« AnteriorContinuar »
COMPOSITION OF THE PRIMARY HISTORY.
I. NATURE exists in three states, and is subject as it were to three kinds of regimen. Either she is free, and develops herself in her own ordinary course; or she is forced out of her proper state by the perverseness and insubordination of matter and the violence of impediments; or she is constrained and moulded by art and human ministry. The first state refers to the species of things; the second to monsters ; the third to things artificial. For in things artificial nature takes orders from man, and works under his authority : without man, such things would never have been made. But by the help and ministry of man a new face of bodies, another universe or theatre of things, comes into view. Natural History therefore is threefold. It treats of the liberty of nature, or the errors of nature, or the bonds of nature: so that we may fairly distribute it into history of Generations, of Pretergenerations, and of Arts; which last ! also call Mechanical or Experimental history. And yet I do not make it a rule that these three should be kept apart and separately treated. For why should not the history of the monsters in the several species be joined with the history of the species themselves ? And things artificial again may cometimes be rightly joined with the species, though sometimes they will be better kept separate. It will be best therefore to consider these things as the case arises. For too much method produces iterations and prolixity as well as none at all.
Natural History, which in its subject (as I said) is threefold, is in its use twofold. For it is used either for the sake of the knowledge of the particular things which it contains, or as the primary material of philosophy and the stuff and subjectmatter of true induction. And it is this latter which is now in hand; now, I say, for the first time: nor has it ever been taken in hand till now. For neither Aristotle, nor Theophrastus, nor Dioscorides, nor Caius Plinius, ever set this before them as the end of natural history. And the chief part of the matter rests in this: that they who shall hereafter take it upon them to write natural history should bear this continually in mind – that they ought not to consult the pleasure of the reader, no nor even that utility which may be derived immediately from their narrations; but to seek out and gather together such store and variety of things as may suffice for the formation of true axioms. Let them but remember this, and they will find out for themselves the method in which the history should be composed. For the end rules the method.
But the more difficult and laborious the work is, the more ought it to be discharged of matters superfluous. And therefore there are three things upon which men should be warned to be sparing of their labour,-- as those which will immensely increase the mass of the work, and add little or nothing to its worth.
First then, away with antiquities, and citations or testimonies of authors; also with disputes and controversies and differing opinions; everything in short which is philological. Never cite an author except in a matter of doubtful credit: never introduce a controversy unless in a matter of great moment. And for all that concerns ornaments of speech, similitudes, treasury of eloquence, and such like emptinesses, let it be utterly dismissed. Also let all those things which are admitted be themselves set down briefly and concisely, so that they may be nothing less than words. For no man who is collecting and storing up materials for ship-building or the like, thinks of arranging them elegantly, as in a shop, and displaying them so as to please the eye; all his care is that they be sound and good, and that they be so arranged as to take up as little room as
possible in the warehouse. And this is exactly what should be done here.
Secondly, that superfuity of natural histories in descriptions and pictures of species, and the curious variety of the same, is not much to the purpose. For small varieties of this kind are only a kind of sports and wanton freaks of nature ; and come near to the nature of individuals. They afford a pleasant recreation in wandering among them and looking at them as objects in themselves; but the information they yield to the sciences is slight and almost superfluous.
Thirdly, all superstitious stories (I do not say stories of prodigies, when the report appears to be faithful and probable; but superstitious stories) and experiments of ceremonial magic should be altogether rejected. For I would not have the infancy of philosophy, to which natural history is as a nursingmother, accustomed to old wives' fables. The time will perhaps come (after we have gone somewhat deeper into the investigation of nature) for a light review of things of this kind; that if there remain any grains of natural virtue in these dregs, they may be extracted and laid up for use. In the meantime they should be set aside. Even the experiments of natural magic should be sifted diligently and severely before they are received; especially those which are commonly derived from vulgar sympathies and antipathies, with great sloth and facility both of believing and inventing.
