Introduction: Bacon’s fame as a writer depends most of all on the fact that he is the father of modern English prose. He evolved a prose style that proved for the first time that English could also be used to express the subtleties of thought, in clear and uninvolved sentences.
The critics have noticed that there is a marked difference between Bacon’s earlier and later essays. Macaulay, contrasting extracts from of Studies (1597) and Of Adversity (1625) illustrates what he calls the two styles of Bacon.
It is true that there is a vast difference between the styles of Bacon. But it is rather questionable whether this difference could be attributed to the fact that Bacon had gained a maturity of mind and intellect. Bacon wrote in more than one style. The stately movement of The Advancement of Learning and Of Adversity has been achieved in 1605 itself. Does that mean that Bacon had achieved maturity of mind and imagination in eight years? This is not convincing. The explanation lies in the fact that Bacon’s very conception of the essay underwent a change. Bacon described his essays as “Dispersed Meditations”. The first collection of essays is fully illustrative of Bacon’s definition of the essay as dispersed meditations set down significantly rather than curiously. The original idea was to make the essays into a sort of diary in which significant observations on various topics of practical importance. His essays were jotted down in a terse and pithy and concise language. His first essays were a mere skeleton of thought, grouped around central themes with suitable titles. There was no attempt polishing the style or clothing the statements with literary beauty or imaginative grace. When, however, Bacon saw that his essays had gained an unexpected popularity, he thought that it was worth while polishing them and making them richer. These essays are very brief in length. The ideas have not been developed. The sentences are all crisp, short and sententious. Each sentence stands by itself. There is so much of condensation that each sentence can easily be expanded into a paragraph. That is to say that one single sentence does the job of a paragraph.
Essays not quite dispersed meditations: It would, however, be a mistake to call all the essays of Bacon “Dispersed Meditations”. There are some which have received at his hand, a rather detailed treatment and which cannot be termed as “Sketchy”. In these essays, Bacon finds room for conjunctions and connective clauses. Ideas are not left underdeveloped and transitions from one thought to another are not so abrupt. In Of Friendship, there is a logical approach in the enumeration of the principle fruits of friendship. Each advantage is properly handled and ideas are developed smoothly. There is not that abrupt transition of thought that characterized some of Bacon’s other essays. Of Empire can be said to contain almost exhaustive treatment of the dangers that beset a king in those days. In Of Seditions and Troubles, there is a quite closely reasoned and connected account of the causes and remedies of discontentment and agitation that may fester and burst out into trouble for the country. Aphoristic sentences are found in these essays too, but attention has been given to other factors as well.
Aphoristic style of Bacon: An aphoristic style means a compact, condensed and epigrammatic style of writing. Bacon’s writing has been admired for various reasons. Some have admired them for dazzling rhetoric, others his grace. In Bacon we find a style which is distinct and at the same time characteristic of his age. His style includes various qualities. Firstly, he remains the best aphoristic, so he stands the most quotable writer. There is terseness of expression and epigrammatic brevity, in the essays of Bacon. His sentences are brief and rapid, but they are also forceful. As Dean Church says, “They come down like the strokes of a hammer.” The force of aphoristic style depends on other stylistic qualities which supplement it. He weighs the pros and cons of a statement and immediately counter-balances it. (Give examples from the above the extracts).
A Rhetorician: Bacon’s style is definitely rhetorical. In this connection, Saintsbury has remarked that no one, “knows better than —- (Bacon) how to leave a single word to produce all its effects by using it in some slightly uncommon sense. He has great powers of attracting and persuading his readers even though he may not convince them. In prose rhetoric, in the use, that is to say, of language to dazzle and persuade, not to convince. He has few rivals and no superiors in English.” There is a constant use of imagery and analogy in Bacon’s essays. The apt and extensive use of metaphors, images, similitudes and analogies is in keeping with the view of the rhetoricians of the ancient as well as of the Renaissance. Bacon draws his imagery from the familiar objects o nature, or from the facts of every day life.
