Francis Bacon,
The Great Instauration

Basil Montague, ed. and trans.
Excerpts from The Works, 3 vols. (Philadelphia: Parry & MacMillan, 1854)

Hanover Historical Texts Project
Scanned by Alison Waugh and proofread by Monica Banas in 1996.
Proofread and pages added by Jonathan Perry, March 2001.

Editor's Preface

[Page 329] THE following is a TRANSLATION of the "Instauratio Magna," excepting the first book, the Treatise "De Augmentis Scientiarum."


The first edition of this work was published in folio, in 1620, when Lord Bacon was chancellor. Editions in l2mo. were published in Holland in 1645, 1650, and 1660. An edition was published in 1779; "Wirceburgi, apud Jo. Jac. Stahel:" and an edition was published at Oxford in 1813. No assistance to this, or, as I am aware, to any part of Lord Bacon's works, has been rendered by the University of Cambridge.

Parts of the Novum Organum have, at different periods, been translated.

In Watts's translation, in 1640, of the Treatise De Augmentis, there is a translation of the Introductory Tract prefixed to the Novum Organum.

In the third edition of the Resuscitatio, published in 1671, there are three translated tracts from the Novum Organum, viz., 1. The Natural and Experimental History of the Form of Hot Things. 2. Of the several kinds of Motion or of the Active Virtue. 3. A Translation of the Parasceve, which is the beginning of the third part of the Instauration, but is annexed to the Novum Organum in the first edition. This translation of the Parasceve is by a well wisher to his lordship's writings.

In the tenth edition of the Sylva Sylvarum, there is an abridged translation of the Novum Organum. The following is a copy of the title page: The Novum Organum of Sir Francis Bacon, Baron of Verulam, Viscount St. Albans Epitomiz'd: for a clearer understanding of his Natural History. Translated and taken out of the Latine by M. D. B. D. London: Printed for Thomas Lee, at the Turk's head in Fleet Street, 1676. As this tenth edition of the Sylva was published 1671, and Dr. Rawley died 1667, it must not, from any document now known, be ascribed to him. It is not noticed in the Baconiana published in 1679.

In 1733, Peter Shaw, M. D., published a translation of the Novum Organum.

Dr. Shaw, who was a great admirer of Lord Bacon, seems to have laboured under a diseased love of arrangement, by which he was induced to deviate from the order of the publications by Lord Bacon, and to adopt his own method. This may be seen in almost every part of his edition, but particularly in his edition of the Essays, and of the Novum Organum, which is divided and subdivided into sections, with a perplexing alteration, without an explanation of the numbers of the Aphorisms; this will appear at the conclusion of his first section, where he passes from section thirty-seven to section one.

His own account of his translation is as follows: - "The design of these volumes is to give a methodical English edition of his philosophical works, fitted for a commodious and ready perusal; somewhat in the same manner as the philosophical works of Mr. Boyle were, a few years since, fitted, in three quarto volumes.

"All the author's pieces, that were originally written in Latin, or by himself translated into Latin, are here new done from those originals; with care all along to collate his own English with the Latin, where the pieces were extant in both languages.

[Page 330] "The method observed in thus rendering them into English, is not that of a direct translation, (which might have left them more obscure than they are; and no way suited this design;) but a kind of open version, which endeavours to express, in modern English, the sense of the author, clear, full, and strong; though without deviating from him, and, if possible, without losing of his spirit, force, or energy. And though this attempt may seem vain, or bold, it was doubtless better to have had the view, than willingly to have aimed at second prizes.

"The liberty sometimes taken, not of abridging, (for just and perfect writings are incapable of abridgment,) but of dropping, or leaving out, some parts of the author's writings, may require greater excuse. But this was done in order to shorten the works, whose length has proved one discouragement to their being read. And regard has been had to omit none of the philosophical matter; but only certain personal addresses, compliments, exordiums, and the like; for, as the reasons and ends, for which these were originally made, subsist no longer, it was thought superfluous to continue such particularities, in a work of this general nature."

