Wrestling with Proteus: Francis Bacon and the "Torture" of Nature Author(s): Peter Pesic Source: Isis, Vol

. 90, No. 1 (Mar., 1999), pp. 81-94 Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/237475 . Accessed: 24/10/2011 01:59
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

The University of Chicago Press and The History of Science Society are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Isis.

http://www.jstor.org

CRITIQUESAND CONTENTIONS
Wrestling with

Proteus

FrancisBacon and the "Torture" Nature of
By Peter Pesic*
ABSTRACT Although many writers state that Francis Bacon advocatedthe tortureof naturein order to force her to reveal her secrets, a close study of his works contradictsthis claim. His treatmentof the myth of Proteus depicts a heroic mutual struggle, not the tortureof a slavish victim. By the "vexation" natureBacon meantan encounterbetweenthe scientist of and naturein which both are tested and purified. ... the nature of things betrays itself more readily under the vexations of art than in its naturalfreedom. -Francis Bacon (1620)

HE EMERGENCEOF EXPERIMENTis a crucial aspect of modem science.' Francis Bacon played an important partin this storynot so muchbecause he himself performed significantexperimentsbut because he envisioned the emergent characterof experimentation. Bacon describedhimself as a trumpeter (bucinator)or heraldratherthanas a combatant.But as heraldhe soundedcrucialmessages concerningwhat experimentshouldbe. Since he was describing something not yet formed, he used a rich variety of rhetorical figuresto express his vision; especially, he turnedto ancientmyth as a storehouseof potent to images that he reinterpreted illustratehis meaning. Perhapsthe pervasive misrepresentation of Bacon's view is a reactionto these chargedimages. Despite his careful defense of the legitimacy of experiment,critics have representedBacon as advocatingthe "torture
T

* St. John's College, 1160 Camino de la Cruz Blanca, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501-4511; ppesic@mail.sjcsf.edu. I would like to thankJohn Briggs, KennethCardwell,Nieves Mathews, GrahamRees, Margaret Rossiter,and Harvey Wheeler for their helpful comments; Elizabeth McGrath,Robert Mowry, Hydee Schaller, and Curtis Wilson for their help in locating the illustrations;and Nancy Buchenauerfor her translationsof the Latin figure captions. I Citationsfrom Bacon refer to volume and page numberin The Worksof Francis Bacon, ed. James Spedding (London: Longmans, 1857-1874; rpt., New York: Garrett,1968); Vols. 1-7 include the Works,Vols. 8-14 comprise The Letters and Life of Francis Bacon. Where two citations are given for the same passage, the bracketedone refers to the Latin original;for the epigraph:4.29 [1.141]. Isis, 1999, 90:81-94 ? 1999 by The History of Science Society. All rights reserved. 0021-1753/99/9001-0004$02.00 81

82

WRESTLINGWITH PROTEUS

Even some of his admirers of nature,"even to the point of rape and abusive domination.2 metaphorof tortureto elucidate his concept of science. As early as 1696 have used the Leibniz wrote of "the art of inquiry into natureitself and of putting it on the rack-the ErnstCassirerpresentsa Bacon who artof experimentwhich LordBacon began so ably."3 the answerdesired,that naturemust be 'put insists that "one must resortto force to obtain to the rack.' "4 Unlike humans,naturecannot literally be put to the rack. The issue is whetherscience deliberatelyacts to abuse nature. Bacon makes no such assertion;indeed, he positively of disclaims such misinterpretations the arduousquest for truth.5He uses metaphorsof legal examinationand invokes the mythic touchstone of heroic labor. Bacon envisages a strugglethat tests the nobility both of the seeker and of nature.
BACON'S ACCOUNT OF PROTEUS

Bacon faced a complex rhetoricalproblem as he sought to present his vision of a new science. Though Aristotelianscience had presumablybeen based on close observationof nature,Bacon assertedthat it touched natureonly "by the fingertips."He felt that it was thereforebarrenand incapableof alleviatinghumansuffering.Convincedthat more probing could offer access to nature's secrets, Bacon both criticized what he deemed the excessive restraintof ancient science and anticipatedthe shape a deeper inquirymight take.
2 Bacon styles himself a bucinator at 4.372 [1.579]; see Paolo Rossi, "Bacon's Idea of Science," in The CambridgeCompanionto Bacon, ed. MarkkuPeltonen (Cambridge:CambridgeUniv. Press, 1996), pp. 25-46, of on p. 26. For critics of Bacon's "torture" nature see, e.g., Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature (San Francisco:Harper& Row, 1980), pp. 164-190; Evelyn Fox Keller, Reflections on Gender and Science (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1985), pp. 35-37; and SandraHarding, The Science Question in Feminism (Ithaca,N.Y.: CornellUniv. Press, 1986), pp. 113, 237. Note that Keller repeatsthe claim that Bacon advocated "puttingnature on the rack" in her later collection Secrets of Life, Secrets of Death (New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 57. ElizabethHanson treatstortureas "a paradigmfor discovery"and consistentlylinks Bacon's roles "as a champion of the discovery of nature's secrets and as a persistentpractitionerof torture"in Discovering the Subject in Renaissance England (Cambridge:CambridgeUniv. Press, 1998), pp. 19-54, 122-149, esp. pp. addressedin Alan Soble, "InDefense of Bacon,"Philosophy 20, 25. The imputationof rapehas been trenchantly of the Social Sciences, 1995, 25:192-215, which discusses the matterof tortureon pp. 205-207; this essay was reprinted(with additions and corrections)in A House Built on Sand, ed. Noretta Koertge (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998), pp. 195-215. See also the insightfularticleby IddoLandau,"FeministCriticismof Metaphors in Bacon's Philosophy of Science," Philosophy, 1998, 73:47-61, which discusses the metaphorof tortureon pp. 51, 54. 3Leibniz's remarkcomes from a letter of 1696 to Gabriel Wagner concerning the value of logic: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Philosophical Papers and Letters, ed. Leroy E. Loemker, 2nd ed. (Dordrecht:Reidel, 1958), Univ. Press, Mass.: Harvard p. 456. This passage is cited in Alan G. Gross, TheRhetoricof Science (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 87 n 6, 212: "althoughthe sentiment is Baconian, the phrase is from Leibniz." I thank Kenneth Cardwell for drawing my attentionto these citations. For a detailed discussion of Leibniz's position see Peter Pesic, "Natureon the Rack: Leibniz's Attitude towards Judicial Tortureand the 'Torture'of Nature,"Studia Leibnitiana, 1997, 29(2):189-197. 4 Est Cassirer, The Platonic Renaissance in England, trans. J. P. Pettegrove (Austin: Univ. Texas Press, 1953), p. 48. CharlesWebster writes that "naturewould be 'tortured'into revealing her secrets" in The Great Instauration(London:Duckworth,1975), p. 338. See also HowardWhite, Peace among the Willows(The Hague: Nijhoff, 1968), p. 1. Soble, "InDefense of Bacon"(cit. n. 2), concentrateson extremeviews; I am more concerned with these more moderatecritiques.A brilliantdiscussion of these mattersis given in John C. Briggs, Francis Bacon and the Rhetoric of Nature (Cambridge,Mass.: HarvardUniv. Press, 1989), p. 35; I am indebtedto this outstandingwork on many points. 5Kenneth Cardwell also notes that he has not found "in Bacon an unambiguousinstructionto rack nature," though he does not comment further;see Cardwell, "FrancisBacon, Inquisitor,"in Francis Bacon's Legacy of Texts,ed. William A. Sessions (New York: AMS Press, 1990), pp. 269-289, on p. 285 n 4.

