OF AMBITION by Francis Bacon Summary & Critical Appreciation

Summary of ‘OF AMBITION’ by Francis Bacon

Bacon was a widely reputed essayist, thinker, and philosopher. In the choice of subject and range, his essays reveal a breath of intellect, his worldly wisdom, and his concern with public life and material advancement. They are impersonal, and objective having scientific detachment which very often makes them formal and cold. ‘Ambition’ is one of the essays which probes into the nature and spirit of ambitious men. It dwells upon Bacon’s great insight into human nature which he derived from personal experiences of man and his affairs. It is a matter of great surprise that Bacon pays no heed to ideal morality but rather aims at expediency as regards the course of action. That is why Bacon never hesitates to advise a king to indulge in all sources of manipulation in order to strengthen his authority and prevent an ambitious man from becoming too powerful. His essay is a manifestation of Bacon’s worldliness which underlines the importance of intelligence in course of handling an ambitious man.

Ambition makes men energetic and prompt in their duties and deeds. Any effort to put some restraint on an ambitious man may pave the way for his becoming spiteful and dangerous. If the ambitious man goes on getting an opportunity for rising higher and higher. It keeps them busy rather than dangerous but if they are frustrated by getting their desires fulfilled. They become secretly discontented and feel happy to see things go wrong. Undoubtedly, it is only through the sheer fact that an ambitious man can be handled. It is often necessary to make use of an ambitious man. For instance, the services of a good commander must be utilized in the war no matter how ambitious he is. The usefulness of such a commander will make up for only other deficiencies in him. It is also true that if a solider lacks the ambition to rise higher in life will have no incentive to take the risk. Furthermore, an ambitious man can serve as a protective shield for the king in the face of danger and hostility. Such people can be utilized as tools for pulling down those who have more power than the king.

Giving wise counsel Bacon says that ambitious men should be kept in check in order that they may not grow dangerous. One of the ways of checking is that a king may employ a favorite to distribute favors and award penalties for keeping an ambitious man within limits. The close proximity to some person of humble rank gives a threat to the man of ambition. However, caution is of much importance and the king must be intelligent enough to put an ambitious man in a state of uncertainty. Thus, he can do this by confessing benefits and sometimes expressing strong disapproval of their action. The writer feels that there are three means of attaining humor. A man must be in a good position to be able to do good he must have an access to the highly placed man and he must continue to strive for higher promotions. Despite all these, it is also true that only a wise man can read the intentions of an ambitious man. 

This essay is studded with similies, metaphors, and illustrations. He gives an example of an appropriate simile in the beginning when he says ‘Ambition is like choler’. There are a number of illustrations like “shield Dove that mounts and mounts” and middle counselors are compared to “The ballast which serves to keep a ship steady”. This is a perfect example of Bacon’s condensed style of writing. Many of the sentences read like proverbs and aphorisms. At times obscurity creeps and the meaning of the sentence remains to be unresolved if not guided by scholars and other sources.

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