His Allusions and Quotations:The essay bear witness to Bacon’s learned mind in the extensive use of quotations and allusions drawn from various sources, classical fables, the Bible, History, the ancient Greek and the Roman writers. Of Truth includes Pilate, Lucian and Montaigne, In Of Great Place; we have Tacitus, Galba and Vespacian, and Of Friendship includes reference to Aristotle. Thus Bacon employs allusions to and quotations in order to explain his point. They serve to make his style more scholarly and enrich it while lending to his ideas. Though, his style is heavy with learning, yet it is more flexible than any of his predecessors and contemporaries. His sentences are short and with this shortness comes lucidity of expression. Thus he shows mastery of the principles of prose. There almost no humor in Bacon’s essays, but his essays are packed with astounding wit.
Conclusion:The style of Bacon is not the personal and chatty style of the subjective essayist like Montaigne and Lamb. It is dignified and aphoristic style. He was indeed a consummate artist who polished and chiseled his expressions and who could change his style to suit to his subject.
BACON AS A PROSE STYLIST
It has been observed by a critic that,
The quality of strength in bacons style is intellectual rather than emotional
Indeed the secret of Bacons strength lies in his conciseness. Hardly any writer, ancient or modern, has succeeded in compressing so much meaning within so short a compass; several of essays- e.g. those on studies and negotiating- are marvels of condensation. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Bacons style is that no one can stay indifferent to it. In other words, as a prose writer, he has either ardent admirers or passionate detractors. And, it is interesting to note that both these extreme positions are occasioned by the very same properties of his style. Bacon ushered in the modern era of writing English prose. F.G Selby says that,
The part of Bacons influence is of course due to the charm of his style
To be sure, there is a marked difference in the style of his earlier essays and that of his later ones. But, the important fact is that the difference is one of approach and not one of technique. In the beginning, Bacon thought the essay to be nothing more than a diary of dispersed meditations. Therefore, the earlier essays are terse and pithy jottings of his observations on domestic, political, intellectual, moral, religious and social issue. As a result, the discerning reader can see that these essays are mere skeletons of thought grouped around a single theme. Of Studies belongs to this category. In this essay, we see how Bacon has a quick, chatty way of writing---almost as if he were talking to himself:
Crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them
It must be noted that the same aphoristic character of the diction is to be found in his later essays. The difference is that, with the passage of time, Bacon toned the rapier-sharp rhythm of his sentences. This is because he perceived that his rapidly growing reading public was made up of people having varying reading tastes and skills. Let us compare the rhythm of above quoted lines with that of passage taken from Of Adversity, which is one of his later essays:
We see in needle works and embroideries, it is more pleasing to have a lively work upon sad, solemn ground, than to have a dark and melancholy work upon a lightsome ground
The brilliant rhetoric is the same in both the passages. So it is the pithiness and the terse virgour. Even Bacons predilection for juxtaposition of thesis and antithesis is seen in both instances. The main difference is that the first passage is so constructed that Dean Church was moved to say that the words
come down like the stroke of hammer
On the contrary, the second passage flows harmoniously more like a melody than like a beat. In his earlier days, Bacon achieved terseness in his style by leaving out superfluous epithets, conjunctions and connectives. Later he aimed more towards crafting balanced sentences which consisted of two parts. The first part would be a statement and second would be an explanatory analogy. For example:
He that hath wife and child hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises either of virtue or mischief
Bacons sentences are more modern in their structure than those of other Elizabethans prose writers- being more pointed and less involved. Even his more intricate sentences are so carefully constructed and so free from inversions that meaning is not difficult to catch. The essays, in particular, are remarkable for balance and point as might naturally be expected from their aphoristic style. This is really strange when we consider the fact that he also wrote sentences like this:
A lie faces God and shrinks from man
The ways to enrich are many, and most of them foul
It is true that his cavalier attitude towards grammar is clearly visible in the second sentence. But, most people would agree that they have no problem in understanding what the writer has to say. It must be borne in mind that in Bacons age, little attention was given to the logical division of a subject into paragraphs. One of the most pleasurable aspects in Bacons style is his use of imagery and analogy. Consider his denunciation of pride in Of Vainglory:
The fly sat upon the axle-tree of the chariot wheel said,
What a dust do I raise?
The above discussion makes it clear that Bacon did not have two styles of writing. Rather, it can be said that it was the same style which he applied in different ways as and when the situation demanded. Certainly, this is only one of reasons why his admirers claim to be one of the greatest prose stylists in English Language.