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vein, as he maketh others afraid of his wit, so he12 had need be afraid of others' memory.
He that questioneth much, shall learn much, and content13 much; but especially if he apply his questions to the skill of the persons whom he asketh; for he shall give them occasion to please themselves in speaking, and himself shall continually gather knowledge ; but let his questions not be troublesome, for that is fit for a poser;
14 and let him be sure to leave other men their turns to speak: nay, if there be any that would reign and take
up all the time, let him find means to take them off, and to bring others on, as musicians used to do with those that dance too long galliards.15
If you dissemble sometimes your knowledge of that you are thought to know, you shall be thought, another time, to know that you know not.16
Speech of 17 a man's self ought to be seldom, and well chosen. I knew one was wont to say in scorn, 'He must needs be a wise man, he speaks so much of himself :' and there is but one case wherein a man may commend himself with good grace, and that is in commending virtue in another, especially if it be such a virtue whereunto himself pretendeth. Speech of touch towards others 18 should be sparingly used; for Discourse ought to be as a field, without coming home to any man. I knew two noblemen, of the west part of England, whereof the one was given to scoff, but kept ever royal cheer in his house; the other would ask of those that had been at the other's table, 'Tell truly, was there never a flout or dry blow 19 given?' To which the guest would answer, ‘Such and such a thing passed. The lord would say, 'I thought he would mar a good dinner.'
Discretion of speech is more than eloquence; and to speak agreeably 20 to him with whom we deal, is more than to speak in good words, or in good order. A good continued speech, without a good speech of interlocution, shows slowness; and a good reply, or second speech, without a good settled speech, showeth shallowness and weakness.21 As we see in beasts, that those that are weakest in the course, are yet nimblest in the turn; as it is betwixt the greyhound and the hare. To use too many circumstances, 22 ere one come to the matter, is wearisome; to use none at all, is blunt.
NOTES ON ESSAY XXXII. • Discourse.' Bacon does not mean, as is frequent in present
usage, a formal oral treatment or exposition of a certain subject, as a lecture or sermon, but talk, conversation. So in Essay I he speaks of clever talkers as 'discoursing wits.'
In this essay Bacon rightly estimates that the power of leading or of taking part in pleasant and intelligent conversation with others is a very valuable gift, and one which ought to be carefully cultivated by every one who has any pretence to education or culture. ' An exquisite thing is good conversation. “Sir, we had good talk.' What a keen sense of enjoyment is expressed in those few words of Dr Johnson's! And a modern American philosopher has said, not without some reason, that all the means and appliances of civilisation culminate in bringing together, round a table, in a warm, comfortable room, three or four intelligent people to
talk pleasantly'-Introduction to 'Friends in Council.' 2. commendation of wit'—the reputation for cleverness which
is often gained by being able to talk upon every subject, and
to maintain any opinion. 3. judgment’-discernment; discrimination; the power of com
paring things and distinguishing between them so as to tell whether, and in what respects, they agree or differ. This fundamental meaning is always involved in the word, even when it is used in a more general sense for penetration,
sagacity, intelligence. 4. common-places and themes '—trite and worn-out remarks
which they are never tired of repeating or quoting as often as any reference to certain subjects gives the opportunity, no matter how wearisome they may have become to those who have heard them often before. Bacon calls this ' poverty' in discourse, and says that it not only soon becomes ' tedious,' but is positively ridiculous ' as soon as people have learned to anticipate what is coming, and know beforehand the old stock joke or story.
In the Table of the Colours of Good and Evil, Bacon speaks of 'the common-place of extolling the beginning of everything.'
The word place is used for passage or quotation; a commonplace book is a book in which are noted down passages or quotations of frequent recurrence or for future reference. In the same sense, a schoolboy speaks of losing the place, i.e. the proper passage, in a reading lesson; so also in Acts viji
we have, The place of the Scripture which he read was this.' 5. 'honourablest.' Our usage would be to say most honourable ;
in old English, however, it was the common practice to form the comparative and superlative degrees of all adjectives by the suffixes er and est; and the use of the separate words more and most for this purpose did not make its appearance until the end of the thirteenth century. Shakespeare uses cursedst, perfectest, lyingest, violentest; Ascham uses inventivest; and in Fuller there occur famousest, virtuousest, eminentest,
solemnest, learnedst. 6. "give the occasion '--suggest the various topics of conversa
tion, and control (moderate') each of them, as the moderator formerly presided over public exercises and disputes in the
universities. See Essay XXV, note 11. 7. 'speech of the present occasion' -conversation upon subjects
of temporary interest, which he says ought to be diversified and relieved by 'arguments,' i.e. by references to their relation to general principles, or to other subjects of permanent
interest and importance. 8. "to jadol-to overdo, over-ride, use to excess. Bacon's apolo
getic insertion of the word 'now' would seem to imply that the use of to jade as a transitive verb was then unauthorised. It is, however, found in other writers.
