Infomotions, Inc.Roger Bacon / by John Edwin Sandys. / Sandys, John Edwin, Sir, 1844-1922

Author: Sandys, John Edwin, Sir, 1844-1922
Title: Roger Bacon / by John Edwin Sandys.
Publisher: London : Published for the British Academy by H. Milford, Oxford University Press, [1914].
Tag(s): bacon, roger, 1214?-1294; opus; opus tertium; bacon; roger bacon; tertium; opus mains; aristotle; opus maius; roger; british academy; treatise; academy; latin; philosophy; greek; paris; science; sciences
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Roger Bacon 



Sir John Edwin Sandys 

Fellow of the Academy 

[From the Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. 

Published for the British Academy 

By Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press 

Amen Corner, E.C. 

Price One Shilling net 




Read May 27, 1914. 

ON the 10th of June it is proposed to celebrate at Oxford the 
Seventh Centenary of the birth of Roger Bacon. In view of this 
coming event, I shall attempt, in the present paper, to give a brief 
outline of his life, with some notice of his principal works, and to 
trace his relations to Latin and Greek literature, and to the several 

The date of Roger Bacon's birth is not precisely known. Since he 
states, in 1267, that he had then spent forty years in the study of 
sciences and languages, 1 he must have begun that study in 1227, and, 
supposing he was then thirteen years of age, he may have been born 
in 1214. This is the date assumed by the proposal to celebrate his 
Seventh Centenary in the present year. The place of his birth was 
probably Ilchester. in Somerset. He appears to have belonged to 
a wealthy family, which, subsequently, in the struggle between 
Henry III and the Barons (1258-1265), sacrificed their fortunes in 
the cause of the King. 

The studies begun by Roger Bacon at home were continued at the 
University of Oxford. He there attended the lectures of Edmund 
Rich, the future archbishop of Canterbury (1234-1240), the first 
scholar in Western Europe to lecture on the book of Aristotle's 
Organon, known as the ' Sophistical Refutations \ 2 Roger Bacon 
also came under the influence of one of the most prominent pupils of 
Edmund Rich, namely Robert Grossetete, who had been appointed 
lecturer to the Franciscans shortly after their establishment at Oxford 
in 1224. Grossetete was especially interested in the study of the 
Greek language, a study in which he had been aided by a Greek monk 
of St. Albans. It was doubtless at the prompting of Grossetete that 
Roger Bacon learnt Greek, and it was probably under his influence 
that Bacon entered the Franciscan Order. 

Following the example of Grossetete and other English scholars, 

1 Opus Tertium, c. 20, p. 65 in Opera Inedita, ed. Brewer, 1859. 

2 Compendium Studii Theologiae, p. 34, ed. Rashdall, 1911. 

VI. B 2 Z 


he completed his studies at the University of Paris. It was in Paris 
that he resided during three separate periods of his life the first 
visit, which was voluntary, extending from about 1234 to 1250 ; the 
second, which was compulsory, from 1257 to 1267 ; and the third, 
which was no less compulsory, from 1278 to 1292. 

During his first visit he attained a high reputation as a student 
and as a teacher. As a student, he was not attracted by the teaching 
of his fellow-countryman from Gloucestershire, Alexander of Hales, 
who had joined the Franciscan Order, and became famous as the 
compiler of a ponderous Summa Theologiae ; nor by that of the dis- 
tinguished Dominican, Albertus Magnus, who, in 1245, brought from 
Cologne to Paris his famous pupil, Thomas Aquinas. In preference 
to these he chose as his master one of the most modest and most 
learned men of the time, one who had devoted himself to the study 
of chemistry and mathematics and astronomy, and, above all, to those 
practical applications of experimental science which prompted his 
enthusiastic pupil to call him the Master of Experiments V Bacon 
gives his master the name of Magister Petrus de Maharniscuria, adding 
that he was a native of Picardy. It may be fairly assumed that he 
derived his name from the village of Meharicourt, near the ancient 
abbey of Corbie, and that he is identical with Petrus Peregrinus de 
Maricourt, the author of a treatise on the Magnet, one of the manu- 
scripts of which is dated 1269. In Paris Roger Bacon obtained the 
degree of Doctor of Theology, and it was there that he won renown, 
among his contemporaries as the * Admirable Doctor'. 

From Paris he returned to Oxford about 1250. His influential 
friend, Grossetete, who had become bishop of Lincoln in 1235, died 
in 1253. Four years later Roger Bacon fell under the suspicions of 
/ the authorities of the Franciscan Order, and, by command of its 
General, afterwards known as the * seraphic ' Bonaventura, he was 
sent to Paris, there to be kept under strict surveillance at the Fran- 
ciscan house near the Porte Saint-Michel, for the ten years from 1257 
to 1267. 

Fortunately, his fame had already reached the ears of the papal 
legate in England, Guy de Foulques, who had been sent from Rome 
on a message of peace, and who, like the family of Roger Bacon, sided 
with Henry III in his conflict with the Barons. In 1265, to the joy 
of the persecuted votary of science, this papal legate was raised to the 
papal throne under the name of Clement IV. In the next year the 
Pope wrote from his summer residence at Viterbo to his * beloved son, 
Friar Roger named Bacon, of the Order of the Friars Minor 1 , urging 
1 Opus Tertium, p. 46 f. } Brewer. 


him to send him, with all speed, the works of which he had already 
heard. 1 

Nothing daunted by the lack of scientific instruments or of skilful 
copyists, or of the means for obtaining them, Bacon completed, in the 
short space of eighteen months, his three large treatises, the Opus 
Mains, the Opus Minus, and the Opus Tertium. We do not know 
whether any of these works, which were successively sent to the Pope, 
ever actually reached him. However, it was possibly owing to papal 
influence that, in 1268, Roger Bacon was permitted to return to * 
Oxford, and it was there that he produced, in 1271, the first part of , 
an encyclopaedic work entitled the Compendium Studii Philosophiae. 

