The Essays of Francis Bacon/LIV Of Vain-Glory

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LIV. Of Vain-Glory.

It was prettily devised of Æsop: the fly sat upon the axle-tree of the chariot wheel, and said, What a dust do I raise![1] So are there some vain persons, that whatsoever goeth alone or moveth upon greater means, if they have never so little hand in it, they think it is they that carry it. They that are glorious must needs be factious;[2] for all bravery stands upon comparisons. They must needs be violent, to make good their own vaunts. Neither can they be secret, and therefore not effectual; but according to the French proverb, Beaucoup de bruit, peu de fruit; Much bruit,[3] little fruit. Yet certainly there is use of this quality in civil affairs. Where there is an opinion and fame to be created either of virtue or greatness, these men are good trumpeters. Again, as Titus Livius noteth in the case of Antiochus[4] and the Ætolians, there are sometimes great effects of cross lies;[5] as if a man that negociates between two princes, to draw them to join in a war against the third, doth extol the forces of either of them above measure, the one to the other: and sometimes he that deals between man and man, raiseth his own credit with both, by pretending greater interest than he hath in either. And in these and the like kinds, it often falls out that somewhat is produced of nothing; for lies are sufficient to breed opinion, and opinion brings on substance. In militar[6] commanders and soldiers, vain-glory is an essential point; for as iron sharpens iron, so by glory[7] one courage sharpeneth another. In cases of great enterprise upon charge[8] and adventure, a composition of glorious natures doth put life into business; and those that are of solid and sober natures have more of the ballast than of the sail. In fame of learning, the flight will be slow without some feathers of ostentation. Qui de contemnendâ gloriâ libros scribunt, nomen sumn inscribunt.[9] Socrates, Aristotle,[10] Galen,[11] were men full of ostentation. Certainly vain-glory helpeth to perpetuate a man's memory; and virtue was never so beholding to human nature, as[12] it received his due at the second hand. Neither had the fame of Cicero, Seneca, Plinius Secundus[13] borne her age so well, if it had not been joined with some vanity in themselves; like unto varnish, that makes ceilings not only shine but last. But all this while, when I speak of vain-glory, I mean not of that property that Tacitus doth attribute to Mucianus;[14] Omnium, quæ dixerat feceratque, arte quâdam ostentator:[15] for that proceeds not of vanity but of natural magnanimity and discretion; and in some persons is not only comely, but gracious. For excusations,[16] cessions,[17] modesty itself well governed are but arts of ostentation. And amongst those arts there is none better than that which Plinius Secundus speaketh of, which is to be liberal of praise and commendation to others, in that wherein a man's self hath any perfection. For saith Pliny very wittily, In commending another you do yourself right; for he that you commend is either superior to you in that you commend, or inferior. If he be inferior, if he be to be commended, you much more; if he be superior, if he be not to be commended, you much less.[18] Glorious men are the scorn of wise men, the admiration of fools, the idols of parasites, and the slaves of their own vaunts.[19]

  1. Fable CCLXX. A Fly upon a Wheel. The Fables of Abstemius, etc., in Fables of Aesop and Other Eminent Mythologists: With Morals and Reflexions. By Sir Roger L'Estrange, Kt. The third edition. 1669, p. 244. Laurentius Abstemius is the Latinized name of the Italian fabulist, Lorenzo Bevilaqua, who published a book of fables entitled, Hecathomythium seu centum Fabulae. (Venetiis. 1499. 4to.). This charming fable Abstemius called, De Musca Quae Quadrigis Insidens, puluerem se excitasse dicebat. Bacon may have read it and associated it with Aesop, in a little book of Latin fables published in Lyons in Henry the Eighth's time: Aesopi Phrygis et Aliorum Fabulae, quorum nomina sequenti pagella uidere licet. Accessit huic editioni Alterum Laurentii Abstemii Hecathomythium, hoc est, centum fabularum libellus alter. Lugduni Apud Haeredes Simonis Vincentii M. D. XXXVII.
  2. Factious. Given to faction; inclined to form parties, or to act for party purposes; seditious.

