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ESSAY XLVII . OF NEGOTIATING.
IT is generally better to deal by speech than by letter, and by the mediation of a third than by a man's self. Letters are good, when a man would draw an answer by letter back again, or when it may serve for a man's justification afterwards to produce his own letter: or where it may be danger to be interrupted, or heard by pieces. To deal in person is good, when a man's face breedeth regard, as commonly with inferiors; or in tender cases, where a man's eye upon the countenance of him with whom he speaketh may give him a direction how far to go; and generally, where a man will reserve to himself liberty, either to disavow or expound. In choice of instruments, it is better to chuse men of a plainer sort, that are like to do that that is committed to them, and to report back again faithfully the success, than those that are cunning1 to contrive out of other men's business somewhat to grace themselves, and will help the matter in report, for satisfaction sake. Use also such persons as affect2 the business wherein they are employed, for that quickeneth much; and such as are fit for the matter, as bold men for expostulation, fair-spoken men for persuasion, crafty men for inquiry and observation, froward and absurd men for business that doth not well bear out itself. Use also such as have been lucky, and prevailed before in things wherein you have employed them; for that breeds confidence, and they will strive to maintain their prescription.
It is better to sound a person with whom one deals, afar off, than to fall upon the point at first, except you mean to surprise him by some short question. It is better dealing with men in appetite,3 than with those that are where they would be. If a man deal with another upon conditions, the start of first performance is all; which a man cannot reasonably demand, except either the nature of the thing be such which must go before; or else a man can persuade the other party, that he shall still need him in some other thing; or else that he be counted the honester man. All practice' is to discover, or to work. Men discover themselves in trust, in passion, at unawares; and of necessity, when they would have somewhat done, and cannot find an apt pretext. If you would work any man, you must either know his nature or fashions,2 and so lead him; or his ends, and so persuade him; or his weakness and disadvantages, and so awe him; or those that have interest in him, and so govern him. In dealing with cunning persons, we must ever consider their ends to interpret their speeches; and it is good to say little to them, and that which they least look for. In all negotiations of difficulty, a man may not look to sow and reap at once, but must prepare business, and so ripen it by degrees.
1 Cunning. Skilful. 'I will take away the cunning artificer.'—Isaiah iii. 3.
'Dexterity so obeying appetite,
'It is generally better to deal by speech than by letter.'
It is a pity Bacon did not say more, though what he does say is very just—on the comparative reasons for discussing every matter orally, and in writing. Not that a set of rules could be devised for the employment of each, that should supersede the need of cautious observation, and sagacious reflection; for ' what art,' as he himself has observed, ' can teach the suit
1 Practice. Negotiation; skilful management. 'He ought to have that by practice, which he could not by prayer.'—Sidney. Thus, also, the verb: 'I have practised with him, And found means to let the victor know, That Syphtix and Sempronius are his friends.'—Addison. * Fashion. Wag; manner; habit.
'Pluck Casca by the sleeve, And he will, after his own fashion, tell you What hath proceeded.'—Hhakespere.
able employment of an art V 'Genius begins/ as some one else has remarked, 'where rules end.' But well-framed rules—such as Bacon doubtless could have given us in this matter—instead of cramping genius, enable it to act more efficiently.
One advantage which, in some cases, the speaker possesses over the writer is, that he can proceed exactly in the order which he judges to be the best; establishing each point in succession, and perhaps keeping out of sight the conclusion to which he is advancing, if it be one against which there exists a prejudice. For sometimes men will feel the force of strong arguments which they would not have listened to at all, if they had known at the outset to what they were ultimately leading. Thus the lawyer, in the fable, is drawn into giving a right decision as to the duty of the owner of an ox which had gored a neighbour's. Now, though you may proceed in the same order, in a letter or a book, you cannot—if it is all to be laid before the reader at once—prevent his looking first at the end, to see what your ultimate design is. And then you may be discomfited, just as a well-drawn-up army might be, if attacked in the rere.
Many writers of modern tales have guarded against this, and precluded their readers from forestalling the conclusion, by publishing in successive numbers. And an analogous advantage may sometimes be secured by writing two or more letters in succession, so as gradually to develop the arguments in their proper order.
