Volume 9, Issue 1, Spring 2020
Needles and Pins on the Scaffold: Francis Bacon and Giovan Battista della Porta on the Motions of the Human Soul and the Passions of the Lodestone
This article discusses the powers of the lodestone for two authors, Francis Bacon and Giovan Battista della Porta, relating their observations on magnetism and human emotions to the field of learned natural magic. It investigates some of Bacon’s and Porta’s remarks on experimental work with lodestones and the ways in which both authors translated the inexplicable powers of lodestones and magnetized iron into a series of principles that also served as a structure and explanation of human emotions (and vice versa). I suggest that at work here is not merely an anthropomorphic projection at nature, but also (and conversely) an interest in and fascination with the naturalization and mechanization of human emotions. My contribution examines passages from Bacon’s Advancement of Learning, the Novum organum, the Sylva sylvarum and his Essays; from Della Porta’s Magia naturalis (second edition 1589) and his comedy Sorella (1604). First, the insight that Bacon’s and Della Porta’s perception of magnetic movements have a strong common bias: the identification with human emotions. Both authors postulate not merely a close analogy, but a mutual convertibility between the two phenomena and with animal spirits. Second, this syn-optic approach is no one-way-street merely creating a characteristic perception of the phenomenon of magnetism: it also conditions the modes in which the human mind and emotions are perceived. Third, emotions—in particular love and hatred—are in principle as predictable as the movements of attraction and repulsion exercised by iron and lodestone.