PETERPESIC

83

Thus one prong of his rhetoricalprogramwas a polemic against ancient science;6another in was the reformulation the process of inquiryundertaken the Novum Organum,a text of "tool"to guide meantto replace Aristotle's logical writings (Organon)as the fundamental (experscientific study. Here Bacon took up the term "experiment," akin to "experience" ientia), and emphasizedthe sense of test or trial inherentin those words. He called such probingtests "the spials or intelligencersof nature"(3.325, 4.287), withoutwhich no true knowledge can be gained (2.672). Such experimentsact "to provide helps for the sense substitutesto supply its failures, rectificationsto correctits errors"-so that "theoffice of the sense shall be only to judge of the experiment,and that the experimentitself shall judge of the thing. And thus I conceive that I perform the office of a true priest of the sense (from which all knowledge in naturemust be sought, unless men mean to go mad) and a not unskilfulinterpreter its oracles"(4.26). He addedthat "thebest demonstration of by far is experience, if it go not beyond the actual experiment"(4.70 [1.179]), meaning that testing must not be "blindand stupid ... wanderingand strayingas [men] do with no what he calls settled course."There must be "some directionand orderin experimenting," "LearnedExperience [ExperientiaLiterata], or the Hunt of Pan" (4.413 [1.623]). Under of this heading Bacon included his reformulation the inductive method and the "tablesof instances"he proposedto organize the fruits of observationand experiment.7 Searchingfor a mode of exposition adequateto the essential novelty he expected from Bacon turnedto ancientmyth to evoke the new qualitieshe discerned trueexperimentation, in the emergent science. Bacon found in myth far more than mere rhetoricaldecoration. In part he used myth to appeal to an audience steeped in classical learning;throughparables, "inventionsthat are new and abstruseand remotefrom vulgaropinions may find an Bacon felt that these stories easier passage to the understanding" (6.698). Furthermore, containedhidden clues to the new learninghe sought. He devoted Of the Wisdomof the Ancients (1609) to the attemptto penetrate"a veil, as it were, of fables"thatconceals "the eleven of the thirty-onefables in hidden depths of antiquity"(6.695), directly interpreting termsof newly emergentscience. Bacon considered"thewisdom of the ancientsto be like grapesill-trodden:somethingis squeezed out, but the best partsare left behind andpassed over" (6.762). In his versions, "thoughthe subjects be old, the matteris new" (6.699). Indeed, Bacon finds ways of describing aspects of science that crucially amplify the direction he takes in his logical writings. Bacon explicitly personifiesnatureas Pan or Minerva,just as he depicts the Sphinx as science and Prometheusas the state of man. These personificationsare not merely rhetorical embellishmentsof impersonalentities. In the case of nature,especially, Bacon clarifies the way in which spirit imbues even inanimatebeings. For instance, in his account of or "Proserpina; Spirit"Bacon emphasizes that the story of Proserpinaabductedby Hades "relatesto Nature,and explains the source of thatrich and fruitfulsupply of active power subsistingin the underworld."Proserpinasignifies "an etherialspiritwhich, having been
6 The most extremeform these polemics took are the unpublished earlyworks:"TheMasculineBirthof Time," The Philos"Thoughtsand Conclusions,"and "The Refutationof Philosophies,"trans.in BenjaminFarrington, ophy of Francis Bacon (Liverpool:Liverpool Univ. Press, 1964), pp. 61-133. It is not clear whetherthe more moderatecritiquevoiced in the Novum Organumis the result of prudentrestraintor of maturereconsideration. 7 The crucialpassages detailingthese structures "learned of experience"areNovumOrganum4.94-98 [1.202206] and De augmentisscientiarum4.413-421 [1.622-633]. I discuss these "tables"and their relationto cryptanalytic tables in Peter Pesic, The Labyrinthof Nature (Cambridge,Mass.: MIT Press, forthcoming),Ch. 6. For a review of Bacon's notion of experimentsee Michel Malherbe, "Bacon's Notion of Science," in Cambridge Companionto Bacon, ed. Peltonen (cit. n. 2), pp. 75-98. Concerningthe original sense of the words see Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. "experience,""experiment."

