The Writing Style of Francis Bacon
In the history of the great Elizabethan age, the name of Francis Bacon stands out remarkably. He was famous as a great politician, but he was, perhaps, more famous as a man of letters and science. He is the most quotable writer in the world. Today he is known chiefly as a man of letters, as a great intellectualist, and he is given a high position in the history of English literature, particularly of English prose. Actually, Bacon’s importance is evident in the zone of English essays.
He is characterized as the “father of English essays” which is undoubtedly true. His essays are remarkable for their brevity. His way of writing essays shares a number of qualities with that of Elizabethan and Jacobean writers. His essays show how a diverting study can be formed from some loose sally of thoughts. His wonderful literary flights, his precise and pointed observations and his originality of presentation have given his essays a uniqueness. This unparalleled quality has proved inspiring even for the modern world. Although Bacon’s essays are not strictly personal, they bear a note of familiarity and a good deal of personal reflections. These essays show that his importance is indisputable.
Bacon’s greatest contribution is his influence on the formation of a powerful prose style in English literature. He deserves the honor of the pioneer for his prose style. The simplicity and the force, which are evident in the modern English prose style, are certainly due to him. Bacon’s style of prose writing proves that English can also be used to express fine thoughts in simple sentences. His sentences are short and rapid but very powerful and influential. Though Bacon is popularly known for his prose style, he has contributed to the materialistic and socio-economic thoughts of his age through his writings. The materialistic writings of subsequent ages are found much indebted to him in this respect. He was actually influenced by the socio-economic condition and materialistic attitude of the English society. These things have been portrayed through his pen.
Bacon’s writing has been admired for various reasons. Some admire his dazzling power of rhetoric, others his grace, and yet others find him too stiff and rigid. But all admit that he is one of the greatest writers of English prose of his age.
The value and significance of a work of literature derives from its two basic aspects- subjects and style. Bacon in his “Essays”, took all knowledge as his province. The range of his subjects is vast. But all of them have relevance to man and the world in which he lives. The style matches the aim of the writer. The vast knowledge finds expression in Bacon’s style as well in the innumerable allusions and quotations. Bacon uses figurative language to convince the readers.
Bacon’s essays encompass a wide range of subjects. In most of the essays, he deals with man in relation to the world and society. All his essays for kings and statesmen come under this heading, as well as the essays such as “Of Friendship”, “Of Revenge”, “Of Marriage and Single Life”, “Of Parents and Children” and so on. A glance through the essays is enough to say that Bacon’s essays are full of human interest and deal with what man is and what he does.
The style of Bacon remains for the main part aphoristic, with the result that he is one of the most quotable of writers. There is an epigrammatic brevity in the essays of Bacon. His sentences are brief and rapid, but they are also forceful. His sentences have the power of compressing an idea into a few words which other writers may express in several sentences. The essays of Bacon in fact have to be read slowly because of the compact and condensed thought. There are a number of sentences which are read like proverbs. Examples easily jump to one’s mind:
A lie faces God and shrinks from man. (Of Truth)
The ways to enrich are many, and most of them foul. (Of Riches)
Bacon has the habit of weighing the pros and cons of every question that he deals with. When he makes a statement, he almost immediately counter-balances it. He scrupulously presents the advantages and the disadvantages of a particular issue; he gives both sides of the picture. Sometimes he draws definite conclusions after balancing the issues, but most of the time the reader is left to draw his own conclusion.
Though Bacon’s style is heavy with learning, yet it is more flexible than any of his predecessors and contemporaries. The sentences are short with this softness and lucidity. The grammatical structure is sometimes loose, but the sense is rarely ambiguous. There is no humor in Bacon’s essays, but there is ample of wit. He is a master of the skillful use of words. Practical wisdom insight packs each sentence. A load of meaning is compressed into the short space of a sentence. These short, crisp, pithy sayings have become famous as quotations:
“For there is no such flatterer as is a man’s self” (Of Friendship)
“He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune” (Of Marriage and Single Life)
“Revenge is a kind of wild justice” (Of Revenge)
All these striking thoughts are communicated in an authoritative manner.
Bacon’s Essays is a handbook of practical wisdom, and reflects the author’s wide experience of human nature, conduct and state affairs. He writes for a serious purpose; hence his tone is appropriately serious and dignified. The allusions, the quotations, the images are woven into the idea to be expressed. His essays are the proof of his strength of mind and intellect. They are deeper and more discriminating than any earlier work in the English language. Full of profound observations, carefully sorted and selected, and mature, they exhibit a remarkable sagacity and insight.
Bacon’s position among the greatest writers of the English essay cannot be minimized. He showed for the first time that English was as capable as Greek or Latin of serving the highest purpose of language. He showed that it was possible in English also to express the inner thoughts in clear, straight-forward, and uninvolved sentences. The style evolved by Bacon was also flexible enough to fit a variety of topics. He brought to the English language brevity and crispness of expression. Indeed, judged from the point of view of scholarly genius, Bacon is one of the greatest of English essayists.