Francis Bacon: Essays and Major Works



Bacon's ideas were influential in the 1630s and 1650s among scholars, in particular Sir Thomas Browne, who in his encyclopaedia Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646–72) frequently adheres to a Baconian approach to his scientific enquiries. During the Restoration, Bacon was commonly invoked as a guiding spirit of the Royal Society founded under Charles II in 1660.[44][45] During the 18th-century French Enlightenment, Bacon's non-metaphysical approach to science became more influential than the dualism of his French contemporary Descartes, and was associated with criticism of the ancien regime. In 1733 Voltaire "introduced him as the "father" of the scientific method" to a French audience, an understanding which had become widespread by 1750.[46] In the 19th century his emphasis on induction was revived and developed by William Whewell, among others. He has been reputed as the "Father of Experimental Science".[47]

He also wrote a long treatise on Medicine, History of Life and Death,[48] with natural and experimental observations for the prolongation of life.

For one of his biographers, the historian William Hepworth Dixon, Bacon's influence in 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.[49]

In 1902 Hugo von Hofmannsthal published a fictional letter addressed to Bacon and dated 1603, about a writer who is experiencing a crisis of language. Known as The Lord Chandos Letter, it has been proposed that Bacon was identified as its recipient as having laid the foundation for the work of scientists such as Ernst Mach, notable both for his academic distinction in the history and philosophy of the inductive sciences, and for his own contributions to physics.[50]

North America

Bacon's vision for a utopian New World in North America may have been laid out in his novel The New Atlantis, which takes place on a fictional island, Bensalem, in the Pacific Ocean. Freedom of religion existed on Bensalem – a Jew is treated equally on an island of Christians – but whether a novel may have actually influenced later ideas, such as women's rights, abolition of slavery, elimination of debtors' prisons, separation of church and state, and freedom of political expression, is a matter of debate.[51][52][53][54] There is no reference to any of these reforms in The New Atlantis itself; but his proposals for legal reform (which were not established during his lifetime) may have influenced the Napoleonic Code.[55]

Bacon played a leading role in establishing the British colonies in North America, especially in Virginia, the Carolinas and Newfoundland in northeastern Canada. His government report on "The Virginia Colony" was submitted in 1609. In 1610 Bacon and his associates received a charter from the king to form the Tresurer and the Companye of Adventurers and planter of the Cittye of London and Bristoll for the Collonye or plantacon in Newfoundland[56] and sent John Guy to found a colony there. In 1910 Newfoundland issued a postage stamp to commemorate Bacon's role in establishing the colony. The stamp describes Bacon as "the guiding spirit in Colonization Schemes in 1610."[25] Moreover, some scholars believe he was largely responsible for the drafting, in 1609 and 1612, of two charters of government for the Virginia Colony.[57] Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence, wrote: "Bacon, Locke 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".[58] William Hepworth Dixon considered that Bacon's name could be included in the list of Founders of the United States of America.[59]


Although much of his legal reform proposals were not established in his lifetime, his legal legacy was considered by the magazine New Scientist, in a publication of 1961, as having influenced the drafting of the Napoleonic Code, and the law reforms introduced by Sir Robert Peel.[60]

The historian William Hepworth Dixon referred to the Napoleonic Code as "the sole embodiment of Bacon's thought", saying that Bacon's legal work "has had more success abroad than it has found at home", and that in France "it has blossomed and come into fruit".[55]

The scholar Harvey Wheeler attributed to Bacon, in his work "Francis Bacon's Verulamium – the Common Law Template of The Modern in English Science and Culture", the creation of these distinguishing features of the modern common law system:

  • Using cases as repositories of evidence about the "unwritten law";
  • Determining the relevance of precedents by exclusionary principles of evidence and logic;
  • Treating opposing legal briefs as adversarial hypotheses about the application of the "unwritten law" to a new set of facts.

As late as the 18th century some juries still declared the law rather than the fact, but already before the end of the 17th century Sir Matthew Hale explained modern common law adjudication procedure and acknowledged Bacon as the inventor of the process of discovering unwritten laws from the evidences of their applications. The method combined empiricism and inductivism in a new way that was to imprint its signature on many of the distinctive features of modern English society.[61]

In brief, Bacon is considered by some jurists to be the father of modern Jurisprudence.[62]

James McClellan, a political scientist from the University of Virginia, considered Bacon to have had "a great following" in the American colonies.[63]

More recent scholarship on Bacon's jurisprudence has focused on his advocating torture as a legal recourse to the crown.[64] Bacon himself was not a stranger to the torture chamber: in his various legal capacities in both Elizabeth I's and James I's reigns, Bacon was listed as a commissioner on five torture warrants. In 1613(?), in a letter addressed to King James I on the question of torture's place within English law, Bacon identifies the scope of torture: a means to further the investigation of threats to the state: "In the cases of treasons, torture is used for discovery, and not for evidence."[65] For Bacon, torture was not a punitive measure, an intended form of state repression, but instead offered a modus operandi for the government agent tasked with uncovering acts of treason.

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