The Fable of Science: Francis Bacon’s Solomon’s House and its European Reception
Scholars tend to agree that Francis Bacon’s model society for the production of knowledge, i.e., Solomon’s House, as depicted in the New Atlantis, had something to do with the emergence of science in the second part of the seventeenth century. But here the agreement ends; and no story of science was more diversely interpreted. Some took it to be a sort of blueprint of a research institution; others, a secret society; some connected it with the new ideology of power, others with collaboration and communitarianism. My plan is to read Bacon’s story in its own context, i.e., the context of the Renaissance fable. As clearly stated in its preface, New Atlantis is a fable; and a fable is a very particular type of story, familiar to Bacon’s contemporaries, and one that Bacon himself had a lot to say. I will reconstruct the general outline of Bacon’s theory of fables, showing how this context gives meaning and depth to Solomon’s House and the story of science. Solomon’s House was not a model institution; it was an emblem encoding a particular problem facing every investigator of nature. I will show that some of Bacon’s followers recognized this problem and tried to solve it in the same manner as he did, i.e., by devising continuations of the New Atlantis and interpretations of it.