Instauratio magna [Novum Organum].

London: Joannem Billium, 1620.

First edition, second issue, extremely rare large paper copy, printed on paper with the large crown watermark. Bacon’s aim was to lay an entirely new foundation for science, “neither leaping to unproved general principles in the manner of the ancient philosophers nor heaping up unrelated facts in the manner of the empirics” (DSB). He proposed a new method of acquiring knowledge of the world through observation, experiment and inductive reasoning. “Bacon conceived a massive plan for the reorganization of scientific method and gave purposeful thought to the relation of science to public and social life. His pronouncement ‘I have taken all knowledge to be my province’ is the motto of his work … The frontispiece to his magnum opus shows a ship in full sail passing through the Pillars of Hercules from the old to the new world. It symbolizes the vision of its author whose ambitious proposal was: ‘a total reconstruction of sciences, arts and all human knowledge … to extend the power and dominion of the human race … over the universe. Bacon made no contributions to science itself, but his insistence on making science experimental and factual, rather than speculative and philosophical, had powerful consequences … As a philosopher Bacon’s influence on Locke and through him on subsequent English schools of psychology and ethics was profound. Leibniz, Huygens and particularly Robert Boyle were deeply indebted to him, as were the Encyclopédistes and Voltaire” (PMM). Bacon “insisted on experiment in determining truth in nature and the above book is a proposed method for the assessment of all knowledge. The accumulation of observation and fact must be the basis of a new philosophy and not the authority of Aristotle or anyone else … Bacon’s inspiration led directly to the formation of the Royal Society. The famous engraved title-page showing a ship boldly sailing beyond the Pillars of Hercules (the limits of the old world) is interpreted to represent the bold spirit of adventure and research of the new age of science” (Dibner). Bacon originally conceived his revolutionary work in six parts, of which only the first and second parts, the De augmentiis scientiarum (1623, a greatly expanded version of the Advancement of learning) and the Novum organum were completed. More than a mere portion of the Instauratio, however the Novum organum, as its title implies, “contains the central ideas of Bacon’s system, of which the whole of the Instauratio is only the development” (Pforzheimer, p. XXI). “Book I of the Novum Organum restates in the form of detached aphorisms Bacon's fundamental criticisms of science and his plans for its renewal. Calling for the direct observation of nature (rather than recycling Aristotle's texts), Bacon was nonetheless aware of the possible distortions involved, brilliantly analysing the four ‘Idols’ (from the Greek eidola, illusions) to which human beings are prone. These are the idols of the Tribe, Market-Place and Theatre. In the more technical Book II Bacon gives a worked example of inductive method as applied to heat, using experimental data to construct tables of absence and presence, concluding that heat is a form of motion. Bacon’s inductive method has often been misrepresented as a purely mechanical procedure, but recent research has shown that it includes hypothetico-deductive elements, representing a substantial contribution to natural science” (Oxford Reference). ABPC/RBH list only two other large-paper copies since 1975 (one first issue and one second).

Provenance: Early ink-lettered shelfmark(?) 17/8 on fore-edge (the 8 a larger numeral written over the 17); Louis H. Silver (book label), sold Sotheby’s, 8 November 1965, lot 14, to; John Howell, bookseller, sold by him to; Haskell F. Norman (bookplate); sold Christie’s New York, 15 June 1998, lot 262, $20,700.

“Many commentators, in the seventeenth century and later, have been misled, by the apparently unorganized collections of facts that fill Bacon’s works, into supposing that his method was a merely empirical one, with no concern for theoretical interpretation. Such an impression is easily dispelled, however, by a closer reading of the text of Novum organum. We shall follow his account of the method in that work.

“The first step in making true inductions is, as in a religious initiation, a purging of the intellect of the ‘idols’ that, in man’s natural fallen state, obstruct his unprejudiced understanding of the world. Bacon holds that we must consciously divest our minds of prejudices caused by excessive anthropomorphism (the ‘idols of the tribe’), by the particular interests of each individual (the ‘idols of the cave’), by the deceptions of words (the ‘idols of the market place’), and by received philosophical systems (the ‘idols of the theater’). Only in this way can the mind become a tabula abrasa on which true notions can be inscribed by nature itself. The consequences of the Fall for the intellect will then be erased, and man will be able to return to his God-given state of dominion over creation.

