Authors: Francis Bacon

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English philosopher and essayist

Author Works

Nonfiction:

Essayes, 1597, 1612, 1625

A Declaration of the Practices and Treasons Attempted and Committed by Robert, Late Earle of Essex, 1601

The Twoo Bookes of Francis Bacon of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, Divine and Humane, 1605 (enlarged as De Augmentis Scientiarum, 1623; best known as Advancement of Learning)

De Sapientia Veterum, 1609 (The Wisdom of the Ancients, 1619)

Instauratio Magna, 1620 (The Great Instauration, 1653)

Novum Organum, 1620 (English translation, 1802)

Historia Ventorum, 1622 (History of Winds, 1653)

The Historie of the Raigne of King Henry the Seventh, 1622

Historia Vitae et Mortis, 1623 (History of Life and Death, 1638)

New Atlantis, 1627

Sylva sylvarum, 1627

Valerius Terminus, 1653 (View of Form, 1734)

Poetry:

The Poems of Francis Bacon, 1870

Translations:

The Translation of Certaine Psalmes into English Verse, 1625

Miscellaneous:

The Works of Francis Bacon, 1879-1889 (7 volumes)

Biography

Francis Bacon, founder of the inductive method of modern science, philosopher, essayist, politician, and historian, was the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, an Anglican, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal under Queen Elizabeth I. Bacon’s mother, Anne Bacon, a Calvinist, second wife of Sir Nicholas, was a Greek and Latin scholar, and the family was prosperous. Bacon’s uncle by the marriage of his aunt was Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley, one of the most important men in England.{$I[AN]9810000703}{$I[A]Bacon, Francis}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Bacon, Francis}{$I[tim]1561;Bacon, Francis}

Francis Bacon

(Library of Congress)

Young Francis Bacon was often seen at court in the company of his father and was known to Queen Elizabeth, who thought the boy extremely clever. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in April, 1573, when he was twelve years old. There he achieved a notable academic record and became known for criticizing the logic and science of his teachers. It seemed to the young student that the logic and philosophy of Aristotle were not adequate as a practical way to knowledge of the world, a criticism that provided the theoretical ground for Bacon’s philosophy of science.

After leaving Trinity College in 1575 Bacon became a student of law at Gray’s Inn in 1576. His studies were interrupted by a stay of two and a half years in Paris as a member of the staff of the English ambassador, Sir Amias Paulet. During this time he traveled widely and encountered the new ideas that were gradually supplanting Scholasticism in Europe. Recalled to England in February, 1579, because of the death of his father, he discovered that he had been left practically penniless, largely because his father had not finalized the division of his estate among his sons. After borrowing money to complete his law studies, Bacon was admitted to the bar in 1582.

Continuing to reflect on the need for new methods in science, Bacon entertained hopes of achieving a philosophy that would liberate students of nature from the artificial restraints of ancient logic and allow their work to have practical value in the world. At the same time he had political ambitions and prepared to set himself up as a man of power at court. In pursuit of this objective, he became a member of Parliament in 1584. He gradually ingratiated himself with Robert Devereux, the second earl of Essex, and attempted to use his influence with Essex, who was six years his junior, to secure for himself a responsible position at court. Although Essex was wealthy enough and friendly enough to rescue Bacon from debt and even from debtor’s prison, he could not persuade the queen to make an appointment of his friend. This lack of preferment was partly Bacon’s fault, for he was not always politic in his criticism of the queen’s policies. He finally managed to be granted an unofficial position in the Queen’s Learned Council.

In 1597 Bacon’s first published work appeared, a volume of ten essays that contained some of his basic opinions about the need for observation and science and were distinguished by their literary charm. The book established Bacon’s reputation for a terse, Senecan style in an age given to more elaborate rhetoric, and it remains one of Bacon’s most popular works.

When Essex became too confident of his own power and attempted a march on London, he was arrested for treason. Bacon, commissioned to prosecute his former friend and patron, performed his duties diligently. This has been interpreted by some as a sign of Bacon’s devotion to duty and to the queen and by others as a sign of his putting personal advancement above friendship. Essex was executed in 1601.

