by Michael Taylor
Sir Francis Bacon
The Secret Bard
“Truth can never be reached by just listening to the voice of an authority.” — Francis Bacon
“But when I searched, I found no work so meritorious as the discovery and development of the arts and inventions that tend to civilise the life of man.” — Francis Bacon
“That extra-ordinary genius, when it was impossible to write a history of what was known, wrote one of what it was necessary to learn.” — on Bacon
Elizabethan England was anything but a free society. Like Continental Europe at the time, the authority of the Monarchies and the Church was undisputed. Sovereigns held the power of life or death over their subjects. Authorities encouraged informers – spies – to hand in heretics and political radicals, who were then tortured into confessions before their executions. England was split over religion, and its coming renaissance was but a flicker in the minds of a tiny learned elite.
In the midst of this unstable background, Elizabeth 1 came to the throne in 1558. By the time Charles I succeeded to the Throne in 1625, English language had been transformed, and English commerce and trade led the world. America was being colonised, and foundations had been laid for a revolution in political thought and science. W.T. Smedley, a Bacon biographer, states:
“From 1576 to 1623 the English language was made the finest examples of its capacities which today exist: But the knowledge and wisdom possessed by the classical writers, the histories of the principal nations of the world, practically everything that was worth knowing in the literature of other countries, were for the first time made available in the English tongue.” ring to bring about a revolution along the lines of Bacon’s thought. They acquainted Bacon with mystery traditions like Gnosticism, the Egyptian mysteries and the Knight Templars, which influenced his later writings. So Bacon’s subsequent political career in the Elizabethan Parliament and under James I was as much of a sideshow to the vast philosophical undertaking he had set himself as his practice as a lawyer. Even so, he represented many constituencies, notably the foremost seat of Middlesex, and later simultaneously St Albans, Ipswich and Cambridge. Bacon is the only person in History to be a member of the House of Lords and the House of Commons at the same time. In Parliament he served on no less than 29 committees, and was regarded as one of the most eloquent orators ever to have stood before the House of Commons.
Yet he saw that omnipotent Government was not the answer. “The truth can never be reached by listening to the voice of authority”, said Bacon. He opposed subsidies for business and Government granted monopolies. In 1589 Bacon moved that a subsidy bill (a taxation bill) to give monies to the Queen be extraordinary, in other words be meant for war and only for war. The amendment was passed thus finally establishing the base for the eventual ascendancy of Parliament over the Crown. In 1593, under the threat of imprisonment by Elizabeth, Bacon again spoke against the Crown’s encroachment on the right of the House of Commons to set taxation levels. Bacon believed the amount asked for would press heavily on the poor and many would not be able to pay it. Bacon won against the Crown, and secured for the English freedom of speech in their own Parliament and the right of the Commons to set the amount of supply to the Crown. 10
Bacon spoke against feudal privileges and opposed the enclosure of common lands by land-owners. He also proposed to alter the language of the laws to make them accessible to the common man. “Laws are made to guard the rights of the people, not to feed lawyers.”, said Bacon in Parliament. Francis fought in Parliament for union with the Scots to increase the strength of England against threats from the continent, and pushed for expansion of colonisation in America, notably Newfoundland and Virginia. 11 He was respected by all, mainly for his virtue, but held in jealousy by his enemies like the hunchback Robert Cecil, who knew the real secret of his birth and desired to keep him down. Under James I, Bacon rose in 1606 to Solicitor-General, in 1613 achieved the post of Attorney-General. In 1618 he became Lord Chancellor of England, until his fall from public office in 1621 after being framed by his Parliamentary colleague and nemesis from Elizabethan times, Edward Coke. 12
Bacon’s method for permeating his philosophical ideas into the collective unconscious of the age can best be summarised in his motto: bene visit qui bene latuit – One lives best by the hidden life. Bacon resurrected the Rosicrucian Mystery school and the Freemasons, and injected new life into these secret fraternity societies so they became vehicles for the new Baconian philosophy of reason and scientific enquiry. Bacon, like Goethe, scorned knowledge that did not lead to action and also scorned the denial of evil in ourselves. Bacon was grateful to Machiavelli for his frank appraisal of the shadow side of human nature in politics: “We are beholden to Machiavelli, and writers of that kind, who openly and unmasked declare what men do in fact, and not what they ought to do; for it is impossible to join the wisdom of the serpent and the innocence of the dove, without the precious knowledge of the nature of evil.” 13 Bacon’s works touch on all aspects of humanity – politics, religion, theology, scientific method, but his most brilliant observations are psychological. Foreshadowing the discoveries by Carl Jung about the nature of the unconscious and the shadow side of man, Bacon recognised that the baseness of man should be recognised and dealt with openly, not repressed and personified as the devil.
