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Bacon and his Essays

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

Francis Bacon was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist, orator and author. He served as Lord high chancellor of England and Attorney General of England and Wales under the monarchy of King James I. He was born on 22 January 1561 and died on April 6 1626. He is known as the Father of English Essay. He created the formal essay using his own simple yet philosophical and complex style

He was also the first writer to publish a collection of essays, which were so unique that its form became a genre in Literature. He belonged to the Renaissance and thus, many of his influential works were vastly impacted by the tenets of the Renaissance period. Bacon wrote prominent essays related to philosophical research, natural science and social status. In short, he has contributed to society by bringing about a clear distinction between Philosophy, Science and religion. He was the one who introduced a new way of writing and thinking.

Bacon's writing style is known for Aphoristic (a sentence formulated with truth and principle). His essays are to be read slowly, because of the compact and condensed thought. These are the number of lines that are read like proverbs, for example in the essay "Of Truth" Bacon says “A lie faces God and shrinks pleasure!” This aphoristic style always depends on the device of balance and antithesis. In the essay “Of Studies" he says, 'Read not to contradict, nor to believe, but to weigh and consider”. He carefully presents both the advantages and disadvantages of a particular issue. He is also known for his usage of figures of speech. He is a master of simile and metaphor. In "Of Studies", he says 'Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested

He is also a master in using rhetoric and fruitfully expressed sentences. He was the one who set up a new method of prose writing, which was at once easy, simple, graceful, rhetorical, musical and condensed. Examples from "of Friendship" where he says 'For there is no man that importeth his joys to his friend, but he joyeth the more and no man that importeth his griefs to his friend, but he grievath the less'. An aphoristic sentence from "Of Simulation and Dissimulation" that “a habit of secrecy is both political and moral”

All his essay topics were drawn from both public and private life. In each case the essays cover their topics systematically from a number of different angles, weighing one argument against another. Though Bacon considered the Essays as "But as the recreation of my other studies", he was credited as pointing him be the Father of English Essays.

His "Essays" were published in three editions in Bacon's lifetime. Here are the lists of his tremendous works in Essays and the dates of their Publication. Of Truth (1625), Of Death (1612, enlarged 1625), Of Unity in Religion Of Religion (1612, rewritten 1625), Of Simulation and Dissimulation (1625), Of Parents and Children (1612, enlarged 1625), Of Envy (1625), Of Love (1612, rewritten 1625) Of Great Place (1612, Slightly enlarged 1625), Of Boldness (1625), Of Goodness and Goodness of Nature (1612, enlarged in 1625), Of Nobility (1612, rewritten 1625), of Seditions and Troubles (1625), Of Atheism (1612, slightly enlarged 1625), Of Superstition (1612, slightly enlarged 1625) Of Travel (1625). Of Empire (1612. much enlarged 1625). Of Counsels (1612, enlarged 1625), Of Delays (1625), Of Cunning (1612, rewritten 1625). Of Wisdom for a Man's self (1612, enlarged 1625) Of Innovations (1625). Of Dispatch (1612), Of Seeming Wise (1612). Of Friendship (1612, rewritten 1625) Of Expense (1597, enlarged 1612, again enlarged 1625), Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Estates (1612, enlarged 1625), Of Regiment of Health (1597, enlarged 1612, again enlarged 1625), Of Suspicion (1625). Of Discourse (1597, slightly enlarged 1612, again enlarged 1625), Of Plantations (1625), Of Riches (1612, much enlarged 1625), Of Prophecies (1625). Of Ambition (1612, enlarged 1625) Of Masques and Triumphs (1625), Of Nature in Men (1612, enlarges 1625), Of Custom and Education (1612, enlarges 1625), Of Usury (1625) Of Youth and Age (1612, slightly enlarged 1625), Of Beauty (1612, slightly enlarged 1625), Of Deformity (1612, somewhat altered 1625), Of Building (1625), Of Gardens (1625), Of Negotiating (1597, enlarged 1612, very slightly enlarged 1625). Of Followers and Friends (1597, slightly enlarged 1625), Of suitors (1597, enlarged 1625). Of faction (1597, much enlarged 1625). Of ceremonies and Respects (1597, enlarged 1625). Of praise (1612, enlarges 1625), Of Vain Glory (1612) Of Honour and reputation (1597, omitted 1612, republished 1625), Of Judicature (1612), Of Anger (1625), Of Vicissitude (1625), Of Fragment of an Essay of Fame, Of the Colours of Good and Evil

From all these topics, we could recognise Bacon as a wise man whose "Essays” are a treasure of World Philosophy. They teach us permanent moral principles that everyone must know obligatory. "Essays" has a list of helpful advice which did not lose its currency till today. His "Essays" are indebted to a number of sources, both literary and otherwise. Bacon was familiar with The Bible and took its teachings seriously. He was also familiar with many of the Greek and Latin classics, and his style was especially influenced by such writers as Seneca and Tacitus (rather than Cicero). Seneca and Tacitus favoured a kind of Writing often called "curt" (rudely brief). Cicero's writing, by contrast, was often long; complicated, and highly patterned. Phrases on the "curt" style were short; grammar was unconventional, and ideas often whizzed by quickly. Bacon liked lists, antithesis, and phrases involving three elements. Yet writers such as Tacitus and Seneca were only two significant influences on his style.

Bacon's wide reading of history allowed him to cite more recent examples to support his arguments. Thematically, Francis Bacon's Essays typically deal with Universal themes announced in their titles "Of Adversity", "Of Death" and "Of Beauty" are a few in which he used an Impersonal style when Philosophizing on these types of themes and avoided referencing his personal experiences. He often expressed his ideas in short, pithy phrases and intentionally avoided Grammar. He was also skilful at crafting a carefully balanced sentence structure using semicolons. His Essays are full of references to the classics.

Bacon has contributed to the development of the English prose when the bulk English prose was full of loose sentences of enormous length; he supplied at once short, crisp and firmly knit sentences of a type unfamiliar in English. He rejected the overcrowded imagery but knew how to light up his thoughts with well-placed figures. These essays are of endless interest and profit: The more one reads them, the more remarkable seem their compactness. According to Hugh Walker, Bacon took one of the longest steps overtaken in the evolution of the English prose style. It should be read slowly and thoughtfully, not for the style but because they are extremely condensed. Conciseness of expression and compactness are the most striking qualities of Bacon's style in his "Essays".

Bacon had a marvelous power of compressing his ideas in few words, which ordinary writers would express in several sentences, thus many of his sentences are like proverbs as mentioned. His “Essays" are full of illustrations, allusions and quotations. Some of these quotations are from Latin sources. He also gives us quotations from "The Bible". These allusions and quotations seem to serve his style more scholarly.

~Literpretation Team for Education

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