Saturday, April 9, 2011

April 9, 1625 - Bacon Announces Preservation of Meat by Freezing

Days after a spontaneous beginning to the experiment, Bacon announced by letter to the King his findings on the ability to preserve raw meat through freezing. According to biographer John Aubrey, the idea had come to him suddenly while riding with the King's physician through the snow in Highgate. They attempted the experiment immediately, purchasing a fowl from a peasant woman at the bottom of the hill. Bacon prepared to stuff it with snow, but the physician warned him of the medical dangers of chill, and Bacon duly protected himself with gloves borrowed from the coachman.

His frozen bird proved preserved and ready for cooking when it was thawed upon Bacon's return to his home. Following his philosophy, Bacon attempted the experiment repeatedly and duly observed results, measuring rates of decay after various times with what grew into an enormous stock of frozen food. He wrote a letter to King James noting its practicality in preserving food for warfare or famine, and the king rewarded him with a small sum. The money was a pittance in comparison to Bacon's massive debts, but the fame would prove more than enough to keep the scientist's name in the popular memory until his publication of New Atlantis, which served as a model for an idealized scientific community.

Despite his incredible mastery of experimental science (what would become known as the "Baconian Method"), Bacon was not mindful of his expenses and spent most of his life buried in debt. He received puritanical tutelage at home and higher education at Trinity College, Cambridge, with his older brother Anthony, where he studied under future Archbishop of Canterbury Dr John Whitgift and met Queen Elizabeth, who affectionately referred to him as "the young Lord Keeper." Bacon extensively traveled abroad, learning much about political science during his time in France, Italy, and Spain. When his father died in 1579, young Bacon returned to England finding that he had only one-fifth of his expected inheritance, and the money he had borrowed became officially debt. He took up practice of law to support himself and entered Parliament after a few years of struggles. Bacon rose through politics quickly to become Attorney General and then Lord Chancellor, but was found guilty of repeatedly taking gifts as a judge (a common practice at the time). Also accused of sodomy and pedantry, he bowed out of political life, as well as much of his family life when he discovered his wife Ă…lice Barnham carrying on an affair with John Underhill.

Instead, Bacon dedicated himself to science. Upon the publication of his thoughts on Utopia, Bacon found himself a chance to return to the social scene not as a politician, but with a seat as an official scientific researcher for the king. Charles I had been intrigued with his freezing techniques for food as useful in the war effort against Spain. Bacon had campaigned for a Minister for Science and Technology during the reign of Elizabeth, and now his ideas had come to fruition. While his research primarily was dedicated to preservation through freezing, alchemy, and boiling (building the groundwork for Germ Theory to be understood over the next century by microscopist Henry Powers), Bacon also used his political contacts in the increasingly Protestant Parliament to ensure the continuation of his office.

Minister Bacon died in 1634, reportedly writing at his desk with quill in hand, and the Ministry of Science did indeed continue. Many thought that the seat would be given to Thomas Hobbes, but the philosopher's proposed research into political theory did not match Bacon's posthumous requirements for direct application. Instead, the seat went to a young physician, Thomas Browne, who would be instrumental in developing battlefield medicine. Later, the ministry would be held by great thinkers such as Henry Powers, Robert Boyle, and, especially known, Isaac Newton, whose works in optics, metallurgy, mathematics, and many other fields would set London apart as a great center of development. As per Bacon's sentiments, all of the new science has since been handed down through the engineers of the Ministry of Science, who determine practical applications such as Powers' use of pressure (particularly steam) to drive an engine, Newton's interchangeable parts for mass production, and Charles Babbage's later use of automation.


In reality, Bacon died as a result of pneumonia contracted from a damp bed after developing a chill during his snow-research. He left substantial debts of £23,000, which is some £3 million adjusted for 2009. Bacon's legacy would ultimately be his philosophy of scientific experimentation, which would contribute to the founding of the Royal Society in 1662.

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