Of Travel by Francis Bacon

Of Travel by Francis Bacon

TRAVEL, in the younger sort, is a part of education, in the elder, a part of experience. He that travelleth into a country, before he hath some entrance into the language, goeth to school, and not to travel.
Meaning … When a young child travels around in alien places, he learns a lot from the sight and sound around him. In the process, his awareness grows and his learning process is accelerated. So, travel for a young child has good educational value. So, the countryside becomes a school for him, although in an informal way.

That young men travel under some tutor, or grave servant, I allow well; so that he be such a one that hath the language, and hath been in the country before; whereby he may be able to tell them what things are worthy to be seen, in the country where they go; what acquaintances they are to seek; what exercises, or discipline, the place yieldeth.

Meaning ….. A youngster travelling to an unknown place under the watchful eye of a knowledgeable chaperon is always desirable. By virtue of the knowledge and experience, the chaperon can guide the young traveler where to go, what to see, and the type of people to befriend. The able guide can also tell the youngster about the pastime, hobbies and crafts the places are famous for.

For else, young men shall go hooded, and look abroad little. It is a strange thing, that in sea voyages, where there is nothing to be seen, but sky and sea, men should make diaries; but in land-travel, wherein so much is to be observed, for the most part they omit it; as if chance were fitter to be registered, than observation.

Meaning… Without the company of a guide, he will fail to observe the important and interesting things in the new places. While on a voyage in the sea, the sea farer gets to see nothing other than the vast expanse of blue water and the un-ending sky above. In such a case, the voyager should maintain a travel diary. When travelling over land, there is an overwhelming abundance of new sights and sounds and myriad things to observe. People generally fail to keep note of every detail of what they come across.

Let diaries, therefore, be brought in use. The things to be seen and observed are: the courts of princes, especially when they give audience to ambassadors; the courts of justice, while they sit and hear causes; and so of consistories ecclesiastic; the churches and monasteries, with the monuments which are therein extant; the walls and fortifications of cities, and towns, and so the heavens and harbors; antiquities and ruins; libraries; colleges, disputations, and lectures, where any are; shipping and navies; houses and gardens of state and pleasure, near great cities; armories; arsenals; magazines; exchanges; burses; warehouses; exercises of horsemanship, fencing, training of soldiers, and the like; comedies, such whereunto the better sort of persons do resort; treasuries of jewels and robes; cabinets and rarities; and, to conclude, whatsoever is memorable, in the places where they go.

Meaning … So, maintain a diary is always a good idea. In the diary, one can record his observations about the following.
a. The royal courts of princes, kings and sovereigns. He can observe the opulence, splendor, courtiers, and the practices followed in the courts. The elaborate protocol followed while formally accepting the ambassadors from other countries is worth observing and noting.

b. The royal courts that hear pleas, and dispense justice also offer interesting sights. The practices followed in the Roman courts and those in the English clergy are also interesting.

c. The churches, monasteries, their architectural styles offer much visual delight. It is advisable to observe and record these in the diary.

d. The city walls, the fortresses and the watch towers that ring a city to ward off invaders are also very interesting to watch.

e. The beautiful towns and harbours also deserve to be seen with observant eyes.

f. The antiquities, the ruins standing as witness to past attacks of marauding invaders are worth seeing minutely.

g. Colleges, universities, centers of learning, town halls where debates are held, stadia etc. bear testimony to the intellectual vigour of any society. So, they should be visited too.

h. Shipping facilities and naval yards are the yardsticks of a nation’s maritime prowess. So, they deserve to be keenly looked at.

i. Public office buildings are the citadels of power and authority. They are deliberately built majestically to tower over other private buildings nearby. They project the state’s power. Similarly, parks and recreational open spaces speak about the taste and habits of the way people spend their leisure time. Their architecture reflect the aesthetic sense of the character of a race. So, these public places are to be visited and keenly observed.

j. Visit to the country’s armoury and ammunition storage facilities is quite enlightening too.

k. Visits to warehouses, stock exchanges and wholesale markets are also of good educational value.

l. Seeing equestrian sports and horse rearing centers indicate the ability of the country to use horse for military and recreational purposes.

m. Visit to opera houses shows how cultured the upper sections of the society are.

n. Exhibition of fine jewelry, fine clothing, antiques etc. throws light on the wealth and taste of the people.

o. In this way, one needs to visit all places of interest to bring back a treasure trove of highly rewarding information and knowledge.

