Sir Francis Bacon
Sir Francis Bacon was an English Renaissance philosopher, essayist and statesman. Born London, England, January 22, 1561.
One of the outstanding figures of the Renaissance, Bacon made important contributions to several fields. His chief interests were science and philosophy, but he was also a distinguished man of letters and held several high governmental positions during the reign of King James I. He was one of the earliest and most eloquent spokesmen for experimental science. Dissatisfied with existing methods of scientific investigation, Bacon insisted that scientific inquiry should begin with facts rather than with theories. He even tried to introduce a new method of inductive reasoning.
As an author, Bacon is most famous for his Essays (1597-1625), which deal with such subjects as honor, friendship, love, and riches. Written in a terse, polished style, with many learned allusions and metaphors, the essays rank with the finest in English literature. Bacon's other important literary works include The New Atlantis (1627), an account of an ideal society and an imaginary voyage, and The History of the Reign of King Henry VII (1622), a perceptive psychological study of Henry's mind and character.
Bacon was the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, lord keeper of the great seal. He attended Cambridge and in 1579 began the study of law. In 1584 he was elected to Parliament, but his political advancement was slow because of his disagreement with Queen Elizabeth's tax program. Under King James I he was appointed solicitor general in 1607, attorney general in 1613, privy councilor in 1616, and lord keeper in 1617. The following year he was named lord chancellor, the highest legal post in the kingdom. He was also given the titles Baron Verulam of Verulam and Viscount St. Albans.
In 1621, at the height of his public career, Bacon was accused of having taken bribes from clients with legal suits pending. He admitted receiving gifts, but he demonstrated that they had not influenced his judgments. He was found guilty, however, and was fined, banished from court and public office, and imprisoned in the Tower of London. The fine and sentence were soon remitted, and Bacon retired to his father's estate at Gorhambury. He died as the result of a chill contracted while stuffing a chicken with snow to see if cold would halt decay. This is the only scientific experiment he is known to have conducted.
Bacon claimed that the three objectives in his life were the welfare of his country, the reform of religion, and the study of truth. In The Advancement of Learning (1605) he grandly asserted, "I have taken all knowledge to be my province." His great plan was to erect a new approach to knowledge, based on a surer interpretation of nature. It was to contain six parts, but only The Advancement of Learning and The New Organon (1620) were completed.
Bacon's character, particularly his apparent lack of moral integrity, has been much discussed. Alexander Pope described him as "the wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind. His commanding place in the history of scientific thought is unusual, because he made no new discoveries himself and his specific theories were not adopted. His great contributions, which prompted a new interest in science and philosophy, were his refusal to depend on authority, his emphasis on the need for new methods for the advancement of learning, and his insistence that investigation should begin with observable facts rather than with theories.
Francis Bacon died in London on April 9, 1626.