Why Francis Bacon?

by Nicholas Hilliard, watercolour and bodycolour on vellum laid on card, 1578
Latin inscriptions reads: “If one could but paint his mind” (Nicholas Hilliard, watercolour and bodycolour on vellum laid on card, 1578)

BaconLocke and Newton. I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral sciences

letter from Thomas Jefferson

Francis Bacon was born Jan. 22, 1561 in England.  Though held back by ill health throughout his entire life, at the age of 12 he was able to study at Cambridge through the generosity of a religious patron who supplied his tuition. There he studied Latin, but grew disenchanted with the Aristotle’s methods and results of scientific inquiry. He would spend the remainder of his life updating or dissembling the ancient systems of gaining knowledge. As he matured, he is said to have articulated three goals: to uncover truth, to serve his country, and to serve his church.

After securing a seat in Parliament to help achieve those ends, he spoke on the side of consolidating and simplifying the law and against religious persecution (though vocally calling for the execution of the Catholic Queen Mary).  He came even further into the favor of Queen Elizabeth when he uncovered the treason of Lord Essex, although Bacon had once been his close advisor. Consistently hounded by debt, he sought out higher and more prestigious posts, and in 1613 was appointed attorney general by King James I. The entirety of his public career, however, ended in a large disgrace as he was convicted and barred from office on the basis of 23 cases of corruption, leaving Bacon to read, experiment, and write the remainder of his days.

Bacon’s writing is well-rounded, covering religious, scientific, juridical, and literary topics. He played a large role in the British colonization of Virginia in North America and wrote a 1609 report on “The Virginia Colony”. His legal views influenced the practice of common law, especially in cases of realizing unwritten law from observed evidences, and were adopted abroad through the Napoleonic Code. Bacon is also remembered in history for being the father of the scientific method. This is largely based on his teaching that scientific knowledge must be gathered through skeptical observation, inductive reasoning, and a methodical approach. Although contributing this lasting influence, the debate of methods still continues on today. In The story of Lord Bacon’s Life, his biographer William Dixon wrote:

Bacon’s influence in the modern world is so great that every man who rides in a train, sends a telegram, follows a steam plough, sits in an easy chair, crosses the channel or the Atlantic, eats a good dinner, enjoys a beautiful garden, or undergoes a painless surgical operation, owes him something.

Francis Bacon passed away in April of 1623, reportedly after catching pneumonia from his experiment about whether cold snow might preserve meat.

The Gryphon Editions consultation has placed Francis Bacon on our list of the 100 Most Influential People because his intellectual contributions laid the foundations for the scientific method and common law, and he greatly influenced both European and American societies. It was his mission, by his methods, to “eventually disclose and bring into sight all that is most hidden and secret in the universe.” It will be up to you to decide if he was able to accomplish this. The story of this great man will be immortalized once again in our leather-bound biography, part of our 100 Most Influential People Library.100importantpeople


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