Gorhambury House, Hertfordshire, c.1624

Merchants of Light

While John Tradescant had been securing the most alluring and intriguing treasures from cooperative ships in the British fleet, lawyer and philosopher Francis Bacon developed a vision of a world where evidence and knowledge were collected through more ordered voyages of exploration.

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Bacon’s utopian novella New Atlantis was published shortly after his death. It follows a group of sailors who discover the island of Bensalem when they are blown off course.

Bensalem's community centres on an institution whose members seek enlightenment through an organised process of empirical scientific research.

Bacon abandoned New Atlantis without writing an ending, so we’ll never know what happened to the lost sailors. It’s clear, however, that not all of them were privy to the activities happening in the island’s centre of learning, Salomon’s House. The knowledge-hungry Bensalemites also chose to keep both themselves and many of their inventions hidden from the wider world.

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The Death Collector

Bacon’s vision of scientific investigations based on evidence collected from the real world was powerfully realised three decades later by a London haberdasher, who appeared to exhibit an unhealthy interest in death.

Find out more in Wellcome Library