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The Ark and Immediate Revelation in Francis Bacon's "New Atlantis"

Author(s): Travis DeCook


Source: Studies in Philology, Vol. 105, No. 1 (Winter, 2008), pp. 103-122
Published by: University of North Carolina Press
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The Ark and Immediate Revelation
in Francis Bacon's New Atlantis
by Travis DeCook
T
ihroughout Christian history, Noah's ark and the Ark of the Cove
nant have served as images representing interrelated concepts
of memory, preservation, election, and salvation. For instance,
many of the church fathers believed Noah's ark foreshadows Christ and
his church, perceiving typological significance in its dimensions and
physical characteristics.' Additionally, the ark's protection of Noah's
family and the animals during the deluge was seen to correspond to
the church's preservation of Christians in history, "saved through the
wood" of the cross.2
The ark's association with memory is exemplified in Hugh of St.
Victor's mid-twelfth-century mnemonic structure, "De arca Noe mys
tica," a textual pictura embodying a profusion of Christian doctrines
and knowledge for the purposes of meditation and rhetorical inven
tion.3 Here the ark of Noah, the storehouse of God's elect preserved
against the destruction of the flood, becomes quite literally a storehouse
in the mnemonic sense, an archive of knowledge.4 Mary Carruthers
1
See,
for
example, Origen,
"Homilies on
Genesis,"
in Homilies on Genesis and
Exodus,
trans. Ronald E. Heine
(Washington,
D.C.: Catholic
University
of
America,
1982), 2.3-4;
John
Crysostom,
"Sixth Sermon on Lazarus and the Rich
Man,"
in On Wealth and
Poverty,
trans. Catharine P. Roth
(Crestwood,
NY: St. Vladimir's
Seminary
Press,
1984), 113;
Jerome,
St.
Jerome:
Letters and Select
Works,
trans. W H.
Fremantle,
vol. 6 of A Select
Library
ofNicene
and Post-Nicene Fathers
of
the Christian
Church,
ed.
Philip
Schaff and
Henry
Wace
(Edinburgh:
T & T
Clark,
1989), 15.2;
and
Augustine,
"Contra Faustum
Manichaeum,"
in
Corpus Scriptorum
Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum
25,
ed.
Joseph Zycha (Vienna, 1891), 12.14.
2
Augustine, City of
God,
trans.
Henry
Bettenson
(Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986),
15.26.
3
Mary
Carruthers,
The Book
of Memory:
A
Study of Memory
in Medieval Culture
(Cam
bridge: Cambridge University
Press,
1990), 23iff.
4
The term storehouse was
frequently
used in the
period
to refer to the archive of
commonplaces?inscribed
either in books or in the
memory?employed
as the basis for
103
? 2007 The University of North Carolina Press
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104 The Ark and Revelation in Bacon's New Atlantis
has indicated the significance of the punning involved in Hugh's mne
monic scheme, which conjoins "arca" ("chest"), Noah's ark, the Ark of
the Covenant, and the citadel ("arca") of Jerusalem: "Puns transform
the treasure chest of memory into the salvational ark of Noah, into a
treasure chest (the ark of Moses) that contains the matter of salvation
(God's law) which, stored in the chest of memory and thus available
for meditation, will redeem and save, as the citadel (arc-) of 'Jerusalem'
will save God's people."5 As Carruthers notes, puns are crucial to the
elaborate memory system Hugh erects, exploiting not only homopho
nic relationships but semantic, historical, and theological ones as well.
The connection between these arks is a commonplace as early as Pru
dentius's Psychomachia of
405,
in which the "Ark (of Noah), [the] Ark
(of the Covenant) in its Tabernacle carried in the camps of the Israelites,
and [the] Temple of Solomon in the citadel of Jerusalem are all brought
together."6 Another important link in this "mnemonic catena" is the
word arc-cana ("secrets"): the ark of Genesis and the Ark of the Cove
nant both store God's secrets, protecting them like citadels ("arc-es").7
While Francis Bacon's various allusions to biblical arks were not em
ployed in the kinds of memory systems Carruthers discusses,8 he none
theless invokes their traditional associations with preservation and
salvation. Moreover, he conflates the various biblical arks, relying on
similar theological and semantic connections to those exploited by his
medieval predecessors, and he often relies on a highly traditional under
standing of the ark as a type of the church. In his discussion of ecclesi
communication. For a discussion of this model for
memory
in
antiquity
and the Middle
Ages,
see
ibid., 33-45.
5
Carruthers,
The
Craft of Thought:
Meditation, Rhetoric,
and the
Making of Images,
400
1200
(Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press,
1998), 244-45.
6
Ibid., 149-50.
7
Ibid., 150.
8
Indeed,
Bacon believed most extant arts of
memory,
while not harmful to the natural
memory,
to be barren of works and unable to
perform usefully (Bacon,
The Advancement
of Learning,
ed. Michael
Kiernan,
The Oxford Francis Bacon
4 [Oxford:
Clarendon
Press,
2000], 119).
Hereafter,
all
quotations
from Bacon will be cited
parenthetically
in the text.
The Advancement will be
designated by
the abbreviation AL. For Novum
Organum (NO),
Instauratio
Magna (IM),
and
Parasceve,
I have used The Instauratio
Magna:
Novum
Organum
and Associated
Texts,
ed. Graham
Rees,
The Oxford Francis
Bacon,
11
(Oxford:
Clarendon
Press,
2004). Quotations
from
Temporis
Partus Masculus
(TPM), Cogita
et Visa
(CV)
and
Redargutio Philosophiarum (RG)
are from
Benjamin Farrington,
The
Philosophy of
Francis
Bacon: An
Essay
on Its
Development from 1603
to
1609 (Liverpool: Liverpool University
Press,
1964).
All other
quotations
of Bacon are from The Works
of
Francis
Bacon,
ed.
James
Spedding
et
al., 14
vols.
(London, 1857-74).
Citations of the
Spedding
edition are
desig
nated
by
volume and
page
number.
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Travis DeCook 105
astical history in The Advancement of Learning (1605), Bacon claims that
the first division of this form of history is concerned with the militant,
or earthly, church and "whether it be fluctuant, as the Arke of Noah, or
moueable, as the Arke in the Wildernes, or at rest, as the Arke in the
Temple; That is, the state of the Church in Persecution, in Remoue, and
in Peace" (71). Bacon also describes the church as an ark in his Better
Pacification and Edification of the Church of England (1603) (10:119) and the
Confession of Faith (1603) (7:225).
In addition to these more conventional uses, Bacon also employs an
ark in his scientific utopia New Atlantis (1627) in a similar but much
more complex way.9 Despite the fact that this ark's significance has re
ceived virtually no commentary, it has a crucial function in this text.