84

WRESTLINGWITH PROTEUS

separatedby violence from the upperglobe, is enclosed and imprisonedbeneaththe earth" (6.759). This personificationreflects the permeationof natureby spirit,just as spiritpervades both animateand inanimatebeings in Bacon's theory of matter.8 As natureis filled with spirit, the quest for "the secrets of natureand the conditions of matter"(6.725) must grapplewith spiritedbeings. The characterof this encounteris particularlywell illuminatedin Bacon's version of the story of Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea. (See Figure 1.) The fact that he used this same imagery repeatedlythroughouthis other works shows the seriousnessand importancehe accordedit.9Accordingto Homer's Odyssey, the hero Menelaos wrestled with the immortal Proteus in order to gain vital informationthe Greeks needed to returnhome from Troy. Bacon remindsus that Proteus was the herdsmanto Neptune, "anold man and a prophet;a prophetmoreoverof the very first order, and indeed thrice excellent; for he knew all three,-not the future only, but likewise the past and the present;insomuch that besides his power of divination,he was of the messengerand interpreter all antiquityand all secrets."Proteusis for Bacon a figure for "Matter-the most ancient of things, next to God," and the fable relates "the secrets of natureand the conditions of matter."If one wanted Proteus's help, "the only way was first to secure his hands with handcuffs,and then to bind him with chains"(6.725). Bacon repeated this account elsewhere in his works, explaining that "the vexations of art are certainly as the bonds and handcuffs of Proteus, which betray the ultimate struggles and efforts of matter"(4.257 [1.399]). Thus these "vexations"are revealed to be the interrogations of a divine ministerworthy of respect and reverence. The implicit comparisonof the thrice-excellentprophetProteus with the thrice-greatHermes Trismegistusindicates that Bacon intended to wrestle with ancient wisdom ratherthan accept it meekly. This strugglecontradictsFrancesYates's suggestion that Bacon's vision follows Hermetictradition.10 The interrogation requireshandcuffsand chains, but it is not a scene of torture:
8 On the interrelation between vital and inanimatespiritssee GrahamRees, "Bacon's SpeculativePhilosophy," in Cambridge Companion to Bacon, ed. Peltonen, pp. 121-145, on pp. 136-141; Rees, "MatterTheory: A Unifying Factor in Bacon's Natural Philosophy,"Ambix, 1977, 24:110-125; and Rees, "FrancisBacon and SpiritusVitalis,"in SpiritusIV: Colloquiointernazionale,ed. MartaFattoriandMassimo Bianchi(Rome:Ateneo, 1984), pp. 265-281. 9 Besides this treatment (6.725-726 [6:651-652]), Bacon also treatedProteusin the Parasceve (4.257 [1.399]) and De augmentisscientiarum(4.298, 4.420-421 [1.500, 1.632]). These passages are substantiallythe same, in language and meaning, as the version in Of the Wisdomof the Ancients. Other passages use the imagery of "vexing"or "squeezing"without explicit reference to Proteus,though with the same sense: Description of the Intellectual Globe 5.506, 5.512 [3.729, 3.735]; Great Instauration4.29 [1.141]; Novum Organum4.95 [1.203]. The On Bacon's use of classical myth see CharlesW. Lemmni, Classic Deities in Bacon (New York: Octagon, of 1971), which points out that "most of the mythological interpretations a scientific naturewhich delight us in Bacon's works may be traced to the chief contemporaryauthorityon such matters,Natalis Comes" (pp. 145146); Lemmi treats Proteus on pp. 91-98. See also BarbaraCarmanGarner,"FrancisBacon, Natalis Comes, and the Mythological Tradition,"Journal of the Warburgand CourtauldInstitutes, 1970, 33:264-291. For general backgroundsee A. BartlettGiamatti,"ProteusUnbound:Some Versions of the Sea God in the Renaissance," in The Disciplines of Criticism,ed. Peter Demetz, Thomas Greene, and Lowry Nelson, Jr. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1968), pp. 437-475, which emphasizes the sinister aspects of Proteus. Lisa Jardine, Francis Bacon (Cambridge:CambridgeUniv. Press, 1974), treats Bacon's use of parable on pp. 179-193. Elizabeth Sewall, The Orphic Voice (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1960), pp. 126-127, takes Bacon's of "interrogation" Proteusto mean plain torture.JohnBriggs gives an insightfulreadingof this passage in Francis Bacon and the Rhetoricof Nature (cit. n. 4), pp. 32-40; however, I will arguethatBacon does not "chainProteus to the rack"(see his p. 35). 10 See FrancesYates, GiordanoBruno and the Hernetic Tradition(Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 1964), p. of 450. Bacon reiterateshis characterization thrice-greatProteus in Descriptio globi intellectualis (1612). See the new Oxford edition: Francis Bacon, Philosophical Studies c. 1611-c. 1619, ed. GrahamRees (Oxford: Clarendon,1996), Vol. 6, pp. 112-113; the citation in the Spedding edition is 5.512 [3.735].

PETERPESIC

85

Prot cus Oce ani & T thyos

tiu fiti

t

zA A 3Jtitt am uz2s

-Narr4min nnh

tsts Pr0teaz 'Verbif
tzj ~Iz

z

Jol

Figure 1. Proteus,son of Ocean and Tethys,fromJ. J. Boissard,De divinatione ca. (Oppenheim, 1600). The captionreads: 'Aegyptusheard Proteus tellingin obscure language the mysticalthoughts of highestJove."(Copyright Warburg Institute.)

86

WRESTLINGWITH PROTEUS

Nevertheless if any skilful Servantof Nature shall bring force to bear on matter,and shall vex and drive it [vexetatque urgeat] to extremitiesas if with the purposeof reducingit to nothing, or then will matter(since annihilation truedestructionis not possible except by the omnipotence itself into strangeshapes,passing from of God) findingitself in these straits,turnand transform one change to anothertill it has gone throughthe whole circle and finished the period; when, if the force be continued,it returnsat last to itself. And this constraintandbindingwill be more easily and expeditiously effected, if matterbe laid hold on and secured by the hands; that is, by its extremities.(6.726) Homer has Menelaos and his companions wrestle bare-handed with the Old Man, whereas Bacon's "skilful Servant of Nature" employs "mechanical" aids, handcuffs and chains. (See Figure 2.)" Here and elsewhere Bacon connects vexation with the mechanical arts.12 Bacon also speaks of "any skilful Servant of Nature" rather than of a singular hero such as Menelaos. However, these servants win Proteus's prophetic answer only if they can grasp him tight. Proteus tries the seekers as much as they try him; their struggle is mutual and has an appointed ending, after which force must cease. Finally, the seeker must recognize Proteus's primal form. This, in Bacon's account, is the "period," the point of return "when, if the force be continued, it returns at last to itself' (6.726). Even more, Proteus is the prophet, and not the deity he serves. Bacon's servant of nature is grappling with matter, not with God directly. The "omnipotence of God" forbids "annihilation or true destruction" except at divine behest. Thus the servant of nature acts "as if with the purpose of reducing [matter] to nothing," knowing already that all his force and vexation cannot succeed in its ostensible purpose. Still, though he can never bring matter to nothingness, his force does induce its manifold mutations, which finally circle back to their beginning and thus disclose "the sum and general issue (for I do not say that his knowledge would extend to the parts and singularities) of all things past, present, and to come" (6.726). These mechanical arts are not opposed to nature; as Bacon says elsewhere, "all that man can do is to put together and put asunder natural bodies. The rest is done by nature working within" (4.47). As he remarks in Descriptio globi intellectualis (1612), But if anyone gets annoyedbecause I call the arts the bonds of naturewhen they ought rather to be consideredits liberatorsand championsin thatin some cases they allow natureto achieve its ends by reducing obstacles to order, then I reply that I do not much care for such fancy ideas and prettywords; I intend and mean only that nature,like Proteus, is forced by artto do what would not have been done withoutit: and it does not matterwhetheryou call this forcing and enchaining,or assisting and perfecting.13

