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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bacon’s Contribution to the Development of English Prose

Saturday, July 23, 2011 - 5 Comments

Question: Write a note on Bacon’s contribution to the development of English prose and indicate with suitable illustrations from some of his essays, the principal ingredients of his style.

Question: Write an essay on Bacon’s prose style, giving suitable illustrations.

Bacon made a valuable contribution to the development of English prose. Bacon did really great things in this sphere. When alliteration, antithesis, similes from “unnatural natural history” were the order of the day in English prose, Bacon showed that English was as capable as the classical languages of serving the highest purposes. He proved that it was possible in English also to express the subtleties of thought in clear, straightforward, and uninvolved sentences and, when necessary, to condense the greatest amount of meaning into the fewest possible words.
Bacon shows himself in his essays to be an accomplished rhetorician. He made for himself a style which was unmatchable for pith and pregnancy in the conveyance of his thoughts. When the bulk of English prose was being written in loose sentences of great length, he supplied at once a short, crisp, and firmly-knit sentence of a type which was quite unfamiliar in the English language. He rejected the conceits and overcrowded imagery o the euphuists, but he knew how to illumine his thought with suitable figures of speech, and give to it an imaginative glow and charm upon occasion. For the students of expression, Bacon’s essays are of endless interest and profit: the more one reads them, the more remarkable seem their compactness and their nervous vitality. They shock the sluggish attention of a reader into wakefulness as if by an electric current: and though they may sometimes fail to nourish, they can never fail to stimulate.
Emerson is the one modern writer with whom Bacon may be fairly compared, for their method is much the same. In each case, we have a store of trenchant and apparently disconnected sayings, where the writer tries to reach the reader’s mind by a series of aphoristic attacks. The best and most striking example of this kind of style in the essay called Of Expense. By comparing Bacon with his predecessors like Sidney and Lyly, we can see how widely he departed from the prolix methods of the time. In rhetorical power, musical cadence, quaint turns of speech, he was equalled by many of his contemporaries and was excelled by a few; but for clear, terse writing he has no equal except Ben Jonson, and even today his essays are models of succinct, lucid prose.
Bacon took one of the longest steps ever taken in the evolution of English prose. English prose was already rich and sonorous. Hooker and Releigh, still rank as two of the greatest stylists in English prose. While these two writers have majesty and strength, they did not command a style suited to all the purposes which prose has to serve. Their style was admirable for great themes and for moments of elevation, but not well-adapted to the pedestrian passages which must link such moments one to another. The sentences were inconveniently long and, even in the hands of the most skilful writers, were frequently involved and obscure. Parentheses were extremely common. The same is true of Bacon himself in his larger and more sustained works. But, in the essays, Bacon did set the example and furnish the model of condensed and lucid prose. The sentences are short; the grammatical structure is rarely ambiguous though it is sometimes loose with shortness came also flexibility. The new style of Bacon fitted itself as easily to buildings and gardens, or to suitors and ceremonies, as to death, adversity, and envy. It could be brought down to the familiarity of comparing money to muck, not good unless it be spread; and it could be raised to a comparison between movements of the human mind and the movements of the heavenly bodies.
Terseness of expressions and epigrammatic brevity are the most striking qualities of Bacon’s style in the essays. Bacon possessed a marvellous power of compressing into a few words an idea which ordinary writers would express in several sentences. Many of his sentences have an aphoristic quality. They are like proverbs which can readily be quoted when the occasion demands. Only Bacon could have written the following sentences which are the remarkable for their condensation and brevity:
(1) “Groans and convulsions, and a discoloured face, and friends weeping, and blacks, and obsequies and the like, show death terrible.” (Of Death)
(2) “A man would die, though he were neither valiant nor miserable, only upon a weariness to do the same thing so oft over and over.” (Of Death)
(3) “Death has this also; that it openeth the gate to good fame, and extinguisheth envy.” (Of Death)
(4) “Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes.” (Of Adversity)
(5) “Certainly virtue is like precious odours, most fragrant when they are incensed or crushed: for prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue.” (Of Adversity)
(6) “A man that hath no virtue in himself, ever envieth virtue in others.” (Of Envy)
(7) “They are as men fallen out with the time; and think other men’s harms a redemption of their own sufferings.” (Of Envy)

Bacon’s Essay on Unity in Religion

Question: Attempt a critical examination of the ideas in Bacon’s essay, On Unity in Religion, and add a note on its style.
Question: What views about the unity of religion does Bacon express in his essay on the subject and how far do you agree with him? What characteristics of Bacon’s style does the essay illustrate?

