Of Envy by Francis Bacon

Of Envy

Original …THERE be none of the affections which have been noted to fascinate or bewitch, but love and envy. They both have vehement wishes; they frame themselves readily into imaginations and suggestions; and they come easily into the eye, especially upon the presence of the objects; which are the points that conduce to fascination, if any such thing there be. We see likewise the Scripture calleth envy an evil eye; and the astrologers call the evil influences of the stars evil aspects; so that still there seemeth to be acknowledged, in the act of envy, an ejaculation 1 or irradiation of the eye. Nay some have been so curious as to note that the times when the stroke or percussion of an envious eye doth most hurt are when the party envied is beheld in glory or triumph; for that sets an edge upon envy: and besides, at such times the spirits of the person envied do come forth most into the outward parts, and so meet the blow.

Meaning … Love and envy are the two most consuming passions of humans. Many find it very hard to shake off the grip of these two emotions on their minds. After these two feelings cast their spell over some one’s mind, he, unwittingly, starts to weave imaginations and suggestions to feed into his afflicted mind. His mind gets pushed deeper into the stranglehold of these two feelings. The very sight of the envied or loved person triggers an outburst of envy or love towards him.

This is why the religious scriptures have described envy as the ‘evil eye’. It is also believed that stars often radiate evil influences. This has been described as ‘evil aspects’ in astrology.

Envy reflects in the eyes of the person affected by this consuming attitude of ‘envy’. When a person receives adulation, love and acclaim in good measure, he, unknowingly, becomes the object of much corrosive envy emanating from the envious person. The person in the exalted position draws envy because of his attributes and accomplishments that so easily visible to the envious person.

Original .. But leaving these curiosities (though not unworthy to be thought on in fit place), we will handle, what persons are apt to envy others; what persons are most subject to be envied themselves; and what is the difference between public and private envy.

Meaning … Now, Bacon goes on to describe the persons who have the propensity to envy others, and the persons who knowingly or unknowingly create envy in the minds of others.

Original … A man that hath no virtue in himself, ever envieth virtue in others. For men’s minds will either feed upon their own good or upon others’ evil; and who wanteth the one will prey upon the other; and whoso is out of hope to attain to another’s virtue, will seek to come at even hand by depressing another’s fortune.

Original ..A man that is busy and inquisitive is commonly envious. For to know much of other men’s matters cannot be because all that ado may concern his own estate; therefore it must needs be that he taketh a kind of play-pleasure in looking upon the fortunes of others.

Meaning .. It is commonly observed that human beings who are busy with their own affairs and inquisitive are envious of other’s works and achievements. For example, a trader is envious of the business of the trader next door, a farmer is envious of the harvest of his fellow farmer, a scientist is envious of the work of another scientist, and so on, and so forth. Such envy is not that toxic or harmful.

Original ..Neither can he that mindeth but his own business find much matter for envy. For envy is a gadding passion, and walketh the streets, and doth not keep home: Non est curiosus, quin idem sit malevolus [There is no curious man but has some malevolence to quicken his curiosity].

Meaning .. Even a person who scrupulously minds his own business can escape the tendency to envy others. Envy is a pervasive passion that affects all. There is certainly no human being who can eschew envy completely, because his inherent curiosity about other’s matters always fuels some envy in him.

Original ..Men of noble birth are noted to be envious towards new men when they rise. For the distance is altered, and it is like a deceit of the eye, that when others come on they think themselves go back.

Meaning … People born in royalty, aristocratic families or elite circles of society are inherently envious of new entrants in their circle. This is because, if the new entrant rises in fame, he leaves behind others. Take the case of a cricketer. If his team mate  performs spectacularly, he will inevitably jeopardize the chances of the players waiting in the wings, and may even lead to the dropping of one or two fellow players in the team. So, the rising star is bound to be the object of envy of fellow players he leaves behind. In a political party, or even in a cabinet of ministers, a stellar performance of one member may lead to a few others being sidelined. So, the high-performer is sure to attract envy of his other colleagues.

