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At various stages in his career, Francis Bacon claimed to have reformed and changed traditional natural history in such a way that his new "natural and experimental history" was unlike any of its ancient or humanist predecessors. Surprisingly, such claims have gone largely unquestioned in Baconian scholarship. Contextual readings of Bacon's natural history have compared it, so far, only with Plinian or humanist natural history. This paper investigates a different form of natural history, very popular among Bacon's contemporaries, but yet unexplored by contemporary students of Bacon's works. I have provisionally called this form of natural history'Senecan' natural history, partly because it took shape in the Neo-Stoic revival of the sixteenth-century, partly because it originates in a particular cosmographical reading of Seneca's Naturales quaestiones. I discuss in this paper two examples of Senecan natural history: the encyclopedic and cosmographical projects of Pierre de la Primaudaye (1546-1619) and Samuel Purchas (1577-1626). I highlight a number of similarities between these two projects and Francis Bacon's natural history, and argue that Senecan natural history forms an important aspect in the historical and philosophical background that needs to be taken into consideration if we want to understand the extent to which Bacon's project to reform natural history can be said to be new.

Citation

Dana Jalobeanu. Francis Bacon's natural history and the Senecan natural histories of early modern Europe. Early science and medicine. 2012;17(1-2):197-229

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PMID: 22702172

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