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Article abstract: The first to use English instead of Latin for a philosophical treatise with his Advancement of Learning, Bacon is credited with the formulation of modern scientific thought. His Essayes is widely admired for its worldly witticisms and has become a classic of the form.

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Early Life

Francis Bacon was born January 22, 1561, at York House in London, to Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Seal of England, and his second wife, née Ann Cooke, who was related to nobility through her sister, the wife of Sir William Cecil, the later Lord Treasurer Burghley. In 1573, at the age of twelve, Bacon entered Trinity College, Cambridge, which he left in 1576 for Gray’s Inn, thus following in his father’s steps and beginning a legal career.

After a brief visit to the French court in the entourage of Sir Amias Paulet from 1576 until his father’s death in 1579, Bacon stayed with the Inn and was called to the bar in 1582, two years before he began to complement his legal work with an ambitiously undertaken political career that commenced with his membership in Parliament.

After advancement to the position of Queen’s Counsel in 1589, Bacon’s career stalled under Elizabeth I, whom he seemed to have offended in a parliamentary debate regarding the implementation of regal subsidiaries in 1593; his enemies at court used the opportunity to bar his way to promotion, seeing in Bacon (not wholly unjustly) not only an ambitious, prolific writer of political advice but also an unscrupulous seeker of preferment. Again, on the personal level, his friendship with the young earl of Essex did not bring him hoped-for political gain; in 1601, after Essex’s ill-considered rebellion against the queen, Bacon’s position required him to partake in the prosecution of his former friend.

Although the publication of An Advertisement Touching the Controversies of the Church of England (1589) had brought Bacon political advancement, his later work of political advice did not professionally benefit him. During a long period of arrested political development until Elizabeth I’s death, Bacon showed himself stubborn and inclined to use the common practice of patronage and favoritism to lobby for a higher position. In his own office, he became a rather successful mediator of conflicts and tried hard but finally ineffectively to smooth the waves after Essex’s insubordination preceding his open revolt against the queen.

A later painting shows Bacon as a tall, bearded officer wearing his regalia and insignia proudly; the picture suggests the reserved, somewhat unemotional yet nevertheless personally sensitive character that his later biographers have asserted on the basis of accounts from Bacon’s chaplain and secretary William Rawley. At forty-five, he married Alice Barnham, daughter of a London alderman, who survived him; they had no children.

Life’s Work

His long period of relative political inactivity under Elizabeth I gave Bacon time to write the first ten of his Essayes, which saw publication in 1597, and again, because of their popularity, in 1612 and in 1625, both times with significant enlargements that brought the total number to fifty-eight. A master of the essay form, which he helped to forge, Bacon looked at people and their government realistically, free of passionate idealism and zeal for the betterment of humankind. What his critics have called his Machiavellian and emotionless coldness nevertheless facilitated a witty discourse on the world as it really is and not as it should be in the eyes of reformers. With this was coupled political advice, as in his essays “On Dissimulation” or “On Plantations,” which portrayed the shortsightedness, greed, and abuses of his time.

The Advancement of Learning represents his first step toward the formulation of a new method of looking at the natural world—through the eyes of the experimenting and...

(The entire section contains 1630 words.)

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