Oxford: Leon Lichfield, 1640, 1639. First edition. Rare first issue with the colophon dated 1639. Contemporary calf, rebacked preserving original spine. Gilt-stamped Lowther family bookplate of the Earls of Lonsdale to front pastedown; later ownership signature to verso of front endpaper. Contemporary price notation to header of title. Occasional discrete marginal notations; faint dampstaining to upper and outer margins of leaves Ddd4-Eee3 and Qqq-Rrr2, else internally a pleasing and clean copy. With pages measuring 280 x 190mm and collating complete including frontis, with text continuous despite the typical mispagination. Scarce in this first issue; another copy sold three years ago at a Forum auction for £6,000. ESTC notes only 7 U.S. institutions holding copies in their collections.
A pioneering work in support of empirical philosophy, Of the Proficience of Learning marked Bacon's reorganization of the scientific method that he had laid out in 1605 (in English) and 1623 (in Latin). It was a concept he would revise throughout his career, expanding to include new taxonomies to define science versus philosophy, and knowledge derived from physical senses versus divine revelation. Ultimately, this approach to empiricism was designed to move intellectuals and universities into a new model, no longer held back by ancient and outmoded approaches that prevented scientific advancement. "Bacon found the logic of Aristotelian school men barren and incapable of improving the life of man. He spotted this defect in the system and he set to correcting it. But Bacon realized that ancient institutions change very slowly, and he gave ample indication in his writings that he knew it would take time to thaw universities' frozen classical curricula...Bacon admitted frankly that his ideas might require centuries to explore and perfect. He regarded his books...as boats with precious cargo launched onto the great sea of time" (Wandersee). In this sense, the allegorical frontis of this first edition encapsulates the author's hopes: a ship in full sail passes from the old world and into the new. A work of monumental importance, quite scarce in first issue.
ESTC S124504. (Item #3455)