11 See Homer, Odyssey4.365-570. Briggs notes that, though these "bonds"are absent in Homer even in the 1537 Latin translation,they are mentioned in Virgil's treatmentof Aristaeus questioning Proteus (Georgics as 4.399-405). However, Briggs concludes that otherRenaissancemythographers well as these ancient sources "overpower[Proteus]without violating his divinity":Briggs, Francis Bacon and indicate that the interrogators the Rhetoric of Nature (cit. n. 4), p. 35. Giamatti,"ProteusUnbound"(cit. n. 9), pp. 438, 467, cites a passage in Erasmus'swell-knownEnchiridionshowing Proteusas a figureof the evil passions of men thatrequirebinding of with chains. I address the question of artistic representations Proteus in Peter Pesic, "Shapes of Proteus in RenaissanceArt" (in preparation). 12 In his account of the fable of Ericthonius by Bacon explains that art "endeavours much vexing of bodies to force Nature to its will and conquer and subdue her.... Such things may often be observed among chemical productions,and among mechanicalsubtletiesand novelties" (6.736). See also 4.29 [1.14], 4.257 [1.399], 4.298 [1.500]. I thank GrahamRees for drawingthese passages to my attention. 13 This translation from Bacon, Philosophical Studies, ed. Rees (cit. n. 10), Vol. 6, pp. 100-101; the citation is in the Spedding edition is 5.506 [3.729].

PETERPESIC

87

Proteusand Aristaeus,fromAchilleBocchi4 Figure 2. GiulioBuonasone, SymbolumLXI: Symbolicae quaestiones (Bologna, 1574). The accompanying poem notes thatProteusis 'theimage of Truth itself' in "that vast cave of errors,whereblindlust/ Distractsthe mad senses in contrary pursuits./ On whichaccount the greatest contentof the mindought to be grasped, in orderthat! Youmay hold on to the truth, zealously seized by wise reason ... Therefore shouldcast chains of genuine you truthfulness no shall findmeans of escape, [syncerae inijcias fidei]onto the captive:/ Until Enticement and the very/ Truestformof man shall returnto itselfat last."(Copyright Institute.) Warburg

88

WRESTLINGWITH PROTEUS

Bacon emphasizesthe congruenceof natureand artby emphasizingthe time set for the confrontation with Proteus.It is high noon, which Bacon identifies"fromthe sacredhistory to have been in fact at the very time of the creation.For then it was that by virtue of the divine wordproducat mattercame togetherat the commandof the Creator,not by its own circuitousprocesses, but all at once; and broughtits work to perfectionon the instant,and constitutedthe species." The moment of the struggle with Proteusis always the moment of creation, charged with divine energies ready to disclose their portentto the properly preparedseeker. Such a seeker rightfully wrestles with matter at the moment when the "full and legitimate time has come for completing and bringing forth the species out of matteralready duly preparedand predisposed"(6.726). Bacon emphasizes how strongly matterstrugglesagainsthis grip, not only with bruteforce but even more with the dazzling variety of those "strangespecies" it produces in response. Accordingly, the servant of natureneeds special discernmentand extraordinary tenacitymore than sheer strength.The struggle of scientific researchrequiresnot mere sufferingbut, rather,the purificationand consecrationof the elect, which purges the clouded vision of men.14
VEXATION VERSUS TORTURE

is The crucial term in Bacon's account of Proteanexperimentation "vexation"(vexatio), a term he also uses throughouthis theoreticalwritings, as in this importantpassage from The Great Instauration: I meanit to be a history onlyof nature andat large(whensheis left to herowncourse not free anddoesherworkherownway)-such as thatof theheavenly earth sea, and bodies,meteors, under constraint vexed[naturaeconand minerals, plants,animals-but muchmoreof nature strictae et vexata]; thatis to say, whenby artandthe handof manshe is forcedout of her and I natural stateandsqueezed moulded.... Nay (to say theplaintruth) do in fact (low and as bothforhelpsandsafeguards upon than vulgar menmaythinkit) countmoreuponthispart the other,seeingthatthenature thingsbetrays of itselfmorereadily under vexations the [vexfreedom. ationes] of artthanin its natural (4.29 [1.141]) Bacon does not use the crucial term "torture" here, nor are its legal cognates torturaor quaestio used in the Latin text. The Latin root vexare suggests shaking, agitation,disturwith Bacon pertainto conditions bance; the English uses of "vexation"contemporaneous In that are troubling,afflicting, or harassing.15 many passages the mental trialsinherentin
14 Here the critical passages are Bacon's account of the Sphinx (6.755-758), Prometheus(6.745-753), and Orpheus(6.762-764). I have treatedthe purificationof the "sons of science" in Peter Pesic, "Desire, Science, and Polity: Francis Bacon's Treatmentof Eros," Interpretation(forthcoming);and Pesic, Labyrinthof Nature (cit. n. 7), Chs. 3, 4. The use of heroic topoi in Bacon is discussed in John M. Steadman,"Beyond Hercules: Bacon and the Scientist as Hero,"Studies in the LiteraryImagination, 1971, 4:3-47. See also Moody E. Prior, "Bacon's Man of Science," Journal of the History of Ideas, 1954, 15:348-370, rpt. in Essential Articlesfor the Studyof Francis Bacon, ed. BrianVickers (Hamden,Conn.:Archon, 1968), pp. 140-163. For a useful treatment of the concept of science as a hunt (venatio) see William Eamon, Science and the Secrets of Nature (Princeton, N.J.: PrincetonUniv. Press, 1994), pp. 269-300. 15 See the OxfordEnglish Dictionary, s.v. "vex," "vexation."Shakespeare'sAriel speaks of the "still-vexed (Tempest1.2.229), meaning the ceaseless tumultof the waves. Ben Jonsonuses "vexBermoothes [Bermudas]" ation"to indicate shaping and strengthening: "As the wind doth try strongtrees, / Who by vexation grow more sound and firm" (Sejanus 4.1.69-70). Elsewhere Jonson evokes "the vexations, and the martyrizations/ Of (Alchemist2.5.20-21), indicatingthatvexation accompanies mettalls,in the worke"of alchemicaltransmutation of the transformation base metals into noble perfection.