In modern political vernacular, Bacon was a conservative. He saw an ideal Government as one which was benevolent without the worst excesses of despotism by rulers, or by the majority. “It is almost without instance that any government was unprosperous under learned governors.” 14 Bacon had a goal to be that Governor – a philospher-king – as Francis 1 of England, until Elizabeth’s death ended this dream.
In science, Bacon sought nothing less than the reconstruction of a system that could be applied to the relief of man’s suffering. He constructed a new Classification of Science (The Advancement of Learning, 1603-05), described a new method for the Interpretation of Nature (Things Thought and Seen, 1607, Thread of the Labyrinth, 1606, Novum Organum, 1608-20). He investigated the phenomena of nature in Natural History (1622), and showed how the writers of the past had advanced their truths to the time of Bacon in Forest of Forests, published in 1624. Bacon recorded “anticipations” of scientific results he felt would come from application of his methods in On Origins (1621). As a result of applying these principles, he described the basis of a new society that would emerge in The New Atlantis (1624). This Magna Instauratio, the great reconstruction, was inspired by the vision Bacon had in his youth, and was a herculean task without precedent in the history of thought. As Bacon stated in the preface to Magna Instauratio. “and I am laboring to lay the foundation not of any sect or doctrine, but of utility and power”. To Bacon, “Knowledge is power, not mere argument or ornament.” In Advancement of Learning, Bacon suggested that all areas of life had rational rules and an empirical basis: medicine, psychology, even dreams, predictions and other occult phenomena. Yet he comes full circle at the end of this survey, concluding that science needs to be guided by philosophy. Bacon applies this to politics. The pursuit of politics becomes a destructive bedlam when divorced from science and philosophy, in other words from rationality and higher goals. So Bacon suggested the organisation of science itself, of communication between centres of learning to share research and resources, and of royal patronage of the sciences. A direct result was the Royal Society in Britain, formed with the financial support of the Crown.
The Novum Organum represents the summit of Francis Bacon’s open works. It was to introduce a new method of logic to learning, to replace the old ways which had borne so little fruit. He pointed to errors in thought that had to be corrected in order for man to advance. The first was that experience of the world should have primacy, not the realities – or misconceptions – the minds of men held. Observation was to be the cornerstone of scientific method. The second error that he observed was the fact that different men look at the same experience in different ways: we filter reality to suit our present state, not seeing what is really there. Thirdly, Bacon saw the inappropriate and careless use of language as an enemy to true understanding. Lastly, Bacon saw errors in looking at the world through the eyes of other philosophers. Plato’s world says more about Plato than the world, for instance. It remains for Francis Bacon to explain the scientific method of inquiry – experimentation and observation. By accumulating data, says Bacon, we come to the form of the phenomena, its essence.
The modern secular age of science was foreshadowed in The New Atlantis, the story of an island utopia in the Pacific where science prevailed over ignorance and superstition in all spheres of human life. Politically, the island has no elections, no ruler, just a learned council of men who have proven themselves by scientific achievement. In other words, a government without politicians. Most of the time these “rulers” were engaged in trying to control nature rather than their fellow man.
