What’s the connection between Francis Bacon, Roger Scruton, Dr B’s PhD, and a glass of Cabernet Franc in a wine bar called Cave Voltaire in Chinon, the home town of Rabelais? This is going to be one hell of a post if I can convince you of the connection.
Sitting here today in the Cave Voltaire wine bar in Chinon, situated in Rue Voltaire and obviously named after France’s great philosopher, I found myself reflecting on his thoughts and writing, especially about freedom …….. of religion, speech and thought. One of his quotes, “it is dangerous to be right on matters in which the established authorities are wrong” is a personal favourite of mine about the times we are living in.
I had been reading a book as my thoughts wandered, another by one of my favourite authors Sir Roger Scruton, England’s greatest living philosopher, entitled “I Drink Therefore I Am”. Generally speaking this is a book about wine, about philosophy, and about the philosophy of wine. I had reached the final chapter “What to Drink With What”, which surprised me by NOT being about matching wine with food, but about matching wine with the writing of some of the great philosophers in history. So for example matching a Vouvray with Plato, a Sauvignon Blanc with Aristotle, and a Chablis with Locke. Scruton’s combinations are well thought out and clearly explained as well as being quite humorous. So, what should I do, should I choose a particular wine to match Voltaire, (Because I am in a wine bar named after him), or should I do it the other way around and seek Scruton’s view on the best philosopher to match with a Cabernet Franc, the noble red grape of the Loire Valley in which Chinon is situated and I am ensconced? I chose the latter and as the recommended philosopher up popped …… Francis Bacon 1561-1626, First Baron Verulam, Lord High Chancellor of England, and the “father of empiricism”, I was suddenly reminded of my initial encounter with him. I first read about Francis B 50 years ago when I was doing my PhD in Chemistry (before I studied psychology) and found it fascinating that he was the person who investigated whether keeping a chicken in snow would preserve it in a condition still satisfactory to eat! But, sadly, in doing this experiment in the snow poor old Francis caught pneumonia and died! Now, to finish this bit off I found a quote of his at the time from his essay “The Advancement of Learning” which I wrote as the opening line of my doctoral thesis:
“If a man begins with certainties he shall end with doubts, but if he be content to begin with doubts he shall end with certainties” which was extremely apt across my three years of research in the field of electrochemistry. But it has stuck with me throughout my whole life, being especially poignant during my psychologist business career as each new corporate project kicked off, reminding me not to make assumptions, to be open minded, and to doubt everything anyone told me until verified.
If you’re by now confused, let me summarise for you:
- I’m sitting in a wine bar in Chinon named after one of France’s great philosophers, Voltaire.
- The primary red wine grape of Chinon is the Cabernet Franc.
- I’m reading a book by Roger Scruton, England’s greatest living philosopher.
- The book is called I Drink Therefore I Am.
In the final chapter of the book, Scruton recommends that one should drink Cabernet Franc while reading or considering the philosophy of Francis Bacon who was a “hero” and conceptual guide of mine during my PhD student days.
So, how about a glass of wine? It has to be a red, from Chinon, a Cabernet Franc as recommended by Scruton. I ask Patrice for a glass from the Domaine Charles Joguet, Charles himself now retired, but a well known artist and philosopher as well as being a well known winemaker. Patrice opens a fresh bottle and pours me a glass, it’s a fairly young Clos de la Dioterie of Mr Joguet, still a deep purple in colour, quite tannic but with great ageing potential. I glance at the label on the bottle, it’s famous, an image of Rabelais, another great French philosopher born locally. Charles Joguet uses the image of Rabelais as his logo. I take in the aroma so distinctive of Cabernet Franc, a first sip, and begin to read Scruton’s words about Francis Bacon:
“The author of “The Advancement of Learning” … a worldly politician, brilliant essayist, wide-eyed observer of the human condition, and intellectual iconoclast who single handedly destroyed the grip of Aristotelian science on the Western mind, and taught us how to gain knowledge … [with our eyes and ears]. Any discussion of his insights should proceed by the comparative method. I suggest opening six different bottles of Cabernet Franc, and then pretending to compare and contrast, taking notes in winespeak, while downing the lot! Then one of the company should read Bacon’s essay on “Death” after which a long silence would be appropriate”.