In the year 1810 the Novum Organum was translated into Italian. The following is a copy of the title page: Nuovo Organo Delle Scienze di Francesco Bacone, Di Verulamio, Traduzione in Italiano del can. Antonio Pellizzari, Edizione seconda arricchita di un Indice e di Annotazioni. Bassano, Tipografia Remondiniana, 1810.

For the translation of the Novum Organum contained in this volume, I am indebted to my friend William Wood: excepting the translation of the Catalogue of Particular Histories, for which I am indebted to my friend and pupil, William G. Glen.


The translation was published in 1671, in the third edition of the Resuscitatio. It is "translated into English by R. G., gentleman." Of this tract Archbishop Tennison, says, in his Baconiana: "The second section is the History of Winds, written in Latin by the author, and by R. G., gentleman, turned into English. It was dedicated to King Charles, then Prince, as the first-fruits of his lordship's Natural History; and as a grain of mustard-seed, which was, by degrees, to grow into a tree of experimental science. This was the birth of the first of those six months, in which he determined (God assisting him) to write six several histories of natural things. To wit, of Dense and Rare Bodies; of Heavy and Light Bodies; of Sympathy and Antipathy; of Salt, Sulphur, and Mercury; of Life and Death; and (which he first perfected) that of Winds, which he calls the Wings, by which men fly on the sea, and the besoms of the air and earth. And he rightly observeth, concerning those postnati, (for, as he saith, they are not a part of the six days' work or primary creatures,) that the generation of them has not been well understood, because men have been ignorant of the nature and power of the air, on which the winds attend, as Aeolus on Juno.

"The English translation of this book of Winds is printed in the second part of the Resuscitatio, as it is called, though improperly enough; for it is rather a collection of books already printed, than a resuscitation of any considerable ones, which before slept in private manuscript."

The translations of the Histories of Density and Rarity; of Heavy and Light; of Sympathy and Antipathy; of Sulphur, Mercury, and Salt, are from the third edition of the Resuscitatio, published in 1671; which contains also a translation of the Entrance to the History of Life and Death.

The translation of the History of Life and Death is taken from the seventh edition of the Sylva Sylvarum, published in 1658. Of this translation, Archbishop Tennison thus speaks in his Baconiana: "The sixth section is the History of Life and Death, written by his lordship in Latin, and first turned into English by an injudicious translator, and rendered much better a second time, by an abler pen, made abler still by the advice and assistance of Dr. Rawley.

"This work, though ranked last amongst the six monthly designations, yet was set forth in the second place. His lordship (as he saith) inverting the order, in respect of the prime use of this argument, in which the least loss of time was by him esteemed very precious. The subject of this book, (which Sir Henry Wotton calleth none of the least of his lordship's works,) and the argument of which some had before undertaken, but to much less purpose, is the first of those which he put in his Catalogue of the Magnalia Naturae. And, doubtless, his lordship undertook both a great and a most desirable work, of making art short, and life easy and long. 'And it was his lordship’s wish that the nobler sort of physicians might not employ their times wholly in the sordidness of cures, neither be honoured for necessity only; but become coadjutors and instruments of the Divine omnipotence and clemence, in prolonging and renewing the life of man; and in helping Christians, who pant after the land of promise, so to journey through this world's wilderness, as to have their shoes and garments (these of their frail bodies) little worn and impaired.'"

[Page 331]


For this translation I am indebted to my dear friend, the Reverend Archdeacon Wrangham, with whom, after an uninterrupted friendship of more than forty years, I am happy to be associated in this work.

Archbishop Tennison thus speaks of this fourth book: "The fourth part of the Instauration designed, was Scala Intellectus.

"To this there is some sort of entrance in his lordship's distribution of the Novum Organum, and in a page or two under that title of Scala, published by Gruter. But the work itself passed not beyond the model of it in the head of the noble author.

"That which he intended was, a particular explication and application of the second part of the Instauration, (which giveth general rules for the interpretation of nature,) by gradual instances and examples.

