Good books are storehouses of human knowledge and wisdom. Anyone who has the key can enter these store houses and help himself. What is the key? Simply the ability to read. He who can read can store his mind with the great thoughts of the great thinkers of the world.
The man who never opens a book has a comparatively empty mind. He, no doubt, learns something from his own experience and from others; but to what mankind has learnt and thought and done his mind is a blank. But he who reads widely and judiciously has a full mind. "Reading maketh a full man".
By "conference" Bacon means discussion, debate. To be a good debator, one must have a quick and ready mind. He must be able to see a point quickly, to think quickly, and to have a quick reply to arguments ready. Taking an active part in a keen debating society gives one valuable practice in this; for one has to be alert and ready for all that can be said on a given subject. So, "conference maketh a ready man".
By "writing", here, Bacon does not mean writing books or practice in composition. He means making notes in writing of what we learn in our reading. It is not always wise to trust entirely to memory, especially when exact words and figures are important.
We may remember something in a general way; but, unless we have made a note of the details, we may be at a loss in speaking or discussion. Vague statements and mere generalizations will not always serve the purpose. Our knowledge must be accurate and exact. So make written notes of what you read; for this kind of "writing maketh an exact man".
The completion of this quotation will make its meaning clearer: "Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And, therefore, if a man writes little, he had needed have a great memory; if he confers little, he had need of a ready wit; and if he read little, he had need of much cunning to seem to know that he knoweth not".
Bacon's words should be taken to heart by young men who want to become public speakers. For a public speaker must have a full mind, readiness of speech, and an accurate and exact knowledge of his subject.
The major aim is to become and be a citizen of the world. One may be a citizen of a town or city or country. That is easy because the spirit of the place grows into one's own blood as it were. Thus one can be easily a Malaysian, an American and so on. But to be a citizen of the world it calls for a much more broad outlook, deep understanding and a judicious appreciation of other cultures. Very few people could claim to be a citizen of the world. But there have been and there are people who have reached that height. If we analyze and study their lives we could see how their education, interactions with others and writings have made them citizens of the world. So let us see the role played by reading, interactions and writing in the make up of the citizen of the world.
First of all take the case of reading. One reads for pleasure or for understanding or for improving his stock for knowledge. What we read in the school or college or professional institutions is only the beginning and they show and guide what and where to look for. For example specialists like doctors, lawyers or engineers cannot be content with what they have studied in their colleges. Unless they study professional publications later they cannot be up to date. Thus a lawyer may study law reports; a doctor may study professional magazines and monographs. For pleasure we read a lot in our own mother tongue and in other languages as well. The companionship of books is the best that one could look for. Books may please you but never offend you. The reading may be light as a weekend magazine or it may be a master piece. One may read materials pertaining to his profession or personal interest; he may also read books on other areas for fun. Thus one may read books on dozens of different interests and this reading surely goes to make him a full or an all-roundman. Such people of wide knowledge are really useful.
Very few people are good conversationalists though there are many well read men. To be a good conversationalist one requires certain qualities. Basically one must be a good mixer; in other words one should like to socialize and have the gift of the gab. He must be a good conversationalist and listener and must never be offensive or must not wound the feelings of the other. At a higher level when a man meets others in conference he learns a lot from them. To be a success at a conference one must have the ability to put forth his arguments forcibly and logically and convincingly. He must have the patience to hear the other man. He must grasp the other man's point of view quickly and reply. This makes one a ready man.
Coming to writing, we write when we cannot directly converse or talk to. In writing words are recorded and once the writing goes out of one's hand and reaches the other person it becomes a record. The right word in the right place shows the depth of knowledge of the writer and his penmanship. One may write simple, loving family letters, serious stories, poems, dramas, business letters and short articles. What ever is written the flow of words shows the man. You must write what you want to express in plain, straight forward language avoiding redundancy. In conversation one may be wandering; digressions are permissible but in writing each word or sentence must take you forward. We can see this in the great essays of master writers. The power of the written word has been proved in the great books of the world. From the Bible to the Communist Manifesto we find the effect of the written word. The compactness, the exactness, the sequence of logic, all these make good writing. The more one writes the more chastened he becomes like the polishing of a precious stone.
So to be a good citizen of the world one must read a lot, one must learn from companions and one must write. Then can he become a full, ready and exact man.