Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 March 2008
At the end of the sixteenth century, the English lawyer and natural philosopher Francis Bacon (1561–1626) began to fantasize about the locations for knowledge. The Gesta Grayorum (1594), a court revel performed before Queen Elizabeth I and attributed to Bacon, described an imaginary research facility containing “a most perfect and general library” and “a spacious, wonderful garden” filled with wild and cultivated plants and surrounded by a menagerie, aviary, freshwater lake, and saltwater lake. Spaces for living nature were complemented by a museum of science, art, and technology – “a goodly huge cabinet” housing artifacts (“whatsoever the hand of man by exquisite art or engine has made rare in stuff”), natural oddities (“whatsoever singularity, chance, and the shuffle of things hath produced”), and gems, minerals, and fossils (“whatsoever Nature has wrought in things that want life and may be kept”). The fourth and final component was a space in which to test nature, “a still-house, so furnished with mills, instruments, furnaces, and vessels as may be a palace fit for a philosopher’s stone.” The totality of these facilities, Bacon concluded, would be “a model of the universal nature made private.” This statement suggested a new idea of empiricism that privileged human invention and demonstration over pure observation and celebrated the communal aspects of observing nature over the heroic efforts of the lone observer. Nature had to be reconstructed within a microcosm, creating an artificial world of knowledge in which scholars prodded, dissected, and experimented with nature in order to know it better.