Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

THE FOURTH PART

OF THE GREAT INSTAURATION.

SCALING LADDER OF THE INTELLECT; OR, THREAD OF
THE LABYRINTH.

IT would be difficult to find fault with those who affirm that "nothing is known," if they had tempered the rigour of their decision by a softening explanation. For should any one contend, that science rightly interpreted is a knowledge of things through their causes, and that the knowledge of causes constantly expands, and by gradual and successive concatenation rises, as it were, to the very loftiest parts of nature, so that the knowledge of particular existences cannot be properly possessed without an accurate comprehension of the whole of things; it is not easy to discover, what can reasonably be observed in reply. For it is not reasonable to allege, that the true knowledge of any thing is to be attained before the mind has a correct conception of its causes.: and to claim for human nature such a correct conception universally, might justly be pronounced perhaps not a little rash, or rather the proof of an ill balanced mind. They, however, of whom we are writing, shrink not from thus desecrating the oracles of the senses, which must lead to a total recklessness. Nay, to speak the truth, had they even spared their false accusations, the very controversy itself appears to originate in an unreasonable and contentious spirit; since, independently of that rigid truth to which they refer, there still remains such a wide field for human exertion, that it would be preposterous if not symptomatic of an unsettled and disturbed intellect, in the anxious grasping at distant extremes, to overlook such utilities as are obvious and near at hand. For however they may seek, by introducing their distinction of true and probable, to subvert the certainty of science without at the same time superseding the use or practically affecting the pursuit of it, yet in destroying the

[ocr errors]

SCALING LADDER OF THE INTELLECT.

425

hope of effectually investigating truth, they have cut the very sinews of human industry, and by a promiscuous license of disquisition converted what should have been the labour of discovery into a mere exercise of talent and disputation.

We cannot however deny, that if there be any fellowship between the ancients and ourselves, it is principally as connected with this species of philosophy: as we concur in many things which they have judiciously observed and stated about the varying nature of the senses, the weakness of human judgment, and the propriety of withholding or suspending assent; to which we might add innumerable other remarks of a similar tendency. So that the only difference between them and ourselves is that they affirm "nothing can be perfectly known by any method whatever;" we, that "nothing can be perfectly known by the methods which mankind have hitherto pursued." Of this fellowship we are not at all ashamed. For the aggregate, if it consists not of those alone who lay down the abovementioned dogma as their peremptory and unchangeable opinion, but of such also as indirectly maintain it under the forms of objection and interrogatory, or by their indignant complaints about the obscurity of things, confess and, as it were, proclaim it aloud, or suffer it only to transpire from their secret thoughts in occasional and ambiguous whispers-the aggregate, I say, comprises, you will find, the far most illustrious and profound of the ancient thinkers, with whom no modern need blush to be associated; a few of them may, perhaps, too magisterially have assumed to decide the matter, yet this tone of authority prevailed only during the late dark ages, and now maintains its ground simply through a spirit of party, the inveteracy of habit, or mere carelessness and neglect.

Yet in the fellowship here spoken of, it is easy to discover that, agreeing as we do with the great men alluded to, as to the premises of our opinions, in our conclusions we differ from them most widely. Our discrepancies may indeed, at first sight, appear to be but inconsiderable; they asserting the absolute, and we the modified incompetency of the human intellect; but the practical result is this—that as they neither point out, nor in fact profess to expect any remedy for the defect in question, they wholly give up the business; and thus, by denying the certainty of the senses, pluck up science from its very foundation; whereas we, by the introduction of a new method, endeavour to regulate

and correct the aberrations both of the senses and of the intellect. The consequence is that they, thinking the die finally cast, turn aside to the uncontrolled and fascinating ramblings of genius; while we, by our different view of the subject, are constrained to enter upon an arduous and distant province, which we unceasingly pray we may administer to the advantage and the happiness of mankind. The introductory part of our progress we described in our second book, which, having entered, in the third we treated on the phænomena of the Universe, and on history, plunging into and traversing the woodlands, as it were, of nature, here overshadowed (as by foliage) with the infinite variety of experiments; there perplexed and entangled (as by thorns and briars) with the subtilty of acute commentations.

And now, perhaps, by our advance from the woods to the foot of the mountains, we have reached a more disengaged, but yet a more arduous station. For from history we shall proceed by a firm and sure track, new indeed and hitherto unexplored, to universals. To these paths of contemplation, in truth, might appositely be applied the celebrated and often quoted illustration of the "double road of active life," of which one branch, at first even and level, conducted the traveller to places precipitous and impassable; the other, though steep and rough at the entrance, terminated in perfect smoothness. In a similar manner, he who, in the very outset of his inquiries lays firm hold of certain fixed principles in the science, and with immoveable reliance upon them disentangles (as he will with little effort) what he handles, if he advances steadily onward, not flinching out of excess either of self-confidence or of self-distrust from the object of his pursuit, will find he is journeying in the first of these two tracks; and if he can endure to suspend his judgment, and to mount gradually, and to climb by regular succession the height of things, like so many tops of mountains, with persevering and indefatigable patience, he will in due time attain the very uppermost elevations of nature, where his station will be serene, his prospects delightful, and his descent to all the practical arts by a gentle slope, perfectly easy.

It is therefore our purpose, as in the second book we laid down the precepts of genuine and legitimate disquisition, so in this to propound and establish, with reference to the variety of subjects, illustrative examples; and that in the form which we think most agreeable to truth, and regard as approved and authorized. Yet we do not alter the cus

tomary fashion, as well to all the constituent parts of this formula on absolute necessity, as if they were universally indispensable and inviolable: for we do not hold, that the industry and the happiness of man are to be indissolubly bound, as it were, to a single pillar. Nothing, indeed, need prevent those who possess greater leisure, or have surmounted the difficulties infallibly encountered in the beginning of the experiment, from carrying onward the process here pointed out. On the contrary, it is our firm conviction that true art is always capable of advancing.

F. W.

THE FIFTH PART

OF THE GREAT INSTAURATION.

PRECURSORS; OR, ANTICIPATIONS OF THE SECOND
PHILOSOPHY.

THAT person, in our judgment, showed at once both his patriotism and his discretion, who when he was asked, "whether he had given to his fellow citizens the best code of laws," replied, "the best which they could bear." And certainly those who are not satisfied with merely thinking rightly (which is little better indeed than dreaming rightly, if they do not labour to realize and effectuate the object of their meditations) will pursue not what may be abstractedly the best, but the best of such things as appear most likely to be approved. We, however, do not feel ourselves priviledged, notwithstanding our great affection for the human commonwealth, our common country, to adopt this legislatorial principle of selection: for we have no authority arbitrarily to prescribe laws to man's intellect, or the general nature of things. It is our office, as faithful secretaries, to receive and note down such as have been enacted by the voice of nature herself; and our trustiness must stand acquitted, whether they are accepted, or by the suffrage of general opinion rejected. Still we do not abandon the hope, that, in times yet to come, individuals may arise who will both be able to comprehend and digest the choicest of those things, and solicitous also to carry them to perfection; and, with this confidence, we will never by God's help desist (so long as we live) from directing our attention thitherward, and opening their fountains and uses, and investigating the lines of the roads leading to them.

Yet, anxious as we are with respect to subjects of general interest and common concern, in aspiring to the greater, we do not condemn the inferior, for those are frequently at a distance, while these are at hand and around us, nor though we offer (as we think) more valuable things, do we therefore put our veto upon things received and ancient, or seek

« AnteriorContinuar »