Of Studies by Francis Bacon Summary
The title “Of Studies” means the collective studies that a person does in his life. The main idea of “Of Studies” by Francis Bacon is the benefits of reading. Reading helps the readers to cope up with diverse situations. Reading also enhances readers’ intellect and cures restraints of the mind.
The essay provides the right method to read different branches of knowledge and discusses their benefits. In short, the theme of the essay “Of Studies” is how studies benefit a reader’s life enormously in different ways.
Of Studies by Francis Bacon
Three Important Uses of Studies
At the outset, Francis Bacon says that the three useful purposes of studies are delight, ornament, and ability.
The first useful purpose is reading delights the reader. In one’s private space, reading is useful as it provides great pleasure. For instance, if a reader enjoys fiction like Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, then it would delight him.
By plunging into the world of Santiago, the reader meets many characters such as the King of Salem, the crystal merchant, the English man, his beloved Fatima, and the Alchemist. The novel also delights the reader as Santiago proceeds in his quest for treasure from Andalusia to the hearts of Egypt, the pyramids.
Therefore, irrespective of personal preferences, reading not only compensates for boredom, but also gives great pleasure to the reader.
The second purpose is studies add ornament to discourse. When a well-read person engages in a written or spoken discussion, reading helps the person to exhibit his knowledge in a much better way than an average person.
For instance, in Bacon’s essays such as Of Truth and Of Love, we see the usage of Latin phrases. This shows Bacon is good at Latin and he uses Latin as an ornament in his essays.
Studies also improve one’s ability of judgment and arrangement of things. One can be an expert at something even without studies, but there lies a distinction between an expert and a learned man.
Bacon says that an expert can execute his plan, and even judge a situation but a learned man can better perform in giving advice, making plans, and managing things. The efficiency of a learned man is better than an expert.
I have given the example in the video below.
The effect of excessive reading
These are the three ways of studies through which studies serve a reader. However, too much in everything is bad and reading is no exception to that.
Bacon states that reading excessively leads to laziness. From the physiological point of view, reading is a sedentary task and when a reader sits for long, the immobility of the body would lead to lethargy.
Similarly, using decorated words and knowledge excessively in discourse is does the opposite. Too much use of ornaments would project a learned man as ostentatious. Bacon also states that making judgments based on bookish knowledge is the humor of a scholar.
Consideration and application of the learning without understanding the practical world is a fault. A reader must be able to draw the distinct line between the book and the real world while judging.
Bacon here emphasizes ‘too much’ in each situation. Therefore, equilibrium must be maintained between studying and other activities, between ornament and argument, and between theory and practical.
Bacon repeats his principal argument that reading does hone human nature and experience perfects it. Bacon draws an analogy between natural plants and the natural abilities of a person.
We cut the plants, which could grow in any direction, for aesthetic purposes and overall improvement of the tree. Similarly, the natural abilities of a man need to be nurtured by studies.
Studies enhance the knowledge of the reader but that remain unfulfilled until the person gains experience related to the subject of study. That means knowledge and experience make reading complete.
Views of Studies
Studies benefit a reader in diverse ways. However, not all men admire studies. For instance, shrewd people contempt studies as they perceive studies don’t help people.
The shrewd men, in most cases, cope with different situations of life with no studies. Therefore, for them, studies are of no use.
On the contrary, simple men admire studies. The simple men, who are not voracious readers but aware of the benefits of reading, are awestruck to see a man filled with knowledge.
Apart from them, wise men take the best out of their studies as wise men know how to use the knowledge from books in real life.
Books don’t tell readers about the pragmatic aspects of knowledge. The ability to implement knowledge is wisdom that is gained through observation.
Bacon emphasizes that having bookish knowledge is not enough. Theoretical knowledge is completed only when it is used in real life.
Real Method of Studies
To get the most out of books, Francis Bacon suggests the method one should follow while reading.
Bacon suggests one should not read to prove others wrong because, with this motive, the reader looks for the points which can be used as arguments. The reader might be right, but in the process, the reader loses what the book has to offer.
