Of Marriage and Single Life
by Francis Bacon
HE that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.
Meaning … A married man has a wife and children, to whose upkeep, welfare and security he remains deeply committed. This is true for all societies, in all ages and in all lands. Such entanglement restricts his freedom to endeavor for something that his heart yearns for. It can something very noble and sublime or something wicked and devious.
Certainly the best works, and of greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men; which both in affection and means have married and endowed the public.
Meaning …. When a person is yet to be betrothed, he is un-fettered and free of cares and worries. History shows that most mind-boggling achievements in the fields of art, literature, science etc. have come from men and women when they were single.
Yet it were great reason that those that have children should have greatest care of future times; unto which they know they must transmit their dearest pledges.
Meaning … However, it is also a fact that men with children tend to think of future with great seriousness and commitment. This drives them to give their best to enterprises or efforts that can bring fruit in the years to come.
Some there are, who though they lead a single life, yet their thoughts do end with themselves, and account future times impertinences.
Meaning … But, there are some men, who during their bachelorhood, while away their time and energy in wasteful ways or in indolence. They seldom show any remorse or regret for such frittering away of opportunity. No feeling of shame comes to their mind for such inaction.
Nay, there are some other that account wife and children but as bills of charges. Nay more, there are some foolish rich covetous men, that take a pride in having no children, because they may be thought so much the richer.
Meaning …. There are some married men who feel their wives and children are nothing but unwanted burden. There are some half-witted rich people, who willingly do not want to procreate and have offspring. They fear that by having children, they create claimants to their property. Such thinking is ludicrous and bizarre.
For perhaps they have heard some talk, Such an one is a great rich man, and another except to it, Yea, but he hath a great charge of children; as if it were an abatement to his riches.
Meaning …. Such greedy rich people are influenced by loose gossip. They hear people talking about the fabulous wealth of some men, but at the same time qualifying their awe by saying that the man has a large family to look after as burden. Such ill-conceived opinion sways some greedy people not have any progeny at all.
But the most ordinary cause of a single life is liberty, especially in certain self-pleasing and humorous minds, which are so sensible of every restraint, as they will go near to think their girdles and garters to be bonds and shackles.
Meaning ….. There are people who choose to remain single because they feel, though absurdly, that unmarried life assures them of lifelong freedom from cares and worries and obligations. These persons are self-centered and naïve. They feel marriage leads to bondage, no matter the bliss and fulfillment it brings.
Unmarried men are best friends, best masters, best servants; but not always best subjects; for they are light to run away; and almost all fugitives are of that condition.
Meaning … Unmarried men make good employees, good friends, and good people to work under, because they give their full time and attention to their jobs. But, these people are unsteady and volatile. With no roots (family) to hold them, they can desert you at any time.
A single life doth well with churchmen; for charity will hardly water the ground where it must first fill a pool. It is indifferent for judges and magistrates; for if they be facile and corrupt, you shall have a servant five times worse than a wife.
Meaning …. Wealthy bachelors are much sought after by churches, because they can donate generously with no family liability to worry about. A married man thinks twice before parting with their wealth as they need to provide for the sustenance of their family members. Judges and magistrates hold great responsibility for the society. They should be honest, dutiful, and capable of fine reasoning. A free-wheeling bachelor with no restraint and no family as anchor, is more likely to be flippant and indiscrete in his thinking and action. If such as person is appointed as a judge or magistrate, he will prove to be a big liability for the society and to himself. The responsibility of a wife’s upkeep and security is much less than the burden of being erratic as in case of a bachelor.
For soldiers, I find the generals commonly in their hortatives put men in mind of their wives and children; and I think the despising of marriage amongst the Turks maketh the vulgar soldier more base.
Meaning …. In armies, the generals remind the soldiers of their commitment to their wives and children while extolling the virtues of chivalry, patriotism and duty in the battlefield. It has been seen among the Turks that unmarried soldiers tend to be very uncouth and vile in their conduct while dealing with a vanquished enemy.
Certainly wife and children are a kind of discipline of humanity; and single men, though they may be many times more charitable, because their means are less exhaust, yet, on the other side, they are more cruel and hardhearted (good to make severe inquisitors), because their tenderness is not so oft called upon.
Meaning … Wife and children curb animal tendencies in men by creating a salutary and loving atmosphere at home. Single men may be relatively more wealthy, and, thus, capable of making larger donations to charity. However, they are deprived of the soft touch of feminine companionship. As a result, they tend to be more brutal, vengeful and cruel in their conduct. They do not get to engage in introspection to examine their deeds from a moral standpoint.
Grave natures, led by custom, and therefore constant, are commonly loving husbands, as was said of Ulysses, vetulam suam prætulit immortalitati [he preferred his old wife to immortality]. Chaste women are often proud and froward, as presuming upon the merit of their chastity.
Meaning …. Men with self-respect, who are steady and ethical, make good husbands. They do not waver or stray. They remain loyal to their wives in their dotage. In the same way, woman value chastity, and guard it as a precious treasure. They are conscious of the fact that have preserved their purity by spurning temptations of immoral sex.
It is one of the best bonds both of chastity and obedience in the wife, if she think her husband wise; which she will never do if she find him jealous.
Meaning … A chaste woman is not only proud of herself, but of her loyal husband. The bond between the two is enduring, and based on mutual respect. If a man is jealous, he will undermine his standing before his wife, and lose her adoration.
Wives are young men’s mistresses; companions for middle age; and old men’s nurses. So as a man may have a quarrel to marry when he will. But yet he was reputed one of the wise men, that made answer to the question, when a man should marry,—A young man not yet, an elder man not at all.
Meaning.. For a recently married young man, a wife becomes the source of all sensual pleasure. He gets the attention and love that a mistress lavishes on her paramour. As he reaches her middle age, the wife becomes companion sharing his moments of joy and sorrow, successes and failures, and triumphs and tragedies. In the old age, when limbs weaken and vision fails, a man gets a helping hand from his wife to move on. So, the opportune time to tie the nuptial knot may present a cruel dilemma for young man as his body craves for courtship. Wise men have given some sane advice in this regard. They have suggested that a young man must not rush into a marriage when he is immature to shoulder the responsibilities of family. He should patiently wait for appropriate time. In the same vein, an old man must not take a wife just because there are maidens available to be his wife. Marrying in old age leads to many undesirable consequences.
It is often seen that bad husbands have very good wives; whether it be that it raiseth the price of their husband’s kindness when it comes; or that the wives take a pride in their patience.
Meaning .. At times, we get to see patient, noble and kind wives ending up with tyrannical, cruel and insensitive husbands. These wives feel greatly elated when their cruel husbands show even a small gesture of love and kindness. Such noble women feel proud about their capacity to endear hardship in their effort to preserve their marriages.
But this never fails, if the bad husbands were of their own choosing, against their friends’ consent; for then they will be sure to make good their own folly.
Meaning …. Despite having such noble women as their wives, if some husbands do not mend their ways, it will be judged that it is their monumental failure.