Francis Bacon’s main material in the essay Of Friendship consists in his discussion of the fruits of friendship. He specifically mentions one after another, the different benefits that friendship offers. These benefits are assessed from the practical consideration of relief, peace, and success in life.
Here in this essay, Bacon discusses how the principal fruit of friendship works and aids. His clear observation is that friendship brings relief and ease in the human mind and frees it from worries and anxieties. The oppressed and suffocated mind can have no medical remedy like the ailing physical body. It needs a true friend to whom, in the Baconian language, ‘[you may impart griefs, joys, fears, hopes, suspicions, counsels and whatsoever lieth upon the heart to oppress it….’
To substantiate his pragmatic view about the need of friendship, Bacon goes to ancient anecdotes and history and cites illustrations therefrom in support of his contention. He claims that friendship is much required even by the wisest and most efficient rulers who did not mind to give promotions freely to their servants to raise them to be their friends. Of course, he does not ignore the hazards or uncertainties that may often follow therefrom.
Nevertheless, while speaking of the first fruit of friendship, he asserts the uses of the friend in the life of men. “For there is no man that imparteth his joys to his friend, but he joyeth the more : and no man that imparteth his griefs to his friend, but he grieveth the less.” In his concluding observation on this first fruit of friendship, he affirms its good and beneficial effects categorically, despite the presence of some contrary effects. “For in bodies, union strengtheneth and cherisheth any natural action, and on the other side weakeneth and dulleth any violent impression and even so it is of minds.”
Bacon appears no less pragmatist in his discourse of the second fruit of friendship. In his view, this is healthy, useful, and supremely good to one’s understanding, as it is for one’s affection. What he wants to indicate is the practical benefit that friendship gives. This clears and activates understanding and thereby improves situations and functions in a man’s life. “For friendship maketh indeed a fair day in the affections, from storm and tempests; but it maketh daylight in the understanding out of darkness and confusion of thoughts.” In this connection, he refers to the value of the counsel that a man may receive from his friend to strengthen and help his understanding and judgment. He even contends that this is of much more value than what a man can give to himself. Often a man may misjudge himself and wrongly lead himself to a specific action or conduct. He is here much flattered by his own ego or idea about himself. But a friend gives what is true and useful and not what isappeasing to a person’s nature. The liberty of a friend is much better than the flattery of his own self. So, it is best to take easily and freely even the admonition of a friend. For this may well cover gross errors and extreme absurdities that a man is often liable to commit for want of a true friend to warn and guide him. It is his pragmatic approach that leads Bacon to give his formidable counsel about a friend’s useful role in a man’s affair: “But a friend, that is wholly acquainted with a man’s estate, will beware, by furthering any present business, how he dasheth upon other inconvenience. And therefore rest not upon scattered counsels: they will rather distract and mislead, than settle and direct.”
Finally, Bacon speaks of one’s more fruit of friendship, besides giving relief and easing tension and supporting and helping understanding and judgment. This is, perhaps, the most practical aspect of his essay. He declares this last fruit as like the pomegranate which is full of many kernels. What he means is that friendship plays an important part in all actions and occasions in a man’s life. Whatever a man cannot do personally or when confronted with some obligation or obstacle can be well done by his friend. A friend can speak as the case requires, and not as the situation or the person concerned demands. So, there must be friendship or there is no happier existence in life.