In this essay Bacon speaks about the differences that mark a married man from a single one and the advantages and disadvantages of a married or single life. A man who is married and has wife and children is unable to risk his money for noble purposes.
They are obstacles to any endeavour either good or bad. The best works which are the best for the public have often come from unmarried men. These are the men who have “married” the public, that is, devoted their lives entirely to a public cause. Men who have children care a great deal about the future and make various important pledges and promises regarding the future.
However there are also some single men who think only about themselves and they too account for the future. Some people consider wives and children as items of expense. Some foolish and greedy men take pride in having no children. They believe that they will remain richer if they do not have any children because they might have heard people say that so and so is a great, rich man but he has the burden of children suggesting that children are a hindrance on the growth of fortunes.
However, most men choose to remain single for the sake of liberty that a single life allows. These people think of marriage as imprisonment. Bacon enlists the positive and negative qualities of a single man. Unmarried men make the best friends, the best masters, and the best servants. But they do not make the best citizens as they have so great a sense of freedom that they tend to run away from responsibilities.
The single life is better suited for a clergyman because he can be more charitable as he does not have any needs to satisfy. For judges and magistrates the situation is indifferent because if they are corrupt it makes them servants who are worse than wives. For soldier it is often an emotional support to think of wives and children before going into battle.
That is why Bacon says that the dislike of marriage among the Turks makes the vulgar soldiers even more so. Single men are often more charitable because they have less expenses. But at the same time they also tend to be cruel and hard hearted as they do not have a wife or children to invoke the tenderness within them.
A grave man with traditional beliefs is often a loving husband. Women are often proud of their chastity and a wife will always remain chaste and obedient if she thinks that her husband is wise and not jealous. For a young man a wife serves the purpose of a mistress, in the middle age she is a companion and to the old man she is a nurse.
Therefore a man can reasonably decide when he would like to get married. Bacon here quotes a philosopher and mathematician who answered the question of when a man should marry and said –
A young man not yet, an elder man not at all.
Bacon observes that bad husbands often have good wives. He says that this may be because it makes the husband’s kindness more valuable or because the wife takes pride in her patience in dealing with him. Bacon however says that given the chance these bad husbands would make sure to correct their own mistake.