His writings were once more condemned by the new General of the 
Franciscans, Jerome of Ascoli, who, in 1278, caused him to be confined 
in the Parisian house of the Franciscans for no less than fourteen 
years. He was once more at liberty in 1292, when he wrote at Oxford 
his latest work, the Compendium Studii Theologiae. He probably 
died in 1294, in the eightieth year of his age. The date is said to 
have been St. Barnabas's day, the llth of June, and it is on June 10, 
the eve of the day of his death, that it is proposed to celebrate the 
Seventh Centenary of his birth. 

He was buried in the Church of the Franciscans, which has long ' 
since vanished, so that of this son of Oxford, who with his 'almost 
prophetic gleams of the future course of science ' 2 had only a Pisgah 
sight of the promised land of long-deferred discovery, we may say 
that ' no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day '. A tower, 
traditionally known as 'Friar Bacon's Study', stood until 1779 on the 
old Grand Pont, or * Folly Bridge ', on the south side of Oxford. 

By the end of the sixteenth century only three of his minor works 
had been printed, and one of them, the treatise ' on the marvellous 
power of art and nature ', first printed in Paris in 1542, appeared at 
Oxford in 1594, and was translated into English in 1597. Roger 
Bacon's early reputation for his magical powers and his mechanical 
inventions partly arose out of a passage in that treatise, which 
reappeared in the following form in a popular work of the sixteenth 
century, entitled ' The famous historic of Fryer Bacon ' : 

First, by the figurations of art, there may be made instruments of navigation 
without men to rowe in them, as great ships to brooke the sea, only with one 
man to steere them, and they shall sayle far more swiftly than if they were full 
of men : also chariots that shall move with an unspeakable force, without any 

1 Letter printed on p. 1 of Brewer's ed. of Fr. Eogeri Bacon Opera Inedita. 

2 Hallam, Lit. of Europe, i. 114, ed. 1854. 

vi. B 2 2 Z 


living creature to stirre them. Likewise, an instrument may be made to fly with- 
all, if one sit in the midst of the instrument, and doe turne an engine, by which 
the wings, being artificially composed, may beat the ayre after the manner of 
a flying bird. . . . 

But physicall figurations are farre more strange : for by that may be framed 
perspects and looking-glasses, that one thing shall appeare to be many, as one 
man shall appeare to be a whole army, and one sunne or moone shall seem 
divers. Also perspects may be so framed, that things farre off shall seem most 
nigh unto us. 1 

Hence, in Robert Greene's Honourable History of Friar Bacon 
and Friar Bungay, a play performed in February 1592, we hear much 
of Friar Bacon's * glass prospective ', and also of his ' brazen head \ 
This head was doubtless suggested by the legendary belief, recorded 
in the Image du Monde, written about 1250 and published in English 
by Caxton in 1480, that Virgil constructed a talking head, which, 
from time to time, he consulted on the events of the future 2 ; and 
also by similar legends told of Gerbert of Aurillac, Albertus Magnus, 
and Robert Grossetete. 3 

Several years after the invention of the telescope, two portions of 
Roger Bacon's Opus Maius, those on Mathematics and on Optics, 
including his forecast of the telescope, 4 were printed at Frankfort in 
1614 by the Marburg professor, Combach, and thus became known 
to Newton, who died in 1727. It was not until six years after the 
death of Newton that the true grounds on which Roger Bacon deserves 
to be remembered by posterity were more clearly realized by the 
publication of the greater part of the Opus Mains by Dr. Samuel Jebb 
in 1733. In the form in which it was then published it consisted of 
six parts : the first on the four causes of human ignorance authority, 
custom, popular opinion, and the pride of supposed knowledge ; the 
second, on the sources of perfect wisdom in the Sacred Scriptures ; 
the third and fourth, on the usefulness of Grammar and Mathematics ; 
the fifth on Perspective (that is, Optics) ; and the sixth on Experi- 
mental Science. The seventh part, on Moral Philosophy, appeared in 
print for the first time in the edition published by Dr. Bridges in 

1 W. J. Thorns, Early English Prose Romances, ed. 2, 1858, i. 212 f. 

2 ' Si fist une teste parlant qui li responnoit de quanque il li demandoit/ 
p. 185, ed. O. H. Prior, Lausanne, 1913 ; cp. Caxton's Mirrour of the World, 
p. 169, ed. O. H. Prior, London, 1913, ' Yet made he an heed to speke, which 
answerd of alle that whiche he was demanded of.' 

3 Comparetti, Virgilio nel media evo, ed. 1872, vol. i, pp. 74, 80. 

4 Opus Mains, ii. 165, c. 3, ' possunt (specula) propinquius et remotius situari, 
ut videremus rem quantum a longe vellemus ' ; c. 4, ' longe distantia videbuntur 
propinquissime et e converse,' &c. 

After a long interval the Opus Mahis of 1733 was succeeded in 
1859 by the second and third of the greater works, published by 
Brewer in the * Rolls Series ', namely, the Opus Minus, written partly 
to elucidate the previous work and to discuss various errors standing 
in the way of study ; and the Opus Tertium, which begins with an 
account of the author's personal history, and dwells on the impedi- 
ments thrown in his way by the ignorance, prejudice, and indifference 
of his contemporaries. A further portion of this work, dealing in 
a summary way with mathematics and optics and experimental science 
and alchemy, was published by Mr. A. G. Little in 1912. 

Of Bacon's later work, the Compendium Studii Philosophiae, an 
imperfectly preserved portion was published in Brewer's volume in 
1859, which was soon followed by the admirable monograph of 
M. Emile Charles, of Bordeaux, including a few pages of his 
Compendium Theologiae. About forty-five pages of the latter were 
published by Dr. Rashdall in 1911, pages proving, in the editor's 
opinion, that ' the Franciscan house at Oxford was the original home 
of all that was most important in the later mediaeval Scholasticism ', 
and that * much of the tradition that was there handed down no 
doubt started with Bacon '. 

