Volume 6, Issue 1, Spring 2017
Gardens as Laboratories. The History of Botany through the History of Gardens
Reconstructing Sylva sylvarum
Ralph Austen’s Observations and the Use of Experiment
Bacon’s projects of natural history were extremely popular in the mid-seventeenth century, especially for a group of people devoted to experimental activities, namely the Hartlib Circle. Ralph Austen, one member of the Hartlib Circle, tried to construct his own project of natural history using Bacon’s Sylva sylvarum as a pattern and following the Baconian scheme with particular interest for the methodological aspects entailed by such an endeavor. This paper provides an account of Austen’s attempts at writing a natural history as found in his Observations upon some part of Sr Francis Bacon’s Naturall History. It discusses the methodology and aims served by such an enterprise, both practical and theoretical: the role of experimentation in the process of compiling a natural history as the most reliable activity able to provide accurate knowledge of the natural world and the determination to provide general rules and axioms about nature.