Manvotional: Of Studies by Francis Bacon

by Brett & Kate McKay on October 11, 2008 · 6 comments

in A Man's Life, Manvotionals

Every man should value lifelong learning. Sadly, many men today have put the things of the mind on the back burner. Learning is often viewed as “nerdy” or “not manly.” Hogwash! Many of history’s manliest men were some of its smartest, and they greatly valued the pursuit of knowledge. Teddy Roosevelt devoured thousands of books and wrote a few dozen during his life. Alexander the Great was one of Aristotle’s best students.

In this short essay, Francis Bacon discusses the importance of study in one’s life. If you’re in school, this can be a great motivator to hit the books. If you’re not in school, it’s a reminder that learning should continue outside the walls of the classroom. If you want to be a true Renaissance Man, start writing, read a book (we have some good suggestions), or visit a museum. The benefits of life long study will enrich your life both materially and spiritually.

Studies serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability. Their chief use for delight is in privateness and retiring; for ornament, is in discourse; and for ability, is in the judgment and disposition of business. For expert men can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars, one by one; but the general counsels, and the plots and marshalling of affairs, come best from those that are learned. To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar. They perfect nature, and are perfected by experience: for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need pruning, by study; and studies themselves do give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience. Crafty men condemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them; for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation. Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books, else distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things. Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know that he doth not. Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtle; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend. Abeunt studia in mores [Studies pass into and influence manners]. Nay, there is no stond or impediment in the wit but may be wrought out by fit studies; like as diseases of the body may have appropriate exercises. Bowling is good for the stone and reins; shooting for the lungs and breast; gentle walking for the stomach; riding for the head; and the like. So if a man’s wit be wandering, let him study the mathematics; for in demonstrations, if his wit be called away never so little, he must begin again. If his wit be not apt to distinguish or find differences, let him study the Schoolmen; for they are cymini sectores [splitters of hairs]. If he be not apt to beat over matters, and to call up one thing to prove and illustrate another, let him study the lawyers’ cases. So every defect of the mind may have a special receipt.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John Michael Cannon October 11, 2008 at 11:43 pm

This is a wonderful post! I read Sir Francis Bacon in college and I remember REALLY enjoying his work! Men SHOULD read because as Tim Sanders has said, “Readers are Leaders.”

I’ve found that MANY, MANY girlfriends / wives wish their boyfriends / husbands would read AND implement what they read… especially about such topics as relationships and sexuality. Whenever I’ve found a book that I’ve been enthusiastic about, concerning relationships / sexuality I’d give it to a couple… and more than likely the women will read it and then tell me… “John… I wish my partner would read this!!” It’s heart breaking because many times I hear the desperation in their voices.

Real men read because readers are leaders.

Wonderful Post!!! This blog rocks!

~John Michael Cannon

2 Wayne October 12, 2008 at 2:06 pm

I second John’s opinion. I was lucky to have a single essay by Sir Francis Bacon assigned in High Schoo. I went on to read a number of his works. They are marvelous and life changing. I would also recommend Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. Cheers to you for putting real and thoughtful posts out here.


3 Tim J. October 12, 2008 at 7:04 pm

It’s worth keeping in mind that Francis Bacon was essentially the inventor of the scientific method itself. Now that’s a guy worth listening to.

4 Brett October 12, 2008 at 7:11 pm

@Tim J. – Agreed.

@Wayne – I took a class on the history of science. That’s where I was first introduced to the writings of Frances Bacon. I also second the Nichomachean Ethics. Very good stuff.

@John Michael Cannon – Mr. Sanders is correct. Leaders are readers. Good for you for passing along books that have impacted you. Finally, thanks for the kind words.

5 AMManess October 13, 2008 at 9:09 am

Great post!

I find in my line of work (attorney), many colleagues think once school is over, they don’t have to study or learn their trade. Too many hours spent explaining certain areas of law when they should spend time learning what they need to know. Those that do not study shoot from the hip on generalities and shoot themselves when confronted with someone that knows the law. The best attorneys study all the time. Knowledge through study is a tool par excellent.

Moreover, in an era of talking heads and “experts” on everything, people do not spend time studying. This is particularly true about the economy or international events. People are quick to state the current media buzz word without thinking about what they are saying. They do not study to develop a critical eye to analyze information being transmitted through the various media channels.

As Robert E. Lee stated, “The education of a man is never completed until he dies.”

6 Garland Kitts November 3, 2008 at 10:51 am

Thanks for this great post and the many others!

I particularly agree with AMManess’s quote “People are quick to state the current media buzz word without thinking about what they are saying.” Anyone who listens to TV “news” for anything is, at best, ill informed. Nothing is so simple a 2 minute news story can do it justice. But really learning the issues of the day takes time and access to the right resources. Things in very short supply these days. I don’t have the answer but it is something that needs addressing.

Also the quote “Learning is often viewed as “nerdy” or “not manly…” makes me wonder if men are more concerned with appearance than substance? I’m of the age where appearing “nerdy” or “not manly” really makes no difference to me at all (it’s called maturity). My children are exceptional students, and my boys are good athletes as well. I read around them all the time and have since they were small. Children need positive role models and I’d prefer it be me versus some illiterate rapper who is viewed as “cool” or “hip.”

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