An intellectual journey for the discovery of new worlds

Re-reading the New Atlantis, one aspect in particular caught my attention in the beginning of the story. I noticed that the sailors’ attitude is very similar to the one described by the Spanish conquistadores, as it appears, for instance, in Bernal Diaz del Castillo’s story of Conquering the Aztec Empire. In the case of the New Atlantis and the arrival of the Spanish sailors, the Bensalemites take up the role of the natives, with only one difference. While both the natives and the Bensalemites are offering gifts to the respective ‘visitors’, the natives’ gift to the Spaniards is gold, the Bensalemites’ gift is the method of science. Before describing Salomon’s House, the Father says: “I will give thee the greatest jewel I have. For I will impart unto thee, for the love of God and men, the relation of the true state of Salomon’s House.”

The mysterious island: Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis

New Atlantis was published posthumously in 1626 or 1627 as a second part of a volume entitled Sylva Sylvarum or a natural historie in ten centuries. Soon it became a bestseller. To date, it has been impossible to establish how many editions of this volume were printed in the seventeenth century. We know of two Latin translations, a French translation and at least a dozen of English editions. Bacon’s Sylva (and hence the New Atlantis ) was the book that everybody read, in London, in Paris, in Amsterdam – in fact, across the whole Europe. It spoke directly and convincingly to a large and diverse audience, cutting across national, confessional and philosophical divides.