Francis Bacon was the son of Nicolas Bacon, the Lord Keeper of the Seal of Elisabeth I. He entered Trinity College Cambridge at age 12. Bacon later described his tutors as “Men of sharp wits, shut up in their cells of a few authors, chiefly Aristotle, their Dictator.” This is likely the beginning of Bacon’s rejection of Aristotelianism and Scholasticism and the new Renaissance Humanism.
His father died when he was 18, and being the youngest son this left him virtually penniless. He turned to the law and at 23 he was already in the House of Commons. His rich relatives did little to advance his career and Elisabeth apparently distrusted him. It was not until James I became King that Bacon’s career advanced. He rose to become Baron Verulam, Viscount St. Albans and Lord Chancellor of England. His fall came about in the course of a struggle between King and Parliament. He was accused of having taken a bribe while a judge, tried and found guilty. He thus lost his personal honour, his fortune and his place at court.
Loren Eiseley, in his beautifully written book about Bacon, The Man Who Saw Through Time remarks that Bacon:
“…more fully than any man of his time, entertained the idea of the universe as a problem to be solved, examined, meditated upon, rather than as an eternally fixed stage, upon which man walked.”
This is the title page from Bacon’s Instauratio Magna which contains his Novum Organum which is a new method to replace that of Aristotle. The image is of a ship passing through the pillars of Hercules, which symbolized for the ancients the limits of man’s possible explorations. The image represents the analogy between the great voyages of discovery and the explorations leading to the advancement of learning. In The Advancement of Learning Bacon makes this analogy explicit. Speaking to James I, to whom the book is dedicated, he writes: “For why should a few received authors stand up like Hercules columns, beyond which there should be no sailing or discovering, since we have so bright and benign a star as your Majesty to conduct and prosper us.” The image also forcefully suggests that using Bacon’s new method, the boundaries of ancient learning will be passed. The Latin phrase at the bottom from the Book of Daniel means: “Many will pass through and knowledge will be increased.”
Bacon saw himself as the inventor of a method which would kindle a light in nature – “a light that would eventually disclose and bring into sight all that is most hidden and secret in the universe.” This method involved the collection of data, their judicious interpretation, the carrying out of experiments, thus to learn the secrets of nature by organized observation of its regularities. Bacon’s proposals had a powerful influence on the development of science in seventeenth century Europe. Thomas Hobbes served as Bacon’s last amunensis or secretary. Many members of the British Royal Society saw Bacon as advocating the kind of enquiry conducted by that society
Bacon Time Line
- 1561 January 22, born in London to Sir Nicolas Bacon, the lord keeper of seal, and the sister-in-law of Lord Burghley.
- 1573 April, enters Trinity college, Cambridge where he studies all the sciences then taught.
- 1576 Enters Gray’s Inn with his brother Anthony. Travels with the Ambassador to Paris, Sir Amyas Paulet.
- 1579 Resides at Gray’s Inn. Father’s death leaves him penniless so he begins a career in law.
- 1582 Made outer barister at Gray’s Inn.
- 1584 Takes a seat in parliament for Dorsetshire.
- 1591 Confidential advisor to the earl of Essex.
- 1593 Takes a seat in parliament for Middlesex.
- 1597 Publishes his Essays along with Colours of Good and Evil and the Meditationes Sacrae.
- 1601 February 8, Essex leads a plot to kidnap the queen in order to force her to dismiss his enemies from her court. The leaders were arrested and Bacon was instrument al in securing for the queen a guilty verdict at Essex’ trial.
- 1603 Queen Elizabeth dies, succeeded by James I in whose service Bacon flourishes.
- 1607 Receives office of solicitor.
- 1608 Named treasurer of Gray’s Inn.
- 1613 Bacon becomes attorney general.
- 1617 March 7, made lord keeper of the seal, the same office his father had held.
- 1618 January 7, made lord chancellor, and received the title of Baron Verulam.
- 1620 Publishes Novum Organum.
- 1621 Created Viscount St. Albans. Charged with bribery and found guilty upon his own admission. Fined forty thousand pounds, sentenced to the Tower of London, prohibi ted from holding office for the state, and prohibited from sitting on parliament. The sentence was reduced and no fine was paid and only four days were spent in the Tower but he never again held office or sat for parliament.
- 1622 Presents to Prince Charles the History of Henry VII. Publishes Historia Ventorum and Historia Vitae et Mortis.
- 1623 Publishes De Augmentis Scientiarum.
- 1624 Publishes Apothegms.
- 1626 March, while driving near Highgate, decides to experiment with the effect of cold on the decay of meat, purchases a fowl and stuffs it with snow. Catches cold and develops bronchitis, dying on April 9.