Critical Commentry on Bacon’s Essay ‘Of Marriage And Single Life’

"He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief."

Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626)

(Bacon, who is notorious for his Machiavellism, is also very simple and pleasant when the subject happens to be of human interest apart from ambition or politics etc. Bacon’s scholarship, observation, wisdom and analytical faculties are always  evident  ; and are employed to great advantage. )

The essay Of Marriage And Single Life  was published in the second edition of Bacon’s Essays (1612). In  Of Marriage And Single Life  the essayist have given a comparative study between the traits and characteristics, virtues and vices of married and unmarried persons.

1. Nature: A man having a family to  maintain will generally take no risks. As he has the responsibility to look after his wife and children; a man is in no position to undertake great   enterprises whether these are directed to good purposes or evil. Certainly the best works and of greatest merit for the public have proceeded from the unmarried or childless man. Because, the persons who are married and have children should have greatest care of future times.

Francis Bacon
2. Reasons for not getting married: These are various reasons for which some people remain unmarried. Some of these are as under.

(i) Some persons lead a single life because their thoughts do end with themselves.

(ii) Some chronic bachelors think that wife and children are bills and charges. Since they do not want to spend any money, they prefer to be unmarried,

(iii) Some unmarried persons are foolish rich covetous men, as they take pride in having no children because they may be thought so much the richer. They often hear  'he (the rich person) hath a great charge of children as if it were abatement to his riches.'

(iv) The most ordinary cause of a single life is liberty- Especially in certain self pleasing and their humorous minds “They look upon even their belts and garters to be curbs on their liberty.

3. Qualities of Unmarried Persons: Unmarried men are best friends, best masters and best servants. Some professions are proper only  for unmarried persons  - A clergyman should not get married. If he has a family, he will not save any money or affection to offer to others.

It does not matter if judges and magistrates do not marry. If they are corrupt they will receive bribes through agents which are much worse than wives.

4. Qualities of Married Persons: Married person are better citizens because the unmarried persons having no responsibility find it easy to flee from the country if it becomes  necessary for them to do so.

(i) It is better for soldiers to be married. They fight much better if just before the battle they are reminded by their commanders of their families waiting for them back at home. Turkish soldiers are so vulgar and base.

(ii) Having a wife and children develops the softer feelings of a man. An unmarried man may give more charity because he can easily spare the money for the purpose. But otherwise he is likely to be more cruel and hard hearted than a married man.

5. Wives and Husbands: Women who are faithful to their husbands are often proud of their chastity. If a wife thinks her husband to be wise he will command her loyalty as well as obedience. A wife does not respect a jealous husband: "For a Youngman a wife is a mistress. For a middle-aged man she is a companion. For an old man, she serves as a nurse. This means that a man may marry at any age."

Concluding Words: There can be no doubt about Bacon’s greatness as an essayist or a prose artist. The essay Of Marriage And Single Life clearly demonstrates Bacon’s powers and talents. Bacon was a scholar, a man of sound commonsense and great practical wisdom. H was a scientist by temperament, a judge by profession, a great Parliamentarian with a shrewd and observant eye. Bacon exploits all his attributes to the maximum to achieve his purpose. He has very keen insight into human character id affairs. He has the rare talent of discussing everything from various angles and cents of view. He expresses his ideas and observations effectively and forcefully. His arguments are logical and convincing — most of them are drab from everyday life. The choice of his images is also very happy. His illustrations and discussions are so powerful that they never fail to achieve their purpose. Bacon is a scholar and a practical philosopher who speculates about commonplace subjects and makes them enliven and exalted with his treatment. Morality, if it suits the purpose of practical utility, has a place in his scheme of this. His talent for condensation (epigrammatic quality) is also employed to advantage here— “for charity will hardly water the ground where it must first fill a pool.”

Such passages have the force of a rapier, the grace of a beautiful poem and also the quality of being automatically committed  to marriage.

Ardhendu De