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If Bacon were to reappear among us at the next meeting of the Great British Association, or say rather if he had appeared there two or three years ago (for there seems to be something great and new going on now), I think he would have shaken his head. I think he would have said, "Here has been a great deal of very good diligence used by several persons; but it has not been used upon a well-laid plan. These solar systems, and steam-engines, and Daguerreotypes, and electric telegraphs, are so many more pledges of what might be expected from an instauration of philosophy such as I recommended more than 200 years ago; why have you not tried that? You have been acting all the time like a king who should attempt to conquer a country by encouraging private adventurers to make incursions each on his own account, without any system of combined movements to subdue and take possession. I see that wherever you have the proper materials and plenty of them your work is excellent; so was Gilbert's in my time; so was Galileo's; nay even Kepler- though his method was as unskilful as that of the boy who in doing a long-division sum would first guess at the quotient and then multiply it into the divisor to see whether it were true, and if it came out wrong would make another guess and multiply again, and so on till he guessed right at last, - yet because he had a copious collection of materials ready to his hand, and enormous perseverance however perversely applied, and a religious veracity, did at last hit upon one of the greatest discoveries ever made by one man. what could Kepler have done without Tycho Brahe's tables of observation? And what might Galileo not have done if he had had a large enough collection of facts? This therefore it is that disappoints me. I do not see any sufficient collection made of materials, - that is, of facts in nature - or any effectual plan on foot for making one. You are scarcely better off in that respect than I was; you have each to gather the materials upon which you are to work. You cannot build houses, or weave shirts, or learn languages so. If the builder
had to make his own bricks, the weaver to grow his own flax, the student of a dead language to make his own concordance, where would be your houses, your shirts, or your scholars? And by the same rule if the interpreter of Nature is to forage for his facts, what progress can you expect in the art of interpretation? Your scholar has his dictionary provided to his hand; but your natural philosopher has still to make his dictionary for himself.
"And I wonder the more at this, because this is the very thing of all others which I myself pointed out as absolutely necessary to be supplied, as the thing which was to be set about in the first place, the thing without which no great things could possibly be done in philosophy. And since you have done me the honour to think so very highly of my precepts, I am a little surprised that you have not thought it worth while in so very essential a point to follow them. And to say the truth, I could wish for my own reputation (if that were of any consequence) that you had either honoured me a little more in that way, or not honoured me quite so much in other ways. You call me the Father of your Philosophy, meaning it for the greatest compliment you can pay. I thank you for the compliment, but I must decline the implied responsibility. I assure you this is none of mine. May I ask whether any attempt has been made to collect that Historiam naturalem et experimentalem quæ sit in ordine ad condendam philosophiam,' concerning which I did certainly give some very particular directions; which I placed as conspicuously as I could in the very front and entrance of my design; of which I said that all the genius and meditation and argumentation in the world could not do instead of it; no, not if all men's wits could meet in one man's head; therefore that this we must have, or else the business must be given up?1— If this has been fairly tried
1 Neque huic labori et inquisitioni et mundanæ perambulationi, ulla ingenii aut meditationis aut argumentationis substitutio aut compensatio sufficere potest, non si omnia omnium ingenia coierint. Itaque aut hoc prorsus habendum aut negotium in perpetuum deserendum.
and found impracticable or ineffectual, blot me out of your books as a dreamer that thought he had found out a great thing but it turned out nothing. If not, I still think it would be worth your while to try it."
I partly comprehend your meaning; but I should prefer it in a less dramatic form. You think that the difference between what Galileo did and what Bacon wanted to be done, lay in this that Bacon's plan presupposed a history (or dictionary as you call it) of Universal Nature, as a storehouse of facts to work upon; whereas Galileo was content to work upon such facts and observations as he collected for himself. But surely this is only a difference in degree. Both used the facts in the same way; only Bacon wanted a larger collection of them.
Say rather, Bacon wanted a collection large enough to give him the command of all the avenues to the secrets of Nature. You might as well say that there is only a difference of degree between the method of the man who runs his single head against a fortress, and the man who raises a force strong enough to storm it, - because each uses the force he has in the same way, only one wants more of it than the other: - or between stopping all the leaks in a vessel and stopping as many as you conveniently can. The truth is, that though the difference between a few and a few more is only a difference of degree, the difference between enough and not enough is a difference in kind. According to Galileo's method, the work at best could be done but partially. According to Bacon's (so at least he believed) it would be done effectually and altogether.
I will put you a case by way of illustration. Two men (call them James and John) find a manuscript in a character unknown to either of them. James, being skilled in lan
guages and expert at making out riddles, observes some characters similar to those of one of the languages which he understands; immediately sets himself to guess what they are; and succeeds in puzzling out here a name and there a date, with plausibility. Each succeeding guess, if it be right, makes the next easier; and there is no knowing precisely how much may be made out in this manner, or with what degree of certainty. The process is inductive, and the results, so far as they go, are discoveries. John seeing him
thus employed comes up and says: "This is all very ingenious and clever, and far more than I could do by the same process. But you are not going the right way to work. You will never be able to decipher the manuscript in this way. I will tell you what we must do. Here (you see) are certain forms of character which continually recur. Here is one that comes more than once in every line; here another that comes once in every two or three lines; a third that comes only twice or thrice in a page; and so on. Let us have a list made of these several forms, with an index showing where and how often they occur. In the meantime I will undertake, upon a consideration of the general laws of language, to tell you, by the comparative frequency of their recurrence, what parts of speech most of these are. So we shall know which of them are articles, which conjunctions, which relatives, which auxiliaries, and so on. Setting these apart we shall be better able to deal with the nouns and verbs; and then by comparing the passages in which each occurs, we shall be able, with the help of your language learning, to make out the meaning first of one, then of another. As each is determined, the rest will be easier to determine; and by degrees we shall come to know them all. It is a slow process compared with yours, and will take time and labour and many hands. But when it is done we shall be able to read the whole book."
Here I think you have a picture in little of the difference between Bacon's project for the advancement of philosophy
and that which was carried into effect (certainly with remarkable success) by the new school of inductive science which flourished in his time. If we want to pursue the parallel further, we have only to suppose that John, after completing in a masterly manner a great portion of his work on the universal laws of language; after giving particular directions for the collection, arrangement, and classification of the index, and even doing several pages of it himself by way of example; is called away, and obliged to leave the completion of the work to his successors; and that his successors (wanting diligence to finish, patience to wait, or ability to execute) immediately fall back to the former method; — in which they make such progress and take such pride, that they never think of following out John's plan, but leave it exactly where he left it. And here I think you have a true picture of the state in which the matter now rests.
I see. The manuscript is the volume of Nature. The learned linguist and expert maker-out of puzzles is Galileo or one of his school. The work on the laws of language is the Novum Organum. The index is the Natural and experimental History quæ sit in ordine ad condendam Philosophiam. The making-out of the words one by one is the Interpretation of Nature
And the ultimate reading of the whole book is the "Historia Illuminata sive Veritas Rerum;" the "Philosophia Secunda;" the sixth and last part of the Instauration; the consummation which Bacon knew he was not to be permitted himself to see, but trusted that (if men were true to themselves) the Fortune of the Human Race would one day achieve.