Francis Bacon

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What has been Francis Bacon's influence on English prose writing?

Francis Bacon's influence on English prose writing has been immense. Indeed, he has been called “the father of English prose.” He pioneered a style of prose that was clear, concise, and without excess ornamentation.

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It is with good reason that Francis Bacon has been hailed as “the father of English prose.” This glowing epithet is a testament to Bacon's revolutionizing of English prose, which became enormously influential in both science and literature.

Bacon was firmly of the belief that the style is the man....

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It is with good reason that Francis Bacon has been hailed as “the father of English prose.” This glowing epithet is a testament to Bacon's revolutionizing of English prose, which became enormously influential in both science and literature.

Bacon was firmly of the belief that the style is the man. In other words, he believed that written style was an expression of a man's mind. So if a man had an opaque, impenetrable written style, then that was a sure sign that this thinking was muddled and lacking in clarity. By the same token, if a man's written style was crisp, concise, and easy to read, that indicated clear thinking on his part.

In his prose writings, Bacon sought to live up to his own exacting standards and, for the most part, succeeded. His Essays are renowned for their aphoristic quality, their ability to make short, pithy observations that contain a general truth. As Bacon wrote about the world of men and affairs, he wanted to convey his insights in a way that would appeal to men like himself, worldly men with important positions in society.

Bacon wrote at a time when the scientific revolution was just beginning, which would, in due course, sweep away the old system of learning that had been in effect for centuries. Bacon was scathing of that system, based on medieval scholasticism, as he believed that it did not allow for the advancement of knowledge. Instead, it engaged in constant hairsplitting and pedantry that was hostile to the new spirit of learning that was starting to develop in the early seventeenth century.

As well as being inimical to the spread of true knowledge, scholastic texts were also regarded by Bacon as being written in a barbarous language that few could understand. It was just such muddled thinking, and the tortuous language in which it was expressed, that Bacon endeavored to sweep away in his voluminous prose writings. By and large, he succeeded, establishing as he did a lean, concise prose style that would be imitated by successive generations of writers.

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