Sunday, August 22, 2010

Nowhere is Bacon so fascinating, so incisive, so personally involved as in his ‘Of Studies’. Elaborate. (P.U 2007)

Bacon’s style is most remarkable for its terseness. Bacon displays a great talent for condensation. Every sentence in his essays is pregnant with meaning and is capable of being expanded into several sentences. Many of his sentences appear to be proverbial sayings or apophthegms by virtue of their gems of thoughts expressed in a pithy manner. He can say the most in the fewest words. His essays combine wisdom in thought with extreme brevity. The short, pithy sayings in his essays have become popular mottoes and household expressions.

This essay deals with some of the uses of study, and offers some sound ideas relating to this theme. The uses of studies are classified by Bacon under three heads—the use of studies for delight; the use of studies for ornament; and the use of studies for ability. Bacon also gives us some excellent advice as to why and how one should read. Furthermore, he tells us that different studies have different effects on the human mind. Various mental defects or shortcomings, says Bacon, can be remedied by various kinds of studies. The need of experience to supplement and perfect studies has duly been emphasised in the essay. Bacon would not be satisfied with mere bookish knowledge. The wisdom won by experience is as necessary as the wisdom gained from books.
But it is not the ideas that are so important in this essay. This essay is a wonderful illustration of that condensed style of which Bacon was a master. We find Bacon displaying his talent for using the maximum economy of words in order to express his ideas. This essay is a masterpiece of brevity and terseness. Some of the sentences read like proverbs. Here are a few examples of Bacon’s epigrammatic and aphoristic style:
(i)    “Studies serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability.”
(ii)   “Crafty men condemn studies; simple men admire them; and wise men use them.”
(iii)  “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”
(iv)  “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man and writing an exact man.”
Here is a sound precept in the same terse style: “Read not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider.”
Bacon’s essays abound in very appropriate and original similes. We have one such simile here when Bacon says that “distilled books are, like common distilled waters, flashy things”. We get another appropriate simile when Bacon compares the effects of various physical exercises on bodily diseases with the effects of different studies on mental defects.
There is hardly an essay by Bacon in which he does not introduce a Latin expression or a Latin quotation. We have two Latin quotations in this short essay to enhance its scholarly quality.
We could say, without any exaggeration, that it is one of the finest essays in English prose. It gives us a number of-sound maxims and a number of sentences that we can use as quotations when occasion demands. Some of the sentences, indeed, cling to our memory without any mental effort on our part to memorise them. That is one reason why it is one of the best-known essays from the pen of Bacon.

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