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that can be proposed, till one can be found that is open to no objections at all. For nothing framed or devised by the wit of Man ever was, or can be, perfect; and therefore to condemn and reject everything that is imperfect, and has some evils attending on it, is a folly which may lead equally—and indeed often has led—to each of two opposite absurdities: either an obstinate adherence to what is established, however bad, because nothing absolutely unexceptionable can be substituted; or again, a perpetual succession of revolutions till we can establish—which is totally impossible—some system completely faultless, or so framed as to keep itself in good order. To conceive such a system, whether actually existing or ideal, is to be beset by the same chimerical hope in human affairs that has misled so many speculators in mechanics,—the vain expectation of attaining the perpetual motion.
This essay of Bacon's is one of the most instructive and most generally useful, 'coming home, ' as he himself expresses it, 'to men's business and bosoms.' For though few men are likely to be called on to take part in the reformation of any public institutions, yet there is no one of us but what ought to engage in the important work of se(/■-reformation. And according to the well-known proverb, 'If each would sweep before his own door, we should have a clean street.' Some may have more, and some less, of dust and other nuisances to sweep away; some of one kind, and some of another. But those who have the least to do, have something to do; and they should feel it an encouragement to do it, that they can so easily remedy the beginnings of small evils before they have accumulated into a great one.
Begin reforming, therefore, at once: proceed in reforming, steadily and cautiously, and go on reforming for ever.
ESSAY XXV. OF DISPATCH.
AFFECTED dispatch is one of the most dangerous things to business that can be: it is like that which the physicians call predigestion, or hasty digestion, which is sure to fill the body full of crudities, and secret seeds of diseases; therefore, measure not dispatch by the time of sitting, but by the advancement of the business: and as in races it is not the large stride, or high lift, that makes the speed, so in business, the keeping close to the matter, and not taking of it too much at once, procureth dispatch. It is the care of some, only to come off speedily for the time, or to contrive some false periods of business, because1 they may seem men of dispatch: but it is one thing to abbreviate by contracting, another by cutting off; and business so handled at several sittings or meetings goeth commonly backward and forward in an unsteady manner. I knew a wise man that had it for a by-word, when he saw men hasten to a conclusion, ' Stay a little, that we may make an end the sooner.'"
On the other side, true dispatch is a rich thing; for time is the measure of business, as money is of wares; and business is bought at a dear hand where there is small dispatch. The Spartans and Spaniards have been noted to be of small dispatch: 'Mi venga la muerte de Spagna,'3 for then it will be sure to be long in coming.
Give good hearing to those that give the first information in business; and rather direct them in the beginning than interrupt them in the continuance of their speeches; for he that is put out of his own order will go forward and backward, and be more tedious while he waits upon his memory, than he could have been if he had gone on in his own course. But sometimes it is seen that the moderator is more troublesome than the actor.
Iterations4 are commonly loss of time: but there is no such gain of time as to iterate often the state of the question; for it chaseth away many a frivolous speech as it is coming forth. Long and curious speeches are as fit for dispatch as a robe or mantle with a long train is for a race. Prefaces, and passages,1 and excusations,* and other speeches of reference to the person, are great wastes of time; and though they seem to proceed of3 modesty, they are bravery. 4 Yet beware of being too material5 when there is any impediment or obstruction in men's wills; for pre-occupation of mind ever requireth preface of speech, like a fomentation to make the unguent enter.
1 Because. That; in order that. 'The multitude rebuked them, because they should hold their peace.'—Matt. xx. 31.
2 Sir Amyas Paulet. 3 'May my death come from Spain.' 4 Iteration. Repetition.
'What means this iteration, woman?'—Shakespere.
Above all things, order and distribution, and singling out of parts, is the life of dispatch, so as the distribution be not too subtle; for he that doth not divide will never enter well into business, and he that divideth too much will never come out of it clearly. To chuse time is to save time; and an unseasonable motion is but beating the air. There be three parts of business—the preparation, the debate, or examination, and the perfection,—whereof, if you look for dispatch, let the middle only be the work of many, and the first and last the work of few. The proceeding upon somewhat conceived in writing doth for the most part facilitate dispatch; for though it should be wholly rejected, yet that negative is more pregnant of direction than an indefinite, as ashes are more generative than dust.
