Of Seeming Wise by Francis Bacon
IT hath been an opinion that the French are wiser than they seem, and the Spaniards seem wiser than they are. But howsoever it be between nations, certainly it is so between man and man. For as the Apostle saith of godliness, Having a show of godliness, but denying the power thereof; so certainly there are in point of wisdom and sufficiency, that do nothing or little very solemnly: magno conatu nugas [with great effort, trifles].
Meaning .. As per public perception, the French people do not exude their inner wisdom through their faces. In other words, a French person might be much wiser than he looks. Similarly, the different nations could have varying degrees of wisdom, but it’s hard to conclude it from their names. According to the philosopher Aristotle, a person may have a divine look, but may not have any divinity in his inner self. Such inconsistency between outward look and the real ability of a person or a nation is quite common.
It is ridiculous thing and fit for a satire to persons of judgment, to see what shifts these formalists have, and what prospectives to make superficies [a surface] to seem body that hath depth, and bulk. Some are so close and reserved, as they will not show their wares but by a dark light; and seem always to keep back somewhat; and when they know within themselves they speak of that they do not well know, would nevertheless seem to others to know of that which they may not well speak.
Meaning .. The mismatch between outward appearance and the inner worth of a person could invite ridicule and satirical comments from others. Some people are quite miser in their words. They are reserved and do not flaunt their knowledge in public. When they speak, they appear as if they are holding back something deep in their minds. Such people do create confusion in the minds of the people around them. At times, they speak about some matters without full and comprehensive knowledge about them. Such reticence of the speakers could make the listeners to wrongfully conclude that the speaker in question is highly knowledgeable. On the other side, the habit of the speaker to be miser with his words could make the listeners believe that he is short of wisdom.
Some help themselves with countenance and gesture, and are wise by signs; as Cicero saith of Piso, that when he answered him, he fetched one of his brows up to his forehead, and bent the other down to his chin; Respondes, altero ad frontem sublato, altero ad mentum depresso supercilio, crudelitatem tibi non placere [You answer, with one eyebrow lifted to the forehead and the other lowered to the chin, that cruelty does not please you]. Some think to bear it by speaking a great word, and being peremptory; and go on, and take by admittance that which they cannot make good.
Meaning ….There are some speakers who express their thoughts more by their sign language and gestures than by verbal means. For example, when Peso spoke to Ciero, the former grimaced his face very awkwardly raising one of his eyebrows and and dipping the other one down. Such extreme use of facial signs vexes the listener. Some listners pose as if they have understood and appreciated the speaker’s words. They speak a few words in praise of the speaker and conceal the fact that they havn’t understood much.
Some, whatsoever is beyond their reach, will seem to despise or make light of it as impertinent or curious; and so would have their ignorance seem judgment. Some are never without a difference, and commonly by amusing men with a subtility, blanch the matter; of whom A. Gellius saith, Hominem delirum, qui verborum minutiis rerum frangit pondera [A foolish man, that with verbal points and niceties breaks up the mass of matter].
Meaning ……. Some ignorant listeners who can’t understand the speaker’s words laugh it off as words of no great value. By doing so, the ignorant listeners strive to show that they are wise and are capable enough to judge the speaker’s words to be of no substance. There are others who have the habit of disputing whatever is said, no matter how sensible the speaker’s words are.
Of which kind also, Plato in his Protagoras bringeth in Prodius in scorn, and maketh him make a speech that consisteth of distinctions from the beginning to the end. Generally, such men in all deliberations find ease to be of the negative side, and affect a credit to object and foretell difficulties; for when propositions are denied, there is an end of them; but if they be allowed, it requireth a new work; which false point of wisdom is the bane of business.
Meaning …. There is another kind of people too. Plato made Protagoras speak of Prodius disparagingly in a speech full of contradictions. Such people generally have a negative approach towards everything and find fault with other’s versions. When a new idea is floated, it can either be dismissed in toto, or be validated using erroneous arguments.
To conclude, there is no decaying merchant, or inward beggar, hath so many tricks to uphold the credit of their wealth, as these empty persons have to maintain the credit of their sufficiency. Seeming wise men may make shift to get opinion; but let no man choose them for employment; for certainly you were better take for business a man somewhat absurd than over-formal.
Meaning … It is generally the trend among people to show that their wealth is inexhaustible. People, who are genuinely poor, have to put up the false facade of affluence. People with some degree of wisdom make background checks of people before employing them in businesses. Those who falsely pose as knowledgeable are not considered to be good employees. Instead, simple persons with no pretense are preferred for employment.