New Atlantis

New Atlantis
For other meanings see New Atlantis (disambiguation).
New Atlantis  
Bacon 1628 New Atlantis title page wpreview.png
Title page of the 1628 edition of Bacon's New Atlantis
Author(s) Francis Bacon
Country United Kingdom
Language Latin/English
Genre(s) Utopian novel
Publisher no publisher given
Publication date 1624/1626
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages 46 pp

New Atlantis is a utopian novel by Sir Francis Bacon, published in Latin (as Nova Atlantis) in 1624 and in English in 1627. In this work, Bacon portrayed a vision of the future of human discovery and knowledge, expressing his aspirations and ideals for humankind. The novel depicts the creation of a utopian land where "generosity and enlightenment, dignity and splendour, piety and public spirit" are the commonly held qualities of the inhabitants of "Bensalem". The plan and organization of his ideal college, "Salomon's House" (or Solomon's House) envisioned the modern research university in both applied and pure sciences.


Plot summary

The novel depicts a mythical island, Bensalem, which is discovered by the crew of a European ship after they are lost in the Pacific Ocean somewhere west of Peru. The minimal plot serves the gradual unfolding of the island, its customs, but most importantly, its state-sponsored scientific institution, Salomon's House, "which house or college ... is the very eye of this kingdom."

On arriving to Bensalem, the travellers are initially instructed to leave without landing, but are successively quarantined to "the House of Strangers", then given greater leave to explore the island, and finally granted an explanation of Salomon's House. Their conversations with the inhabitants disclose how they in such isolation came to be Christian, how they came to know so much of the outside world (without themselves being known), the history and origin of the island's government and the establishment of Salomon's House by King Solamona, the Bensalemite customs regarding marriage and family, and purpose, properties, and activities of Salomon's House. The interlocutors include the governor of the House of Strangers, Joabin the Jew, and the Father of Salomon's House.

Only the best and brightest of Bensalem's citizens are selected to join Salomon's House, in which scientific experiments are conducted in Baconian method in order to understand and conquer nature, and to apply the collected knowledge to the betterment of society. Near the end of the work, the Father of Salomon's House catalogues the activities of the institution's members:

“For the several employments and offices of our fellows, we have twelve that sail into foreign countries under the names of other nations (for our own we conceal), who bring us the books and abstracts, and patterns of experiments of all other parts. These we call merchants of light.

“We have three that collect the experiments which are in all books. These we call depredators.

“We have three that collect the experiments of all mechanical arts, and also of liberal sciences, and also of practices which are not brought into arts. These we call mystery–men.

“We have three that try new experiments, such as themselves think good. These we call pioneers or miners.

“We have three that draw the experiments of the former four into titles and tables, to give the better light for the drawing of observations and axioms out of them. These we call compilers.

“We have three that bend themselves, looking into the experiments of their fellows, and cast about how to draw out of them things of use and practice for man’s life and knowledge, as well for works as for plain demonstration of causes, means of natural divinations, and the easy and clear discovery of the virtues and parts of bodies. These we call dowry–men or benefactors.

“Then after divers meetings and consults of our whole number, to consider of the former labours and collections, we have three that take care out of them to direct new experiments, of a higher light, more penetrating into nature than the former. These we call lamps.

“We have three others that do execute the experiments so directed, and report them. These we call inoculators.

“Lastly, we have three that raise the former discoveries by experiments into greater observations, axioms, and aphorisms. These we call interpreters of nature."

Even this short excerpt demonstrates that Bacon understood that science requires analysis and not just the accumulation of observations. Bacon also foresaw that the design of experiments could be improved.[1]


New Atlantis is a story dense with provocative details. There are many credible interpretations of what Bacon was attempting to convey. Below are a couple that give some sense of the rich implications of the text.

Bensalem's Conversion to Christianity

Early in the story, the governor of the House of Strangers relates the incredible circumstances that introduced Christianity to the Island:

“About twenty years after the ascension of our Saviour it came to pass [c. 50 A.D.], that there was seen by the people of Renfusa (a city upon the eastern coast of our island, within sight, the night was cloudy and calm), as it might be some mile in the sea, a great pillar of light; not sharp, but in form of a column, or cylinder, rising from the sea, a great way up toward heaven; and on the top of it was seen a large cross of light, more bright and resplendent than the body of the pillar....

