What examples of Francis Bacon’s aphoristic style can be seen in his essays “Of Marriage and Single Life” and “Of Parents and Children"?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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An aphorism is a statement made in a way in that it asserts a general truth or makes a keen, or sharp, observation. The Random House Dictionary gives us an example attributed to Lord Acton, a famous late 19th century English historian, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." We find many aphorisms within Francis Bacon's 8th essay titled "Of Marriage and Single Life" found in his book Essays, Civil and Moral. Within the essay, Bacon argues about the various pros and cons concerning marriage. One example of an aphorism Bacon uses to build his argument can be seen in the very first sentence: "He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief." What he is saying here is that men with wives and children are limiting themselves with respect to what they can do, such as conducting "great enterprises," or doing great deeds. However, he further argues throughout the rest of the essay that that impediment is not necessarily a bad thing, and it can certainly be a virtue for both the wife and the children and even for the men.

Similarly to the essay "Of Marriage and Single Life," Bacon uses the essay "Of Parents and Children" to discuss the pros and cons of being parents. For example, one thing he asserts is that children can make life sweeter, but they can also make troubled times more difficult, as we see in his aphorism, "Children sweeten labors; but they make misfortunes more bitter." We can easily see what he means in saying that they can "make misfortunes more bitter" when we picture the death of a child: The death of a child certainly is tragic to cope with and makes a parent's other difficult times even harder to cope with. Or, picture an impoverished family: Having to care for a child when in a state of poverty makes poverty even more difficult to bear. A single person may be able to cope well enough with poverty, but, when the person has young children to feed, poverty becomes an even greater point of stress, worry, and tribulation.

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