In his classic essay, “Of Studies,” Francis Bacon explains how and why study—knowledge—is important. Along with Michel de Montaigne, who published his first essays less than twenty years before Francis Bacon published his first collection in 1597. Bacon is considered the father of the English essay (with Montaigne the father of the French essay). Bacon’s essays differ from Montaigne’s in being more compact and more formal. Where Montaigne conceived of the essays as an opportunity to explore a subject through mental association and a casual ramble of the mind, Bacon envisioned the essay as an opportunity to offer advice. The title of his essay collection: “Essays or Counsels: Civil and Moral,” suggests that didactic intent. In “Of Studies,” Bacon lays out the value of knowledge in practical terms. Bacon considers to what use studies might be put. He is less interested in their theoretical promise than in their practical utility—a proclivity more English, perhaps, than French. Bacon’s writing in “Of Studies” is direct and pointed.
It avoids the meandering find-your-way free form of Montaigne’s essays. From his opening sentence Bacon gets directly to the point: “Studies serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability.” He then elaborates on how studies are useful in these three ways. And he wastes no words in detailing the use of “studies” for a Renaissance gentleman. One of the attractions of Bacon’s essay is his skillful use of parallel sentence structure, as exemplified in the opening sentence and throughout “Of Studies.” This stylistic technique lends clarity and order to the writing, as in “crafty men condemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them,” which in its straightforward assertiveness exhibits confidence and elegance in addition to clarity.