...from, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, by Frances A. Yates
The great Rosicrucian furore seemed to arouse little or no public attention in Britain. No floods of pamphlets addressed to the R.C. Brothers poured from the printing presses, as in Germany from 1614 to 1620. No Invisibles put up placards, arousing frantic interest and storms of abuse, as in Paris in the 1620s. The trumpet sounds of the Fama, announcing a new era and vast new advances in knowledge impending for mankind, seem to have been muffled in these islands.
There were, however, other trumpet sounds, making a striking announcement, not with the Rosicrucian wild excitement but in measured and reasonable terms. These were the manifestos concerning the advancement of learning issued by Francis Bacon. These manifestos were dedicated to James I, the same monarch as he to whom the Rosicrucian movement in Germany so vainly pinned its hopes.
The Advancement of Learning, published in 1605, is a sober survey of the present state of knowledge, drawing attention to those ares of learning which are deficient, where more might be known if men would give their minds to research and experiment, particularly in natural philosophy which Bacon finds deplorably deficient. Such improved knowledge of nature could and should be used for the relief of man's estate, the betterment of his position in this world. Bacon demands that there should be a fraternity or brotherhood in learning, through which learned men might exchange knowledge and help one another. The universities do not at present promote such exchange, for there is not sufficient mutual intelligence between the universities of Europe. The brotherhood of learning should transcend national boundaries.
Surely as nature createth brotherhood in families, and arts mechanical contract brotherhoods in communities, and the anointment of God superinduceth a brotherhood in kings and bishops, so in learning there cannot but be a fraternity in learning and illumination, relating to that paternity which is attributed to God, who is called the father of illuminations or lights.
In reading this passage, after our explorations in this book, one is struck by the fact that Bacon here thinks of learning as 'illumination', light descending from the Father of Lights, and that the brotherhood in learning which he desires would be a 'fraternity in learning and illumination'. These expressions should not be passed over as pious rhetoric; they are significant in the context of the times.
Nine years later, in Germany, the Rosicrucian Fama was to present the Brothers R.C. as a fraternity of illuminati, as a band of learned men joined together in brotherly love; it was to urge that learned magicians and Cabalists should communicate their knowlege to one another; and it was to proclaim that the time was at hand of a great advance in knowledge of nature. This parallel may suggest that comparison of the Baconian movement with the Rosicrucian movement might be revealing for both, and particularly, perhaps, for Bacon.
Recent scholarship has made it abundantly clear that the old view of Bacon as a modern scientific observer and experimentalist emerging out of a superstitious past is no longer valid. In his book on Bacon, Paolo Rossi has shown that it was out of the Hermetic tradition that Bacon emerged, out of the Magia and Cabala of the Renaissance as it had reached him via the natural magicians. Bacon's view of the future of science was not that of progress in a straight line. His 'great instauration' of science was directed towards a return to the state of Adam before the Fall, a state of pure and sinless contact with nature and knowledge of her powers. This was the view of scientific progress, a progress back towards Adam, held by Cornelius Agrippa, the author of the influential Renaissance textbook on occult philosophy. And Bacon's science is still, in part, occult science. Amongst the subjects which he reviews in his survey of learning are natural magic, astrology, of which he seeks a reformed version, alchemy, by which he was profoundly influenced, fascination, the tool of the magician, and other themes which those interested in drawing out the modern side of Bacon have set aside as unimportant.
The German Rosicrucian writers hold similar views about the return to the wisdom of Adam and the millennial character of the advance in knowledge which they prophesy. After study of their writings in comparison with those of Bacon, one has the strong impression—when the fantastic Rosencreutz myth is set aside as a ludibrium [mockery; laughingstock]—that both these movements are concerned with magico-scientific advance, with illumination in the sense of enlightenment.
Nevertheless, though one can see both these movements as belonging naturally to the same times, both ultimately products of the Renaissance Hermetic-Cabalist tradition, both leading out of Renaissance into seventeeth-century advance, there are profound differences between them. Bacon is anxious to emphasize his disapproval of the pride and presumption of the Renaissance magus. He warns particularly against Paracelsus, who, as we have seen, was a prophet for the German Rosicrucian movement. Bacon had studied the system of Paracelsus 'reduced into a harmony by Severinus the Dane', and had decided that 'the ancient opinion that man was microcosmus, and abstract of model of the world hath been fantastically strained by Paracelsus and the alchemists'. This attacks the macrocosm-microcosm philosophy, so basic for Fludd and the Rosicrucian theories of world harmony.