When James I ascended the throne two years later, Bacon managed, through his uncle’s petition, to be knighted at the coronation; thereafter his personal, economic, and political fortunes improved. In 1605 he wrote Advancement of Learning, the first part of a great philosophic work that he intended would be titled Instauratio Magna. Although the work was never completed, the parts that were published were sufficient to make Bacon’s reputation as one of the most important thinkers of his time. In 1607 he married Alice Barnham, an alderman’s daughter. He became attorney general in 1613 and four years later received his father’s office as Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. In 1617 or 1618 he became Lord Chancellor, and he was made Lord Verulam that same year and Viscount St. Albans in 1921. His The Wisdom of the Ancients, an examination of classical myths as symbols, came out in English in 1619.

In his Novum Organum, published in 1620, Bacon presented his conclusions about the proper mode of scientific inquiry. He built his ideas on the principle that the study of nature could not proceed from ideas taken a priori, as true without reference to experience, but only from a study of particular cases. In order to attain knowledge, he argued, one must free oneself from certain pernicious preconceptions or “idols.” Bacon suggested that the study of particular events proceed to a consideration of forms, or general features, and that the generalizations be tested by further observation of particular instances. This work was the first significant formulation of the inductive method in science.

Yet Bacon’s philosophical acumen did not save him from prosecution when in 1621 he was charged with accepting bribes as Lord Chancellor. While admitting his guilt, Bacon attempted to excuse himself by ingenious distinctions and references to the immorality of the times. However, he was fined forty thousand pounds and sentenced to a prison term in the Tower of London. Although the sentence was soon remitted, Bacon was forced to leave Parliament and to give up his positions at court. For the next five years he lived in retirement and continued his philosophical writings about scientific procedures. Among the products of that period are The Historie of the Raigne of King Henry the Seventh, the Historia Vitae et Mortis, and New Atlantis, his conception of a scientific Utopia.

He died at Highgate in 1626 of pneumonia contracted as a result of an experiment in preserving meat by freezing it. On his deathbed he wrote, “The experiment succeeded, excellently well.”

BibliographyAnderson, Fulton H. Francis Bacon: His Career and His Thought. Los Angeles: University of Southern California Press, 1962. Discusses the public life of Francis Bacon. Based on a series of lectures, the book links Bacon’s philosophy to his politics. Attempts to relate Bacon’s philosophy to twentieth century problems are not entirely successful.Bowen, Catherine Drinker. Francis Bacon: The Temper of a Man. Boston: Little, Brown, 1963. A very readable and interesting biography that brings Bacon to life but is still historically accurate. The author’s favorable treatment forgives Bacon for all of his faults except his coldness toward women.Farrington, Benjamin. The Philosophy of Francis Bacon. Liverpool, England: Liverpool University Press, 1964. A valuable discussion of Bacon’s philosophical concepts. The author includes good translations of Bacon’s minor Latin writings, making them available to a broader audience.Jardine, Lisa. Francis Bacon: Discovery and the Art of Discourse. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1974. Begins with a discussion of the dialectical methods of sixteenth century Europe. Discusses Bacon’s theory of knowledge, which Bacon referred to as logic. Analyzes his major writings and gives clear evaluations of them. Includes a good bibliography divided into time periods.Sessions, William A. Francis Bacon Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1996. Begins with an excellent biographical sketch and a chronology of Bacon’s life, including the rise and fall of his political career. Integrates his major writings with the events of his life. Last chapter emphasizes Bacon’s utopian work, New Atlantis. Includes primary and secondary bibliographies.Stephens, James. Francis Bacon and the Style of Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975. Emphasizes Bacon’s concern about the communication of knowledge, specifically the need for a philosophy of communication. Includes Bacon’s attempt to use science in this philosophy. Discusses Bacon’s psychology of discovery, his plan to exploit human passions and imagination, and his doctrine of literate experience (uniting philosophy and rhetoric). Examines Bacon’s approval of fable-making as a way to pass knowledge on to future generations.Wallace, Anthony F. C. The Social Context of Innovation: Bureaucrats, Families, and Heroes in the Early Industrial Revolution, as Foreseen in Bacon’s “New Atlantis.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982. An interesting discussion of how Bacon’s ideas in New Atlantis paved the way for many of the inventions of the Industrial Revolution. Includes twenty-five illustrations of those inventions and how Bacon’s political positions helped promote them.Zagorin, Perez. Francis Bacon. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998. A study of the development of Francis Bacon’s intellectual life, with attention to his thought in the areas of science, morals, politics, language, law, and history.
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