The very best stories involve an element of rationality with a touch of the mysterious. Such a tale concerns the demise of proto-scientist Sir Francis Bacon in 1626.
Bacon is often held up as one of the pioneers of modern scientific thought. He championed evidence-based inquiry over argument from authority, a position that is all-to-often forgotten even in these enlightened times. He developed Baconian method, a deductive procedure we would now equate to scientific method. A statesman and lawyer as well as a philosopher, Bacon rose to become Lord Chancellor, the highest public office in the land. Some even believe he authored many of the plays attributed to Shakespeare.
Nothing about this Renaissance man was average or workaday. Even his death was somewhat unusual. Bacon was travelling with the King’s physician through the small village of Highgate, on the northern fringes of London on a cold, snowy April day in 1626. The cold weather prompted the pair into discussing whether food might be preserved by freezing. Like any good empiricist, Bacon decided to run an experiment there and then.
He purchased a chicken from a nearby vendor and proceeded to stuff the carcass with snow and ice, thereby preparing the first recorded frozen chicken in British history. Sadly, Bacon never completed the experiment. His icy exertions led to an acute case of pneumonia from which he soon succumbed.
The story has been neatly summed up in verse:
Against cold meats was he insured?
For frozen chickens he procured
brought on the illness he endured,
and never was this Bacon cured.
Whether the story is true, well, we have to rely on argument from non-authority (in this case, numerous web sites and folklore books). What we can say for certain is that tales of a ghostly chicken haunting Pond Square in Highgate are pure cock and bull.
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