This article aims to reconstruct a complex inquiry into the nature of life delineated in Francis Bacon’s ‘last writings’, a series of manuscripts discovered at the end of the twentieth century. I show that these fragmentary texts can be understood if we place them in the larger context of Bacon’s posthumous works: the Sylva Sylvarum and the Historia densi et rari. Taken together, these texts unveil Bacon’s last bold project of a History and inquisition into the nature of animate and inanimate [Historia et inquisitio de animato et inanimato], an investigation focusing on the possibility of creating life in the laboratory. I show that Bacon’s last project marks a revaluation of earlier definitions and explanations regarding the nature of life, as well as a change in the vocabulary. I suggest that some of these changes might have originated in practice; and I show how various recipes, observations and experiments recorded in Bacon’s late writings can illuminate and justify some of his new terminology.

The article is available here https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/epdf/10.1098/rsnr.2023.0037