We are told that studies are important but no one tells us why we should study, how we should study and what we should study. Francis Bacon’s essay ‘Of Studies’ answers all such questions. Firstly,
“STUDIES serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability.”
When we read books in our leisure time, it brings us delight. When we use what we have learnt in our conversation, it decorates or graces our speech. When we apply what we have learnt in our judgement and business, it becomes our ability. While men of experience can carry out and judge only some particulars, the learned make the best plans and execution of affairs. This is not to say experience is not important.
Though we are bestowed with inborn talents, we need studies to perfect them and in turn the studies are perfected by experience. Our inborn talents are like plants which require pruning and this the studies do. Though studies give all the directions, they are also bound to experience.
“To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgement wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar.”
While men of experience scorn studies and laymen look up to them, only wise men use what they have learnt. We shouldn’t read just to argue; neither to believe everything given in the text blindly nor to boast about what we have read, but to scrutinize and to regard them carefully.
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and few to be chewed and digested;”
There are myriads of books to read but how do we prioritise them? Bacon says that there are some books which only require some of its parts to be read, some books though read fully don’t demand close reading, but there are books which require our full attention and are to be read with diligence.
“Reading maketh a full man; conference ready man; and writing an exact man.”
So, if a person writes less, he should have a good memory to remember everything he had read; if a person speaks less, he should have a quick wit so that he can escape his problems; if a person reads less, he should at least have wit enough to act like he knows the matter. Bacon lists the advantages of studying each subject.
“Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtile; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend.”
When we read about past ages and of men, we come to know why they failed or succeeded; when we read poems which expresses huge meanings in small words, we gain wit; when we study math, we become clever in analysis of the problems; when we read natural philosophy, we gain deep knowledge of the universe; logic and rhetoric helps us to win arguments.
“Abeunt studia in mores” means studies become habits. When we practice what we read, it becomes a part of us, Just like how there are different physical exercises to cure the diseases of different parts of our body, different studies cure impediments in our wit. If a man lacks concentration, he ought to study math because if he gets distracted while doing sums, he has to redo the whole sum else he won’t understand. If a person cannot distinguish what is right or wrong, then he ought to read philosophy. If a person can’t get to the root of the matters and cannot defend his stand, then he ought to read law.
“So every defect of the mind, may have a special receipt.”