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"There is little friendship in the world, and least of all between equals, which was wont to be magnified. That that is, is between superior and inferior, whose fortunes may comprehend the one the other."

Of Followers and Friends

3 Answers 3

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He is saying the best basis for friendship is a mutual interest shared between a higher status person and a lower status person.

There is little friendship in the world,

There is little friendship in the world

and least of all between equals,

and there is least friendship between equals,

which was wont to be magnified.

which (friendship between equals) has been usually highly praised.

That that is,

The friendship that does exist,

is between superior and inferior,

is between principal and subordinate

whose fortunes may comprehend the one the other.

whose best interests may be mutual.

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  • Are you sure that "is" in that that is means "does exist"? Can't we parse this as ellipsis of the verb in the previous clause, namely, "that that is [wont to be magnified]"?
    – TimR
    Feb 17, 2016 at 11:19
  • @TimRomano I concede There is little [friendship ... equals,] which was wont to be magnified. That that is (magnified) is [...] is a possible reading of this. Which is more likely to be Bacon's opinion?
    – Neil W
    Feb 17, 2016 at 11:56
  • Not sure. I'm still struggling with "whose fortunes may comprehend the one the other".
    – TimR
    Feb 17, 2016 at 12:27
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It's a criticism on social classes. What seems to be friendship is nothing but a relationship between superior and inferior, or poor and rich, and you can even extend that to race in our contemporary time.

The entire structure of a poor person's discourse and language, including his beliefs and values, is done so, according to Bacon, with the comprehension of fortune in his mind, specifically that he has none or very little, with respect to the rich person. The same is done for the rich person who in turn has a relationship with a poor person.

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    +1. "which was wont to be magnified" means that, unlike Bacon's opinion, the friendship that was celebrated in the past was between equals.
    – Graffito
    Feb 16, 2016 at 23:06
  • @Graffito: What do you mean by "unlike Bacon's opinion"?
    – TimR
    Feb 17, 2016 at 11:17
  • @TimRomano - Bacon was thinking that "friendhip" is governed by self-interest, what is the case in superior/inferior relationships. –
    – Graffito
    Feb 18, 2016 at 15:42
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It seems to me that it means: Friendship between equals is nothing special. It does not deserve to be extolled. The friendship which is to be extolled ("that that is [wont to be magnified]" = that friendship which is deserving of praise) is the friendship between people of different status, where each fully understands the fortune of the other so different from himself.

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