As for triumphs, masks, feasts, weddings, funerals, capital executions, and such shows, men need not to be put in mind of them: yet are they not to be neglected.

Meaning …. Social occasions like marriages, funerals, feasts, public executions, victory celebrations etc. are, no doubt, important, but they need not be documented or observed so keenly.


If you will have a young man to put his travel into a little room, and in short time to gather much, this you must do: first, as was said, he must have some entrance into the language before he goeth; then he must have such a servant, or tutor, as knoweth the country, as was likewise said: let him carry with him also some card, or book, describing the country where he travelleth, which will be a good key to his inquiry; let him keep also a diary; let him not stay long in one city or town, more or less as the place deserveth, but not long: nay, when he stayeth in one city or town, let him change his lodging from one end and part of the town to another, which is a great adamant of acquaintance; let him sequester himself from the company of his countrymen, and diet in such places where there is good company of the nation where he travelleth: let him, upon his removes from one place to another, procure recommendation to some person of quality residing in the place whither he removeth; that he may use his favour in those things he desireth to see or know; thus he may abridge his travel with much profit.

 Meaning ….. Bacon proceeds to give some ‘do’s and ‘don’ts for a travel expedition to yield maximum value. These are as follows ……

  1. The youngster has to have some basic learning before he sets out on his journey.
  2. He must have a dedicated and knowledgeable guide. This man must be well-conversant with the country he is visiting.
  3. The guide should carry with him some books, catalogues or brochures about the places he has in his travel. These will prove to be handy in course of the travel.
  4. The learner must have a diary where he can jot down whatever he sees as he moves from place to place.
  5. He should not stay more than it is necessary to stay in one place.
  6. In case he stays in a city or a town for a longer duration, he must change his lodging, and move to another in the other end of the town to get the maximum exposure.
  7. While staying in a place, he must not choose to stay among people from his own place. Instead, he must choose to live among people of the host country, so that he gets to observe their habits.
  8. He must procure and carry with him letters of introduction from eminent people from his own locality to those in the places he is going to visit. This will ease travel, stay and availability of other conveniences.

 As for the acquaintance which is to be sought in travel, that which is most of all profitable, is acquaintance with the secretaries and employed men of ambassadors; for so in travelling in one country he shall suck the experience of many: let him also see and visit eminent persons in all kinds, which are of great name abroad, that he may be able to tell how the life agreeth with the fame; for quarrels, they are with care and discretion to be avoided: they are commonly for mistresses, healths, place, and words; and let a man beware how he keepeth company with choleric and quarrelsome persons; for they will engage him into their own quarrels.

Meaning … In the places where he goes, he must seek out people of eminence like ambassadors, senior bureaucrats, and other eminent people who can offer practical help in sight-seeing, gathering information, and in availing other comforts needed during travel in a new place. He should avoid getting into arguments, quarrels and fights with locals. He should avoid the company of mistresses and quarrelsome people, because these are the persons who drag him to unnecessary fights and unpleasant situations.

When a traveller returneth home, let him not leave the countries where he hath travelled altogether behind him; but maintain a correspondence by letters with those of his acquaintance which are of most worth; and let his travel appear rather in his discourse than in his apparel or gesture; and in his discourse, let him be rather advised in his answers, than forward to tell stories: and let it appear that he doth not change his country manners for those of foreign parts; but only prick in some flowers of that he hath learned abroad into the customs of his own country.

Meaning … On returning to his native home, he must not completely forget the people and places he has visited. He must maintain the link through correspondence with those eminent men who had extended courtesy and help to him during his sojourn. His heightened knowledge and awareness acquired during the journey are not to be shown off through elaborate attire or mannerisms of the foreign lands. This might invite ridicule and derision. On the contrary, his new wisdom must reflect in his talking and lectures to his fellowmen. He should be concise and factual in his accounts, and not weave stories. He must not give an impression that he has forsaken his country manners and dress to adopt those of the lands he has visited. He should selectively describe all the good things he has learnt abroad.

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