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Bacon, Francis

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1561-1626) English statesman, philosopher and author who practised as a barrister before embarking on a political career which ended in 1621 with his dismissal, for taking bribes, from the post of Lord High Chancellor of England. Early in life he planned a vast work, The Instauration of the Sciences, a review and encyclopedia of all knowledge, the first inklings of which (and the first use of the term "Instauratio magnus" ["great instauration"]) appeared in the manuscript "Temporis partus maximus", written 1602-1603; the project was never completed, but Bacon's reputation as a philosopher rests largely on the first two parts of this Great Instauration: De Augmentis Scientiarum (1623 in Latin, based on The Proficience and Advancement of Learning [1605]) and Novum Organum (1620 in Latin). The latter book championed observation, experiment and inductive theorizing, arguing that the object of scientific inquiry is to discover patterns of causation [for Instauration Fantasy see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Bacon's important contribution to Proto SF, posthumously published as New Atlantis: A Work Unfinished (first appears bound in with Sylva Sylvarum 1626; 1627 chap), is a speculative account of possible technological progress, probably written as an advertisement for a Royal College of Science which he hoped to persuade James I to endow. Though some believe New Atlantis was written before 1617, one passage makes specific reference to the cause of Bacon's own fall from grace in 1621, suggesting that the work was at least revised in the last years of Bacon's life.

There is little story as such. After a moderately extended Fantastic Voyage, English voyagers are shipwrecked on the great Island continent of Bensalem in the Pacific Ocean, which houses in its interior a Lost World whose inhabitants descend from survivors of Atlantis, and have remained hidden until now. Rather like the Dutch traders who discovered Japan in the sixteen century and were confined to a small coastal area, the ship's crew are housed and taken care of in the remote Strangers' House, where the narrator of New Atlantis is instructed in Bensalem civilization by three interlocutors. The Governor of the House describes the founding of the Utopia 1900 years earlier by the seemingly Immortal King Solamona, who is no relation to the Old Testament figure (the first edition gives "Solamona" and "Salomon's House" [see below], while later editions, with no sanction, give "Salomona" and "Solomon's House"). He goes on to indicate that the inhabitants of Bensalem later accepted Christianity – which did not keep the Christian apologist C S Lewis from condemning Bacon.

A resident Jew then describes the social and cultural life of this welfare state. In the great central Salomon's House, a scientific community devotes itself to plumbing "the knowledge of Causes, and secret motions of things, and the enlarging of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible". Laboratories not requiring natural light are housed deep Underground, while others are housed in hollowed-out mountains three miles in the air. Animals awaiting experimentation are kept in Suspended Animation in a Zoo. Automatas, from artificial birds to Machines of War, proliferate. After a resident Jew describes the social and cultural life of this welfare state, a Father of the House describes various further Inventions, mostly in the field of Transportation, but including the telephone and air-conditioning; the Father's description of these innovations is consistent with Bacon's advocacy of scientific method. Along with the huge assembly of quotations from contemporary thinking that comprises Sylva Sylvarum ["A Tree from the Forest"] itself, Bacon's sketch is a remarkably accurate assessment of the potential of the scientific renaissance.

A later Sequel by Another Hand is New Atlantis. Begun by the Lord Verulam, Viscount St Albans: And Continued by R.H. Esquire (1660) by the anonymous R H Esquire (whom see). [BS/JC]

see also: Biology; Futures Studies; Music; Weapons.

Francis Bacon, Baron Verulam and Viscount St Albans

born London: 22 January 1561

died Highgate, London: 9 April 1626


about the author

  • J Max Patrick. Francis Bacon (London: Longmans, Green, 1961) [nonfiction: chap: Writers and their Work: pb/]
  • Brian Vickers. Francis Bacon (London: Longmans, Green, 1978) [nonfiction: chap: Writers and their Work: pb/]


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