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ESSAY XL. OF FORTUNE.
IT cannot be denied but outward accidents conduce much to fortune; favour, opportunity, death of others, occasion fitting virtue: but chiefly the mould of a man's fortune is in his own hands. 'Faber quisque fortunae suae/ saith the poet:' and the most frequent of external causes is, that the folly of one man is the fortune of another; for no man prospers so suddenly as by others' errors; 'serpens nisi serpentem comederit non fit draco.'3 Overt and apparent3 virtues bring forth praise; but there be secret and hidden virtues that bring forth fortune; certain deliveries of a man's self, which have no name. The Spanish name, ' disemboltura/ * partly expresseth them, when there be not stonds5 and restiveness in a man's nature, but that the wheels of his mind keep way * with the wheels of his fortune; for so Livy (after he had described Cato Major in these words, 'in illo viro, tantum robur corporis et animi fuit, ut quocunque loco natus esset, fortunam sibi facturus videretur')7 falleth upon that he had, 'versatile ingenium.'8 Therefore, if a man look sharply and attentively, he shall see fortune; for though she be blind, yet she is not invisible. The way of fortune is like the milken * way in the sky; which is a meeting, or knot, of a number of small stars not seen asunder, but giving light together: so are there a number of little and scarce discerned virtues, or rather faculties and customs, that make men fortunate: the Italians note some of them, such as a man would little think. When they speak of one that cannot do amiss, they will throw in into his other conditions, that he hath 'Poco di matto;'' and, certainly, there be not two more fortunate properties than to have a little of the fool, and not too much of the honest: therefore extreme lovers of their country, or masters, were never fortunate; neither can they be; for when a man placeth his thoughts without himself, he goeth not his own way. A hasty fortune maketh an enterpriser2 and remover3 (the French hath it better, 'entreprenant,' or ' remuant'), but the exercised4 fortune maketh the able man. Fortune is to be honoured and respected, and6 it be but for her daughters, Conscience and Reputation; for those two felicity breedeth; the first within a man's self, the latter in others towards him. All wise men, to decline8 the envy of their own virtues, use to ascribe them to Providence and Fortune; for so they may the better assume them: and besides, it is greatness in a man to be the care of the higher powers. So Caesar said to the pilot in the tempest, 'Caesarem portas, et fortunam ejus.'7 So Sylla chose the name of 'felix,' and not of 'magnus :'s and it hath been noted, that those who ascribe openly too much to their own wisdom and policy, end unfortunate. It is written, that Timotheus, the Athenian, after he had, in the account he gave to the State of his government, often interlaced this speech, 'And in this fortune had no part,' never prospered in anything he undertook afterward. Certainly there be whose fortunes are like Homer's verses, that have a slide1 and an easiness more than the verses of other poets; as Plutarch saith of Timoleon's3 fortune, in respect of that of Agesilaus, or Epaminondas; and that this should be, no doubt it is much in a man's self.
1 'Every man the artificer of his own fortune.'—Appius Claudius; but attributed by Bacon elsewhere (Advancement of Learning) to Plautus.
* 'Unless the serpent devours the serpent, it does not become a dragon.' 3 Apparent. Evident; known; visible.
'As well the fear of harm, as harm apparent, In my mind ought to be prevented.'—Shakespere. 'The outward and apparent sanctity should flow from purity of heart.' —Atterbury.
* Desenvoltura. Graceful ease.
* Stonds. Stops. The removal of the stonds and impediments of the mind, that often clears the passage and current to a man's fortune.'—Bacon's Letter to Sir Henry Temple.
6 Way. Time. The time in which a certain space can be passed through or over.
7 'In that man there was so much strength of body and of mind, that it seems that in whatever place he had been, he would have made fortune his own.'
* 'A versatile mind.'
* Milken. Milky. 'The remedies are to be proposed from a constant course of the milken diet.'—Temple.
1 'A little of the fool.'
3 Enterpriser. An adventurer; a bold projector.
'Wit makes an enterpriser, sense a man.'—Young. 3 Remover. Agitator.
* Exercised. Made familiar by use. 'A heart exercised with covetous practices.'—2 Pet. ii. 14.
