Abolishing the Borders between Natural History and Natural Magic Francis Bacon’s Sylva sylvarum and The Historia vitae et mortis
Abstract. In this paper I investigate Francis Bacon’s natural histories, with a focus on the Latin Historia vitae et mortis and the posthumous Sylva sylvarum. My claim is that the English Philosopher was not interested in compiling natural histories of particulars, but those of virtues, of processes, and of the hidden activity of matter. The two mentioned writings represent the exemplification of this interest. Despite their very different structures and compositions, they share many characteristics which raise them at the level of natural philosophy. As it is shown in this article, their relation with the theory of matter, the experimental practice involved, and their operative character represent elements specific to metaphysics and natural magic. Writing the ‘natural histories of matter’ Bacon abolishes the border between a natural historical endeavour and a natural philosophical enterprise based on the knowledge of causes.
Keywords: Francis Bacon, natural history, natural magic, matter theory, Sylva sylvarum, Historia vitae et mortis