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This chapter asserts the influence of Francis Bacon’s natural philosophy on the early modern English essay, noting in particular how the Baconian commitment to scientific experiment and empirical investigation informed the work of early essayists such as Robert Boyle, Samuel Hartlib, and William Cornwallis. The author argues that the humanist form of the essay was also harnessed to the practical and utilitarian ends of managed state capitalism, including agriculture and political economy.
Recent research has shown how Francis Bacon drew on Renaissance practices of reading and writing to propose a new method for understanding nature. Yet Bacon was well aware that such techniques were vulnerable to error, miscommunication, and failure. Instances of misinterpretation in his utopian fantasy New Atlantis reveal that his dream of a legible world accounts for the possibility of misreading. Bacon's characters and his audience are invited to interpret the text's symbols, but they are denied the basis for adequate interpretation. The paradoxes that arise from this strange position affirm the utility of Bacon's method and expose some of its limits.