Knowledge. But let his Questions, not be troublesome; For that is fit for a Poser. And let him be sure, to leaue other Men their Turnes to speak. Nay, if there be any, that would raigne, and take vp all the time, let him finde meanes to take them off, and to bring Others on; As Musicians vse to doe, with those, that dance too long Galliards. If you dissemble sometimes your knowledge, of that you are thought to know; you shall be thought another time, to know that, you know not. Speach of a Mans Selfe ought to be seldome, and well chosen. I knew One, was wont to say, in Scorne; He must needs be a Wise Man, he speakes so much of Himselfe: And there is but one Case, wherein a Man may Commend Himselfe, with good Grace; And that is in commending Vertue in Another; Especially, if it be such a Vertue, whereunto Himselfe pretendeth. Speech of Touch towards Others, should be sparingly vsed: For Discourse ought to be as a Field, without comming home to any Man. I knew two Noble-men, of the West Part of England; Whereof the one was giuen to Scoffe, but kept euer Royal Cheere in his House: The other, would aske of those, that had beene at the Others Table; Tell truely, was there neuer a Flout or drie Blow giuen; To which the Guest would answer; Such and such a Thing passed: The Lord would say; I thought he would marre a good Dinner. Discretion of Speech, is more then Eloquence; And to speak agreeably to him, with whom we deale, is more then to speake in good Words, or in good Order. A good continued Speech, without a good Speech of Interlocution, shews Slownesse: And a Good Reply, or Second Speech, without a good Setled Speech, sheweth Shallownesse and Weaknesse. As we see in Beasts, that those that are Weakest in the Course, are yet Nimblest in the Turne: As it is betwixt the Grey-hound, & the Hare. To vse too many Circumstances, ere one come to the Matter, is Wearisome; To vse none at all, is Blunt.

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Edited by Ian Lancashire (Dept. of English, University of Toronto) Assisted by Allison Hay.
As published in I. Lancashire, in collaboration with J. Bradley, W. McCarty, M. Stairs, and T. R. Wooldridge. Using TACT and Electronic Texts: Text-Analysis Computing Tools Vers. 2.1 for MS-DOS and PC DOS. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1996. CD-ROM.
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