francis bacon (1)

Francis Bacon

The eccentric tale of Bacon’s death through pneumonia contracted while trying, in the interests of science, to bugger a recently plucked chicken with fresh snow, is worthy of the imagination of a Borges. Take this as praise and not a burial. The incident tells us as much about this brilliant, charming and tormented (or as tormented as any Renaissance adventurer could be) individual as any of his writings. Indeed it summarizes much of the extraordinary spirit that inflamed England during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I.

Extraordinarily the story of Bacon's death is sorely rivaled by the circumstances of his marriage at the age of 45 to the 14-year old Alice Barnham, his own personal Abishag. The best part is the senior citizen married the nubile teen for her money. This man is my hero.

Those like me who have been brought up to believe that Bacon was no more than an anti-scholastic fulminator, a sort of intellectual Jacobin avant la lettre, will be pleasantly surprised. It is hard to tell what is more exciting, his pyrotechnic mastery of English prose whereby one quotable quote follows another, the sheer flood of ideas, observations, witticisms and wisecracks that tumble from his quill (Internal consistency be damned!), or the excitement of being in a world where there was so much to discover and so much to think about. Montaigne and Bacon give us an idea what the Renaissance must have been like, how the world must have felt rich and new with the pleasure of discovery around every corner. In this respect Bacon compares favorably with the next generation. Descartes and Hobbes were much more focused and eventually much more intellectually respectable. But they were a lot less fun.

Bacon on Atheism

The New Organon

The Major Works

Bacon and Descartes on a New Beginning

The Virgin of the World