Any survey of the subjects traversed in Roger Bacon's extant works 
falls naturally under two heads, the first being Literature and Lan- 
guage, and the second, Science in the widest sense of the term, 
including Theology, Philosophy, Mathematics, Geography, Astronomy, 
Optics, Chemistry, and Experimental Science, and finally Moral 

Under the head of Language we note that, in the Opus Maius *, he 
sets forth the Hebrew Alphabet, with a transliteration and transla- 
tion of one or two Hebrew verses. 2 He also shows that the text of 
the Bible had become exceedingly corrupt, and that, even when the 
text was correct, it had often been wrongly interpreted. 3 He further 
draws attention to the errors of the Vulgate 4 , giving an account of 
the various versions of the Scriptures 6 , and pointing out that errors 
in the literal interpretation lead to errors in the spiritual interpreta- 
tion. Finally, he dwells on the prevailing ignorance of Hebrew. 6 
There are not five men, he declares, in Latin Christendom, who are 
acquainted with the Grammar of Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic. There 
are many among the Latins who can speak Greek, Arabic, and 

1 i. 74, Bridges. * Frontispiece to vol. iii (1900), ed. Bridges. 

M. 77, 81. * JL 330ff. ChP- YW*v 

8 4 334-8. 6 v 350. 



Hebrew ; very few who understand the grammar of those languages, 
or know how to teach them. 1 Some elementary rules of Hebrew 
Grammar in the Cambridge Library are regarded by their editor, 
Dr. Hirsch, as one of several drafts of the grammatical observations 
finally embodied in the third part of the Opus Mains. 2 

It is difficult to say how far Bacon was acquainted with Arabic ; 
he admits that he did not write in Arabic as he did in Hebrew, 
Greek, and Latin 3 ; and some of the Arabic authorities, which he 
used, were accessible to him in Latin translations. 

The great Latin grammarian, Priscian, who lived at the close of 
the classical age, is respectfully quoted in the Opus Maius* but we 
are warned, in the Opus Tertium, 5 that his authority is not to be 
implicitly followed. In the Compendium of Philosophy Bacon dwells 
on the errors of the mediaeval grammarians, Papias and Hugutio, 
and their critic, Brito. Hugutio and Brito errant horribiliterf and 
all three of them are mendacious. 7 

It is mainly on points of prosody that Bacon quotes the Latin poets, 
from whom he also borrows some of their familiar sayings, such as 
Virgil's labor improbus 8 and Horace's omne tulit punctum, qui miscuit 
ut'ile dulci. 9 He rightly holds that children should not be taught 
the mythological follies of Ovid and other Latin poets, 10 but he 
wrongly ascribes to Ovid the Carmen de Vetula, 11 forged in the 
Roman poet's name by Richard de Fournival, Chancellor of Amiens, 
about 1246. 

Among writers of Latin prose, while he frequently quotes the elder 
Pliny for his facts, his favourite authorities on matters of opinion are 
Cicero and Seneca. In the case of Cicero, he quotes most frequently 
from the Tusculan Disputations and the De Natura Deorum, which 
he generally calls the De Natura Divina. In that of Seneca, he 
transcribes many passages from the moral treatises, giving two 
reasons for the large number of his long extracts from them : (1) their 
superiority to the teaching of Christian writers in certain branches of 
Moral Philosophy, especially on the control of anger, and (2) the 
fact that little in general was known of these writings, which Bacon 
had discovered after protracted search, possibly with the aid of 

1 Opus Tertium, p. 33 f. 

* MS. Ff. 6, 13, printed at end of Roger Bacon's Greek Grammar (Cambridge 
University Press), 1902. 

* Opus Tertium, c. 25, p. 88. 4 i. 89 f. 
B p. 245. p. 460. 

7 p. 447. 8 Opus Mains, ii. 261. Ibid., i. 72. 

10 Opus Tertium, p. 55, Brewer. u Opus Mains, ii. 256, 264, 267. 


Campano of Novara. 1 When he looks forward to an age of wider 
knowledge, he borrows the language of his favourite moralist : ' veniet 
tempus quo ista quae nunc latent, in lucem dies extrahat et longioris 
aevi diligentia.' 2 Seneca's pointed and epigrammatic style lends itself 
readily to quotation, and Bacon even compiled for the Pope an antho- 
logy of sentences selected from Seneca. 3 

His Greek Grammar, which was long preserved in the Library of 
Corpus Christi College, Oxford, was finally published in 1902 by the 
University Press at Cambridge. It includes a short summary of 
Accidence and ends with the complete paradigm of TVTTTO>. Bacon 
here follows the Byzantine tradition. He may have had some direct 
knowledge of the fourth-century grammarian, Theodosius of Alex- 
andria, who sets forth all the imaginary aorists and futures of that 
verb, regardless of ancient usage, but it seems more probable that he 
made use of some modern Greek catechism. His knowledge of the 
language was mainly derived from the Greeks of his own day, and it 
is their pronunciation that he invariably adopts. Thus his name for 
the second letter of the alphabet is not beta, but vita (pronounced 
veeta) ; and, in transliterating the Nicene Creed, he represents irotrjrTjv 
by piitin, while he follows the Greek Church in omitting the words 
describing the Holy Ghost as proceeding ' from the Son '. In this 
treatise he holds that ' in all languages the Grammar is substantially 
the same, although it accidentally varies ' (p. 27). Elsewhere, he says, 
notitia linguarum est prima porta sapientiae.* Of the three degrees 
of knowledge of a language, the lowest, or the capacity for reading 
the words and .knowing the accidence, might, he maintains, be acquired 
by three days 1 close application under a competent teacher, and with 
the aid of a good manual. 5 

Turning to the Greek authors, we find him saying of the inferiority 
of translations to originals, ' If any one supposes that grace of lan- 
guage is not altered by translation, let him express Homer word by 
word in Latin \ 6 

He refers to Plato's Phaedo, firstly, for its witness to immortality, 
and, secondly, for its commendation of detachment from temporal 
cares. 7 In the case of the Phaedo, he may easily have used the current 
Latin translation. A vague reference to Plato, as having said that 