Original ..Deformed persons, and eunuchs, and old men, and bastards, are envious. For he that cannot possibly mend his own case will do what he can to impair another’s; except these defects light upon a very brave and heroical nature, which thinketh to make his natural wants part of his honor; in that it should be said, that an eunuch, or a lame man, did such great matters; affecting the honor of a miracle; as it was in Narses the eunuch, and Agesilaus and Tamberlanes, that were lame men.

Meaning …People with physical infirmity, LGBTQs, old enfeebled people, and those not born from legitimate wedlock always feel envious of normal human beings. These hapless people can not reverse their misfortune, so they will try to see others are affected by similar misfortune. But, there are honorable exceptions too. There are some gifted people, who defy their inborn deficiencies, and accomplish gret things in life. These people rightly boast about their achievements. Narses, the eunuch, and Agesilaus and Tamberlanes, both physically handicapped rose to great heights in their lives despite their disabilities.

Original ..The same is the case of men that rise after calamities and misfortunes. For they are as men fallen out with the times; and think other men’s harms a redemption of their own sufferings.

Meaning .. Similar is the case of persons who suffer physical calamities in life, yet rise to eminence through their perseverance, talent, and hard work. They take their misfortune in their strides and surge ahead.

Original .. They that desire to excel in too many matters, out of levity and vain glory, are ever envious. For they cannot want work; it being impossible but many in some one of those things should surpass them. Which was the character of Adrian the Emperor; that mortally envied poets and painters and artificers, in works wherein he had a vein to excel.

Meaning …. There are some people who want to excel in too many fields. Such tendency is childish, and needless boastful. These people obviously can’t rise to fame in so many fields together. Failure and disappointment await them. As a result, they begin to envy others who have excelled in their chosen fields. Adrian, the Emperor, was one such vainglorious person who wanted to excel in too many fields, but failed. Adrian was, therefore, envious of the poets, painters and artisans in his court.

Original …Lastly, near kinsfolks, and fellows in office, and those that have been bred together, are more apt to envy their equals when they are raised. For it doth upbraid unto them their own fortunes, and pointeth at them, and cometh oftener into their remembrance, and incurreth  likewise more into the note of others; and envy ever redoubleth from speech and fame. Cain’s envy was the more vile and malignant towards his brother Abel, because when his sacrifice was better accepted there was no body to look on. Thus much for those that are apt to envy.

Meaning …. Colleagues and employees of the same rank invariably feel envious when one from among them supersedes them in the job. For example, in the armed forces, officers frequently supersede fellow officers. This causes heartburn and ill feeling in those who are left behind. Those who are left behind constantly think about the matter and by doing so, they bring onto themselves more misery. Cain envied his brother Abel, because the former’s sacrifices didn’t receive enough public adulation.Original …  Concerning those that are more or less subject to envy: First, persons of eminent virtue, when they are advanced, are less envied. For their fortune seemeth but due unto them; and no man envieth the payment of a debt, but rewards and liberality rather.

Meaning … People, who have reached the zenith of their careers, are less prone to be envied by others. Others feel that their success was very much well-deserved, and so accept it as a natural consequence.

Original ..Again, envy is ever joined with the comparing of a man’s self; and where there is no comparison, no envy; and therefore kings are not envied but by kings. Nevertheless it is to be noted that unworthy persons are most envied at their first coming in, and afterwards overcome it better; whereas contrariwise, persons of worth and merit are most envied when their fortune continueth long. For by that time, though their virtue be the same, yet in hath not the same lustre; for fresh men grow up that darken it.

