Francis Bacon Society

Francis Bacon’s desire to live by truth and by truth alone led to his betrayal. 

Bacon was a devoted advocate for the seeking of truth no matter the consequences and in all its forms. Not just the seeking of truth but the living of truth.

To live by a philosophy that to truly understand the nature of truth one needs to agitate the item under investigation to analyse how it responds, to awake it. 

It is in this agitation that the mask under which we and nature exist becomes transparent and we can see the truth revealed.

So were some of the many outcomes that arose out of a discussion group that met last year to agitate a number of topics in the hope of discovering our own truth.

My own journey towards this discussion emulated this very proposition, something that wasn’t revealed to me until the actual day when the subject matter of my discussion changed as I was about to start!

Reflecting on the journey once my commitment to doing a discussion had been made I can see that the slow boil of the agitation took its grip, first on the original topic I was proposing and then on the format it should take.  

Out starting position was the classic presentation lecture format and due to my profession as a landscape architect the subject of Bacon’s gardens. The fact that the end result of the journey was a round table discussion and a subject on living by truth is testament to my journey with Bacon where to get to a level of understanding it was required that I experience a little of his method under which he worked.

This is where the discussion and this article forms part of a debate not only on his work but how a commitment to his life philosophy rather than studying his choice of work can lead to our own growth and development.

This was never more clearly illustrated to me than the part of the journey that has the most impact on my own work; that Bacon designed his gardens for walking. This comment came from talking with Bacon academics as a request for a focus for my discussion. I then researched to try to find the references, I asked for clarity on references but no one could tell me – they all separately knew this as a fact but could not point me to the written word.

This idea really engaged me as a landscape architect. His belief that walking took you to a higher place, a higher place of thought and to better thinking. Both Twickenham Park, Gray’s Inn are good examples where the lawyers would be encouraged to walk the gardens to get to a better level of thinking. 

However, should I be mindful that I have not a “factual” basis for this or is it part of the learning for me. I find myself more drawn to the experiences I have had during these associations with Bacon than studying the actual words he writes. They have been more illuminating and had a much bigger impact and engagement for me. So much so that the direction of my design has shifted to really engage with how one walks a site and the opportunity to include reflective thinking.

But as the ideas developed I found myself fighting the challenges and as the low fire continued to heat our ideas to a boiling point, myself and my fellow commitants each reached our own points of exasperation with where and on what we were going before the truth and then the flow was revealed.

It was a truth that was for many around our table a confirmation of their own paths with Bacon and reconfirmed my own these that once a commitment is made to working with Bacon his method of discovering truth becomes part of our own lives and things get. in our modern parlance, shaken up.

One of the fascinating aspects of this discussion was that some of the main premises that I was originally going to explore all got answered by this deeper truth. The question of his torturing nature.

Many papers have been written refuting this common misconception but when one sees that, in the pursuit of truth, it is not torture that is used but this shaking up/agitation you can see how the misunderstanding occurred but when thinking about one of the examples used to reaffirm this opinion – the crushing of flowers underfoot; we saw it in a different way.

He does advocated the crushing of flowers underfoot to release their scents as part of designing a garden. But, how do we get the flower essences that we all use? we crush plants and flowers to release their goodness – their essences. To get to the goodness the truth matter has to change but its how we approach this that is part of the process of learning and what we then do with the result – how we learn and how we grow.

I believe that by committing to working with the words of Bacon as I did in agreeing to speak, you find things start to get agitated. Like watching a shakespeare play you come out the other end changed, thoughtful……I saw Mark Rylance as Richard III and I realised that through the humour of the piece I became complicit in Richard’s crime. I asked him to be king – even knowing what he had already done – without realising it I signed up to his approach and I thought myself immune from blindly falling in with the herd – unsettling indeed to find I was taken in as was the next man…

The whole process of learning has been like that – Bacon is a silent catalyst in your own journey, which when there is a commitment becomes more intense and as you read his words more thought provoking. Not in an attempt to discover more about him but more about yourself – the truth about yourself.

This pursuit of truth and the living of truth can be uncomfortable. Part of the discussion on Bacon’s character was this connection to living truth. Based around a Bacon’s letter to Coke, Sarah Dawkins offered this as a point of discussion.  See letter reprinted.

I believe that this letter shows that Bacon lived a life not in the pursuit of Truth (though there was times when this was part of his job) but in the acceptance of truth as a way of life.

When you review his decisions and we talked about his choices with money – there was a way of life he was living as well as writing. The letter to Coke shows his attempt to live truth and live the consequences of his beliefs.

Can we when we look at this life now see the decisions he took based on this understanding that for him there was no other way to live but truth and to pursue untruths where they exist. When this though was with someone else to offer a new path an understanding of the mirror shown and the consequence of their actions but their path to redemption – he must have been a truly and honestly difficult person to be with.

Not for himself but for the mirror he applied to all around him and how he was challenged.