Miniature Portrait of Francis Bacon
Sir Francis Bacon Quotes

Source: Bartlett, John. Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. 1919.

    Come home to men’s business and bosoms.
          Dedication to the Essays, Edition 1625.

    No pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage-ground of truth.
          Of Truth.

    Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other.
          Of Death.

    Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.
          Of Revenge.

    It was a high speech of Seneca (after the manner of the Stoics), that “The good things which belong to prosperity are to be wished, but the good things that belong to adversity are to be admired.”
          Of Adversity.

    It is yet a higher speech of his than the other, “It is true greatness to have in one the frailty of a man and the security of a god.”
          Of Adversity.

    Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New.
          Of Adversity.

    Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes.
          Of Adversity.

    Virtue is like precious odours,—most fragrant when they are incensed or crushed. 1
          Of Adversity.

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

    Wives are young men’s mistresses, companions for middle age, and old men’s nurses. 2
          Of Marriage and Single Life.

    Men in great place are thrice servants,—servants of the sovereign or state, servants of fame, and servants of business.
          Of Great Place.

    Mahomet made the people believe that he would call a hill to him, and from the top of it offer up his prayers for the observers of his law. The people assembled. Mahomet called the hill to come to him, again and again; and when the hill stood still he was never a whit abashed, but said, “If the hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the hill.”
          Of Boldness.

    The desire of power in excess caused the angels to fall; the desire of knowledge in excess caused man to fall. 3
          Of Goodness.

    The remedy is worse than the disease. 4
          Of Seditions.

    I had rather believe all the fables in the legends and the Talmud and the Alcoran, than that this universal frame is without a mind.
          Of Atheism.

    A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion. 5
          Of Atheism.

    Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience. He that travelleth into a country before he hath some entrance into the language, goeth to school, and not to travel.
          Of Travel.

    Princes are like to heavenly bodies, which cause good or evil times, and which have much veneration but no rest. 6
          Of Empire.

    In things that a man would not be seen in himself, it is a point of cunning to borrow the name of the world; as to say, “The world says,” or “There is a speech abroad.”
          Of Cunning.

    There is a cunning which we in England call “the turning of the cat in the pan;” which is, when that which a man says to another, he lays it as if another had said it to him.
          Of Cunning.

    It is a good point of cunning for a man to shape the answer he would have in his own words and propositions, for it makes the other party stick the less.
          Of Cunning.

    It hath been an opinion that the French are wiser than they seem, and the Spaniards seem wiser than they are; but howsoever it be between nations, certainly it is so between man and man.
          Of Seeming Wise.

    There is a wisdom in this beyond the rules of physic. A man’s own observation, what he finds good of and what he finds hurt of, is the best physic to preserve health.
          Of Regimen of Health.

    Discretion of speech is more than eloquence; and to speak agreeably to him with whom we deal is more than to speak in good words or in good order.
          Of Discourse.

    Men’s thoughts are much according to their inclination, 7 their discourse and speeches according to their learning and infused opinions.
          Of Custom and Education.

    Chiefly the mould of a man’s fortune is in his own hands. 8
          Of Fortune.

    If a man look sharply and attentively, he shall see Fortune; for though she is blind, she is not invisible. 9
          Of Fortune.

    Young men are fitter to invent than to judge, fitter for execution than for counsel, and fitter for new projects than for settled business.
          Of Youth and Age.

    Virtue is like a rich stone,—best plain set.
          Of Beauty.

    God Almighty first planted a garden. 10
          Of Gardens.

    And because the breath of flowers is far sweeter in the air (where it comes and goes, like the warbling of music) than in the hand, therefore nothing is more fit for that delight than to know what be the flowers and plants that do best perfume the air.
          Of Gardens.

    Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.
          Of Studies.

    Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.
          Of Studies.

    Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend.
          Of Studies.

    The greatest vicissitude of things amongst men is the vicissitude of sects and religions. 11
          Of Vicissitude of Things.

    Books must follow sciences, and not sciences books.
          Proposition touching Amendment of Laws.

    Knowledge is power.—Nam et ipsa scientia potestas est. 12
          Meditationes Sacræ. De Hæresibus.

    Whence we see spiders, flies, or ants entombed and preserved forever in amber, a more than royal tomb. 13
          Historia Vitæ et Mortis; Sylva Sylvarum, Cent. i. Exper. 100.

    When you wander, as you often delight to do, you wander indeed, and give never such satisfaction as the curious time requires. This is not caused by any natural defect, but first for want of election, when you, having a large and fruitful mind, should not so much labour what to speak as to find what to leave unspoken. Rich soils are often to be weeded.
          Letter of Expostulation to Coke.

    “Antiquitas sæculi juventus mundi.” These times are the ancient times, when the world is ancient, and not those which we account ancient ordine retrogrado, by a computation backward from ourselves. 14
          Advancement of Learning. Book i. (1605).

