Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon

Born: 1561. Died: 1626.


- The purpose of scientific knowledge is to make possible great works for the betterment of the human condition.

- Experiments are essential to the testing of theories.

- The human mind is prey to certain typical intellectual failures.

- In the generation and testing of theories, the negative instance is fundamental.

- The goal of the science of nature is the discovery of 'forms', the unobservable organization or structure of the particles of which all things are composed.


Francis Bacon, an English lawyer, statesman, essayist, historian, intellectual reformer, philosopher, and champion of modern science, was born in London in 1561 to a prominent and well-connected family. His parents were Sir Nicholas Bacon, the Lord Keeper of the Seal, and Lady Anne Cooke, daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke, a knight and one-time tutor to the royal family. Lady Anne was a learned woman in her own right, having acquired Greek and Latin as well as Italian and French. She was a sister-in-law both to Sir Thomas Hoby, the esteemed English translator of Castiglione, and to Sir William Cecil (later Lord Burghley), Lord Treasurer, chief counselor to Elizabeth I, and from 1572-1598 the most powerful man in England.

Bacon was educated at home at the family estate at Gorhambury in Herfordshire. In 1573, at the age of just twelve, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where the stodgy Scholastic curriculum triggered his lifelong opposition to Aristotelianism (though not to the works of Aristotle himself).

In 1576 Bacon began reading law at Gray’s Inn. Yet only a year later he interrupted his studies in order to take a position in the diplomatic service in France as an assistant to the ambassador. In 1579, while he was still in France, his father died, leaving him (as the second son of a second marriage and the youngest of six heirs) virtually without support. With no position, no land, no income, and no immediate prospects, he returned to England and resumed the study of law.

His father died when he was 18, and being the youngest son this left him virtually penniless.

He turned to the law, completed his law degree in 1582, and in 1588 he was named lecturer in legal studies at Gray’s Inn. In the meantime, he was elected to Parliament in 1584 as a member for Melcombe in Dorsetshire. He would remain in Parliament as a representative for various constituencies for the next 36 years.

In 1593 his blunt criticism of a new tax levy resulted in an unfortunate setback to his career expectations, the Queen taking personal offense at his opposition. Any hopes he had of becoming Attorney General or Solicitor General during her reign were dashed, though Elizabeth eventually relented to the extent of appointing Bacon her Extraordinary Counsel in 1596.

It was around this time that Bacon entered the service of Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, a dashing courtier, soldier, plotter of intrigue, and sometime favorite of the Queen. No doubt Bacon viewed Essex as a rising star and a figure who could provide a much-needed boost to his own sagging career. Unfortunately, it was not long before Essex’s own fortunes plummeted following a series of military and political blunders culminating in a disastrous coup attempt. When the coup plot failed, Devereux was arrested, tried, and eventually executed, with Bacon, in his capacity as Queen’s Counsel, playing a vital role in the prosecution of the case.

In 1603, James I succeeded Elizabeth, and Bacon’s prospects for advancement dramatically improved.

Knighted in 1603, he was then steadily promoted to a series of offices, including Solicitor General (1607), Attorney General (1613), and eventually Lord Chancellor (1618). While serving as Chancellor, he was indicted on charges of bribery and forced to leave public office. He then retired to his estate where he devoted himself full time to his continuing literary, scientific, and philosophic work.

He died in 1626, leaving behind a cultural legacy that, for better or worse, includes most of the foundation for the triumph of technology and for the modern world as we currently know it.

In a way Bacon’s descent from political power was a fortunate fall, for it represented a liberation from the bondage of public life resulting in a remarkable final burst of literary and scientific activity. As Renaissance scholar and Bacon expert Brian Vickers has reminded us, Bacon’s earlier works, impressive as they are, were essentially products of his “spare time.” It was only during his last five years that he was able to concentrate exclusively on writing and produce.

These late productions represented the capstone of a writing career that spanned more than four decades and encompassed virtually an entire curriculum of literary, scientific, and philosophical studies.

