Bacon was an English philosopher, statesman and a pioneer of modern scientific thought.
Francis Bacon was born on 22 January 1561 in London. He was the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, keeper of the great seal for Elizabeth I. Bacon studied at Cambridge University and at Gray’s Inn and became a member of parliament in 1584. However, he was unpopular with Elizabeth, and it was only on the accession of James I in 1603 that Bacon’s career began to prosper. Knighted that year, he was appointed to a succession of posts culminating, like his father, with keeper of the great seal.
However, Bacon’s real interests lay in science. Much of the science of the period was based on the work of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. While many Aristotelian ideas, such as the position of the earth at the centre of the universe, had been overturned, his methodology was still being used. This held that scientific truth could be reached by way of authoritative argument: if sufficiently clever men discussed a subject long enough, the truth would eventually be discovered. Bacon challenged this, arguing that truth required evidence from the real world. He published his ideas, initially in ‘Novum Organum’ (1620), an account of the correct method of acquiring natural knowledge.
Bacon’s political ascent also continued. In 1618 he was appointed lord chancellor, the most powerful position in England, and in 1621 he was created viscount St Albans. Shortly afterwards, he was charged by parliament with accepting bribes, which he admitted. He was fined and imprisoned and then banished from court. Although the king later pardoned him, this was the end of Bacon’s public life. He retired to his home at Gorhambury in Hertfordshire, where he continued to write.
Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud: a friendship in portraits
Bacon and Freud met in 1945 through the artist Graham Sutherland and became close if competitive friends, painting each other on several occasions. Art critic Charles Darwent has picked up on the rawness of Bacon’s depictions of Freud: “Of all the portraits I can think of, the ones Bacon made of Lucian Freud in the mid 1960s are among the most painful. What Bacon saw when he looked at the famously beautiful Freud was his own loathsomeness reflected.”
He died in London on 9 April 1626.