The validity of Bacon’s advice:
Bacon begins this essay by pointing out that religion is a binding force in society and that, for this reason, a particular religion should itself maintain its unity. The Christian Church, should accordingly preserve its unity, and should not permit quarrels and divisions. This is certainly a commendable piece of advice which Bacon offers to the followers of Christianity, but this advice is equally valid so far as other religions are concerned.

The harm done by schisms:
Bacon discusses the subject of unity in religion under three heads: the fruits of unity; the bounds or extent of unity, and the means of unity. Taking up the fruits of unity first, Bacon points out that heresies and schisms are the greatest scandals in the sphere of religion. Nothing keeps men out of the Church, and nothing drives men out of the Church, as much as a breach of unity does. There will be complete confusion in the minds of people if one man suggests that Christ should be sought in secret chambers. If a heathen hears Christians talking with several tongues, he will surely think them to be mad. If there are different sects in a religion and they all adopt different postures and attitudes, they will be enacting a kind of “Morris dance” mentioned by the French writer, Rabelais. The fruits of unity for those who believe in their Church are the blessings of peace leading to faith, charity, and piety.

Bacon’s wholesome plea for the avoidance of dissensions:
There is nothing in all this with which any one can quarrel. Unity in religion certainly has enormous advantages. Dissensions in religion are caused only by selfish persons who wish to come into prominence and who wish to grind their own axes Unfortunately there is no religion in the world without its sects. Not only Christianity but Hinduism, Islam and even Sikhism suffer from a multiplicity of sects. The result is that religion, instead of binding people together, has itself become a divisive force.

Fundamental points, and points merely of form and practice:
There are some fanatics, says Bacon, who are not at all interested in peace but who believe in partisanship and conflict. And then there are some lukewarm persons with no true religious meal, who believe in accommodating all points of view in religion and steering the middle course. According to Bacon, both these extremes are to be avoided. It is necessary that fundamental points of religion should be distinguished from points merely of form and practice. In matters of fundamental importance in religion, there should be no divergence of opinion. But differences of opinion in matters of detail or in matters which are trivial do not cause much harm to the cause of religion.

Bacon’s solution to religious strife:
According to Bacon, there is no room for controversy as to the first principles of theology. The basic doctrines of the Church should not be questioned by human reason. Human reason may be employed in deducing what is involved in the text of Scripture, but human reasoning is not to be given the same authority and importance as the positive declarations of Scripture. In other words, Bacon allows to the individuals a certain freedom of judgment, but this freedom must remain subservient to the express words of Bible. It is to be kept in mind that Bacon wrote this essay at a time when Europe was torn by religious division—first between Catholics and Protestants, and then between the various sects of Protestantism itself. Bacon’s solution to religious strife within the same religion is that a distinction should be made between basic issues and subsidiary issues. There should be unity in the basic tenets of religion, while differences may be permitted and tolerated in matters of ritual and Church organisation. Christians, says Bacon, must agree upon essential points. Luke warmness with regard to essential points is unpardonable. But a variety of opinion upon inessential points is permissible. Thus, different forms of Church government and different forms of worship are tolerable because no definite rule with regard to these has been laid down in the Bible. The solution offered by Bacon is not only sensible but practical and feasible. There is nothing quixotic about it.

The seamless coat of Christ:
Bacon illustrates this particular view with reference to Christ’s coat. Christ’s coat was entire; it was seamless and therefore indivisible. The same is the case with the doctrine of Scripture in itself. But the garment of the Queen, who represents the Church, was of various colours. This means that diversity as to matters of detail can be tolerated. The seamless coat of Christ symbolizes the unity of the Church as to essential points. The multicoloured garment of the Church symbolizes the legitimate variety of opinion and practice in minor matters. Bacon’s illustration is so vivid and convincing that no room for doubt is left in the minds of readers.
Artificial unity resulting from ignorance:
Bacon also points out the sad consequence. People may agree in a religious belief simply because the inconsistency of inadequacy of it is not apparent to themselves. a uniformity of this kind is of no value.

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