Meaning … Envy is a result of two similar persons or things being compared. A rich man will compare his mansion with that of his friend’s, and feel envious if the latter’s mansion is bigger or better. He will never compare his mansion to that of a middle class family’s one-bed room house. Similarly, a film actress will compare her professional fees with another of her ilk, and of with that of a new comer to the industry. The United States will compare its military or economic might with that of China, and not with Malaysia’s. So, envy is generated when one king pitches his kingdom and glory with that of another.Similarly, a man of lesser caliber will attract envy when he attains success and glory, but with passage of time, people get reconciled to his stature and stop envying him. On the other hand, a person of great merit continues to be the object of envy long after he has reached a position of high acclaim. Some fresh talents enter the field, rise to eminence, and diminish the exalted stature of the earlier successful person.

Original … Persons of noble blood are less envied in their rising. For it seemeth but right done to their birth. Besides, there seemeth not much added to their fortune; and envy is as the sunbeams, that beat hotter upon a bank or steep rising ground, than upon a flat. And for the same reason those that are advanced by degrees are less envied than those that are advanced suddenly and per saltum [at a bound].

Meaning … People who are born in aristocratic and highly-placed families do not attract much envy when they go up in life. Others assume that their rise is natural and justified because of their lineage and nobility. Their high acclaim in life is accepted as quite natural. On the other hand, those people who rise very quickly to amass a lot of wealth, and fame attract a lot of envy. Their rise is described as per saltum, i.e. through hopping. Like  the sunbeam that beats hotter on a slanting surface, than on a plane one, those who rise quickly in life become object of more vicious envy.

Original ….Those that have joined with their honor great travels, cares, or perils, are less subject to envy. For men think that they earn their honors hardly, and pity them sometimes; and pity even healeth envy. Wherefore you shall observe that the more deep and sober sort of politic persons, in their greatness, are ever bemoaning themselves, what a life they lead; chanting a quanta patimur [how great things do we suffer!]. Not that they feel it so, but only to abate the edge of envy. But this is to be understood of business that is laid upon men, and not such as they call unto themselves. For nothing increaseth envy more than an unnecessary and ambitious engrossing of business. And nothing doth extinguish envy more than for a great person to preserve all other inferior officers in their full rights and pre-eminences of their places. For by that means there be so many screens between him and envy.

Meaning …The people who have reached eminent positions in life by virtue of great effort, risk taking, and through hardship do not become victims of envy. At times, people pity these big achievers for the hard times they willingly endured to reach eminent positions in life.  Such pity lessens the toxicity of envy. Some of these big achievers in life constantly remember the many hurdles they had to cross in life before reaching eminence. Such humility and honesty on their part greatly lessens the acuteness of public envy towards them. There are some others who boast about their achievements, and how daringly they executed their plans. Such arrogance display of success invites very sharp envy from fellowmen. In the same way, when a immensely successful and highly placed person is very respectful and humble towards his subordinate staff or other people in his pay roll, the extent of envy towards the man decreases greatly.

Original …Above all, those are most subject to envy, which carry the greatness of their fortunes in an insolent and proud manner; being never well but while they are showing how great they are, either by outward pomp, or by triumphing over all opposition or competition; whereas wise men will rather do sacrifice to envy, in suffering themselves sometimes of purpose to be crossed and overborne in things that do not much concern them. Notwithstanding, so much is true, that the carriage of greatness in a plain and open manner (so it be without arrogancy and vain glory) doth draw less envy than if it be in a more crafty and cunning fashion. For in that course a man doth but disavow fortune; and seemeth to be conscious of his own want in worth; and doth but teach others to envy him.

Meaning .. Abrasive showmanship, pompous manners, needless self-promotion, and ridicule of other great persons almost invariably aggravate envy towards the man who indulges in such unsavory conduct. On the other hand, wise men deliberately lie low, maintain a lower profile, and steer clear of others affairs. By such low-key existence, they deflect the envy away from them. A sober man who is highly successful in life will draw much less envy than the one who is boastful, showy, and flamboyant.