In oral discussions, quickness may give a man a great advantage over those who may, perhaps, surpass him in sound judgment, but who take more time to form their opinions, and to develop their reasons; and, universally, speaking has an advantage over writing, when the arguments are plausible, but flimsy. There is a story of an Athenian, who had a speech written for him in a cause he was to plead, by a professional orator, and which he was to learn by heart. At the first reading, he was delighted with it; but less at the second; and at the third, it seemed to him quite worthless. He went to the composer to complain; who reminded him that the judges were only to hear it once.
And hence, as has been justly remarked, the very early practice of much public speaking, tends to cultivate, in the person himself, a habit of readiness and fluency, at the expense of careful investigation and accurate reasoning.1 A work requiring these qualities—such as, for instance, a sound treatise on Political Economy—' might better be expected,' says Mr. Macaulay, 'from an apothecary in a country town, or a minister in the Hebrides, than from a man who, from the age of twenty-one, had been a practised debater in public.'
For sound reasoning, on the other hand, when opposed to existing prejudices, writing has a corresponding advantage over speaking. Some plausible, though insufficient, objection to what has been urged, may at once start up, as soon as the argument meets the ear or the eye; and in an oral discussion this may seem to have finally disposed of the matter, and the whole may pass away from the mind. But written words remain, as it were, staring you in the face, and are virtually repeated over and over again each time of re-perusal. It must be a really satisfactory refutation that can set the mind quite at ease in this case. For this is the converse of the case of the speech above alluded to. Sound arguments appear stronger and stronger each time they are re-considered.
Oral discussion has this advantage in favour of the disingenuous and crafty—that something may be conveyed by the tone of voice, looks, and gestures, which cannot be accurately reported, or at least so as to be satisfactorily proved; and thus contempt, or suspicion, or incredulity, or disapprobation, &c., may be so conveyed as not to commit a man. And even words actually spoken may be denied; or some (alleged) explanation of them may be added; and it will be difficult to bring home to a man conclusively what he did, or did not, say, because few witnesses will be prepared to make oath as to the very words spoken. What is written; on the other hand, is a standing witness, and cannot be so easily explained away.
There is this difference again between speaking and writing; that there is no use in saying anything, however reasonable and forcible, which you are sure will have no weight with the persons you are speaking to. For there are persons whom to attempt to convince by even the strongest reasons, and most cogent
Oral translation from a foreign language, it is remarked by Dr. Arnold, giveB fluency of speech without carelessness of thought.
arguments, is like King Lear putting a letter before a man without eyes, and saying, ' Mark but the penning of it!' to which he answers, ' Were all the letters suns, I could not see one.' But it may be well worth while sometimes to write to such a person much that is not likely to influence him at all, if you have an opportunity of showing it to others, as a proof that he ought to have been convinced by it.
As for speeches in public, they may be considered as partaking of both characters; for, as they are taken down by the reporters, and printed, they are, so far, of the character of written compositions.
Bacon remarks in his Essay 'On Cunning,' that when there are two persons only conferring together, it is impossible to make it clear which of them said what. If either of them is trying to back out of something he has said, or practising any other kind of craft, he will be likely to say, 'I understood you to say so and so,' 'You misunderstood me. I did not say so and so.' And when both parties are honest, there will be sometimes a real misapprehension of what passed orally; which is so frequent a cause of quarrels, that the very word 'misunderstanding' has come to be used in that sense.
It is to be observed that when the expressions in dispute are not merely what lawyers call 'obiter dicta'—something hastily and incidentally thrown out,—but contain the very drift and general tenor of a full and leisurely discussion of some matter, it is much more likely—other things being equal—that A. should have forgotten what he said, than that B. should have imagined what never took place. Yet there are some persons who, without any disingenuous design, but merely from a groundless confidence in the infallibility of their own memory, will insist on it that another has totally mistaken the whole drift of their discourse, and that they never said anything at all like what he distinctly remembers—though it is what he closely attended to—and what made a strong impression on his mind. In such a case, he might fairly reply, 'Well, it cannot be denied to be possible that one man may mistake another, to any extent, and under any circumstances; but if this is the case with me, there is no use in your speaking to me at all, now, or at any time. For if I am unable to understand aright the general drift of a discus