Another great difference in outlook between Baconian and Rosicrucian schools of thought is Bacon's deprecation of secrecy in scientific matters, his attack on the long tradition of the alchemists of concealing their processes in incomprehensible symbols. Though the Rosicrucian manifestos advise, as does Bacon, an exchange of knowledge between learned men, they are themselves couched in mystifications, such as the story of the cave in which Rosencreutz's body was found, and which was full of geometrical symbols. That symbolism may conceal abstruse mathematical studies by members of a group, leading in advanced directions, but, if so, such studies are not announced but concealed in language which whets the appetite to know more of the mathematical or scientific secrets hidden in the Rosicrucian cave. This atmosphere is the opposite of that in which the Baconian manifestos move, and it is precisely his abandonment of magico-mystical mystification technique which makes Bacon's writings sound modern.
The Advancement of Learning was published in 1605. The Novum Organum*, which Bacon wrote in Latin to facilitate its diffusion in Europe and which he regarded as the most important statement of his philosophy and programme, was published in 1620. The De augmentis, the Latin translation and revision of the Advancement, was published in 1623. Thus the Baconian philosophy had begun to appear several years before the first Rosicrucian manifesto; its major statement was published in the year of destiny, the year of the brief reign in Bohemia of the Winter King and Queen; the Latin translation of the Advancement appeared at the time of the Rosicrucian scare in Paris. It is important to realize that the Rosicrucian movement is contemporary with the Baconian philosophy, that the strange Rosicrucian excitements were going on in Europe during the years in which the works of Bacon were appearing in England.
* Novum Organum. Aphorisms concerning The Interpretation of Nature and the Kingdom of Man. III. Human knowledge and human power meet in one; for where the cause is not known the effect cannot be produced. Nature to be commanded must be obeyed; and that which in contemplation is as the cause is in operation as the rule. LV. There is one principal and as it were radical distinction between different minds, in respect of philosophy and the sciences; which is this: that some minds are stronger and apter to mark the differences of things, others to mark their resemblances. The steady and acute mind can fix its contemplations and dwell and fasten on the subtlest distinctions: the lofty and discursive mind recognises and puts together the finest and most general resemblances. Both kinds however easily err in excess, by catching the one at gradations the other at shadows.
There are, I believe, undoubtedly connections between the two movements, though these are difficult to trace and to analyse. On the one hand, the close connections between England and the Palatinate would have facilitated a Baconian influence on the German Rosicrucian movement. On the other hand the differences between Rosicrucianism and Baconianism have to be carefully considered.
The reign of a daughter of the King of Great Britain in the Palatinate made communications easy between England and that part of Germany and led to an influx of English influences, amongst which should be included an influence from Bacon's Advancement. We may speculate on how the influence may have been imported. Both Frederick and Elizabeth were readers and interested in intellectual movements. That they had books from England with them is proved by the fact that they took a copy of Raleigh's History of the World with them to Prague, where it fell into the hands of the conquerors, but eventually found its way back to London and the British Museum, where it now reposes. They are therefore likely to have had works by Bacon with them at Heidelberg. We know that in later life Elizabeth was interested in the works of Bacon; in her early life before her marriage she would have known Bacon in England; he composed one of the entertainments for her wedding. Perhaps another transmitter of Baconian influence might have been Michael Maier who was in close contact with England during the reign of Frederick and Elizabeth in the Palatinate. Maier transmitted works by early English alchemical writers to the German alchemical movement, and he may well have also carried books by Bacon to Germany. Maier was deeply interested in philosophical interpretation of mythology and that side of Bacon's thought, expressed in his philosophical interpretation of myth in The Wisdom of the Ancients (1609), may well have had a fascination for Maier and his school. That his alchemical philosophy was hidden in the ancient myths was a basic tenet for Maier, and Bacon, too, had sought for his own natural philosophy in the mythology. However we need not particularize too much as to what the points of contact may have been. It will suffice to say that the Anglophil movement in the Palatinate and surrounding Protestant states at the time when so much was hoped for from James I would have included an interest in the great philosopher of the Jacobean age, Francis Bacon.
There are, however, as already mentioned, obviously basic differences between Baconianism and German Rosicrucianism. The latter is more profoundly Hermetic, more deeply magical than Bacon's more sober-seeming outlook. We have detected in the German movement a strong undercurrent of influences from Giordano Bruno and, above all, from John Dee. We have seen that Dee's Monas hieroglyphica, the symbol in which he summed up his philosophy, recurs in the Rosicrucian literature. Bacon nowhere mentions Dee, and nowhere cites his famous Monas hieroglyphica.
