On January 22, 1561, a squalling infant named Francis was born in London to Sir Nicholas Bacon and his wife Anne. The baby, little Francis Bacon, didn’t seem like much in his early years, but he would make his mark as a philosopher, statesman and lawyer and would forever change the face of scientific investigation.
Little Bacon was educated at home before heading off to Trinity College, Cambridge at the age of 12, where he first met Queen Elizabeth and impressed her with his precocity. He later concluded his education abroad, studying in France, Italy, and Spain. As he studied, he came to the conclusion that the current methods and results of science were all wrong.
After returning to England, Bacon began practicing law, and was then elected MP for Bossiney in 1581. While in Parliament, he vocally supported the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. Through powerful friends and relations (his uncle was Lord Burghley, one of Queen Elizabeth’s closest advisors), Bacon began acquiring positions at Court, finally reaching the post of Lord Chancellor under James I, only to be ignominiously stripped of his job on corruption charges.
Bacon is best known as the father of the scientific method, which he laid out in his magnum opus, Novum Organum (New Instrument). He argued that, although scientists at the time used deductive arguments to interpret nature, they should really be using inductive reasoning based on observations of similar situations. Novum Organum was published in 1620 and introduced the world to the new Baconian method. He argued that it could be applied not only to nature, with its fairly predictable patterns, but also to policy and the functioning of the state.
Bacon only had six years to enjoy his influence. He died of pneumonia in April 1626, allegedly after conducting an experiment involving snow and the preservation of meat. Over thirty great thinkers of the day gathered to give his eulogy, which was later published. His works became highly influential among scholars in the 1630s and 50s, and he was invoked as a guiding spirit of the Royal Society after it was founded by Charles II in 1660. He was held in high esteem by many, including Thomas Jefferson, who considered Bacon, Locke and Newton to be “the three greatest men that ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral sciences.”