Francis Bacon and the Advancement of Learning

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Francis Bacon (1561–1626), Viscount St Albans, was an English politician and philosopher who served as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor. He contributed to the Scientific Revolution and is considered the father of the scientific method. He also contributed to the classification of knowledge and organization of libraries into three main categories (History, Poetry, and Philosophy) with further subcategories. In the Edward Worth Library there are several of Bacon’s works, many of which were owned by John Worth (1648–1688), Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. For more information about the Edward Worth Library please visit https://edwardworthlibrary.ie/

 

Early Life and Career

 

Image 1: Thomas Tenison, Baconiana of Certain Genuine Remains of Sr Francis Bacon, (London, 1679): frontispiece portrait of Francis Bacon.

 

Francis Bacon was born 22 January 1561 in York House, London as the second son of Sir Nicholas Bacon (1510–1579) and his wife Anne (1527–1610). He was educated at home before attending Trinity College, Cambridge at the age of 12. He received the typical Renaissance humanist education with a strong emphasis on philosophy, rhetoric, and history. He entered Gray’s Inn in 1576 and was admitted to the bar in 1582. Prior to his attendance at Gray’s Inn, Bacon accompanied Sir Amias Paulet (1532–1588), English ambassador to France, to France. There he lived in the household of a civil lawyer where he was able to receive more education in civil law. Following his father’s death in 1579, Bacon was left with no land, no title, and no source of income so he turned to the law and politics. He began his career in parliament as MP for Bossiney, Cornwall in 1581. He proceeded to hold several different seats over the years, advocating for the unification of England and Scotland, arguing in favor of executing Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587), and against feudal privileges and religious persecution.

While sitting for Middlesex in the 1593 session, Bacon disagreed with a tax bill proposed by Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603) and he lost her favor.[1] This caused him to be passed over for his desired positions of Solicitor General or Attorney General. Though he had been nominated by his close friend Robert Devereux (1565–1601), the second earl of Essex, the queen snubbed Bacon for the positions. Bacon was also struggling financially at this time and while Essex helped him a little, Bacon was arrested for debt in 1598. He would continue to struggle off and on with his finances for the rest of his life. In 1601, Essex led a rebellion against the queen, unhappy with losing his place at court. At his trial, Bacon was asked to be the prosecutor, and Essex was found guilty and beheaded. Two years later Queen Elizabeth died and James VI of Scotland (1566–1625) succeeded her. Following James I’s ascension, Bacon was knighted in 1603 along with 300 others as part of the coronation celebrations. Initially, Bacon held no official political position under James, continuing his informal appointment as the Queen’s Learned Counsel. In addition, his prosecution of Essex, an ally of James I, made him unpopular in Scotland. Despite his efforts to gain favor with the new king, his political career became stagnant and Bacon turned to writing.[2]

 

Advancement of Learning

 

Image 2: Francis Bacon, ‘De Dignitate & Augmentis Scientiarum Libri IX’ in Francisci Baconi Baronis de Verulamio, Vice-Comitis Sancti Albani, Operum Moralium et Civilium, (London, 1638), p. 1.

 

In 1605, Bacon published The Advancement of Learning (London). It was his first philosophical work and the only one published in English. It was later translated into Latin with several new sections added and a new title: Tractatus de Augmentis Scientiarum. The copy of De Augmentis Scientiarum found in the Worth Library is part of Francisci Baconi Baronis De Verulamio, Vice-Comities Sancti Albani, Operum Moralium et Civilium (London, 1638). The book was owned by John Worth and his signature may be found on the title page. His copy is a reissue of the 1620 edition. Bacon dedicated it to King James I in the hopes that it would regain him favor or a higher political position as well as support for his proposed system of learning. In Advancement of Learning, Bacon laid out a completely new plan for education and research with the goal of improving learning and knowledge. He also began to create a categorized system of human knowledge: History, Poetry, and Philosophy. History was the factual memory-based knowledge, poetry was the imaginative history (and for Bacon, unimportant), and philosophy was all about reason. Human history was further divided into subcategories. There was the ‘chronicle’ which was the history of the period, the ‘life’ which was the history of a person, and the ‘narration’ which was the history of an action/event. For him, the ‘chronicle’ was the most complete but had little relevance to human conduct. The ‘life’ was determined to be better for instruction and ‘narrations’ were more sincere.[3] In addition, he called for James I to reform current institutions of learning and raise their funding. Ultimately the book did not gain Bacon any further political standing. He was successful, however, in finding a potential solution for his financial problems: marriage. In 1606, he married Alice Barnham (1592–1650), daughter of Benedict Barham (1559–1598), a wealthy alderman who had left his daughter around £6,000 (over 1 million pounds today).[4]

