Renaissance Spirit in Bacon’s Essay
Bacon lived at a time when the new culture introduced by the Renaissance was accepted by the people of the age. The Renaissance marked the revival of learning and the scholars of the age were inspired with the noble ideals upheld by savants and sages in the past. There was a strong urge among the Elizabethans to extend the frontiers of knowledge and enrich their store of learning by the acquisition of wisdom contained in the volumes of great writers in the past. This love for learning and scientific advancement was one of the special features of the Renaissance
The Renaissance spirit is also reflected in the thirst of the people not only for intellectual attainments but also for worldly glory. The Renaissance laid as much emphasis on intellectual and cultural enrichment as on material pelf and power. The world was as much with the men of the Renaissance as with the learning of the scholars of Greece and Rome.
In politics, the Renaissance laid emphasis on the Machiavellian ideal of the end justifying the means. Politics during this age was not a matter of religious sanctity. Religion had not entered into politics. Politicians were not governed and guided by high ideals of honesty and moral loftiness.
Francis Bacon represents in his works, particularly in his essays, the spirit of the Renaissance. He represents the Renaissance spirit in its amplitude and variety. The love for learning and scientific and rational inquiry is well-sounded in Bacon’s essays. Bacon’s essays throw light on different aspects of human life and behaviour. Bacon’s life was devoted to the development of knowledge and learning.
“All his life his first passion was the ambition after knowledge, for the conquest of nature and for the service of man, gathering up in himself the spirit and longings of all discoveries and inventors of the arts, as they are symbolised in the mythical Prometheus”.
In a letter to Lord Burghley, Bacon wrote in 1592, “I confess I have as vast contemplative ends as I have moderate civil ends, for I have taken all knowledge to be my province.” Bacon remained throughout his life a votary of learning and burnt incense at the altar of the goddess Minerva (Learning). He worked for scientific advancement and extended the scope of observation and experiment. He set aside theological dogmas and medieval abstractions.
The great aim of Bacon’s life was to impart a rational turn to all knowledge and put it on the way to sound scholarship. Bacon evolved the inductive method of reasoning and carried its working in all departments of human life. He died at the altar of scientific advancement Devotion to the cause of scientific research and scientific investigation brought his illustrious life to a close. He died a martyr to the cause of scientific advancement.
Bacon, like the men of the Renaissance, was concerned more with this life and this world than the world and life beyond death. Like the men of the Renaissance he laid emphasis on utility and worldly values rather than on certain abstract ideals. The utilitarian attitude in Bacon’s works is the expression of the Renaissance spirit. Everything is viewed by Bacon from the view point of utility. Both in his life and in his writings, Bacon exhibited the Practical bias, which formed a characteristic feature of the Renaissance life. “We are concerned”, he said, “not with pure skill in speculation, but with utility and the fortunes of the human race”.
This is a clear statement of the Renaissance spirit in Bacon’s works. “He completely accepted the Renaissance ideal that it is life on earth which is important and that all studies should be directed to improving that life.” His main concern was this life, and he lived a life of luxury and richness quite in conformity with the ideals of the Renaissance without worrying about punishment in the life to come. His essay on Death shows his fearlessness. He is not perturbed by the hopes and fears of a second life. He writes with the conviction of a Renaissance Philosopher undaunted by any prospect of punishment in the life to come –
“the contemplation of death as the wages of sin and passage to another world is holy and religious, but the fear of it, as a tribute due unto nature, is weak”.
Bacon’s political attitude as reflected in his essays is that of a Renaissance thinker. His political learning is all Machiavellian. He separated his legal decisions from morality and ethical ideas. In his view, pursuit of pure truth in political matters is not desired. He is of the view that “A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure”.
Bacon’s morality is not of a high order and is governed by Renaissance ideals. It was an age when corruption was not frowned upon by those in authority. The loose and lax morality, the Renaissance is reflected in some of the outstanding unmoral essays of Bacon as Of Cunning, Of Simulation and Dissimulation. His moral and religious essays are the work of an opportunist. They are not based on high principles of morality. They are saturated with the Renaissance conception of morality.
Bacon’s essays are true representatives of the age of the Renaissance and the only other person who reflected the Renaissance spirit as faithfully as Bacon did is Christopher Marlowe, the great dramatist of the Elizabethan age.
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