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Sir Francis Bacon


Essay 36

Of Ambition.   
1 AMbition is like Choler; Which is an Humour, that maketh Men Actiue, Earnest, Full of Alacritie, and Stirring, if it be not stopped. But if it be stopped, and cannot haue his Way, it becommeth Adust, and thereby Maligne and Venomous. So Ambitious Men, if they finde the way Open for their Rising, and still get forward, they are rather Busie then Dangerous; But if they be check't in their desires, they become secretly discontent, and looke vpon Men and matters, with an Euill Eye; And are best pleased, when Things goe backward; Which is the worst Propertie, in a Seruant of a Prince or State. Therefore it is good for Princes,if they vse Ambitious Men, to handle it so, as they be still Progressiue, and not Retrograde: Which because it cannot be without Inconuenience, it is good not to vse such Natures at all. For if they rise not with their Seruice, they will take Order to make their Seruice fall with them. But since we haue said, it were good not to vse Men of Ambitious Natures, except it be vpon necessitie, it is fit we speake, in what Cases, they are of necessitie. Good Commanders in the Warres, must be taken, be they neuer so Ambitious: For the Vse of their Seruice dispenseth with the rest; And to take a Soldier without Ambition, is to pull off his Spurres. There is also great vse of Ambitious Men, in being Skreenes to Princes, in Matters of Danger and Enuie: For no Man will take that Part, except he be like a Seel'd Doue, that mounts and mounts, because he cannot see about him. There is Vse also of Ambitious Men, in Pulling downe the Greatnesse, of any Subiect that ouer-tops: As Tiberius vsed Macro in the Pulling down of Seianus. Since therefore they must be vsed, in such Cases, there resteth to speake, how they are to be brideled, that they may be lesse dangerous. There is lesse danger of them, if they be of Meane Birth, then if they be Noble: And if they be rather Harsh of Nature, then Gracious and Popular: And if they be rather New Raised, then growne Cunning, and Fortified in their Greatnesse. It is counted by some, a weaknesse in Princes, to haue Fauorites. But it is, of all others, the best Remedy against Ambitious Great-Ones. For when the Way of Pleasuring and Displeasuring, lieth by the Fauourite, it is Impossible, Any Other should be Ouer-great. Another meanes to curbe them, is to Ballance them by others, as Proud as they. But then, there must be some Middle Counsellours, to keep Things steady: For without that Ballast, the Ship will roule too much. At the least, a Prince may animate and inure some Meaner Persons, to be, as it were, Scourges to Ambitious Men. As for the hauing of them Obnoxious to Ruine, if they be of fearefull Natures, it may doe well: But if they bee Stout, and Daring, it may precipitate their Designes, and proue dangerous. As for the pulling of them downe, if the Affaires require it, and that it may not be done with safety suddainly, the onely Way is, the Enrchange continually of Fauours, and Disgraces; whereby they may not know, what to expect; And be, as it were, in a Wood. Of Ambitions, it is lesse harmefull, the Ambition to preuaile in great Things, then that other, to appeare in euery thing; For that breeds Confusion, and marres Businesse. But yet, it is lesse danger, to haue an Ambitious Man, stirring in Businesse, then Great in Dependances. He that seeketh to be Eminent amongst Able Men, hath a great Taske; but that is euer good for the Publique. But he that plots, to be the onely Figure amongst Ciphars, is the decay of an whole Age. Honour hath three Things in it: The Vantage Ground to doe good: The Approach to Kings, and principall Persons: And the Raising of a Mans owne Fortunes. He that hath the best of these Intentions, when he aspireth, is an Honest Man: And that Prince, that can discerne of these Intentions, in Another that aspireth, is a wise Prince. Generally, let Princes and States, choose such Ministers, as are more sensible of Duty, then of Rising; And such as loue Businesse rather vpon Conscience, then vpon Brauery: And let them Discerne a Busie Nature, from a Willing Minde.

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