    "He is a traitor; let him to the Tower,
    And chop away that factious pate of his."

    Shakspere. II. King Henry VI. v. 1.

  3. Bruit. Noise; din; clamour. "Behold, the noise of the bruit is come, and a great commotion out of the north country, to make the cities of Judah desolate, and a den of dragons." Jeremiah x. 22.
  4. Antiochus III., surnamed 'the Great,' was born about 238 B.C. and died in 187 B.C. He was King of Syria from 223 to 187 B.C.
  5. For the "cross lies" between Antiochus III. and the Aetolians, see Livy, Liber XXXVII. Capita 48, 49, and 50. After the defeat of the Macedonians at Cynocephalae, 197 B.C., by Flamininus, the Aetolian confederation attempted to form an alliance with Antiochus III., King of Svria. It proved to be disastrous, for Antiochus was defeated by Porcius Cato at the pass of Thermopylae, 191 B.C., and by the brothers, Cornelius and Africanus Scipio, at Magnesia, 190 B.C.
  6. Militar. Military.

    "And there instruct the noble English heirs,
    In politique and militar affairs."

    Ben Jonson. Underwoods. LXIII. A Speech. According to Horace.

  7. Glory. Boastfulness. Now obsolete, except in the combination, 'vainglory.' "I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the King of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks." Isaiah x. 12.
  8. Charge. Expense or cost; "charge and adventure" means 'cost and risk.'
  9. Those who write books condemning glory inscribe their names therein. Bacon is quoting Cicero, "Quid? nostri philosophi nonne in iis libris ipsis, quos scribunt de contemnenda gloria, sua nomina inscribunt?" What? shall not our philosophers who write condemning glory inscribe their names in their own books? M. Tullii Ciceronis Tusculanarum Disputationum ad Brutum Liber I. Caput 15.
  10. Aristotle, 384–322 B.C., one of the most famous and influential of the Greek philosophers. He was the founder of the Peripatetic school of philosophy, and the teacher of Alexander the Great. His extant works include the Politics, Poetics, Nichomachean Ethics, Metaphysics, Rhetoric, etc.
  11. Claudius Galenus, born about 130 A.D., was a celebrated Greek physician and philosophical writer.
  12. As. That.
  13. Caius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, Pliny the Younger, 62–113 A.D., a Roman author. He was the nephew of the elder Pliny, the naturalist, and the friend of Trajan and Tacitus. His Epistles and a eulogy of Trajan have been preserved.
  14. Marcus Licinius Crassus Mucianus was a grandson of Licinius Crassus of the first triumvirate. He was consul in 66 A.D., governor of Syria, 67 A.D., and consul again in 70 and 72 A.D. He died in or before 77 A.D. The phrase is borrowed from Livy, XXVI. 19, who uses it of Scipio Africanus, "Fuit Scipio non veris tantum virtutibus mirabilis, sed arte quoque quadam ab juventa in ostentationem earum compositus."
  15. Tacitus's words are "omniumque quae diceret atque ageret arte quadam ostentator," and by a certain art a vaunter of all that he had said or done. Cornelii Taciti Historiarum Liber II. 80.
  16. Excusations. Excuses.
  17. Cessions. Concessions.
  18. I quote the Latin of Pliny, to call attention to Bacon's style of translation, close but varied: "Disertior ipse es? tanto magis, ne invideris: nam qui invidet minor est. Denique, sive plus sive minus sive idem praestas, lauda vel inferiorem vel superiorem vel parem: superiorem, quia, nisi laudandus ille, non potes ipse laudari; inferiorem aut parem, quia pertinet ad tuam gloriam quam maximum videri quem praecedis vel exaequas." C. Plini Caecili Secundi Epistolarum Liber VI. 17.
  19. Vaunt. A vain display; a boast.

    "As next the King, he was successive heir,
    And such high vaunts of his nobility,
    Did instigate the bedlam brain-sick duchess
    By wicked means to frame our sovereign's fall."

    Shakspere. II. King Henry VI. iii. 1.