“When [a wise man of the Society of Salomon’s House] had made his prayer..., he caused the boat to be softly and with silence rowed toward the pillar; but ere he came near it, the pillar and cross of light broke up, and cast itself abroad, as it were, into a firmament of many stars, which also vanished soon after, and there was nothing left to be seen but a small ark or chest of cedar, dry and not wet at all with water, though it swam; and in the fore end of it, which was toward him, grew a small green branch of palm; and when the wise man had taken it with all reverence into his boat, it opened of itself, and there were found in it a book and a letter, both written in fine parchment, and wrapped in sindons of linen. The book contained all the canonical books of the Old and New Testament, according as you have them (for we know well what the churches with you receive), and the Apocalypse itself; and some other books of the New Testament, which were not at that time written, were nevertheless in the book."

The traditional date for the writing of St. John's Apocalypse (the Book of Revelation) is the end of the first century A.D. It is not only the presence of the full canon of Scripture long before it was completed or compiled, but also the all-too-convenient proximity of the scientist who will attest to its miraculous nature of this wonder that lends the story an air of incredibility.[2]

Later the Father of Salomon's House reveals the institution's skill at creating illusions of light:

"We represent also all multiplications of light, which we carry to great distance, and make so sharp as to discern small points and lines. Also all colorations of light: all delusions and deceits of the sight, in figures, magnitudes, motions, colors; all demonstrations of shadows. We find also divers means, yet unknown to you, of producing of light, originally from divers bodies."

He also boasts about their ability to fake miracles:

"And surely you will easily believe that we, that have so many things truly natural which induce admiration, could in a world of particulars deceive the senses if we would disguise those things, and labor to make them more miraculous."

Renaker points out the Latin of the second passage is stronger and literally translates to "we could impose on men's senses an infinite number of things if we wanted to present these things as, and exalt them into, a miracle."[3]

The skill of creating illusions coupled with the incredibility of the story of the origin of Bensalem's Christianity makes it seem that Bacon was intimating that the light show (or at least the story of its occurrence) was an invention of Salomon's House.[3]

Who Rules Bensalem?

The Father of Salomon's House reveals that members of that institution decide on their own which of their discoveries to keep secret, even from the State:

"And this we do also: we have consultations, which of the inventions and experiences which we have discovered shall be published, and which not; and take all an oath of secrecy for the concealing of those which we think fit to keep secret; though some of those we do reveal sometime to the State, and some not."

This would seem to imply that the State does not hold the monopoly on authority and that Salomon's House must in some sense be superior to the State.

In the introduction to the critical edition of New Atlantis, Jerry Weinberger notes that Joabin is the only contemporary character (i.e., living at the time of the story) described as wise—and wise in matters of government and rule at that. Weinberger speculates that Joabin may be the actual ruler of Bensalem.[4] On the other hand, it may be that Bacon was calling Joabin wise for the same reason that he felt the need elsewhere to call him "the good Jew": that he was trying to overcome the prejudice against Jews in his contemporaries' minds to make clear that Joabin should be understood as a benign character.[original research?]


New Atlantis and other writings of Bacon inspired the formation of the Royal Society. Jonathan Swift parodied them both in book III of Gulliver's Travels.

In recent years, New Atlantis influenced B.F. Skinner's 1948 Walden Two.

See also

Book collection.jpg Novels portal


  1. ^ Thus foreshadowing modern response surface methodology and optimal design.
  2. ^ J. Weinberger, "Science and Rule in Bacon's Utopia: An Introduction to the Reading of the New Atlantis," The American Political Science Review, Vol. 70, No. 3 (Sep., 1976), pp. 865-885 (875).
  3. ^ a b David Renaker, "Miracle of Engineering: The Conversion of Bensalem in Francis Bacon's New Atlantis", Studies in Philology, Vol. 87, No. 2 (Spring, 1990), pp. 181-193 (193).
  4. ^ Francis Bacon, New Atlantis and The Great Instauration, Jerry Weinberger, ed., (Wheeling, IL: Crofts Classics, 1989), xxv-xxvi, xxxi.

External links

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