Of Revenge, Francis Bacon: Line by Line Explanation

1. "Revenge is a kind of wild justice; which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out. For as for the first wrong, it doth but offend the law; but the revenge of that wrong, putteth the law out of office. 2. Certainly, in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior; for it is a prince’s part to pardon. And Solomon, I am sure, saith, It is the glory of a man, to pass by an offence. 3. That which is past is gone, and irrevocable; and wise men have enough to do, with things present and to come; therefore they do but trifle with themselves, that labor in past matters."

In the essay "Of Revenge," Sir Francis Bacon discusses the nature of revenge, the superiority of forgiveness, and the futility of dwelling on past matters.


1. Revenge is described as a form of untamed justice, and Bacon suggests that the more people incline towards revenge, the more society should work to eliminate this instinct through the law. He differentiates between the initial wrong, which merely offends the law, and seeking revenge, which subverts the law's authority.

2. Bacon notes that while revenge makes a person equal to their enemy, choosing to forgive or overlook an offense demonstrates superiority. Pardoning is associated with the role of a prince, and Bacon references Solomon's wisdom in acknowledging the glory of letting go of an offense.

3. Bacon emphasizes the irreversibility of the past and advises against fixating on it. Wise individuals focus on present and future matters, rendering efforts spent on the past unproductive and self-deceptive.

In Short:

  • Revenge is an uncontrolled form of justice that should be curbed by the law.
  • Taking revenge makes one equal to their enemy, while forgiving shows superiority.
  • Pardoning an offense is a sign of honor, resembling a prince's role.
  • Focusing on the present and future is wise, as dwelling on the past is futile.
4. There is no man doth a wrong, for the wrong’s sake; but thereby to purchase himself profit, or pleasure, or honor, or the like. Therefore why should I be angry with a man, for loving himself better than me? And if any man should do wrong, merely out of ill–nature, why, yet it is but like the thorn or briar, which prick and scratch, because they can do no other. The most tolerable sort of revenge, is for those wrongs which there is no law to remedy; but then let a man take heed, the revenge be such as there is no law to punish; else a man’s enemy is still before hand, and it is two for one.

In this section of the essay "Of Revenge," Bacon explores the motivations behind wrongdoing, the inevitability of self-interest, and the complexities of seeking revenge.


4. Bacon contends that people commit wrongs not out of a desire to do wrong itself, but to gain personal benefits such as profit, pleasure, or honor. He questions the logic of being angry with someone who prioritizes their own interests over others', as this self-interest is natural. Even if someone commits wrongdoing out of ill-nature, Bacon compares it to thorns or briars causing harm due to their inherent nature, suggesting that it's not a deliberate attack.

Bacon presents a form of revenge that he deems more acceptable. He argues that seeking revenge for wrongs that cannot be remedied by the law is relatively bearable. However, he warns that this revenge must not break the law itself, as that would give the wrongdoer an advantage. If revenge is punishable by law, the person seeking it becomes their enemy's unwitting accomplice.

In Short:

  • Wrongdoing is typically motivated by self-interest, seeking profit, pleasure, or honor.
  • Being angry with someone for prioritizing self-interest is unjustified.
  • Wrongdoing stemming from ill-nature is akin to unintentional harm.
  • Tolerable revenge is for wrongs with no legal remedy, but it must not break the law itself.
5. Some, when they take revenge, are desirous, the party should know, whence it cometh. This is the more generous. For the delight seemeth to be, not so much in doing the hurt, as in making the party repent. But base and crafty cowards, are like the arrow that flieth in the dark. Cosmus, duke of Florence, had a desperate saying against perfidious or neglecting friends, as if those wrongs were unpardonable; You shall read (saith he) that we are commanded to forgive our enemies; but you never read, that we are commanded to forgive our friends.

In this segment of the essay "Of Revenge," Bacon delves into different motivations behind seeking revenge and the complexities of forgiveness.


5. Bacon discusses the motives behind seeking revenge. Some individuals prefer the target of their revenge to know the source of the harm, which he deems a more noble approach. The satisfaction comes not so much from causing harm but from making the other party feel remorse. In contrast, he describes cowardly wrongdoers as acting like arrows shot in the dark, attacking covertly.

Bacon mentions a statement by Cosimo de' Medici, Duke of Florence, who expressed a strong sentiment against disloyal or neglectful friends. Cosimo suggests that while forgiveness for enemies is encouraged, there's no similar injunction to forgive friends who wrong us.

In Short:

  • Some seek revenge to make the wronged party aware of the source, which is a noble approach.
  • The satisfaction comes from causing remorse rather than harm.
  • Base and crafty cowards attack covertly, like arrows in the dark.
  • Cosimo, Duke of Florence, believes forgiving friends' wrongs is not explicitly commanded, unlike forgiving enemies.
6. But yet the spirit of Job was in a better tune: Shall we (saith he) take good at God’s hands, and not be content to take evil also? And so of friends in a proportion. This is certain, that a man that studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal, and do well. Public revenges are for the most part fortunate; as that for the death of Caesar; for the death of Pertinax; for the death of Henry the Third of France; and many more. But in private revenges, it is not so. Nay rather, vindictive persons live the life of witches; who, as they are mischievous, so end they infortunate.

In this portion of the essay "Of Revenge," Bacon reflects on the nature of revenge and its consequences, drawing comparisons to biblical stories and historical examples.


6. Bacon refers to the story of Job in the Bible, where Job's attitude is portrayed as accepting both good and bad from God. He extends this sentiment to human relationships, suggesting that people should accept both positive and negative aspects of friendships in a balanced manner.

Bacon warns against seeking revenge, as it keeps one's wounds fresh and prevents healing. Public acts of revenge often have favorable outcomes, as seen in cases like Caesar's, Pertinax's, and Henry III of France's deaths. However, private revenges tend to yield different results. Bacon likens vindictive individuals to witches who cause harm and end up facing unfortunate circumstances.

In Short:

  • The spirit of Job teaches acceptance of both good and bad in life.
  • Studying revenge prevents wounds from healing and is counterproductive.
  • Public revenges often have fortunate outcomes, while private ones do not.
  • Vindictive individuals suffer a fate similar to witches, causing harm and facing misfortune.

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