The governor of Bacon's imaginary society, Bensalem, describes how his
isolated island nation became Christian, recounting that about twenty
years after Christ's resurrection, a pillar of light, topped with a cross,
appeared in the middle of the sea surrounding the island. Under this
pillar, a "small ark or chest of cedar" was seen floating on the waves,
containing a book and a letter. The governor describes these texts as fol
lows: "The Book contained all the canonical books of the Old and New
Testament, according as you have them ... ; and the Apocalypse itself,
and some other books of the New Testament which were not at that time
written, were nevertheless in the Book.... For there being at that time in
this land Hebrews, Persians, and Indians, besides the natives, every one
read upon the Book and Letter, as if they had been written in his own
language" (3:138). The governor recounts how the apostle Bartholomew
was commanded by an angel to put a book within an ark, along with a
letter describing the book's contents, and then place the ark in the sea,
where it found its way, via divine guidance, to Bensalem. The book in
the ark is the Bible but in a form exemplifying a miraculous complete
ness: the processes of compilation and canonization have already oc
curred, and it moreover contains books that have yet to be written in
historical time. Furthermore, the miracle mirrors the Pentecost, being
"conform to that of the Apostles in the original Gift of Tongues," in that
all of the island's diverse language groups can read both the Bible and
the letter found in the ark (ibid.).
9
For the sake of
convenience,
I use the term science in this
paper
to describe Baconian
natural
philosophy, although
the modern
meanings
of the word are not
implied.
For the
problems
of
applying
the term science to
Bacon,
see Richard
Serjeantson,
"Natural Knowl
edge
in the New
Atlantis,"
in Francis Bacon's "New Atlantis": New
Interdisciplinary Essays,
ed. Bronwen Price
(Manchester:
Manchester
University
Press,
2002), 82-84.
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io6 The Ark and Revelation in Bacon's New Atlantis
The event of revelation described in New Atlantis appears dramati
cally immediate and instantaneous. Notwithstanding Jesuits' claims
about the gift of tongues and other miracles advancing their global mis
sionary work, revelation in Bensalem stands in striking contrast to the
temporal and material mediations, the translations and adaptations to
different cultures, through which Christian revelation has been histori
cally communicated.'0 This miraculous transparency emerges as an ex
traordinary moment in a text that is both pervaded by an atmosphere
of mystery and fundamentally concerned with the experience and pro
cesses of discovery. The narrative begins with a lost and frightened crew
arriving in the harbor of a strange land, both thankful for their apparent
safety but also deeply uncertain about their fate, and the reader follows
the mariners' experience of having this strange new society gradually
unfold before them. But while more and more of Bensalem is gradu
ally discovered to the crew and the reader, there always remains the
sense that much of it remains hidden." Furthermore, the Father's dis
closure to the narrator of the workings of Bensalem's scientific research
institution, Salomon's House, reveals the extent to which the House is
founded upon secrecy: not all the results of the Fathers' worldwide mis
sions to accumulate new knowledge are made public, and they take an
oath of secrecy affecting their dealings with the state.'2 Moreover, while
the Fathers possess full knowledge of the rest of the world and make
use of this knowledge to benefit Bensalem, the island nation remains
unknown to the rest of the world.13 Within this climate of esotericism,
10
For the
Jesuits'
assertions of miracles
occurring
in their
evangelizing,
see David
Renaker,
"A Miracle of
Engineering:
The Conversion of Bensalem in Francis Bacon's New
Atlantis,"
Studies in
Philology 87 (1990): 183-84.
11
By
contrast,
much
contemporary Utopian
literature is characterized
by comprehen
sive accounts of their
imagined
lands. For
instance,
in Thomas More's
Utopia (1516),
Tom
maso
Campanella's City of
the Sun
(first
written in
1602),
and
Johann
Valentin Andreae's
Christianopolis (1619),
we are
presented
with
exhaustive,
almost
encyclopaedic descrip
tions of all
aspects
of the societies. For discussions of the
significance
of
secrecy
in Bacon's
narrative,
see
John
C.
Briggs,
Francis Bacon and the Rhetoric
of
Nature
(Cambridge,
MA:
Harvard
University
Press,
1989), 169-174
and Simon
Wortham,
"Censorship
and the In
stitution of
Knowledge
in Bacon's New
Atlantis,"
in Francis Bacon's "New
Atlantis,"
ed.
Price,
187,190.
12
As the Father informs the
narrator,
"And this we do also: we have
consultations,
which of the inventions and
experiences
which we have discovered shall be
published,
and which not: and take all an oath of
secrecy,
for the
concealing
of those which we think
fit to
keep
secret:
though
some of those we do reveal sometimes to the
state,
some not"
(3:165).
13
John
Michael Archer contends that New Atlantis reflects the Elizabethan and
Jaco
bean courts' culture of
surveillance,
which Bacon
directly participated
in as
intelligence
gatherer
for the Earl of Essex
(Sovereignty
and
Intelligence: Spying
and Court Culture in the
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Travis DeCook 107
then, the openness characterizing the revelation of Christianity stands
out in stark relief.'4
Despite this, studies of Bacon's utopia have predominantly ignored
its religious dimension, instead focusing on how Salomon's House re
flects Bacon's project to reform natural philosophy. This is characteristic
of the traditional lack of attention to Bacon's religious thought, although
this situation has begun to change in the last few decades, particularly
with the work of Charles Whitney, who has shown how religious ideas
are adapted by Bacon within his natural philosophy.'5 But while there
English
Renaissance
[Stanford:
Stanford
University
Press,
1993], 123-26,139-151).
Bacon's
attitude toward the role of esotericism in science was
complicated.
Charles
Whitney
ar
gues
that while Bacon understood
circumspection
to be
necessary
for scientists' inter
action with
laypeople,
he believed
transparent
communication to be essential within the
scientific
community (Francis
Bacon and
Modernity
[New
Haven: Yale
University
Press,
1986], 145-46).
For Bacon's influence on the
public emphasis
of
seventeenth-century
sci
ence and the
Royal Society,
see William
Eamon,
Science and the Secrets
of
Nature: Books
of
Secrets in Medieval and
Early
Modern Culture
(Princeton:
Princeton
University
Press,
1994),
ch. 10. For Bacon's
advocacy
of esotericism in
science,
see
TPM, 62,
69;
CV, 101; RG, 108;
and
AL, 124.
14
The
emphasis
on
secrecy
in New Atlantis
may
offer a clue to Bacon's choice of Bar
tholomew as the vehicle for revelation. In his Ecclesiastical
History,
Eusebius writes that
Bartholomew
brought
Matthew's
gospel
into India
(The
Ecclesiastical
History,
trans. Kir
sopp
Lake
[Cambridge:
Harvard
University
Press,
1992], 5.10).
Furthermore,
the
apoc
ryphal
books
purportedly by
Bartholomew, Questions
of
Bartholomew and The Book
of
the
Resurrection
of
Christ,
"consist of
inquiries
into the secrets of
virgin
birth,
the
devil,
and the
resurrection?secrets that at first are said to be closed to
inquiry
because of their mortal
danger
to those who search them out. But Bartholomew and the other
apostles
succeed in
hearing
these secrets after
they prostrate
themselves and
persist
in
begging
to hear
them,
whatever the
consequences" (Briggs,
"Bacon's Science and
Religion,"
in The
Cambridge
Companion
to
Bacon,
ed. Markku Peltonen
[Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press,
1996], 198). Although
there is no evidence that Bacon was familiar with these
apocryphal
texts,
their concern with revelation is
significant (indeed, they
are described
by
commen
tators
alternately
as
gospels
or
apocalypses).
