The sources of Sylva Sylvarum (1): George Sandys

sandysOne of the important sources for Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum is George Sandys, A relation of a journey begun in an. Dom. 1610, containing a description of the Turkish Empire, London, 1615. This is a popular travel narative in the first part of the seventeenth century.

Sandys’ travels is a fascinating book. Written as a travel log, it takes the reader through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Italy and many islands of the Mediterranean sea (Crete, Malta, Sicily). Sandy’s travels go as far as the Middle East and contain spectacular descriptions of Jerusalem and the Read Sea.

picture1What Bacon borrows from Sandys is, however, an entirely different matter. As in the case of Pliny, Aristotle and Della Porta, Bacon’s interest is not for the substance of the book, or for the author’s theories (although a travel log, Sandy’s Travels also have a humanist over-coat and sometimes enter into deep questions regarding history, politics and human nature). Sandys’ travels is treated as a storehouse of curious “facts” and natural historical reports on plants, animals, volcanoes, minerals (esp. bitumen and Sulphur), termal springs, architecture (especially ventilation), coffee, mummies etc.

In some cases, Bacon borrows practical, useful recipes; in some other cases, he selects the unusual reports and imagines procedures to test and apply it in different circumstances. Here is one of them

782. It is said they have a manner to prepare their Greek wines, to keep them from fuming and inebriating, by adding some Sulphur or alum: wherof the one is unctuous, and the other is astringent. And certain it is that those two natures do best repress fumes. This experiment would be transferred unto other wine and strong beer, by putting in some like substances while they work; which may make them both to fume less, and to inflame less.

Some of these borrowings have been identified by Spedding, Bacon’s nineteenth century editor. They abound in century VIII. But one can find them in the other centuries as well; and, in fact, a thorough study of Bacon’s use of Sandys’ travels awaits to be done.

Here is some of our work on the subject (in Romanian).

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