"He thought that his rules, without some more sensible explication, were like discourses in geometry or mechanics, without figures and types of engines. He therefore designed to select certain subjects in nature or art; and, as it were, to draw to the sense a certain scheme of the beginning and progress of philosophical disquisition in them; showing, by degrees, where our consideration takes root, and how it spreadeth and advanceth. And some such thing is done by those who, from the Cicatricula, or from the Punctum Saliens, observe and register all the phenomena of the animal unto its death, and after it, also, in the medical, or culinary, or other use of its body; together with all the train of the thoughts occasioned by those phenomena, or by others in compare with them.

"And because he intended to exhibit such observations, as they gradually arise, therefore, he gave to that designed work the title of the Scale, or Ladder of the Understanding. He also expressed the same conceit by another metaphor, advising students to imitate men who, by going by degrees, from several eminences of some very high mountain, do at length arrive at the top, or pike of it."


For this translation I am also indebted to my friend, Archdeacon Wrangham. Of this tract Archbishop Tennison thus speaks: "The fifth part of the Instauration designed, was what he called Prodromi sive Anticipationes Philosophiae Secundae. To this we find a very brief entrance in the Organum, and the Scripta, published by Gruter. And, though his lordship is not known to have composed any part of this work by itself, yet something of it is to be collected from the axioms and greater observations interspersed in his Natural Histories, which are not pure but mixed writings. The anticipations he intended to pay down as use, till he might furnish the world with the principal."

[Page 332]


SEEING he was satisfied that the human understanding creates itself labour, and makes not a judicious and convenient use of such real helps as are within man's power, whence arise both a manifold ignorance of things, and innumerable disadvantages, the consequence of such ignorance; he thought that we ought to endeavour, with all our might, either (if it were possible) completely to restore, or, at all events, to bring to a better issue that free intercourse of the mind with things, nothing similar to which is to be met with on earth, at least as regards earthly objects. But that errors which have gained firm ground, and will forever continue to gain ground, would, if the mind were left to itself, successively correct each other, either from the proper powers of the understanding, or from the helps and support of logic, he entertained not the slightest hope. Because the primary notions of things, which the mind ignorantly and negligently imbibes, stores up, and accumulates, (and from which every thing else is derived,) are faulty and confused, and carelessly abstracted from the things themselves; and in the secondary and following notions, there is an equal wantonness and inconsistency. Hence it happens that the whole system of human reasoning, as far as we apply it to the investigation of nature, is not skilfully consolidated and built up, but resembles a magnificent pile that has no foundation. For while men admire and celebrate the false energies of the mind, they pass by, and lose sight of the real; such as may exist if the mind adopt proper helps, and act modestly towards things instead of weakly insulting them. But one course was left, to begin the matter anew with better preparation, and to effect a restoration of the sciences, arts, and the whole of human learning, established on their proper foundation. And, although, at the first attempt, this may appear to be infinite, and above the strength of a mere mortal, yet will it, in the execution, be found to be more sound and judicious than the course which has hitherto been pursued. For this method admits at least of some termination, whilst, in the present mode of treating the sciences, there is a sort of whirl, and perpetual hurry round a circle. Nor has he forgotten to observe that he stands alone in this experiment, and that it is too bold and astonishing to obtain credit. Nevertheless, he thought it not right to desert either the cause or himself, by not exploring and entering upon the only way, which is pervious to the human mind. For it is better to commence a matter which may admit of some termination, than to be involved in perpetual exertion and anxiety about that which is interminable. And, indeed, the ways of contemplation nearly resemble those celebrated ways of action; the one of which, steep and rugged at its commencement, terminates in a plain, the other, at the first view smooth and easy, leads only to by-roads and precipices. Uncertain, however, whether these reflections would ever hereafter suggest themselves to another, and, particularly, having observed, that he has never yet met with any person disposed to apply his mind to similar meditations, he determined to publish whatsoever he had first time to conclude. Nor is this the haste of ambition, but of his anxiety, that if the common lot of mankind should befall him, some sketch and determination of the matter his mind had embraced might be extant, as well as an earnest of his will being honourably bent upon promoting the advantage of mankind. He assuredly looked upon any other ambition as beneath the matter he had undertaken; for that which is here treated of is either nothing, or it is so great that he ought to be satisfied with its own worth, and seek no other return.

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