Francis Bacon – “Of Marriage and Single Life”

Unsurprisingly, Bacon writes about the pros and cons of both mostly regarding men and the essay reads a bit like a disjointed chain of thoughts on the subject. The first part is logical enough: it begins with the famous statement “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune” and goes on to discuss the apparently bad influence of having a family on your career. Bacon here swerves rather elegantly between the two opposing poles: the greatest work for the public good has been done by single men, but aren’t fathers more motivated to work for the future in which their children are going to share? And many single men are egotistical or such misers that they think about family only in terms of the expenses it incurs. But the most common cause of singledom is that these men just love their freedom too much. “Unmarried men are best friends, best masters, best servants, but not always best subjects”, because they are more likely to run away. A single life is appropriate for churchmen, because then they can exercise more charity and not just take care of their own family; regarding the judges it is indifferent, because the corrupt ones (hello Bacon!) can as easily waste money on their servants, and having families does elevate the moral tone of soldiers and it seems men’s in general. Then Bacon sometimes unexpectedly moves to the subject of chaste women, who are often too proud of their virtue and says that the best bond for a woman is when she thinks her husband is wise, which she can never do if she finds him jealous. “Wives are young men’s mistresses, companions for middle age, and old men’s nurses” (a good job on not-objectifying women, there), so anytime you choose to marry could be considered good – except that the ancient philosopher Thales thought otherwise. Bacon ends with explaining the phenomenon of bad husbands having often very good wives: if they chose their husbands themselves, against the advice of their family, now they have to prove to the whole world they were not wrong.

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