“The aim of scientific investigation is to discover the ‘forms of simple natures.’ What Bacon means by a ‘form’ is best gathered from his example concerning the form of heat (which is the only application of his method that he works out in any detail): ‘The Form of a thing is the very thing itself, and the thing differs from the form no otherwise than as the apparent differs from the real, or the external from the internal, or the thing in reference to man from the thing in reference to the universe.’ Hence, when the ‘form or true definition of heat’ is defined as ‘Heat is a motion, expansive, restrained, and acting in its strife upon the smaller parts of bodies,’ Bacon means ‘Heat itself, or the quid ipsum of Heat, is Motion and nothing else.’ Thus, the form is not to be understood in a Platonic or Aristotelian sense but, rather, as what was later called an ‘explanation’ or ‘reduction’ of a secondary quality (heat) to a function of primary bodies and qualities (matter in motion). In order to discover what primary qualities are relevant to the form, Bacon prescribes his Tables of Presence, Absence, and Comparison: ‘[the form] is always present when the nature is present … absent when the nature is absent’ and ‘always decrease[s] when the nature in question decreases, and … always increase[s] when the nature in question increases.’

“Therefore, we are to draw up a Table of Instances that all agree in the simple nature, heat – such as rays of the sun, flame, and boiling liquids – and then to look for other natures that are copresent with heat and therefore are candidates for its form. To ensure that as many irrelevant natures as possible are eliminated at this stage, these instances should be as unlike each other as possible except in the nature of heat. Second, a Table of Absence should be drawn up, in which as far as possible each instance in the Table of Presence should be matched by an instance similar to it in all respects except heat, such as rays of the moon and stars, phosphorescence, and cool liquids. This is the method of exclusion by negative instances, which will at once test a putative form drawn from the Table of Presence; if it is not the true form, it will not be absent in otherwise similar instances when heat is absent. The tables are the precursors of Mill’s ‘Joint Method of Agreement and Differences,’ and clearly are more adequate than the method of induction by simple enumeration of positive instances, with which Bacon has so often been wrongly identified. Construction of the tables demands not a passive observation of nature, but an active search for appropriate instances; and it therefore encourages artificial experiment. Nature, Bacon says, must be ‘put to the question.’

“Inference of the form from the tables is, however, only the beginning of the method. Bacon speaks often of raising a ‘ladder of axioms’ by means of the forms, until we have constructed the complete system of natural philosophy that unifies all forms and natures. The conception seems to be something like an Aristotelian classification into genus, species, and differentia, in which every nature has its place. It also has some affinity with the later conception of a theoretical structure that yields observation statements by successive deductions from theoretical premises. But it would be misleading to press these parallels too closely, for the essence of Bacon’s ascent to the axioms is that it is the result of a number of inductive inferences whose conclusions are infallible if they have been properly drawn from properly contrived Tables of Instances. The axioms are emphatically not the result of a leap to postulated premises from which observations may be deduced, for this is not an infallible method and gives no guarantee that the axioms arrived at are unique, let alone true. This deductive method is, in fact, what Bacon calls the method of ‘anticipation of nature,’ which, he thinks, may be useful in designing appropriate Tables of Instances, but is to be avoided in inductive inference proper.

“Bacon is not unaware that the infallibility of his method depends crucially on there being only a finite number of simple natures and on our ability to enumerate all those present in any given instance. His faith that nature is indeed finite in the required respects seems to rest upon his natural philosophy. Although he rejected atomism, he retained the belief that the primary qualities are few in number and regarded the inductive method as the means to discover which qualities they are. Forms are the ‘alphabet of nature’ that suffice to produce the great variety of nature from a small stock of primary qualities, just as the letters of the alphabet can generate a vast literature. The whole investigation is further complicated, as Bacon also sees, by the fact that some natures are ‘hidden’ and cannot be taken account of in the tables unless we employ ‘aids to the senses’ to bring them within reach of sensation. Much of the later part of Novum organum is taken up with this problem, which leads Bacon to commend not only instruments such as the telescope, but also ‘fit and apposite experiments’ that bring hidden and subtle processes to light.

“Complementary to Bacon’s ascent to axioms is his insistence on subsequent descent to works. The aim is not merely passive understanding of nature, but also practical application of that understanding to the improvement of man’s condition; Bacon holds that each of these aspects of his method is sterile without the other. Furthermore, he claims to have given in his method a means whereby anyone who follows the rules can do science – he has ‘levelled men’s wits.’ Thus, with proper organization and financial support, it should be possible to complete the edifice of science in a few years and to gather all the practical fruit that it promised for the good of men” (DSB).

