(A) DEVELOPMENT OF ENGLISH PROSE UPTO BACON’S TIME
The English prose of Alfred’s days differs radically in its linguistic structure from the English of the 1.
4th century It has, therefore, little direct influence upon the development of the new literary prose. Alfred and his contemporaries had fashioned a prose which was wonderfully flexible. According to the nature of the subject treated it was either conversational and intimate in tone or sonorous and periodic in expression. The prose of the 14th century consists mostly of translation from Latin and French devotional writings and homilies. They aim more at the edification of the common people than at style. The writers had no conception of the function of the sentence This defect persisted as late as the end of the fifteenth century. Malory’s Morted Arthur illustrates this defect, admirably. It is a quick moving narrative translated and “adopted” from the French. It reveals the author’s bold intention of fashioning a prose style from the ordinary speech of his time. Hi often achieved a striking rhythm. But it is clear that he often tried to make his sentences convey far too much. His prose is rough hewn from the common speech and has not yet developed into an art-form.
The Elizabethans had a genius for poetry and drama but their prose is often intolerable. They enriched the language by adding to its vocabulary many new words and phrases. But some of their prose is heavy, pompous and undisciplined. This pomp and their indiscipline are one product of a quest of persuasiveness. They occur chiefly in the works of those who sought to achieve their object by writing periodic prose in the manner of
. Other peculiarities mark the work of those who tried to achieve it by writing what is called euphuistic prose. This was a style John Lily made fashionable. Hooker modelled his style on the structure of the Ciceronian periods. His style is a typical example of the way in which the educated Englishman of the day under the influence of the Renaissance were trying to give to English prose the clarity, the massive dignity and rhythm of the choice of classical Latin. Latin construction sometimes plays havoc with the sentences. The style now and then has “a monstrous beauty, like the hind quarters of an elephant.” It is unfit for tine discussion of the ordinary affairs of life. Hooker has sought to please his conteniporaries by trying to make English prose as pliant, rich and dignified as Latin prose. But he has often sacrificed the two important essentials of good style i.e. perspicuity and appropriateness. Cicero
Lyly was a conscious and skilful artist and introduced euphistic prose. The distinctive feature of Euphuism are the courtly affectation of smart sayings, epigram and antithesis. In each sentence he tried to achieve balance, rhythm and perspicuity by neatly pointed antitheses and parallel construction But the resulting effect is generally unspeakably artificial and tedious to the modern ear. He tried to give to English prose a definite and obvious brilliance by his peculiar method of writing. It must be said that Lyly hit upon a fundamental aesthetic principle when he devised a prose style that was distinct from colloquial speech. He sought to satisfy the Englishman’s desire “to hear a finer speech than the language will allow.” But in this quest of persuasiveness he often sacrified the virtue of appropriateness.
Bacon’s Essays, much of the prose in Shakespeare and the Authorised Version of the Bible show the evolution of a prose style that combines dignity and rhythm with simplicity of expression. Bacon’s writing is the distillation of many manners of prose writing up to 1602. The two main defects of English prose were unwieldiness and a tendency to “find writing”. Bacon is the first scientific philosopher to write English in a clean, and terse style. The Essays have a note of authority about them. There is in his writing pithiness and relevance that hitherto had rarely been found in prose. But despite the brevity of his utterance, Bacon was Elizabethan in his power of imaginative suggestiveness. In their final form the essays are illumined with beautiful and moving imagery. Bacon’s prose seems at times to lack appropriateness. He uses the same idiom and the same rhythm in his essays on ‘Death’ or ‘Truth’ and in his essays on trivial themes such as ‘Travel’, and ‘Masques and Triumphs’. The Authorised version of the Bible of 1611 is a production that towers above anything hitherto done in English prose. It is simple and concrete in language, rich and graphic in imagery and possesses supreme lyrical power. It yields its meaning with the utmost ease and directness. Bacon’s Essays and the Authorised version of the Bible helped to show to the writers of that age that the vernacular was capable of achieving literary excellence and dignified rhythm.
(B) BACON’S LIFE AND WORKS
Bacon (afterwards Viscount St. Albans), son of Sir Nicholas Bacon (Keeper of the Great Seal under
), born 1561. Became successively Solicitor-General and Lord Chancellor; deposed in 1621 for taking bribes. Died 1626. His philosophical reputation rests mainly on the Novum Organum (the “New Instrument” for investigating truth), a book written (1620) in Latin; his literary reputation on his English writings. Elizabeth
1597. The first edition of the Essays (ten included), the second edition (forty essays) appeared in 1625. Tennyson said: “There is more wisdom compressed into that small volume than into any other book of the same size that I know”. Many of the essays are made up of extracts, compiled from commonplace books and his other published works, and woven together into a new whole.
