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with it the command over her powers. He would have found no doubt, upon trial, that his scheme involved difficulties of which he had formed no conception. He would have found that the facts which must be known in order to complete the three tables of comparence, and to “perfect the exclusiva," were so infinite in number that to gather them by simple observation without some theoretic principle of selection would be an endless task, and to deal with them when gathered a hopeless one. He might still indeed have hoped to arrive ultimately at an alphabet of nature (her principles being probably few and simple, though her phenomena so enormously complex); but he would have found that a dictionary or index of nature (and such was to be the office of the Natural History), to be complete enough for the purposes of the Novum Organum, must be nearly as voluminous as Nature herself.
He would have found it necessary, therefore (as I suppose all inventors have done both before and since his time), to make material changes in his original plan of operation, and to reduce his hopes far below their original dimensions. But a man may be in the right way to his end, though the end itself be further off than he imagines ; and before we cast Bacon's plan finally aside, we may be fairly called upon to show either that the way he wanted us to go is in its nature impracticable, or that there is better hope of arriving at the desired end by some other.
Mr. Ellis's judgment upon the first point may be partly gathered from his general remarks upon the third part of the Instauratio ; but I am fortunately in possession of his opinion (called forth by the exposition of my own views in the dialogue above quoted) upon
the specific practical question now under discussion. It was communicated to me in a letter dated 13th September, 1847, and appears to contain his deliberate judgment as to the practicability of making a collection of natural history, such as would be available for scientific purposes, in the manner in which Bacon proposed to have it made.
“ That it is impossible (he says) to sever the business of experiment and observation from that of theorising, it would perhaps be rash to affirin. But it seems to me that such a severance could hardly be effected. A transcript of nature, if I may so express myself, – that is, such a collection of observed phe
nomena as would serve as the basis and materials of a system of natural philosophy, — would be like nature itself infinite in extent and variety. No such collection could be formed ; and, were it formed, general laws and principles would be as much hidden in a mass of details as they are in the world of phenomena.
“ The marshalling idea, teaching the philosopher what observations he is to make, what experiments to try, seems necessary in order to deliver him from this difficulty. Can we conceive that such experiments as those of Faraday could have preceded the formation of any hypothesis ? You allude, I think, to what has been done in the way of systematic observation with reference to terrestrial magnetism. And beyond all doubt the division of labor is possible and necessary in many scientific inquiries. But then this separating of the observer from the theoriser is only possible (at least, in such a case as that of magnetism) when the latter can tell his “ bajulus ” what experiments he is to make, and how they are to be made. As a matter of fact, the
memoirs of Gauss, which have done so much to encourage systematic observation of terrestrial magnetism, contain many results of theory directly bearing on observation ; e. g., the method of determining the absolute measure of magnetism.
" Of course I remember that Bacon speaks of experiments to be suggested by theory: as for instance in Solomon's house ; all I mean is, that it seems doubtful whether a large collection of facts can in most sciences be made useful, unless some theory has guided its formation.”
Now I am quite willing to accept this judgment as perfectly sound and just ; as pointing truly at the practical difficulties involved in Bacon's scheme, and proving that it could not be carried out completely on the plan he proposed, or attain completely the end at which he aimed; and certainly, if I thought that such completeness was a condition absolutely essential, – that, unless observation could be carried on without any help whatever from theory, the work could not proceed at all ; or that the results of observation so conducted could be of no scientific value unless they amounted to a perfect - transcript of nature ;” — if I thought, in short, it was a scheme which, unless it led to everything, would lead to nothing, — I should accept these remarks as disposing finally of the whole question. But why should I think so ? That the severance of theory and observation should be absolute does not appear to me to be at all necessary for the practical prosecution of the enterprise ; I can hardly think that it even formed part of the original design ; and though it is true that the collection of natural history could not
have been used in the way Bacon proposed, unless it were more complete than it ever could have been made, yet for use in the ordinary way (and this was certainly one of the uses he contemplated for it) its value would be increased by every new observation ; and who can say at what point observations so conducted must necessarily stop ?
That Bacon intended one set of men to be employed in collecting facts, and another in deriving consequences from them, is no doubt true. Unless theory and observation could be so far separated as to admit practically of such a distribution of parts, his plan must no doubt have been given up; and it is objected that this distribution is practically impossible, because the observers, unless they had some precedent theory to guide them, could never know what observations to make in order to bring out the facts which the theorist requires to know. I cannot but think, however, that this objection supposes a separation of the two functions far more complete than Bacon ever contemplated. He may have used words which in strict logical construction imply such a kind of separation ; but if so, his words meant more than he himself meant. His intellect was remarkable for breadth rather than subtlety, quicker, to use his own division, in perceiving resemblances than distinctions, — and in writing he always aimed at conciseness, force, point, picturesqueness, and at making himself plain to common understandings, far more than at metaphysical exactness of expression, Now, however true it may be, as a metaphysical proposition, that some amount of theory is involved in every observation, and still more in every series of observations, it is no less true, as a familiar fact, that observations made by one man, without conscious reference to any theory whatever, may be perfectly available to another with reference to theories of which the first never heard or dreamed. Colonel Reid's theory of storms, for instance, was worked out, I am told, not in the West Indies among the hurricanes, but at the Admiralty among the ships' logs. And though Bacon would never have denied that many results of theory go to the correct keeping of a ship's log, who can doubt that a collection of logs kept during hurricanes would have been accepted by him as a most valuable contribution to a history of the winds, and a good specimen of the very thing he wanted ? It would be easy to add more instances; but I suppose nobody will deny that, in this sense, observation and theory can be carried on apart and by different persons. And if it be objected that the observers will never hit upon all the facts which are necessary to suggest or establish the theory, unless their observations be renewed again and again under directions devised by the theorist with special reference to what he wants to know, I reply by asking what is to prevent the renewal of them, under directions so devised, as often as necessary ? a thing (I may observe) which Bacon himself distinctly intended. “ Illud interim,” he says, after giving an example of a “ topica particularis” in the De Augmentis, “ quod monere occæpimus iterum monemus, nempe ut homines debeant topicas particulares suas alternare, ita ut post majores progressus aliquos in inquisitione factos, aliam et subinde aliam instituant topicam, si modo scientiarum fastigia conscendere cupiant.” Now if the di