Read our detailed study guide on the essay “Of Ambition” by Francis Bacon. Our study guide covers Of Ambition summary and analysis.

Of Ambition Summary

In the middle ages, it was believed that the human body comprised of four body fluids, named blood, phlegm choler, and melancholy. Among these four, choler was thought to determine emotional and physical disposition. Bacon opens the essay by associating ambition with this fluid choler that has the quality of making people restless and irritable to do some actions. Likewise, a person sparkling with ambitions can hardly be found to live an un-hassled and relaxed life. The ambition to achieve something in a life makes a person, according to bacon, active, intense, full of enthusiasm, and magnificent. Such a person is hard to stop.

But if such an ambitious person is stopped, it could be very treacherous and make a person scorched, resulting in harmful and lethal situations. All his energy and enthusiasm will go waste making a person to develop a negative mindset.

Whenever an ambitious man finds for himself in an environment that supports him and made little or no hindrance in the path, he will devote all his time to his work to achieve the desired goals. However, if such a person is not allowed to work properly or he feel any hindrance from the outer environment, it will makes him furtively restless and will look upon others with an evil eye. They will set up a negative mindset towards other people and if any misfortune happens to other’s business, they seek pleasure out of it.

Therefore, for government officials, it is better to appoint such ambitious people and utilize their abilities as much as they can but it is necessary that these people should be given sufficient freedom to let their ingenuity flower. However, if you can’t provide them the sufficient freedom they are worthy of, it is better not to appoint them. In the latter case, they might prove to be more dangerous than that of fruitful. If they are discontented, with their fall they will also make their emperor fall, too.

To employ or not to employ an ambitious man is a matter of long debate. The discussion that is done so far proves that an ambition man, without any necessity, should not be employed. However, it is not a hard and fast rule. One can employ the ambitious person to utilize their abilities.

It is not necessary for a commander to be ambition, as his services involve to command others and think rationally. While for the soldier, it is necessary to be ambitious at his heart. Only a courageous, determined and ambitious soldier can confront the enemy brashly. Similarly, an ambitious man is needed to appoint as a body-guard to a king or emperor. For this job, an ordinary man will never agree, as it involves a life-threatening risks and even to shed a life to save the emperors life. For such a job, only an ambitious man is suitable. Such focused and committed to duty man is analogous to the sealed dove, mounting higher and higher hooked on the sky without worrying about the detachment and its inadequate energy.

Bacon, by glimpsing upon the story of Sejanus, Tiberius, and Marco, mentions another use of an ambitious man. According to him, an ambitious man like Marco can be appointed by the emperors like Tiberius to pull down the desolaters like Sejanus. Sejanus was the part-time emperor of Rome. He cleared the royal duties in the absence of the real emperor Tiberius. When Tiberius come to know about this matter, he appointed an ambitious man like Marco to kill him. If an ambitious man like Marco was not available, it would be impossible for an emperor like Tiberius to pull down Sejanus. Therefore, the government official needs the ambitious men like Marco. However, Bacon gives an advice that such ambitious people on the staff must be kept under the chain either secretly or openly, or they can be highly dangerous.

Bacon mentions the various ambitious men and guides the readers about the more dangerous ones among them and the less dangerous ones. To him, the ambitious men who are born in the lower class family served to be less dangerous than those who belong to the aristocracy. Moreover, the ill-mannered and harsh security guards are less dangerous than that of polished. Similarly, the new appointed are less dangerous than the old one. Since they are aware of the affairs of the court, the might miss-use them.

It is often thought by the people that it is an unwise policy of the emperors to employ the trusted and known people in the Security Council. However, to Bacon, this the wisest policy as it will keep them satisfies in the proximity of the king. Similarly, not considering the government’s benefit, it is better to appoint such known and favorite people as they, in the proximity of the kind, will not cause any harm to him. And the other means to control them is to appoint another person of equal status and zeal in a parallel position. Moreover, another higher authority should be employed to keep check both of them. This should be done to keep things steady. Furthermore, an emperor should bring a man from the lower class to the inner circle as will appear to counterbalance the early ambitious men.

Bacon argues that for the potential candidates for the Security Council, the emperor should be well aware of the nature of the candidates. If the candidate has a repulsive and fearful persona, then it is good to appoint him. On the other hand, if the candidate is of a daring nature, better not to appoint him as it may invite a danger. Once the emperor finds any suspicious affairs about the, he should deal with it cleverly, without taking any harsh step against them. This will provoke in them an evil spirit that might harm the emperor.

Bacon continues to argue that being ambitious is not harmful but scorching ambition and enthusiasm should be restricted to the area they outshine in. It is better to have ambitious people in business but these people should not be appointed to the post that has a dependency on other posts. Those who are ambitious among us have a great job to do. They are gifted people that should be rewarded.

There are three things associated with the honor: to do well for others, to reach a glorious position in the society, and to rise is the fortune. If an ambitious man has all these three intentions, he is a right man to be rewarded. And the king, who has the ability to recognize such people is the wise man.

Bacon ends the essay by setting some guidelines for the emperors in choosing their ministers. They should hire the people who are sensitive to their duty, love their work and are ambitious, people who are driven by their conscience and love to work more with a willing mind.

Of Ambition Analysis


Of Ambition is an argumentative essay by Francis Bacon, in which he argues about the benefits and outbursts of being ambition. He demonstrates various situations in which ambition is highly useful and one can appoint a highly ambitious person. While he also makes the audience aware of the positions on which appointing an ambitious person might invite problems for them.

Critical appreciation:

Brevity, directness, wit, and to the point arguments are one of the qualities that Bacon’s essay contain. The systematic way of writing makes bacon’s essay to move from one point to another logically. Moreover, the subject matters he discusses in his writing style are all based on the real life and the reader found an epigrammatic wisdom in it. With the use of metaphors, similes referring to various historical stories makes his essay comprehensible and agreeable.

Bacon starts the essay by using the simile of choler for ambition. Ambition is something that induces in a man a spirit to achieve something in his life. Such ambitiousness can be benefitting as well as harmful. Bacon deals with the topic purely on political merits and demerits. He mentions the various position on which ambitiousness is highly required. These include a post of a soldier, a post of security guard etc. on such posts, an ordinary person cannot survive as requires a life-threatening risk.

For the post like administration etc. an ambitious man is highly restricted as they involve dependency on other posts which highly challenging for them.

This essay is not only for the guidance of the emperors of his time, however, it proves to be persistence throughout the ages. Even his arguments are valid for the present time as well. This essay contains some guiding principles for the head of the state when they are about to hire the ministers. He mentions various criteria for the ministers. If these criteria are filled in a candidate he should hire him. They should hire the people who are sensitive to their duty, love their work and are ambitious, people who are driven by their conscience and love to work more with a willing mind.