PETERPESIC

89

Indeed, the phrase "vexation vexation distinguish it from the sheer brutalityof torture.16 of spirit"is common; Bacon remarksthat "man,when he turnedto look upon the work which his hands had made, saw that all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and could find no rest therein"(4.32). A vexed questionrequiresprolongedexamination,so that "thebest way to finde the truthin this matter,was to debate and vexe it," as John Donne remarks.17 Bacon would not allow "double vexation"-that is, unjustifiedlegal actions or harassment-in his Court of Chancery (7.762). He also speaks of his "law-like, chaste, and severe inquisition"(4.32) of nature,while elsewhere indicatinghis awarenessof the "odiin ous' connotationof the term "inquisitor" its common application(11.339).18 The few places in which Bacon speaks explicitly of tortureclarify its distinctionfrom vexation. He writes that "theTurks,though by race and habits a cruel and bloody people, yet are wont to give alms to brute creatures,and cannot endure to see them ill used or tortured[neque animaliumvexationes et torturasfieri sustinent]"(5.44 [1.758]). In this the context torturasmean physical abuses, while vexationes mean crossing or frustrating animalto perplexand enrageit. The viciousness of the combinationof vexation andtorture acknowledgesthe distinctionsbetween these words. Thoughhere he is discussing animate beings, I will later clarify the ways in which Bacon acknowledges limits even to the vexation of inanimatematter.Exceeding those limits would amountto torture,which he never recommends.19 Bacon's own experimentalpractice in his Sylva sylvarumtends to be cautious and moderate;for instance, he advises great care before using purgationsas medicine, "for certain it is that purgers do many times great hurt, if the body be not accommodatedboth before and after the purging"(2.368). Bacon criticizes "Torture" connotes abuse even when the word is used metaphorically. those who, "since they make up their minds before trying anythingout, when they come to particularfacts abuse their minds and the facts, and wretchedly squanderand torture
16 Vexation is distinct from torture,even when they occur together:"Vex not his ghost: 0, let him pass! He hates him / That would upon the rack of this tough world / Stretchhim out longer" (Shakespeare,King Lear 5.3.314-317). In contrastwith the physical tormentsof the rack, vexation acts in the inwardnessof the soul. Shakespeare'sEgeus comes before Duke Theseus in A MidsummerNight's Dream "full of vexation" at the behavior of his daughterHermia (1.1.22). Laterin the play Oberonrefers to all "thisnight's accidents"as "the fierce vexation of a dream"(4.1.74), contrastinginwardvividness with outwardunreality.In his casuisticdefense of godly suicide, Biathanatos (writtenca. 1609), John Donne recounts the story of St. Appollonia, who, "after the persecutorshad beat out her teeth, and vexed her with many other tortures,when she was presentedto the fire, being inflamed with a more burningfire of the Holy Ghost, broke from the Officers hands, and leapt into the fire":John Donne, Selected Prose, ed. Helen Gardnerand Timothy Healy (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967), p. 34. Vexation refers to inward anguish and differs from physical torture:her vexation ceased as she gave herself freely to death. 17 The AuthorizedVersion rendersEcclesiastes 1:14 as "I have seen all the works that are done underthe sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit."In TheAnatomyof Melancholy(1621) RobertBurtondescribes the "vexationof spirit and anguish of minde"that follow quarrels(2.3.7.422). AbrahamFrauncealso speaks, in Lawyers Logike (1588), of "the perpetualvexation of spirit, and continual consumption of body, incident to every scholar."Donne compares this vexation to the pool of Bethsaida in which "therewas no health till the manifests the infusion of grace. He is referringto the water was troubled"by divine power. Here "troubling" question whethermartyrssuch as St. Appollonia were justified in going voluntarilyto their deaths;see Biathanatos, in Donne, Selected Prose, ed. Gardnerand Healy, p. 28. 18 In quoting at 4.32 I follow the more literal translationof the Latin original given in Cardwell, "Francis Bacon, Inquisitor"(cit. n. 5), pp. 271-272; see also p. 269. Bacon here is quoting one James Whitelocke, who was accused in June 1613 of traducinga royal commission and who "termedthe Commissionerstherein Inquisitors,to make it seem more odious." 19The distinctionbetween abuse and legitimate vexation also pertainsto the trainingof horses. Bacon states that "the horse is not to be accountedthe less of which will not do well without the spur"(7.80); not needing the spur "is to be reckoned [rather]a delicacy than a virtue."Here the spur is not an instrumentof cruelty but which, Briggs observes, "does not violate the virtue it consistently "the ordinaryinstrumentof horsemanship," attendsand stimulates":Briggs, Francis Bacon and the Rhetoric of Nature (cit. n. 4), p. 111.

