1902 Encyclopedia > Aeronautics > Confused Ideas of Francis Bacon on Aeronautics

(Part 7)

Confused Ideas of Francis Bacon on Aeronautics

Some writers have stated that Francis Bacon first published the true principles of aeronautics. This assertion we cannot help noticing, because it has really no foundation except in the propensity, fostered by indolence, which would gladly refer all the discoveries ever made to a few great names. They mistake, indeed, the character of Bacon who seek to represent him as an inventor. His claim to immortality rests chiefly on the profound and comprehensive views which he took of the bearings of the different parts of human knowledge; for it would be difficult to point out a single fact or observation with which he enriched the store of physical science. On the contrary, being very deficient in mathematical learning, he disregarded or rejected some of the noblest discoveries made in his own time.

We can find only two passages in Bacon's work which can be considered as referring to aeronautics, and they both occur in that collection of loose facts and inconclusive reasonings which he has entitled Natural History. The first is styled Experiment Solitary, touching Flying in the Air, and runs thus -- "Certainly many birds of good wing (as kites and the like) would bear up a good weight as they fly; and spreading feathers thin and close, and in great breadth, will likewise bear up a great weight being even laid, without tilting up on the sides. The farther extension of this experiment might be thought upon." The second passage is more diffuse, but less intelligible; it is styled Experiment Solitary, touching the Flying of unequal Bodies in the Air: - "Let there be a body of unequal weight (as of wool and lead or bone and lead); if you throw it from you with the light end forward, it will turn, and the weightier end will recover to be forwards, unless the body be over long. The cause is, for that the more dense body hath a more violent pressure of the parts from the first impulsion, which is the cause (though heretofore not found out, as hath been often said) of all violent motions; and when the hinder part moveth swifter (for that it less endureth pressure of parts) than the forward part can make way for it, it must needs be that the body turn over; for (turned) it can more easily draw forward the lighter part." The fact here alluded to is the resistance that bodies experience in moving through the air, which, depending on the quantity of surface merely, must exert a proportionally greater effect on rare substance. The passage itself, however, after making every allowance for the period in which it was written, must be deemed confused, obscure, and unphilosophical.

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