The utopian society Bacon described in his fable New Atlantis included a ‘college’ on the island of Bensalem called ‘Salomon’s House’, where devout investigators worked on a collaborative, structured programme of experiment, collection and interpretation, aimed at extending natural knowledge and advancing its practical benefits, to ‘the effecting of all things possible’. This was an influential vision and attempts were made to emulate Bacon’s college in seventeenth-century England, such as by Samuel Hartlib and members of his circle. In 1654, the College of Physicians in London was declared by Walter Charleton to be ‘Solomon’s House in reality’, while the Royal Society in London and the original Ashmolean Museum in Oxford can both be related to a similar inspiration. Each of these institutions included a collection displayed in a museum.
Bacon’s college had been established by an ancient king called Solamona, who was remembered for his wisdom and for establishing the law. He had much in common with Solomon himself and named his foundation after, Bacon’s visitors were told, ‘the King of the Hebrewes, which is famous with you, and no Stranger to vs’. The appropriateness of this choice was even more clearly appreci ated on Bensalem, where there survived ‘some Parts of his works, which with you are lost, Namely that Naturall History, which hee wrote of all Plants, from the Cedar of Libanus, to the Mosse that groweth out of the Wall; And of all things that haue Life and Motion’ (p.19).