Imágenes de páginas


The Thema Cali, had it stood by itself, would have followed here; for it belongs properly to this class, and was written before the New Atlantis. But being so closely connected with the Descriptio Globi Intellectualis, which belongs to the next, it was thought better not to separate them.-J. S.



THE New Atlantis seems to have been written in 1624, an though not finished, to have been intended for publication as stands. It was published accordingly by Dr. Rawley in 1627 at the end of the volume containing the Sylva Sylvarum; fo which place Bacon had himself designed it, the subjects of the two being so near akin; the one representing his idea of what should be the end of the work which in the other he supposed himself to be beginning. For the story of Solomon's House is nothing more than a vision of the practical results which he anticipated from the study of natural history diligently and systematically carried on through successive generations.


In this part of it, the work may probably be considered as complete. Of the state of Solomon's House he has told us all that he was as yet qualified to tell. His own attempts to "interpret nature" suggested the apparatus which was necesfor success: he had but to furnish Solomon's House with the instruments and preparations which he had himself felt the want of. The difficulties which had baffled his single efforts to provide that apparatus for himself suggested the constitution and regulations of a society formed to overcome them: he had but to furnish Solomon's House with the helps in head and hand which he had himself wished for. His own intellectual aspirations suggested the result: he had but to set down as known all that he himself most longed to know. But here he was obliged to stop. He could not describe the process of a perfect philosophical investigation; because it must of course have proceeded by the method of the Novum Organum, which was not yet expounded. Nor could he give a particular example of the result of such investigation, in the shape of a Form or an Axiom; for that presupposed the completion, not only of the Novum Organur, but (at least in some one subject)

of the Natural History also; and no portion of the Natural History complete enough for the purpose was as yet producible. Here therefore he stopped; and it would almost seem that the nature of the difficulty which stood in his way had reminded him of the course he ought to take; for just at this point (as we learn from Dr. Rawley) he did in fact leave his fable and return to his work. He had begun it with the intention of exhibiting a model political constitution, as well as a model college of natural philosophy; but "his desire of collecting the natural history diverted him, which he preferred many degrees before it." And in this, according to his own view of the matter, he was no doubt right; for though there are few people now who would not gladly give all the Sylva Sylvarum, had there been ten times as much of it, in exchange for an account of the laws, institutions, and administrative arrangements of Bensalem, it was not so with Bacon; who being deeper read in the phenomena of the human heart than in those of the material world, probably thought the perfect knowledge of nature an easier thing than the perfect government of men, — easier and not so far off; and therefore preferred to work where there was fairest hope of fruit.

To us, who can no longer hope for the fruits which Bacon expected, the New Atlantis is chiefly interesting as a record of his own feelings. Perhaps there is no single work of his which has so much of himself in it. The description of Solomon's House is the description of the vision in which he lived, the vision not of an ideal world released from the natural conditions to which ours is subject, but of our own world as it might be made if we did our duty by it; of a state of things which he believed would one day be actually seen upon this earth such as it is by men such as we are; and the coming of which he believed that his own labours were sensibly hastening. The account of the manners and customs of the people of Bensalem is an account of his own taste in humanity; for a man's ideal, though not necessarily a description of what he is, is almost always an indication of what he would be; and in the sober piety, the serious cheerfulness, the tender and gracious courtesy, the open-handed hospitality, the fidelity in public and chastity in private life, the grave and graceful manners, the order, decency, and earnest industry, which prevail among these people, we recognise an image of himself

made perfect, of that condition of the human soul which he loved in others, and aspired towards in himself. Even the dresses, the household arrangements, the order of their feasts and solemnities, their very gestures of welcome and salutation, have an interest and significance independent of the fiction, as so many records of Bacon's personal taste in such matters. Nor ought the stories which the Governor of the House of Strangers tells about the state of navigation and population in the early post-diluvian ages, to be regarded merely as romances invented to vary and enrich the narrative, but rather as belonging to a class of serious speculations to which Bacon's mind was prone. As in his visions of the future, embodied in the achievements of Solomon's House, there is nothing which he did not conceive to be really practicable by the means which he supposes to be used; so in his speculations concerning the past, embodied in the traditions of Bensalem, I doubt whether there be any (setting aside, of course, the particular history of the fabulous island) which he did not believe to be historically probable. Whether it were that the progress of the human race in knowledge and art seemed to him too small to be accounted for otherwise than by supposing occasional tempests of destruction, in which all that had been gathered was swept away,- or that the vicissitudes which had actually taken place during the short periods of which we know something had suggested to him the probability of similar accidents during those long tracts of time of which we know nothing, or merely that the imagination is prone by nature to people darkness with shadows,-certain it is that the tendency was strong in Bacon to credit the past with wonders; to suppose that the world had brought forth greater things than it remembered, had seen periods of high civilisation buried in oblivion, great powers and peoples swept away and extinguished. In the year 1607, he avowed before the House of Commons a belief that in some forgotten period of her history (possibly during the Heptarchy) England had been far better peopled than she was then. In 1609, when he published the De Sapientiâ Veterum, he inclined to believe that an age of higher intellectual development than any the world then knew of had flourished and passed out of memory long before Homer and Hesiod wrote; and this upon the clearest and most deliberate review of all the obvious objections; and more deci

« AnteriorContinuar »