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FRANCIS OF VERULAM
THOUGHT THUS, AND SUCH IS THE METHOD HE WITHIN HIMSELF
PURSUED, WHICH HE THOUGHT IT CONCERNED BOTH
SEEING he was satisfied that the human understanding creates itself labour, and makes not a judicious and convenient use of such real helps as are within man's power, whence arise both a manifold ignorance of things, and innumerable disadvantages, the consequence of such ignorance; he thought that we ought to endeavour, with all our might, either (if it were possible) completely to restore, or, at all events, to bring to a better issue that free intercourse of the. mind with things, nothing similar to which is to be met with on earth, at least as regards earthly objects. But that errors which have gained firm ground, and will for ever continue to gain ground, would, if the mind were left to itself, successively correct each other, either from the proper powers of the understanding, or from the helps and support of logic, he entertained not the slightest hope. Because the primary notions of things, which the mind ignorantly and negligently imbibes, stores up, and accumulates (and from which every thing else is derived), are faulty and confused, and carelessly abstracted from the things themselves; and in the secondary and following notions, there is an equal wantonness and inconsistency. Hence it happens that the whole system of human reasoning, as far as we apply it to the investigation of nature, is not skilfully consolidated and built up, but resembles a magnificent pile that has no foundation. For while men admire and celebrate the false energies of the mind, they pass by, and lose sight of, the real; such as may exist if the mind adopt proper helps, and act modestly towards things instead of weakly insulting them. But one course was left, to begin the matter anew with better preparation, and to effect a restoration of the sciences, arts, and the
whole of human learning, established on their proper foundation. And although, at the first attempt, this may appear to be infinite, and above the strength of a mere mortal, yet will it, in the execution, be found to be more sound and judicious than the course which has hitherto been pursued. For this method admits at least of some termination, whilst in the present mode of treating the sciences, there is a sort of whirl, and perpetual hurry round a circle. Nor has he forgotten to observe that he stands alone in this experiment, and that it is too bold and astonishing to obtain credit. Nevertheless he thought it not right to desert either the cause or himself, by not exploring and entering upon the only way, which is pervious to the human mind. For it is better to commence a matter which may admit of some termination, than to be involved in perpetual exertion and anxiety about that which is interminable. And, indeed, the ways of contemplation nearly resemble those celebrated ways of action; the one of which steep and rugged at its commencement terminates in a plain, the other at the first view smooth and easy leads only to bye-roads and precipices. Uncertain, however, whether these reflections would ever hereafter suggest themselves to another, and particularly having observed, that he has never yet met with any person disposed to apply his mind to similar meditations, he determined to publish whatsoever he had first time to conclude. Nor is this the haste of ambition, but of his anxiety, that if the common lot of mankind should befall him, some sketch and determination of the matter his mind had embraced might be extant, as well as an earnest of his will being honourably bent upon promoting the advantage of mankind. He assuredly looked upon any other ambition as beneath the matter he had undertaken; for that which is here treated of is either nothing, or it is so great that he ought to be satisfied with its own worth, and seek no other return.
OUR MOST SERENE AND MIGHTY PRINCE AND LORD
BY THE GRACE OF GOD, KING OF GREAT BRITAIN,
OF THE FAITH, ETC.
MOST SERENE AND MIGHTY KING,
YOUR Majesty will, perhaps, accuse me of theft, in that I have stolen from your employments time sufficient for this work. I have no reply, for there can be no restitution of time, unless, perhaps, that which has been withdrawn from your affairs might be set down as devoted to the perpetuating of your name and to the honour of your age, were what I now offer of any value. It is at least new, even in its very nature; but copied from a very ancient pattern, no other than the world itself, and the nature of things, and of the mind. I myself (ingenuously to confess the truth) am wont to value this work rather as the offspring of time than of wit. For the only wonderful circumstance in it is, that the first conception of the matter, and so deep suspicions of prevalent notions should ever have entered into any person's mind; the consequences naturally follow. But, doubtless, there is a chance (as we call it), and something as it were accidental in man's thoughts, no less than in his actions and words. I would have this chance, however (of which I am speaking), to be so understood, that if there be any merit in what I offer, it should be attributed to the immeasurable mercy and bounty of God, and to the felicity of this your age; to which felicity I have devoted myself