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HILST the thirteenth century was by no
means free from wars, the Western nations
of Europe were beginning to feel the results
of ordered government, and a great impetus was given
to intellectual pursuits. To a very great extent this
took the direction of theological disputes, but secular
knowledge also shared the inspiration.
The scientists of that day were concerned almost
solely with astrology and alchemy, and owing to the
superstition then so prevalent, all who studied these
so-called sciences were liable to be suspected of practising
the magic arts.
Roger Bacon was not the man to be turned from the
pursuit of knowledge, by any fear of evil consequences
that might spring from the ignorance of his fellow-men.
Born of a good Somerset family, he was sent to Oxford,
where he studied the works of Aristotle, which had been
forgotten for centuries, and thus became acquainted
with the greatest of the classical scientists. He also
took a great interest in mathematics, and was the first
to apply this knowledge to the science of astronomy.
After some years at Oxford, he went to the University
of Paris, returning to Oxford again in 1250. He then
entered the Francisan Order, and hence is often called
 Friar Bacon. Having acquired all the learning of the
age, he spent all that he had, and much that he borrowed
from friends, in his scientific researches into the secrets of
nature. He was especially interested in the science of
optics, as being useful to the study of astronomy, and
this resulted in the invention of the magnifying glass,
but he was greatly hindered by the need of proper
Such a man would naturally gather many students
around him, and we learn that he was a kindly teacher,
and never hesitated to impart his knowledge freely, when
his scholars were too poor to make him any payment.
"From my youth up," he writes, "I have laboured
at the sciences and tongues. I have sought the
friendship of all men among the Latins who had any reputation
for knowledge. I have caused youths to be instructed
in languages, geometry, arithmetic, the construction
of tables and instruments, and many needful things
Returning to Paris, his great gifts brought him many
enemies, and he was at last accused of the practice of
magic and imprisoned in 1257. He was forbidden all
intercourse with the world, and even the privilege of
writing was denied him. Then Pope Clement IV.
became interested in his work, and it was at the Pope's
request that Bacon wrote his Opus Magus, and the
manuscript was sent to Rome by the hand of his favourite
pupil, John of London. We do not know how it was
received, for Clement died shortly afterward.
This wonderful book sums up the state of knowledge,
both in philosophy and science, of the time. Many other
books were written by Friar Bacon, some of which have
never been translated from the Latin in which all learned
 books were written in his day, for Latin was still the
common language of European scholars.
In his later years Bacon drew up a rectified calendar,
invented gunpowder, and was, as Mr.
Lecky says, "the
greatest natural philosopher of the Middle Ages." It
seems strange to us that such a man could believe in
astrology and in the philosopher's stone, but Bacon was
sufficiently a child of his time to feel the fascination which
these idle pursuits had for nearly all the learned men of
Bacon's greatest achievement was his application of
new principles to the study of science. He believed that
experiment was necessary, and not merely the acceptance
of beliefs handed down from ancient philosophers.
To his optical and astronomical researches he brought
to bear his knowledge of mathematics, in which he had
learnt much from the Arabs, who in that day were
especially renowned in that science.
Although his work had no great immediate effect,
owing to the decay of learning during the next two
centuries, when all the energies of the Church were
devoted to preventing schism, his influence during the
Renaissance in the sixteenth century was marked, for
many of his books were amongst the earliest printed.
Bacon was released from prison in Paris about the year
1267, and for ten years enjoyed his freedom in spite of
the attacks of his enemies. In 1278 the chief of the
Franciscan Order declared his books to be unorthodox,
and kept him in confinement until 1292. Two years
later he died at Oxford.