Of Revenge – Summary and Analysis

Of Revenge is an essay written by Francis Bacon.


The revenge that a man takes for a wrong done to him by somebody represents an arbitrary kind of justice. The redress of a wrong should be obtained through legal means, but revenge means setting the law at nought. By taking revenge, a man can settle a score with his enemy. But if he refrains from taking revenge, he shows a moral superiority over his enemy. To forgive an enemy is a sign of an exalted heart. It was Solomon who said that by ignoring a wrong that has been done to him, a man shows how noble he is.

A man does a wrong in order to make a financial gain or for the pleasure of it or in order to win a higher position or for some other similar reason. There is, therefore, no point in feeling annoyed with a man just because he is selfish. And if a man does a wrong merely because of his malicious nature,it is best to ignore him because he is like the thorn or briar which can only prick and scratch but serve no useful purpose. A man can be forgiven for taking revenge for a wrong against which law provides no remedy. But, in such a case, a man should be careful that his revengeful action is such as does not bring any legal consequences with it because otherwise he will still be at a disadvantage as compared with his enemy. It is generous on the part of a man to reveal his identity to his victim when he takes revenge, because the pleasure lies not so much in the retaliatory action but in making the enemy repent his misdeed. It is commendable to forgive an enemy for doing us a wrong, but it is unwise to forgive a treacherous or faithless friend. However, Job was morally superior in declaring that, if we receive favours from our friends, we should also tolerate injuries or wrongs from them. History tells us that public revenges have, by and large, proved fortunate. But private revenges are not generally so fortunate. Revengeful persons often live miserable lives.


This essay is an excellent example of Bacon’s tendency to dilute high ideals with expediency and a utilitarian approach to life. When Bacon says that a man, who pardons his enemies, reveals a noble heart, he certainly aims at a high ideal. But he dilutes this high ideal by justifying a revenge that is taken for a wrong for which there is no legal remedy. He shows his wordly wisdom when he cautions a man wishing to take revenge by saying that the revenge should be such as there is no law to punish.In other words, Bacon would not mind a man’s taking revenge for those wrongs which there is no law to remedy; but he would suggest a revenge which law cannot take cognizance of. This is, indeed strange morality. In the same way, Bacon does not feel angry with a man who loves himself better than others.

Bacon is slightly off the mark when he says that a person taking revenge finds pleasure not in doing the hurt so much as in making the enemy repent. Actually a man takes revenge precisely in order to do the maximum possible damage to the enemy. Bacon is, however, right when he says that a man who meditates revenge keeps his own wounds green. He is also right when he says that revengeful persons live miserable lives. Bacon’s attitude towards those who do wilful injury to their friends can also be defended. This essay is more or less a lesson in morality. It is a didactic essay and is an intelligent study of human nature.

As for style, this essay is a model of compactness. Bacon’s terse and pithy manner of writing finds a perfect illustration here. Many of the sentences have that aphoristic quality for which Bacon is famous.

Bacon makes a liberal use of quotations in his essays. This essay, which is very brief, contains three quotations, one from Solomon, another from Cosimo de Medici, and the third from Job. The ideas of this essay are such as go straight to the bosoms and hearts of readers. In fact, we find in this essay a confirmation of the ideas that most people already have in their minds.

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