1605. The Advancement of Learning (in two books). This work really laid the foundation of modern scientific methods.
1612, (?) The New Atlantis-the picture of an
, a curious but interesting romance, having points in common with More’s Utopia. Ideal State
1621. History of Henry VII. “With the exception of
’s History of the World and Knolles’s History of the Turks, there is no historical work produced at or near this period which will in any degree bear comparison with the polished style of Bacon.” (Lumby) Raleigh
(C) THREE OIVI/IONJ OF FRANCIS BACON’S WORKS
1. Philosophical: (i) The Advancement of Learning.
(ii) Novum Organum (New Instrument)
(iii) De Augments Scientiarum
(iv) Sylva Sylvarum
2. Literary: (i) Essays
(ii) The New Atlantis
(iii) The History of Henry VII
(iv) Apophthegms (a kind of jest-book) New and Old.
3. Professional: (i) Maxims of law (1630, pleadings in law cases)
(ii) Reading on the Statute of Uses (1642: Speeches in Parliament)
(D) BACON: A HISTORIAN
As a writer of historical works Bacon is not much known to his readers. They generally associate his name with the famous Essays and some of his philosophical works. But he also wrote a remarkable book of History entitled, “History of the Reign of Henry VII. (1622)” It is the only complete historical work that we received from him.
(E) BACON: A POLITICAL AND MORAL THINKER
His most important moral work is the Essays on counsels - civil and moral. These were published in the three editions during Bacon’s life time. The first edition appears in 1597 containing ten essays. The third edition appears in 1625 in which the number of essays went up to 58. The moral tone of these essays is at times questionable. Quite often Bacon appears to be an opportunist. In his morals he is absolutely of this world. There are places where there is shallow worldliness which is highly disturbing and does no credit to this greatman. For example even “such a noble and powerful sentiment as love appears to him to be a child of folly”. Sometimes, even some of his conclusions are ordinary and common place. They do not show a very sharp mind behind them. But these essays are extremely widely read because of their worldly practical wisdom. They come home to men’s business and bosoms. He is not preaching things of the spirit and the soul; his only concern is to show to men how to succeed in this life and world. Human nature and how to manage it would be good title for these Essays. As the French critic Legouis points out: “It is the art of success among men which is the subject to his Essays. He points men to the part he should play on the stage of special life, as is indicated in the sub-title of this Book: “Counsels-Civil and Morals.” As morals of this world, his sayings have great force and weight. Many of them have become proverbs. Besides these essays there is a collection of ancient and modern sayings which Bacon did during the autumn of 1624 entitled “Apophthegms New and Old”. He dictated from memory and they were published in 1625. There are about 300 of them, and some are very striking and some are dull. He also brought out a collection of arguments on moral matters with answers to them. It was entitled “Of the Colours of Good and Evil”.
(F) BACON: A SCIENTIFIC THINKER
As a scientific thinker we are not to look to him for any particular discoveries. In fact he did not know very well the many problems connected with scientific enquiry in his own time. In some cases he rejected truth, and followed old fashioned and wrong beliefs. But his influence as a scientific thinker, cannot be denied and at the same time underrated. The influence exercised by him was naturally of a kind which we should expect from a thinker who had taken the whole field of knowledge as his province. F.G. Selby points out: “Inquirers were naturally gratified by the dignity which he gave to their labours, and encourage by the prospects which he held out. He gave to science a human interest. He gave it high hopes and a definite aim.” Very often the critics of Bacon try to belittle his importance by saying that he made no scientific discovery and his method of inquiry could never become the method of great scientists later on. This argument does not hold much water. The scientific discovery in itself is not so important as the faith that Science is an important field of human activity which could open up the secrets of Nature. Bush, the critic is very correct when he says “Bacon is not historically negligible a scientific thinker. His scientific deficiency does not essentially weaken the force of his message for his time”. Indeed, it was Bacon who substituted the humble and critical interrogation of Nature for the arbitrary concept of traditional authority. It was a very big achievement indeed for a great lawyer, statesman. To quote Bush once again, “he not only summoned men to research, he brought the Cinderella of Science out of her partial obscurity and enthroned her as the queer, of the world. No one any longer could be deaf to the scientific and humanitarian gospel of experiment, invention, utility and progress”. Thus Bacon made no scientific discovery as
and Newton made. But he laid the solid foundation of science because he was the first man to point out the importance of experiment hi the study of knowledge. He was the first man who laughed at the idea of authority based on scientific observation. Once arbitrary Authority has been replaced by critical Enquiry and Experiment. Science in its true sense had taken birth. Bacon’s contribution in this respect remains unique and outstanding. Harvey
(G) BACON: A PHILOSOPHICAL THINKER
To the students of literature Bacon will remain a great name and force because of his Essays. But the legal, historical and even the moral works do not sum up his most valuable achievement in scholarship. His greatest contribution to the Advancement of Learning was made possible by his philosophical works. As a philosophical thinker he was inspired by two purposes: 1. He wanted to increase the bounds of human knowledge. 2. He wanted to make man powerful over Nature. In order to do that he had to survey the whole field of human knowledge and fight against many malpractices which had come into existence in the study of Science and Nature. In order to achieve his objects he formulated a grand scheme of philosophical studies which he called Instauration Magna. This scheme was highly ambitious and has six important parts.