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whilst living with the sincerest zeal, and I shall, perhaps, before my death have rendered the age a light unto posterity, by kindling this new torch amid the darkness of philosophy. This regeneration and instauration of the sciences is with justice due to the age of a prince surpassing all others in wisdom and learning. There remains for me but to make one request, worthy of your Majesty, and very especially relating to my subject, namely, that resembling Solomon as you do in most respects, in the gravity of your decisions, the peacefulness of your reign, the expansion of your heart, and, lastly, in the noble variety of books you have composed, you would further imitate the same monarch in procuring the compilation and completion of a Natural and Experimental History, that shall be genuine and rigorous, not that of mere Philologues, and serviceable for raising the superstructure of philosophy, such in short as I will in its proper place describe: that, at length, after so many ages, philosophy and the sciences may no longer be unsettled and speculative, but fixed on the solid foundation of a varied and well considered experience. I for my part have supplied the instrument, the matter to be worked upon must be sought from things themselves. May the great and good God long preserve your majesty in safety. Your Majesty's

Most bounden and devoted,






It appears to me that men know not either their acquireIT ments or their powers, and trust too much to the former, and too little to the latter. Hence it arises that, either estimating the arts they have become acquainted with at an absurd value, they require nothing more, or forming too low an opinion of themselves, they waste their powers on trivial objects, without attempting any thing to the purpose. The sciences have thus their own pillars, fixed as it were by fate, since men are not roused to penetrate beyond them either by zeal or hope: and inasmuch as an imaginary plenty mainly contributes to a dearth, and from a reliance upon present assistance, that which will really hereafter aid us is neglected, it becomes useful, nay clearly necessary, in the very outset of our work, to remove, without any circumlocution or concealment, all excessive conceit and admiration of our actual state of knowledge, by this wholesome warning not to exaggerate or boast of its extent or utility. For if any one look more attentively into that vast variety of books which the arts and sciences are so proud of, he will every where discover innumerable repetitions of the same thing, varied only by the method of treating it, but anticipated in invention; so that although at first sight they appear numerous, they are found, upon

Alluding to the frontispiece of the original work, which represents a vessel passing beyond the Pillars of Hercules.

examination, to be but scanty. And with regard to their utility I must speak plainly. That philosophy of ours which we have chiefly derived from the Greeks, appears to me but the childhood of knowledge, and to possess the peculiarity of that age, being prone to idle loquacity, but weak and unripe for generation; for it is fruitful of controversy and barren of effects. So that the fable of Scylla seems to be a lively image of the present state of letters; for she exhibited the countenance and expression of a virgin, but barking monsters surrounded and fastened themselves to her womb. Even thus, the sciences to which we have been accustomed have their flattering and specious generalities, but when we come to particulars, which, like the organs of generation, should produce fruit and effects, then spring up altercations and barking questions, in the which they end, and bring forth nothing else. Besides, if these sciences were not manifestly a dead letter, it would never happen, as for many ages has been the case in practice, that they should adhere almost immovably to their original footing, without acquiring a growth worthy of mankind: and this so completely, that frequently not only an assertion continues to be an assertion, but even a question to be a question, which instead of being solved by discussion becomes fixed and encouraged; and every system of instruction successively handed down to us brings upon the stage the characters of master and scholar, not those of an inventor and one capable of adding some excellence to his inventions. But we see the contrary happen in the mechanical arts. For they, as if inhaling some life-inspiring air, daily increase, and are brought to perfection; they generally in the hands of the inventor appear rude, cumbrous, and shapeless, but afterwards acquire such additional powers and facility, that sooner may men's wishes and fancies decline and change, than the arts reach their full height and perfection. Philosophy and the intellectual sciences on the contrary, like statues, are adored and celebrated, but are not made to advance: nay, they are frequently most vigorous in the hands of their author, and thenceforward degenerate. For since men have voluntarily surrendered themselves, and gone over in crowds to the opinion of their leader, like those silent senators of Rome,* they add nothing to the extent of learning themselves, but perform the servile duty of illustrating and waiting upon par