1 Opus Mains, ii. 365 n. 

2 Nat. Quaest., vii. 25, 4 (Opus Maius, i. 13 ; and Metaphysica, quoted by 
Charles, p. 393). 

3 Opus Tertium, c. 15, p. 56. 

4 Opus Tertium, p. 102. * Ibid., p. 65. 

6 Opus Maius, i. 67, Bridges. 7 Ibid., ii. 239, 274. 


that State is best ordered in which every one is in the dark about his 
own kindred, 1 may possibly be regarded as a reminiscence of the 
passage in the fifth book of the Republic, where we find that 'the 
highest perfection of the State is due to the community of wives and 
children '. 2 But it seems far less probable that Bacon had a first-hand 
knowledge of the Republic than that he found this saying in Avicenna, 
whom he quotes immediately before, and immediately after, this 

Plato was better known (says Bacon) to the Fathers than Aristotle, 
because Plato had been translated into Latin. 3 Bacon states that 
St. Augustine and others follow Plato in holding that heaven is of 
a fiery substance, 4 and he proves from a chronological statement in 
St. Augustine that it was erroneous to suppose that Plato had had 
the advantage of conversing with the prophet Jeremiah in Egypt. 5 

He observes, with satisfaction, that Aristotle discusses all the 
opinions of his predecessors. 6 In Bacon's age Aristotle is called par 
excellence * the philosopher ' ; 7 we are told that he is great, but he 
is not perfect. 8 Bacon cites all the treatises which make up the 
Organon. The ' Sophistical Refutations ' were first expounded in his 
own time by Edmund Rich, 9 who in 1234 ceased to lecture at Oxford 
on becoming archbishop of Canterbury, and Bacon himself quotes the 
closing words of this treatise. 10 The ' Posterior Analytics ' were first 
expounded by Hugo, and Bacon had seen him and his book. He has 
several quotations from this work of Aristotle. 11 He also refers to 
it in general terms when he is pointing out an inconsistency of prac- 
tice with principle. 12 From the Topica he quotes the contrast between 
the opinions of the wise and the opinions of the many ; 13 he also 
notices that, in this treatise, Aristotle does not always express his 
own opinions. 1 * 

Bacon frequently refers to Aristotle's Physics : for example, on 
vacuum (i. 145), on the influence of the sun on generation (i. 380), 
on the action of natural forces on sense (ii. 418), on action propor- 
tional to quantity of force (ii. 443 f.), on the heaven as a physical 
agent (ii. 449), on the infinite divisibility of matter (ii. 441), and on 
the propagation of light through space (ii. 691, 457). 

I Opus Mains, ii. 251, ' in qua quisque proprios uescit (v. I. noscit) affectus ' ( 
late Latin, ' consanguineos', as suggested by Dr. Jackson). 2 p. 464 B. 

3 Opus Maius, i. 26, and 63 ult. * Ibid., i. 18. 

6 Ibid., i. 54. 6 Ibid., i. 14. 

7 Ibid., i. 65. 8 Ibid., i. 8. 

9 Comp. Stud. TheoL, p. 34, ed. Rashdall. 10 Opus Maius, i. 12. 

II Opus Maius, i. 168 (Post. Anal. i. 2, 1), and i. 107 (ibid., i. 18). 

19 Ibid., ii. 259. 13 Ibid., i. 10 (Top. i. 2, 7). " Ibid., ii. 606. 


From the De Caelo he quotes the passage on the small extent of 
sea between Spain and India, 1 and this portion of the Opus Mains, 
annexed without acknowledgement in the Imago Mundi of Pierre 
d'Ailly, attracted the attention of Christopher Columbus, who 
mentions it in 1498, in the letter to Ferdinand and Isabella, among 
the authorities which had prompted him to venture on the great 
voyage for the discovery of the New World. Bacon also quotes from 
the De Caelo the passage to the effect that the Southern Pole is really 
above the Northern, 2 and the passage opposing the plurality of 
worlds. 3 Some of the other passages refer to the weight of the 
atmosphere (i. 132), the spherical form of the world (i. 153), the 
illusion caused by rapid rotation (ii. 119), the trinity of nature (ii. 
197), and the incorruptibility of the heavens (ii. 447); others to 
Aristotle's inadequate account of lunar phases (ii. 109), and of the 
phenomenon of scintillation (ii. 120). 

To the treatise De Generations et Corruptione he refers in connexion 
with the effects of celestial forces on terrestrial things (i. 379), also 
on moisture and dryness (ii. 6), on variety in the eyes of animals (ii. 
84), on assimilation of patient to agent (ii. 441), and on propagation 
of force through space (ii. 456). 

To the Meteorologica he appeals on the subject of the lunar rainbow 
(i. 40), the source of stellar light (i. 127), the occultation of stars (ibid.), 
the formation of clouds (i. 230), and the origin of the Nile (i. 323). The 
sun illuminates all the stars (ii. 446 f.), and the heaven is insusceptible 
of alien influences (ii. 449). He mentions (ii. 100) Aristotle's explana- 
tion of the Milky Way, 4 as though it agreed with his own, whereas 
Aristotle ascribes it to the motion of many large stars, while Bacon 
correctly regards it as consisting of ' many minute stars ', which give 
the eye an impression of a continuous tract of light. 

From the De Anima he shows that * the principle which stirs our 
intellectual powers is without us, not within ' (i. 38 f.). He also quotes 
Aristotle's remarks on Sensus communis (ii. 4 f.), on passivity of 
sensation (ii. 51), on taste and touch (ii. 55), and on the effect of 
vacuum on vision (ii. 67). Substance is here regarded by Aristotle as 
a compound of matter and force (ii. 423), and light is not an emana- 
tion from the body (ii. 506), &c., &c. On the instantaneous transit 
of light Bacon (ii. 68) dissents from the conclusion of Aristotle, 5 
which had (he observes) been adopted by Alkindi (the ninth-century 
philosopher of Bagdad), and had been opposed by Alhazen (the 

1 Opus Mains, i. 290 (De Caelo, ii. 14, 15). 2 i. 307 (ii. 25, 8). 

3 i. 164 (i. 9). 

