« AnteriorContinuar »
“ time be passed over.” As to the former, he was, even in his life-time, looked upon with admiration by the most eminent men that France and Italy could then boast of; and by some of them visited, as one
whose talents were an ornament, not only to his age, Lettres but to human nature itself. When the marquis Anglois
, D'Effiat brought into England the princess Henrietta
Maria, wife to Charles the First, he paid a visit to my lord Bacon ; who, being then sick in bed, received him with the curtains drawn. “You resemble the “ angels, ” said that minister to him : “ we hear those
beings continually talked of, we believe them su
perior to mankind, and we never have the conso“ Iation to see them.” Among his countrymen, the names, alone, of those who have adopted his notions, and proceeded on his plan, are his highest encomium. To pass over a long line of philosophers, all illustrious; he reckons in the list of his followers a Boyle,
a Locke, a Newton himself. Rawley's One singularity there was in his temperament, not Bacon easily to be accounted for: in every eclipse of the
moon, whether he observed it or not, he was certainly seized with a sudden fit of fainting ; which
left him, without any remaining weakness, as soon as Evelyn of the eclipse ended. He was of a middling stature ; Medals his forehead spacious and open, early impressed with the marks of
his eye lively and penetrating; his whole appearance venerably pleasing : so that the beholder was insensibly drawn to love, before he' knew how much reason there was to admire him. In this respect, we may apply to my lord Bacon what Tacitus finely observes of his father-in-law, Agricola : a good man you would readily have judged him to be, and been pleased to find him a great man.
Those talents that commonly appear single in others, and they too men of reputation, shone forth in him united and eminent. All his contemporaries, even those who hated the courtier, stand up and bear
witness together to the superior abilities of the writer Osborn's and pleader, of the philosopher and companion. In
conversation he could assume the most differing cha
Advice to a Son.
racters, and speak the language proper to each, with a facility that was perfectly natural, or the dexterity of the habit concealed every appearance of art: a happy versatility of genius, which all men wish to arrive at, and one or two, once in an age, are seen to possess. In public, he commanded the attention of his hearers, and had their affections wholly in his power. As he accompanied what he spoke with all the expression and grace of action, his pleadings, that are now perhaps read without emotion, never failed to awaken in his audience the several passions he intended they should feel. This is not a picture of him drawn from fancy; it is copied, and that too B. Jonson, but in miniature, after another taken by one who in his Disknew him well ; -a good judge of merit, and seldom known to err, at least in heightening a favourable likeness. As a philosopher, it is scarce hyperbolical to say of him, in Mr. Addison's words, that he had the sound, distinct, comprehensive knowledge of Aristotle, with all the beautiful lights, graces, and embellishments of Cicero. To this commendation of his talents, the learned throughout Europe have given their common sanction, and own him for the father of the only valuable philosophy, that of fact and observation.
It remains then to consider him, more particularly than we have hitherto done, in this most known and conspicuous part of his character; where his merit is unquestionably great and entirely his own. For, to the writings of the ancients he was not, he could not, be obliged. They had either mistaken the right road to natural knowledge; or if any of them struck into it by chance, finding the way difficult
, obscure, and tedious, they soon abandoned it for ever. He owed to himself alone, to a certain intellectual sagacity, that beam of true discernment which shewed him at once, and as it were by intuition, what the most painful inquiries, for more than twenty ages backward, had searched after in vain. And here let me observe towards him the same impartiality I have bitherto aimed at: and, in order to know what he really did as a philosopher, place before the reader a
short view of the state of learning in Europe, from the dark period of Gothicism down to the sixteenth century. But let me at the same time acknowledge, that this account will be only a rude and imperfect sketch; consisting of a few, detached particulars, without much order or method.
