Francis Bacon has always been ” THE Seventeenth Century in England”  to me, he was a polymath’s polymath.  His books are all weirdly accessible and fun to read. Sylva Sylvarum is on of my favorite books to show to people who aren’t obsessed with books, and they are usually fascinated.DSC_0002 (1)

Francis Bacon, in a rather round about way, can be seen as forming the world we now know. His influence is not as popularized as Newton, but maybe he was the giant whose shoulders Newton could stand on? There has been a lot of interesting work coming to fruition on Bacon this Century, and with out a doubt the OXFORD BACON Is the most useful. For shorter and individuals working on bacon I really enjoy reading Giglioni. See below.

Mastering the Appetites of Matter. Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum

  • Dr Guido Giglioni

    Engaging with the past

    Cassamarca Lecturer in Neo-Latin Cultural and Intellectual History 1400-1700


    Guido Giglioni is the Cassamarca Lecturer in Neo-Latin Cultural and Intellectual History at the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London. He has published a book on Jan Baptise van Helmont (Immaginazione e malattia, Milan 2000) and edited a volume of manuscript papers of Francis Glisson (Cambridge 1996). He has written essays on Renaissance philosophy and medicine and on such authors as Girolamo Cardano, Tommaso Campanella and Francis Bacon.


Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum (published posthumously in 1627) occupies a paradoxical place in the history of seventeenth-century medicine and natural philosophy. It is the work where Bacon expounded, at his clearest and best, in vernacular and not in Latin, his views on the material appetites of nature, and did so not by writing in the abstract, but by describing and performing experiments aimed at disclosing the appetitive nature of matter. However, such an original model of experimental investigations on the appetites of matter was abandoned by the great majority of Bacon’s followers, especially those associated with the Royal Society, replaced with the more reassuring project to mechanise the natural forms and passions of matter. By doing so, man was restored as the proper subject of knowledge and appetite, whereas nature was left with its status of lifeless object of dispassionate study. In this paper I explore the theoretical and experimental strategies deployed by Bacon to investigate the appetites of matter. It will become apparent that a characteristic hermeneutical circle underlies Bacon’s natural philosophy, a circle that, depending on the chosen point of view, could be regarded at the time as either virtuous or vicious. On the one hand, Bacon was convinced that man’s self-knowledge rested on the knowledge that nature has of itself, since nature is first and foremost appetite and man’s essence is rooted in appetite. On the other hand, he was also convinced that knowledge of nature was based on knowledge of the self, since the best accounts concerning the nature of the appetites were to be found in the works of poets and historians (rather than in Renaissance systematisers of natural magic and natural philosophy). This is what Bacon meant by ‘georgics of the mind’: the understanding of the material appetites of nature cannot be separated from an ethical and political consideration of the mechanisms mediating knowledge and appetite in human societies. DSC_0004

464F  Bacon, Francis.   1561-1626

  Sylva Sylvarum, Or, A Naturall History, In Ten Centuries. Written by the Right Honorable Francis Lo. Verulam, Viscount of St. Alban. Published after the Authors Death, By William Rawley, Doctor in Divinitie, One of His Majesties Chaplaines. Hereunto is now added an Alphabeticall Table ofthe Principall Things contained in the Ten Centuries.

London: Printed by John Haviland for William Lee, and are to be Sold by Iohn Williams, 1635  DSC_0001 (1)   $2,800      Folio, 7 x 10.4 in.  Fourth edition. π2, A-Z6, Aa-Bb6, Cc4, a-g4 (g4 is blank). The engraved title page and portrait of Bacon dated to 1631 and 1631 respectively are both present in this volume.  This copy is bound in its original full calf. Binding tight and firm.  A good clean copy of an early edition. “The new method [Bacon’s big plan, the Instauratio Magna] is valueless, because inapplicable, unless it be supplied with materials duly collected and presented—in fact, unless there be formed a competent natural history of the Phenomena Universi. A short introductory sketch of the requisites of such a natural history, which, according to Bacon, is essential, necessary, the basis totius negotii, is given in the tract Parasceve, appended to the Novum Organum. The principal works intended to form portions of the history, and either published by himself or left in manuscript, are historia Ventorum, Historia Vitae et Mortis, Historia Densi et Rari, and the extensive collection of facts and observations entitled Sylva Sylvarum […] “Nature thus presented itself to Bacon’s mind as a huge congeries of phenomena, the manifestations of some simple and primitive qualities, which were hid from us by the complexity of the things themselves. The world was a vast labyrinth, amid the windings of which we require some clue or thread whereby we may track our way to knowledge and thence to power. This thread, the filum labyrinthi, is the new method of induction. But, as has been frequently pointed out, the new method could not be applied until facts had been observed and collected. This is an indispensable preliminary. ‘Man, the servant and interpreter of nature, can do and understand so much, and so much only as he has observed in fact or in thought of the course of nature; beyond this he neither knows anything nor can do anything.’ The proposition that our knowledge of nature necessarily begins with observation and experience, is common to Bacon and many contemporary reformers of science, but he laid peculiar stress upon it, and gave it a new meaning. What he really meant by observation was a competent natural history or collection of facts. ‘The firm foundation of a purer natural philosophy are laid in natural history.’ ‘First of all we must prepare a  natural and experimental history, sufficient and good; and this is the foundation of all.” (EB) This book is ‘the foundation of all,’ consisting of all of Bacon’s empirical experiments along with his utopian fable, The New Atlantis. STC 1172; Gibson #174. DSC_0003

