How does Francis Bacon use aphoristic style in "Of Travel", "Of Ambition," and "Of Revenge"?
An aphoristic writing style is characterized by direct, straightforward, and pithy language. It does not mince words and does not waste time on embellishment or flowery language. Bacon's essays are incredible examples of aphoristic writing, because his phrases are generally short and declarative, there is sparse use of adjectives and adverbs, and he makes claims authoritatively, without any hedging and without making concessions to other points of view.
Think about examples of aphorisms: actions speak louder than words or give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
They are short statements based in life experience that teach a lesson. Bacon's essays are basically compilations of these sorts of phrases: in "Of Revenge," he writes,
For as for the first wrong, it doth but offend the law; but the revenge of that wrong, putteth the law out of office. Certainly, in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior ... It is the glory of a man, to pass by an offence. That which is past is gone, and irrevocable; and wise men have enough to do.
Later in the essay, he says, "This is certain, that a man that studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal, and do well."
In both of these examples, you can clearly hear the certainty in these statements. They are meant to edify and to serve as wisdom for the reader; they are practical, philosophical conclusions on the dangers and evils of revenge.
You can find any number of other examples in both "Of Travel" and "Of Ambition." In the former, Bacon writes:
Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education, in the elder, a part of experience. He that travelleth into a country, before he hath some entrance into the language, goeth to school, and not to travel.
In the latter:
There is use also of ambitious men, in pulling down the greatness of any subject that overtops; as Tiberius used Marco, in the pulling down of Sejanus. ... He that seeketh to be eminent amongst able men, hath a great task; but that is ever good for the public. But he, that plots to be the only figure amongst ciphers, is the decay of a whole age.
In all of these essays, Bacon uses everyday experience to come to a convincing conclusion: these conclusions read like life lessons. Take the first lines of "Of Ambition":
Ambition is like choler; which is an humor that maketh men active, earnest, full of alacrity, and stirring, if it be not stopped. But if it be stopped, and cannot have his way, it becometh adust, and thereby malign and venomous. So ambitious men, if they find the way open for their rising, and still get forward, they are rather busy than dangerous; but if they be checked in their desires, they ... look upon men and matters with an evil eye ...
Bacon compares ambition to a humor of the body, and uses this comparison to draw two conclusions: if a person has an outlet for their ambition and energy, they become productive; but if they are stymied in their endeavors, they become ill-intentioned and jealous. The reader is meant to take this wisdom to heart and to learn to recognize and understand the nature of ambition better through the essay.
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