Numerous early modern experimentalists, including Galileo Galilei, Francis Bacon and Thomas Harriot, viewed one seemingly humble principle – that at a given volume, different substances can be identified by their particular weight, or specific gravity – as a fundamental key to the understanding of nature in general. Johannes Kepler’s Messekunst Archimedis of 1616 contains a striking summary of the experimental research on specific gravities in the long sixteenth-century. Counting himself amongst an extensive list of authors interested in this problem, Kepler mentions not only natural philosophers or mathematicians interested in Archimedes. His account surprisingly includes humanists, instrument makers, antiquarians and assayers. Received histories of specific gravities often focus on antecedents of modern disciplinary concepts and methodologies, where instead, Kepler’s account suggests the existence of a heterogeneous group of early modern experts involved in experiments on the quantification of matter, at the intersection between the history of science, practical mathematics and the humanities.
Weighing of experience was a central concern of what Bacon called the "literate" stage of experimentation. As early as 1608, Bacon devised precise tenets for standard, quantitative reporting of experiments. These ideas were later integrated into his experimental histories proper. Bacon's enquiry of dense and rare is the best example of experientia literata developed in a quantitative fashion. I suggest that Bacon's ideas on this issue can be tied to experiments for the determination of specific gravities born in a monetary context: Bacon's investigation was very likely a generalization of Jean Bodin's experiments in Universae naturae theatrum (1596). Overall, Bacon's program of quantification calls for a revision of established historiographical notions, especially Thomas Kuhn's sharp dichotomy between a mathematical and a Baconian experimental tradition in seventeenth-century science.
Notwithstanding Francis Bacon's praise for the philosophical role of the mechanical arts, historians have often downplayed Bacon's connections with actual artisans and entrepreneurs. Addressing the specific context of mining culture, this study proposes a rather different picture. The analysis of a famous mining metaphor in The Advancement of Learning shows us how Bacon's project of reform of knowledge could find an apt correspondence in civic and entrepreneurial values of his time. Also, Bacon had interesting and so far unexplored links with the early modern English mining enterprises, like the Company of Mineral and Battery Works, of which he was a shareholder. Moreover, Bacon's notes in a private notebook, Commentarius Solutus, and records of patents of invention, allow us to start grasping Bacon's connections with the metallurgist and entrepreneur Thomas Russell. Lastly, this paper argues that, to fully understand Bacon's links with the world of Stuart technicians and entrepreneurs, it is necessary to consider a different and insufficiently studied aspect of Bacon's interests, namely his work as patents referee while a Commissioner of Suits.