4 Meteor., i. c. 8. * De Anima, ii. 7, 3. 


eleventh-century philosopher of Cairo), on grounds that were insuffi- 
cient. Bacon gives adequate reasons for holding that the propagation 
of light is not instantaneous, thus anticipating the discovery made by 
Ole Roemer in Paris in 1676. 

Under the title of * the second book De Somno et Vigilia ' we find 
references to the De Insomniis for * shifting impressions of colour ' 
(ii. 103), and for the ' propagation offeree through space 1 (ii. 457). 

All the works ' On Animals ', namely, the nine books of the His- 
toria, the four de partibus, the one de incessu, and the five de genera- 
tione, are regarded by Bacon as a single work consisting of nineteen 
books (ii. 49, 84). In the last of these books Aristotle speaks of 
vision being caused either by radiation from the eye or to the eye, 
without deciding which is the correct view ; * it is in the treatise De 
Sensu et Sensato that Aristotle decides in favour of radiation to the 
eye, 2 an opinion which Bacon wrongly attributes to the previous 
passage (ii. 49). He quotes the treatise De Sensu et Sensato on the 
'seven colours ' (ii. 197), and on the nature of colour (ii. 416). 

There are a few unimportant references to the Problems (ii. 56, 71), 
and many important references to the Metaphysics. In the recently 
edited 'Compendium of Theology' Bacon enumerates the contentsof the 
ten books then known to him. 3 Elsewhere he notices that, in the first 
book of the Metaphysics, Aristotle expresses his gratitude to his pre- 
decessors (i. 12) ; also that, in that work, Aristotle declares that the 
chief causes of human error are custom and popular opinion (i. 4). 
He further quotes the Metaphysics for the connexion between music 
and dancing (i. 238), for a comparison between private and public 
good (ii. 254), and for the several opinipns, that force is not generated 
without matter (ii. 424), that community of matter is implied in 
community of genus (ii. 446), that ' corruptible ' and ' incorruptible ' 
are generically different (ii. 448), and that a composite whole is some- 
thing more than the parts of which it is composed (ii. 420). 

Of the Ethics, the first, second, fourth, and sixth books are quoted 
in the Opus Mains of 1267, mainly in the part on Moral Philosophy. 
Writing afterwards in 1292, Bacon describes the Ethics as having 
been received and read in Europe later than the logical treatises. 4 

Probably Bacon's knowledge of the Politics was limited to the fact 
that, as stated at the close of the Ethics, it forms the sequel to that 
treatise. In 1267 he refers to the place where Aristotle ' makes his 
transition to the book of the laws '. 5 At the same date, after quoting 

1 De Generations Animalium, v. 1. a c. 2. 

3 p. 36 f., Kaslidall. 4 Comp. Stud. TheoL, p. 34, ed. Rashdall. 

5 Opus Alaius, i. 29. 


Averroes for the statement, ascribed by him to ' the law of Aristotle ', 
that there were three sacrifices and three prayers, he adds that this is 
* manifest by the Politic of Aristotle, which is the book of the laws ' 
(ii. 231). He also states that Aristotle, in his Politics, proposes to 
consider the laws of four or five simple constitutions, and the causes 
by which those constitutions are corrupted, each constitution varying 
according to the end in view, as is explained by Alfarabi in his 
work ' On Sciences ' (ii. 367). It seems probable, therefore, that it was 
from Alfarabi that Bacon derived part of his knowledge of the purport 
of the Politics. In 1271 he advises jurists to read the ' laws of Plato 
and Aristotle ', adding that Aristotle ' in the book of the laws ' begins 
to analyse the main ends of laws and of sects, or varieties of constitu- 
tion, and shows that there cannot be more than six varieties, because 
there are six aims in view, namely, future happiness, or temporal 
good, that is, either pleasure or wealth or mastery or power or fame. 
On the next page he adds that Aristotle shows how different laws 
come into being, and which are bad, and how they ought not to be 
passed, or, if passed, should be repealed, so that, at last, one perfect 
law may be established and kept unimpaired. Subsequently, he says 
that Aristotle in the ten books of the Ethics shows that men should 
live in all virtue, and then adds to these the * books of the Politic ', 
in which he first institutes divine worship, declaring that he adores 
the triune God, and tracing a certain Trinity in all things created, 
which Trinity is first found in the Creator. Hence in all things he 
has appointed a beginning, a middle, and an end, &C. 1 

This last description has no correspondence with Aristotle's Politics 
in the form familiar to ourselves. Part of it, however, resembles the 
opening page of the De Caelo. It may, however, be simply a quota- 
tion from Averroes or Alfarabi. 

In the first part of the Opus Mains, Bacon says that the modern 
doctors neglect the * two better books on logic ', one of which is trans- 
lated with the commentary of Alfarabi, while Averroes' exposition 
of the other has been translated without the text of Aristotle. 2 By 
the former of these two * books on logic ' is meant the Rhetoric, ex- 
pounded in Arabic by Alfarabi, who was born in A.D. 870, studied 
in Bagdad, and died in Damascus in 950. By the latter is meant the 
treatise on Poetry. In the third part of the Opus Mains, Bacon 
regrets the absence of the two best books on practical logic, one of 
which, the best of all (meaning the treatise on Poetry), is missing, 
while the other (the Rhetoric) has been badly translated. 3 The culprit 
was Hermann the German, who translated it from the Arabic with 