Original …Lastly, to conclude this part; as we said in the beginning that the act of envy had somewhat in it of witchcraft, so there is no other cure of envy but the cure of witchcraft; and that is, to remove the lot (as they call it) and to lay it upon another. For which purpose, the wiser sort of great persons bring in ever upon the stage somebody upon whom to derive the envy that would come upon themselves; sometimes upon ministers and servants; sometimes upon colleagues and associates; and the like; and for that turn there are never wanting some persons of violent and undertaking natures, who, so they may have power and business, will take it at any cost.

Meaning .. Envy is a nefarious and utterly harmful trait. It is similar to witchcraft in its devilish characteristics. The best way to evade other people’s envy towards oneself is to unburden the envy on someone else. To do this, great and powerful men use another person as the decoy. This person could be his minister, officer, colleague, associate, or even a servant. For being such a decoy, persons of violent and willing nature are always available.

Original ..Now, to speak of public envy. There us yet some good in public envy, whereas in private there is none. For public envy is as an ostracism, that eclipseth men when they grow too great. And therefore it is a bridle also to great ones, to keep them within bounds.

Meaning … Public envy and private envy are different in their effect on an individual. Public envy sometimes leads to desirable consequences. Public envy, when acute, ostracizes the person removing him from the hearts and minds of his own people. In such case, the person becomes constrained and tethered.

Original …This envy, being in the Latin word invidia, goeth in the modern languages by the name of discontentment; of which we shall speak in handling sedition. It is a disease in a state like to infection. For as infection spreadeth upon that which is sound, and tainteth it; so when envy is gotten once into a state, it traduceth even the best actions thereof, and turneth them into an ill odor. And therefore there is little won by intermingling of plausible actions. For that doth argue but a weakness and fear of envy, which hurteth so much the more, as it is likewise usual in infections; which if you fear them, you call them upon you.

Meaning … Envy is a very polluting trait. It sullies the soul, and tarnishes the image of a person who nurtures it. Like the way infection blights a living body, envy debases the moral conscience of a man. Even his good and noble deeds lose their luster. A man who is envied by others needlessly worries about the harm done by the envious attitude of others. He feels all actions of others, good or bad, are tinged by envy. Such a state of mind exacerbates the misery. If one fears infection irrationally, infection attacks him. In the same way, one invites more envy if one fears envy.

Original .. This public envy seemeth to beat chiefly upon principal officers or ministers, rather than upon kings and estates themselves. But this is a sure rule, that if the envy upon the minister be great, when the cause of it in him is small; or if the envy be general in a manner upon all the ministers of an estate; then the envy (though hidden) is truly upon the state itself. And so much of public envy or discontentment, and the difference thereof from private envy, which was handled in the first place.
Meaning .. Public envy seems to affect courtiers and ministers much more than it affects kings or their kingdoms. Ministers generally attract too much more envy than they deserve. If the entire group of ministers is subject of envy, it can mean that the whole kingdom’s administration also becomes a victim of envy. It leads to a state of simmering discontent among the public against the government.

Original …We will add this in general, touching the affection of envy; that of all other affections it is the most importune and continual. For of other affections there is occasion given but now and then; and therefore it was well said, Invidia festos dies non agit [Envy keeps no holidays]: for it is ever working upon some or other. And it is also noted that love and envy do make a man pine, which other affections do not, because they are not so continual. It is also the vilest affection, and the most depraved; for which cause it is the proper attribute of the devil, who is called the envious man, that soweth tares amongst the wheat by night; as it always cometh to pass, that envy worketh subtilly, and in the dark, and to the prejudice of good things, such as is the wheat.

Meaning … Envy is a like a disease, but it is more vicious. Other diseases come and go, but envy remains in the mind of a person and troubles him relentlessly every moment of the day, on all days. There is no respite from the mental pain envy causes in the mind of the beholder. Love, and envy grip the mind almost like a vice, and it’s impossible to shake them off. In terms of the harm envy inflicts on the beholder, it is the deadliest. It causes hurt surreptitiously, in the sly, like a slow poison. It robs the man of all other pleasures of life.



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