Gilbert Highet, The Classical Tradition (18):
With the beginning of the Renaissance, the amazing strength and flexibility of Cicero’s style was recognized once more. It was copied by writers of Latin prose on almost every subject. For centuries the diplomacy of the European chanceries was carried on not only in the language, but in the precise vocabulary, and word order, and cadences of Cicero’s speeches. There was a long and fierce dispute between scholars who held that Cicero was an unchallengeable ‘authority’ and that no modern writer could use Latin words or constructions not found in his works, and those, more liberal, who pointed out that Latin was still a living language which modern authors could expand and alter to their own needs. Since this was a dispute about the use of the Latin language, it does not come within the scope of our book. But it was closely connected with another dispute which does.
Many writers in the vernacular languages felt that the ‘big bow-wow’ style of speaking and writing was bogus. All style is artificial, no doubt; but they held that prose should at least give the appearance of being natural. They therefore turned away from Cicero and most of the devices he had developed, and, as models for modem prose, picked Seneca and Tacitus. Some of them went farther back, to Demosthenes and Plato. The aim of them all was to be personal, to avoid formalism. On the models of Seneca’s moral essays and Tacitus’ histories — and, to a much smaller extent, Demosthenes’ plainer speeches and Plato’s quieter dialogues — they created the prose of most modem essays and character-sketches, the prose in which some great modem sermons have been written.