Of Boldness by Francis Bacon

Story type: Essay

IT IS a trivial grammar-school text, but yet worthy a wise man’s consideration. Question was asked of Demosthenes, what was the chief part of an orator? he answered, action; what next? action; what next again? action. He said it, that knew it best, and had, by nature, himself no advantage in that he commended. A strange thing, that that part of an orator, which is but superficial, and rather the virtue of a player, should be placed so high, above those other noble parts, of invention, elocution, and the rest; nay, almost alone, as if it were all in all. But the reason is plain. There is in human nature generally, more of the fool than of the wise; and therefore those faculties, by which the foolish part of men’s minds is taken, are most potent. Wonderful like is the case of boldness in civil business: what first? boldness; what second and third? boldness. And yet boldness is a child of ignorance and baseness, far inferior to other parts. But nevertheless it doth fascinate, and bind hand and foot, those that are either shallow in judgment, or weak in courage, which are the greatest part; yea and prevaileth with wise men at weak times. Therefore we see it hath done wonders, in popular states; but with senates, and princes less; and more ever upon the first entrance of bold persons into action, than soon after; for boldness is an ill keeper of promise. Surely, as there are mounte-banks for the natural body, so are there mounte-banks for the politic body; men that undertake great cures, and perhaps have been lucky, in two or three experiments, but want the grounds of science, and therefore cannot hold out. Nay, you shall see a bold fellow many times do Mahomet’s miracle. Mahomet made the people believe that he would call an hill to him, and from the top of it offer up his prayers, for the observers of his law. The people assembled; Mahomet called the hill to come to him, again and again; and when the hill stood still, he was never a whit abashed, but said, If the hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the hill. So these men, when they have promised great matters, and failed most shamefully, yet (if they have the perfection of boldness) they will but slight it over, and make a turn, and no more ado. Certainly to men of great judgment, bold persons are a sport to behold; nay, and to the vulgar also, boldness has somewhat of the ridiculous. For if absurdity be the subject of laughter, doubt you not but great boldness is seldom without some absurdity. Especially it is a sport to see, when a bold fellow is out of countenance; for that puts his face into a most shrunken, and wooden posture; as needs it must; for in bashfulness, the spirits do a little go and come; but with bold men, upon like occasion, they stand at a stay; like a stale at chess, where it is no mate, but yet the game cannot stir. But this last were fitter for a satire than for a serious observation. This is well to be weighed; that boldness is ever blind; for it seeth not danger, and inconveniences. Therefore it is ill in counsel, good in execution; so that the right use of bold persons is, that they never command in chief, but be seconds, and under the direction of others. For in counsel, it is good to see dangers; and in execution, not to see them, except they be very great.

A Glossary
OF ARCHAIC WORDS
AND PHRASES

Abridgment: miniature
Absurd: stupid, unpolished
Abuse: cheat, deceive
Aculeate: stinging
Adamant: loadstone
Adust: scorched
Advoutress: adulteress
Affect: like, desire
Antic: clown
Appose: question
Arietation: battering-ram
Audit: revenue
Avoidance: secret outlet
Battle: battalion
Bestow: settle in life
Blanch: flatter, evade
Brave: boastful
Bravery: boast, ostentation
Broke: deal in brokerage
Broken: shine by comparison
Broken music: part music
Cabinet: secret
Calendar: weather forecast
Card: chart, map
Care not to: are reckless
Cast: plan
Cat: cate, cake
Charge and adventure: cost and
risk
Check with: interfere
Chop: bandy words
Civil: peaceful
Close: secret, secretive
Collect: infer
Compound: compromise
Consent: agreement
Curious: elaborate
Custom: import duties
Deceive: rob
Derive: divert
Difficileness: moroseness
Discover: reveal
Donative: money gift
Doubt: fear
Equipollent: equally powerful
Espial: spy
Estate: state
Facility: of easy persuasion
Fair: rather
Fame: rumor
Favor: feature
Flashy: insipid
Foot-pace: lobby
Foreseen: guarded against
Froward: stubborn
Futile: babbling
Globe: complete body
Glorious: showy, boastful
Humorous: capricious
Hundred poll: hundredth head
Impertinent: irrelevant
Implicit: entangled

In a mean: in moderation
In smother: suppressed
Indifferent: impartial
Intend: attend to
Knap:knoll
Leese: lose
Let: hinder
Loose: shot
Lot: spell
Lurch: intercept
Make: profit, get
Manage: train
Mate: conquer
Material: business-like
Mere-stone: boundary stone
Muniting: fortifying
Nerve: sinew
Obnoxious: subservient, liable
Oes: round spangles
Pair: impair
Pardon: allowance
Passable: mediocre
Pine-apple-tree: pine
Plantation: colony
Platform: plan
Plausible: praiseworthy
Point device: excessively precise
Politic: politician
Poll: extort
Poser: examiner
Practice: plotting
Preoccupate: anticipate
Prest: prepared
Prick: plant
Proper: personal
Prospective: stereoscope
Proyne: prune
Purprise: enclosure
Push: pimple
Quarrel: pretext
Quech: flinch
Reason: principle
Recamera: retiring-room
Return: reaction
Return: wing running back
Rise: dignity
Round: straight
Save: account for
Scantling: measure
Seel: blind
Shrewd: mischievous
Sort: associate
Spial: spy
Staddle: sapling
Steal: do secretly
Stirp: family
Stond: stop, stand
Stoved: hot-housed
Style: title
Success: outcome
Sumptuary law: law against
extravagance
Superior globe: the heavens
Temper: proportion
Tendering: nursing
Tract: line, trait
Travel: travail, labor
Treaties: treatises
Trench to: touch
Trivial: common
Turquet: Turkish dwarf
Under foot: below value
Unready: untrained
Usury: interest
Value: certify
Virtuous: able
Votary: vowed
Wanton: spoiled
Wood: maze
Work: manage, utilize

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