From “Of Revenge.” Included in his Essays, this work avows Bacon’s deeply held belief that no man is above the law, even when hoping to achieve justice outside its strictures. In 1614 he delivered an address against dueling, convincing the Star Chamber to prosecute those involved in them, lest the state be so ruled by personal feuds that it “be like to a distempered and imperfect body, continually subject to inflammations and convulsions.”
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 offends the law; but the revenge of that wrong puts the law out of office. 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, said, “It is the glory of a man to pass by an offense.” 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. There is no man who does 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. Some, when they take revenge, are desirous the party should know whence it comes. This is the more generous. For the delight seems 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 flies in the dark. Cosimo, 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.” 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 studies revenge keeps his own wounds green which otherwise would heal and do well.