One of the famous essays of Bacon ‘Of Revenge’ analyses the prevalence of revenge or retribution-seeking in modern society.
Table of Contents
Francis Bacon starts by expressing an inherent need in human behaviour to settle scores. In other words, it means to gain some form of pleasure by punishing people who hurt us or commit injustice and cause embarrassment.
This shows our basic animal side and needs to be curtailed and discourage through law and enforcement measures. Committing a crime or causing pain is the initial offence and should be dealt with legally.
But to balance the scales through same unlawful action is a second offence. Justice and fairness must be sought but through the civilized and lawful course. Hence, revenge cannot be justified in any form.
He insists that achievement of humans should always be to talk about one’s purpose and existence. Therefore, forgiveness and generosity is a superior trait than taking revenge.
He claims that even though taking revenge may bring evenness and temporary satisfaction, being the better person and offering second chances bring greater human achievement and peace.
An act of forgiveness demands strength of character, perspicacity and bravery that is not so common in human beings of ordinary grain.
He argues the position of a royal regent who has the pardoning powers but lacks the anguish and personal involvement and loss that an ordinary person has to overcome. Hence, it becomes easier for the regent to forgive than a common person.
Quoting King Solomon from the Bible, Bacon emphasizes the superiority of taking the moral high ground and showing compassion and forgiveness.
He says that if a person harbours feeling revenge and gets stuck in the violent cycle of past harm and agonies, it becomes impossible to move forward and claim a better future.
Past Cannot be Changed
History cannot be expunged or changed. But the present and the future can be made better through careful efforts and large-heartedness. A wise man always looks at the opportunities ahead rather than the past follies.
He takes his lessons and applies them in the future to grow and rise above his mistakes. A man falls into error or crime for hundreds of reasons, personal gain, ill-advice, unchecked desire etc.
Bacon believes that one should not be concerned about another person who wants to corner some benefit and pleasure for himself and instead feel sorry for the one who is a prisoner to his own desires, urges and instincts.
These people are in a cage of their own instincts and deserve mercy because they exist to cause pain like a thorny bush. This cage is enough humiliation and punishment for them.
Importance of Revenge
Now we see Bacon agrees on some ground to people bent on revenge. He says that when some crime is committed which cannot be punished through legal means and the perpetrator is likely to go untried, then retribution can be approved.
However, the revenge itself should be extra-legal otherwise the act of ‘revenge’ can be brought to justice through legal apparatuses. He also claims that sometimes it is acceptable to let the perpetrator of the initial offence know that he is being targeted and dished by his victim.
This can serve as a seat of some comfort to the victim and a warning for the perpetrator to prevent from repeating his crime. It may even trigger some penitence in him.
On the flipside, if the perpetrator is a truly evil and hard-hearted person, he might never accept his own culpability and continue to live in senselessness world of his crime.
As an example of justifiable revenge, Bacon goes on to suggest that when one is harmed by a friend, it is much more deplorable and unforgivable. He gives the example of the Duke of Florence who forgave his enemies but never pardoned his evil-plotting friends.
However, he again gives a Biblical example of Prophet Job who advised that one should accept the good with the bad and the beautiful with the ugly. So, all friends should be valued.
Burning in Revenge
Bacon condemns the revenge-seekers who never let their wounds heal as they are always burning with hurt and lusting for inflicting damage. The axe that they grind on, keeps their scars fresh. Otherwise, time heals every injury.
Bacon comments on the hypocrisy of revenge itself. Sometimes the acts are lauded like in the case of the death of tyrants like Caesar etc. These public forms of revenge can act as deterrents for tyranny and evil and sometimes are even celebrated.
The secret plots of personal and private revenge are more terrible, even though they all are a form of the spirit of hate and anger. In the end, the poison of revenge causes much more damage to the one bearing it.
It is akin to a person drinking venom and expecting his enemy to die. Hate and desire for revenge are unhealthy and suffocating, primarily for the person who carries such emotions within him.