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Sir Francis Bacon


Essay 39

Of Custome and Education.
1 MEns Thoughts are much according to their Inclination: Their Discourse and Speeche according to their Learning, and Infused Opinions; But their Deeds are after as they haue beene Accustomed. And therefore, as Macciauel well noteth (though in an euill fauoured Instance) There is no Trusting to the Force of Nature, nor to the Brauery of Words; Except it be Corroborate by Custome. His Instance is, that for the Atchieuing of a desperate Conspiracie, a Man should not rest vpon the Fiercenesse of any mans Nature, or his Resolute Vndertakings; But take such an one, as hath had his Hands formerly in Bloud. But Macciauel knew not of a Friar Clement, nor a Rauillac, nor a Iaureguy, nor a Baltazar Gerard: yet his Rule holdeth still, that Nature, nor the Engagement of Words, are not so forcible, as Custome. Onely Superstition is now so well aduanced, that Men of the first Bloud, are as Firme, as Butchers by Occupation: And votary Resolution is made Equipollent to Custome, euen in matter of Bloud. In other Things, the Predominancy of Custome is euery where Visible; In so much, as a Man would wonder, to heare Men Professe, Protest, Engage, Giue Great Words, and then Doe iust as they haue Done before: As if they were Dead Images, and Engines moued onely by the wheeles of Custome. We see also the Raigne or Tyrannie of Custome, what it is. The Indians (I meane the Sect of their Wise Men) lay Themselues quietly vpon a Stacke of Wood, and so Sacrifice themselues by Fire. Nay the Wiues striue to be burned with the Corpses of their Husbands. The Lads of Sparta, of Ancient Time, were wont to be Scourged vpon the Altar of Diana, without so much as Queching. I remember in the beginning of Queene Elizabeths time of England, an Irish Rebell Condemned, put vp a Petition to the Deputie, that he might be hanged in a With, and not in an Halter, because it had beene so vsed, with former Rebels. There be Monkes in Russia, for Penance, that will sit a whole Night, in a Vessell of Water, till they be Ingaged with hard Ice. Many Examples may be put, of the Force of Custome, both vpon Minde, and Body. Therefore, since Custome is the Principall Magistrate of Mans life; Let Men by all Meanes endeuour, to obtaine good Customes. Certainly, Custome is most perfect, when it beginneth in Young Yeares: This we call Education; which is, in effect, but an Early Custome. So we see, in Languages the Tongue is more Pliant to all Expressions and Sounds, the Ioints are more Supple to all Feats of Actiuitie, and Motions, in Youth then afterwards. For it is true, that late Learners, cannot so well take the Plie; Except it be in some Mindes, that haue not suffered themselues to fixe, but haue kept themselues open and prepared, to receiue continuall Amendment, which is exceeding Rare. But if the Force of Custome Simple and Separate, be Great; the Force of Custome Copulate, and Conioyned, & Collegiate, is far Greater. For there Example teacheth; Company comforteth; Emulation quickeneth; Glory raiseth: So as in such Places the Force of Custome is in his Exaltation. Certainly, the great Multiplication of Vertues vpon Humane Nature, resteth vpon Societies well Ordained, and Disciplined. For Commonwealths, and Good Gouernments, doe nourish Vertue Growne, but doe not much mend the seeds. But the Misery is, that the most Effectuall Meanes, are now applied, to the Ends, least to be desired.

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