Francis Bacon’s essay “Of Truth” is one of the more famous of his works of prose. The essay begins by mocking those who refuse to admit that there is any certain, objective truth. Bacon argues that people have a natural love of lying, even when lying brings no obvious advantage. Truth, Bacon says, resembles light, but he suggests that many people prefer to flirt with darkness because they take some pleasure in lies and lying. Bacon, however, asserts that truth is the greatest good humans can possess. Truth comes from God and attaches us to God, and it is from truth that we derive our deepest pleasure.
Bacon’s essay is structured in various ways. It begins, for instance, by mentioning Pilate, a symbolic Christ-killer and enemy of God, but it ends by elaborately celebrating God’s goodness and creativity. Pilate (Bacon says) was dismissive of truth; God, on the other hand, created truth and celebrates truth and, in a sense, personifies truth. Thus the essay is framed by references especially relevant to Christians. Inside that frame, Bacon cites various classical authorities and discusses various classical opinions. He alludes to classical philosophical sects who doubted the existence of truth, but he also alludes to classical thinkers who agree with Christians that truth should be highly valued. As the essay continues to develop, Bacon discusses the attractiveness of lying – an attractiveness that coincides with Christian ideas about the fallen state (and natural sinfulness) of human nature. People lie, Bacon suggests, even when lying is of no practical use to them; they seem in fact to find pure truth boring. Poetry, he suggests, seems to appeal to this natural human interest in lies, although he implies that the lies told by poets are not especially harmful. By the conclusion of the essay, the structure comes full circle, concluding with a very heavy emphasis on standard Christian doctrine.
Stylistically, the essay employs a number of different techniques. One of the most important of these involves allusions to other texts and other authors, especially classical texts and classical authors. Bacon also uses questions effectively. He begins with Pilate’s short and famous question, which Bacon regards as frivolous, and then, throughout the essay, Bacon poses various, and quite serious, questions of his own, thus provoking readers to think for themselves and use the reason that he later says is one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity. Besides using allusions and questions, the essay also uses imagery effectively, especially imagery of light and darkness and imagery involving various kinds of jewels:
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.
In short, Bacon’s essay is solid in its structure, intriguing in its stylistic and rhetorical methods, and (for many readers then and now) persuasive in the arguments in presents.
“OF TRUTH” is the indicative of the greatness of Bacon's mind and art. Having philosophic and pragmatic bias of mind, Bacon shares with us the astonishing aspects of truth. In this essay, Bacon has presented the objective truth in various manifestations. Similarly, Bacon shares with us the subjective truth, operative in social life. “OF TRUTH”, reveals Bacon in different light because he shows his moralistic leaning than his prudential attitude. However, the tone of this essay is Bacon's usual tone, authoritative.
“OF TRUTH” is Bacon's masterpiece that shows his keen observation of human beings with special regard to truth. In the beginning of the essay, Bacon rightly observes that generally people do not care for truth as Pilate, the governor of the Roman Empire, while conducting the trial of Jesus Christ, cares little for truth:
"What is truth? Said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer."
Advancing his essay, Bacon explores the reasons why the people do not like truth. First, truth is acquired through hard work and man is ever reluctant to work hard. Secondly, truth curtails man's freedom. More than that the real reason of man's disliking to truth is that man is attached to lies which Bacon says "a natural though corrupt love of the lie itself." Man loves falsehood because, Bacon says, truth is as if the bright light of the day and would show what men, in actual, are. They look attractive and colourful in the dim light of lies. In this respect, Bacon rightly observes:
"A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure."
It is a fact that man prefers to cherish illusions, which make his life more interesting. With a profound observation of man's psychology, Bacon states that if deprived of false pride and vanities, the human mind would contract like a deflated balloon and these human beings would become poor, sad and ill. However, poetic untruth is not gone unnoticed by Bacon's piercing intellect. He says though poetic untruth is a wine of the Devil in priest's eyes, yet it is not as harmful as the other lies are. Bacon being a literary artist illustrates this concept with an apt imagery that the poetic untruth is but the shadow of a lie.
Proving himself highly moralistic person, Bacon deems the inquiry of truth as the highest good of human nature as he observes:
".... the inquiry of truth, which is the lovemaking or wooing of it, knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature."
The enquiry of truth, knowledge of truth and belief of truth are compared with the enjoyment of love. Such a comparison lends the literary charm to this essay.
Bacon further says in “OF TRUTH” that the last act of creation was to create rational faculty, which helps in finding truth, is the finished product of God's blessing as he says:
"... The last was the light of reason...is the illumination of his spirit."
Bacon's moral idealism is obvious when he advancing his argument in favour of truth asserts that the earth can be made paradise only with the help of truth. Man should ever stick to truth in every matter, do the act of charity and have faith in every matter, do the act of charity and have faith in God. Bacon's strong belief in truth and Divinity is stated thus:
"Certainly, it is heaven upon earth, to have a man's mind move in charity, rest in Providence, and turn upon the poles of truth."
From the objective truth, Bacon passes judgment, to the subjective truth, which he calls "the truth of civil business". It is the compelling quality of truth, Bacon observes, that the persons who do not practice truth, acknowledge it. Bacon's idealistic moral attitude is obvious in these lines when he says: "..... that clear and round dealing is the honour of man's nature; and that mixture of falsehood is like alloy in coin of gold and silver, which may make the metal work better, but it embaseth it."
Bacon further asserts that the liars are like a snake that goes basely upon the belly and not upon the feet. Imagery comprising comparison is apt and convincing. Moreover, Bacon refers to Montaigne who is of the view that "a lie faces God and shrinks from man". Bacon adds that falsehood is the height of wickedness and as such will invite the Judgment of God upon all human beings on Doom's day. Therefore, Bacon concludes his essay with didacticism with a tinge of Christian morality.
In the essay, “OF TRUTH”, there is no digression. All the arguments in the essay pertain to the single main idea, truth. Bacon's wide learning is clearly observed when he refers to Pilate (history), Lucian (Greek literature), Creation, Montaigne (a French essayist). “OF TRUTH” is enriched with striking similes and analogies, such as he equates liars as a snake moving basely on its belly, mixture of falsehood is like an alloy of gold and silver and many more.
The essay “OF TRUTH” is not ornamental as was the practice of the Elizabethan prose writers. Bacon is simple, natural and straightforward in his essay though Elizabethan colour is also found in “OF TRUTH” because there is a moderate use of Latinism in the essay. Economy of words is found in the essay not alone, but syntactic brevity is also obvious in this essay. We find conversational ease in this essay, which is the outstanding feature of Bacon's style. There is a peculiar feature of Bacon i.e. aphorism. We find many short, crispy, memorable and witty sayings in this essay.
Therefore, Bacon's essay “OF TRUTH” is rich in matter and manner. This is really a council 'civil
and moral'. This essay has to be read slowly and thoughtfully because it is extremely condensed and it is a model of succinct and lucid prose.