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An essay by Francis Bacon

Of Nobility

Title:     Of Nobility
Author: Francis Bacon [More Titles by Bacon]

WE WILL speak of nobility, first as a portion of an estate, then as a condition of particular persons. A monarchy, where there is no nobility at all, is ever a pure and absolute tyranny; as that of the Turks. For nobility attempers sovereignty, and draws the eyes of the people, somewhat aside from the line royal. But for democracies, they need it not; and they are commonly more quiet, and less subject to sedition, than where there are stirps of nobles. For men's eyes are upon the business, and not upon the persons; or if upon the persons, it is for the business' sake, as fittest, and not for flags and pedigree. We see the Switzers last well, notwithstanding their diversity of religion, and of cantons. For utility is their bond, and not respects. The united provinces of the Low Countries, in their government, excel; for where there is an equality, the consultations are more indifferent, and the payments and tributes, more cheerful. A great and potent nobility, addeth majesty to a monarch, but diminisheth power; and putteth life and spirit into the people, but presseth their fortune. It is well, when nobles are not too great for sovereignty nor for justice; and yet maintained in that height, as the insolency of inferiors may be broken upon them, before it come on too fast upon the majesty of kings. A numerous nobility causeth poverty, and inconvenience in a state; for it is a surcharge of expense; and besides, it being of necessity, that many of the nobility fall, in time, to be weak in fortune, it maketh a kind of disproportion, between honor and means.

As for nobility in particular persons; it is a reverend thing, to see an ancient castle or building, not in decay; or to see a fair timber tree, sound and perfect. How much more, to behold an ancient noble family, which has stood against the waves and weathers of time! For new nobility is but the act of power, but ancient nobility is the act of time. Those that are first raised to nobility, are commonly more virtuous, but less innocent, than their descendants; for there is rarely any rising, but by a commixture of good and evil arts. But it is reason, the memory of their virtues remain to their posterity, and their faults die with themselves. Nobility of birth commonly abateth industry; and he that is not industrious, envieth him that is. Besides, noble persons cannot go much higher; and he that standeth at a stay, when others rise, can hardly avoid motions of envy. On the other side, nobility extinguisheth the passive envy from others, towards them; because they are in possession of honor. Certainly, kings that have able men of their nobility, shall find ease in employing them, and a better slide into their business; for people naturally bend to them, as born in some sort to command.

A Glossary

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
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
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
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

[The end]
Francis Bacon's essay: Of Nobility