Born in Ilchester, in the county of Somerset, in the year 1214. Later surnamed Doctor Mirabilis, after a little alchemy and demonology. He studied for some time at the University of Oxford, focusing on theology and science, and afterwards schooled at the University of Paris where he received his degree, doctor of divinity. By this point he could already write and write Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Returning to Paris in 1240, he became a Franciscan monk under the Fratis Petrus Peregrinus de Maricourt, and gained the reputation of being one of the most learned men of his age, to the point where 'his acquirements were so much above the comprehension of his contemporaries that they could only account for them by supposing that he was indebted for them to the Devil.
    Voltaire said of him, 'De l'or encrouté de toutes les ordures de so siècle,' and Bacon alone at that time in Europe understood the powers of the concave and convex lens. He also invented the magic lantern, through pursuit of knowledge in both physics and optics, as well being credited with introduction of the telescope and gunpowder (nitre) to Europe (the Muslims had already developed the spyglass, and the Chinese fireworks, long before this point). Bacon's Admirable Power of Art and Nature in the Production of the Philosopher's Stone was translated into French by Girard de Tormes of Lyons in 1557. Bacon's Mirror of Alchymy was also published in the French that same year, and a special edition appeared in 1612 with additions from the magician Raymond Lulli. He died at Oxford 11 June, 1294, after completing his master work, Opus Majus.
    The most important of all his writings are the "Opus Majus", the "Opus Minus", and the "Tertium". The "Opus Majus" deals in seven parts :
  1. the obstacles to real wisdom and truth, viz. errors and their sources;
  2. the relation between theology and philosophy, taken in its widest sense as comprising all sciences not strictly philosophical: here he proves that all sciences are founded on the sacred sciences, especially on Holy Scripture;
  3. the necessity of studying zealously the Biblical languages, as without them it is impossible to bring out the treasure hidden in Holy Writ;
  4. mathematics and their relation and application to the sacred sciences, particularly Holy Scripture; here he seizes an
  5. opportunity to speak of Biblical geography and of astronomy (if these parts really belong to the "Opus Majus");
  6. optics or perspective;
  7. the experimental sciences;
  8. moral philosophy or ethics.
    Bacon felt eloquence ought to be accompanied by science, and science by eloquence; for "science without eloquence is like a sharp sword in the hands of a paralytic, whilst eloquence without science is a sharp sword in the hands of a furious man" ("Sapientia sine eloquentia est quasi gladius acutus in manu paralytici, sicut eloquentia expers sapientiæ est quasi gladius acutus in manu furiosi"; Opus Tertium, I, Brewer, 4). All seekers of knowledge must avoid the four errors which hinder the learned from attaining the summit of wisdom:
  1. the example of weak and unreliable authority,
  2. blind continuance of custom,
  3. regard for the opinion of the unlearned, and,
  4. concealing one's own ignorance, together with the exhibition of apparent wisdom
    Sound f-ing advice.
Sources :
  • "The Alchymists", from Mackay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (London : 1852), p93-221.
  • Bacon, Roger, 1214?-1294. Opus majus. (Oxford : s.n., 1897)
  • Bacon, Roger. The mirror of alchemy / composed by the thrice-famous and learned Frier; with the Smaragdine table of Hermes, trismegistus of alchemy. (Los Angeles : Printed at the Press of the Pegacycle Lady for the Globe Book Store, 1975)
Charles Mackay (1814-1889), from Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds


The powerful delusion of alchymy seized upon a mind still greater than that of Raymond Lulli. Roger Bacon firmly believed in the philosopher's stone, and spent much of his time in search of it. His example helped to render all the learned men of the time more convinced of its practicability, and more eager in the pursuit. He was born at Ilchester, in the county of Somerset, in the year 1214. He studied for some time in the University of Oxford, and afterwards in that of Paris, in which he received the degree of doctor of divinity. Returning to England in 1240, he became a monk of the order of St. Francis. He was by far the most learned man of his age; and his acquirements were so much above the comprehension of his contemporaries, that they could only account for them by supposing that he was indebted for them to the devil. Voltaire has not inaptly designated him "De l'or encrouté de toutes les ordures de son siècle;" but the crust of superstition that enveloped his powerful mind, though it may have dimmed, could not obscure the brightness of his genius. To him, and apparently to him only, among all the inquiring spirits of the time, were known the properties of the concave and convex lens. He also invented the magic-lantern; that pretty plaything of modern days, which acquired for him a reputation that embittered his life. In a history of alchymy, the name of this great man cannot be omitted, although, unlike many others of whom we shall have occasion to speak, he only made it secondary to other pursuits. The love of universal knowledge that filled his mind, would not allow him to neglect one branch of science, of which neither he nor the world could yet see the absurdity. He made ample amends for his time lost in this pursuit by his knowledge in physics and his acquaintance with astronomy. The telescope, burning-glasses, and gunpowder, are discoveries which may well carry his fame to the remotest time, and make the world blind to the one spot of folly -- the diagnosis of the age in which he lived, and the circumstances by which he was surrounded. His treatise on the "Admirable Power of Art and Nature in the Production of the Philosopher's Stone" was translated into French by Girard de Tormes, and published at Lyons in 1557. His "Mirror of Alchymy" was also published in French in the same year, and in Paris in 1612, with some additions from the works of Raymond Lulli. A complete list of all the published treatises upon the subject may be seen in Lenglet du Fresnoy.

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