It has been a well-known objection to Bacon's claim to be an important figure in the history of science that he did not place sufficient emphasis on the all-important mathematical sciences in his programme for the advancement of learning, and that he showed his ignorance of these sciences by his rejection of the Copernican theory and of William Gilbert's theory of the magnet. In an article published in 1968 I argued that Bacon's avoidance of such topics might have been due to a desire to keep his programme as free as possible from implications of magic. Dee had been heavily suspected as a magician and 'conjuror'; Giordano Bruno, the Hermetic Magus, had associated the Copernican theory, in a work published in England, with a forthcoming return of 'Egyptian' or magical religion; William Gilbert was obviously influenced by Bruno in his work on the magnet. I suggested that Bacon's avoidance of mathematics and the Copernican theory might have been because he regarded mathematics as too closely assocated with Dee and his 'conjuring', and Copernicus as too closely associated with Bruno and his extreme 'Egyptian' and magical religion. This hypothesis is now worth recalling because it suggests a possible reason for a major difference between German Rosicrucianism and Baconianism. In the former Dee and his mathematics are not feared, but Bacon avoids them; in the former Bruno is an influence but is rejected by Bacon. In both cases Bacon may have been evading what seemed to him dangerous subjects in order to protect his programme from witch-hunters, from the cry of 'sorcery' which, as Naudé said, could pursue a mathematician in the early seventeenth century.
In thinking about Bacon's attitude to science, and his way of advocating scientific advancement, we ought always to remember the character and outlook of the monarch whom Bacon had to try to propitiate and to interest in his programme for the advance of learning. In this he was not successful; as D. H. Wilson has pointed out James "did not understand or appreciate Bacon's great plan", nor did he respond with any offer to help Bacon's projects for scientific institutions. When he was sent the Novum Organum in 1620 he was heard to remark that this work was like the peace of God which passeth all understanding.
It has never, I think, been suggested that James's doubtful attitude towards Baconian science might be connected with his very deep interest in, and dread of, magic and witchcraft. These subjects had a fascination for him which was tied up with neuroses about some experiences in his early life. In his Demonology (1597) James advocated the death penalty for all witches, though he urges care in the examination of cases. The subject was for him a most serious one, a branch of theology. Obviously James was not the right person to examine the—always rather difficult—problem of when Renaissance Magia and Cabala were valuable movements, leading to science, and when they verged on sorcery, the problem of defining the difference between good magic and bad magic. James was not interested in science and would react with fear from any sort of magic.
It is not surprising that when old John Dee appealed to James for help in clearing his reputation from charges of conjuring devils, James would have nothing to do with him. Dee's fruitless appeal to James was made in June 1604. The old man to whose learning the Elizabethan age was so infinitely indebted was disgraced in the reign of James and died in great povery in 1608. Bacon must have taken good note of James's attitude to Dee, and he must also have noted that survivors from the Elizabethan age of mathematics and magic, of navigational boldness and anti-Spanish exploits, were not sure of encouragement under James, as they had been under Elizabeth. Northumberland and Raleigh pursued their studies in prison in the Tower under James, working at mathematics and alchemy with their learned associate, Thomas Hariot.
Obviously, Bacon would have been careful to avoid, in works intended to interest James, anything savouring of Dee and his suspicous mathematics. Even so, Bacon did not succeed in allaying James's suspicions of scientific advancement, however carefully presented.
And even more obviously, it was not the way to influence James in favour of his son-in-law's plans and projects in the Palatinate and Bohemia to associate him with a movement which wrapped its designs in enchanted vaults and invisible R.C. Brothers, who could easily be turned into sorcerers by witch-hunters. Among the many mistakes made by the friends of the unfortunate Elector Palatine, the Rosicrucian manifestos may have been one of the worst. If any rumour of them came to James's ears, and any rumour of their being associated with Frederick, this would certainly have done more than anything else to turn him against Frederick, and to destroy any hope that he would countenance his projects.
