Bacon, Francis Viscount St. Albans and Baron Verulam, one of the most celebrated philosophers of modern times, was born in London, Jan. 22, 1561. His father, Sir Nicholas Bacon, was keeper of the seal under Elizabeth, and a distinguished lawyer and statesman; his mother was a learned and pious woman, who had translated several ascetic works from Italian, and had taken part in the theological controversies of her time. Early in life he gave signs of extraordinary talent, and Queen Elizabeth used to call him playfully her young lord keeper. In his twelfth year he is said to have speculated on the laws of imagination, and in the next year he was matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he remained for three years and a half. After the termination of his studies in 1577, his father sent him to France, under the care of Sir Amyas Paulet, English ambassador at the French court. There he came in contact with a number of distinguished men, and laid out a plan for a reconstruction of the philosophical sciences. The death of his father recalled him to England in 1580, and, failing to get an office for which he applied, he devoted himself to the study of law. In 1582 he was called to the bar, in 1586 he was made a bencher, and in 1589, at the age of 28, counsel extraordinary to the queen. Still he could not rise under Elizabeth, who rejected his claims for preferment on the ground that he was "not very deep." As some compensation for his disappointment, Count Essex made him a present of Twickenham Court, worth about £1800, and so beautiful that Bacon called it the Garden of Paradise. Bacon, some years later, was charged with rewarding this disinterested kindness with ingratitude on the trial of Essex; but probably unjustly (see the Penny Cyclopoedia, s.v.). In 1595 he was returned to Parliament as member for Middlesex, and greatly distinguished himself for parliamentary eloquence. After the accession to the throne of James I, he rapidly rose in dignities and influence. In 1603 he received the honor of knighthood, in 1604 he was appointed king's counsel, in 1607 solicitor general, in 1613 attorney general, in 1617 keeper of the great seal. In January of 1618 he was appointed lord high chancellor, and in the same year raised to the peerage as Baron of Verulam. Three years later the title of Viscount of St. Albans was conferred on him. From the same year, 1621, dates his fall. A committee of the House of Commons reported two cases of corruption against him, and before the close of the proceedings similar cases to the number of 24 were presented. When his case was referred to the House of Peers he abandoned all defense, confessed his guilt, and was sentenced, on May 3d, to a fine of £40,000, and to imprisonment in the Tower during the king's pleasure. The sentence proved to be little more than a form. He was released from imprisonment after two days, and the fine was subsequently remitted, but he never recovered his standing. Only once he was afterward summoned to attend Parliament, and the remainder of his life was spent in humble circumstances and among the few friends whom adversity left him. He died at Highgate, April 9,1626.
Bacon was the author of a philosophical system which is called after him the Baconian philosophy, and which has had a marked influence on the subsequent development of philosophy and of literature in general. "The sciences," he says, "I have hitherto been in a most sad condition. Philosophy, wasted in empty and fruitless logomachies, has failed during so many centuries to bring out a single work or experiment of actual benefit to human life. Logic hitherto has served more to the establishment of error than to the investigation of truth. Whence all this? Why this penury of science? Simply because they have broken away from their root in nature and experience. The blame of this is chargeable to many sources: first, the old and rooted prejudice that the human mind loses somewhat of its dignity when it busies itself much and continuously with experiments and material things; next, superstition and a blind religious zeal, which has been the most irreconcilable opposer to natural philosophy; again, the exclusive attention paid to morals and politics by the Romans, and since the Christian era to theology by every acute mind; still farther, the great authority which certain philosophers have exercised, and the great reverence given to antiquity; and, in fine, a want of courage, and a despair of overcoming the many and great difficulties which lie in the way of the investigation of nature. All these causes have contributed to keep down the sciences. Hence they must now be renewed, and regenerated, and reformed in their most fundamental principles; there must now be found a new basis of knowledge and new principles of science. Thus radical reformation of the sciences depends upon two conditions — objectively, upon the referring of science to experience and the philosophy of nature; and subjectively, upon the purifying of the sense and the intellect from all abstract theories and traditional prejudices, Both conditions furnish the correct method of natural science, which is nothing other than the method of induction. Upon a true induction depends all the soundness of the sciences." In these propositions the Baconian philosophy is contained. The historical significance of its founder is, therefore, in general this: that he directed the attention and reflection of his contemporaries again upon the given actuality, upon nature; that he affirmed, the necessity of experience, which had been formerly only a matter of accident, and made it as in and for itself an object of thought. His merit consists in having brought up the principle of scientific empiricism, and only in this (Schwegler, History of Philosophy, transl. by Seelye, p. 166). The principles of his method are to be found in many writers before him, even in Aristotle; but it-was Bacon's glory that he so set forth those principles as to bring mankind to act upon them. His plagiarisms, especially from his great namesake, Roger Bacon, are unquestionable (see De Maistre, Soirees de St. Petersbourg; Methodist Quarterly, Jan. and April, 1858; and SEE BACON, ROGER ).
