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.