Major Books of Francis Bacon

- The Advancement of Learning, 1605
- Apophthegms, New and Old, 1625
- The Charge of Sir Francis Bacon, Knight, the King's Attorney-General, Touching Duels, 1614
- De Augmentis Scientiarum, 1623
- De Sapientia Veterum Liber, 1609
- Essays, 1625
- The History of the Reign of King Henry the Seventh, 1622
- The New Atlantis, 1626
- Novum Organum, 1620
- Sylva Sylvarum, 1627
- Valerius Terminus of the Interpretation of Nature, 1604
- The Wisdom of the Ancients, 1619

Quotes from Francis Bacon

- "Knowledge itself is power." (from "Meditationes Sacrae", 1597)

- "All despair is a kind of reproaching the deity." (from "Advancement of Learning", 1605)

- "The art of government includes the political offices; viz., 1. the preservation; 2. the happiness; and 3. the enlargement of the state." (from "Advancement of Learning", 1605)

- "Deceit gets itself a credit in small things that it may practice to more advantage in larger." (from "Advancement of Learning", 1605)

- "Fortified towns, well-stored arsenals, noble breeds of war horses, armed chariots, elephants, engines, all kinds of artillery, arms, and the like, are nothing more than a sheep in a lion's skin, unless the nation itself be, from its origin and temper, stout and warlike." (from "Advancement of Learning", 1605)

- "Glory and honor are the spurs to virtue." (from "Advancement of Learning", 1605)

- "If custom be prudently and skillfully introduced, it really becomes a second nature." (from "Advancement of Learning", 1605)

- "If we begin with certainties, we shall end in doubts; but if we begin with doubts, and are patient in them, we shall end in certainties." (from "Advancement of Learning", 1605)

- "It is the way of scholars to show all they know and oppose further information." (from "Advancement of Learning", 1605)

- "The justest division of human learning is that derived from the three different faculties of the soul, the seat of learning; history being relative to the memory, poetry to the imagination, and philosophy to the reason." (from "Advancement of Learning", 1605)

- "Knowledge is like waters; some descend from the heavens, some spring from the earth. For all knowledge proceeds from a twofold source-either from divine inspiration or external sense." (from "Advancement of Learning", 1605)

- "Men may be known six different ways, viz.-1. by their countenances; 2. their words; 3. their actions; 4. their tempers; 5. their ends; and, 6. by the relation of others." (from "Advancement of Learning", 1605)

- "Philosophy directs us first to seek the goods of the mind, and the rest will either be supplied, or are not much wanted." (from "Advancement of Learning", 1605)

- "Pompey ... wholly bent himself, by numberless stratagems, to cover his desires and ambition, whilst he brought the state to confusion, that it might then of necessity submit to him." (from "Advancement of Learning", 1605)

- "The slaves of custom are the sport of time." (from "Advancement of Learning", 1605)

- "Some men covet knowledge out of a natural curiosity and inquisitive temper; some to entertain the mind with variety and delight; some for ornament and reputation; some for victory and contention; many for lucre and a livelihood; and but few for employing the Divine gift of reason to the use and benefit of mankind." (from "Advancement of Learning", 1605)

- "[They] are indolent discoverers, who seeing nothing but sea and sky, absolutely deny there can be any land beyond them." (from "Advancement of Learning", 1605)

- "Two appetites of the creatures; viz., 1. That of self-preservation and defense; and 2. That of multiplying and propagating." (from "Advancement of Learning", 1605)

- "Nature is only to be commanded by obeying her." (from "Novum Organum", 1620)

- "These three [inventions-printing, gunpowder, and the compass-] have changed the appearance and state of the whole world: first in literature, then in warfare, and lastly in navigation; and innumerable changes have been thence derived, so that no empire, sect, or star, appears to have exercised a greater power and influence on human affairs than these mechanical discoveries." (from "Novum Organum", 1620)

