Bacon As An Essayist

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lynnebh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Sir Francis Bacon was a true Renaissance man in that he was accomplished in many areas, one of which was essayist (read a brief bio at the link below). Some scholars believe it was he who invented the essay as a literary form. Even more amazing is that he wrote essays for fun.

His essays cover a huge range of subjects and the writing style is quite varied. Some are philosophical, some are witty, some are deep, some are humorous. Bacon often takes both sides of an argument in his essays, seeming to enjoy the role of “devil’s advocate” arguing against himself. Writers and speakers (including even Shakespeare!) have quoted from his essays.


You can see the variety of his essays by examining their topics, some of which include: Truth, Death, Anger, Envy, Revenge, Travel, Marriage and Single Life, Suspicion, Riches, Ambition, Goodness and Goodness of Nature, Plantations, The Colors of Good and Evil, etc. (see link below). There is even a Bacon group right  here on enotes (see link). 

Two of my favorite quotes:

From Of Truth:

There is no vice, that doth so cover a man with shame, as to be found false and perfidious.


From Of Atheism

It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.


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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Frances Bacon's aim as an essayist was to share the wisdom of his life. The original number of essays in Bacon's Essays (1597) was ten and included titles like "of Studies," "Of Discourse" "Of Suitors," "Of Expense." By the year 1612, there were thirty-eight essays. As Bacon's life progressed, through politics, philosophy, science, bribes and imprisonment, he shared his wisdom, so his development as an individual is evident in tone and content and, sadly, unlike in classic fiction, his development as a man left him sadder.

His style of essay writing is not dogmatic nor didactic but rather personable and friendly. For example, when speaking of envy he doesn't begin with a declaration of envy being harmful and destructive of happiness. His style allows him to explore such subjects with an observational eye that relates incidents to meaning and only eventually reveals his judgment and wisdom on the subject. His essays were well received because of his warm wisdom.

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