Sir Francis Bacon, Essays, "Of Truth" and "Of Marriage and the Single Life"
Genre: Philosophical essays on the model of those by Montaigne, but also influenced by the attitudes of Machiavelli and the Roman historians, whose guarding of their own personas Bacon imitated.
Form: Prose. Isn't that easy! But actually he uses some notable prose strategies that deserve comment. Balance and opposition are the most common strategies he uses to achieve both the apperance of balance and the concealment of his own opinions under the cloak of the opposing alternatives. He also is an adept wielder of other writers' opinions, as in his use of Pilate, Augustine, Lucretius, and Montaigne in "Of Truth."
Characters: The aforementioned "authorities" operate as occasional characters in his prose, as well as offering him the chance to display his learning.
- "Of Truth" raises the interesting problem of our difficulty in defining lies, especially when we consider theology as a view with a higher and more profound standard of truth than mere mortal philosophy. More dangerously, he speculates "A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure" (1259). When moving into ordinary language of "civil business" (see the preface regarding his career!), he turns openly censorious of lies, even though such a world is obviously full of them.
- "Of Marriage and Single Life" considers "wives" and children (assuming his readers are male) and balances their advantages against their disadvantages in such a way that it's difficult to decide whether marriage is a good or a bad idea. Bad marriages, however, he suggests can be analyzed more easily by their effects upon the women in them.
Issues and Research Sources:
- Bacon has come in for some tough criticism in the nineteenth century (especially Macaulay), but he also is known as an early proponent of the scientific method in the Novum Organum (1620), which discussed "true directions concerning the interpretation of nature" by means of experiment under controlled conditions.
- How much of the ambiguity in his essays might be explained by the fact that life, as we encounter it, is not a controlled experiement, and that generalizations upon life's experiences must necessarily be complex, even unto inutility?
- The sad fact of Bacon's indictment for bribery, which he confessed, did not keep him from marrying an heiress and living out his life in retirement as a man of letters and a scientific researcher.
- How many of our poets are similarly productive because of their isolation from public life, and from the temptation to squander their energies on the "important" issues of their day?
- Can this give us any further insight into the defense of poetry which Sidney began, by establishing a need for certain kinds of special lives which are dedicated to arcane pursuits beneficial to humanity only in the very long run?
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