This little book is the oldest in Special Collections. It is a 1639 edition of the Essayes of Sir Francis Bacon. The essays cover how to behave in public life and are full of quotable aphorisms and good advice on topics such as building a house and travel. There are also reflections on deeper issues including death, goodness and truth.
My personal favourite is the essay On Gardens, in which Bacon advises that the garden should be planned so that each month “severally things of beauty may then be in season”. He lists by month what would be in flower in London:
“In April follow the double white violet; the wallflower; the stock-gilliflower; the cowslip; flowerdelices, and lilies of all natures; rosemary-flowers; the tulippa; the double peony; the pale daffodil; the French honeysuckle; the cherry-tree in blossom; the damson and plum-trees in blossom; the white thorn in leaf; the lilac-tree …”
There is an important connection between Francis Bacon and Special Collections. One of Bacon’s most famous works was the utopian New Atlantis, in which a group of sailors blown off course in the South Sea find refuge on an island. A scientific society known as Salomon’s House, whose aim was “the knowledge of causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible” had transformed agriculture and other activities on the island.
Serbian philosopher Dimitrije Mitrinović, who lived in England from 1914, gathered people to share his vision, which, inspired by Bacon’s book, he called “New Atlantis”. The “task is now to review the whole of human past history … so as to make these live again imaginatively in our present experience; and then to revalue them in relation to one another and to humanity as a whole”. To this end, Mitrinović and his followers gathered a large library of rare books on philosophy, science, politics, history and much more (including Bacon’s works, shown here), now part of Special Collections. We also have their Archive, more of which in a later Object.