“Cogitation Against Libraries”: Bacon, the Bodleian, and the Weight of the Medieval Past

Jennifer Summit

in Memory's Library

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780226781716
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226781723 | DOI:
“Cogitation Against Libraries”: Bacon, the Bodleian, and the Weight of the Medieval Past

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This chapter locates Francis Bacon in the tradition of Reformation era and post-Reformation library makers that begins with Matthew Parker, John Bale, and Stephen Batman and extends to Bodley's first librarian, Thomas James. Reading Bacon as a practitioner of early modern library science as well as a writer engaging with the libraries of literary history, it also situates Bacon at the end of a line of writers beginning with John Lydgate and progressing to Thomas More, Thomas Elyot, Edmund Spenser, and William Camden, for whom writing about libraries was a way of theorizing and imagining the objects, shapes, and limitations of human knowledge. The chapter first considers the recurring and shifting but also unexpectedly central role that libraries play in Bacon's oeuvre, an examination that is extended to Bacon's correspondence with Thomas Bodley and, finally, to Bodley's own correspondence with his brilliant librarian, Thomas James, as they produce a three-way debate over the roles of books, knowledge, and libraries in the seventeenth century.

Keywords: Francis Bacon; post-Reformation library; Thomas James; library science; Thomas Bodley; Matthew Parker; John Bale; Stephen Batman; libraries; knowledge

Chapter.  16796 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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