Essay: Francis Bacon, Of Travel (1625)

Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education, in the elder, a part of experience. 

Although Sir Francis Bacon’s Essays or Counsels Civil and Moral was first published in 1597, Of Travel did not appear until publication of the third edition in 1625, the year before Bacon’s death.  

At various times a lawyer, Parliamentarian and Attorney General under Elizabeth I and later James I, Francis Bacon is renowned for his legal, scientific and religious writings.  

However, Bacon was no stranger to travel, having spent several years as a young man in Paris and travelling throughout France, Italy and Spain; experiences which no doubt informed the advice contained in Of Travel.

Despite its age (it was written nearly four hundred years ago) and it length (it is short at only about 700 words), Of Travel remains relevant for modern travellers.  The substance of the advice Of Travel has not aged, even if the language used has and Of Travel contains good advice on preparing for travel (learn the language, read and learn about the countries through which you travel) or advice for the journey itself (what to see, what to avoid, who to meet, keeping a diary and choosing a travelling companion).  

My personal favourite though is his advice on returning home which advises a man to “let his travel appear rather in his discourse, than his apparel or gesture; and in his discourse, let him be rather advised in his answers, than forward to tell stories.”  Sound advice for those inclined to wear their travels on their sleeve when they get home.    

A succinct demonstration of how relevant Of Travel remains was produced for World Hum by travel writer Rolf Potts in which he re-presents Of Travel in the style of a 21st century magazine article as 10 Sizzling Hot Travel Tips from Sir Francis Bacon.   

Although the advice in Of Travel is not unique, Bacon’s gift for aphorisms will ensure that Of Travel remains a source for favourite travel quotes and makes the original worth a read.  

Read the full text of Of Travel, here.

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