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Essays (1625)

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Sir Francis Bacon


Essay 8

Of Marriage And Single Life.
1 HE that hath Wife and Children, hath giuen Hostages to Fortune; For they are Impediments, to great Enterprises, either of Vertue, or Mischiefe. Certainly, the best workes, and of greatest Merit for the Publike, haue proceeded from the vnmarried, or Childlesse Men; which, both in Affection, and Meanes, haue married and endowed the Publike. Yet it were great Reason, that those that haue Children, should haue greatest care of future times; vnto which, they know, they must transmit, their dearest pledges. Some there are, who though they lead a Single Life, yet their Thoughts doe end with themselues, and account future Times, Impertinences. Nay, there are some other, that account Wife and Children, but as Bills of charges. Nay more, there are some foolish rich couetous Men, that take a pride in hauing no Children, because they may be thought, so much the richer. For perhaps, they haue heard some talke; Such an one is a great rich Man; And another except to it; Yea, but he hath a great charge of Children: As if it were an Abatement to his Riches. But the most ordinary cause of a Single Life, is Liberty; especially, in certaine Selfe-pleasing, and humorous Mindes, which are so sensible of euery restraint, as they will goe neare, to thinke their Girdles, and Garters, to be Bonds and Shackles. Vnmarried Men are best Friends; best Masters; best Seruants; but not alwayes best Subiects; For they are light to runne away; And almost all Fugitiues are of that Condition. A Single Life doth well with Church men: For Charity will hardly water the Ground, where it must first fill a Poole. It is indifferent for Iudges and Magistrates: For if they be facile, and corrupt, you shall haue a Seruant, fiue times worse than a Wife. For Souldiers, I finde the Generalls commonly in their Hortatiues, put Men in minde of their Wiues and Children: And I thinke the Despising of Marriage, amongst the Turkes, maketh the vulgar souldier more base. Certainly, Wife and Children, are a kinde of Discipline of Humanity: And single Men, though they be many times more Charitable, because their Meanes are lesse exhaust; yet, on the other side, they are more cruell, and hard hearted, ( good to make seuere Inquisitors ) because their Tendernesse, is not so oft called vpon. Graue Natures, led by Custome, and therfore constant, are commonly louing Husbands; As was said of Vlysses; Vetulam suam prætulit Immortalitati. Chast Women are often Proud, and froward, as Presuming vpon the merit of their Chastity. It is one of the best Bonds, both of Chastity and Obedience, in the Wife, if She thinke her Husband Wise; which She will neuer doe, if She finde him Iealous. Wiues are young Mens Mistresses; Companions for middle Age; and old Mens Nurses. So as a Man may haue a Quarrell to marry, when he will. But yet, he was reputed one of the wise Men, that made Answer to the Question; When a Man should marry? A young Man not yet, an Elder Man not at all. It is often seene, that bad Husbands, haue very good Wiues; whether it be, that it rayseth the Price of their Husbands Kindnesse, when it comes; Or that the Wiues take a Pride, in their Patience. But this neuer failes, if the bad Husbands were of their owne choosing, against their Friends consent; For then, they will be sure, to make good their owne Folly.

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