On 'the effecting of all things possible'
My title, or, if you like, my motto, comes from Francis Bacon New Atlantis, published in 1627. The New Atlantis was Bacon's dream of what the world might have been, and might still become, if human knowledge were directed towards improving the worldly condition of man. It makes a rather strange impression nowadays, and very few people bother with it who are not interested either in Bacon himself, or in the flux of seventeenth- century opinion or the ideology of Utopias. We shall not read it for its sociological insights, which are non-existent, nor as science fiction, because it has a general air of implausibility; but there is one high poetic fancy in the New Atlantis that stays in the mind after all its fancies and inventions have been forgotten. In the New Atlantis, an island kingdom lying in very distant seas, the only commodity of external trade is -- light: Bacon's own special light, the light of understanding. The Merchants of Light who carry out its business are members of a society or order of philosophers who between them make up (so their spokesman declares) 'the noblest foundation that ever was upon the earth'. 'The end of our foundation', the spokesman goes on to say, 'is the knowledge of causes and the secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible.' You will see later on why I chose this motto.
My purpose is to draw certain parallels between the spiritual or philosophic condition of thoughtful people in the seventeenth