The Future of Liberty
Bacon, aware that his philosophy and schemes were not perfect, nevertheless laid the foundation for a new age of secular wisdom. When the Royal Society was formed in 1662, the founders named Bacon as their model and inspiration. The great minds of the French Enlightenment dedicated their masterpiece cyclopdie to Francis Bacon. Diderot said of him “That extra-ordinary genius, when it was impossible to write a history of what was known, wrote one of what it was necessary to learn.” Will Durant states in The Story of Philosophy: “The whole tenor and career of British thought have followed the philosophy of Bacon. The inductive method gave John Locke the idea of an empirical psychology, bound by observation and freed from theology and metaphysics; and his emphasis on “commodities” and “fruits” found formulation in [Jeremy] Bentham’s identification of the useful and the good.” 15
Edmund Burke was also greatly influenced by the Lord Chancellor: “Genius the most profound, of literature the most extensive, of discovery the most penetrating, of observation of human life the most distinguished and refined.” 16 Thomas Jefferson was also profoundly influenced by Bacon’s writings, and Jefferson himself thought he was fulfilling Bacon’s dreams as summarised in “The New Atlantis” by founding the United States. Biographer Hepworth Dixon summarises the contribution Bacon’s open works made to our world:
“The obligations of the world to Francis Bacon are of a kind that cannot be overlooked. Every man who rides in a train, who sends a telegram, who follows a steam plough, who sits in an easy chair, who crosses the channel or the Atlantic, who eats a good dinner, who enjoys a beautiful garden, or undergoes a painless surgical operation, OWES HIM SOMETHING. “To him the patriot, the statesman, the law reformer, the scientific jurist, the historian, the collector of anecdote, the lover of good wit, of humorous wisdom and of noble writing, also OWES HIM SOMETHING.” 17
A guiding spirit behind the schemes of Raleigh and others to set fledging colonies on an untamed continent, Francis Bacon was tireless in lobbying the King and his fellow countrymen to explore and colonise America. And under the pen-name Shakespeare, Bacon had the most significant effect on English literature of any single person in history. He literally recreated the entire English language, writing the greatest literary works of the Western World. It is without precedent that one man could achieve so much in one life. But to Bacon can be credited the groundwork for our modern age of reason, science and liberty in the West.
“No Age hath ever Wits refined so fat,
And yet she calms them by her Policy:
To Her THY SON must make his SACRIFICE
If he will have the Morning of his Eyes.”
Sir Francis Bacon writing a sonnet to his Mother, Queen Elizabeth I, 1596.
- W.T. Smedley, The Mystery of Francis Bacon, P 98.
- Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, 1620.
- Alfred Dodd, Francis Bacon’s Personal Life-Story, (Century Hutchinson Ltd, 1986), P 101.
- Suggested Reading about the Bacon-Shakespeare Controversy and the ciphers in Shakespeare’s plays can be found in:
- Alfred Dodd, Francis Bacon’s Personal Life-Story, (Century Hutchinson Ltd, 1986)
- Edward D. Johnson, Francis Bacon’s Maze, (The Francis Bacon Society, 1961)
- Peter Dawkins, Arcadia, (The Francis Bacon Research Trust, 1988)
- Peter Dawkins, Dedication to the Light, (The Francis Bacon Research Trust, 1987)
- Euan McDuff, The Dancing Horse Will Tell You, (Eric Faulkner-Littlez, 1974)
- Peter Dawkins, Dedication to the Light, (The Francis Bacon Research Trust, 1987) PP 38-39
- Ibid, P 42
- Idid, P 38
- Ibid, P 48
- Ibid, P 58
- Ibid, P 48
- Francis Bacon’s Personal Life-Story, P 138
- Dedication to the Light, PP 49-50
- Francis Bacon, Advancement of Learning, XXI, 2
- Francis Bacon, Preface to Magna Instauratio
- Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, (Washington Square Press, 1961), P 142
- Francis Bacon’s Personal Life-Story, P 551
- Francis Bacon’s Personal Life-Story, P 550
For more see: Sir Francis Bacon’s New Advancement of Learning