Hostage to fortune


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Hostage to fortune'?

Someone might be said to be a hostage to fortune if they, by their own actions, hand over their future prosperity and happiness to random chance.

For example, a finance minister who promises to “Get inflation down to 1% or I’ll resign.” would be said to be a hostage to fortune.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Hostage to fortune'?

The phrase ‘hostage to fortune’ was coined by the great English Tudor courtier, scientist and philosopher .Sir Francis Bacon in his Essays, New edition, 1612:

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 greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men

It’s hard to think of a more distinguished English historical figure than Francis Bacon. As well as being an influential writer on history, poetry and philosophy and the devolper of book classification he was also a statesman. He served as Attorney General and as Lord Chancellor of England, and was Queen Elizabeth I’s legal adviser. He was created Baron Verulam in 1618 and Viscount St Alban in 1621.

If that wasn’t enough Bacon was also a notable scientist and is widely regarded as being the father of empiricism and the developer of the idea of the scientific method.

Here are some other phrases associated with Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban (1561–1626):

If the mountain will not come to Muhammad
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing
The last words of Francis Bacon

Trend of hostage to fortune in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.