These texts
emphasize
cautious disclosure:
in the
Questions, Jesus
states that
only
certain
people
are
worthy
of
having
these secrets
revealed to them. See The
Apocryphal
New
Testament,
trans.
J.
K. Elliott
(Oxford:
Clarendon
Press,
1993),
666. In The Book
of
the
Resurrection,
Bartholomew tells his son Thaddeus not
to let his book fall into
impure
hands
(ibid., 670).
15
In addition to
Whitney's
Francis Bacon and
Modernity,
see his
"Cupid
Hatched
by
Night:
The
'Mysteries
of Faith' and Bacon's Art of
Discovery,"
in
Ineffability: Naming
the
Unnameable
from
Dante to
Beckett,
ed. Peter S. Hawkins and Anne Howland Schotter
(New
York: AMS
Press,
1984), 51-64.
This
approach
is continued in
Briggs,
"Bacon's Science and
Religion,"
Discussions of
religion
in Bacon's
writings
have
generally
focused on his treat
ment of the boundaries between the
study
of nature and
religion.
For
example,
see Perez
Zagorin,
Francis Bacon
(Princeton:
Princeton
University
Press,
1998), 44-51;
Peter
Urbach,
Francis Bacon's
Philosophy of
Science: An Account and a
Reappraisal (La Salle,
IL:
Open
Court,
1987), 98-100, 102-5;
and F. H.
Anderson,
The
Philosophy of
Francis Bacon
(Chicago:
Uni
versity
of
Chicago
Press,
1948), 151-53,171-72,212-14. Jonn
Hedley
Brooke
similarly
con
centrates on Bacon's
approach
to the
relationship
between revealed and natural knowl
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io8 The Ark and Revelation in Bacon's New Atlantis
has been some attention to the miracle in New Atlantis, its full signifi
cance has not been recognized.16
In this paper, I will argue that Bacon's representation of revelation
reflects Reformation controversies over the nature of Scripture and its
relationship to divine revelation. The image of the ark is vital here. Since
in many ways it resembles both Noah's ark and the Ark of the Covenant,
the Bensalemite ark not only resonates with the concepts traditionally
associated with the biblical arks, but it furthermore embodies an archi
val function that directly corresponds to the reformist concepts of Scrip
ture Bacon alludes to. Moreover, the relationship between these issues
and New Atlantis's portrayal of the accumulation of empirical knowl
edge has broad implications for Baconian natural philosophy, reflect
ing his attitudes toward the boundaries between the study of nature
and religion, his awareness of the fundamental role of time in the dis
covery, accumulation, and development of natural knowledge, and his
understanding of the role textual archives play in this process. Through
a close examination of divine revelation in New Atlantis, it becomes ap
parent that Bacon transformed the profoundly contentious network of
attitudes and approaches to the Bible that marked the Reformation in
order to envision new possibilities for scientific advancement.
The differences between the forms of preservation vital to Baconian
natural philosophy and exemplified by the ark and Bible in New Atlan
tis represent one of the main ways Bacon engages the separation be
tween divinely revealed and secular knowledge in his utopia. At the
same time, however, Bacon conflates Bensalem's emphasis on archiving
natural philosophy and preservative capacities with its divinely elect
status, at times by closely associating the island nation with the bibli
cal arks. When questioned by the narrator and his fellow shipwrecked
crewmembers, the island's governor tells them that Bensalem is the
edge
but situates him within a much broader context
(Science
and
Religion:
Some Historical
Perspectives [Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press,
1991],
ch.
2).
16
For examinations of the miracle in New
Atlantis,
see David Renaker's "A Miracle of
Engineering," 183-84,
and
Jerry Weinberger,
"On the Miracles in Bacon's New
Atlantis,"
in
Francis Bacon's "New
Atlantis,"
ed. Price 106-28. Both Renaker and Robert K. Faulkner cast
doubt on the
genuineness
of the
miracle,
suggesting
that the Fathers
stage
it
(Faulkner,
Francis Bacon and the
Project of Progress [Lanham,
MD: Rowman and
Littlefield,
1993], 243).
These
readings
are
unconvincing,
since
they ignore
much of the intellectual and
theologi
cal
significance
of Bacon's
representation
of the miracle.
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Travis DeCook 109
only nation that has maintained the superior navigation skills that were
once widespread and then decayed, unequalled even by the current ad
vances of Europe. The governor wonders if "the example of the ark, that
saved the remnant of men from the universal deluge, gave men confi
dence to adventure upon waters" (3:140). But if the ancient omnipres
ence of global navigation is the result of Noah's ark, the preserver of
humanity, Bensalem in turn functions as the preserver of this legendary
ancient era, maintaining a link to this past and its superior knowledge.
Bensalem is the sole survivor of a glorious, ancient world: we are told
that, ark-like, it remained unscathed from a flood, the divine revenge
levelled on its militant neighbouring nation Atlantis. Moreover, Ben
salem's ancient King Solamona instituted that the island be maintained
as it was without change, since he recognized its self-sufficiency and
that "it might be a thousand ways altered to the worse, but scarce any
one way to the better" (3:144).'7 In order to preserve its perfect status,
Solamona limited and policed the entry of foreigners so that Bensalem
was not detrimentally influenced by outsiders, and he also prohibited
the Bensalemites from travelling beyond their nation (with the excep
tion, of course, of the Fathers of Salomon's House, who collect knowl
edge from around the world). Thus, Bensalem itself becomes a kind of
archive, preserving the customs and institutions of an earlier era, allow
ing change and addition only through the House of Salomon, which
makes new knowledge and inventions public only with great caution.
The description of the House's achievements and activities, forming
the final section of New Atlantis, foregrounds numerous forms of ar
chiving that reflect the importance of knowledge preservation in Baco
nian natural philosophy. For Bacon, natural histories-exhaustive com
pilations
of facts and observations -were essential to the derivation of
new discoveries. The vital role of these textual archives is most vigor
ously lauded in the Parasceve that accompanied the Novum Organum.
Here, Bacon claims that a natural history
-
"a granary and storehouse of
things" that awaits interpretation (4:459)-is so essential to the growth
17
The
omnipresence
of Solomon in Bacon's
writings
reflects his
significance
in the
period.
James
represented
himself as a new
King
Solomon
throughout
his career. The
Hebrew
king provided
a model for
divinely
sanctioned
kingship
associated with the ad
vancement of
law,
religion,
trade, administration,
national
unity,
and
peace (Louis
A.
Knafla,
"Britain's Solomon:
King James
and the
Law,"
in
Royal Subjects: Essays
on the Writ
ings of
James
VI and
I,
ed. Daniel Fischlin and Mark Fortier
[Detroit: Wayne
State Univer
sity
Press, 2002], 240).
