Francis Bacon Reloaded

Statue of Francis Bacon

Statue of Francis Bacon

Three days ago we celebrated the birthday of Francis Bacon (1561-1626), who is commonly considered as a pioneer of modern inductive science. Here are a few quotes from his writings which may have a strange ring to modern ears – particularly to those accustomed to the popular myth of Bacon as a precursor of secularism and opponent of ‘magical thinking’.

“It is an ancient tradition, that blear-eyes infect sound eyes; and that a menstruous woman, looking upon a glass, doth rust it: nay, they have an opinion which seemeth fabulous; that menstruous women going over a field or garden, do corn and herbs good by killing the worms.”

“It is an usual observation, that if the body of one murdered be brought before the murderer, the wounds will bleed afresh. Some do affirm, that the dead body, upon the presence of the murderer, haft opened the eyes; and that there have been such like motions, as well where the parties murdered have been strangled or drowned, as where they have been killed by wounds. It may be, that this participateth of a miracle, by God’s just judgment, who usually bringeth murders to light: but if it be natural, it must be referred to imagination.”

“Where a man conjures, or invocates wicked spirits, it is felony. Where a man doth use or practise any manner of witchcraft, whereby any person shall be killed, wasted, or lamed in his body, it is felony. Where a man practiseth any witchcraft, to discover treasure hid, or to discover stolen goods, or to provoke unlawful love, or to impair or hurt any man’s cattle or goods, the second time, having been once before convicted of like offence, it is felony. Where a man useth the craft of multiplication of gold or silver, it is felony.”

“The tying of the point upon the day of marriage, to make men impotent towards their wives, which, as we have formerly touched, is so frequent in Zant and Gascony, if it be natural, must be referred to the imagination of him that tieth the point. I conceive it to have the less affinity with witchcraft, because not peculiar persons only, such as witches are, but any body may do it.”

 “The soul having shaken off her flesh, doth then set up for herself, and contemning things that are under, shews what finger hath enforced her; for the souls of idiots are of the same piece with those of statesmen, but now and then nature is at a fault, and this good guest of ours takes soil in an imperfect body, and so is slackened from shewing her wonders; like an excellent musician, which cannot utter himself upon a defective instrument.”

 “There is a superstition in avoiding superstition; when men think to do best, if they go farthest from the superstition formerly received: therefore care should be had, that, as it fareth in ill purgings, the good be not taken away with the bad, which commonly is done when the people is the reformer.”

 © Andreas Sommer

About Sommer_HPS

Dr. Andreas Sommer, historian of the human sciences at Cambridge University, UK. View all posts by Sommer_HPS

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