1 Comp. Stud. Philos., pp. 421-3. 2 i. 31. * i. 71. 


certain commentaries of Alfarabi. In the fourth part, after quoting 
Alfarabi on poetry, to the effect that the language of poetry should 
be elevated and decorous, and also adorned with prosaic, metrical, and 
rhythmical adornment, appropriate to place and time and persons 
and subject, he adds that Aristotle taught this in his work on Poetry, 
which Hermann did not dare to translate into Latin because of the 
difficulty of the metres (meaning probably the poetical quotations). 1 
The absence of a knowledge of these 'logical' works in the Latin world is 
again regretted in the Of us Tertium, z for in these works we are told how 
language may be made sublime, both in sound and in sense, by means of 
the ornaments of language, whether in metre and rhythm, or in prose, so 
that the mind may unawares be carried away in the direction desired 
by the persuasive orator, and may suddenly fall into the love of good 
and the hatred of evil, as is taught by Alfarabi in his book on the 
Sciences. Taking all these references to the Rhetoric and Poetic into 
consideration, it is fairly clear that Bacon owed his knowledge of 
Aristotle's treatise on Poetry, and probably that of the Rhetoric, 
mainly, if not solely, to Alfarabi, who expressly includes ' rhetoric 
and poetic ' as parts of * Logic \ 3 

The pseudo- Aristotelian treatise De Plantis (i. 6) is quoted for the 
saying that * the sun is the father of plants, and the moon their 
mother \ 4 Another spurious work here quoted is the Liber de Causis, 5 
really compiled by David the Jew from the works of Aristotle, Avi- 
cenna, and Algazel. Another of the spurious works is variously called 
the Liber de regimine principum (or regnorum 6 or vitae 7 ), or the Liber 
secretorum 8 or the Secreta secretorum? addressed by Aristotle to 
Alexander the Great. These last titles may have been suggested by 
the Rhetorica ad Alexandrian, where Aristotle is asked by Alexander 
to observe the strictest secrecy with regard to that work, while 
Aristotle on his part lays a corresponding duty of secrecy on Alex- 
ander. Bacon's commentary on the ' secretum secretorum ' is preserved 
in a Bodleian MS. belonging to the close of the century in which 
Bacon lived. 10 

Of the current Latin translations of Aristotle Bacon declares that 
'so great is their perversity and difficulty that no one is able to 
understand them '. On animal intelligence the text of the translation 

1 i. 101. 2 p. 304 f. 

3 Cousin, Fragmens de Philosophic du moyen age, p. 71, convinced Charles 
(p. 315) that Bacon knew both treatises. 

4 Opus Mains, i. 380. 6 Ibid., ii. 43. 6 ii. 235. 
7 ii. 204, 271. 8 i. 10, ii. 261. 9 ii. 273. 

10 A. G. Little, in Appendix to Comp, Stud. Thcol. (1911), 73 ; Opus Maius, i. 68. 


is unintelligible. 1 The De Animalibus and the Rhetoric have been 
badly translated. 2 In a passage of the Problems, either the translation 
is wrong or the text is corrupt. 3 In the account of the lunar rainbow 
in the Meteorologies the translation is at fault. 4 On * species ' and 
' accidents ' the text of the Metaphysics has been perversely rendered. 5 
Similarly, in the Opus Tertium (p. 24), we are told that the best 
works in philosophy are only known to the Latins through imperfect 
translations; and, again, in the Compendium Studii Philosophise 
(p. 471), ' though we have numerous translations of all the sciences 
by Gerard of Cremona, Michael Scot, Alfred the Englishman, Her- 
mann the German, and William the Fleming, there is such a falsity 
in their works that none can sufficiently wonder at it. ... Not one of 
these translators had any true knowledge of the languages or of the 
sciences. . . . All of them were alive in my time. Hermann the German 
is still alive, and a bishop. Hermann was unacquainted with Logic, 
nor did he understand Arabic, for he was rather an assistant in the 
translations than the real translator. He kept Saracens about him in 
Spain, who had a principal hand in the translations. Similarly, 
Michael the Scot claimed the merit of many translations, but it is 
clear that Andrew the Jew laboured at them more than he did ; and 
even Michael did not understand either the sciences or the languages. 
And so of the rest, especially the notorious William the Fleming, 
who is now in such reputation, whereas it is known to all the men of 
letters in Paris that he is ignorant of the original Greek text, to which 
he makes such pretensions ; and this is the reason why he translates 
falsely, and corrupts the philosophy of the Latins.' 6 

* If I had all the books of Aristotle in my power, I should cause 
every one of them to be burnt, because studying them is only a loss 
of time, and a cause of error, and a multiplication of ignorance, 
beyond what can be explained ' (ibid., p. 469). 

Aristotle, it will be remembered, had long been studied in Syria 
and Arabia, and the knowledge of his writings, which had passed 
from Constantinople to Syria, in the more distant East, had subse- 
quently followed the course of Arab conquest along the Northern 
coast of Africa, until it reached the West in Spain, and thence found 
its way into France. The Arabic translations had been executed at 
Bagdad in the first half of the ninth century ; it was in the middle of 
the twelfth century that they were translated into Latin at Toledo, 

1 Opus Maim, ii. 10. 2 Ibid., ii. 511 ; i. 71. 8 Ibid., ii. 56. 

4 Ibid., i. 40, 212 f. ; ii. 193. 

5 Ibid., ii. 420. For other mistranslations cp. Opus Tertium, p. 77. 

6 Brewer's Preface, p. lix f. 


and it was not until after that time that the translations reached 
Paris in the form of a Latin rendering of an Arabic version of 
a Syriac translation of a Greek original 1 a rendering removed by 
as many as three degrees from the Greek text of Aristotle. 

The varying fortunes of the study of Aristotle in Paris are 
recounted by Roger Bacon in his latest work, written in 1292. * It 
was late before any part of the philosophy of Aristotle came into 
use among the Latins, because his natural philosophy and his 
Metaphysics, with the commentaries of Averroes and others, were 
translated in our own times, and were interdicted in Paris before the 
year 1237, because of the eternity of the world and of time, and 
because of the book on Divination by Dreams, which is the third 
book De Somno et Vigilia, and because of much else that was 
erroneously translated.' 2 Elsewhere, Bacon tells us that Aristotle 
had been attacked for a passage on the ' eternity of the world ' at the 
end of the treatise De Generatione et Corruptione? As the treatise 
was on a physical subject, this may have led to the condemnation of 
the Physics in general. 

