English Literature » Aphorism

Aphorism

Brief definition of Aphorism

Aphorism is a compact, condensed and epigrammatic style of writing that expresses an opinion or makes a statement of wisdom or truth.

Aphorism Definition

Aphorism is a statement of truth or opinion expressed in a concise and witty manner. The term is often applied to philosophical, moral, and literary principles.

To qualify as an aphorism, it is necessary for a statement to contain a truth revealed in a terse manner. Aphoristic statements are quoted in writings, as well as in our daily speech. The fact that they contain a truth gives them a universal acceptance. Scores of philosophers, politicians, writers, artists, sportsmen, and other individuals are remembered for their famous aphoristic statements.

Aphorisms often come with a pinch of humor, which makes them more appealing to the masses. Proverbs, maxims, adages, and clichés are different forms of aphoristic statements that gain prevalence from generation to generation and frequently appear in our day-to-day speech.

Examples of Aphorism in English Literature

Many pieces of literature are appreciated for the aphorisms they contain, which are often cited by scholars as well as laymen. Below are some examples of aphorisms in literature:

Aphorism in Francis Bacon’s works

Francis Bacon excels in the aphoristic style of writing. Possibly, his sayings are the most quoted of all. Consider the following examples:

  • “A mixture of a lie doeth ever add pleasure.” (Of Truth)
  • “Studies serve for delight, for ornament and for ability.” (Of Studies)
  • Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; writing an exact man.”  (Of Studies)
  • “He that questioned much, shall learne much, and content much.” (Of Discourse).
  • “Praise is the reflection of the virtue. But it is the reflection glass or body which giveth the reflection.” (Of Praise)

Aphorism in William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare does not fall behind any writer in the use of aphorisms in his plays. The use of abundant aphorisms testifies to his keen insight and judgment. Below are some examples:

  • “…for the eye sees not itself, but by reflection, by some other things.” (Julius Caesar)
  • “Having nothing, nothing can he lose.” (Henry VI)
  • “Life is a tale told by an idiot – full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Macbeth)
  • “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

More examples of  aphorism

An example of aphorism can be seen in To Kill a Mocking Bird, by Harper Lee. Atticus Finch tells her daughter:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

The above statement holds truth, as we cannot claim to judge a person unless we understand the way he views the world and its affairs.

Alexander Pope was a great aphorist of the 18th century. Following are some memorable quotes from his works:

  • “‘Tis education forms the common mind; just as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined.” (Golden Treasury of the Familiar)
  • “To err is human, to forgive divine.” (An Essay on Criticism)
  • “What Reason weaves, by Passion is undone.” (Essay on Man and Other Poems)
  • “Act well your part; there all the honour lies.” (An Essay on Man)