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NOTES ON ESSAY XX. 1. "giving counsel'-rather in its passive sense, being counselled,
being advised. In this sense, to give counsel is to entrust with the office of counsellor.
Bacon evidently supposes a counsellor who is entrusted with all his friend's secrets, and whose advice is imperative upon that friend; otherwise it is a strained argument which alleges that a man risks more in asking advice than in 'other confidences,' as those of agent, steward, manager, clerk,
servant. 2. 'they'-i.e. the counsellors: in proportion as their act involves
the greater risks, so are they more responsible for them. 3. Prov. xx, 18: 'Every purpose is established by counsel.' 4. agitation'-discussion: things must be tested in one of two
ways, either by the careful scrutiny of discussion, or by the chances of experience, and in the latter case the issue is uncertain, and beyond control.
The word comes from the Latin verb agito, which means (1) to toss; (2) to deliberate. We still speak of agitating
a question—i.e. persistently keeping it open for discussion. 5. doing and undoing?—being approved, and then denied
done, and then undone. Both the participles are really passive : 'the skein of thread is undoing,' means that it is being undone ; just as 'the book is reprinting,' means that it
is being reprinted. 6. “Solomon's son'-Rehoboam, through whose acceptance of the
advice of the young counsellors the kingdom of Israel was
rent in twain (1 Kings xii). 7. intend'-mean to signify. 8. the other'—i.e. 'the inseparable conjunction ;' that kings
ought to keep to themselves the power of announcing, as if from themselves alone, the final result of their deliberations with their counsellors. Bacon makes the two parts of the mythological story to denote the two uses of counsel---the one that kings should seek it from others ('incorporation') ; the other' that when found, they should announce it and act upon it, as if it were their own, and their advisers had had nothing to do with it ('inseparable conjunction'). In short, the office of counsellors is to give advice, the privilege of the
king is to appropriate it as his own. 9. «resembled '-likened ; compared. So Raleigh says : ‘Most
safely may we resemble ourselves to God.' 10. Cabinet Councils '—not quite as we use the name, but secret
councils. II. A sovereign may ask advice, but he is not bound to commit
himself either to follow it or reject it; he should receive it silently and impassively.
12. unsecreting'-betraying, disclosing. 13. 'I am full of outlets.' The word "futile' (see note 18, Essay
VI) is again used in the sense of leaky, running out. 14. "to grind with a hand-mill '—not to send his business to a
public place for everybody's scrutiny, but to do it for himself. În conformity with this explanation, inward,' in the next
sentence=secret, confidential. 15. • Morton and Fox.' John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury,
Cardinal, and Lord Chancellor ; he was a confidential minister of Henry VII, and helped him in many of his harsh exactions.
Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester, patron of Wolsey, and founder of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, was in high favour with Henry VII, and had done bim service before he came
to the English throne. 16. the fable—i.e. the story of Jupiter and Metis and the birth of
Pallas, the meaning of which, says Bacon, is that kings must get from their counsellors all the advice they can, and then
appropriate all the credit of it to themselves. 17. holpen '-attended to, seen to; prevented, remedied.
say, 'I cannot help it,' i.e. 'I cannot prevent it.' Cf. “There
is no help for it.' 18. 'He shail not find faith on the earth ' (Luke xviii, 8; see also
note 32, Essay I). Bacon explains this to mean that at His second advent Christ shall find an unfaithful time or age, but
not one in which every single person is unfaithful. 19. . counsel'-give advice (for party interests or with private and
selfish objects in view). 20. The greatest virtue of a prince is to know his people.' Quoted
from Martial, Epigrams, viii, 15. 21. speculative’-inquisitive, prying.
Which are to France the spies and speculations
Intelligent of our state'-King Lear, III, i. *All the boats had one speculator to give notice when the fish ap
proached'-Broome on the Odyssey. 22. singular'—special, particular. 23. • obnoxious to '— liable to be influenced by; liable to.
Children are more obnoxious to measles than adults.'
'We know ourselves obnoxious to God's justice'-CALAMY.
