Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Francis Bacon was born in London on January 22, 1561, the younger of two sons of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal under Queen Elizabeth I. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1573, at age 12 and studied there for two years. Bacon later described his tutors as "Men of sharp wits, shut up in their cells of a few authors, chiefly Aristotle, their Dictator." This statement is indicative of Bacon's rejection of Aristotelianism and the beginning of his embrace of the new Renaissance Humanism.
His father died when Bacon was eighteen and, because Bacon was the youngest, he remained virtually penniless. The only way he saw to establish himself, both financially and socially, was to study law. In 1576, Bacon was admitted to Gray's Inn, where he studied and became one of the finest lawyers in England, thus attracting the attention of the Queen. In 1584, at the age of twenty-three, he won a seat in the House of Commons. He attempted to gain the post of solicitor general but failed due to Queen Elizabeth's dislike of policies he had supported in Parliament
It was not until James I became King that Bacon's career advanced. In 1602, Bacon was knighted; and in 1605 he married Alice Barnham, the daughter of a London alderman. He became solicitor general and eventually took over his father's old position of the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. He became Lord Chancellor, in 1618; and that same year, at the age of fifty-seven, he was established as Baron Verulam.
In 1621, he was made Viscount St. Albans. Later that year, he became the victim of a struggle between King and Parliament. He was accused of having taken a bribe while a judge, tried and found guilty. His offices were taken from him and he was fined, briefly imprisoned, and banned from Parliament and the Royal Court. Disgraced, Bacon retired and devoted the remainder of his life to study and literary work. His sentence, however, was never strictly enforced, and his fine was practically remitted by the King. In 1622, Bacon was allowed to come to London and, once again, allowed into the King's company.
Bacon's written works consist chiefly of his Essays and several works on reorganizing the natural sciences. The most important of the latter is the Novum Organum, written in 1620. In his works, Bacon saw himself as the inventor of a method which would bring to light the secrets of the universe." This method involved the collection and interpretation of data, and carrying out experiments to learn the secrets of nature by organized observation. Bacon's method had a powerful influence on the development of science in seventeenth century Europe. Thomas Hobbes, later known for his own philosophical writings, served as Bacon's last amunensis or secretary. Many members of the British Royal Society, the leading scientific body of that day, saw Bacon as advocating the kind of scientific inquiry conducted by that society.
In March 1626, Bacon conducted an experiment to see how long a dead chicken could be preserved by stuffing it with snow. (Yes, this may sound silly. But remember, this is at at time when people were only just beginning to discover the effect of cold temperatures in retarding spoilage.) After spending time outdoors, he caught cold and went to stay at the Earl of Arundel's house at Highgate, nearby. He died there, due to complications arising from bronchitis, on April 9, 1626.
The Classical Library,