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Harvard Classics

June 27 – The Essays of Francis Bacon: “OF ENVY”

There is a human trait most poisonous to a man’s blood. Man seeks to avoid it because he knows that it lies like a curse upon him. Just what is the poisonous human failing? Who are most subject to it? Bacon tells you in one of his best essays.
(Francis Bacon enrolled at Cambridge University, June 27, 1576.)
Read from BACON‘S ESSAYS Vol. 3 pp. 22-26

I recently purchased the 50-volume “Harvard Classics,” which are also known as Dr. Eliot’s “Five-Foot Shelf of Books.” This set was accompanied by a book called “15 Minutes a Day – The Reading Guide.” In that reading guide Eliot stated, “Within the limits of fifty volumes, containing about twenty-three thousand pages, my task was to provide the means of obtaining such knowledge of ancient and modern literature as seemed essential to the twentieth-century idea of a cultivated man.”

Today, on 27 June 2021 I begin my journey through the “Harvard Classics” using the accompanied reading guide. The first reading is an essay written by Francis Bacon titled “Of Envy.”

Sir Francis Bacon

Born in January 1561 and studied as a lawyer at Trinity College in Cambridge. Bacon took an active part in politics and became Solicitor-General and ultimately Lord Chancellor of England in 1618. Bacon was ultimately convicted of bribery and sentenced by the House of Lords to the loss of all his offices, imprisonment, and a large fine.

Bacon contributed to the sciences and philosophy with published works: “Magna Instauratio” (unfinished), “De Augmentis,” “History of Henry VII,” “The New Atlantis,” “Novum Organum,” and his collection of essays. Bacons philosophy helped establish the scientific method and is considered to be the father of empiricism. Bacon’s essays are considered “shrewd observations” on how men get on in life.

List of mentioned figures:

  • Narses the eunuch – Narses was, with Belisarius, one of the great generals in the service of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I during the Roman reconquest that took place during Justinian’s reign. Narses was a Romanized Armenian. He spent most of his life as an important eunuch in the palace of the emperors in Constantinople.
  • Agesilaus – Agesilaus II was the king of Sparta between c. 400 to 360 BC. Generally considered the most important king in the history of Sparta, Agesilaus was the main actor during the period of Spartan hegemony that followed the Peloponnesian War.
  • Tamberlanes – Timur, later Timūr Gurkānī, was a Turco-Mongol conqueror who founded the Timurid Empire in and around modern-day Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia, becoming the first ruler of the Timurid dynasty. As an undefeated commander, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest military leaders and tacticians in history.
  • Adrian the Emperor – Hadrian was Roman emperor from 117 to 138. He was born into a Roman Italo-Hispanic family that settled in Spain from the Italian city of Atri in Picenum. His father was of senatorial rank and was a first cousin of Emperor Trajan.

“There be none of the affections which have been noted to fascinate or bewitch, but love and envy.”

Notes on similarities between Love and Envy

  • vehement wishes
  • frame themselves into imaginations and suggestions
  • come easily to the eye (especially upon objects)

Envy in general:

Mentioned in scriptures (evil eye) and astrology (evil aspects).

Envy is ever joined with the comparing of a man’s self; and where there is no comparison, no envy; and therefore kings are not envied but by kings.

Politicians chanting “quanta patimur” [how great things do we suffer] to abate the edge of envy.

There is yet some good in pubic envy [a bridle to keep men within bounds], whereas in private there is none. Bacon focuses mostly on private envy which in his opinion is more dangerous.

He that cannot possibly mend his own case will do what he can to impair anothers

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