4 Feb 2015

Of Bacon

You know AO8 is really hard when your pre-teen turns to North's Plutarch or Churchill's The New World for a little light relief.  Oh Boy. In AO8, you move from reading about the Middle Ages into reading the works of the 16th Century written by the authors who lived at that time.  You read morality plays, struggle valiantly through Thomas More's Utopia and then you come across Francis Bacon's Essays.

Seriously, ladies, you know how I keep telling you over and over that you shouldn't skip AO books without a very good reason, and that if something is hard, you should persevere, because reading hard books builds muscle that you'll need to read the books of the coming year?  Remember me saying that? Well, it's all in preparation for AO8.  Forget everything you've ever heard about AO7 being a leap in difficulty; that's just a little tiny step. AO8 is a wall.

We were in shock after the first week.  We wondered if we would ever get there.  And yet, even now, midway through week 5, we're beginning to see our way through.  The readings are clearer without so much concentration.  I'm not having to work as much with Jemimah, and the reading is getting easier.

The first time we read the scheduled Bacon Essay, Of Truth, neither of us understood very much. I guess we were rather droll as we looked at each other, blank faced. We were both determined not to let it beat us, though.  After all, plenty of families have gone before us, and Jemimah's comprehension level is second to none, so I figured if they could do AO8, so could we.

Finally we decided on this plan of attack: Week 1: Read the essay through a couple of times on different days. Weeks 2-4 work on paraphrasing the essay, one paragraph per week to a maximum of half an hour per lesson. I was there for help and encouragement, but Jemimah was to do the actual paraphrasing.

You wanna know something?  Each week, the essay got easier, and today she finished.  I'd like to share her final result.  It may not be perfect, but I think it is pretty fantastic, and I'm really proud of her.  Jemimah's version is much easier to understand than Mr Bacon's, don't you think, and she says pretty much the same thing.

Without further ado, here is Of Truth by Jemimah Age 12.

Of truth

In John 18:38, a joking Pilate asks of Jesus, “What is truth?” but doesn’t wait for his reply. Some people like being foolish, and find making a decision ties them down. They want to be able to do whatever they want, both in their thoughts as well as in their behaviour. The philosophers that thought this way are gone now, but some who are fond of their own voices, speak in the same way, although they are not so passionate about it as the those before them were. But it is not only the struggle people have in discovering the truth, nor the fact that when truth is found it makes us think about it all the time, that makes lies desirable, it seems that they just naturally, though corruptly, love lying for the lie itself. Some of the Greeks examined this, and they couldn’t decide why it was that men would like lies for the lies themselves, not for pleasure, like the poets, nor for benefit, like the merchants. But I don’t know about that. I think that truth is open and obvious like the day, and doesn’t hide the deceit of world half as well as the half-light of lies. Truth is like a pearl that is best by day, but is not as valuable as a lie, which appears good both day and night, like a diamond or a precious garnet. Making up lies is always fun. Do we doubt for one minute that if we removed pride, big headed dreams, lies and imagining what you want, and that sort of thing, that many men’s minds would be left poor shrunken things, full of sadness, lacking motivation, and unpleasing even to themselves?

One of the philosophers aggressively called poetry ‘wine of the devil’ because it fills the imagination; but poetry is only a little lie. It is not the lie that you hear, but the lie that sinks in and remains, that damages, as we mentioned before. But however these lies get into men’s minds and hearts, truth judges itself. Truth itself teaches that loving truth; knowing that it exists, and enjoying it, is the greatest good of mankind. God created the essence of sense first, then logic, and the Holy Spirit continues to enlighten. First he breathed light into chaos, then he breathed light into man, and he continues to inspire light in his chosen people. A certain poet, who made his sect more beautiful than it otherwise was, cleverly said: It is nice to stand safely on the beach and see ships tossed at sea; nice to stand safely in a castle window and see the excitement of battle from afar, but nothing is as nice as standing upon the safety and clarity of the hill of truth, and seeing the confusion of lies far below, so that standing there makes one pity, and not feel proud. It is certainly wonderful to think kind thoughts, know God cares for you, and to live in truth.

Moving from theology and philosophy to the truth of honest business dealings, everyone, even those who don’t practise it, agrees that transparent dealing is honourable. A mix of lies and truth is like impurities in coins made of gold and silver. It may make the metal stronger, but it makes it worth less. These are the serpent’s crooked paths, as it crawls on its belly not on feet. There is nothing that shames a man more than to be found a liar; and Montaigne wondered why that was so, that telling a lie should be so disgraceful, and such a foul accusation. He said, to be honest, that to say that a man lies is like saying he is bravely defying God but being cowardly in face of man, for God knows a lie, but it hides from man. Surely the wickedness of lies and the destruction of trust can’t be disliked more harshly. It shall be the last warning, calling the judgement of God on men. We’ve been told that when Christ comes, he shall not find faith on earth.

Here is a quote from an earlier draft that she didn't end up using, but I thought was profound enough to go into my commonplace:

The manufacture of the lie is satisfactory to the mind and pleasing to the soul.

I'm hoping she doesn't believe that, but the words sure do sound good together, don't they?

Next week's essay is On Revenge.  She may just take revenge on me if I make her do too much of this.

Have your kids done AO8?  Did they read Bacon?  How did they manage?  I'd love to hear.  If you want a reason for reading Bacon in the first place, this is how Wendi explained it to her 13 year old.


  1. No comments yet? I'll start: Bravo!

  2. I hope you never stop posting your experiences while working through the higher AO years.

    I think it was brilliant the way you handled this difficulty.

    Great work Jemimah!

  3. Goodness gracious, what a terrific paraphrasing!
    I can think of a suitably articulate response, but WOW, I'm impressed.
    Well done ladies, it must feel good persisting and coming up with such a great result.

  4. Wow, that was so well done! The best my dd could manage were one to two sentence paraphrases of each paragraph. We read almost all of the scheduled essays, and we're glad we did. One thing that both frustrated us and opened our eyes was that his essays didn't follow that "perfect essay form," of thesis, evidence (or elaboration) and conclusion. They seem to wander. Then when T took her first college writing class, she read a paper stating that the 5 paragraph essay isn't the be-all and end-all of essay form - Bacon being the perfect example.

  5. Wow, I am also speechless, and delightfully impressed!
    Well done, mom and daughter.

  6. Thank you for so much teaching helps. I am using OF REVENGE for Moby Dick with my students.


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