1 Passages. Introductory approaches.
'And with his pointed dart Explores the nearest possage to her heart.' 3 Excusations. Excuses; apologies. 'The punishment of his excusations.'— Brown.
3 Of. From. 'I have received of the Lord that which I also delivered unto yon.'—I Cor. xi. 23. 'A hlow whose violence grew not of fury, not of strength; or of strength proceeding of fury.'—Sidney.
4 Bravery. Boasting. 'For a bravery upon this occasion of power tbey crowned their new king in Dublin.'—Bacon.
s Material. Full of matter.
'A material fool.'—Shalcespere. 'His speech even charmed his cares, So order'd, so material.'—Chapman's version of the 24th Iliad.
'Time is the measure of business.' 'To chuse time is to
save time, and unseasonable motion is but beating the air.'
Some persons are what is called 'slow and sure;' sure, that is, in cases that will admit of leisurely deliberation; though they require so much time for forming a right judgment, and devising right plans, that in cases where promptitude is called for, they utterly fail. Buonaparte used to say, that one of the principal requisites for a general, was, an accurate calculation of time; for if your adversary can bring a powerful force to attack a certain post ten minutes sooner than you can bring up a sufficient supporting force, you are beaten, even though all the rest of your plans be never so good.
So also, if you are overtaken by an inundation, ten minutes spent in deciding on the best road for escaping, may make escape impossible.
Some again, are admirable at a bright thought—a shrewd guess—an ingenious scheme hit off on the spur of the moment, but, either will not give themselves time for quiet deliberation in cases where there is no hurry, or cannot deliberate to good purpose. They can shoot flying, but cannot take deliberate aim.
And some again there are who dehiy and deliberate, when promptitude is essential, and make up for this by taking a hasty step when they have plenty of time before them; or they are bold first, and prudent afterwards; first administering the strong dose, and then, when the step cannot be re-called, carefully examining the patient's tongue and pulse.
It is worth remarking, that many persons are of such a disposition as to he nearly incapable of remaining in doubt on any point that is not wholly uninteresting to them. They speedily make up their minds on each question, and come to some conclusion, whether there are any good grounds for it or not. And judging—as men are apt to do, in all matters—of others, from themselves, they usually discredit the most solemn assurances of any one who professes to be in a state of doubt on some question; taking for granted that if you do not adopt their opinion, you must be of the opposite.
Others again there are, who are capable of remaining in doubt as long as the reasons on each side seem exactly balanced; but not otherwise. Such a person, as soon as he perceives any —the smallest—preponderance of probability on one side of a question, can no more refrain from deciding immediately, and with full conviction, on that side, than he could continue to stand, after having lost his equilibrium, in a slanting position, like the famous tower at Pisa. And he will, accordingly, be disposed to consider an acknowledgment that there are somewhat the stronger reasons on one side, as equivalent to a confident decision.
The tendency to such an error is the greater, from the circumstance, that there are so many cases, in practice, wherein it is essentially necessary to come to a practical decision, even where there are no sufficient grounds for feeling fully convinced that it is the right one. A traveller may be in doubt, and may have no means of deciding, with just confidence, which of two roads he ought to take; while yet he must, at a venture, take one of them. And the like happens in numberless transactions of ordinary life, in which we are obliged practically to make up our minds at once to take one course or another, even where there are no sufficient grounds for a full conviction of the understanding.
The infirmities above mentioned are those of ordinary minds. A smaller number of persons, among whom, however, are to be found a larger proportion of the intelligent, are prone to the opposite extreme; that of not deciding, as long as there are reasons to be found on both sides, even though there may be a clear and strong preponderance on the one, and even though the case may be such as to call for a practical decision. As the one description of men rush hastily to a conclusion, and trouble themselves little about premises, so, the other carefully examine premises, and care too little for conclusions. The one decide without inquiring, the other inquire without deciding.
'Beware of being too material.'
On this point I take the liberty of quoting a passage from the Elements of Rhetoric:—
'It is remarked by anatomists that the nutritive quality is