Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

www.mfah.org Home

IcaadocsArchive

Document first page thumbnail
  • ICAA Record ID
    839039
    AUTHOR
    Bacon, Francis
    TITLE
    New Atlantis / Sir Francis Bacon
    IMPRINT
    London : Bacon's literary executor, Dr. Rowley, 1627
    LANGUAGES
    English
    TYPE AND GENRE
    Book/Pamphlet – Essays
    BIBLIOGRAPHIC CITATION
    Bacon, Francis. New Atlantis (1623). London: by Bacon's literary executor, Dr. Rowley, 1627.
    TOPIC DESCRIPTORS
    essays; utopian literature
Synopsis

In this book, Francis Bacon describes a scene in which a ship of Spanish sailors, finding themselves adrift and near death off the coast of Peru, lands on the shore of an unknown island where they are cared for by the government of Bensalem. In the course of their stay, they learn about the history, customs, and organization of Bensalem and in the process, marvel at its material wealth and the wisdom and intelligence of its people. They also learn much about the history of the world and of “America” (The New Atlantis) that is unknown in Europe from the statesmen they meet there, including, for instance, that the oceans were more widely traveled some 3,000 years ago than they are now; and that Bensalem has been sending ships to Europe to collect both knowledge and technology, but in disguise (as Europeans) so that their existence still remains unknown. Bacon devotes considerable prose to thoroughly describing how patriarchal order is honored and maintained in a ceremony called “Feast of the Family,” and he devotes approximately the last third of the text to describing “Salomon’s House.” A democratic priest of “Salomon’s House,” as Bacon writes, explains at length the goals, activities, and organization of the society to the sailors. The “Father” tells them that its purpose is to collect and apply knowledge; he describes the many aspects of the natural world that they study, including every plants, animal, and herb imaginable, the elements, light, movement, and sound, and all manner of technology; and recounts how they travel around the world to collect knowledge; sailing out of port from either Peru (then called Coya) or Mexico (then named Tyrambel). Bacon’s “Father” ends his audience with the sailors with a blessing and by giving them permission to “publish” the information they have learned from him, among others, “…for the good of other nations.”

Annotations

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was an English philosopher and statesman. It is believed that Bacon wrote The New Atlantis in 1623, during a period after his political fall in London when he wrote extensively. It was published in 1627, a year after his death. In the course of this narrative describing the experiences of a ship of lost sailors on Bensalem, Bacon outlines the features of his ideal imaginary state, where proper reverence for God is accompanied by material abundance, patriarchal order, and the pursuit and application of knowledge. As Bacon makes clear in comparisons with China—another ancient society that, like Bensalem, prohibits the entry of strangers in their country, but is inhumane in its treatment of outsiders—Bensalem’s humanity comes indeed from Christianity. Bacon also incorporates foundational Christian narratives into his story of Bensalem. Christianity, it must be underscored, comes to the Island via the miraculous appearance of an ark containing Old and New Testaments; and its isolation is credited to a great flood that wiped out the neighboring ancient civilizations of America. About one third of the text is devoted to a description of “Salomon’s House,” a society of great men devoted to the study of science and its application. This description of “Salomon’s House” essentially outlines the organization of an ideal college and includes many features of the modern university, in which both the study and application of science is fostered.

Team
International Center for the Arts of the Americas, MFAH, Houston, USA