Friday, May 6, 2011

Sylva Sylvarum: or A Naturall Historie. In Ten Centuries. By Sir Francis Bacon

I´ve just learned that Hydroponics, a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil, has a precedent in a 1627 publication: Sylva Sylvarum: or A Naturall Historie. In Ten Centuries, by Sir Francis Bacon. Curious about this book, I´ve found an excellent article written by Pablo Alvarez, curator of rare books. I´m reproducing here some of its paragraphs, and invite you to keep on reading in the link below. All pictures were downloaded from this page of the University of Rochester.

During his studies at Trinity College, Cambridge (1573-5), Bacon became aware of the shortcomings of a curriculum utterly dominated by Aristotelianism. Critical of the deductive method, Bacon's writings would fully explore the proposition that our knowledge of the world must begin with an exhaustive computation of observation and experience.
The culmination of Bacon's philosophical thought was the publication of Francisci de Verulamio, summi Angliae cancellarii, Instauratio magna (London: John Billius, 1620). This volume includes a six-part division of his whole philosophical programme (Instauratio Magna), the incomplete second part of this plan (Novum Organum), a sketch of the third part (the phenomena of the universe, or a natural and experimental history for the foundation of philosophy), and a catalogue of particular histories.
Shortly after the death of Bacon in 1626, his personal secretary, William Rawley, published a commemorative volume with 32 Latin poems in his honor: Memoriae honoratissimi domini Francisci, Baronis de Vervlamio, Vice-comitis Sancti Albani Sacrum (London: John Haviland, 1626). Committed to promoting Bacon's intellectual reputation, Rawley subsequently edited and published other treatises by Bacon. Our Collection Highlight, Sylva Sylvarum: or A Naturall Historie. In Ten Centuries, belongs to a group of philosophical tracts that were published posthumously. Although our copy is dated 1627 in both the engraved and printed titles, the sheets and collation are actually identical to the first edition of 1626, except that the printed title-page is dated 1627. The Latin title perfectly describes the structure of the volume: "a miscellany of topics." More explicitly, it is an anthology of one thousand paragraphs consisting of extracts from many books, mostly from antiquity, and Bacon's own experiments and observations. At the end of the volume, Rawley also included the New Atlantis. A Worke vnfinished. This brief tract is a description of a utopian island and its scientific community: Salomon's House.
The Sylva Sylvarum is particularly fascinating as it contains numerous passages dealing with medical treatments for the prolongation of life and the preservation of flesh.(...)
Although Bacon never stated that the Sylva Sylvarum was intended to be included in the third part of his Instauratio , Rawley was convinced that the content of this treatise strongly indicated to do so. In the address to the reader he wrote: "Besides, this Naturall History was a debt of his, being designed and set downe for a third part of the Instauration. " To emphasize this connection, the title-page of the Sylva Sylvarum heavily borrowed from the design of the title-page of the Instauratio. (...)

Bacon often expressed the notion that the intervention of God was essential to make knowledge of the world accessible. For instance, in the first book of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning , he refers to the existence of divine agents that carry the enlightening power of God:
"To proceede to that which is next in order from God to spirits: We find as farre as credit is to bee given to the celestiall Hierarchy, of that supposed Dionysius the Senator of Athens the first place or degree is given to the Angels of love, which are tearmed Seraphim ; the second to the Angels of light, which are tearmed Cherubim ; and the third, and so following places to thrones, principalities, and the rest, which are all Angels of power and ministry; so as the Angels of knowledge and illumination, are placed before the Angels of office and domination" (pag. 54-5).
The engraved title-page of the Sylva Sylvarum overall reflects a similar approach. Religious sanction of the scientific enterprise is exemplified by the quotation from Genesis : "And God saw the light, that it was good." And the fact that the two cherubim are gazing in different directions, the one looking at the tetragrammaton, the other at the globe below, indicates that they know that the divine light is falling on the Mundus Intellectuallis , the world of human knowledge. Specifically, this intellectual globe should be identified with the physical world, or the object of study of natural history. Likewise, Rawley, who appears on both the engraved and printed title-pages of the Sylva Sylvarum as ‘Doctor of Divinity', tried to reconcile the new scientific method with Christian orthodoxy. At the end of his preface to the reader, he states: "I will conclude with an vsuall speech of his Lordships. That this work of his Naturall History , is the world as God made it; For that it hath nothing of imagination"

Read about hydroponics:


  1. Que interesante. Siempre es bueno aprender algo nuevo. Cuanta contenido hay en los libros antiguos.

  2. Hola Judith, así es, te recomiendo el texto en el link, es una maravilla, además explica muy bien el significado de las imágenes.
    Un beso,


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