90

WRESTLINGWITH PROTEUS

He both [misere lacerant & torquent]."20 judges that the application of what he calls "mathematics" "dichotomies""hathbeen of ill desert towardslearning, as that which or takeththe way to reduce learning to certain empty and barrengeneralities;being but the very husks and shells of sciences, all the kernel being forced out and expulsed with the tortureand press of the method [legibus res torqueant]"(3.406, 4.448-449 [1.663]).21 means not scientific method nor mathematicsin the modern sense but the Here "method" and rigid applicationof logical dichotomies.This "methodproducesempty abridgements, destroys the solid substance of knowledge" (4.448-449).22 This judgment accords with Bacon's opinionthat"thereis no worse torturethanthe tortureof laws" (6.507), a reference to the constrictedtwisting of "hardconstructionsand strainedinferences"thatviolates true A interpretation justice.23 comprehensiveexaminationof all his known writingsshows and that Bacon consistently uses "torture"(or its Latin cognates) to denote excessive and wrongful force; he never speaks of experiment expressly as the "tortureof nature."In contrast,he uses "vexation"to indicate agitationor disturbancewithin legitimate limits.
THE TRADITION OF JUDICIAL TORTURE

Bacon's own vocation as a lawyer and judge bears on his use of these words and on his As sense of the legal parallelsto experimentation. queen's counsel, later solicitor general and attorneygeneral, Bacon was deeply versed in all aspects of the examinationof witnesses and the evaluationof testimony. In his private speculationshe marshaleda similar investigatory apparatusthat would penetrateinto nature, whose "genuine forms ... lie deep and are hard to find" (4.161-162). Nature is put on trial and examined through testimony and evidence.24This regularprocedureof questioning is called "examination
20 Bacon is referringto Telesio and his opponents in De principiis atque originibus (ca. 1610-1620); see Bacon, Philosophical Studies, ed. Rees (cit. n. 10), Vol. 6, pp. 246-247; the citation in the Spedding edition is 5.488. the 21 In his Latin translation of this passage Bacon substitutedfor "mathematics" logical technique of "dichotomies" (dichotomias), the exclusion of impossibilities to arrive at the truth,that was advocatedby Peter Ramus, whom Bacon scorns for using "therack of his summarymethod"on facts, which "soon lose their truth, which oozes or skips away, leaving him to gamer only dry and barrentrifles.... Ramus out of the real world made a desert":Philosophy of Francis Bacon, trans.Farrington(cit. n. 6), p. 64. For discussion of Bacon and Ramus see Jardine,Francis Bacon (cit. n. 9), pp. 41-54, 169-171; and Briggs, Francis Bacon and the Rhetoric of Nature (cit. n. 4), pp. 189-192, 201-214. 22 Though here Bacon treatsmathematicsas a form of torture,elsewhere he left room for a new mathematics thatcould make fruitfulconnectionwith experience.GrahamRees has arguedthat"thescope of his mathematical concerns was far wider than is usually granted"in "Mathematicsand Francis Bacon's Natural Philosophy," Revue Internationalede Philosophie, 1986, 40:399-426. Bacon remarksthat 23 In a passage in the Sylva sylvarumon the productionof sound by bowed instruments, (2.398). This singular "thebow tortureth stringcontinually,and therebyholdethit in a continualtrepidation" the rathermild alterationsof nature.It may also recallPlato's usage suggests that he may at times mean by "torture" ironic reference in Republic 531a to "those good men who harass the strings and put them to the torture which compares the torturersof slaves to mu[Poovfxov,rotg], racking them on the pegs [GtpFPkXotvotq]," sicians who trusttheir ears ratherthan their minds; see The Republic of Plato, trans.Allan Bloom (New York: Basic, 1968), p. 210. For Bacon's study of sound see Rees, "Mathematicsand FrancisBacon's NaturalPhilosophy,"pp. 416-417; and Penelope M. Gouk, "Musicin FrancisBacon's NaturalPhilosophy,"in Francis Bacon: Terminologiae fortuna nel XVIIsecolo, ed. MartaFattori(Rome: Ateneo, 1984), pp. 139-154. 24 Harvey Wheeler has argued that "Bacon's science derived ultimately from his jurisprudence" in "The Invention of Modem Empiricism:JuridicalFoundationsof FrancisBacon's Philosophy of Science," Law Library Journal, 1983, 76:78-120, on p. 119. For a helpful overall account of Bacon's legal works see Daniel R. Coquillette,Francis Bacon (Stanford,Calif.: StanfordUniv. Press, 1992). See also Paul Kocher,"FrancisBacon on the Science of Jurisprudence," Hist. Ideas, 1957, 18:3-26, rpt.in EssentialArticlesfor the Studyof Francis J. Bacon, ed. Vickers (cit. n. 14), pp. 167-194; Wheeler, "Science out of Law," in Towarda HumanisticScience of Politics, ed. Dalmas H. Nelson and RichardL. Sklar (Lanham,Md.: Univ. Press America, 1983), pp. 101-