From other sources we learn that the date of the first interdict on 
the study of Aristotle in Paris was 1210, when 'the books of 
Aristotle on Natural Philosophy and his Commentaries' were for- 
bidden to be read in Paris publicly or privately for the space of 
three years. 4 It is not known whether the work aimed at was the 
actual Physics of Aristotle, or one of the Arabic adaptations or 
commentaries, such as those of Avicenna or Averroes, or some pseudo- 
Aristotelian work. In any case, as pointed out by Renan, the 
condemnation fell not on the Greek text of Aristotle (for that was 
at present unknown to the West), but on Aristotle as translated by 
the Arabs, and as expounded by the Arabs. 5 

In 1215 the reading of the Physics and Metaphysics was again 
forbidden, and again in 1231, but with the reservation * until they 
shall have been examined and purged of all heresy'. William of 
Auvergne, who flourished in 1228-48, makes free use of all the 
suspected books, and in 1254 nearly the whole range of the Aristo- 
telian writings is prescribed among the text-books of the University. 6 

Let us now turn from Literature to Science. In the second part 

1 History of Classical Scholarship, i. 562 f . 

8 Comp. Stud. TheoL, p. 33, ed. Rashdall. 

8 Bibl. Paris. 7440 ap. Charles, p. 315, n. 1. 

4 Rashdall's Universities, i. 356 f. 

6 Renan, Averroes, p. 221, ed. 1882. G Rashdall, i. 357 f. 


of the Opns Maius Roger Bacon has to define his attitude toward 
the great scholastic study of Theology. He calls Theology the 
queen of sciences, *una scientia dominatrix aliarum'. 1 He holds 
that all knowledge is revealed in the Scriptures, but is there only 
implicitly ; 2 thus theology finds its exponent in philosophy. * The 
end of all true philosophy is to arrive at a knowledge of the Creator 
through knowledge of the created world 1 . 3 Theology, further, has 
need of philosophy to prove its principles. 4 

In the great controversy between realism and nominalism, Roger 
Bacon is a nominalist. ' One individual ', he says, * is of more account 
than all the universals in the world ; for a universal is only a simi- 
larity of several individuals. . . . God has not created this world for 
the sake of the universal man, but for the sake of individual persons.' 5 
The universal ante rent he entirely rejected : * individuum est prius 
secundum naturam'. 6 On the question whether things were indi- 
vidualized by form or by matter, he maintains that the question is 
meaningless and foolish. 7 

Under the head of Mathematics, ( the gate and the key ' of all the 
other sciences, 8 we find Roger Bacon often referring to Euclid, whose 
Elements had been translated into Latin early in the twelfth century 
by Adelard of Bath, and expounded in the thirteenth by Campano 
of Novara. He seldom mentions Archimedes and Apollonius of 
Perga ; but, in his Optics, he shows his acquaintance with the pro- 
perties of parabolic concave mirrors, being in this respect in advance 
of Euclid, Ptolemy, and Alhazen. In a fragment of his Scriptum 
Principale, he speaks of Arithmetic and Algebra, and, among branches 
of practical Arithmetic, he includes mensuration, the construction of 
astronomical tables, alloys, and coinage, and various commercial 
operations. He makes little display of mathematical knowledge, 
but he has much to say on mathematical method. He had made 
himself familiar with the highest mathematics of his time, but he 
does not appear to have contributed to the advance of the science. 
His interest lay less in abstract than in applied Mathematics. Thus, 
he was keenly interested in the reform of the Calendar. 9 

Under the heading of Geography, he considers the different ways 
in which different parts of the earth's surface are affected by the 

1 Opus Mains, i. 33. J Ibid. 3 i. 42, c. 7. 

4 R. Adamson, Roger Bacon: the Philosophy of Science in the Middle Ages (1876), 
p. 24. 

5 Charles, 383 ; Bridges, Introd. , pp. xli-xliii. 

6 Bridges, i. 42 n. 7 Commun. Natur., II. ii. 9 (Bridges, p. xliii). 
8 Opus Mains, i. 97. 9 Bridges, Introd., pp. Iv-lix. 


sun and the heavens, also the seven climata or zones of Ptolemy, 
followed by a descriptive survey of the known world, with the 
exception of Western Europe, which needs no detailed description. 1 

Astrology is, with Bacon, a speculative science, 'dealing with 
planetary motions, with the figure of the earth and of its various 
regions'. Astronomy is a practical science, having to do with the 
construction of tables and with the forecast of future events. 2 On 
the subject of Astrology, he shares the belief almost universally held 
by all instructed men from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century. 
He is profoundly convinced of the influence of the stars on the life 
of man, but this conviction is, in his case, perfectly consistent with 
the freedom of the will. 3 He even held, with Albumazar, that the 
origins of all religions and of their several sects depended upon the 
conjunctions of the planets ; and it has been surmised 4 that this was 
one of the * novelties ' of opinion for which he was condemned by the 
authorities of the Franciscan Order. 

