Francis Bacon : Contribution to Non-Fictional Prose

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      Francis Bacon (1561-1626) belonged to the Elizabethan age and was the greatest writer of non-fictional prose. The position of Bacon in the development of English prose is peculiar and interesting. Bacon wrote philosophical works in Latin. His English prose writings are Essays, Advancement of Learning, History of Henry VII and his unfinished novel New Atlantis. It is by his essays that Bacon proved himself a master of English prose. Bacon wrote as many as fifty eight essays. His essays are short and pithy. The titles of his essays testify to his moral purpose - Of Travel, Of Friendship, Of Studies, Of Riches, Of Ambition, Of Truth, Of Nobility etc. He wrote essays with the deliberate purpose of teaching young men of the time who wanted self-realisation in life. His thoughts are empirical and pragmatic. He wanted that young men should make the best use of studies and travels and have the practical attitude to life.

Francis Bacon's prose style is characterised by brevity, vividness and terseness. There is a rich combination of concreteness, vividness, clarity, control and force. His essays are counsels written in brief and antithetical and epigrammatic sentences. He called his essays 'detached meditations'.
Francis Bacon

      Bacon's prose style is characterised by brevity, vividness and terseness. There is a rich combination of concreteness, vividness, clarity, control and force. His essays are counsels written in brief and antithetical and epigrammatic sentences. He called his essays 'detached meditations'.

      The position of Francis Bacon in the development of English prose is authentic and interesting to note. It has been said by a historian of English literature, "it is in spite of himself that Bacon ranks among English prose writers." Bacon wrote his earlier philosophical work in Latin for it was his conviction that "these modern languages will at one time or other play the bankrowtes (bankrupts) with books." His capital work Instauratio Magna is written in Latin. In this respect he followed the tradition of the Renascence scholar Thomas More who wrote his famous Utopia (meaning Nowhere) in Latin. But more than a hundred years has passed since the days of More and every species of literature had been exemplified in the national literature. Bacon, it must be said, is quite unfair to his mother tongue. Yet when he took to writing English prose, he became easily one of the first prose-writers of his country.

      Bacon's English prose writings comprise his Essays, Advancement of Learning, History of Henry VII and his unfinished novel New Atlantis. It is by his Essays that Bacon proved himself a great master of English prose. His essays are modelled on the essays of Montaigne, the French philosopher. His essays appeared first in 1597. They have a wide variety of themes. His essays include Of Truth, Of Studies, Of Ambition, Of Love, Of Travel, Of Adversity, Of Envy. He called his essays "detached meditations" they are brief and pithy. His essays are counsels of a shrewd man of the world meant for the young men who wanted complete self-realisation. He was an Elizabethan in his prose style, having eye for the literary possibilities of the spoken idiom' and often made use of 'pithy comparisons' typical of Elizabethan English. But he made guarded use of these.

      It would be truer to say that Bacon occupies in prose style a position somewhere between the irregular vitality and exuberance of the typical Elizabethan and the late seventeenth century bare style of Dryden and Locke. Bacon improves upon his successors in the direction of order, discipline, argumentation and precision. His style is an appeal to reason rather than emotion, though in some cases (e.g when he speaks of religion or science), his style is strongly coloured with feeling. There is a rich combination of concreteness, vividness, clarity, control and force It would therefore be wrong to say that he always writes in a cool and detached manner. Brevity and condensation is a strong point of his style. Some of his sentences have become well-known aphorisms. In short, "it is the prose of a philosopher writing in a great age of English poetry." Historically, his Essays are the first classics of English prose. They are used as class-books almost as much as Shakespeare's plays, wherever English is taught.

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