Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon, the father of English essay occupies a distinguished position in English literature as an essayist and a pioneer of modern science. His essays are treasure house of worldly wisdom. He wrote widely on politics, philosophy and science. They portray his intellect and practical wisdom. They have gripping plots and hidden truth of practical life. They are loaded with the ripest wisdom of experience and observation conveyed through short, compact and terse sentences. The essays have become classics of English language because of their inevitable style and fine literary touch. The essays present all aspects of human life. They cover topics from the purely intellectual (truth, religion, beauty) to the practical / human interest (friendship, honour, marriage) to the mundane (money, architecture, gardening). 

Francis Bacon (1561-1626), was a versatile genius, attorney, philosopher, historian, champion of modern science and a top government official. He used to write a terse, epigrammatic, utilitarian prose which is well-structured and prescriptive, logical and illustrative. Bacon's prose was permeated with practical wisdom, and he addressed his readers in an oracular voice. In his essays Bacon has made use of Latin and Greek quotations. He had comprehensive knowledge of the classics. Many of his observations have become proverbial expressions in the English language. He imported a new sense of precision and clarity in English prose. Simplicity, lucidity and flexibility are the key-notes of his style.  

Francis Bacon: Wisest, Brightest and Meanest

“If parts allure these think how Bacon shin’d The wisest, brightest and meanest of mankind.” (Alexander Pope) From the above statement it is clear that Bacon was the true child of renaissance. He was the wisest because of his worldly wisdom, he was brightest owing to his powerful intellect and the art of writing terse essays, and he was meanest due to his treacherous character. He was a man of multi-talents. His thirst for infinite knowledge and versatility was astonishing. He possessed the intellect of the highest order. He was proficient in Greek, Latin, English, Science, Philosophy, Classics and other fields of knowledge. He is regarded as the creator of the modern school of experimental research. He says, “ Man is the servant and interpreter of nature”. The essays are loaded with the ripest wisdom of experience and observation conveyed through short, compact and terse sentences. Bacon was indeed an eloquent prophet of new era and the pioneer of modern science. 

Bacon’s concept of essay

The form of essay for the first time was invented by Montaigne, a French essayist. Bacon borrowed something from him and modified the concept of the essays to suit his own genius. He used it not as a vehicle of self-revelation as Montaigne did but as a “repository of dispersed meditations impersonal, practical and worldly ”. The popularity of Bacon’s essays is shown by the fact that they were translated into French, Latin and Italian. As an essayist Bacon’s fame rests in his prose style that has been variously estimated as Addison praises his grace, Sainsbury admires his dazzling power of rhetoric. Hume calls him rather stiff and rigid. But the essays have become the classics of English language due to their inevitable style and fine literary touch.
Evergreen themes

The subject of Bacon in his essays is the man who needs prosperity in worldly terms. Bacon's essays bring men to 'come home to men's business and bosoms'. He teaches them, how to exercise one's authority and much more. When he condemns cunning, it is not because of a hateful and vile thing, but because it is unwise. That is why the wisdom in his essay is considered a 'cynical' kind of wisdom. He describes his essays as 'Counsels - civil and moral'. 

Themes of utilitarianism
Bacon showed a certain incapacity for emotions. He took the relation of friendship for its benefit and made a purely worldly approach to the subject which intimately deals between two persons. He gave us the uses and abused of friendship. He says: "Those that want friends to open themselves unto, are cannibals of their own hearts." This essay clearly shows Bacon's cynical wisdom and that his morality is stuffed with purely utilitarian considerations. Bacon considers love as a 'child of folly'. In his essay "Of Love" he says: "It is impossible to love and to be wise." He considers wife and children as hindrance in the way of success and progress. He says: "He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune." Afterwards in his essay "Of Marriage and Single Life" he tells the 'benefits' of a wife. "Wives are young men's mistresses, companion to middle age and old man's nurse." In his essay "Of Parents and Children" Bacon puts: "Children sweeten labour, but they make misfortune bitterer."