Although the great era of ignorance has been fixed, justly enough, to those times when the northern nations, like a mighty inundation, overspread the face of Europe; yet it is no less certain that barbarism and corruption were entered into arts and sciences ere the savages had made any impression on the Roman empire. Under them indeed, that darkness which had been long growing on the world, and gradually extinguishing every light of knowledge, soon became total, and threatened to be perpetual. In the eighth century, we find that the highest ambition of the clergy was to vie with one another in chanting the public service, which yet they hardly understood. This important emulation run so high
between the Latin and French priesthood, that CharAn. 787. lemagne, who was then at Rome, found it necessary
to interpose, and decide the controversy in person. Joannis The monk, who relates this affair with a most cirop. t. iv. cumstantial exactness, adds, that the emperor en
treated pope Adrian to procure him certain persons, who might teach his subjects the first principles of grammar and arithmetic; arts that were then utterly unknown in his dominions. This warlike monarch, though his own education had been so far neglected that he had never learned to write, discovered, by, his natural good sense, the value of knowledge, and set himself to be its promoter and patron. He even allowed a public school to be opened in the imperial palace, under the direction of our famous countryman Alcuin.; on whom he chiefly relied for introducing into France some tincture of that philosophy which was still remaining in Britain. But how slow and ineffectual the progress of any learning must
have been, we may guess from an edict of the coun813. cil of Challons, in the next century; which earnestly
exhorts all monasteries to be careful in having their manuals of devotion correctly transcribed : lest, while Launoii, they piously mean to ask of God one thing, some in- P. 3. accurate manuscript may betray them into praying for the quite contrary. As to Britain, if learning had still some footing Hist. et
antiq. there in the eighth century, it was so totally exterminated from thence in the ninth ; that throughout Oxon. the whole kingdom of the West-Saxons, no man could be found who was scholar enough to instruct our king Alfred, then a child, even in the first elements of reading: so that he was in his twelfth year before he could name the letters of the alphabet. When that renowned prince ascended the throne, he made it his study to draw his people out of the slot and stupidity in which they lay: and became, as much by his own example, as by the encouragement he gave to learned men, the great restorer of arts in his dominions. And here we are called upon to observe, that as France had been formerly obliged to England in the person of Alcuin, who planted the sciences there under Charlemagne; our island now received the same friendly assistance from thence by Grimbald, whom king Alfred had invited hither, 879. and made chancellor of Oxford. Such events as these are too considerable, in the literary history of the ninth age, to be passed over unobserved. The rise of a noted grammarian, the voyage of an applauded doctor, are recorded, by the chroniclers of that century, with the same reverence that an ancient writer would mention the appearance of a Lycurgus, or a Timoleon; of a lawgiver who new models a state, or a hero who rescues a whole people from slavery.
But these fair appearances were of short duration. A night of thicker darkness quickly overspread the intellectual world: and in the moral, followed a revolution still more deplorable. To common sense and piety, succeeded dreams and fables, visionary legends and ridiculous penances. The clergy, now utter strangers to all good learning, instead of guiding
a rude and vicious laity by the precepts of the gospel, which they no longer read, amused them with forged miracles, or overawed them by the ghostly terrors of demons, spectres and chimeras. This was more easy, and more profitable too, than the painful example of a virtuous life. The profound depravity that was spread through all conditions of men, ecclesiastic and secular, appears in nothing more plain than in the reasons assigned for calling several councils about this time. In one, new canons were to be made, forbidding adultery, incest, and the practice of pagan
superstitions: as if these things had not till then been Giannone accounted criminal. In another, it was found necesNapoli,
sary to declare, that a number of angels worshipped universally under certain names were altogether unknown: and that the Church could not warrant the particular invocation of more than three.
A third, which the empress Irene had summoned for the reformation of discipline, ordained, that no prelate should thenceforth convert his episcopal palace into a common inn; nor in consideration only of any sum of money given him by one man, curse and excommunicate another. A fourth and fifth censure the indecency of avowed concubinage : and enjoin that friars and nuns should no longer converse or live promiscuously in the same convent.
The see of Rome, which should have been a pattern to the rest, was of all Christian Churches the most licentious ;* and the pontifical chair often filled with
* The book entitled, The Tar of the Roman Chancery, published first at Rome, in the year 1514, furnishes us with a flagrant instance of this in the following passage, which I choose not to translate. “ Absolutio a lapsu carnis super quocunque actu libidinoso com“misso per Clericum, etiam cum monialibus, intra et extra septa “ monasterii; aut cum consunguineis vel affinibus, aut filia spiritu“ali, aut quibusdam aliis, sive ab unoquoque de per se, sive simul " ab omnibus absolutio petatur, cum dispensatione ad ordines et be
neficia, cum inhibitione, tur, 36. duc. 3. Si vero cum illis petatur “ absolutio etiam a crimine commisso contra naturam, vel cum " brutis, cum dispensatione, ut supra, et cum inhibitione, tur. 90, " duc.12, carl.16. Sivero petatur tantum absolutio a crimine contra “ naturam, vel cum brutis, cum dispensatione et inhibitione, turon.
36,duc.9. Absolutio pro Moniali,quae se permisit pluries cognosci