    For the glory of the Creator and the relief of man’s estate.
          Advancement of Learning. Book i. (1605).

    The sun, which passeth through pollutions and itself remains as pure as before. 15
          Advancement of Learning. Book ii. (1605).

    It [Poesy] was ever thought to have some participation of divineness, because it doth raise and erect the mind by submitting the shews of things to the desires of the mind.
          Advancement of Learning. Book ii. (1605).

    Sacred and inspired divinity, the sabaoth and port of all men’s labours and peregrinations.
          Advancement of Learning. Book ii. (1605).

    Cleanness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God. 16
          Advancement of Learning. Book ii. (1605).

    States as great engines move slowly.
          Advancement of Learning. Book ii. (1605).

    The world ’s a bubble, and the life of man
  Less than a span. 17
          The World.

    Who then to frail mortality shall trust
But limns on water, or but writes in dust.
          The World.

    What then remains but that we still should cry
For being born, and, being born, to die? 18
          The World.

    For my name and memory, I leave it to men’s charitable speeches, to foreign nations, and to the next ages.
          From his Will.

    My Lord St. Albans said that Nature did never put her precious jewels into a garret four stories high, and therefore that exceeding tall men had ever very empty heads. 19
          Apothegms. No. 17.

    Like the strawberry wives, that laid two or three great strawberries at the mouth of their pot, and all the rest were little ones. 20
          Apothegms. No. 54.

    Sir Henry Wotton used to say that critics are like brushers of noblemen’s clothes.
          Apothegms. No. 64.

    Sir Amice Pawlet, when he saw too much haste made in any matter, was wont to say, “Stay a while, that we may make an end the sooner.”
          Apothegms. No. 76.

    Alonso of Aragon was wont to say in commendation of age, that age appears to be best in four things,—old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read. 21
          Apothegms. No. 97.

    Pyrrhus, when his friends congratulated to him his victory over the Romans under Fabricius, but with great slaughter of his own side, said to them, “Yes; but if we have such another victory, we are undone.” 22
          Apothegms. No. 193.

    Cosmus, Duke of Florence, was wont to say of perfidious friends, that “We read that we ought to forgive our enemies; but we do not read that we ought to forgive our friends.”
          Apothegms. No. 206.

    Cato said the best way to keep good acts in memory was to refresh them with new.
          Apothegms. No. 247.

Note 1.
As aromatic plants bestow
No spicy fragrance while they grow;
But crushed or trodden to the ground,
Diffuse their balmy sweets around.

Oliver Goldsmith: The Captivity, act i.

The good are better made by ill,
As odours crushed are sweeter still.
Samuel Rogers: Jacqueline, stanza 3. [back]

Note 2.
Robert Burton (quoted): Anatomy of Melancholy, part iii. sect. 2, memb. 5, subsect. 5. [back]

Note 3.
Pride still is aiming at the blest abodes;
Men would be angels, angels would be gods.
Aspiring to be gods, if angels fell,
Aspiring to be angels, men rebel.
Alexander Pope: Essay on Man, ep. i. line 125. [back]

Note 4.
There are some remedies worse than the disease.—Publius Syrus: Maxim 301. [back]

Note 5.
Who are a little wise the best fools be.—Dr. John Donne: Triple Fool.

A little skill in antiquity inclines a man to Popery; but depth in that study brings him about again to our religion.—Thomas Fuller: The Holy State. The True Church Antiquary.

A little learning is a dangerous thing.—Alexander Pope: Essay on Criticism, part ii. line 15. [back]

Note 6.
Kings are like stars: they rise and set; they have
The worship of the world, but no repose.
Percy Bysshe Shelley: Hellas. [back]

Note 7.
Of similar meaning, “Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought.” See Shakespeare, page 90. [back]

Note 8.
Every man is the architect of his own fortune.—Pseudo-Sallust: Epist. de Rep. Ordin. ii. 1.

His own character is the arbiter of every one’s fortune.— Publius Syrus: Maxim 283. [back]

Note 9.
Fortune is painted blind, with a muffler afore her eyes, to signify to you that Fortune is blind.—William Shakespeare: Henry V. act iii. sc. 6. [back]

Note 10.
God the first garden made, and the first city Cain.
Abraham Cowley: The Garden, Essay v.

God made the country, and man made the town.
William Cowper: The Task, book i. line 749.

Divina natura dedit agros, ars humana ædificavit urbes (Divine Nature gave the fields, human art built the cities).—Varro: De Re Rustica, iii. 1. [back]

Note 11.
The vicissitude of things.—Laurence Sterne: Sermon xvi. Richard Gifford: Contemplation. [back]

Note 12.
A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength.—Proverbs xxiv. 5.

Knowledge is more than equivalent to force.—Samuel Johnson: Rasselas, chap. xiii. [back]

Note 13.
The bee enclosed and through the amber shown,
Seems buried in the juice which was his own.
Martial: book iv. 32, vi. 15 (Hay’s translation).