 

Rise in Political Career

 

Bacon finally began to advance politically, in part due to his support of the unification of England and Scotland. He was appointed Solicitor General in 1607 and a year later became the clerk of Star Chamber. In the following years his reputation grew and he became an important figure in court and parliament. He was appointed Attorney General in 1613 and was later sworn in as a member of the privy council in 1616. A year later he was offered the position once held by his father, Lord Keeper. He became Baron Verulam of Verulam in 1618. As an important figure and lawyer, Bacon took part in several cases including those against Sir Walter Raleigh (1552–1618) and Thomas Howard, the earl of Suffolk (1561–1626). During his leisure as Lord Keeper, he continued to work on his writings on science and knowledge, including translating Advancement of Learning into Latin.

 

Novum Organum

 

Image 3: Francis Bacon, Novum Organum Scientiarum (Leiden, 1650), title page.

 

In 1620, Bacon published his Summi Angliæ Cancellarii Novum Organum Scientiarum (London), which is commonly referred to as Novum Organum. He designated De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum (The Advancement of Learning) as the first part of Instauratio Magna (Great Instauration) and Novum Organum served as the second part.[5] The copy held in the Worth Library belonged to Edward Worth (1620–1669), Church of Ireland Bishop of Killaloe, and his son John Worth. It was printed in 1650 by Adriaen Wijngaerden in the Netherlands. The title page has the engraving of a ship passing through the Pillars of Hercules that mark the exit of the Mediterranean Sea and symbolize the exploration of the New World. Bacon wanted to apply a similar concept to the exploration of science by exploring beyond the known into the unknown. He had laid out the fields of knowledge in De Augmentis Scientiarum; in Novum Organum, he proposed methods for their development.

In Novum Organum, Bacon argues that the problem with previous scientific beliefs was how the deductions were formed. He addressed what he saw as the shortcomings of Aristotelian logic, including the dependence on natural senses and experiences. He proposed a gradual accumulation of knowledge through inductive reasoning, building on what had been previously discovered and continuing to challenge false causes through observations and experiments. This is part of why he is considered the father of the scientific method.[6] In addition he included many of his chemical and mechanical experiments in Novum Organum, as proof of his proposed methodology.

 

Fall from Political Power

 

In 1621 he was named Viscount St Alban however soon after his political career began to decline. He was accused of taking bribes during his time as a judge and although he appealed to James, a trial of impeachment was brought against him. Seeing any type of defense as futile, Bacon confessed and accepted his fate, writing ‘I do ingeniously confess and acknowledge, that having understood the particulars of the Charge […] I find matter sufficient and full, both move me to desert my Defence and to move your Lordships to condemn and censure me.’[7] His punishment included a fine and imprisonment along with being banned from sitting in parliament or coming within 12 miles of the court. Following this decline in power, Bacon returned once again to writing, quickly producing The Historie of the Reigne of King Henry The Seventh (London, 1622).

 

The Historie of the Reign of King Henry VII

 

Image 4: Francis Bacon, The Historie of the Reigne of King Henry The Seventh, (London, 1629), title page.

 

Bacon set out to write histories of the Tudors starting with Henry VII (1457-1509) but never completed anything beyond Henry VII. Prior histories had focused on classical history but around the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign there was a surge of national pride and scholars began to write histories of England and more modern times. Sir Walter Ralegh wrote his History of the World (London, 1621), William Camden (1551–1623) published Britannia (London, 1586), and Francis Bacon published The Historie of the Reign of King Henry VII.[8] Bacon’s work was popular and became the authority on Henry VII for several centuries. The copy found in the Worth library was owned by John Worth and was printed in 1629, containing John Worth’s signature on the title page and the addition of an index. The book was dedicated to Prince Charles (1600–1649) and some believe this was another attempt by Bacon to regain favor with the monarchy. Due to his exile from London, Bacon relied on others to gather the necessary documents and histories to use. He used information from several previously written histories and gathered materials sent to him by friends allowing him to assemble his Historie.

