Of Truth – Summary and Analysis

Of Truth is an essay written by Francis Bacon.

Summary

Pilate, the ancient Roman Governor of Judaea, was not much interested in knowing the meaning of truth. He seemed to have a sceptical frame of mind. There are certainly people who frequently change their opinions. They consider it a sign of mental slavery to have fixed beliefs. They advocate free will in thought as well as in action. In ancient Greece there was a school of philosophers called the Sceptics.

The discovery of truth involves a lot of time and labour. Besides, when truth has been discovered,it acts as a kind of restraint upon the minds of men, because men cannot then change their beliefs according to their whims. Lies are in favour not because of either of these two causes. It seems that human beings are somehow or other attracted by lies.

Truth is like the clear day-light in which the shows and the spectacles presented on the stage of a theatre are seen for what they are, while lies are like candle-lights in which the same shows and spectacle appear to be far more attractive. Truth gives greater pleasure when a lie has been added to it.

An early writer of the church described poetry as the wine of the devils. But poetry tells lies which are received by the mind and then forgotten. Such lies do not settle down in the mind. But much harm is done by those lies that sink into the mind and settle down there.

Only those who understand truth realise the value of truth. Truth is the supreme good for human beings. The inquiry of truth may be described as the wooing of it; the knowledge of truth may be described as the presence of it; and the belief of truth may be described as the enjoying of it.

The first thing that God created was light, and the final thing that He created was the rational faculty which He bestowed upon man. Having completed His work of creation, God has ever since been illuminating the minds of human beings with His divine spirit. Truth is important not only in theological and philosophical fields, but also in the sphere of ordinary life. Even those who do not practise truth know that honest and straightforward dealings show the dignity and honourable quality of a man.

Analysis

This essay gives expression to ideas which are noble and worthy of the highest appreciation. All great thinkers, philosophers, divines, saints, and prophets of the world have dwelt upon the supreme value of truth. Of course, it is very difficult to decide what truth is and Pilate was perhaps justified in not waiting for the answer to this question. Standards of truth in religious, philosophical, and moral spheres keep changing from time to time. The only truth of which we can be certain is scientific truth.

The essay is written in a didactic tone. The object of the writer is to instill into the mind of his readers a love of truth. A man’s mind, he says, should turn upon the “poles of truth”. Bacon recognises the fact that human beings have a natural though corrupt love of lies. The lies of a poet, be says, give pleasure. The lies of a trader bring financial return. But why people should love lies for the sake of lies,he is unable to explain. Nobody will disagree with Bacon when he says that false opinions, false hopes,and false judgments have a pleasing effect upon a human being.

The principal merit of this essay, however, lies in its stylistic qualities. While the ideas of the essay are already familiar to us, it is the manner in which they are stated and conveyed to us that is more important. Bacon shows his love of learning and his habit of introducing allusions.

Bacon gives us very vivid similes and metaphors in order to illustrate his ideas. He here compares truth to the naked and open day-light which does not show the masques and mummeries and triumphs of the world as half so grand and attractive as candle-lights show them. Again, truth, he says,may claim the price of a pearl which is seen to the best advantage in day-light; but truth cannot rise to the price of a diamond or carbuncle that shows best in varied lights. He compares falsehood to an alloy in a coin of gold or silver.

This essay well illustrates Bacon’s gift of compression. Most of the sentences here are written in that compact and terse style of which Bacon is a master. Allusions, aphorisms, illustrations, and quotations make the reading of this essay a rich, entertaining experience. The condensation of thoughts is, of course, its most-striking merit.

Style

We have seen that Bacon has a distinct style. No man’s style is more characteristic of its age that his. Bacon’s style is still unmatched after more than five centuries. He has simplicity, strength,brevity, clearness and precision. His essays are simple only in the sense of being free from all affections,from any studied elegance in the choice of words in the structure of sentences. Strength of Bacon’s style is intellectual rather than emotional. He has little taste for any energetic display of feelings; but he says what he has to say as vigorously and tersely as possible.

Indeed the secret of Bacon’s strength lies in his conciseness. Hardly any writer, ancient or modern, has succeeded in compressing so much meaning within so short a compass. His essays are marvels of condensation. The secret of clearness of his style is the clearness of his thoughts.

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