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Francis Bacon & the Frozen Chicken

In response to:

The Dream of Scientific Brotherhood from the May 10, 2007 issue

To the Editors:

Rather than, as Freeman Dyson says [“The Dream of Scientific Brotherhood,” NYR, May 10], being someone who “never did an experiment,” Francis Bacon did at least one, and it killed him. On a wintry day in March 1626, while traveling from London to his home in St. Albans, in an attempt to find out whether freezing could help to preserve food, he stopped his carriage, bought a chicken, and stuffed it full of snow. The result of his exertions in the cold and damp was not the early invention of the frozen TV dinner but his rapid demise from pneumonia.

Timothy Beecroft

St. Albans, Hertfordshire, UK

Freeman Dyson replies:

The story of the frozen-chicken experiment is told by John Gribbin on page 85 of The Fellowship. Gribbin explains in detail why he believes the story to be untrue. But Gribbin quotes from a letter written by Francis Bacon on his deathbed confirming that he had done some experiments in London before starting on his fatal journey to St. Albans. So my statement that he never did an experiment is also untrue. I thank Timothy Beecroft for correcting my mistake.

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