Of Marriage and Single Life is an essay written by Sir Francis Bacon, a popular English philosopher and statesman. In “Of Marriage and Single Life”, Bacon has compared and contrasted the life of a married man with that of a single man, drawing a contrast between the two by highligting he merits and demerits of the institution of marriage as it prevailed in the society. First published in 1612, as a part of “ Essayes: Religious Meditations. Places of Perswasion and Disswasion. Seene and Allowed.”, this essay presents Bacon’s views and opinions on marriage and singlehood along with arguments and theories to support them. Famous for his prose and credited with inventing the essay form, Bacon sought these essays as a medium to express his philosophy on topics inspired by both public and private life of man. His style is quite argumentative and he rationalises each thought with ample justifications and logics.
Of Marriage and Single Life | Summary and Analysis
Bacon begins the essay by stating that the commitment of marriage renders a man incapable of pursuing any great deeds, whether good or bad, noble or wicked. The responsibilities of married life could prove it difficult for him to work towards achieving success. Marriage brings with it the burden of family; of wife and children, which acts as a deterrent for those who want to achieve great feats. History indicates that all the best works, especially those aiming towards public welfare and greater good of the society, have been undertaken by single men because only they, owing to absence of any other commitment in their life, are capable of complete devotion to the public. It seems that they, for all intents and purposes, have married the society which they aim to serve with utmost dedication.
Married men, especially those having children, harbour great care and concern for the future and direct all their efforts towards securing a better tomorrow for their family. The responsibility of taking care of the family provides them with the will and incentive to work with utmost sincerity and dedication towards securing a better future for their children.
There, however, also exist some single men who do not think much about anything apart from their own selves and display no concern towards the future. They work only for their own welfare and show no willingness to work towards making the society better for the generations to come.
Then there are others who think of family merely as a burden, an expense which they have to bear.
There also exist certain individuals, belonging to the rich category, who believe that not having children makes them wealthier and thus pride themselves on their lack of children. Such thoughts might be fuelled by their fear of distributing their riches amongst their heirs when they heard people comment that so and so is a great, rich man but has to bear the burden of children which might have caused these people to think of procreation as a hindrance to fortune.
However, Bacon says, the most common reason behind men choosing to be single is the freedom promised by a single life. Such men are averse to even the slightest restriction and thus, marriage, which brings with it various responsibilities and commitments, is not preferable to them. These unmarried men, liberated from any kind of commitment, prove to be the best friends, masters and servants. They, however, do not make for the best citizens due to their tendency to shun responsibilities and often turn out to be fugitives.
As per Bacon, single life is best suited to the members of the clergy as in absence of any personal commitments, they are able to serve the society with utmost dedication and commitment. As regards the men of justice- the judges and magistrates, marriage does not make much of a difference in their duties. They can choose to remain indifferent on this because if they themselves are corrupt and immoral, and lack sincerity towards their work, they are no less than an unmarried man. They should display honesty and responsibility in their dealings, regardless of their marital status. Even marriage cannot instil responsibility in such callous men. Bacon further comments that marriage, and family, prove to be a source of inspiration for the soldiers, who are often made to think of the safety of their wife and children as they fight battles. Marriage provides these soldiers an emotional support system that motivates them and gives them courage. This is why Bacon believes that the aversion of Turks towards marriage is the reason behind the barbarism of their soldiers.
Elaborating further on this, Bacon asserts that marriage is important to instil a sense of discipline among men and keep in check the wild, animalistic tendencies of their nature and impede their ruthlessness. Single men have the capacity to be more charitable since no one is dependent upon them, allowing them to engage in the welfare of others without any worry of providing for their wife and children. But despite this, they prove to be quite unsympathetic and ruthless in their behaviour, their kindness and empathy seldom being invoked in the absence of family to bring out their emotional and moral side. Thus, men who display sincerity and always abide by traditions make very loving husbands as can be seen in the case of Ulysses, the Greek hero who chose his wife over perpetuity.
Adding to this thought, he says that women often pride themselves on their chastity and are more likely to maintain this purity and obedience towards the relation of marriage if their husband too showers her with care and affection and refrains from any kind of jealousy. A wife serves many roles in a man’s life- in his youth she acts as his beloved, the object of his ardours, during his middle age she accompanies him as a faithful companion and in his old age looks after his wellbeing like a devoted nurse. Thus, women, and marriage, complete the life of men, providing for them at every stage of their life. Therefore, men should not shy from marriage but rather welcome it by choice. Bacon however agrees that it is a daunting task to determine the correct age to get married and sees this as a very difficult question to answer. He nevertheless attempts to answer it by quoting a wise man who said that while a young man should not rush to marry, the old men should refrain from marrying at all, suggesting perhaps that one should keep in consideration all the pros and cons of marriage before making his decision. Bacon further remarks that it is seen that men who have very good wives, are often quite cruel themselves. They fail to appreciate the generosity of their wives and do not value their commitment to them. Owing to this insensitivity displayed by them, the wives start to value even the meanest of their efforts. They find satisfaction with whatever small bit of love they show and take pride in their forbearance of their husband’s bad behaviour. Having said that, Bacon states that if they were to be given the freedom of choice, these men would surely try to make amends and mend their ways. While Bacon shares the gender bias of his era, he also seems to be aware of the unequal power relations between men and women of his age.
Overall, Bacon has very beautifully put forth his opinions on marriage, citing its pros and cons, and has succeeded in establishing a juxtaposition between married and single life. The language used is very sophisticated and all the thoughts expressed in this prose have been supported with adequate arguments and reasoning, as is characteristic of Bacon’s style. Covering all the facets of the topic, he presents a well-balanced and holistic view on it.