Of Discourse by Bacon

There can be no doubt about Bacon’s greatness as an essayist or a prose artist. The essay Of Discourse clearly demonstrates Bacon’s powers and talents. Of Discourse is the second group of Bacon’s Essays that describe man in his intellectual and moral relations with others. Of Discourse is an essay on perfect oratory. Bacon has given a combative study between the traits and characteristics, virtues and vices etc of different modes of discourse.
Of Discourse prioritizes a practical Baconian guide to fluent, flowing, graceful and effective communication which would definitely enrich the course of living. Being a Renaissance courtier Bacon is familiar with the skill of speaking and alike Castiglione’s Book of The Courtier he accomplishes an utilitarian guide to his readers for their betterment of conversation or speech. In the Indian Alankara School of criticism Bhamaha, Jayadeva and Keshava have discussed the art of speech or rhetoric as the essential elements of Indian poetics. Bacon too in his essay Of Discourse classifies the soul of conversation as a constitution of three major divisions of rhetoric – inventio, dispositio and elocution. ‘Inventio’ or invention of points, reasons, logic and arguments is the key to discussion. The other two important ingredients of a conversation are ‘disposition’ i.e. the arrangement of the above argument and elocution i.e. the use of apt expression and ornament. Bacon thus says: “Discretion of speech is more than eloquence; and to speak agreeably to him, with whom we deal, is more than to speak in good words, or in good order”.

Alike Bacon’s pragmatism and aphorism in of Praise, Of Ambition, Of Truth and other essays, Of Discourse is a compendium of scholarly learning and practicality. Bacon initiates his topic with a warning that ‘commendation of wit’ is worthless unless the thought is clear on the speaker lacks the proper judgement. According to Bacon a pleasing speech is that which has a variety in its nature of topic and articulation “which kind of poverty is far the most part tedious and when it is once perceived, ridiculous”.

Bacon finds the start of the conversation as the honourable  part and both in sustained, formal be added with present references, stories, questions, jesting: “It is good, in discourse and speech of conversation, to vary and intermingle speech of the present occasion with arguments; tales with reasons; asking of questions with telling of opinions; and jest with earnest”.

In matter of adding humour or joke, Bacon is cautious. Being an utilitarian guide Bacon advises his readers to omit the jest from ‘religion, matters of state, great persons, any man’s present business of importance, and any case that deserveth pity’. These are the privileged fields of affairs which must be taken into serious consideration. A frequent display of wit with a quick stinging is the other mode of discourse which Bacon explains through a Latinism. According to Bacon, running a conversation is alike riding a horse which needs both the speed and control: “Spare the spur, boy, and use the reins more strongly: (Ovid Metamorphoses 11,127). Wit is like spur a sharp pointed object that the riders sometimes wear on the heels of their boots and use to encourage their horse to go faster. In an argument we should exercise the reins in order to control the galloping horse of speech rather than run it wildly.

Bacon advocates a healthy argument where one should question to the skill of the persons whom he asks. And even who makes satirical witty remark must get prepared to receive the same. There are some who are talkative and eager to preside the discourse. Bacon gives them a treat of faster music which will dislodge their dance rhythm.

Bacon is an objective writer and rightly so he argues in support of impersonal view. According to him “speech of a man’s self ought to be seldom and well chosen”. Further, he says, that the speech of touch towards others should be carefully used. “For discourse ought to be as a field, without coming home to any man”. Bacon also gives stress on interlocution or brief exchanges of words. A good long speech must contain brief exchanges of words on questions and a reply must be a settled topic with a rightful arrangement of propositions. Different men have different skill and orientation – if one is faster in straight argument, the other is subtle in twists and turns.

Bacon has the rare talent of discussing everything from various angles and points of view. In Of Discourse he expresses his ideas and observations effectively and forcefully. His arguments are logical and convincing most of them are drawn from everyday life. His illustrations and discussions are so powerful that they never fail to achieve their purpose. Bacon is a scholar and a practical philosopher who speculates about commonplace subjects and makes them elevate and exalted with his treatment. 

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