AD's English Literature : Rhetorical devices as used by Francis Bacon in his Essays

Rhetorical devices as used by Francis Bacon in his Essays

Francis Bacon in his writing Essays rather drives at a masculine and clear expression than at any fineness or affectation phrases. He rejects the flowing, ornate and copious Ciceronian style and follows the mode of Lypsian brevity and the cryptic aphoristic Senecan sentence structure. Despite this quite paradoxically Bacon is a rhetorical writer and his Essays are marked by the general ornateness, the fondness of imagery, the love of analogy and metaphor, which are so much in the taste of the time. It is also very highly Latinized. But it’s most important characteristics are its marvelous terseness and epigrammatic force. Here is an unparalleled power of packing his thoughts into the smallest possible space. Here is ‘infinite riches in a little room’. We will now try to access the rhetorical devices as employed in the two essays  – of studies & of Discourse.

In of Studies there is mainly similes and metaphors used to simplify his ideas into more detailed and analytical way. Here we can verify a few of the exquisite examples-

            In order to elaborate his point that natural abilities need to be trimmed and bounded by study, Bacon makes use of a simile, which very aptly emphasizes his point:
    “…………. For natural abilities are like natural plants that need proyning by study.”

Through an exquisite simile drawn for Botany he compares human mind to a growing plant. As the growing plants needs to be pruned and watered and manured for optimum development, the new growing conscience of us are to be tutored, mounded, oriented and devised by studies. Our natural abilities which might lead to savagery need to be trimmed by study for the healthy growth of the personality.

In order to emphasize his idea that abridged or summarized versions of books, however, necessary in some cases, ultimately lacks the charm or taste of reading Bacon makes another simile: “…… distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things”.

In of Discourse also Bacon freely resorts to the use of simile. For instance, in order to suggest how to avoid ‘poser’ who constantly questions and does not allow seeking others, in the conversation, Bacon writes:
            “Nay, if there be any, that would reign and take up all the time, let him finde meanes to take them off, and to bring others on; As musicians use to doe, with those, that dance too long Galiards”. 

There are some who are talkative and are eager to preside the discourse. Bacon gives them a treat of faster music which will dislodge their dance rhythm. Simply, Bacon here means to say that as Musicians mars the tedious gay dancers by wrong tunes, the talkative ‘posers’ should be sidelined by tricks.

 Again in the very concluding part of Discourse we find another simile where discretion of speech is termed not only eloquent, but also quick and accurate as it is be twist the greyhound and the hare: “….. As we see in Beasts, that those that are weakest in the course are yet nimblest in the turne; as it is betwixt the Greyhound and the Hare.”

In Of Studies Bacon uses another befitting metaphor where learned men are compared to Marshal because like a Marshal’s management of his army in the battlefield, learned men plan and proceed the general problems of life: “……… and to the plots and marshaling of affairs come best from those that are learned”.

 In Of Discourse Bacon gives another exquisite example of metaphor: 
“spare the spur, boy and use the reins more strongly”.
According to Bacon, running a conversation is alike riding a horse which needs both the speed and control. Wit is like spur, a sharp pointed object that the riders sometimes wear on the heels of their boots and use to encourage their horse to go faster. In an argument we should exercise the reins in order to control the galloping horse of speech rather than run it wildly.

Both Of Studies and Of Discourse thus have excellent examples of Bacon’s other rhetorical devices. We can add a few examples of climaxes – a Senecan device of partitio though typically Baconian in which an idea is first stated and then systematically explored and developed for the sake of emphasis:
            “Studies serve for Delight, for ornament and for Ability”.
                                               Of Studies
            “Some books are to be tasted others to be swallowed, some few to be chewed and digested”.
                                              Of Studies
Epigram: Abeunt studia in Mores (Studies build character)       
                                            Of Studies

We can also quote an example of antithesis-    
“To use too many circumstances, ere one come to the matters is wearisome; To use none at all is Blunt”.
                                         Of Discourse
Such examples can easily be multiplied.

In conclusion, we can say that Bacon has the prose rhetoric that has few rivals and no superiors in English. We also appreciate what George Saintsbury says in his A short History of English Literature -“Whether Bacon was really ‘deep’ either in knowledge or in thought, has been disputed; but he was certainly one of the greatest rhetoricians, in the full and varied sense of rhetoric, that ever lived”.

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