So far as Bacon's own mind was concerned, he was a firm believer in divine revelation (see his Confession of Faith; Prayers; Character of a Christian; Works, ed. Montague, vol. 7). Theology, as science, he held to rest on data given by inspiration, just as metaphysics must rest on postulates. On this last point the following passage is pregnant: "Wherefore, whatever primitive matter is, together with its influence and action, it is sui generis, and admits of no definition drawn from perception, and is to be taken just as it is found, and not to be judged of from any preconceived idea. For the mode of it, if it is given to us to know it, cannot be judged of by means of its cause, seeing that it is, next to God, the cause of causes, itself without cause. For there is a certain real limit of causes in nature, and it would argue levity and inexperience in a philosopher to require or imagine a cause for the last and positive power and law of nature, as much as it would not to demand a cause in those that are subordinate" (Fable of Cupid, Works, ed. Montague, 15:45). As to theology, his language is: "Omnis enim scientia duplicemn sortitur informationem. Una inspiratur divinitus; alter oritur a sensu. Partiemur, igitur, scientiam in theologiam et philosophiam. Theologiam hic intelligimus inspiratam, non naturalem" (De Agmentis, 3, 1). In book 9 of the same work he expressly sets religion in opposition, so far as its source is concerned, to the inductive sciences, inasmuch as in religion the first principles are independent and self-subsistent (per se subsistentes). "Let us conclude," he says, a that sacred theology ought to be drawn from the word and oracles of God, not from the light of nature or the dictates of reason. For it is written, the heavens declare the glory of God, but not the heavens declare the will of God." See also his striking prayer in the preface to the Instauratio Magna. Bacon's own position, then, is clearly defined, although De Maistre, in his Soirees de St. Petersbourg, seeks to deprive him not only of all merit with regard to the science of induction, but also almost of the name of Christian. It is another question how far the influence of the Baconian system, confined as it is to the material sciences, has tended to generate a materialist and rationalist way of thinking. On this point, SEE RATIONALISM; SEE PHILOSOPHY.
The greatest of the philosophical works of Bacon is the Novum Organum (Lond. 1620, translated in Bohn's Scientific Library, Lond.). The most important among the other works of Bacon are:
(1) Essays, or Counsels Civil and Moral (Lond. 1597, augment. edit. 1612 and 1624), the best known and most popular of his works. A new edition, with an introduction and many valuable notes, has been published by archbishop Whately (Lond. 1857; Boston, 1860): —
(2) A treatise On the Advancement of Learning (Lond. 1605). This work, revised and enlarged, was afterward translated by Ben Jonson, George Herbert, and other friends of Bacon, into Latin, and published under the title De Augmentis Scientiarum (Lond. 1623). The works De Sapientia Veterum, Sylva Sylvarum, Nova Atlantis, are likewise highly valued. Complete editions were published by Rawley (Amsterd. 1663, 6 vols.); Mallet (Lond. 1740); Stephens, Locker, and Birch (Lond. 1765, 5 vols.
4to); Basil Montagu (Lond. 1825-34, 17 vols. 8vo); Spedding, Ellis, and Heath (Lond. 1857 sq.); American ed., Boston, 1863-65. A biography of Bacon may be found at the head of every complete edition of his works; that by Montagu is especially valued (reprinted in Bacon's Works, Phila. 3 vols. 8vo). See also Bouillet, Les OEuvres Philos. de B. (Paris, 1834-35); De Maistre, Examen de la Philos. de B. (Paris, 1836, 2 vols.); Remusat, Bacon, sa Vie et son Influence (Paris, 1857); Tenison, Baconiana (1679); Macaulay, in Edinburgh Review, July, 1837; Methodist Quarterly, Jan. 1848, p. 22; April, 1851, art. 1; Jan. 1859, art. 1; April, 1851, art. 1; Princeton Review, 12:350; 15:481; Am. Bib. Repository, 3d series, 3, 127; Qu. Christian Spectator, 4:528; Encyclop. Brit. (1st and 3d Prelim. Diss. by Stewart and Playfair); K. Fisher, Bacon von Verulam (Leipz. 1856, tr. by Oxenford, Lond. 1857); Dixon, Personal History of Bacon (Lond. 1860); English Cyclopoedia; Morell, History of Philosophy, pt. 1, ch. 1, § 1; Lewes, Biog. Hist. of Philos. vol. 3, epoch. 1.