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 that 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.
An aphoristic style means a compact, condensed and epigrammatic style of writing. An aphorism is a short sentence expressing a truth in the fewest possible words. An aphorism is like a proverb which has a quotable quality. Bacon excels in this kind of writing. Indeed, his essays are replete with aphorisms. Any number of examples could be given from his essays to illustrate this style of writing.
Take the essay, Of Truth. There are a number of aphoristic sentences in this essay. Some of these may be quoted here:
“A mixture of a lie doeth ever add pleasure.” Here Bacon wants to convey the idea that the statement of a truth becomes more attractive when a lie is mixed with it. Thus, whenever we want to defend a lie, we could quote this sentence from Bacon.
“But it is not the lie that passeth through the mind, but the lie that sinketh in and settleth in it, that doth the hurt.” Here Bacon wishes to convey the idea that much harm is caused by a lie that settles down in the mind because such a lie will keep working upon the mind and will have long—term effects. A lie that is heard and then forgotten will not cause any injury to a man.
“Certainly it is heaven upon earth to have a man’s mind move in charity, rest in
and turn upon the poles of truth.” Here Bacon conveys a valuable moral by the use of the minimum possible number of words. Providence
The essay, Of Marriage and Single Life, shows the aphoristic quality of Bacon’s style in a more striking manner. Here are some of the sentences that are eminently quotable.
“He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune”. The idea here has been expressed most effectively and memorably.
“Unmarried men are best friends, best masters, best servants, but not always best subjects.” This is an excellent summing-up of the case.
“Wives are young men’s mistresses, companions for middle age and old man’s nurses.” Here is an aphorism combining wisdom with wit.
The essay, Of Great Place, also contains a number of pithy sentences. Here are a few examples.
“It is a strange desire to seek power and to lose liberty: or to seek power over others and to lose power over a man’s self.”
“The rising unto place is laborious, and by pains men come to greater pains.”
“For in evil, the best condition is not to will, the second not to can.”
All the three sentences quoted above are excellent examples of Bacon’s terse and epigrammatic style.
Here are a few pithy sentences from the Essay, Of Friendship:
“For a crowd is not company and faces are but a gallery of pictures.”
“Those that want friends to open themselves unto are cannibals of their hearts.”
“For there is no such flatterer as is a man’s self.” This sentence conveys to us the idea that every man has the highest possible opinion of himself. In other words, every man has his ego, and it is most often a highly inflated ego.
“For there is no man that imparleth his joy to his friend, but he joyeth the more: and no man that in parteth his grief to his friend, but he grieveth the less.” This sentence is remarkable for summing up one principal advantage of having a friend.
The essay, Of Studies, abounds in aphoristic or epigrammatic sentences some of which have become so famous that they are on the lips of even those men who have never heard the name of Bacon.
“Crafty men condemn studies; simple men admire them; and wise men use them.”
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”
“Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.”
His aphoristic style makes Bacon an essayist of high distinction. Aphorisms give to his essays singular force and weight. No one has ever produced a greater number of closely packed and striking formulas, loaded with practical wisdom. Many of them have become current as proverbs Bacon’s essays constitute a handbook of practical wisdom, enclosing in their shortest maxims, an astonishing treasure of insight.
It may, however, be pointed out that, on account of extreme condensation, Bacon’s aphorisms occasionally became obscure. For instance, it would be difficult to get the meaning of the following pithy sentence from the essay, Of Truth:
“Certainly there be that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief.”
The essay, Of Suitors, contains a number of sentences which are short and aphoristic but obscure. For instance: “Secrecy in suits is a great mean of obtaining”. Again: “Suitors are so distasted with delays and abuses that plain dealing in denying to deal in suits at first, and reporting the success barely, and in challenging no more thanks that one hath deserved is grown not only honourable but also gracious.” There is hardly a reader who can understand the meaning of this sentence without some help from a scholar. In fact the whole of this essay offers considerable difficulty to the reader because of its excessive condensation and concentration of thoughts
But such exceptions apart, Bacon’s genius for compression lends much charm to his style. Every aphorism that we come across startles us by its novelty. Every epigram arrests us. Every pithy sentence holds our attention. And they all charm, delight and thrill us because they all clothe weighty and valuable ideas, suggestions, lessons, and so on. And what adds to their appeal is the fact that Bacon does not seem to have made conscious efforts to produce them. The aphoristic style is not “laboured” in the case of Bacon; it is truly spontaneous.