PETERPESIC

91

in upon interrogatories" English law, and Bacon claims "(accordingto the practicein civil causes) in this greatplea or suit grantedby the divine favor and providence (wherebythe humanrace seeks to recover its right over nature),to examine natureherself and the arts upon interrogatories [super articulos]"(4.263). Bacon's avoidance of the term "torture" reflects its precise judicial significance.25 "Judicial torture" excludes the use of physical tormentas legal punishmentor for intimidation beyond the rule of law. Although tortureas an instrumentof intimidationand terrorwas fairly widespreadthroughouthistory, it was in Greek and Roman law thatjudicial torture was institutedas a controlled means of legal investigation.26 Torturewas not utilized in Mosaic law, nor in English common law, which relied upon the jury to establish legal proof. Between 1540 and 1640 torturewas used in Englandas a carefully supervisedtool of the king's power, and only at the orderof his privy council. Bacon supervisedthe use of torturein extraordinary proceedingsaimed at uncoveringplots againstthe king, though In reluctantlyand with express reservations.27 his legal treatisesBacon made no mention of any royal prerogativeto torture,although he was in other respects "the King's man" (14.775-778 [11.280]). He notes only that "in the highest cases of treason,tortureis used for discovery, and not for evidence," in order"to identify and forestallplots and plotters" (10.114). Duringthis periodEdwardCoke, Bacon's greatrival, used torturewithoutstating such reservationsand even expressed regret on some occasions when it was not used,
144; John C. Hogan and MortimerD. Schwartz,"OnBacon's 'Rules and Maximes' of the CommonLaw,"Law Science, Politics, and Law LibraryJ., 1983, 76:48-77; and MarkS. Neustadt,"TheMaking of the Instauration: in the Careerof FrancisBacon" (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins Univ., 1987). On Bacon's mannerof interrogation Francis (cit. n. 5); and KennethCardwell,"InquisitioRerumIpsarum: see Cardwell,"FrancisBacon, Inquisitor" Bacon and the Interrogation Nature"(Ph.D. diss., Univ. California,Berkeley, 1986). Antonio Perez-Ramos of in remarksthatBacon's "forensicimage of the stem judge"leads to "theethos of domination" "Bacon'sLegacy," in CambridgeCompanionto Bacon, ed. Peltonen (cit. n. 2), pp. 311-334, on p. 330; however, the image of the judge connotes the searchforjustice, not merely domination.Thereis a valuable survey of the political and legal dimensions of Bacon's scientific projectsin JulianMartin,Francis Bacon, the State, and the Reformof Natural Philosophy (Cambridge:CambridgeUniv. Press, 1992), pp. 141-165; however, Martindoes not cite the earlier works of Wheeler and Coquillette. 25 For the natureand practiceof judicial torturein ancient and modem times see David Jardine, Reading on A the Use of Torture in the Criminal Law of England Previously to the Commonwealth(London: Baldwin & Craddock,1837); James Heath, Tortureand English Law (Westport,Conn.: Greenwood, 1982); John H. Langbein, Tortureand the Law of Proof (Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 1977); EdwardPeters, Torture(New York: Basil Blackwell, 1986); and Page DuBois, Tortureand Truth(New York: Routledge, 1991). 26 Slaves were requiredto be examined under torture,called the touchstone [E aovoq], a reference to the dark-coloredquartzor jasper (called also lapis Lydius) that reveals genuine gold by the markit makes. Even a freemancould be torturedin capital cases or on suspicion of treason.See, e.g., Euripides,Hippolytus924-926; and Pindar,Pythian Ode 10.67, Nemean Ode 8.20-21. DuBois, Tortureand Truth,pp. 9-38, gives other examples. Demosthenes assertedthat "no statementsmade as a result of P&aovoq have ever proved to be untrue" (Orations 30.37). Socrates applies the P&6avoq at critical moments in the dialogues: "in the sort of situationin which we are caught, it's a necessity to twist around every speech and put it to the torture [PaavfImV]" (Theaetetus191c). Socrates does not merely hunt down the sophist;he also proposes to put an importantspeech of "the great Parmenides"to the touchstone, "which, if it should be put to a fair degree of torture [ggrpta would as certain as anything make its own confession" (Sophist 237b). Most of all, Socrates PvtaviaO.fq], tums this touchstoneon his own ideas: "Let's take them up and put them to the torture[PutavtI64&v]-but, rather,let's do it to ourselves" (Theaetetus203a). These quotationsare from Plato's Theaetetusand Plato's Sophist, trans. Seth Benardete(Chicago:Univ. Chicago Press, 1986). 27 On the absence of torturein English common law see Clifford Hall, "Bacon and the Legality of Torture," Baconiana, 1989, 188:24-37. See Langbein,Tortureand the Law of Proof (cit. n. 25), pp. 81-128, for a careful pp. review of the warrantsto torturegiven in Englandfrom 1540 to 1640, particularly 90, 129, for Bacon's part in five such cases. See also Nieves Mathews, Francis Bacon: The History of a CharacterAssassination (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1996), pp. 283-294; and Hall, "Some Perspectives on the Use of Torturein Law Review, 1989, 18:289-321. Bacon's Time and the Question of His 'Virtue,' " Anglo-American

92

WRESTLINGWITH PROTEUS

to thoughafterBacon's deathCoke statedin his Institutesthattorturewas contrary English
law.28

Bacon, "the leading Roman law jurist of his day," introducedmany Continentallegal ideas in his Court of Chancery.29 This court dealt with mattersof equity that would not admit any use of torture.Bacon's vision of the "trial"of nature turns on the authentic evidence of nature,not the adversarycontest of lawyers, much less extralegalrecourseto torture.30 Bacon's arduousquest is conditionedandjustifiedby the urgentneed of suffering humanityfor relief. In his earliestwritingsBacon made it clear thathis religion hinged on "the exaltationof charity"(7.243-246), especially the healing of bodily illness and infirmity. To this end he calls on the "sons of science" to "tryall things, and hold that which is good: which inducetha discerningelection out of an examinationwhence nothingat all is excluded"(7.245). Bacon's daringreadingof this sacredmaxim suggests intrepidselfexposure and experimentaltrial on the part of the scientist ratherthan the violation of a natureundersuspicion of witchcraft.Matteris "themost ancientof all things, next to God" (6.725), and, as befits the eldest child of creation,answersthe ordealof experimentwithout prevarication. The majesty of nature requires commensuratetreatment.Indeed, "the dignity of the commandmentis accordingto the dignity of the commanded,"to the extent that "to have ratherthan an honour"(3.316). The commandmentover galley-slaves is a disparagement in his unpublished"MasculineBirth closest Bacon comes to depictingnatureas a slave is of Time," where the speakercomes to his "dear,dear son," "leadingto you Nature with all her childrento bind her to your service and make her your slave." Since this locution is not repeatedin Bacon's published works, it is hard to be sure how definitively to take it. However, it evokes a capturedqueen and her royal brood, ratherthan ignoble slaves fit only for brutaluse. Thereis in this passage no suggestion of torture,but only of "service." Indeed,at the end of this work Bacon's speakercalls for a "chaste,holy, andlegal wedlock" unitinghis beloved son "withthings themselves."Natureis raised to the statusof a wife.31
28 Nieves Mathews has clarified Bacon's reluctantparticipation the use of tortureand the reservationshe in expressed to the king in Francis Bacon, pp. 283-294. Her carefulresearchcorrectsmany of the misunderstandings expressed on this matterin the TimesLiterarySupplement(London), 11 and 25 Oct. 1996; there is further correspondenceon 15, 22, and 29 Nov. and 20 and 27 Dec. 1996. At the trial of the earl of Essex Coke said that the queen had damaged the Crown's cause by excluding the use of torture;see Mathews, Francis Bacon, pp. 284-285. Though Hanson repeatedlyasserts in Discovering the Subject in Renaissance England (cit. n. 2) the "apparently only English lawyer who actually asserted that that Bacon was a cooperative "rack-master," torturewas permissible in English juridical practice"(pp. 31, 25-26), her book does not cite or address Mathews's devastatingrebuttalof these claims, nor does she cite Coquillette's careful treatmentof Bacon's legal works and careerin Francis Bacon (cit. n. 24). 29 Wheeler, "Invention Modem Empiricism" of (cit. n. 24), p. 108, shows in detailthe elements of the empirical legal science that Bacon brought to his court. See also BarbaraJ. Shapiro, "Sir Francis Bacon and the MidMovement for Law Reform,"AmericanJournal of Legal History, 1980, 24:331-362. Seventeenth-Century 30 "The suit is civil: it concerns the recovery of a right, rather than punishmentof a criminal":Cardwell, (cit. n. 5), pp. 278-284, which also discusses the StarChambersummaryprocedure "FrancisBacon, Inquisitor" ore tenus, in which the defendantis judged on his own testimony (ex ore suo). For clarificationof the practices of the Courts of Chancery and of the Star Chamber see G. R. Elton, The Tudor Constitution(Cambridge: CambridgeUniv. Press, 1965), pp. 150-152, 158-163, 167-171. As Elton notes, the Star Chamberwas, "in a and "did sense, the chancellor's court of criminaljurisdiction,"though it was "unableto touch life or property" not use torturein the course of the trial"(pp. 169-171). This correctsHanson's implicationthattortureis among Hanson, Discovering the Subject in Renaissance England "the more sinister proceduresof the Star Chamber": (cit. n. 2), pp. 127-128, 37-39, 135. In contrast,the Courtof Chancerydealt with issues of equity arisingfrom the common law. 31 Bacon, "MasculineBirth of Time," in Philosophy of Francis Bacon, trans.Farrington (cit. n. 6), pp. 62, 72. Soble also makes the point about natureas wife in "In Defense of Bacon" (cit. n. 2).