During reading, the reader must not also believe what the book says or take everything that the book says for granted.
This approach is also problematic because this approach does not allow the reader to open up the mind and the reader does nothing except imbibing the knowledge theoretically.
A book also should not be read to use it in a talk and discourse. This approach is too wrong because the reader would be concerned more about the points which the reader can use in discourse and reading becomes superficial.
Contrary to these ways, one should read a book to consider what the writer’s primary message or argument/s before making any decision consciously or unconsciously.
For instance, Bacon’s Essays(1597) should not read to confute someone nor blindly believe in it nor to read wholly for the use in discourse. The best approach would be to consider what Bacon says on different subjects in Essays.
Moreover, I’d like to add here that the best practice of reading, according to Mortimer Adler, is Syntopical Reading. Adler mentions in How to Read a Book that syntopical reading or comparative reading is analyzing a subject based on the reader’s reading of books on the same topic.
Not Every Book is Same
However, Bacon reminds the reader that we cannot follow this approach in every book. Because some books are only meant to be tasted; those books are to be read partially; one can skim the parts of the book.
Others are to be swallowed; books such as theoretical books are to be read but not curiously. They are necessary for memorization so that we can use them in real life.
On the other hand, there are only a few books that are to be read completely, those books are to be chewed and digested.
While going through the book reader needs to read each part of the book with an unwavering focus and effort. With such books, analytical reading is necessary.
Bacon also suggests that we can study abridged versions and summaries of less important books. These books are like distilled water, which has no significance for later use.
Therefore, it is up to the reader to decide the right method.
Benefits of Studies
Bacon also discusses the effects of reading, discussion, and writing. He states, reading makes a full man; conference leads to a ready man while writing makes an exact man.
Reading provides a reader with knowledge. When one reads books one after the other, one’s knowledge is bound to increase by the means of studies. In this way, it fills the reader with knowledge.
Like reading, continuous engagement in the discussion makes a well-read person good at the discussion. In discussion, one’s practice of using the knowledge instantly and constant practice makes one ready for any topic to talk about.
Furthermore, if the reader notes down his thought or opinion on a book, then he can revisit the notes and bring the exact idea or thought later in the future without pressuring the memory.
On the contrary, if one reads little, then he needs to pretend of knowing things. If the person cannot pretend, then it will become obvious that he does not aware of the things.
Similarly, if one is not familiar with the discussion, he needs to have the presence of mind.
And if a person does not write much, he needs to have significant memory because he must rely on his memory for everything he thinks.
Benefits of studying different subjects
Francis Bacon restates the benefits of reading diverse fields of knowledge. Francis Bacon mentions,
For explanation watch the video below.
Further, Bacon states that the right study can change intellect like a particular physical exercise is right for the distinct disease of the body.
For instance, for a distracted mind, mathematics would be fit to improve concentration.
In mathematics, we need focus, and if the mind wanders during doing mathematics, then it would spoil everything. So doing mathematics is a practice to stick to a particular task.
If the mind finds it difficult the differences between matters, then studying the philosophers and theologians of the Middle Ages would be beneficial as they are noted for their logical distinctions.
Moreover, if one wishes to improve reasoning or argumentative skills, then study lawyers’ cases would be the right thing to do. So for such flaws of mind, reading has the solution.
Of Studies Theme
The theme of “Of Studies” is the benefits of reading. I have made a video where I have focused on the theme of the essay. You can watch the video above.
In the essay, Bacon mainly discusses the benefits of reading. He also discusses the benefits of reading different subjects. However, he does not support idle sitting. He makes his arguments balanced by focusing on the experience. For Bacon, studies are completed only with experience.
- Adler, Mortimer J and Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book. Simon & Schuster, 2014.
- Bacon, Francis. “Of Studies.” Eight Essayists, edited by A.S Cairncross, New Revised ed., Macmillan, 2001, pp. 3-4, 164.
- Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist. Harper Collins, 2012.