The
multiple
allusions to Solomon in New Atlantis and his other
writings represent
Bacon's
perennial employment
of the Hebrew
king
as a
justification
for natural
philosophy
and
empirical investigation.
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110 The Ark and Revelation in Bacon's New Atlantis
of knowledge that it is even more important than the cooperative ap
plication of minds that will ultimately transform this data into works
445-52)
18
The Fathers of Salomon's House epitomize Bacon's emphasis on the
importance of archiving information for the facilitation of the advance
ment of knowledge. For instance, they retain samples of their own in
ventions ("patterns and principals"), even for those which do not at
tain popular use (3:161). Several Fathers are occupied with collecting
and arranging information that becomes the fodder for experiment and
application (3:164-65). The Fathers even have a museum of sorts, with
galleries displaying "patterns and samples of all manner of the more
rare and excellent inventions" and "statua's of all principal inventors"
(3:165).19 Indeed, the list of the Fathers' accomplishments is itself an ar
chive like book 2 of The Advancement, Bacon's exhaustive encyclopae
dia of existing learning. In a 1605 letter to Sir Thomas Bodley, Bacon
praises the former's library, stating that Bodley has created "an Ark to
save learning from deluge" (10:253). Bensalem, or more precisely, the
House of Salomon, also functions as such an ark.
Bensalem's mastery of knowledge and exemplification of Baconian
methods of archiving are combined with its divinely elect status. The
pillar of light that announces the ark's presence echoes Exodus 13:21
22, where God uses a pillar of light to guide the Israelites out of Egypt.
This is one of many ways the Bensalemites are associated with events
in the Old Testament. 'Bensalem" is Hebrew for "son of peace," Salem
being the original name of Jerusalem. Furthermore, the Bensalemites
18
In Bacon's
scheme,
books were to be used in
very
different
ways
than
they
had been
in the
previous regime
of natural
philosophy,
which was based on
circulating preexisting
learning
and the
production
of commentaries
upon previous
authorities rather than the
accumulation of new forms of
knowledge (Ann
Blair,
"Annotating
and
Indexing
Natural
Philosophy,"
in Books and the Sciences in
History,
ed. Marina
Frasca-Spada
and Nick
Jar
dine
[Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2000], 69.)
19
For a
contemporary Utopian
archive,
compare
the visual
representation
of all
existing
knowledge
on the
city
walls and the
description
of a book
containing
all sciences in the
City
of the Sun
(Tommaso Campanella,
La Citt? del Sole:
Dialogo Poetico/The City of
the Sun:
A Poetical
Dialogue,
trans. Daniel
J.
Donno
[Berkeley: University
of California
Press,
1981],
33ff ).
But whereas the House of Salomon is founded
upon
the continual accumulation
of new
knowledge,
the
City
of the Sun stresses
existing knowledge.
As
Judah
Bierman
remarks,
"throughout
this
city,
dominated
by
its
walls,
there is no
place
for
exploring
new
knowledge;
in
effect,
knowledge
is
fully
known,
codified and exhibited"
("Science
and
Society
in the New Atlantis and Other Renaissance
Utopias,"
PMLA
78 (1963): 495).
The
library
in
Christianopolis
is
staggeringly comprehensive, yet
it is mentioned
primarily
to contrast the
emptiness
of human
learning
with the
sufficiency
of
Christianity (Johann
Valentin
Andreae,
Christianapolis,
trans. Felix Emil Held
[New
York: Oxford
University
Press,
1916], 191).
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Travis DeCook 111
use scrolls for administrative purposes, which have Jewish associations
(3:130, 149). In the Feast of the Family, reference is made to the patriarchs
Adam, Noah, and Abraham.20 Not only is the illustrious founder of the
College of Six Days Works named King Solamona, but the Bensalemites
possess works of natural history by King Solomon lost to the Europeans
(3:145). The Bensalemite Solamona is explicitly conflated with Solomon,
since the governor speculates that Solamona named Salomon's House
after the Hebrew king and not himself. Solamona "[finds] himself to
symbolize in many things with that king of the Hebrews" (ibid.). God
chooses the Bensalemites, like the ancient Israelites, for a unique pur
pose, and this process of election is dependent on an ark, just as election
in the Old Testament depends on both Noah's ark and the Ark of the
Covenant. As an elect people, the Bensalemites themselves also repre
sent a kind of archive: they embody the preservation of singular knowl
edge through historical time.
Bacon's use of the term instauration to describe his project for the re
form of natural philosophy is important here, since the term is used in
the Vulgate to describe the founding of Solomon's Temple.21 This con
cept is echoed by the Bensalemite ark, given that Solomon's Temple was
the location of the Ark of the Covenant. Indeed, the engraved frontis
piece of the original volume containing Sylva Sylvarum and New Atlan
tis displays imagery from Solomon's Temple, pillars standing before
cherubim.22 As Whitney has shown, Bacon's introduction to his Instau
ratio Magna is pervaded with architectural metaphors to describe his
project as a new temple of learning.23 Moreover, the Solomonic allu
sions in New Atlantis reflect the archival and mnemonic resonances of
Solomon's Temple evident in the sixteenth century: the Temple was
understood to "have contained the pattern of the universe within it"
and was itself the pattern for Giulio Camillo's memory theater (called
"Solomon's House of Wisdom").24 Just as a memory theater preserves
knowledge in inner "places," Solomon's Temple preserves the essence
of a people's identity.
20
Elizabeth
McCutcheon,
"Bacon and the Cherubim: An
Iconographical Reading
of the
New
Atlantis,"
English Literary
Renaissance 2
(1972): 352.
21
See
Whitney,
Francis
Bacon,
for an
in-depth study
of the
importance
of the word in
stauration and its relation to the
shifting
tension between reform and revolution in Bacon's
project.
Bacon's use of the term instauration
aligns
his
project
with the
Judeo-Christian
typology
of
spiritual
rebirth
(24-25).
22
Ibid., 33.
23
Ibid.,
23fr.
24
Ibid.
35-36.
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112 The Ark and Revelation in Bacon's New Atlantis
Thus, the ark through which the Bensalemites receive Christian reve
lation picks up on a host of concepts relating to memory, election, and
preservation resonating throughout the text. Floating on the waves, pre
serving its contents against the flood, the Bensalemite ark clearly evokes
Noah's ark, the ark of Genesis. Yet given its contents -the Word of God -
it simultaneously represents the Ark of the Covenant, the chest contain
ing the Law that was possessed by the Israelites. The cherub wings in
Bensalemite visual culture -stamped on the scroll given to the sailors
when the first arrive on the island (3:130) and carved in gold on the
Father's chariot
(3:155)-allude
to the cherubim with outspread wings
that were put on the mercy seat, the lid of the ark containing the tablets
of the Law.25 Bacon's fantastical representation of miraculous revela
tion foregrounds the idea of the ark-the container-that, like Noah's
ship and the Law, safeguards God's elect through time-and space. As
the governor proclaims, "'And thus was this land saved from infidelity
(as the remain of the old world was from water) by an ark, through the
apostolical and miraculous evangelism of St. Bartholomew" (3:139).
