The opening of Bacon’s essay “Of Marriage and Single Life”:
“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 the greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men.”
Bacon was unmarried and gay, so the dictum holds for him. And the list unmarried great thinkers is very long. How well has the claim stood up over the nearly-four centuries since Bacon?
[Let’s not forget Nietzsche: “A married philosopher belongs in comedy” (GM 3:7). Friedrich the Unmarried notes that Socrates the Henpecked was married and so is perhaps an exception — except that Nietzsche thinks Socrates was not much of a philosopher, which, he suggests, proves his point.]
In this essay, Bacon debates the advantages and disadvantages of being married (which in those days, generally meant also having children) and of remaining single. Bacon writes that unmarried or childless men tend to provide the greatest benefit for public life, as they bestow their kindness on the public instead of on their families. However, married men who are fathers are far more careful when thinking about the future, as they know their progeny will have to deal with it. Bacon writes, "Unmarried men are best friends, best masters, best servants; but not always best subjects." Unmarried men can devote themselves with greater freedom to others, but they don't make the best subjects because they can run away and don't have to subject themselves to other people's rule for the sake of their families. Unmarried men are also, Bacon thinks, more likely to be cruel hearted, as they have not learned tenderness from their families. While Bacon debates the merits of marriage, he says at the end of his essay that bad men often have kind wives, which argues for the benefits of marriage for men.