– Francis Bacon
Bacon’s essay is about the evils of deprave and unchecked love, the goodness of marital love and the purity of universal love and the consequences of the three.
Reality of love
Bacon starts the essay by describing the form of love portrayed on the stage and in stories and plays. It is unrealistic as it often filled with ecstasy and triumph. It is shown to be noble and in a lot of ways easy to understand. But in real life, love is far more mischievous and difficult to understand. It demands sacrifices, compromises and offers a lot more sorrow and torment than shown on the stage. Life of love can have catastrophic end.
The present age is full of examples of great men meeting tragic circumstances in their pursuit of love. History and the past are replete with stories of men of great substance and stature being swept to their utter ruins by the storm of love. They have been entranced by the madness of romance. On the flipside, there have been wise people who have refused to be conquered by the allurements of love and used their intellect and wits to remain to the snares and tricks of flirtation and temptation.
Let history be the guide
Bacon gives some historical examples to stat his notion. He reminds us of Marcus Antonius who was a forthright and ambitious man and was given the reigns of a powerful empire like Rome. Another man of the fabled triumvirate was Claudius who was also given the reign of one third of Rome. While Antonius was impulsive and easily swayed by the desires of the heart, Claudius was wise, content and showed restraint. Consequently, Antonius chased temptation and strayed into disrepute, Claudius gained praise for his unerring resolution, sagacity and influence.
Bacon then introduces the lessons of Greek philosopher Epiurus who was a proponent of exercising restraint and self-control. In his works, he extolled and encouraged a life of austerity and the dangers of pleasure seeking. For him great warriors enslaved to the wiles of their paramour and object of desires are an abomination. The sight of a strong man dancing to the whims of his beloved woman is an unfortunate reality. In a sense, it is disregard and derogation of the great gifts and talents that those men would have otherwise used for great feats and achievements.
In Bacon’s opinion, untrammeled and unrestrained love only brings discomfiture to men. Such impassioned desires for someone can only lead to emotional and reckless judgments and causes men to err terribly. It devalues their standing and importance. People who are love-struck eulogize in exaggeration about the beauty and qualities of their beloved and such heady praise only cloud their sanity and rationality. It reduces their ability to think clearly and often leads to destruction of the inner balance or fortitude of men. Such undeserved and unwarranted praise is unbecoming of a man of substance and value and such man compromise their wisdom to earn approval of their women. Such hyperbole is an insult to their intelligence.
Courting womanly affections
Such men suffer from a weakness of character; such weak characters are easily discernible in society. Such contests of love and dotage only ever have two outcomes. Firstly, in case the woman does not reciprocate the feelings, she labels the man as pathetic and spineless being and treats him with sheer contempt. Other outcome is that she reciprocates it and he becomes imprisoned by her beauty and affection. Bacon warns the men who have such romantic ambitions to be aware of such consequences of amorous pursuits. It can lead to complete devastation and ruin. He reminds them of the fateful demise of a man infatuated by a woman named Helena. In his mad pursuit for her affections he sacrificed and lost the love of two other beautiful women, Juno and Pallas.
He goes on to admonish men who are chasing wild pleasures of the senses and womanly courtship. In their craving for carnal gratification they end up sacrificing their wealth, health and sanity.
In moments of vulnerability when men pull their guards down, they are inundated by such passions and desires and it leads to further misery. In moments of adversity and drudgery, such desires are rare and infrequent. In times of comfort and abundance and in times of sadness and distress, those men yearn for carnal and sensual pleasures. Both circumstances heighten the man’s desire for amorous engagements. It is compared to childish folly. Such follies if unchecked can turn into capitulation of health, riches, professional accomplishments etc. It can distract men from going after the truly great and noble endeavors in life.
Now, Bacon compares the weakness of men for women to that of wine. Be it brave warriors or might statesmen, all men are susceptible to the allure of a fine wine and beautiful woman.
To them the perils and horrors of war and politics are offset through the pleasures in the company of attractive women.
According to Bacon, men are innately designed to satiate the need to love. They are born with the instincts to seek and spread love. But if this love is extrapolated and spread universally instead of being reserved for one person (or a small group), it can be truly noble. It can become a force for good. Such unfettered love for the whole humanity can lead to philanthropy and charitable endeavors. Love in marriages is the force for creation of life, love in the form of friendships honors such life. However, unrestrained love of debase and deprave desires, is ruinous, unsavory and unworthy.