II
The archival function of the Bensalemite ark is essential to the theo
logical implications of New Atlantis. Moreover, the text's biblical echoes
take on a much broader significance than heretofore acknowledged
when the Bensalemite miracle is considered within the context of Ref
ormation controversy. Currents of thought subject to intense debate
during the Reformation inform Bacon's representation of revelation in
New Atlantis, and they are also evident in his discussion of the nature
of divine revelation at the end of The Advancement. In the latter work, he
not only proclaims the absolute authority and sufficiency of Scripture,26
but he also emphasizes Scripture as encompassing and addressing all of
time. Just as Jesus answered the thoughts of those who questioned Him,
and not merely their words, Scripture,
being written to the thoughts of men, and to the succession of all ages, with a
foresight to all heresies, contradictions, differing estates of the Church, yea, and
25
See Exodus
25:20, 37:7-9.
On cherub
imagery
in New
Atlantis,
see
McCutcheon,
"Bacon and the
Cherubim,"
338-39.
In Bartholomew's Book
of
the
Resurrection, Jesus
is
described as
being
on a "chariot of the Cherubim"
(Apocryphal
New
Testament,
669).
26
For the reformist
principle
of sola
scriptura
and its
complex
medieval
backgrounds,
see Alister E.
McGrath,
The Intellectual
Origins of
the
European Reformation (Oxford:
Black
well,
1987),
ch.
5.
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Travis DeCook 113
particularly of the elect, are not to be interpreted only according to the latitude
of the proper sense of the place, and respectiuely towardes that present occa
sion, whereupon the wordes were vttered; or in precise congruitie or contexture
with the wordes before or after, or in contemplation of the principall scope of
the place, but haue in themselues, not onley totally, or collectiuely, but distribu
tiuely in clauses and wordes, infinite springs and streames of doctrine to water
the Church in euerie part. (189)
Bacon acknowledges here the historical approach to the Bible charac
teristic of humanism, which stressed interpreting utterances in Scrip
ture rhetorically, taking into account speaker, audience, and time.27
However, he also warns of its limitations, affirming that the Bible has a
transhistorical dimension of meaning. The Bible in effect predicts and
answers all heresies and disruptions in the church, and so it cannot be
interpreted in a strictly contextual manner. For Bacon, it is a book that
in effect speaks to all times rather than merely the time in which it was
written and the times that it records. Here, Bacon invokes a particular
strand of reformist thinking that not only emphasizes the Bible as the
sole source of doctrine but also downplays its contingent, temporal di
mensions, claiming that it embodies all of history.28
In New Atlantis, Bacon's Christian utopia receives divine revelation in
a way that reflects this understanding of Scripture. Revelation in Ben
salem occurs as an immediate event, independent of the clarifications
brought about through time that mark historical Christianity.29 There
27
Erasmus's Ratio Verae
Theologiae exemplifies
this
approach.
For the humanist stress
on
particularity
and its
relationship
to classical rhetorical
theory,
see
James
D.
Tracy,
"Humanism and the
Reformation,"
in
Reformation Europe:
A Guide to
Research,
ed. Steven E.
Ozment
(St.
Louis: Center for Reformation
Research,
1982), 42.
28
The issue raised here was of central
importance during
the
early English
Reforma
tion.
Against
reformist attitudes to
Scripture,
in his
polemical writings
Thomas More af
firms that the Bible is an
incomplete,
albeit
infallible,
record. He is at
pains
to assert that
holy
writ exists within the flux of time: its books are
subject
to
corruption
and
loss,
and
their
incorporation
into the Bible is a
historically contingent process occurring
under the
aegis
of the church. More claims that the Bible does not address all future
heresies;
it is the
church that functions as the
guardian
of truth within
history (The Confutation ofTyndale's
Answer,
ed. Louis A. Schuster et
al.,
The
Complete
Works of St. Thomas More 8
[New
Haven: Yale
University
Press,
1973], 334ff )
For William
Tyndale's contradictory
under
standing
of
Scripture
as
containing
all
necessary
doctrine and as
being
the
preserver
of
truth within
history,
see An Answer to Sir Thomas More's
Dialogue,
ed.
Henry
Walter
(Cam
bridge, 1850),
26-28.
29
Some
opponents
of the Reformation made
polemical
use of the idea that God's reve
lation is a
gradual process, occurring
within the church rather than
being solely
contained
in the Bible. For
example,
More
writes,
"And from
tyme
to
tyme
as it
lykyth
his
maiestye
to haue
thyngys
knowen or done in his
chyrche /
so is it no doubt
/
but he
temperyth
his
reuelacyons /
and in such
wyse
dothe insinuate and
inspyre
them into the
brestys
of
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114 The Ark and Revelation in Bacon's New Atlantis
are two particularly significant and miraculous aspects to revelation in
New Atlantis relating to issues of temporality. The first is that the Bible
received in the ark contains "all the canonical books of the Old and New
Testament ... and the Apocalypse itself, and some other books of the
New Testament which were not at that time written" (3:138). The ref
erences to the canon and the Apocalypse (the Book of Revelation) are
significant, since they raise the issue of the lengthy (and in many ways,
ongoing) process of canon formation. Luther and many of his followers
viewed four New Testament books (Hebrews, James, Jude, Revelation)
as "subcanonical": while not actually excluded from the canon, they
were nonetheless seen as having less value than the other books. The
Old Testament Apocrypha, however, were more important as sites of
contested canonicity. In the early church, Augustine considered them
canonical Scripture, whereas Jerome did not, since they only appeared
in the Septuagint, not in the Hebrew texts, and were not deemed Scrip
ture by the Jews at that time. During the Reformation, the Catholic
Church used several apocryphal books to defend its doctrines, and the
Council of Trent in 1546 officially declared them canonical Scripture.30
Protestant churches, on the other hand, gave them a highly ambiguous
status. They were denied status as Scripture, so that no point of doctrine
could be based upon them, yet they were simultaneously included in
virtually all sixteenth-century English Bibles and were officially deemed
beneficial reading.31 Apparently, however, the difficulties in classifying
the apocryphal books did not affect Bensalem. The Bensalemites receive
an unproblematic canon, and they need not spend any time or thought
on the status of these books nor on the relationships among them.
Moreover, they receive books that "were not at that time written."
Whereas the early Christian churches often had access only to a limited
number of the books that now constitute the New Testament, Bensalem
is spared this pre-canon period, faced with no challenges to accessi
bility. Here, Bacon's notion of the Bible as encompassing all of history
his
crysten people" (A Dialogue Concerning
Heresies,
ed. Thomas M. C. Lawler et
al.,
The
Complete
Works of St. Thomas More 6
[New
Haven: Yale
University
Press,
1981], 146).
Similarly,
Josse
Clichtove,
writing against
Luther,
employs
a notion of
gradual
revelation
(George
H.
Tavard,
Holy
Writ or
Holy
Church: The Crisis
of
the Protestant
Reformation
[Lon
don: Burns &
Oates,
1959], 154).
30
Bruce
Manning Metzger,
An Introduction to the
Apocrypha (Oxford:
Oxford Univer
sity
Press,
1957), 189.
