Magazine article World Literature Today

Bacon's Chicken

Magazine article World Literature Today

Bacon's Chicken

Article excerpt

God forbid that we should give out a dream of our own imagination for a pattern of the world. - Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

SIR FRANCIS GAVE TIME to thought in his carriage, to avoid wasting breath in travel. As the recent lord chancellor to King James, honorably and dishonorably wealthy, legally and politically disgraced, he cried out to himself that his lifetime's exertions had attained worthiness only in pure thought, the very heart of science, but alas known mostly to himself.

But the mingling of thought and brute reality struck at his confidence. Logic was undoubtedly binding on itself, but effective in public affairs mostly when congruent with convenience. Pure thought was recently maligned by the new young men who would harness knowledge through direct experimental assaults on nature, to rip away its many masks by direct inspection, through actions without presuppositions, which was valid when it meant setting aside social prejudices and superstitions divined from an unseen world. He had suggested such activity in his own Novum Organum, as a piling up of uninterpreted observed fact to force inescapable conclusions, and the young were taking it up from him as if it were revealed truth, without deeper considerations, or with any credit to where they had heard of the method, which, moving on, he had since amended with many a limpid insight into how the orderliness of nature might serve humanity.

He might jealously scatter their efforts by seeming to contradict his earlier self. Both fact and reason were needed, of course, but naked fact could not dictate to reason's autonomy, as even his youthful self had managed to see. The imaginative perspectives of speculative thoughts were greater than inspections of nature by naïve experimenters; tinkerers often lacked deeper thought, all too obviously failing to grasp the profound connections of thought's ways prior to launching the naïve assault of a physical test; the primacy of thought was unavoidable. One might as well strike out blindly at nature with a hammer, hoping to hear what chance might idly whisper to sovereign thought.

Sovereign thought.

Superior to mere inspection of fact, and to experiment, sovereign thought alone rose above itself and swam in the realm of divine imagination, there to see what nature might have made but did not. Likewise, sovereign funds, in their record of human labor's enterprising accumulations, were a mere pillaging of infinity's riches as an end when they should be means. Sovereign thought ruled even when it was mistaken, because it held within itself a way to correct itself.

That was all there was to know, in one grand act subsuming reason and faith.

He smiled as he looked out of his carriage at the snowy ground. Bare trees stood like frozen black lightning against the white expanse. The town ahead huddled for winter, with only so much energy set aside to warm it, too much effort necessarily directed away from thought, which might better the human lot. For a long while now thought's army had been mustering within him, readying to besiege the mysteries that surrounded the needy island of his humanity . . .

Overwhelming thought-of a wealth that would plan and direct all human effort, all policy of governance, enough to lifthumanity from the hell of its histories to a new heaven. "New," his favorite English word, was now liberated from Latin's novum, proclaiming an alert child's awareness, drawn by a humble creature from an ancient creation, and he sometimes wondered whether the slowness of its metamorphosing strength was an illness set deeper in the frailty of human mentality; perhaps divinity was indeed jealous of its infinite plenum, as it had been of pride's Tower of Babel, and would rather settle for the repetitive mill of ever-failing humanity. Perhaps it was the granularity of physical forms at the atomic scale that weighed against a coherent mind . . .

Infinity. Ungrasped but played within, never to be exhausted by the ambitions of knowledge, whose discomforts marked a desperate rowing toward divinity. …

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