4 And. If.
'Nay, and I suffer this, I may go craze.'—Seaumont and Fletcher. 'Decline. To avoid.
'Since the Muses do invoke my power, I shall no more decline the sacred bower Where Gloriana, the great mistress, lies.'—Sir P. Sidney. 7 'You carry Ciusar and his fortunes.'—Plut. Vit. Casar. 38.
* 'Fortunate,' (and not of) 'great.'—Plut. Syll. 34.
ANTITHETA ON FORTUNE.
'Virtutes apertse laudes pariunt; oc- 'Stultitia unius, fortnna alterins.
cultffi fortunas. 'The folly of one is the good fortune
'Virtues that are openly seen obtain of another.' praise; but what is called luck is the result of unperceived virtues.'
'Fortuna veluti galaxia; hoc est, nodus quarundam obscurarum virtutum, sine nomine.
'Fortune is like a galaxy; that is to say> a collection of certain unseen and nameless endowments.'
'So are there a number of little and scarce discerned faculties or customs, that make men fortunate.'
It is common to hear the lower orders speak of luck, either as their mode of expressing what Bacon here calls 'small faculties and customs/ or, as attributing to fortune what is a kind of indescribable and imperceptible skill. You may hear them speak of a woman who has good luck in her butter-making or in bread-making; of a gardener who is lucky or who is unlucky in grafting, or in raising melons, &c.
'When they (the Italians) speak of one that cannot do amiss, they will throw into his other conditions, that he hath 'Poco di matto' [a little of the fool].'
This is in accordance with the proverb, 'Fortune favours fools;' and it would have been well if Bacon had said some1 Slide. Fluency. 'Often he had used to be an actor in tragedies, where he had learned, besides a slidingness of language, acquaintance with my passions.'— Sidney. s PW. Timol. 36.
thing more of it. Fortune is said to favour fools, because they trust all to fortune. When a fool escapes any danger, or succeeds in any undertaking, it is said that fortune favours him; while a wise man is considered to prosper by his own prudence and foresight. For instance, if a fool who does not bar his door, escapes being robbed, it is ascribed to his luck; but the prudent man, having taken precautions, is not called fortunate. But a wise man is, in fact, more likely to meet with good fortune than a foolish one, because he puts himself in the way of it. If he is sending off a ship he has a better chance of obtaining a favourable wind, because he chuses the place and season in which such winds prevail as will be favourable to him. If the fool's ship arrives safely, it is by good luck alone; while both must be in some degree indebted to fortune for success.1
One way in which fools succeed where wise men fail is, that, through ignorance of the danger, they sometimes go coolly about some hazardous business. Hence the proverb that 'The fairies take care of children, drunken men, and idiots. '
A surgeon was once called in to bleed an apoplectic patient. He called the physician aside, and explained to him that in this particular subject the artery lay so unusually over the vein, that there was imminent risk of pricking it. 'Well, but he must be bled at all hazards; for he is sure to die without.' 'I am so nervous,' said the surgeon,' that my hand would be unsteady. But I know of a barber hard by who is accustomed to bleed; and as he is ignorant of anatomy, he will go to work coolly.' The barber was summoned, and performed the operation readily and safely. When it was over, the surgeon showed him some anatomical plates, and explained to him that he had missed the artery only by a hair's breadth. He never ventured to bleed again.
One sometimes meets with an 'ill-used man;' a man with whom everything goes wrong; who is always thinking how happy he should be to exchange his present wretched situation for such and such another; and when he has obtained it, finding that he is far worse off than before, and seeking a remove; and as soon as he has obtained that, discovering that his last situation was just the thing for him, and was heginning to open to him a prospect of unbroken happiness, far beyond his present state, &c. To him a verse of Shakespere well applies:—
1 See Proverbs and Precepts for Copy-pieces.
'O thoughts of men accurst!Past, and to come, seem best, things present, worst.'
One is reminded of a man travelling in the African desert, surrounded by mirage, with a (seeming) lake behind him, and a lake before him, which, when he has reached, he finds to be still the same barren and scorching sand. A friend aptly remarked, 'This man's happiness has no present tense.'