"I do not now fool myself to let imagination jade me'
-Twelfth Night, II, v. The ne'er-yet-beaten horse of Parthia
We have jaded out of the field'-Antony and Cleopatra, III, i. "The mind once jaded by an attempt above its power is very hardly brought to exert its force again'-Locke.
The word jade (of unknown origin) is generally a substantive, and used as the name for an overworked or worn-out
horse, or in contempt for a bad woman. 9. vein'- quality, tendency, natural ability or aptitude. 10. 'would.' This word, though properly implying wish or deter
mination, is used here, as was formerly not uncommon, for should. The auxiliary would, like will, generally means wish or wish to, just as should means ought or ought to.
He would (i.e. wishes to) be a soldier.
He should (i.e. ought to) be a soldier.
'Thou would'st be great,
And yet would'st wrongly win'-1, v.
And so he goes to heaven, And so I am revenged! That would be scanned'-Hamlet, III, iii. 'Golden opinions from all sorts of people, Which would be worn now in their newest gloss '--Macbeth, I, vii. 'I would have thought her spirit had been invisible'-Much Ado, II, iii. *Think you, but that I know our state secure,
I would be so triumphant as I am?'-Richard III, III, ii. 11. 'Spare the whip, boy, and use the reins more firmly'-Ovid's
Metamorphoses, ii, 127. 12. he'-a repeated nominative, and, strictly speaking, not gram.
matically correct, the only nominative required for the verb
-King John, V, vii.
13. "content'-please. This verb is now generally used as re
flexive: Do not content yourself with mediocrity. 14. poser’-apposer, interrogater, i.e. one who puts troublesome
or perplexing questions. See also note 24, Essay XXII. 15. 'galliards '-gay and lively dances. 16. The meaning is: Do not be so imprudent as to readily display
in conversation the whole of your knowledge, but seek rather the reputation of knowing more than you pretend to know. A little judicious concealment of this kind will be of advantage to you in matters upon which you are really ignorant, for when men have found that it is your habit to affect ignor. ance in some things they will credit you with really knowing
everything 17. of '-respecting, concerning.
I know nothing of the man you mention.
He asked them of their welfare'-Gen. xliii, 27. 18. Conversation which infringes upon the private rights or personal
feelings of others, i.e. Speech upon subjects with regard to which people are very sensitive, and liable to feel hurt. Such are called delicate subjects, or–because they will scarcely bear even the most careful handling-ticklish subjects. The same meaning of the word is involved in such expressions as a touch of satire,' 'touch of rheumatism;' and a person who is
over-sensitive is said to be touchy. 19. 'flout or dry blow'-an insult or a sarcastic hit at another.
In this sense the word dry means shrewd, sharp, witty (as in the expression, 'a dry remark'), and then, because those who affect wit are often given to insulting personalities, it comes
to mean sarcastic or sneering. 20. “agreeably'—suitably. Cf. He acted agreeably to the instruc
tions of his employers.
• That which is agreeable to the nature of one thing is many times contrary to the nature of another'-L'ESTRANGE.
This explanation of the passage is agreeable to the context
in which it stands. 21. It seems to mean that it is one thing to be able to deliver a
good speech previously prepared and a different thing to be able to deliver extempore, during a debate or conversation, a speech that is appropriate and effective. A long continuous speech, however good, is tedious (“shows slowness') compared with the vivacity of a debate or discussion; while, on the other hand, the ability that can give a ready answer or make a showy speech during debate, but cannot rise to a speech well prepared and that will bear subsequent scrutiny, is weak
and shallow. 22. 'circumstances '—introductory remarks.
ANALYSIS OF ESSAY XXXII.
1. Desire to cultivate readiness rather than judgment.
well known and looked for. II. Rules for good conversation:
1. Not to monopolise the talk, but to lead it, and vary it,
and induce others to join in it. 2. Never to make jests upon improper subjects. 3. Not only to give your own opinion but to ask questions,
a plan which tends both to instruct the questioner, and please the answerer.