“What distinguishes the new Baconian view of science (as presented most clearly in The New Organon) from that of his predecessors is, indeed, his clear commitment to the role of observation and experiment as a prerequisite for the construction of scientific theory itself. Earlier scientists (and scientific near-contemporaries elsewhere in Europe) had thought of observation and experiment as demonstrating a conclusion anticipated by systematic deductive reasoning, or as determining a detail or filling in a gap, as required to extend an existing theory. Thus, for instance, Robert Boyle (a keen follower of Bacon) was quick to point out that Blaise Pascal’s ‘experiments’ in hydrostatics, adduced in support of his theoretical principles, are clearly impossible-to-perform ‘thought experiments’ whose proposed outcomes are calculated to confirm an already decided theory. Bacon, by contrast, regarded observation and experiment – particularly experiments designed to test how nature would behave under previously unobserved circumstances – as the very foundation of science and its generalised methodology. He expected that the process itself of organising the mass of data collected into natural and experimental histories would lead to an entirely new and largely unforeseen scientific theory.

“Among such groundbreaking experiments included in The New Organon are a number which Bacon had clearly carried out himself, mostly experiments in chemistry and mechanics (he may, however, like Boyle, have had laboratory assistants who actually performed the experiments, while he himself simply observed, as befitted a gentleman) … Bacon lets his reader know clearly, by the formal locutions he uses, when it is he who has conducted experiments and when he has merely ‘heard tell’ or read about them at second hand. In another of his own experiments, described under ‘privileged instances’ of ‘range or furthest limit’, he tested ‘how much compression or expansion bodies easily and freely allow (in accordance with their natures), and at what point they begin to resist, so that at the extreme they bear it No Further’ … This kind of experiment with bells is related to contemporary practical experiments with diving-bells. Sure enough, under ‘multi-purpose instances,’ Bacon refers directly to the technology of diving-bells for salvage operations … In most modern accounts of Baconian method, the groundbreaking originality of Bacon’s direct engagement with contemporary applied science and technology, leading to his attempt to devise an epistemology which reflected the intimate relationship in science between ideas and practice, has been lost from sight” (Jardine & Silverthorne, pp. xv-xviii).

“Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was one of the leading figures in natural philosophy and in the field of scientific methodology in the period of transition from the Renaissance to the early modern era. As a lawyer, member of Parliament, and Queen's Counsel, Bacon wrote on questions of law, state and religion, as well as on contemporary politics; but he also published texts in which he speculated on possible conceptions of society, and he pondered questions of ethics (Essays) even in his works on natural philosophy (The Advancement of Learning).

“After his studies at Trinity College, Cambridge and Gray’s Inn, London, Bacon did not take up a post at a university, but instead tried to start a political career. Although his efforts were not crowned with success during the era of Queen Elizabeth, under James I he rose to the highest political office, Lord Chancellor. Bacon's international fame and influence spread during his last years, when he was able to focus his energies exclusively on his philosophical work, and even more so after his death, when English scientists of the Boyle circle (Invisible College) took up his idea of a cooperative research institution in their plans and preparations for establishing the Royal Society.

“To the present day Bacon is well known for his treatises on empiricist natural philosophy (The Advancement of Learning, Novum Organum Scientiarum) and for his doctrine of the idols, which he put forward in his early writings, as well as for the idea of a modern research institute, which he described in Nova Atlantis” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

Gibson notes the existence of large-paper copies of both the first and second issues, but ESTC notes that “about 15 copies are printed on large paper, with a large crown watermark … The large paper copies were printed last, and have all but one of the errors in pagination corrected, as well as two of the errors listed in the errata of the second issue.” In the second issue, e3 is cancelled and reprinted on e4r, adding an errata and omitting the name of Bill Norton’s name from the colophon. Large-paper copies of both issues are of the greatest rarity.

Dibner, Heralds of Science 80; Gibson, Francis Bacon. A Bibliography (1950), 103b; Grolier/Horblit 8b; Pforzheimer, App. 1; PMM 119; STC 1163; Norman 98 (this copy).



Folio (323 x 207mm), [x], 172, 181-360, 36, [2], including engraved title by Simon van de Passe, woodcut headpieces and historiated initials; small cancel slip correcting a preposition (‘de’ for ‘de de’) in the last line of Tir; in the second set of numbered pages, the misnumbering of pages 27 and 30 has been corrected; c4 blank and present (lower edges of first few leaves a bit soiled and tearing in places, minor marginal tears to first leaf of dedication, E2 and e1). Contemporary blind-panelled calf, board edges gilt, edges red-sprinkled (later morocco lettering-piece, a few small repairs). Morocco folding case.

Item #5336

Price: $85,000.00

See all items in Printing and the Mind of Man
See all items by