• How does Bacon negotiate between his style and subjects in the essay "Of Marriage and Single Life"

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Francis Bacon’s essay “Of Marriage and Single Life” is pithy and aphoristic in style, abounding in statements that have the form and forcefulness of proverbs. The opening sentence is a characteristic example:

He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune, for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.

The memorable phrase “hostages to fortune” is a combination of the concrete and the abstract. Its brevity might have rendered it obscure, but it is elegantly explained in the following clause. This is a consistent pattern: a short, epigrammatic generalization, followed by an explanation or qualification, hence the number of sentences beginning with “yet,” “nay,” “for” and “but.”

Although he qualifies their applicability, Bacon gives no evidence for his generalizations. At most, he illustrates them with references to “the despising of marriage among the Turks,” for instance, or Ulysses' attitude to Penelope.

Overall, this style and mode of treatment are probably the most appropriate for Bacon’s subject, particularly since his essay is so short. An essay on so vast a topic must necessarily be composed principally of generalizations, and there will be so many variations and exceptions to any given point that evidence will always be available for any proposition and therefore quite pointless. Bacon could, for instance, have given examples of achievements by married or unmarried men or concerns exhibited for posterity by either group.

Bacon is only one generation later than Montaigne, the inventor of the essay form, and is this form's first major exponent in English. The form still retains the central idea of its French original: it is an “attempt” to work out what one ought to think about a subject. This is why, despite the polished, aphoristic style, Bacon’s prose often has the quality of an exceptionally clear mind thinking out loud on his chosen subject.

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