Internet Shakespeare Editions


Francis Bacon and the plain style

Francis Bacon at his desk.

Politician, lawyer, historian, essayist, philosopher, scientist: Francis Bacon was one of the great minds in an age of great minds.

His prose style exemplifies his whole approach to life and learning: it is direct rather than ornate, enquiring rather than expository*.

Bacon's aim was to make his prose above all functional; but this does not mean that it was without grace. Balanced, concise, illuminating: click to see the Baconian aphorism in action:


  1. Two teaching methods

    Bacon's terms were "inititiative" and "magistral":

    The magistral method teaches; the initiative intimates. The magistral requires that what is told should be believed; the initiative that it should be examined.

  2. Truth

    Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that showeth best by day, but it will not rise to the price of a diamond or carbuncle, that showeth best in varied lights.

  3. Revenge

    Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man's nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.

    A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green [unhealed].

  4. Virtue

    Certainly virtue is like precious odours, most fragrant when they are incensed or crushed: for prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue.

    Virtue is like a rich stone, best plain set.

  5. Books

    Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read but not curiously [thoroughly]; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.