For a brief
history
of the status of the
Apocrypha
in the
Reformation,
see
ibid.,
181-201.
31
The
Thirty-Nine
Articles formulates this
position.
The first
English
Bible to exclude
the
Apocrypha
was the Geneva version
printed
in
1599 (ibid., 196).
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Travis DeCook 115
is made literal in that Scripture is taken out of the realm of time. Para
doxically, it exists before it is written, and furthermore it exists as an
established canon of texts before the historical process of its canoniza
tion. The reformer William Tyndale argued that the New Testament was
present at the beginning of the world, since promises of Christ's coming
always existed.32 In his fiction, Bacon effectively makes literal this spiri
tual understanding of an omnitemporal Word of God.
As we have seen, the miracle of revelation in Bensalem is also note
worthy in that both the ark's book and letter can be read by everyone,
despite the different language groups on the island. Through this Pen
tecostal miracle, whereby language differences are erased, the ark's
texts are immediately available: no time is needed to translate them,
and no confusion or contention arises over their meaning. Moreover,
revelation in Bensalem is also immediate in the sense that the ark rep
resents a self-sufficient archive, reflecting the key reformist doctrines
of sola scriptura and scriptura sui ipsius interpres. In the Reformation, the
idea that Scripture alone is necessary for the establishment of doctrine
becomes linked to a rejection of the church as mediating authority.33
While Bartholomew's letter functions as a mediator, authenticating the
Bible, and the Father verifies the legitimacy of the miracle of the pillar
of light, these merely appear as necessary initial steps. Once the Ben
salemite miracle and Bible have been authenticated, the contents of the
ark take on a remarkably self-sufficient quality, echoing a perception of
Scripture shaped by the Reformation. The notion that the Bible inter
prets itself, that difficult scriptural passages became clear when read in
the light of easier ones, represents an ideal of absolute self-sufficiency,
of the obviation of any need for outside mediation.34 The Bensalemite
ark thus contains everything necessary for the island's salvation and
everything necessary for interpretation.35
32
Tyndale,
"A
Prologue
into the Second Book of Moses Called
Exodus,"
in The Works
of
the
English Reformers:
William
Tyndale
and
John Frith,
vol.
i,
ed. Thomas Russell
(London,
1831), 24.
33McGrath,
Intellectual
Origins, 151.
34
While this view of the Bible was common
among
reformers,
in
practice Scripture
remained mediated
by
traditional
interpretations
within reformed churches. For a discus
sion of the forms of mediation that were
incorporated
in the Reformation for the
laity's
engagement
with the
Word,
see Orlaith
O'Sullivan,
introduction to The Bible as Book: The
Reformation,
ed. O'Sullivan and Ellen N. Herron
(London:
British
Library,
2000), 3.
35
As I have
argued
above,
Bensalem itself can be viewed as a kind of
archive,
or an ark
that has
preserved
earlier forms of
knowledge.
This notion takes on an added dimension
when we consider the island's
self-sufficiency, recognized by King
Solamona,
which leads
him to
police
outside influence.
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ii6 The Ark and Revelation in Bacon's New Atlantis
III
What significance, then, does Bacon's representation of divine revela
tion in New Atlantis have for his vision of natural philosophy? One of
the important issues here is Bacon's perception of the effects of religious
controversy on the progression of knowledge. As has been discussed,
Christian revelation in Bensalem embodies an immediacy impossible
in Bacon's Europe. The books of the Bible found in the ark are compre
hensible to all people, no matter their language, and the process of can
onization has already occurred. Thus, Bensalemite revelation obviates
both the need for humanist philology and textual criticism, through
which accurate texts and translations are achieved, and the lengthy and
occasionally tumultuous councils and debates associated with canon
formation.
Whereas Christian history entails the gradual establishment of its texts
as Scripture, and, simultaneously, the ongoing and contentious canon
ization of various books, Bensalem is freed from these sites of potential
disagreement.36 The completeness of the ark and its self-interpreting
character imply the preclusion of religious disagreement. Moreover,
there is no discussion of interpretive controversies in Bensalem, and
the well-integrated Jew Joabin represents the society's highly devel
oped religious toleration.37
The gift of tongues that is part of the miracle is also significant here.
In the seventeenth century, religious controversy was often understood
to arise from discrepancies between languages, the result of Babel's
curse, causing confusion in definitions; the search for a universal lan
guage was therefore viewed as a way to overcome religious conten
tion.38 Bacon often refers to the Babel myth when discussing the pos
sibilities for an improved understanding of nature.39 He refers to the
36
Wortham is one of the few critics to
give
some attention to the transcendent com
pleteness
and
accessibility
of the
Bible,
although
his
conclusions
about its
significance
di
verge
from mine. He
argues
that the miraculous nature of the Bible
paradoxically implies
a kind of
censorship
in which the
temporal production
of the text is
repressed (Censorship,
193-94). By
contrast,
I draw out the
theological
resonance and intellectual
significance
of
Bacon's
portrayal
of the miraculous book.
37
On
Joabin,
see
Rose-Mary Sargent,
"Bacon as an Advocate for
Cooperative
Scientific
Research,"
in The
Cambridge Companion
to
Bacon,
ed.
Peltonen, 157.
38
Peter
Harrison,
The
Bible, Protestantism,
and the Rise
of
Natural Science
(Cambridge:
Cambridge University
Press,
1998), 225-26,
261.
39
The Babel
myth
was a touchstone for
many
Renaissance ideas about
language
and
natural
knowledge.
See
James J. Bono,
The Word
of
God and the
Languages of
Man:
Interpret
ing
Nature in
Early
Modern Science and Medicine. Volume 1: Ficino to Descartes
(Madison:
University
of Wisconsin
Press,
1995), 14, 18,
58-59,
61, 74-75; Jean C?ard,
"De Babel ? la
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Travis DeCook 117
confusion of tongues following Babel's fall as a second curse following
the Fall in Eden, and he affirms, "In the age after the Floud, the first
great iudgement of God vppon the ambition of man, was the confusion
of the tongues; whereby the open Trade and intercourse of Learning
and knowledge, was chiefly imbarred" (AL, 34). In Valerius Terminus,
Bacon connects true natural philosophy with Adamic language: it "is
a restitution and reinvesting (in great part) of man to that sovereignty
and power (for whensoever he shall be able to call creatures by their
true names he shall command them) which he had in his first state of
creation" (6:34).40 In New Atlantis, Bacon returns this notion of perfect
communication to its original religious context. Here, he imagines reve
lation being received in all languages simultaneously, mirroring the gift
of tongues at Pentecost. Whereas human language is polluted with the
idols of the mind, the various intellectual delusions and sociological
conditions that impede the correct apprehension of reality, Bensalem
encounters Christianity freed from the distortions of actual language
and its inevitable production of error and disagreement.4'
The non-controversial character of revelation in New Atlantis reso
nates with what Bacon hoped would be possible for his own age. Bacon
occasionally suggests that too much time is given to theology at the
expense of natural philosophy: in Novum Organum, he considers Chris
tianity to be one of the primary reasons why development in natural
philosophy has not progressed, since for so many centuries most intel
lectual energy was focused on theology (97).42
Bacon did not advocate a rejection of theology: much of The Advance
ment takes up the importance of the study of divinity and notes crucial
areas it must investigate. He did, however, view religious controversy
as a diversion of human energy and potential. At the beginning of his
discussion of divine learning in book 2 of The Advancement, among the
Pentec?te: La Transformation du
Mythe
de la Confusion des
Langues
au XVIe
Si?cle,"
Bib
lioth?que
d'Humanisme et Renaissance
42 (1980): 577-94.
