Essays Questions and Answers
by Francis Bacon

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Can we find any common elements in the essays of Francis Bacon?

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Francis Bacon was a Renaissance humanist, and all of his essays reflect this characteristic. Each one is a blend of wisdom from the classical world of Greek and Rome and Christian theology. Bacon often quotes from classical sources in Latin, a universal language in that time period that was taught to students across Europe—especially males—from an early age and which readers would be expected to understand. Bacon also assumes a Biblically literate audience. His essays, as well, are known for their aphorisms, short, pithy statements that sum up truths. On example from his Essays is:

A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.

Bacon's essays are known for their realism and pragmatism. Unlike sermons or religious writings, they weigh and evaluate moral issues in a real world context rather than simply preaching about moral or religious ideals from on high. Bacon, familiar with the workings of the royal court and places of power, approaches his essays from the premise that his audience lives in a real world full of compromises and shades of gray.

For example, in his essay "On Truth," Bacon discusses the pleasures of fiction and writes that “A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure.” Although he values truth telling, he doesn't simply preach that one must tell the truth, but rather examines truth in its various graduations.

In his essay “Of Building,” he is also practical, saying that buildings must be useful before they are made perfectly uniform:

therefore let use be preferred before uniformity, except where both may be had.

He is also realistic about negative emotions, writing in "Of Anger:"

To seek to extinguish Anger utterly is but a bravery of the Stoics.

Bacon's focus on the practical and on weighing evidence puts him early in a line of rationalist (Enlightenment) thinkers who would emerge during the seventeenth century, while his blend of classical and Christian learning marks him as a humanist.

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