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Today in my History of the Essay course we read Francis Bacon’s “On Studies.” As we were looking at his use of parallel structure and the balanced sentence, someone commented that John Milton’s sentences are similar—they often use coordination to create balance and symmetry. The student quickly made the connection that Bacon and Milton were writing in the same century.

Thinking about those neatly balanced sentences (“Crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them, for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them and above them, won by observation.”), can you imagine how Bacon and those around him saw the world? Symmetry, balance, a world that was well ordered. A world where there was little use, even, for the dependent clause, where everything was of equal importance and proportion. Now think about the use of the sentence today—the huge variety, the common use of the fragment and the dash.

The sentence: a window into another time period and a mirror of our own.