40
See also
IM,
11. For the
ways
in which Bacon's
understanding
of the
original
Adamic
language
differs from the
major contemporary
traditions,
see
Bono,
Word
of
God,
237ft
and Martin
Elsky, Authorizing
Words:
Speech, Writing,
and Print in the
English
Renaissance
(Ithaca,
NY: Cornell
University
Press,
1989),
i68ff.
41
For Bacon's discussion of the idols of the
mind,
see
NO, 79-109.
42
Interestingly,
in the
early
work Valerius
Terminus,
Bacon claims that "the
singular
advantage
which the Christian
religion
hath towards the furtherance of true
knowledge,
is that it excludeth and interdicteth human reason, whether
by interpretation
or
anticipa
tion,
from
examining
or
discussing
of the
mysteries
and
principles
of faith." A
religion
that
prohibits
these forms of
inquiry effectively
turns human
energies
to their
appropriate
course,
investigating
nature
(6:75).
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i18 The Ark and Revelation in Bacon's New Atlantis
many positive developments and characteristics of his era, Bacon lists
"The consumption of all that euer can be said in controuersies of Reli
gion, which haue so much diuerted men from other Sciences"
(i8:).43
Bacon rather disingenuously asserts that his age is free of those reli
gious controversies that previously sidetracked attention from the
progress of knowledge. He goes on to attest that his age will far excel
its predecessors' if, among other things, men "take one from the other,
light of inuention, and not fire of contradiction" (ibid.).44 Bacon thus de
scribes the immediate future as an age of unprecedented advancement
in knowledge, defined against the preceding age of religious contro
versy. His vision of cooperation and knowledge accumulation entails a
derogation of the energy-wasting factionalism symptomatic of an age
focused primarily on religious dispute. Whereas Bensalem achieves a
significant level of natural knowledge prior to Christian revelation
indeed, the miracle's true nature is authenticated by one of the Fathers
of Salomon's House-Europe, Bacon suggests, must to some extent free
itself of religious controversy if it is to fully engage with the accumula
tion and application of natural philosophy.45
Seventeenth-century scientific writers such as Galileo contrasted the
comparatively uncontroversial book of nature with the book of Scrip
ture as a way to justify the study and importance of the new philoso
phy.46 While the former is accessible to all and singular in meaning (if
difficult to penetrate), interpreting the Bible leads to abysses of mul
tiple interpretations. Bacon makes a similar point in the Parasceve, con
trasting the endless commentaries produced in the fields of law and
religion with the axioms of natural philosophy: "For to me (who, as
a faithful scribe, takes down and copies out the very laws of nature
and nothing else) brevity is natural, for it is practically forced on me by
the things themselves; whereas the numberless host of opinions, tenets,
and speculations goes on for ever" (471-73). Indeed, in the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries the study of nature was also frequently de
43
Bacon's
understanding
of his
age
as the
beginnings
of a new
dawning
of human
pos
sibility
reflects and transforms the
apocalyptic thought running throughout
the sixteenth
and
early
seventeenth centuries. On the
apocalyptic
dimensions of the term
instauration,
see
Whitney,
Francis
Bacon,
26.
44
See also
CV, 95.
45
In his
essay
on New
Atlantis,
Renaker makes this
point
as
well,
rhetorically asking,
"for is it not a
commonplace
that the
age
of
religious
controversies had to end before the
enlightenment
could
begin?" ("A
Miracle of
Engineering," 182).
46
Harrison,
The
Bible, 197.
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Travis DeCook 119
fended as a means whereby the vulgar could access God's truths.47 This
notion is addressed by Guillaume du Bartas: "To read this Booke, we
neede not understand
I
Each Strangers gibbrish; neither take in hand
I
Turkes Caracters, nor Hebrue Points to seeke,
I
Nyle's Hieroglyphics, nor
the Notes of Greeke."48 While not wishing to decenter the Bible from its
preeminent position as source of knowledge about God, many of the
period's writers nonetheless represent nature as more comprehensible
than Scripture, which demands the kind of philological learning du
Bartas reduces to "Strangers gibbrish."49
By contrast, Bacon tends to emphasize the separation between natu
ral philosophy and the study of divinity. He goes to great lengths to
legitimize secular learning in general, and natural philosophy in par
ticular, by asserting that it in no way encroaches upon divine matters.
Whereas the Fall resulted from a hubristic attempt to attain knowledge
fit only for God, achieving knowledge of nature is in fact divinely sanc
tioned and even encouraged. This division between secular and reli
gious knowledge is central to Bacon's vision of the great instauration;
indeed, observing nature without referring it to first causes is precisely
the method enabling authentic knowledge to be attained. The two
realms are distinct: "we conclude that sacred Theologie ... is grounded
onely vpon the word & oracle of God, and not vpon the light of nature"
(AL, 182). While Bacon believed nature to be marked by "the Creator's
footprints and impressions" (IM, 45), he rejected the idea that it could
provide anything more than indirect knowledge about God's opera
tions and power, as well as the notion that it contains "occult sympa
thies" and "spiritual interconnections."50 Against the modes of reading
the book of Nature for symbolic meaning, characteristic of the Middle
47
Ibid.,
196-97.
48
Quoted
in
ibid.,
196.
See The Divine Weeks and Works
of
Guillaume de Saluste Sieur du
Bartas,
ed. Susan
Snyder,
trans.
Joshua
Sylvester (Oxford:
Clarendon
Press,
1979), 1.1.184
91.
49
In the lines
following
the cited du Bartas
passage,
the
poet
claims that faith enables
the
comprehension
of a
higher reality
behind the natural order
(1.1.193-96).
See also
1.1.111-14,
m which the
necessity
of the Bible is discussed.
Generally speaking,
nature
was not viewed in the
period
as
conveying
detailed,
saving knowledge
about God
(Har
rison,
The
Bible, 201).
However,
toward the end of the seventeenth
century,
deism was
posited
as a natural
religion
that would obviate the conflict and intolerance
characterizing
Christendom
during
the
previous
centuries,
a
religion easily comprehended by
all and
based on reason
(ibid., 199-200).
50
Bono,
Word
of
God,
218-19,232-34.
See
Harrison,
The
Bible, 251-55,
for a discussion of
the Renaissance doctrine of
signatures.