Francis Bacon: Sylva Sylvarum, or a natural history in ten centuries, 1627
Posted on 27/04/2012 by 
Sylva Sylvarum or a natural history in ten centurieswas published posthumously (but very soon after Bacon’s death in April 1626) by William Rawley. It was by far  the most widely read of Bacon’s writings, at least in seventeenth century England. It went through 10 editions until 1670 and there were subsequent editions up to the end of the century[1]. There seemed to be 17th editions altogether, plus two Latin editions[2] and a French translation[3]. They not always contain the same texts. The first couple of editions contained unpublished fragments and drafts of Bacon’s natural histories, the subsequent editions contained various other material including, from 1660s on, an abridged English version of Novum Organum. All editions contained New Atlantis. However, in the first editions, this is not explicitly stated on the title page (why?). DSC_0002Sylva Sylvarum tended to be seen/read as a collection of materials for building the new science (Bacon is slightly modifying the ancient/Renaissance meaning of Silva, creating a new genre, see De Bruyn, 2001. Traditionally, sylva was used to designate the materials necessary for the construction of a discourse/speech. Bacon is not the first one to move the term in the field of natural history/natural philosophy, however). It contains 1000 “experiments” grouped in 10 groups of 100 (centuries). There are two ‘units’ of SS: solitary experiments and experiments in consort. It is not straightforward what is the meaning of ‘experimetns’ in either of the unit: observation, hearsay, travel reports, questions, suggestions, causal explanations and philosophical questions are mixed both insolitary experiments and in the experiments in consort. A number of manuscripts relating to Sylva are extant. At least one of them indicates, as Graham Rees has shown (Rees 1981), that the text of Sylva was edited and prepared for publication by Bacon himself. In other words, we don’t have a mere heap of remaining experiments and observations that didn’t find their way into Bacon’s late histories, but a book/project of its own, planned to carry forward the third part of the Instauratio (see also Rawley’s claim). Such an interpretation is substantiated by the historical and contextual paper on the publication of Sylva Sylvarum written recently by Colclough (Colclough 2010). All this is even more intriguing in view of the fact that Sylva is not only very eclectic but also highly unoriginal (at least “locally”); more than half of the “experiments” are second hand reports following ancient of Renaissance authors, some of them obviously untried by Bacon himself and accepted on dubious testimony. According to Spedding: “a considerable part of it is copied from the most celebrated book of the kind, Porta’s Natural Magic” (II. 326). However, Spedding himself does not identify all the experiments taken by Bacon from Della Porta. A thorough study of the relation between Sylva Sylvarum and Natural Magic awaits to be written. Moreover, the experiments Bacon ‘borrows’ from Della Porta, Aristotle, Pliny, Cardano, Sandys, Scaliger etc. are substantially rewritten. They are most of the times more ‘general’ and ‘theoretical’ than the punctual observations and experiments of the sources quoted above. Moreover, Bacon integrate such experiments into a larger scale program: they are the kind of experimental activity that would build up a community of experimental scientists (and in this way, they serve as illustration of the activities of Solomon’s House, see Colclough 2010). They are also a storehouse (or program?) for the future experimental philosophy. [1] Title pages of the subsequent editions don’t agree on their number or on the content, there are various editions claiming to contain “for the first time” materials published in the previous years etc.

[2] Elzevir 1648, 1661, according to Sarah Hutton, 2001 (to check!)
[3] Pierre Amboise, 1631.