Sidney and Bacon

  • A. J. Gilbert


The achievement of the Renaissance was the reconquest of classical form in all the arts. For Renaissance writers the central problem of prose style was how to construct an elegant and ordered discourse in the vernacular that was equal to the brilliant prose styles of classical literature. The elaborate sentence patterns of Cicero could be imitated in English, and so could the dense, pithy style of Tacitus. Sir Philip Sidney (1554–86) used Cicero as the model for his prose style, while Francis Bacon (1561–1626) adopted the concise style of Tacitus. Both writers are influenced by the new emphasis on ‘natural logic’ in the sixteenth century, and their interpretations of high, middle and plain style contexts show a new conceptual complexity. Imagery is no longer decorative, as it was for Lyly and earlier writers.1 In this development we may see the influence of Pierre de la Ramée and his many followers. Sidney himself was known to be interested in Ramistic logic, and his Apology for Poetry (1581–3)2 shows knowledge of Ramistic method in its structure, and in its treatment of topics.3 The revised Arcadia (1593) is almost certainly the result of a wish to make the original Elizabethan romance something more fashionable and modern, an heroic poem in the high Renaissance tradition.4 Bacon’s Essays (1597–1625) are written in the tradition of Montaigne’s Essays but are far more concise and pedantic in style; Bacon balances and opposes arguments in a characteristic form of Ramistic method.


Noun Phrase Ramistic Method Prose Style Natural Imagery Style Level 
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  1. 1.
    P. A. Duhamel, ‘Sidney’s Arcadia and Elizabethan Rhetoric’, Studies in Philology, XLV (1948), pp. 134–50.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Philip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry, (ed.) G. Shepherd, Manchester, 1973, PP. 1–4.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    G. W. Hallam, ‘Sidney’s Supposed Ramism’, Renaissance Papers, (Durham, N.C.) 1963, pp. 11–20.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Sir Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, (ed.) M. Evans, Harmondsworth, 1977, pp. 19–27.Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    F. G. Robinson, The Shape of Things Known: Sidney’s Apology and its Philosophical Tradition, Harvard, 1972.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© A. J. Gilbert 1979

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  • A. J. Gilbert

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