 

Image 5: Sir George Buck, The Historie of the Life and Reigne of Richard The Third, Composed in five Bookes by Geo:Buck Esquire (London 1646), frontispiece portrait of King Richard III.

 

Bacon’s Historie begins at Bosworth Field with the defeat of Richard III (1452–1485) and his forces. It then moves through the various events of Henry’s reign culminating in his death in 1509. Bacon focused on the character of Henry, painting him as a suspicious but economical man taking advantage of the opportunities presented to him. For several centuries following its publication, it was regarded as the official biography of Henry VII but it later came under fire for its inaccuracies including the incorrect year of death and inaccurate depiction of Henry’s relationship with his wife Elizabeth of York’s (1466–1503).

 

Image 6: King Henry VII, holding a sceptre and an orb; below, Elizabeth of York and two putti holding roses. Engraving by J. Hulett, ca. 1750. Wellcome Collection.

 

Bacon’s Historie provides an example of the political philosophy he outlined in De Augmentis depicting a king who handles things as they occur without using morality or religion as a guide. In Bacon’s work, Henry does not stick to a fixed set of principles but instead adapts to each situation as it occurs.[9] For more information regarding Bacon’s Historie of the Reign of King Henry VII, please see the August 2022 Book of the Month.

 

History of the Winds

 

Image 8:  Francis Bacon, Historia Naturalis & Experimentalis de Ventis, (Leiden, 1648), title page.

 

Following his work on Henry VII, Bacon was still forbidden from parliament and was facing financial difficulties. While he continued to write, he was also working to regain some sort of status or income. He began writing on the reign of King Henry VIII (1491–1547) although he never completed it, potentially due to a lack of source material available to him. Additionally, he began a proposed series on natural history. The first of these natural history books was Historia Ventorum (London, 1622) followed by Historia Vitae et Mortis (London 1623) and several others. In the Worth Library, there are two copies of Historia Ventorum. The first was published in 1622 in London by John Haviland (1589–1638) as part of Historia Naturalis Et Experimentalis Ad Condendam Philosopiam. It also contains Historia Densi et Rari, Historia Gravis et Levis, Historia Sympathiae et Antipathiae Rerum, Historia Sulphuris, Mercurij et Salis and Historia Vitae et Mortis. The second copy was published in 1648 in Leiden. The 1648 copy was owned and signed by John Worth on the title page.

Bacon wrote this natural history as well as the others that followed in the hope that it would serve as an example of natural history for others to follow. They were meant to spark further thought and study and Bacon acknowledged his findings were incomplete. It was part of his reform of natural history, following his criticism of previous natural history. He discussed previous works on winds written by Pliny (AD 23–79), José de Acosta (1539–1600), and others. He included several experiments including determining heat’s ability to cause winds, reporting his experimental process, and description of the process. This made it repeatable for anyone who would like to test his theory and claims for themselves.[10] Ultimately Bacon wanted to form a collaborative science, advocating for scientists to build on top of what others have discovered and continue to push forward in the field of science.

 

Death

 

Bacon died 9 April 1626 at Arundel mansion in Highgate. The popular account claims that while on his way to Highgate, Bacon had the idea to test the use of snow in preserving meat. While stuffing a fowl with snow, Bacon contracted pneumonia and died a few days later. Others claim he had been battling illness for longer and had steadily been growing weaker before dying in Highgate. Following his death, he was buried near his mother at St Michael’s Church in St Albans. He left behind no heirs having written his wife out of his will the year prior. His estate included land and assets of around £13,000 and debts of around £23,000.[11]

 

Baconiana

 

Image 9: Thomas Tenison, Baconiana of Certain Genuine Remains of Sr Francis Bacon, (London, 1679), title page.

 

Following his death, Bacon left many unpublished works, some of them incomplete. His former chaplain, William Rawley (1588–1667) worked to continue Bacon’s legacy, publishing Memoriae Honoratissimi Domini Francisci, Baronis de Verulamio, Vice-Comitis Sancti Albani Sacrum (Manes Verulami) (London, 1626). It contained 32 poems praising Bacon written by various authors, many anonymous. Rawley also published other works by Bacon including New Atlantis (London, 1626) and a translation of History of Life and Death.[12]  Following Rawley’s death, the Bacon manuscripts made their way to Thomas Tenison (1636-1715), Archbishop of Canterbury, who then published Baconiana or Certain Genuine Remains of Sr Francis Bacon (London) in 1679. The copy found in the Worth library was also owned by John Worth who signed the title page as he did with many of his books. It contains Bacon’s works on natural philosophy, theology, morality, and other topics along with the writings of others about Bacon.

