The Nebraska Blueprint -- December 1934

THE DEAN'S CORNER

Sir Francis Bacon

by 0. J. FERGUSON


HISTORY gives Sir Francis Bacon credit for sponsoring and promoting the use of experiment in the study of all phenomena.. It was not enough, to him, to "sit and think." Like the Maine backwoodsman, he recognized that this sometimes led him to no more reliable results than to "just sit." As the great proponent of experiment, science owes him unending gratitude. And engineers almost may tender him fealty as their patron saint.
 
Perusal of his works gives one a feeling of wonder at the breadth of his interests. It would seem that not one thing or happening within his radius of observation ever escaped his attention. Not one report or rumor, not one tradition or story ever slipped by without examination and comment. He must have been a superlatively keen observer.

His notes comment upon "the impressions which the passions of the mind make upon the body," and he analyzes the effects of fear, grief, pain, anger, joy, shame, wonder, pity, mirth. He discusses the difference in structure of jaw-bones and teeth. He suggests the need for more knowledge concerning the drawing of teeth, their preservation, the "binding in" of artificial teeth, and even how to restore teeth to those in old age.

But, further afield, he asserts that the heats of the sun, of fire, and of the body are alike. That star-light nights are colder than cloudy nights.. His discussions of physical properties of materials contrast the "dense, rare; tangible, pneumatical, volatile, fixed; determinate, nondeterminate; hard, soft; cleaving, noncleaving; congealable, noncon-gealable ; liquefiable, nonliquefiable ; fragile, tough :flexible, inflexible; tractile or to be drawn foth in length, intractile; porous, solid; equal and smooth, unequal; venous and fibrous and with grains, entire; and divers others." He points out that outdoor animals "must needs have a quicker impression from the air than men that live most within doors," and that they therefore foretell weather changes more quickly.

Metals and their combinations as alloys received attention, even to a citation of the belief that "there is a kind of iron, that being cut into little pieces and put into the ground, if it be well watered, will increase into great pieces."

 The flight of birds was studied, and the efficiency of feathers mentioned in affording support to a manó"spreading of feathers thin and close and in great breadth will likewise bear up a great weight. . . . The further extension of this experiment for flying may be thought upon."

The laws of moving bodies were close to his experience:

"A weighty body put into motion is more easily impelled than at first, when it resteth."

"A body over-great or over-small will not be thrown so far as a body of middle size."

". . . no weight will press or cut so strong, being laid upon a body, as fallen or stricken from above."

Living as he did over three centuries ago (1561-1626) it will be appreciated that the materials with which he dealt were crude and disorganized. No real scientific backgrounds existed. Flame was considered a substance. A witch was just as real to him as was the stone at his feet. "Natural magic" was a recognized force, and it was reported that ". . . the heart of an ape, worn near the heart, comforteth the heart, and increaseth audacity. . . . applied to the neck or head, helpeth the wit." Bacon adds that if this be so, "It may be that the heart of man would do more, but that it is more against men's minds to use it."

Naive ideas must necessarily be expected from his writings. Bracelets for sickness; bloodstone for nosebleed; snakeskins for renewing youth; love amulets, especially rings, because they are endless; the glow-worms of England did not become the luminous fly of Italy because "the glow-worms of the cold centuries ripen not so far as to be winged."

Perhaps two more "experiments solitary" may be interesting, especially if you read them without "raising your eyebrows."

"It hath been noted by the ancients that in full or impure bodies, ulcers or hurts in the legs are hard to cure; and in the head more easy. The cause is, for that ulcers or hurts in the legs require desiccation, which by the defluxion of humours to the lower parts is hindered; whereas hurts and ulcers in the head require it not; but contrariwise dry-ness maketh them more apt to consolidate. And in modern observation, the like difference hath been found between Frenchmen and Englishmen; whereof the one's constitution is more dry, and the other's more moist. And therefore a hurt of the head is harder to cure in a Frenchman, and of the leg in an Englishman."

"It is strange that the use of bathing, as a part of diet, is left. With the Romans and Grecians it was as usual as eating or sleeping: and so it is amongst the Turks at this day: whereas with us it remaineth but as a part of physic. I am of opinion, that the use of it, as it was with the Romans, was hurtful to health; for that it makes the body soft, and easy to waste. For the Turks it is more proper, because that their drinking water, and feeding upon rice, and other food of small nourishment, maketh their bodies so solid and hard, as you need not fear that bathing should make them frothy.

Besides the Turks are great sitters, and seldom walk, whereby they sweat less and need bathing more. But yet certain it is that bathing, and especially anointing", may be so used as it may be a great help to health and prolongation of life."