The opening of Bacon’s essay “Of Marriage and Single Life”:
“He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief. Certainly, the best works, and of the greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men.”
Bacon was unmarried and gay, so the dictum holds for him. And the list unmarried great thinkers is very long. How well has the claim stood up over the nearly-four centuries since Bacon?
[Let’s not forget Nietzsche: “A married philosopher belongs in comedy” (GM 3:7). Friedrich the Unmarried notes that Socrates the Henpecked was married and so is perhaps an exception — except that Nietzsche thinks Socrates was not much of a philosopher, which, he suggests, proves his point.]
"OF MARRIAGE AND SINGLE LIFE" is a typical product of Bacon's versatile genius. It exhibits Bacon's tendency to present a subject with all its pros and cons. He puts forward a balance sheet of assets and liabilities of married and single life.
From the very beginning of the essay, the condensation of thought immediately captures the attention of the reader.
"He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune."
A wife and children are obstacles, which prevent a man from taking on any great course of action whether it is for a noble end or of a harmful nature. Any ambitious ideas have to be subdued because he cannot take risks, which might affect harmfully the welfare of his family.
Bacon argues that it is the single and childless men who have done a great deal for society. They give a lot of attention to the public and use their money and resources for public benefit, in this sense they can be regarded as having married the public at large and considering it to be their children. The public is a single man's family and he gives his love and money to it in Bacon's viewpoint.
Advancing his argument upon the topic, Bacon says that some men regard wife and children as financial liabilities to be avoided. Other foolish and greedy men pride themselves upon the fact that they have no children. They feel that they would be thought rich by others if they had no children on whom they had to spend more.
Bacon further says that single men prove to be best friends, better masters and servants. However, they are not always good citizens, as, being rootless and without responsibility. They find it easy to leave the country. Bacon says an interesting thing as:
"A single life doth well with churchmen; for charity will hardly water the ground where it must first fill a pool."
Bacon seems very right in his statement. It is better for a clergyman to remain single. If he has a family, more of his attention and affection will go to it and he cannot be expected to give undivided attention to his people. It is to be noted that figure of speech to illustrate the idea is very apt and has literary charm. Enumerating the advantages of married life Bacon says:
"Certainly wife and children are a kind of discipline of humanity.”
A wife and children are a kind of discipline on a man and he develops his softer feelings. A single man is charitable as he can afford to be so but he is more hard hearted and cruel than a married man is. Having no family he lacks the opportunity to exercise his tender and affectionate feelings.
Being a utilitarian, Bacon enumerates an advantage of married life that in youth, wife is the object of romantic love; in middle age, she is valued for her companionship; in old age, she serves as a nurse. Bacon is so much utilitarian that he ignores the emotional appeal and heavenly bliss of married life. He considers women as object of utility not as living creature having equal right as his own.
The usual qualities of Bacon's style are in abundance in this essay. Many sentences in this essay have aphoristic quality and indeed, they are the wisdom encapsulated. Bacon's love of allusions, quotations and Latin phrases is exhibited in this essay. Overall, in the essay "OF MARRIAGE AND SINGLE LIFE" there is lack of emotions but the arguments are perfectly logical and therefore, convincing.
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