Sylva Sylvarum: Or, A Natural Historie (Francis Bacon)

Q155 B32 1627 Title Page 1 Sylva.jpg


For Francis Bacon, an English philosopher who took on several additional roles including statesman and scientist, the natural world became a lens through which to examine “the physical integrity of [the body].”[1] In Sylva Sylvarum, Shirilan contends, Bacon is less interested in “policing the discreteness of bodies (and protecting the individual body from transformative  influences)” than he is “concerned with the prolongation of life, not by sealing the body but by protecting it from putrefaction.”[2]

The perspective Bacon takes to the body thus differs significantly from his  early modern contemporaries, and he centres his exploration of the human body less around humours and more around the bodily spiritus vitalis.[3] According to him, the spiritus is a “tenuous body […] which is akin to air” but different in the same sense that “the juice of grapes is not water.”[4] Rather than temperaments, the body oscillates between vapours and spirits that animate and shape a person’s reactions and responses. As multiple scholars note, including O’Connell, Rusu and Shirilan, the body for Bacon is a mystical as much as a physical entity.[5]

A Look Inside

Bibliographical Information


SYLVA SYLVARVM: OR A Naturall Historie. IN TEN CENTURIES. WRITTEN BY THE RIGHT Honourable FRANCIS Lo. Verulam Viscount St. ALBAN. Published after the Authors death, By WILLIAM RAWLEY Doctor of Diuinitie, late his Lordships Chaplaine.

DATE: 1627

PLACE: London


Printed by J[ohn]. H[aviland and Augustine Mathewes]. for William Lee at the Turks Head in Fleet-street, next to the Miter.


CALL NUMBER: Q155 B32 1627 Large


STC records 10+ copies. ESTC records 20 copies. Gibson, Bacon Bibliography, 171. "Haviland's name from STC; 'Mathewes pr[inted]. quires A-B of Sylva, and New Atlantis.' [....] "'Nevv Atlantis' has divisional title on a1, and separate pagination. a2 is a cancel. Leaf g3 is a list, 'Magnalia naturae, praecipue quoad usus humanos'; the last leaf is blank. A variant of the edition with letterpress title-page dated 1626'" (ESTC). 


A-2M4, 2N2 [$2 (+B3; -2A1, 2M1, 2N2)]. [10] 266 [12]. Unnumbered pages: 34, 79, 80, 108, 130, 152, 179, 180, 209, 210, 240. New Atlantis: A-G4 [$3 (-A1; E2 signed as 'C2')]. [4] 47 [5]. Boards measure 29.2 x 18.5 cm. Leaves measure 28.7 x 18 cm.

TYPE: Roman; Italic

LANGUAGES: English; Latin


1. To Charles. 2. To the reader (Sylva Sylvarum). 3. To the reader (New Atlantis).

TABLES AND INDEXES: Yes (at back).

ILLUSTRATIONS: Ornamented/historiated initials, head and tail pieces, other ornaments. Sylva Sylvarum: McKerrow #259 (not listed). New Atlantis: McKerrow #312 (listed)

MARGINALIA: Moderate-heavy.

WATERMARK: Large pot with crown and initials (centre).

BINDING: Early speckled calf over pasteboards has a frame of double fillets in blind. Spine has seven compartments and six raised bands. Edges speckled red, later flys. 

PROVENANCE: 1. CRRS bookplate on inner pastedown. 2. CRRS stamp on final leaf. 3. Price of £55 in pencil.



Boards: loose boards are scratched and chipped, pasteboard showing at corners. Spine is worn and faded. Leaves: Tightly cropped leaves have minor tears, major tears to edges of prelims and end leaves, creases and stains throughout. Reddening ink splashed on foot at title page, A2, and A3. Final leaf is loose.


[1]           Stephanie Shirilan, "Francis Bacon, Robert Burton, and the Thick Skin of the World: Sympathy, Transmission, and the Imaginary Early Modern Skin," ESC 34, no. 1 (March 2008): 589.

[2]           Ibid.            

[3]           Manfred Horstmanshoff, Helen King and Claus Zittel, eds., Blood, Sweat and Tears: The Changing Concepts of Physiology from Antiguity into Early Modern Europe (Leiden: Brill, 2012): 166.

[4]           Ibid, 161.

[5]           Shirilan, "Francis Bacon, Robert Burton, and the Thick Skin of the World," 589. 

The humours and natural science
Sylva Sylvarum: Or, A Natural Historie (Francis Bacon)