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120 The Ark and Revelation in Bacon's New Atlantis
Ages but also continuing in his own day, Bacon articulates the emerging
early modern conception of the natural world as a language of things
and not symbols.5'
In many ways, the miraculous revelation imagined by Bacon in New
Atlantis encapsulates his attempts to separate natural philosophy from
theology and to pool human energies into fruitful learning rather than
waste them in religious controversies. In sharp contrast to the imme
diacy distinguishing divine revelation in Bensalem, for Bacon knowl
edge about nature depended on eminently temporal processes. Bacon
envisioned natural philosophy as a progressive enterprise in which the
knowledge gained in the past would provide the basis for future dis
coveries. While past authorities should not be ignored, Bacon argues, it
is essential to recognize that the passage of time can be a force for clari
fication: "so let great Authors haue theire due, as time which is the Au
thor of Authors be not depriued of his due, which is furder and furder
to discouer truth" (AL, 28).52 Along these lines, alluding to the ancient
motto, "Truth is the daughter of time," Bacon notes, "the inseparable
proprietie of Time ... is euer more and more to disclose truth" (AL,
i8i).53
Not only does the emergence of natural knowledge depend on the pas
sage of time, but Bacon also insisted that time be incorporated into the
very method used to determine truth. According to Bacon, the human
tendency to make premature conclusions is among the worst enemies of
knowledge; to combat this, he proposed his method of negative induc
51
Bono,
Word
of
God, 232-34.
As
Elsky puts
it,
following Sidney
Warhaft,
"although
Bacon believed in a
providential
order in the created world and saw a divine
plan
im
printed
on the works of creation as
signatures,
for Bacon those
signatures
do not reveal
occult resemblances or
higher
levels of
spiritual meaning.
Instead
they
reveal both the
logical
and causative
arrangement
of
things
in the world"
(Authorizing
Words,
169).
52
The words of authorities are not to remain ossified but must be
tested,
applied,
and
altered if
necessary.
The slavish adherence to
past
authorities contrasts natural
philosophy
with the
"lowly"
mechanical arts: "For hence it hath
comen,
that in arts
Mechanicall,
the
first deuiser comes
shortest,
and time addeth and
perfecteth:
but in Sciences the first Au
thor
goeth
furthest,
and time leeseth and
corrupteth" (AL, 27-28).
Bacon
apparently
took
the notion of collaborative
development
from the mechanical
arts,
where he
perceived
a
fruitful
progress contrasting
with the
stagnation characterizing
the sciences
(Paolo
Rossi,
Francis Bacon: From
Magic
to
Science,
trans. S. Rabinovitch
[London: Routledge
and
Kegan
Paul,
1968], 9).
Bacon's
partial extolling
of the mechanical arts reflects a
larger
trend in
sixteenth-century
humanist culture
valuing
the
practical
and technical over the
merely
theoretical
(ibid., 6).
53
At the same
time,
Bacon also lamented that time
frequently
leads to the enshrine
ment of falsehoods as truth because the
opinions
of the multitude tend to win out over
the advances of the wise
(AL, 29; IM, 15; NO,
115).
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Travis DeCook 121
tion, whereby truth is determined through the elimination of negative
instances in order to arrive at affirmative ones.54 Unlike the "immediate
knowledge" unique to God and the angels, humans "are allowed only
to proceed by Negatives at first, and then to finish up with Affirmatives
after making every sort of exclusion" (NO, 253). Bacon's imagined Ben
salemite miracle thus entails a process of immediate knowledge stand
ing in stark contrast to his philosophical method. The instantaneous
ness of the Bensalemites' religious knowledge enables energies to be
concentrated on the temporal labors necessary for the investigation of
nature.
In Bacon's scientific utopia, revelation is static: it occurs instanta
neously, in marked contrast to the vexed, lengthy processes of Chris
tendom, and its textual embodiment obviates time-consuming philo
logical and theological efforts. This stasis contrasts with the dynamism
of natural knowledge in Bensalem; natural knowledge is accumulated
over time and produces new inventions, the latter managed by esoteri
cism and distributed by the Fathers according to a temporal process of
accommodation. Whereas the concept of textual community established
by the reformers rests upon a stable, always-available text, accessible at
any point in time by its members, the Baconian scientific community
depends upon a dynamic, ever-growing "text" of natural knowledge.
Natural histories and tables of discovery archive the results of experi
ments and eliminative induction, processes that are themselves depen
dent on temporality.
In Bensalemite religion, the utopian society exemplifies the reformist
vision of textual community, yet in a way impossible for actual Chris
tians: revelation in Bacon's utopia epitomizes reformist dreams of a
perfectly complete, accessible, comprehensible text existing outside
of time, a fantastic archive in which revelation is fully present. These
54
For the human
tendency
towards
hasty
conclusions,
see
NO, 75,
and
6:69.
Bacon
sets out his method of
negative
induction in Novum
Organum,
book 2. For a
discussion of
the
originality
of Bacon's
emphasis
on eliminative
induction,
see
Zagorin,
Francis
Bacon,
87ff,
and C. D.
Broad,
Ethics and the
History of Philosophy (London: Routledge
and
Kegan
Paul,
1952), 141-42.
Zagorin
claims that Bacon was the first to
recognize
induction as a
research
procedure
for
bringing
about new
knowledge
about nature
(Francis Bacon,
92).
For a discussion of Baconian induction that situates it within its
Aristotelian, medieval,
and Renaissance
backgrounds,
see Antonio
P?rez-Ramos,
Francis Bacon's Idea
of
Science
and the Maker's
Knowledge
Tradition
(Oxford:
Oxford
University
Press,
1988),
chs.
15-17.
For an earlier
example
of the
importance
of falsification
being
stressed,
see A. C.
Crombie,
Robert Grosseteste and the
Origins of Experimental
Science, 1100-1700 (Oxford:
Clarendon
Press,
1953), 83-84.
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122 The Ark and Revelation in Bacon's New Atlantis
miraculous features of the Bensalemite Bible are captured most strik
ingly in the image of the ark, which preserves the book and letter against
the flood of temporal and material contingency. Unlike the archives of
Salomon's House, which store and stabilize temporal knowledge that
is constantly being augmented, the ark represents a changeless, self
sufficient archive of atemporal knowledge. The ark epitomizes the Ben
salemites' special election; not only does it resonate with an array of
biblical types and concepts associating them with the Old Testament
Hebrews, but it quite literally singles them out by appearing on their
shores. Furthermore, the ark, whose contents represent the essentials
of Christian conversion, echoes the Bensalemite Bible's embodiment of
the reformist notion of Scripture's self-sufficiency.
Within Bacon's vision of scientific progress, the ideal textual com
munity of Bensalem represents a fantasy of the end of both religious
controversy and the need for the textual sciences of humanism within
religion. He employs this fantasy primarily to express his dreams of an
instauration of natural philosophy unencumbered by the consequences
of Christian history's perennial problem of the temporality of its sacred
text. In contrast to the textual battles of the Reformation, many of which
became articulated as conflicts over the understanding of the historical
dimension of divine revelation, for Baconian natural philosophy, tem
porality is the force that enables revelation: "truth is the daughter of
time."
Carleton University
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