* Pedarii Senatores.

ticular authors. Nor let any one allege that learning slowly springing up attained by degrees its full stature, and from that time took up its abode in the works of a few, as having performed its predetermined course; and that as it is impossible to discover any fthurer improvement, it only remains for us to adorn and cultivate that which has been discovered. It were indeed to be wished that such were the case; the more correct and true statement however is, that this slavery of the sciences arises merely from the impudence of a few, and the indolence of the rest of mankind. For, no sooner was any particular branch of learning (diligently enough perhaps) cultivated and laboured, than up would spring some individual confident in his art, who would acquire authority and reputation from the compendious nature of his method, and, as far as appearances went, would establish the art, whilst in reality he was corrupting the labours of his ancestors. Yet will this please succeeding generations, from the ready use they can make of his labour, and their wearisome impatience of fresh inquiry. But if any one be influenced by an inveterate uniformity of opinion, as though it were the decision of time-let him learn that he is relying on a most fallacious and weak argument. For not only are we, in a great measure, unacquainted with the proportion of arts and sciences that has been discovered and made its way to the public in various ages and regions (much less with what has been individually attempted and privately agitated), neither the births nor the abortions of time being extant in any register; but also that uniformity itself, and its duration are not to be considered of any great moment. For however varied the forms of civil government may be, there is but one state of learning, and that ever was and ever will be the democratic. Now with the people at large, the doctrines that most prevail are either disputatious and violent, or specious and vain, and they either ensnare or allure assent. Hence, without question, the greatest wits have undergone violence in every age, whilst others of no vulgar capacity and understanding have still, from consulting their reputation, submitted themselves to the decision of time and the multitude. Wherefore if more elevated speculations have perchance any where burst forth, they have been from time to time blown about by the winds of public opinion, and extinguished, so that time, like a river, has brought down all that was light and inflated, and has sunk what was weighty and solid. Nay, those very leaders who

have usurped, as it were, a dictatorship in learning, and pronounce their opinion of things with so much confidence, will yet, when they occasionally return to their senses, begin to complain of the subtilty of nature, the remoteness of truth, the obscurity of things, the complication of causes, and the weakness of human wit. They are not, however, more modest in this than in the former instances, since they prefer framing an excuse of the common condition of men and things, to confessing their own defects. Besides, it is generally their practice, if some particular art fail to accomplish any object, to conclude that it cannot be accomplished by that art. But yet the art cannot be condemned, for she herself deliberates and decides the question; so that their only aim is to deliver their ignorance from ignominy. The following statement exhibits sufficiently well the state of knowledge delivered down to and received by us. It is barren in effects, fruitful in questions, slow and languid in its improvement, exhibiting in its generality the counterfeit of perfection, but ill filled up in its details, popular in its choice, but suspected by its very promoters, and therefore bolstered up and countenanced with artifices. Even those who have been determined to try for themselves, to add their support to learning, and to enlarge its limits, have not dared entirely to desert received opinions, nor to seek the springhead of things. But they think they have done a great thing if they intersperse and contribute something of their own, prudently considering that by their assent they can save their modesty, and by their contributions their liberty. Whilst consulting, however, the opinions of others, and good manners, this admired moderation tends to the great injury of learning: for it is seldom in our power both to admire and surpass our author; but, like water, we rise not higher than the springhead whence we have descended. Such men, therefore, amend some things, but cause little advancement, and improve more than they enlarge knowledge. Yet there have not been wanting some, who with greater daring, have considered every thing open to them, and employing the force of their wit, have opened a passage for themselves and their dogmas by prostrating and destroying all before them; but this violence of theirs has not availed much, since they have not laboured to enlarge philosophy and the arts, both in their subject matter and effect; but only to substitute new dogmas, and to transfer the empire of opinion to themselves, with but small advantage; for opposite errors proceed mostly from

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