PETERPESIC BACON'S QUALIFICATION OF THE LIMITS OF EXPERIMENT

93

to Bacon holds arduousexperimentation be both necessary and legitimateif the depthsof natureare to be plumbed;he even feels that God had enjoined man to subject natureto However, Bacon also is awareof the dangersinherentin the use penetratinginterrogation. of vexation and in experiment as it becomes torturous.He recognizes certain cases in which experimentis cruel or inhuman:
For to prosecute such inquiries concerning perfect animals by cutting out the fetus from the womb would be too inhuman,except when opportunitiesare affordedby abortions,the chase, and the like. There should thereforebe set a sort of night watch over nature,as showing herself better by night than by day. For these may be regarded as night studies by reason of the smallness of our candle and its continualburning.(4.202 [1.316])

might Furthermore, Bacon sees the dangerthat overzealous or uncriticalexperimentation elicit misleading or distortedresponsesfrom nature,as torturecan elicit false confessions. He notices that "when bodies are tormented[vexationibus]by fire or other means, many qualities are communicatedby the fire itself and by the bodies employed to effect the separationwhich did not exist previously in the compound;whence strangefallacies have arisen" (4.199-200 [1.314]). Bacon thus criticizes the alchemists for overheating their He Vulcan's attemptto rapeMinervaas the excessive use of fire to cause work.32 interprets birthsandlame works" "muchvexing of bodies to force Nature"thatyields only "imperfect of (6.736). In his account of the "handcuffing" Proteus in De augmentis scientiarumhe notes that"theheat must be so regulatedand varied,thattherebe no fractureof the vessels. For this operationis like that of the womb, where the heat works, and yet no part of the should imitate (4.420-421 [1.632]). The "handcuffs" body is either emitted or separated" the naturalwarmthof the womb.33 Torturousmethods lead only to barrenness;eliciting nature's secrets requiresproper respect. Bacon reminds us that "you may deceive naturesooner than force her" (4.324). Man cannot to Since she cannotbe fooled, "nature be conqueredmust be obeyed"(4.32).34 enter nature's "innercourts"without confrontingher inherentgreatness.Bacon held that experimentshould be a heroic strugglethatwill ennoble humanity;he emphasizesa moderationconsistentwith legitimateinterrogation. Althoughthe laterdevelopmentof science went far beyond anythinghe anticipated,Bacon's vision remainsa crucialtouchstonefor His the aspirationsand methods of his successors.35 writings are the glass in which the
32 In the Sylva sylvarumhe says that natural gold is formed "wherelittle heat cometh"(2.449). See StantonJ. Linden, "FrancisBacon and Alchemy: The Reformationof Vulcan," J. Hist. Ideas, 1974, 35:547-560, on p. 558. 33 For a helpful discussion of Bacon's use of the image of the garden to characterizescientific inquiry see Michele Le Doeuff, "Man and Nature in the Gardens of Science," in Francis Bacon's Legacy of Texts, ed. Sessions (cit. n. 5), pp. 119-138. 34 Discussing the ways in which a "window"into another man's heart might be found that would help one guide one's fortune,Bacon remarksthat "thepoet doth elegantly call passions tortures[Torturas],thaturge men to confess their secrets: Vino tortus est et ira [torturedby wine and wrath;Horace Epistles 1.18.38]" (3.458, 5.61 [1.774]). Bacon goes on to enumerateother ways in which men "openthemselves;especially if they be put accordingto the proverbof Spain, Di mentira,y sacaras verdad, Tell a lie to it with a counter-dissimulation, and find a truth"(5.61). These methods are essentially tortures,and they all treattheir object as a means to their and end, rendereda mere instrumentality a slave by deceit. However, this model of Machiavellianworkingdoes not apply to nature,which cannot be deceived as people can. 35 For his immediate followers see my discussion of Samuel Hartlib, John Dury, John Evelyn, and Joseph (unpublished Nature:Bacon's Successors and the Defense of Experiment" Glanvill in Peter Pesic, "Eviscerating MS).

94

WRESTLINGWITH PROTEUS

enigmaticbirthof modem science may best be beheld. Bacon remindsus that if we strive to be liberatedfrom "greatinfelicity" and from "lastingand general agreementin error," we should agree that "the human understandingmay the more willingly submit to its purgationand dismiss its idols" (4.63 [1.173]). Close examinationshows that Bacon did not conceive of experimentas torture.The time has come to dismiss this idol.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful