Monday, September 12, 2005

hostages to fortune

He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief. Certainly the best works, and of greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men; which both in affection and means, have married and endowed the public.

Francis Bacon
--Of Marriage and the Single Life

This was in my inbox this morning, courtesy of the Daily Philosophical Quotations list. In my never humble opinion I think it’s a pretty simplistic notion. After all, Bach had how many wives and over a dozen children and also had to make a living? If his work does not warrant the “greatest merit”, then whose does? There is, of course, a grain of truth to it, only it seems more applicable to women than to men (and wasn’t
Bacon a notorious misogynist?). She that hath husband and children hath given hostages to fortune.

The first women who popped into my head to illustrate this are the 20th century grand dames of North American art. Mexico’s
Frida Kahlo, Canada’s Emily Carr and America’s Georgia O’Keeffe were all childless women who achieved a measure of success during their lifetimes. Two were married to other artists/patrons, Emily Carr being the only one who remained single and also had to earn a living. Their paintings are worth millions now and they were definitely not ignored in their lifetimes.

I think it’s possible to both create a legacy and raise a family: man or woman, now
or then. If it’s impossible while raising children, then what about the years before and after? Van Gogh’s painting career spanned a mere decade, and Mozart died at age 35. To every rule there are many exceptions... and isn't the point to be exceptional?


Blogger Alina Chau said...

You have a great blog!!

12/9/05 5:07 p.m.  
Blogger The Whippy Curly Tails said...

Nice post. I enjoyed this going on a cultural 101. Many thanks for the artist links! I will stay tuned!

12/9/05 5:58 p.m.  
Blogger ChittyChittyBangBang! said...

Pardon the deletion - I started off by saying one thing and ended up saying another.
Regarding the quote: "correlation does not imply causation" and your view on it certainly has merit.

13/9/05 7:10 a.m.  
Blogger andy said...

I struggled a lot with this (the notion that is, not your post!) back in the days when I thought there was still some merit in making my way up the ladder of the hierarchy. I had a young family, but all around me were bachelors who seemed to be wedded to their jobs, working late, getting the best projects, the most rapid promotion. If you'd asked me twenty years ago, I'd have sided with Bacon without a moment's hesitation.

But I wonder now whether Bacon's view isn't a cop-out - a convenient excuse to avoid the risk and exposure that goes along with "great enterprises". Perhaps anyone with the balls to undertake such enterprises will do so regardless, family or no.

Which, I realise at this point, rather paints me into a corner...

13/9/05 12:33 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Maybe the answer is in Peter Ackroyd's book "The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde" in which he includes this fictional quote by Wilde:

"I was convinced of the essential virtue of Greek love: men can live in perfect equality, each finding in the other the image of his own soul. Men and women can never live in peace -- they either destroy each other or bore each other, which is worse."

If that were true, we'd have a lot more great works and a lot fewer brand-new humans.

13/9/05 2:10 p.m.  

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