Of Adversity – Francis Bacon – Complete Explanation

Of Adversity

by Francis Bacon

Complete explanation of the essay alongside the original text

Original

IT WAS an high speech of Seneca (after the manner of the Stoics), that the good things, which belong to prosperity, are to be wished; but the good things, that belong to adversity, are to be admired.

A word about Seneca

Seneca (Lucius Annaeus Seneca,also known as Seneca the Younger) was an erudite person with profound wisdom. He was an intellectual of renown – a writer, philosopher and statesman, all rolled intone. From AD 54 to AD 62, he was the advisor to Emperor Nero. He sang the praise of Stoicism and counselled people to face sorrow and suffering with courage and forbearance.

Explanation

In a memorable speech, Seneca expatiate that all good things like happiness, wealth etc. In one’s fate must be joyfully and gratefully received and enjoyed. At the same time, sorrows and sufferings dispensed by fate should also be accepted gracefully and with equanimity.

Original

Bona rerum secundarum optabilia; adversarum mirabilia.

Explanation

This Latin sentence literally means, “Goods of success are desirable; opposing wonderful”. More or less, it is a reiteration of what has been explained above – Humans must learn to treat grief and joy equally.

Original

Certainly if miracles be the command over nature, they appear most in adversity. It is yet a higher speech of his, than the other (much too high for a heathen), It is true greatness, to have in one the frailty of a man, and the security of a God.

Explanation

During times of adversity, miracles do happen to completely neutralize the agony and angst caused by the mishap. It is God’s hand that brings the suffering, and it is His hand that brings the deliverance from it. Humans are powerless before Him.

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Original

Vere magnum habere fragilitatem hominis, securitatem Dei.

Explanation

When translated into English, this Latin sentence means, “The frailty of man is truly great to have the security of God.” So, the frail, powerless man must seek refuge in God.

Original

This would have done better in poesy, where transcendences are more allowed. And the poets indeed have been busy with it; for it is in effect the thing, which figured in that strange fiction of the ancient poets, which seemeth not to be without mystery; nay, and to have some approach to the state of a Christian; that Hercules, when he went to unbind Prometheus (by whom human nature is represented), sailed the length of the great ocean, in an earthen pot or pitcher; lively describing Christian resolution, that saileth in the frail bark of the flesh, through the waves of the world.

Explanation

Miracles find place in poetry rather frequently. Poets resort to miracles to add charm, intrigue and suspense to their writings.

Prometheus was a Titan. But he had great compassion for humans. He gave the mortals n the gift of Fire and the ability to heal. On one occasion, Hera wickedly stole the Eternal Torch from Prometheus. Without Fire, the entire human race was put to great peril. Unfortunately, in this time of distress, Prometheus lay frozen in his abode. He was immobilized and still. Luckily, Hercules discovered him after sailing through the turbulent ocean seated inside an earthen pot, and in a great noble Christian act, restored the torch to its rightful place.

Bacon alludes to this Greek mythological episode to underscore the virtue of stoicism and fortitude.

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Original

But to speak in a mean. The virtue of prosperity, is temperance; the virtue of adversity, is fortitude; which in morals is the more heroical virtue. Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New; which carrieth the greater benediction, and the clearer revelation of God’s favor.

Explanation

Prosperity and adversity come hand in hand in life. Prosperity must bring with it an urge to abstain from indulgence. In the same way, adversity should foster fortitude.
Both are the gifts of God: Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament, and adversity is that of the New Testament. Adversity is the greater blessing, and is a manifestation God’s benign nature.

Original

Yet even in the Old Testament, if you listen to David’s harp, you shall hear as many hearse-like airs as carols; and the pencil of the Holy Ghost hath labored more in describing the afflictions of Job, than the felicities of Solomon.

Explanation

Even the Old Testament has umpteen descriptions of sorrow and happiness going together. There are laments pertaining to death and burial. There are, at the same time, songs of joy and celebration.

Job was a God-fearing person of high moral. Yet, he suffered a very long period of suffering and distress as a result of the curse of Satan. Job and his friends endured the pain with great patience and beseeched God for respite. Finally, God relented and Job was freed from his afflictions.

In the Bible, the Holy Ghost has described Hob’s story in much greater detail, than it has done to felicitate Solomon.

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Original

Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes. We see in needle-works and embroideries, it is more pleasing to have a lively work, upon a sad and solemn ground, than to have a dark and melancholy work, upon a lightsome ground: judge therefore of the pleasure of the heart, by the pleasure of the eye. Certainly virtue is like precious odors, most fragrant when they are incensed, or crushed: for prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue.

Explanation

Finally, Bacon says that prosperity is not always full of joy and gaiety. In the same vein, adversity is not always barren and hopeless. In embroidery, a lively design juxtaposed on a dull and staid background looks better than a sedate pattern in the midst of a lively background.
So, one must discern between what pleases the heart and what feasts the eyes. A source of aroma or scent exudes its goodness when it is crushed. In the same way, in the midst of vice, prosperity (genuine wholesome joy) feels better. Adversity, likewise helps us to discover virtue.

Click here for explanations of more essays by Francis Bacon.

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Nithya
Nithya
1 year ago

I don’t understand the embroidery example… can you please explain in some other way

ARUN VR
ARUN VR
1 year ago
Reply to  Nithya

The Embroidery works which is done on dark colored clothes using light colored embroidery is much pleasing right than dark colored embroidery on light colored dress. Likewise, adversity is like that dark clothes and embroidery in that is our will power, virtue learnt from adversity. So. adversity and virtue gained in is much nice and wonderful than prosperity.

Babar Sultan .
1 year ago

Embroideries are compared with hope instead of bad condition and prosperity is when we have fear of losing happiness.

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