Francis Bacon's Alternative to More's Utopia Curriculum Unit
II. Study Questions
In his New Atlantis, Bacon presents the first model society based on empirical science and on Machiavelli's critique of classical utopias. As such, he does not present a utopia (“no place”) as More did, but Bacon sets forth what he considers to be a realizable city of peace and prosperity founded on a scientifically inductive study of nature and of “humanity.”
To appreciate the issues at stake in the difference between Thomas More’s Utopia and Bacon’s New Atlantis, you might consider books three and four of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels as well as Swift’s “Battle of the Books.” In this battle between the “ancients” and the “moderns,” Swift sides with Thomas More while satirizing such enterprises as Bacon’s New Atlantis in the voyage to Laputa and in the “pure reason” of the Houyhnhnms. In book three, Swift also praises More as one of the six great defenders of freedom of all time.
What is the difference between an “ancient” utopia and a “modern” model of society? To help reflection on this issue, see the questions that follow as well as CTMS Study Questions on Utopia and Gulliver’s Travels. A download of the text of the New Atlantis, as well as PDF versions of the questions and outline below are available on the Downloads page.
Introduction (Pages 1-4)
1. Upon what is our attention focused as we and the travelers are introduced to Bensalem?
2. What contrast is presented between paragraph one and the six that follow? What is the significance of Bensalem’s name (which is Hebrew for “son of peace”)?
Part 1: The Strangers’ House and the History of Bensalem (Pages 5-21)
1. What characterizes the Strangers’ House and how do the European strangers respond to it? What advices does the European leader give to his fellow travelers?
2. What are the most striking attributes of the Governor of the Strangers’ House?
3. What is the first question asked by the strangers and how does the Governor receive that question?
4. What is your reaction to the Governor’s answer? What do you find most surprising about this account?
5. What is the strangers’ second question and why do you think the Governor says they “did well to ask pardon” for phrasing that question as they did?
6. Given the Governor’s answer, what lessons does he want to impart about Bensalem? Why would he volunteer to given the information in his “digression” (19-20)?
7. How do the strangers react to the Governor’s history?
8. Why do you think the Governor does not let the strangers kiss his tippet (21), yet the Father of Salomon’s House does (31)?
Part 2: Marriage Laws and Customs in Bensalem (Pages 21-29)
1. What effect is achieved by having the narrator and Joabin describe Bensalem’s marriage laws and customs?
2. What does this society seem to value most highly, as seen in these laws and customs? How does it compare and contrast with the Utopian practices?
Part 3: On the House of Salomon (Pages 29-43)
1. What distinguishes this Father of the House of Salomon?
2. What is the subject of his private conference with the narrator?
3. What does this account reveal about life in Bensalem?
1. What is most valued in Bensalem by the rulers, the priests, and the people?
Compare and Contrast
1. How does New Atlantis differ from More’s Utopia? How do the objectives of each differ?
2. Would you prefer to live in Bensalem or in Utopia? Why?
3. In book three of Gulliver’s Travels, what is Swift satirizing about Bacon’s New Atlantis?
Introduction — 4 Pages
Approaching New Atlantis
Concerns and an oath
Part 1: Strangers' House & History of Bensalem ("Son of Peace") — 16 Pages
Narrator calls for reform
The governor/priest visits
How Christianity came to Bensalem
The Ark (1570 years ago)
How they know without being known
Age of Atlantis (3000 years ago)
Great Atlantis destroyed
King Solamona (1900 years ago)
Two voyages every twelve years
The strangers are eager to stay
Part 2: Marriage Laws and Customs in Bensalem — 8 Pages
Feast of the Family
The Governor’s role
The Tirsan and his Son of the Vine
King’s Charter and grapes of gold
Blessing of each child
Joabin, a Jewish merchant
Marriage customs and laws
Irrationality of European ways
Superiority of Bensalem to Europe
Superiority of Bensalem to Utopians
Part 3: House of Salomon — 13 Pages (Plus Pages 10-11, 19-21)
Father of Salomon’s House visits
Private conference with the strangers
Salomon’s Foundation explained
1. The end
2. Preparations and Instruments
Lower, Upper, Middle Regions
Works of hermits
Works for health
Poisons; biological experiments
Brew-houses, kitchens, wineries
Medicine dispensaries; furnaces
Perfume and engine houses
Math and deceit houses
3. Employments and Functions
4. Ordinances and Rites
Appended List of Salomon House's "Wonderful Works"
The Wonderful Works of Nature