I saw a flie within a beade
Of amber cleanly buried.
Robert Herrick: On a Fly buried in Amber.

Pretty! in amber to observe the forms
Of hairs, or straws, or dirt, or grubs, or worms.
Alexander Pope: Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, line 169. [back]

Note 14.
As in the little, so in the great world, reason will tell you that old age or antiquity is to be accounted by the farther distance from the beginning and the nearer approach to the end,—the times wherein we now live being in propriety of speech the most ancient since the world’s creation.—George Hakewill: An Apologie or Declaration of the Power and Providence of God in the Government of the World. London, 1627.

For as old age is that period of life most remote from infancy, who does not see that old age in this universal man ought not to be sought in the times nearest his birth, but in those most remote from it?— Blaise Pascal: Preface to the Treatise on Vacuum.

It is worthy of remark that a thought which is often quoted from Francis Bacon occurs in [Giordano] Bruno’s “Cena di Cenere,” published in 1584: I mean the notion that the later times are more aged than the earlier.—Whewell: Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, vol. ii. p. 198. London, 1847.

We are Ancients of the earth,
And in the morning of the times.
Alfred Tennyson: The Day Dream. (L’Envoi.) [back]

Note 15.
The sun, though it passes through dirty places, yet remains as pure as before.—Advancement of Learning (ed. Dewey).

The sun, too, shines into cesspools and is not polluted.— Diogenes Laertius: Lib. vi. sect. 63.

Spiritalis enim virtus sacramenti ita est ut lux: etsi per immundos transeat, non inquinatur (The spiritual virtue of a sacrament is like light: although it passes among the impure, it is not polluted).—Saint Augustine: Works, vol. iii., In Johannis Evang. cap. i. tr. v. sect. 15.

The sun shineth upon the dunghill, and is not corrupted.—John Lyly: Euphues, The Anatomy of Wit (Arber’s reprint), p. 43.

The sun reflecting upon the mud of strands and shores is unpolluted in his beam.—Taylor: Holy Living, chap. i. p. 3.

Truth is as impossible to be soiled by any outward touch as the sunbeam.—John Milton: The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. [back]

Note 16.
Cleanliness is indeed next to godliness.—John Wesley (quoted): Journal, Feb. 12, 1772.

According to Dr. A. S. Bettelheim, rabbi, this is found in the Hebrew fathers. He cites Phinehas ben Yair, as follows: “The doctrines of religion are resolved into carefulness; carefulness into vigorousness; vigorousness into guiltlessness; guiltlessness into abstemiousness; abstemiousness into cleanliness; cleanliness into godliness,”—literally, next to godliness. [back]

Note 17.
Whose life is a bubble, and in length a span.—Sir Thomas Browne: Pastoral ii.

Our life is but a span.—New England Primer. [back]

Note 18.
This line frequently occurs in almost exactly the same shape among the minor poems of the time: “Not to be born, or, being born, to die.”—William Drummond: Poems, p. 44. Bishop King: Poems, etc. (1657), p. 145. [back]

Note 19.
Tall men are like houses of four stories, wherein commonly the uppermost room is worst furnished.—Howell (quoted): Letter i. book i. sect. ii. (1621.)

Often the cockloft is empty in those whom Nature hath built many stories high.—Thomas Fuller: Andronicus, sect. vi. par. 18, 1.

Such as take lodgings in a head
That ’s to be let unfurnished.
Samuel Butler: Hudibras, part i. canto i. line 161. [back]

Note 20.
The custom is not altogether obsolete in the U. S. A. [back]

Note 21.
Is not old wine wholesomest, old pippins toothsomest, old wood burns brightest, old linen wash whitest? Old soldiers, sweetheart, are surest, and old lovers are soundest.—John Webster: Westward Hoe, act ii. sc. 2.

Old friends are best. King James used to call for his old shoes; they were easiest for his feet.—Selden: Table Talk. Friends.

Old wood to burn! Old wine to drink! Old friends to trust! Old authors to read!—Alonso of Aragon was wont to say in commendation of age, that age appeared to be best in these four things.—Melchior: Floresta Española de Apothegmas o sentencias, etc., ii. 1, 20.

What find you better or more honourable than age? Take the preheminence of it in everything,—in an old friend, in old wine, in an old pedigree.—Shakerley Marmion (1602–1639): The Antiquary.

I love everything that ’s old,—old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine.—Oliver Goldsmith: She Stoops to Conquer, act i. [back]

Note 22.
There are some defeats more triumphant than victories.—Montaigne: Of Cannibals, chap. xxx. [back]

    Bacon | Biography | Works | Resources | Essays | 17th C. English Lit

back to Sir Francis Bacon
back to 17th Century English Literature
back to Luminarium

Site copyright ©1996-2010 Anniina Jokinen. All Rights Reserved.
Created by Anniina Jokinenon June 19, 1996. Last updated on May 24, 2010.