Thus Francis Bacon as he propagated advancement of learning, and particularly of scientific learning, during the reign of James I was moving amongst pitfalls. The old Elizabethan scientific tradition was not in favour, and some of its major surviving representatives were shunned or in prison. The late Queen Elizabeth had asked John Dee to explain his Monas hieroglyphica to her; King James would have nothing to do with its author. Bacon, when he published The Advancement of Learning in 1605, would have been aware that James had repulsed Dee in the preceding year. And moreover the exported Elizabethan traditions, which had gone over to the Palatinate with James's daughter and her husband, were not in favour either. Francis Bacon was one of those who regretted James's foreign policy and urged support of the Elector Palatine. Here, too, the writer of English manifestos for the advancement of learning would have to walk warily, lest he might seem too much implicated in movements in the Palatinate.
Bacon had to steer a cautious course through many difficulties and dangers as he pleaded for advancement of scientific learning in those years of the early seventeenth century when the witchcraft hysteria was mounting throughout Europe.
We too have been moving cautiously through this chapter, struck by the idea that there might be a certain parallelism between the Rosicrucian and the Baconian movements, that these might be, so to speak, differently developing halves of the same problem, that it might be illuminating for both to study them together. Up to now we have had no evidence to give the reader as to what Bacon himself may have thought about the Rosicrucian manifestos. But now comes evidence of a most striking kind, from the New Atlantis.
Bacon died in 1626. In 1627 there was published from his papers an unfinished and undated work in which he set forth his Utopia, his dream of an ideal religious and scientific society. It takes the form of an allegory, about the discovery by storm-tossed mariners of a new land, the New Atlantis. The inhabitants of the New Atlantis had built there the perfect society, though remaining entirely unknown to the rest of the world. They were Christians; Christianity had been brought to them in early times, an evangelical Christianity which emphasized brotherly love. They were also in an advanced state of scientific knowledge. In their great college, called Salomon's House, an order of priest-scientists pursued researches in all the arts and sciences, the results of which they knew how to apply for the benefit of men. This fiction sums up the work and aims of Bacon's whole life, the advancement of learning to be applied for the use and benefit of mankind.
This fiction, parable, or ludibrium, reflects at several points themes from the Rosicrucian manifestos in such a way as to make it certain that Bacon knew the Rosencreutz story.
Before the travellers landed they were handed a scroll of instructions by an official from New Atlantis. "This scroll was signed with a stamp of cherubin's wings, not spread, but hanging downwards, and by them a cross". So was the Rosicrucian Fama sealed at the end with the motto Under the shadow of Jehova's wings, and the wings, as we have seen, often appear as characteristic emblems in other Rosicrucian literature.
On the following day the travellers were conducted with great kindness to the Strangers' House and here their sick were cared for. The travellers offered payment for these services but this was refused. The Fama, it will be remembered, lays it down as a rule for the R.C. Brothers that they are to heal the sick gratis.
A few days later, another official of New Atlantis came to visit the strangers in the Strangers' House. He wore a white turban "with a small red cross on the top", further proof that Bacon's shipwrecked travellers had come to the land of the R.C. Brothers.
On a following day a governor of the country called on them and kindly explained to them all that they asked to know about the history and customs of the country, how Christianity was brought to it, and about the "house or college" of Salomon's House with its staff of wise men. The travellers were permitted to ask questions about any matter which might still puzzle them. Whereupon they said that what surprised them most was that the inhabitants of New Atlantis knew all the languages of Europe, and seemed also to know all about the affairs of the outside world and the state of knowledge in it, yet they themselves were quite unknown and unheard of outside their own coutnry:
that they should have knowledge of the languages, books, affairs, of those that lie such a distance from them, it was a thing we could not tell what to make of; for that it seemed to us a condition and propriety of divine powers and beings, to be hidden and unseen to others, and yet to have others open, and as in a light to them.
At this speech the governor gave a gracious smile and said that we did well to ask pardon for this question we now asked, for that it imported, as if we thought this land a land of magicians, that sent forth spirits of the air into all parts, to bring them news and intelligence of other countries. It was answered by us all, in all possible humbleness, but yet with a countenance taking knowledge, that we knew that he spake it but merrily. That we were apt enough to think there was somewhat supernatural in this island, but yet rather as angelical than magical.
Further on, it is explained how it was that the wise men of New Atlantis knew all that went on in the outside world though themselves remaining invisible to it. It was because travellers were sent out from New Atlantis to collect information; they dressed in the dress of the countries they visitied and adopted their habits, and so passed unperceived. In terms of a Rosicrucian manifesto, this means that they followed one of the rules of the R.C. Brothers, to wear no special habit or distinguishing mark but to conform in dress and appearance with the inhabitants of whatever country they were visiting. The ordinance laid down in New Atlantis was that every twelve years "three of the fellows or brethren of Salomon's House" should go forth on a mission to collect knowledge of the state of arts and sciences, to bring back books, instruments and news. This trade, it was explained, was not a commerce in ordinary material commodities, but only a seeking "for God's first creature, which was light; to have light, I say, of the growth of all the parts of the world".