Beasts lie down
i.e. generally, altogether, 'in the lump.' He means that a prince ought to try to find out from others the character of men, not of men generally (“ secundum genera '), but of individual men ; not assuming, as in mathe
matical definitions, that what is true of one is true of all. If I know the general qualities of one parallelogram I know those of all other parallelograms; but it is not an analogy to say that therefore if I know the character of one man I know
the same of all others. 25. The best counsellors are the dead.' Living men may blanch'
(be afraid to speak, turn pale with fear), but a book cannot
show this fear. 26. 'actors upon the stage '—men who have taken prominent parts
in public life. 27. run too swift'--the decisions are arrived at and acted on far
too hastily. 28. “There is counsel in the night.' A man sees through a difficult
question more clearly when (as we say) he has slept on it, i.e.
a night has intervened between the question and his decision 29. 'Attend to the business in hand.' 36. •indifferent'—impartial. It is better to appoint those who
will honestly give their decision one way or the other than to refer the matter to an equal number of representatives of both sides, who will (as boards of arbitrators commonly do) decide by compromise and 'split the difference,' which gives justice
and contentment to neither side. 31. standing'-permanent. 32.
tribunitious'-obtrusive, declamatory, clamorous ; like a tri
bune, whose avowed object was to take the side of the poorer
classes. 33. .form... substance '—no importance. . . material importance. 34. take the wind of him'-take their direction from his own ;
go with the wind, i.e. conform themselves to his wishes, and Hatteringly say · Placebo '-I will please ; I will agree with everything you say.
ANALYSIS OF ESSAY XX.
I. Counsel is a thing of
1. Responsibility, more so than other confidences.'
2. Necessity—things will have ' agitation.' II. Kings should appropriate to their own credit the result of
1. It endangers secrecy.
3. It opens liability to be wilfully misled. IV. The remedies for these :
1. (Secrecy.) A prince must be reserved, even with his coun
2. (Weakness.) A prince must be careful to assume all the
credit of the counsel given. 3. (Misleading.) Kings should ascertain the character of those
of whom they ask counsel.
1. Not to allow counsellors to be inquisitive.
• blanch' or flatter.
XXI.-OF DELAYS. (1625.) FORTUNE is like the market, where many times, if you can stay a little, the price will fall; and again, it is some times like Sibylla's offer," which at first offereth the commodity at full
, then consumeth part and part, and still holdeth up the price ; for · Occasion (as it is in the common verse) turneth a bald noddle'? after she hath presented her locks in front, and no hold taken:3 or, at least, turneth the handle of the bottle first to be received, and after the belly, which is hard to clasp.
There is surely no greater wisdom than well to time the beginnings and onsets of things. Dangers are no more light, if they once seem light; 4 and more dangers have deceived men than forced them: nay, it were better to meet some dangers half-way, though they come nothing near, than to keep too long a watch upon their approaches; for if a man watch too long, it is odds 6 he will fall asleep. On the other side, to be deceived with too long shadows (as some have been when the moon was low, and shone on their enemies' back), and so to shoot off before the time, or to teach dangers to come on by over-early buckling towards them, is another extreme.
The ripeness or unripeness of the occasion (as we said) must ever be well weighed; and generally it is good to commit the beginnings of all great actions to Argus? with his hundred eyes, and the ends to Briareus 8 with his hundred hands; first to watch and then to speed; for the helmet of Pluto, which maketh the politic man go invisible, is secrecy in the council, and celerity in the execution ; for when things are once come to the execution, there is no secrecy comparable to celerity, like the motion of a bullet in the air, which flieth so swift as it outruns the eye.
NOTES ON ESSAY XXI. 1. “Sibylla's offer.' The story current among the Romans was
that a sibyl, or prophetic woman, came to Tarquinius Pris. cus, king of Rome, offering him nine books for sale, which he refused. She then went away and burnt three, and returning, offered the king the remaining six at the same price, and was again refused. Going away once more, she burnt three of these and then offered the king the remaining three, demanding still the same price as for the original nine. Curiosity being now aroused, the king consented to the purchase.
The Sibylline books were regarded as sacred by the Romans; officers were appointed to take charge of them, and they were consulted in cases of national emergency.
Bacon says that sometimes delay will, by chance, give great advantage to a man, as in dealings in the market; but that at other times he only loses by delay, having to procure a less advantage at the same cost which he once thought too much for a greater, as was the case with Tarquin's purchase
of the Sibylline books. 2. Occasion turneth a bald noddle'-i.e. opportunity offers itself
only once. The illustration is that of an old man whose head, otherwise bald, has one lock of hair in front, by which alone it can be held. Time is thus commonly represented, and hence the proverb, "Take Time by the forelock,' meaning, if you do not do so, Time will turn his head the other way, and thus offer you nothing which you can take hold of.
‘Noddle' is the name applied jocosely or contemptuously to the head, because it is the nodding part of the body. In the same humour we use nut, pate; and Shakespeare (Richard III) uses pimp, i.e. pimple.