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Spirit of Renaissance and Bacon’s Essays


Dr. John Tilloston has called Francis Bacon “a product of Renaissance” as Bacon enjoyed learning and carrying out a rational inquiry; he harbored great admiration and love for Greek and Latin works and scholars. Bacon was a man of science and reason; who through his essays tried to treat intellectual standstill and dogmatic slumber of people; his essays are one of the finest literary works of the Renaissance era. This essay aims at highlighting the Renaissance Ideals in Bacon’s essays “of Truth” and “of Studies”. Renaissance period was an era of rebirth or revival of learning and knowledge; where there was the enlightenment of human thought and surge in rational inquiry and criticism. Science started to put naïve and irrational beliefs on the back foot and there was an increased interest in classical Greek scholars and their work. The common spirit of Renaissance as reflected through the opportunistic philosophy of Machiavelli was to sacrifice moral values for worldly gains and to judge any action by the result it bears. Bacon also follows this opportunistic philosophy as he does not teach any ideal morality in his essays.

The most prominent feature of the Renaissance was rebirth of classical knowledge and learning. Therefore, Renaissance literature has a lot of references to Greek writers and quotations from Greek and Latin literary masterpieces for instance in “of Truth” Bacon talks about the Greek philosophers who spent their lives to find what makes a lie attractive “one of the later school of the Grecians examineth the matter that what should be in it, that men should love lies”. Bacon also uses many Latin words in his essays for instance “Vinum Deamonum” in “of Truth”. In his essay “of Studies” he talks about the benefits of acquiring knowledge for instance he says “for expert men can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars”, here he says studies help men reach sound conclusions and judgments. In “of Studies” Bacon uses the Latin quote “Abeunt studia in mores” by the classical Roman poet Ovid.

Another important aspect of the Renaissance is its pragmatic spirit. The Renaissance literature focuses on the practical advantages of things like truth, knowledge et cetera and not on their moral implications, for example, Bacon in his essay “of Truth” emphasis the value of truth but also says that adding falsehood in truth is like mixing an alloy in coin of silver or gold which makes it stronger and function better “mixture of falsehood is like alloy in coin of gold and silver which may make the metal work the better”. In addition to talking about the importance and worth of truth, Bacon talks about the usefulness of lie “a mixture of lie doth ever add pleasure”. Bacon in his essay “Of Studies” focuses on the function of reading. He is somewhat pragmatic in describing the functions of studying, he claims “studies serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability” which implies that in addition to honing one’s intellect and wit, reading also entertains and can be used to embellish one’s speech and writing.

The authors of the Renaissance employed a great deal of metaphors and similes in their works. Hence, these literary devices became a major element of Renaissance literature. Bacon, keeping up with the Renaissance tradition, also employs beautiful similes and metaphors in his essays for instance in his essay “Of Studies” he compares natural abilities with natural plants through a simile “natural abilities are like natural plants that require pruning through studies” and at another point in order stress the importance of unabridged books Bacon uses a simile “distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things”. In his essay “Of Truth” Bacon brings to light the usefulness of mixing falsehood with truth through comparing the mixture of falsehood to alloy in gold “mixture of falsehood, is like alloy in coin of gold and silver, which may make the metal work the better”.

Renaissance was an age in which the philosophers and writers seek to delve deeper into human nature to explain the hidden nature of humans. The literature produced in Renaissance makes humanism its topic of debate quite often for example in “Of Truth” Bacon explains how humans have a propensity towards lying “Grecians examineth the matter, what should be in it, that men love lies”, he further talks about the importance of lying and implication of removing lies from human minds; he thinks without lies humans will be reduced to melancholic beings “leave the minds, of a number of men, poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves”. In “Of Studies” he discusses how reading can refine and hone human nature and intellect, he seeks to examine the ways in which humans can enhance their wit and writing for instance he says “reading adds perfection to a man’s personality” and “Abeunt Studia in mores”.

Renaissance was an era in which God was alive; philosophers and writers still portrayed a strong belief in God in their writings before it faded away in Modern age. Renaissance writers and philosophers believed that God bestowed humans with immense potentials and intellect and that it was the duty of humans to hone those skills to perfect them; they believed that reason and wit were qualities that were gifted to mankind to rationally think about the world and reach sound conclusions instead of believing things blindly. Bacon followed these ideals in his essays and it can be seen that Bacon gives credit to God for instilling sense and reason in humans for instance in his essay “Of Truth” he says “the first creature of God, in the works of the days, was the light of the sense; the last was the light of reason” which means that God gave humans sense and reason as a gift now it is the duty of humans to use it and rationally work out the solutions of problems. Similarly in his essay “Of Studies” Bacon claims that wit and intellect are present in everyone as it is something which God has accorded man but this wit needs to be sharpened by selective reading and study “Abeunt studia in mores, Nay, there is no stod or impediment in the wit but may be wrought out by fit studies”.

To conclude, it can be said that Bacon’s essays “Of Truth” and “Of Studies” reflect the true spirit of the renaissance. Bacon was a man of Renaissance who valued the use of reason and the scientific method; he extols his readers to not rely on the conventional method but employ the scientific method to reach the truth. His essays provide keen insight into human nature which was an area of great interest in the Renaissance era. Bacon’s essays can be regarded as a trademark of the renaissance period since they reflect the true spirit and Ideals of the Renaissance.

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Sannyasi Raja from Durgapur, West Bengal, India on August 24, 2020:

That was a delightful reading.

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