Thus, though the name Rose Cross is nowhere mentioned by Bacon in the New Atlantis, it is abundantly clear that he knew the Rose Cross fiction and was adapting it to his own parable. New Atlantis was governed by R.C. Brothers, invisibly travelling as merchants of light in the outside world from their invisible college or centre, now called Salomon's house, and following the rules of the R.C. Fraternity, to heal the sick free of charge, to wear no special dress. Moreover the "chreubin's wings' seal the scroll brought from New Atlantis, as they seal the Fama. The island had something angelical about it, rather than magical, and its offical wore a red cross in his turban.
Modern students of Bacon are not familiar with Rosicrucian literature, which has not been included in their studies nor recognized as a legitimate branch of history of thought or science. But those who read the New Atlantis before the Fama and the Confessio were forgotten would have immediately recognized the R.C. Brothers and their Invisible College in the denizens of New Atlantis. One such reader recorded his recognition. This was John Heydon whose Holy Guide, published in 1662, is largely based on adaption of the New Atlantis. When the man in the white turban with the red cross on it comes to visit the sick, Heydon quotes this as follows: "I am by Office Governour of this House of Strangers, and by vocation I am a Christian priest, and of the Order of the Rosie Cross". When Bacon speaks of one of the wise men of the House of Salomon, Heydon quotes this as, "one of the wise Men of the Society of the Rosicrucians". Heydon speaks explicitly of the House of Salomon in New Atlantis as the same as the "Temple of the Rosie Cross". There are many other points at which Heydon associates New Atlantis with the Fama; in fact he is reading Bacon's work as practically the same as the Rosicrucian manifesto.
Heydon's significant Rosicrucian interpolations into New Atlantis should be studied in more detail than is possible here, but one other of his points must be mentioned. When Bacon says that they have some of the lost works of Solomon in New Atlantis, Heydon expands this into a statement that they have "the book M", which was written by Solomon, in New Atlantis. The book M was one of the sacred objects found in the tomb of Christian Rosencreutz, according to the Fama.
The fact that Bacon's New Atlantis shows knowledge of the Fama, and that Heydon confirms the parallel, is most certainly not a proof that Bacon belonged to some Rosicrucian or masonic secret society. The historical evidence is spoiled and distorted if it is used to support unverifiable claims of this kind. It is perhaps justifiable reaction against such fanciful theories which has prevented serious historians from taking proper note of the fact that there are undeniably influences from the Fama in the New Atlantis.
This fact will have to be studied very seriously in the future by historians of thought, and studied in connection with the German Rosicrucian movement. The religion of New Atlantis has much in common with that of the Rosicrucian manifestos. It is intensely Christian in spirit, though not doctrinal, interpreting the Christian spirit in terms of practical benevolence, like the R.C. Brothers. It is profoundly influenced by Hebraic-Christian mysticism, as in Christian Cabala. The inhabitants of New Atlantis respect the Jews; they call their college after Solomon and seek for God in nature. The Hermetic-Cabalist tradition has borne fruit in their great college devoted to scientific enquiry. There is an unearthly quality in the world of New Atlantis. Though it may be prophetic of the advent of the scientific revolution, this prophecy is made, not in a modern spirit, but within other terms of reference. The inhabitants of New Atlantis would appear to have achieved the great instauration of learning and have therefore returned to the state of Adam in Paradise before the Fall—the objective of advancement both for Bacon and for the authors of the Rosicrucian manifestos. One of the most revealing moments in New Atlantis is when the travellers wonder whether they are not in the presence of divine powers and beings, whether the invisibility of the Brothers (whom we now know to have been R.C. Brothers) may not have in it something supernatural, yet rather angelical than magical. Though the Governor treats this doubt "merrily" (or as a ludibrium), and gives rational reason for their invisibility, yet the New Atlantis is poised on a knife edge, depending for its favourable reception by the reader on whether that reader accepts the scientific influences in it as almost angelical, or as diabolically inspired. For the latter kind of interpretation we need only remember the "Horrible Pacts" published a few years before in Paris.
....end of chapter