Bacon as a moralist

Bacon is a moralist-cum-worldly wise man. It is reflected in his essays where he preaches high moral principles and valuable guidelines for human conduct. For instance, in “Of Envy”, he puts: “A man that hath no virtue in himself, ever envieth virtue in others.” Then, in his essay “Of Goodness and Goodness of Nature” he says: “But in charity there is no excess; neither can angel or man come in danger by it.” Again, he appears to be a lover of justice in his essay “Of Judicature”. Bacon says, “The principal duty of a judge is to suppress force and fraud”.
Bacon: A Man of Renaissance

In spite of all given examples, one cannot deny the fact that Bacon was a “Man of Renaissance”. He had a deep insight into human nature. He knew that man is naturally more prone to evil than good. On one hand, he preached high moral principles and on the other hand, he also expressed a mean capacity by compromising upon those morals for the sake of worldly success. For this reason, William Blake, a spiritual poet says about his essays: “Good advice for Satan’s Kingdom.” In his essay “Of Great Places” Bacon shows a high morality when he condemns the practice of ‘wrongs’ on the part of high officials. He says, “In place there is license to do good and evil; where of the latter is a curse.” Afterwards, he appreciates the power of doing good. He says, “But power to do good, is true and lawful end of aspiring”. 

Bacon’s ethical codes

He expressed that there is no place of revenge in high society and it is a high quality to forgive an enemy. Hereafter, Bacon spoils the effects by putting that in some cases man is justified in taking revenge, if the avenger can save his skin from the eyes of the law. He says: “But then let a man take heed the revenge be such as there is now law to punish; else a man’s enemy is still forehead”. In his essay “Of Suitors” Bacon says that a man should refuse to undertake a suit if it is by giving a false hope to the petitioner and that one should not demand undue reward for his services. Those who employ crooked methods to win suits are the worst offenders of society. But he also says that if a patron wants to favour the undeserving party, he should bring both the parties to a compromise for this would be less dangerous for him. So, to Bacon, morality and ethical codes seem inferior to worldly considerations.
Common features of Bacon’s prose style

Bacon’s prose style has the common features of Elizabethans and the Jacobeans. He preferred a probative authenticity of an aphoristic prose style. His prose is characterized by brief, pithy sentence units. The two important characteristics of Bacon’s style are the terseness of expression and epigrammatic brevity. In fact, the essays of Bacon have to be read slowly because of the compact and condensed thought. Bacon’s essays have simplicity, naturalness and straight forwardness in expression. Bacon was a noted innovator who liked other prose writers of his time because he was writing in reaction to earlier prose style which was highly organised and ornamented, that kind of style known – Ciceronian prose style of his contemporaries and immediate predecessors. The aphoristic style of Bacon always depends on the device of balance and antithesis. In the essay Of Studies. Bacon says, “Studies serve for ornament and for ability”. Further in the same essay he says, “ Read not to contradict, nor to believe, but to weigh and consider.” He scrupulously presents the advantages and the disadvantages of a particular issue. In the essay Of Marriage and Single life, Bacon says that an unmarried man is a good friend, good master and good servant, but he is unreliable as a good citizen. In Of Parents and Children Bacon says that children sweeten labour and they make misfortune more bitter; they increase the care of life but they mitigate the remembrance of death. This sort of weighing and balancing makes his style antithetical.

Bacon had two styles of writing
Macaulay says that Bacon had not one but two styles. To illustrate the first style, Macaulay quoted the passage from the essay Of Studies: “ Crafty men condemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them”. To illustrate Bacon’s second style, Macaulay quoted from Of Adversity: “ Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without com-forts and hopes”. A comparison of these two passages reveals a striking change; the style of the first is entirely different from that of the second. In the first passage there are no connective conjunctions but Bacon finds room for them in the second. The later style has warmth, colour and imagination. Here Hugh Walker differs from Macaulay; he states that Bacon suited his style to the subject. There is no doubt that the style of the essay Of Adversity is more ornate than that of the essay Of Studies. But while reading Advancement of Learning, readers adore his passages too. So the change in his style appears unconvincing and unrealistic. 

Bacon’s rich vocabulary, numerous quotations, modern sentences, wonderful paragraphs, marvellous use of figures of speech, strength, clarity, precision and so on make his style the most effective. Buffon says, “ style is the man himself”. Longinus says, “Evaluation of style is the echo of great soul”. All these statements show his essentially mean and benefit seeking attitude, even in the matters of heart. In short, Bacon's essays are a "hand book" of practical wisdom enriched with maxims which are very helpful for worldly wisdom and success.

Ref: Eassays of Bacon, Internet.