- "A civil war ... is like the heat of a fever, but a foreign war is like the heat of exercise and serveth to keep the body in health." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "A man that is young in years may be old in hours, if he [has] lost no time." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "All rising to great place is by a winding stair." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "All wise men, to decline the envy of their own virtues, ... ascribe them to Providence and Fortune." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "[Boldness] is ill in counsel, good in execution. ... For in counsel it is good to see dangers, and in execution not to see them, except they be very great." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Crafty men condemn studies; simple men admire them; and wise men use them." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Custom is most perfect when it beginneth in young years; this we call education." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "The desire [for] power in excess, caused the angels to fall." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "First to watch, and then to speed. For ... [what] maketh the politic man go invisible is secrecy in the council and celerity in the execution. For when things are once come to the execution, there is no secrecy comparable to celerity-like the motion of a bullet in the air, which flieth so swift as it outruns the eye." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "[Friendship] redoubleth joys and cutteth griefs in halves. For there is no man that imparteth his joys to his friend, but he joyeth the more; and no man that imparteth his griefs to his friend, but he grieveth the less." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "He that standeth [still] when others rise can hardly avoid motions of envy." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "I knew a wise man that had it for a byword, when he saw men hasten to a conclusion, "Stay a little that we may make an end the sooner."" (from "Essays", 1625)

- "If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "In the youth of a state arms do flourish; in the middle age of a state, learning; and then both of them together for a time; in the declining age of a state, mechanical arts and merchandise." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "It breeds great perfection if the practice be harder than the use." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "It is a secret, both in nature and state, that it is safer to change many things than one." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "It is a strange desire to seek power and to lose liberty, or to seek power over others and to lose power over a man's self." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "It is of singular use to princes if they take the opinions of their council both separately and together, for private opinion is more free, but opinion before others is more reverend." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Let princes and States choose such ministers as are more sensible of duty than of rising." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Mark what a generosity and courage [a dog] will put on when he finds himself maintained by a man, who to him is instead of a God." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Money is like muck, not good except it be spread." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "The more deep and sober sort of politic persons, in their greatness, are ever bemoaning themselves what a life they lead. ... Not that they feel it so, but only to abate the edge of envy." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Nature is often hidden, sometimes overcome, seldom extinguished. Force maketh nature more violent in the return." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Nobility of birth commonly abateth industry." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Nothing destroyeth authority so much as the unequal and untimely interchange of power pressed too far, and relaxed too much." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Nothing doth more hurt in a State than that cunning men pass for wise." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "The parts of a judge in hearing are four: to direct the evidence; to moderate length, repetition, or impertinency of speech; to recapitulate, select, and collate the material points of that which hath been said; and to give the rule or sentence." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Perils commonly ask to be paid in pleasures." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "The politic and artificial nourishing and entertaining of hopes ... is one of the best antidotes against the poison of discontentments. And it is a certain sign of a wise government ... [that] it can hold men's hearts by hopes, when it cannot by satisfaction." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New, which carrieth the greater benediction and the clearer revelation of God's favor." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Seek to make thy course regular that men may know beforehand what they may expect." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Some books ... may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Studies ... give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "There is in human nature generally more of the fool than of the wise." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "There is no such flatterer as is a man's self." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "To spend too much time in studies, is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules is the humor of a scholar." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "The virtue of Prosperity is temperance; the virtue of Adversity is fortitude." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Virtue is like a rich stone, best plain set." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Virtue is like precious odors, most fragrant when they are ... crushed." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "The ways to enrich are many, and most of them foul." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "What is Truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Whoso is out of hope to attain another's virtue, will seek to come at even hand, by depressing another's fortune." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Whosoever is found variable and changeth manifestly without manifest cause giveth suspicion of corruption." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Wives are young men's mistresses, companions for middle age, and old men's nurses." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "Young men, in the conduct and managetment] of actions, embrace more than they can hold; stir more than they can quiet; fly to the end without consideration of the means and degrees. ...
   Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success." (from "Essays", 1625)

- " but content themselves with a mediocrity of success." (from "Essays", 1625)

- "He that cannot see well, let him go softly." (from "The Essays or Counsels Civil and Moral", 1625)

- "You had better take for business a man somewhat absurd than over-formal." (from "The Essays or Counsels Civil and Moral", 1625)

- "The genius, wit, and spirit of a nation are discovered in its proverbs." (from "Racial Proverbs: A Selection of the World's Proverbs Arranged Linguistically" by Selwyn Gurney Champion)

- "A man would do well to carry a pencil in his pocket and write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought are commonly the most valuable and should be secured because they seldom return." (from "Wisdom")


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