As to the propagation of force, he holds that radiant force proceeds 
independently of man's power of perceiving it. * No substance is so 
dense as altogether to prevent rays from passing. . . . Rays of heat 
and sound penetrate through the midst of vessels of gold or brass. 
. . . There are many dense bodies which altogether interfere with the 
visual and other senses of man, so that rays cannot pass with such 
energy as to produce an effect on human sense, and yet, nevertheless, 
rays do really pass, without our being aware of it.' 5 This remarkable 
passage derives a new interest from modern scientific discoveries, for 
the writer's reasoning points to the ' correlation of radiant forces \ 6 

The study of Optics engaged his attention for ten years of his life. 7 
The subject fills the fifth part of the Opus Mains. The optical works 
of Euclid, Theon, and Ptolemy had been translated into Arabic, and 
had been studied by Alhazen, whose own work, written perhaps in 
the eleventh century, was translated into Latin in the twelfth, and 
is here abridged by Bacon. As distinguished from his Arabian 
precursor, he gives proof of a steady purpose of turning the discovery 
of the laws of reflection and refraction to practical use. He has 
a clear conception of the simple microscope. He also plays with the 
possibility of bringing distant objects near, but this is no proof that 
he ever combined lenses to make a telescope. He surpassed Alhazen 
in his knowledge of the structure of the eye. To Bacon the radiation 

1 Opus Mains, i. 286-376. 2 Bridges, i, p. Iviii. 

8 Ibid., pp. lix-lxvand i. 269 n. * Charles, p. 47. 

8 Multiplicatio Specierum, p. 478, cp. Opus Mains, ii. 478. 
6 Bridges, pp. Ixv-lxix. 7 Opus Tertium, p. 38. 


of light through space is a type of other radiant activities, such as 
those of colour, heat, sound, and odour. 1 

Alchemy, which may be regarded as the prescientific form of 
Chemistry, is treated in the extant portion of the Opus Minus. It 
falls into two great divisions, speculative and operative. Operative 
alchemy includes the metallurgy of the gold-seekers, and generally 
all the processes pursued with a view to the transmutation of metals, 
the discovery of the philosopher's egg, and the elixir of life. Specu- 
lative alchemy is practically identical with the science now called 
Chemistry. It treats (he says in the Opus Tertium 2 ) ' of the genera- 
tion of things from their elements, and of all inanimate things as 
of the elements, and liquids simple and compound ; common stones, 
gems, and marbles ; gold and other metals ; sulphur, salts, pigments, 
lapis lazuli, minium, and other colours; oils, bitumen, and very 
many other things of which we find nothing in the books of 
Aristotle '. It is in his minor treatise * on the marvellous power of 
art and nature' that he refers to an explosive mixture * producing 
a noise like thunder and flashes like lightning ', 3 and adds, that * from 
saltpetre and other ingredients we are able to make a fire that shall 
burn at any distance we please '. 4 It has been held that this shows 
that he ' was in possession of an explosive which was a considerable 
advance on mere incendiary compositions ', though he does not appear 
to have been aware of the projecting power of gunpowder. 5 

Experimental Science is represented by Bacon, in the sixth part of 
the Opus Maius, as a general method for the purpose of checking the 
results reached by mathematical processes, and also of prompting 
further researches in fresh fields of inquiry. He saw its bearing and 
its importance as a universal method of research. He was profoundly 
penetrated by the mathematical spirit and by the experimental 
method, whereas Francis Bacon, with all his approval of experimental 
science, failed to appreciate the importance of mathematical method. 6 
It has been well said that * Roger Bacon has come very near, nearer 
certainly than any preceding and than any succeeding writer, until 
quite recent times, to a satisfactory theory of scientific method'. 7 

In his Moral Philosophy, which fills the seventh part of the Opm 
Maius, we find a very summary treatment of the laws of civil and 

1 Bridges, pp. Ixix-lxxiv. 

2 c. 12, p. 39, Brewer ; cp. Bridges, i, pp. Ixxiv-lxxviii. 8 c. vi. 

4 c. xi. 6 Cp. Colonel Hime's work on the origin of Gunpowder (1904). 

6 Bridges, i, p. Ixxix. 

7 R. Adamson, Roger Bacon : the Philosophy of Science in the Middle Ages 
1876, p. 33. 


social life, a brevity probably due to the author's hostility towards 
the introduction of Roman Law. 1 In the third section of the work, 
personal morality is expounded with great fullness. ' In the Christian 
virtues of faith, hope, and charity, we can be conscious ' (says Bacon) 
* of things unknown even to the ancient philosophers. But, in the 
virtues needed for integrity of life, and for human fellowship and 
conversation, we are not their equals, either in word or deed.' 2 This 
part, accordingly, almost entirely consists of selections from Aristotle, 
Plato, Cicero, and, above all, Seneca, including nearly the whole of 
the three Dialogues on Anger, rearranged from Bacon's own point 
of view. The final section is the earliest attempt towards a com- 
parative study of the religions of the world. The work, in its 
present form, concludes with an impressive passage on the Holy 

The fifth and sixth sections of this seventh part are now lost. 
The fifth section enlarged on the importance of oratory, style, and 
gesture to the moral and religious teacher ; and the sixth on judicial 
decisions made with a view to the attainment of justice. 3 

We have now recalled the general outline of the life of Roger 
Bacon, and noticed some of his relations to the literature of the 
Greek and Latin world. We have also seen something of his study 
of the several sciences Theology, Philosophy, Mathematics, Geo- 
graphy, Astronomy and Astrology, Physics, Optics, Chemistry and 
Alchemy, and Experimental Science. We have seen that he 'has 
come very near to a satisfactory theory of scientific method'. His 
scientific studies covered a wide range ; he was interested in every 
one of the sciences, taken separately, but we know from his own 
testimony that he realized the close connexion of all the sciences 
with one another, and their mutual interdependence as parts of the 
same whole. He tells us in his Opus Tertium that ' all the sciences 
are connected, and foster one another with mutual aid. They are 
like parts of the same whole, every one of which accomplishes its own 
work, not for itself alone, but for the others also.' 

Omnes scientiae sunt connexae, et mutuis se fovent auxiliis, sicut partes 
eiusdem totius, quarum quaelibet opus suum peragit non solum propter se, sed 
pro aliis. 4 

1 Cp. Opus Tertium, pp. 84 f., and Comp. Stud. Phil, p. 418, Brewer. 

2 ii. 323, cp. 255, and Opus Tertium, p. 60, 'sine comparatione sumus im- 
perfectiores in moribus quam pnilosophi infideles '. 

8 Opus Tertium, c. 14, p. 62, Brewer. 
4 Opus Tertium, c. 4, p. 18, Brewer. 

B 765 .B24 S25 1914 IMS 

Sandys- John Edwin 
Roger Bacon 
47230191 (mc/sk) 


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