BACON (Francis)

, baron of Verulam, viscount of St. Albans, and lord high chancellor of England under king James I. He was born in 1560, being son of Sir Nicholas Bacon lord keeper of the great seal in the reign of queen Elizabeth, by Anne daughter of Sir Anthony Cook, eminent for her skill in the Latin and Greek languages. He gave even in his infancy tokens of what he would one day become; and queen Elizabeth had mauy times occasion to admire his wit and talents, and used to call him her young lord keeper. He studied the philosophy of Aristotle at Cambridge; where he made such progress in his studies, that at 16 years of age he had run through the whole circle of the liberal arts as they were then taught, and even began to perceive those imperfections in the reigning philosophy, which he afterwards so effectually exposed, and thence not only overturned that tyranny which prevented the progress of true knowledge, but laid the foundation of that free and useful philosophy which has since opened a way to so many glorious discoveries. On his leaving the university, his father sent him to France; where, before he was 19 years of age, he wrote a general view of the state of Europe: but his father dying, he was obliged suddenly to return to England; where he applied himself to the study of the common law, at Gray's-inn. His merit at length raised him to the | highest dignities in his profession, attorney-general, and lord high chancellor. But being of an easy and liberal disposition, his servants took advantage of that temper, and their situation under him, by accepting presents in the line of his profession. Being abandoned by the king, he was tried by the house of lords, for bribery and corruption, and by them sentenced to pay a fine of 40,000l. and to remain prisoner in the Tower during the king's pleasure. The king however soon after remitted the fine and punishment: but his misfortunes had given him a distaste for public affairs. and he afterwards mostly lived a retired life, closely pursuing his philosophical studies and amusements, in which time he composed the greatest part of his English and Latin works. Though even in the midst of his honours and employments he forgot not his philosophy, but in 1620 published his great work Novum Organum. After some years spent in his philosophical retirement, he died in 1626, being 66 years of age.

The chancellor Bacon is one of those extraordinary geniuses who have contributed the most to the advancement of the sciences. He clearly perceived the imperfection of the school philosophy, and he pointed out the only means of reforming it, by proceeding in the opposite way, from experiments to the discovery of the laws of nature. Addison has said of him, That he had the sound, distinct, comprehensive knowledge of Aristotle, with all the beautiful light graces and embellishments of Cicero. Mr. Walpole calls him the Prophet of Arts, which Newton was afterwards to reveal; and adds, that his genius and his works will be universally admired as long as science exists. He did not yet, said another great man, understand nature, but he knew and pointed out all the ways that lead to her. He very early despised all that the universities called philosophy; and he did every thing in his power that they should not disgrace her by their quiddities, their horrors of a vacuum, their substantial forms, and such like impertinencies.

He composed two works for perfecting the sciences. The former On the Dignity and Augmentation of the Sciences. He here shews the state in which they then were, and points out what remains to be discovered for perfecting them; condemning the unnatural way of Aristotle, in reversing the natural order of things. He here also proposes his celebrated division of the sciences.

To remedy the faults of the common logic, Bacon composed his second work, the New Organ of Sciences, above-mentioned. He here teaches a new logic, the chief end of which is to shew how to make a good inference, as that of Aristotle's is to make a syllogism. Bacon was 18 years in composing this work, and he always estemed it as the chief of his compositions.

The pains which Bacon bestowed upon all the sciences in general, prevented him from making any considerable applications to any one in particular: and as he knew that natural philosophy is the foundation of all the other sciences, he chiefly endeavoured to give perfection to it. He therefore proposed to establish a new system of physics, rejecting the doubtful principles of the ancients. For this parpose he took the resolution of composing every month a treatise on some branch of physics; he accordingly began with that of the winds; then he gave that of heat; next that of motion; and lastly that of life and death. But as it was impossible that one man alone could so compose the whole circle of sciences with the same precision, after having given these patterns, to serve as a model to those who might choose to labour upon his principles, he contented himself with tracing in a few words the design of four other tracts, and with furnishing the materials, in his Silva Silvarum, where he has amassed a vast number of experiments, to serve as a foundation for his new physics. In fact, no one before Bacon understood any thing of the experimental philosophy; and of all the physical experiments which have been made since his time, there is scarcely one that is not pointed out in his works.

This great precursor of philosophy was also an elegant writer, an historian, and a wit. His moral essays are valuable, but are formed more to instruct than to please. There are excellent things too in his work On the Wisdom of the Ancients, in which he has moralized the fables which formed the theology of the Greeks and Romans. He wrote also The History of Henry the VIIth king of England, by which it appears that he was not less a great politician than a great philosopher.

Bacon had also some other writings, published at different times; the whole of which were collected together, and published at Frankfort, in the year 1665, in a large folio volume, with an introduction concerning his life and writings. Another edition of his works was published at London in 1740; the enumeration of which is as below:

1. De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum.

2. Novum Organum Scientiarum, sive Judicia vera de Interpretatione Naturæ; cum Parasceve ad Historiam Naturalem & Experimentalem.

3. Phænomeua Universi, sive Historia Naturalis & Experimentalis de Ventis; Historia Densi & Rari; Historia Gravis & Levis; Historia Sympathiæ & Antipathiæ Rerum; Historia Sulphuris, Mercurii, & Salis; Historia Vitæ & Mortis; Historia Naturalis & Experimentalis de Forma Calidi; De Motus, sive Virtutis activæ variis speciebus; Ratio inveniendi causas Fluxus & Refluxus Maris; &c, &c.

4. Silva Silvarum, sive Historia Naturalis.

5. Novus Atlas.

6. Historia Regni Henrici vii Angliæ Regis.

7. Sermones Fideles, Ethici, Politici, Oeconomici.

8. De Sapientia Veterum.

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Entry taken from A Mathematical and Philosophical Dictionary, by Charles Hutton, 1796.

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BACON (Roger)
* BACON (Francis)
BAILLY (Jean Sylvain)
BAKER (Thomas)