Bacon's essays: Of Delays

The essay Of Delays is so hard to understand, it makes me wonder if Bacon hadn’t had a little too much poppy juice in his wine the day he wrote it. Except that he edited things over and over for years before he published them, so that’s not very likely. He’s just being cryptic and assuming his readers will know what he’s talking about.

Wait and things will get worse

sibyllaThe first sentence is clear enough: “Fortune is like the market; where many times if you can stay a little, the price will fall.” Unless you’re hoping for it to rise. Note that Bacon takes the role of the shopper in his market scenarios. Naturally enough; you wouldn’t confuse him with a tradesman, would you?

Then he adds a supporting example: Sibylla’s offer. She was queen of Jerusalem from 1186 to 1190 and apparently a pretty good queen. She held Saladin’s army at bay for a while and personally led the defense in 1187. She fled to Tripoli with her daughters, but was apparently still considered queen until she and the girls died of some epidemic in 1190. She sounds very interesting, but I have no idea what her offer was. Bacon implies that the offered item got smaller and smaller while the price remained the same.

Time’s bald noddle

“For occasion (as it is in the common verse) turneth a bald noddle, after she hath presented her lockstime-and-fortune in front, and no hold taken or at least turneth the handle of the bottle, first to be received, and after the belly, which is hard to clasp.”

He’s turned Father Time into a bald-headed woman. Not Sibylla, I hope! I found this passage totally obscure until I remembered the expression, “Take time by the forelock.”

Here’s the definition from Proverb Hunter: “Seize the present moment. Old Father Time is represented as being completely bald except for a lock of hair on his forehead. You cannot catch him from behind but you can catch him from the front by seizing him by the forelock. This proverb means that time past cannot be used, but advantage can be taken of it now.”

I can’t find an image of a bald Father Time (or Mother Time), but I love this print depicting Father Time, a winged reaper with an hourglass, playing dice with Fortune, who stands on her wheel. A winged Cupid, bow at his feet, and Fortune balance a game board on the world. Cupid gestures toward the hourglass indicating that time will eventually win out. Dated between 1631 and 1659, from Wikimedia Commons.

You could grab Fortune’s hair and pull her in your direction, if you dared.

Eyes forward

argos“The ripeness, or unripeness, of the occasion (as we said) must ever be well weighed; and generally it is good, to commit the beginnings of an great actions to Argus, with his hundred eyes, and the ends to Briareus, with his hundred hands; first to watch, and then to speed.”

Argos Panoptes was the hundred-eyed giant who guarded Hera’s white heifer from Zeus, who had a thing for cows. Briareus is pretty obscure, one of the pre-Olympian primordial monsters banished by their father Uranus to Tartarus. Not for dilly-dallying, we suppose.

Plan carefully, but once started, get rocking!

Faster than a speeding bullet

The end is vivid, especially by Baconian standards, but I don’t feel that I’ve received any useful counsel, to be honest.

“For the helmet of Pluto, which maketh the politic man go invisible, is secrecy in the counsel, and celerity in the execution. For when things are once come to the execution, there is no secrecy, comparable to celerity; like the motion of a bullet in the air, which flieth so swift, as it outruns the eye.”

Again, once you’ve made up your mind, work fast and you’ll be done before anyone can move to counter you. He’s mostly talking about warfare — shock and awe — than about say, book launches.

I was hoping for on an essay on Procrastination but he probably never got around to it.

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