 

Legacy

 

Francis Bacon left behind a legacy of scientific contributions including his theories on scientific methods which became an important part of the debate on the theories of knowledge. He also made contributions to Western philosophy, law, and the organization of knowledge. His ideas about the advancement of science and learning led to the founding of the Royal Society in 1660. He helped transform contemplative science into a more active science. During the Enlightenment, Bacon was celebrated by the likes of Voltaire (1694–1778) and Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826). Today he is still considered an important figure in scientific methodology and natural philosophy.

 

Image 10: Francis Bacon, Francisci Baconi Baronis de Verulamio, Vice-Comitis Sancti Albani, Operum Moralium et Civilium, (London, 1638): frontispiece portrait of Francis Bacon.

 

Text: Ms Lucy Bornhorst, University of Pittsburgh | Class of 2023; Intern at the Edward Worth Library, 2022.

 

Bibliography

 

Anderson, Judith. “Bacon’s Theory of Life-Writing.” In Biographical Truth: The Representation of Historical Persons in Tudor-Stuart Writing, 157–69. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984.

Bacon, Francis. “Editor’s Introduction.” In Novum Organum, edited by Peter Urbach and John Gibson. Open Court Publishing Company, 1994.

Bowen, Catherine Drinker. Francis Bacon: The Temper of a Man. Fordham University Press, 1993.

Historical Collections of Private Passages of State, Weightly Matters in Law, Remarkable Proceedings in Five Parliaments. London: John Rushworth, 1659.

Jardine, Lisa, and Alan Stewert. Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon 1561-1626. London: Phoenix, 1999.

Lea, Kathleen, Peter Urbach, Anthony Quinton, and Baron Quinton. “Francis Bacon.” In Encyclopedia Britannica, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Francis-Bacon-Viscount-Saint-Alban.

Martin, Craig. “Francis Bacon, José de Acosta and Traditions of Natural Histories of Winds.” Annals of Science 77, no. 4 (2020): 445–68.

Peltonen, Markku. “Bacon, Francis, Viscount St Alban (1561-1626),.” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Schuster, Mary Faith. “Philosophy of Life and Prose Style in Thomas More’s Richard III and Francis Bacon’s Henry VII.” PMLA 70, no. 3 (1955): 474–87.

 

 

 

[1] Markku Peltonen, “Bacon, Francis, Viscount St Alban (1561-1626),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004).

[2] Lisa Jardine and Alan Stewert, Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon 1561-1626 (London: Phoenix, 1999), p. 265.

[3]Judith Anderson, “Bacon’s Theory of Life-Writing,” in Biographical Truth: The Representation of Historical Persons in Tudor-Stuart Writing (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), p. 159.

[4] Jardine and Stewert, Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon 1561-1626, p. 289.

[5] Francis Bacon, “Editor’s Introduction,” in Novum Organum, ed. Peter Urbach and John Gibson (Open Court Publishing Company, 1994).

[6] Kathleen Lea et al., “Francis Bacon,” in Encyclopedia Britannica, 2022, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Francis-Bacon-Viscount-Saint-Alban. Accessed 14 July 2022.

[7] Historical Collections of Private Passages of State, Weightly Matters in Law, Remarkable Proceedings in Five Parliaments (London: John Rushworth, 1659), p. 29.

[8] Catherine Drinker Bowen, Francis Bacon: The Temper of a Man (Fordham University Press, 1993), p. 211.

[9] Mary Faith Schuster, “Philosophy of Life and Prose Style in Thomas More’s Richard III and Francis Bacon’s Henry VII,” PMLA 70, no. 3 (1955): 482.

[10] Craig Martin, “Francis Bacon, José de Acosta and Traditions of Natural Histories of Winds,” Annals of Science 77, no. 4 (2020): 459.

[11] Peltonen, “Bacon, Francis, Viscount St Alban (1561-1626).”

[12] Jardine and Stewert, Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon 1561-1626, p. 521.

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