Studies serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability. Their chief use for delight, is in privateness and retiring; for ornament, is in discourse; and for ability, is in the judgment, and disposition of business.
Bacon opens his essay Of Studies by stating the various reasons one may avail himself or herself to lessons. The term ‘studies’ refer to wisdom and authority. According to Bacon Studies have instrumental value for those who read for enjoyment, those who wish to improve the quality of their manner of speaking, and those who wish to improve the value they bring to the marketplace. Reading for pleasure allows one to develop an appreciation for great writing. Reading for ornament allows one to think and speak with greater clarity. Reading for business allows one to rise to the top of his/her respected industry.
Francis Bacon while referring to ‘expert men,’ means people with practical experience but not necessarily a formal education. Intelligence is not merely the ability to comprehend greater degrees of complexity. Along with this Speed is also a key component. Bacon also pointed out that History teachers who focus on names and dates are not teaching true history. Focusing on general themes as well as having students read the classics and write as often as possible are the best ways to promote individual excellence.
Bacon addresses problems with the three categories in this essay. Spending too much time studying leads to lack of productivity. Studies have only potential power in themselves. They must be applied toward practical ends. Bacon notes one other major problem: ‘to make judgment wholly by their rules.’ Here, he is rejecting the subjugation of humanity to reason.
They perfect nature, and are perfected by experience: for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need proyning, by study; and studies themselves, do give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience.
Here Bacon emphasizes the reciprocal relationship between studies and experience. They buttress each other much like the two sides of an arch. Therefore studies and experience may escape from their own deficiencies through mutual reinforcement but the particulars can be understood within an abstract framework and the abstract framework can be grounded in practical experiences.
The tripartite elements in this essay allow for both efficiency and complexity. By ‘crafty men,’ Bacon means practical men. Such men lack the necessary foresight to realize the value of studies. Whereas simple men merely admire studies and those whom they perceive to be intelligent. The value of studies is in their utility.
After this Bacon gives advice on how to read. He states that among the infinite number of printed materials in the world, one must focus on quality. Quality can be determined for a selected number of works published from ancient times to about a century before the present. These works have made a significant impact, and have influenced other great works. And not so great, works can be read with greater brevity or via secondary sources.
The last section of the essay basically portrays what Bacon has been going over in the other parts. Here, he breaks down ‘studies’ and notes their practical values. He stresses disciplining the mind and how studies can aid in the process.