Imágenes de páginas

pursuing in this very matter; which was to avoid as much as possible all contradiction and collision, and to treat popular prejudices of all kinds with the greatest courtesy and tenderness: an inconsistency which I know not how to account for, except by supposing that he had been trying experiments as to the various ways in which popular opinion may be conciliated; and knowing that many a man had enjoyed great authority in the world by no better title than that of boldly assuming it, had a mind to try how he could act that part himself, and so wrote this exercise to see the effect of it; and finding the effect bad, laid it by. Another thought which he had, still probably with the same view of avoiding the contrast between the lofty pretensions of the project and the small reputation of the author, was to publish it in a distant place. In July, 1608, remembering that a prophet is not without honour except in his own country, he was considering the expediency of beginning to print in France. And about the same time the idea of shadowing himself under the darkness of antiquity seems to have occurred to him: for I am much inclined to think that it was some such consideration which induced him in 1609 to bring out his little book De Sapientiâ Veterum; where, fancying that some of the cardinal principles of his own philosophy lay hid in the oldest Greek fables, he took advantage of the circumstance to bring them forward under the sanction of that ancient prescription, and so made those fables serve partly as pioneers to prepare his way, and partly as auxiliaries to enforce his authority.

Altogether, the result of my endeavours to arrange and understand these experimental essays and discarded beginnings, is a conviction that Bacon was not more profoundly convinced that he was right, than uneasily apprehensive that his contemporaries would never think him so; and that for the first fifty years of his life his chief anxiety was, not so much to bring his work into the most perfect shape according to his own conception, as to bring it before the world in a manner which should insure patient and attentive listeners, and involve least risk of miscarriage, the carrying of the world with him being in such an enterprise a condition essential to success. And this I have thought the more worth pointing out, because the course of

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Commentarius solutus.

proceeding which he ultimately resolved on tends to hide it from us. For his final resolution was, as we know, to discard all fictions and disguises, and utter his own thoughts in his own person after the manner which was most natural to him. But we are to remember that before he came to that determination, or at least before he put it in execution, the case was materially altered and the principal cause of embarrassment removed. For besides that he had then been four years Lord Chancellor, the great reputation which he had acquired in other fields-in the House of Commons, the Courts of Law, and the Star-Chamber,- coupled with the well-known fact that his favourite pursuit all the time had been natural philosophy, concerning which he had long had a great work in preparation,—this reputation had given to his name the weight which before it wanted; insomuch that there was then perhaps no mouth in Europe which could command a larger audience, or from which the prophecy of a new intellectual era coming upon the earth could proceed with greater authority, than that of Francis Bacon.

Nevertheless, when I say that these pieces are chiefly interesting on account of the light they throw on Bacon's personal hopes, fears, and struggles, I am far from meaning to underrate their intrinsic and independent value. Those who are most perfectly acquainted with the works by which they were superseded will not the less find them well worth the studying. Many of them are in form and composition among Bacon's most perfect productions; and if in successive processes of digestion he succeeded in sinking the thought deeper and packing the words closer, it was often at the expense of many natural and original graces. What they have gained in weight and solidity they have lost sometimes in freshness, freedom, and perspicuity; and it will generally be found that each helps to throw light on the other.

J. S.




« AnteriorContinuar »