Francis Bacon - Pragmatic Essayist and Renaissance man

  • Of The Renaissance Spirit    
  • As An Opportunist   
  • As A Pragmatic Essayist    
  • As A Utilitarian Philosopher
FRANCIS BACON  , LORD VERULAM, AND VISCOUNT ST. ALBAN'S (1561-1626)  the man is the product of Renaissance. Man’s glory, generous or tense, his opportunities of mind and body, his eyes rolling across the subtle and magnificence of the world his joy in learning, discovering, weighing – creating all these as it existed in Bacon’s mind, Essays (counsels: Civil and Moral) exhibits a practical value in life. Bacon’s essays are counsels and are designed for the practical benefits of man and not for his emotional or imaginative development. This utilitarian attitude is most evident in his 59 essays. 
The revival of learning, the study of humanism, the reformist zeal, the note of nationalism, the pursuit of discovery spread of printing – these multifarious influences of the Renaissance has its impact on literature. Imagination is replaced by realism. Fiction and falsity give way to fact and truth. Exaggeration is no longer indulged in. artificiality is substituted by naturalness. Reason prevails over credulity and blind faith. Search for truth or scientific inquiry is the dominant feature. Fanaticism stops in the hand of liberty. In short, literature begins to convey facts. These new tendencies are evident in every poet and prose writer of merit in the Elizabethan period and Bacon is no exception in this regard. Bacon is the master of utilitarian principles."The intellect of Bacon was one of the most powerful and searching ever possessed by man, and his developments of the inductive philosophy revolutionised the future thought of the human race."( A SHORT BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE BY JOHN. W. COUSIN  

Rightly so, Bacon’s essays are the art of success among men. He comes out as a moralist, the statesman and the man of the world and his Essays are the treasures of wisdom arising from the universal insight into the affairs of the world. There is a blend of deep wisdom and practical shrewdness with satire and meditative eloquence. Bacon expresses his views in the form of antithesis. It is the outcome of his mental habit fastened by his practice in the courts. His essays remain force compendium of practical philosophy. There is found wit, keen observation, graver or clever mundane judgments.

Even a cursory glance at the essays will bear the truth of the above statement. His 59 essays covering varied range of topics exhibit his in-depth knowledge, ideas and perception on variegated aspects of human life. In fact bacon was versatile man of genius - a philosopher scientist, literary scholar, statesman, lawyer, and above all a practical man of the world.His Essays convey profound and condensed thought in a style that is at once clear and rich and bear his worthy identity.

Roughly Bacon's essays can be grouped in three categories-- essays in relation to the world and society, essays in relation to individualism and essays in relation to his makers i.e. God or Nature. The first group that evaluates the relationship of mankind to the physical world and their mutual relations includes Of Seditions and Troubles, Of Great Place, Of Discourse, Of Judicature, Of Suitors, Of Gardens etc.

The second group describing man in his intellectual and moral relations with others covers essays like: Of Parents and Children, Of Marriage , Of Envy, Of Love, Of Travel, Of Friendship, Of Health, Of Custom and Education, Of Followers and Friends, Of  Studies, Of Ceremonies and RespectsOf Honor and Reputation, Of Fame etc.
Man's relationship with his maker and the unseen world is primary focus in the third group that include essays like: Of Death, Of Unity in Religion, Of Goodness and Goodness of Nature, Of Atheism, Of Superstition, Of Wisdom for a Man’s Self, Of Nature in Men etc. But grouping is more pedantic while each of the essays of Bacon marks interrelated studies and views.

Nonetheless, I can not resist myself from quoting Bacon's famous two essays,Of Studies and Of Discourse . Here Bacon is a champion of learning . In Of Studies Bacon means not mere act of studying but the results that follow systematic and long practiced habits of study viz. education and culture. Bacon points out the utility and method of study, and enumerates the practical benefits to be derived from the study of different subjects. With an astonishing freshness of illustration Bacon points out the key use of studies – a) delight in privacy b) ornament in society, and c) ability in practical business. Bacon puts cautions on the disadvantages of studies. Spending too much time in them, says Bacon is sloth whereas the superfluous display of learning is affectations. Being too much guided by them and thus separating studies from practical use is the humour of a scholar. Bacon the guide provides certain rules for study. Firstly books are to be weighed and considered. Again books are to be read according to its importance – in parts, without much care, wholly with careful attention, through summaries prepared by deputies. Bacon includes reading, conference and writing in his studies to acquire knowledge, to gain wit and readiness, to learn exactness and accuracy respectively. Bacon values different modes of studies according to make wise use of them. He prefers history to foster wisdom, poetry to foster wit, mathematics to foster subtlety, natural philosophy to foster depth, moral philosophy to foster gravity, logic and Rhetoric to foster the capacity of debate and argument. His pragmatic attitude is also evident in his final observation that specific studies should be pursued in order to cure specific inefficiencies of mind, just as medicines are taken to cure certain diseases of the body.

Bacon’s other essay Of Discourse prioritizes a practical Baconian guide to fluent, flowing, graceful and effective communication which would definitely enrich the course of living. Bacon prescribes certain guidelines to improve oratory to be utilized in the practical course of life. He denounces the superfluous, showy and jaded argument and welcomes thoughtful, fact oriented, earnest, witty added with humourous touch in our discourse. Bacon finds conversation an occasion where none is severely hurt, rather it should be amusing and a portrayal of the personae of the speaker. According to Bacon running a conversation is like riding a horse which needs both the speed and control. Like a utilitarian guide Bacon advises to speak seldom carrying value or weight in them. Further Bacon adds that the speaker should yield virtue in them and a person ‘satyricall’ in ‘vaine’ should aware himself of other’s wit. He again stresses the proportionate use of ‘circumstances’ and ‘matter’ so that oration never comes to be wearisome or blunt.

Bacon's keen interest on church, religion and morality is evident in his essays like Of Truth, Of Superstitions  , Of Atheism, Of unity of Religion, Of Goodness, Of Innovation etc . His deep and earnest interest in ecclesiastical matters, moral and ethical values are evident in these pieces. For Example,In his Of unity of Religion he strikes a point of view which is still relevant in our days of religious fanaticism. Commenting on the religious tolerance and humanism Bacon says,"Religion being the chief band of human society, is a happy thing, when itself is well contained within the true band of unity." 

Bacon's politic and statesmanship is quite vivid in Of Great Place, Of Nobility, Of Sedition, Of Troubles, Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Estates etc. The intrigues, tricks , cunning , internal politics of favours and ins and outs of courtly life are also gone through his scrutiny. His acute observation on related judiciary system and corruption rampant among clerks and clients of lawyers are arguably stated in Of Judicature, Of Suitors etc. We cant miss this fine lines from Of Judicature where Bacon says,"Judges ought to remember, that their office is jus dicere, and not jus dare; to interpret law, and not to make law, or give law."

Of domestic relations  Of RevengeOf Parents and Children, Of Marriage and Single Life, Of Envy, Of LoveOf Friendship etc are consummate mastery of Bacon. Bacon describes wife and children as 'hostage to fortune; impediments to great enterprises either of virtue or mischief.' He does not appreciate marriage and ignores the bliss of emotional unity. He says," Unmarried men are best friends, best masters, best servants; but not always best subjects; for they are light to run away; and almost all fugitives, are of that condition".

Of Bacon as Renaissance scholar and philosopher we can only say that he is one of founders of modern systematic as well as didactic thought. Studies encourage rationality and sound discourse assimilates culture as well as political base. Naturally his essays primarily serve a utilitarian purpose. They become the treasure of wisdom arising from the universal insight into the affairs of the world.