Aphoristic Style of Francis Bacon -- Illustrations from the Essays


 Terseness of expression and epigrammatic brevity are the most obvious characteristics of Bacon’s style

 In matter of style Francis Bacon is professedly a Senecan. Though Cicero was the acknowledged master of Renaissance prose, Bacon realized that intricate effects of the ornate copious style that characterized Cicero could not be fully realized in the English language. So far, the great defect in English prose had been its prolixity and diffuseness. Bacon put an end to this. He preferred a probative authenticity of an aphoristic prose style. His prose is characterized by brief, pithy sentence units. His language has the terseness of expression and epigrammatic shortness. Indeed, Bacon comes very close to the Lypsian brevity. The concept of brevity which affected Lypsius certainly influenced Bacon and accordingly brevity is the soul of Bacon’s essay. It is because of a cryptic compression in Bacon’s style that he is described by Joseph Hall as the English Seneca. His essays show some of the finest feats of compression.
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For example:
“Studies serve for delight, for ornament and for ability”.
                                                                         of Studies
“To use too many circumstances, ere one come to the matter, is wearisome, to use none at all, is Blunt”
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                                                                 of  Discourse

           
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Like Emerson, the modern American writer, Bacon has the same style of a series of trenchant and apparently disconnected sayings where the writer endeavours to reach the reader’s mind by a series of aphoristic attacks. Let us take an example from Of Studies where he says, “They (studies) perfect Nature, and are perfected by experience; For Natural Abilities, are like Natural plants, that need pruning by studies. And studies themselves, doe give forth Directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience”.
-          This sentence is structurally senecan in its crisp easily separated units; also in the
fact that it is not periodic, but states its main paint at the beginning, and then upbeats, or expands it.

Bacon’s aphorisms are the most quotable among the English writers. A large number of his observations have become proverbial and popular household commonplaces. Examples readily come to mind:
Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; writing an exact man”    

Of Studies
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested”.Of Studies

“He that questioned much, shall learne much, and content much.”Of discourse.
                                                                           

Similar examples reality come to mind from Bacon’s other essays too. For example in Of Death Bacon says: 
“Revenge Triumphy over death; love slights it; Honour as pireth to it; Gruief Flieth to it; Fear preoccupateth it”.
                                                            Or
In of Praise Bacon says in neatly compressed sentence:
            “ Praise is the reflection of the virtue. But it is the reflection glass or body which giveth the reflection”.

Though Bacon rejected the copious style, quite paradoxically he is a rhetorical writer. Macaulay says “though Bacon did not arm his philosophy with the weapons of logic, he adorned her profusely with all decoration of rhetoric. His eloquence …….. would have entitled him to a high place”. In his essays Bacon had taken ample resort to certain rhetorical devices in order to establish his points. Of these devices, similes, metaphors and climaxes abound in his texts.

In of Studies he compares our natural abilities to the growth of a plant. As a plant need pruning, our natural qualities are to be decorated by studies. In of Discourse the talkative ‘posers’ are beautifully compared to the tedious gay dancers. Such examples can easily be multiplied.

Saintsbury is rather critical on Bacon and says, “that he dazzles, amuses, half-delusively suggests, stimulates, provokes, lures on, much more than he proves, edifies, instructs, satisfies, is indeed perfectly true”. L.C. Knights also finds fault with Bacon for his allegedly stolid unimaginative use of the English language. We may wish to disagree these paints. Basically, no doubt, Bacon evolves an expansive style because his purpose requires it; but he can also use ampler structure to display the finer beauties of the English language. Thus, such aphorism is the result of Bacon’s brevity which meant to create a clarifying, penetrating impact upon the readers.  


 

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