Francis Bacon (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
As was no doubt inevitable in the case of a thinker and gifted writer who saw his work as a major initiative toward a fresh orientation of human knowledge, Francis Bacon has engaged the attention of many scholars in various fields, particularly historians of science. Whereas the proliferation of studies focusing on this intriguing early seventeenth century thinker has made possible a more discriminating understanding of his contribution, the increasing specialization of these studies has served other specialists better than nonspecialist readers, and Bacon is both interesting and important enough to deserve the attention of the latter group.
Professor Perez Zagorin has not undertaken a detailed life of his subject but rather a study of his philosophical writings in the context of an active and ambitious life strewn with evidences of the follies and frailties that as a thinker he recognized and, in his famous essays, analyzed dispassionately. In his essay “Of Ambition,” Bacon recommends that princes select ministers more motivated by sense of duty than determination to rise; yet to rise in the service of the two monarchs of his time, Queen Elizabeth I and her successor King James I, Bacon was capable of betraying friends and neglecting an intellectual project that he must have realized required all of his powers and constituted his best chance at an enduring achievement. As Zagorin points out in his introductory chapter, Bacon could not resist the...
(The entire section is 1971 words.)
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Francis Bacon (Magill Book Reviews)
FRANCIS BACON, a reasonably short and readable book, traces the development of thought of a man who lived, according to author Perez Zagorin, “two lives.” One was that of an intensely ambitious lawyer who waged a long, uneven campaign for political and judicial preferment under two monarchs, Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. The other, simultaneously, was a scholarly one aiming at nothing short of a sweeping and systematic reform of human knowledge in an era when many strands of ancient and medieval thought remained woven into the new world view of Renaissance Europe. Bacon’s scheme was impossibly complex and comprehensive, even for a man concentrating on one life, but it had the effect of rousing his contemporaries and later generations at the beginning of a period usually regarded as establishing the foundations of the modern world.
Bacon was a brilliant stylist who suspected literary style as something that often and easily diverted students and scholars from the unimpeded pursuit of truth. His own scheme of knowledge involved hypothesis, experimentation, and induction. Curiously, he has been charged by critics with failure to formulate hypotheses, little actual practice of experimentation, and misunderstanding of induction. The charges, as Zagorin shows, are only partly just, and Bacon’s real accomplishment was that of an eloquent and influential herald of scientific study with the avowed purpose of harnessing nature to work to relieve the...
(The entire section is 321 words.)