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Francis Bacon. (1561–1626).  Essays, Civil and Moral.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
XL
 
Of Fortune
 
 
IT cannot be denied, but outward accidents conduce much to fortune; favor, opportunity, death of others, occasion fitting virtue. But chiefly, the mould of a man’s fortune is in his own hands. Faber quisque fortunæ suæ [Every one is the architect of his own fortune], saith the poet. And the most frequent of external causes is, that the folly of one man is the fortune of another. For no man prospers so suddenly as by others’ errors. Serpens nisi serpentem comederit non fit draco [A serpent must have eaten another serpent before he can become a dragon]. Overt and apparent virtues bring forth praise; but there be secret and hidden virtues that bring forth fortune; certain deliveries of a man’s self, which have no name. The Spanish name, desemboltura [facility in expression], partly expresseth them; when there be not stonds 1 nor restiveness in a man’s nature; but that the wheels of his mind keep way with the wheels of his fortune. For so Livy (after he had described Cato Major in these words, In illo viro tantum robur corporis et animi fuit, ut quocunque loco natus esset, fortunam sibi facturus videretur [Such was his strength of body and mind, that wherever he had been born he could have made himself a fortune]) falleth upon that, that he had versatile ingenium [a wit that could turn well]. Therefore if a man look sharply and attentively, he shall see Fortune: for though she be blind, yet she is not invisible. The way of fortune is like the Milken Way in the sky; which is a meeting or knot of a number of small stars; not seen asunder, but giving light together. So are there a number of little and scarce discerned virtues, or rather faculties and customs, that make men fortunate. The Italians note some of them, such as a man would little think. When they speak of one that cannot do amiss, they will throw in into his other conditions, that he hath Poco di matto [a little out of his senses]. And certainly there be not two more fortunate properties, than to have a little of the fool, and not too much of the honest. Therefore extreme lovers of their country or masters were never fortunate, neither can they be. For when a man placeth his thoughts without himself, he goeth not his own way. An hasty fortune maketh an enterpriser and remover (the French hath it better, entreprenant, or remuant); but the exercised fortune maketh the able man. Fortune is to be honored and respected, and it be but for her daughters, Confidence and Reputation. For those two Felicity breedeth; the first within a man’s self, the latter in others towards him. All wise men, to decline the envy of their own virtues, use to ascribe them to Providence and Fortune; for so they may the better assume them: and, besides, it is greatness in a man to be the care of the higher powers. So Cæsar said to the pilot in the tempest, Cæsarem portas, et fortunam ejus [You carry Cæsar and his fortune]. So Sylla chose the name of Felix [the Fortunate], and not of Magnus [the Great]. And it hath been noted, that those who ascribe openly too much to their own wisdom and policy end infortunate. It is written that Timotheus the Athenian, after he had, in the account he gave to the state of his government, often interlaced this speech, and in this Fortune had no part, never prospered in anything he undertook afterwards. Certainly there be, whose fortunes are like Homer’s verses, that have a slide and easiness more than the verses of other poets; as Plutarch saith of Timoleon’s fortune, in respect of that of Agesilaus or Epaminondas. And that this should be, no doubt it is much in a man’s self.  1
 
Note 1. Stops. [back]
 

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