Saturday, January 06, 2007

A Sacrifice For Science

Francis Bacon, who called himself 'the trumpeter of a new age', was the first man to insist that scientific ideas should be verified by practical experiment.

One wintry day early in 1626, when he was 65, Bacon was travelling in a coach up Highgate Hill on the outskirts of London with a Dr. Witherborne. The two friends were discussing how food could be preserved by ice. Seeing the upper parts of the hill covered in snow, Bacon proposed an experiment. He bought a chicken from a woman living nearby, and got her to kill and gut it ; Bacon helped her to stuff it with snow.

All this took time, and the snow so chilled Bacon that he was soon shivering violently. Before long, he was too ill to make the journey home. He was taken to a house nearby, which belonged to his friend the Earl of Arundel.

There, he had the misfortune to be given a damp bed. The chill turned to bronchitis, and on April 9 he died. 'As for the experiment itself', he wrote in his last letter, 'it succeeded excellently well.'

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