Study Guide

The New Atlantis

by Francis Bacon

The New Atlantis Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

An unidentified narrator, who is a member of a crew of 150 men sailing to China and Japan from Peru, records the events that transpire when their ship is blown off course. After some months at sea, they arrive at the port of a large island in an uncharted part of the South Sea. Eight people from the island approach the ship in a small boat and deliver a scroll whose message is repeated in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Spanish. The ship, the scroll says, can remain in port for sixteen days. It also extends the islanders’ offer to bring whatever supplies are requested and admonishes against landing on the island. Three hours after the supplies are requested, another dignitary approaches the ship and asks if those on board are Christian. Upon an affirmative answer, some of the crew are given permission to land. Six members of the crew are brought to the House of Strangers. Those who are sick aboard the ship are given orange-scarlet fruit to resist infection and small whitish-gray pills to help them sleep.

After three days at the House of Strangers, the six visitors meet the Governor of that house. This man, by vocation a priest, welcomes the whole crew to stay for six weeks. Indicating that the island is called Bensalem, he explains that although its existence is relatively unknown, the Bensalemites know about the rest of the world. Offering to answer any questions, he is first queried about the presence of Christianity on Bensalem. According to the Governor, twenty years after the ascension of Christ, a mysterious pillar of light appeared off the east coast of the island. After the pillar was acknowledged as a miracle by a wise man from Salomon’s House, the light disappeared, leaving a small cedar chest floating on the water. Inside the ark were the canonical and apocalyptic books of the Old and New Testaments and a letter from Bartholomew, who committed the ark and its contents to water by command of an angel. Similar to the miracle of the preaching at Pentecost, the books and letter were able to be read by all the people of Bensalem, despite the variety of native languages there.

On the next day, the Governor recounts the history of the island....

(The entire section is 886 words.)

The New Atlantis Bibliography (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Albanese, Denise. “The New Atlantis and the Uses of Utopia.” In New Science, New World. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996. Albanese uses modern literary theories to interpret New Atlantis and other seventeenth century works in which the novelty of science was expressed through the depiction of the new colonial world.

Briggs, John C. Francis Bacon and the Rhetoric of Nature. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989. Briggs’s examination of New Atlantis focuses on the relationship between Bacon’s scientific reform and his concepts of rhetoric, nature, and religion.

Coquillette, Daniel R. Francis Bacon. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992. A systematic approach to Bacon’s legal philosophy with analysis of the inductive method as applied to lawmaking. New Atlantis is analyzed from the juristic viewpoint.

Leary, John E., Jr. Francis Bacon and the Politics of Science. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1994. A study of the relationship between Bacon’s conservative political ideology and his scheme for organizing science as a collective, collaborative enterprise, organized hierarchically. Most of chapter 6 is devoted to political analysis of Salomon’s House. Includes selected bibliography.

McKnight, Stephen A. The Religious Foundations of Francis Bacon’s Thought. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006. McKnight analyzes eight of Bacon’s texts to examine his views on religion. His exploration begins with a discussion of New Atlantis because McKnight argues that all of Bacon’s theological ideas are expressed in this work.

Martin, Julian. Francis Bacon, the State, and the Reform of Natural Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. An analysis of the interplay between Bacon’s legal and political career and the development of his natural philosophy. Chapter 5 includes discussion of Salomon’s House as part of Bacon’s vision of an imperial state.

Price, Bronwen, ed. Francis Bacon’s “The New Atlantis”: New Interdisciplinary Essays. New York: Manchester University Press, 2002. Eight essays provide various interpretations of the book, including discussions of its narrative content and Bacon’s ideas about ethics, politics, natural knowledge, gender, and sexual difference.

Weinberger, Jerry. Science, Faith, and Politics: Francis Bacon and the Utopian Roots of the Modern Age. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985. A detailed comparison of Bensalem and Plato’s republic.