And it is no small thing to relieve natural history from the three superfluities above mentioned, which would otherwise fill volumes. Nor is this all. For in a great work it is no less necessary that what is admitted should be written succinctly than that what is superfluous should be rejected; though no doubt this kind of chastity and brevity will give less pleasure both to the reader and the writer. But it is always to be remembered that this which we are now about is only a granary and storehouse of matters, not meant to be pleasant to stay or live in, but only to be entered as occasion requires, when anything is wanted for the work of the Interpreter, which follows.
In the history which I require and design, special care is to be taken that it be of wide range and made to the measure of the universe. For the world is not to be narrowed till it will go into the understanding (which has been done hitherto), but the understanding to be expanded and opened till it can take in the image of the world, as it is in fact. For that fashion of taking few things into account, and pronouncing with reference to a few things, has been the ruin of everything. To resume then the divisions of natural history which I made just now,viz. that it is a history of Generations, Pretergenerations, and Arts,-I divide the History of Generations into five parts. The first, of Ether and things Celestial. The second, of Meteors and the regions (as they call them) of Air; viz. of the tracts which lie between the moon and the surface of the earth; to which part also (for order's sake, however the truth of the thing may be) I assign Comets of whatever kind, both higher and lower. The third, of Earth and Sea. The fourth, of the Elements (as they call them), flame or fire, air, water, earth: understanding however by Elements, not the first principles of things, but the greater masses of natural bodies. For the nature of things is so distributed that the quantity or mass of some bodies in the universe is very great, because their configurations require a texture of matter easy and obvious; such as are those four bodies which I have mentioned; while of certain other bodies the quantity is small and weakly supplied, because the texture of matter which they require is very complex and subtle, and for the most part determinate and organic; such as are the species of natural things, — metals, plants, animals. Hence I call the former kind of bodies the Greater Colleges, the latter the Lesser Colleges. Now the fourth part of the history is of those Greater Colleges - under the name of Elements, as I said. And let it not be thought that I confound this fourth part with the second and third, because in each of them I have mentioned air, water, and earth. For the history of these enters into the second and third, as they are integral parts of the world, and as they relate to the fabric and configuration of the universe. But in the fourth is contained the history of their own substance and nature, as it exists in their several parts of uniform structure, and without reference to the whole. Lastly, the fifth part of the history contains the Lesser Colleges, or Species; upon which natural history has hitherto been principally employed.
As for the history of Pretergenerations, I have already said that it may be most conveniently joined with the history of Generations; I mean the history of prodigies which are natural. For the superstitious history of marvels (of whatever kind) I remit to a quite separate treatise of its own; which treatise I do not wish to be undertaken now at first, but a little after, when the investigation of nature has been carried deeper.
History of Arts, and of Nature as changed and altered by Man, or Experimental History, I divide into three. For it is drawn either from mechanical arts, or from the operative part of the liberal arts; or from a number of crafts and experiments which have not yet grown into an art properly so called, and which sometimes indeed turn up in the course of most ordinary experience, and do not stand at all in need of art.
As soon therefore as a history has been completed of all these things which I have mentioned, namely, Generations, Pretergenerations, Arts and Experiments, it seems that nothing will remain unprovided whereby the sense can be equipped for the information of the understanding.
And then shall we be no longer kept dancing within little rings, like persons bewitched, but our range and circuit will be as wide as the compass of the world.
Among the parts of history which I have mentioned, the history of Arts is of most use, because it exhibits things in motion, and leads more directly to practice. Moreover it takes off the mask and veil from natural objects, which are commonly concealed and obscured under the variety of shapes and external appearance. Finally, the vexations of art are certainly as the bonds and handcuffs of Proteus, which betray the ultimate struggles and efforts of matter. For bodies will not be destroyed or annihilated; rather than that they will turn themselves into various forms. Upon this history therefore, mechanical and illiberal as it may seem, (all fineness and daintiness set aside) the greatest diligence must be bestowed.
Again, among the particular arts those are to be preferred which exhibit, alter, and prepare natural bodies and materials of things; such as agriculture, cookery, chemistry, dyeing; the manufacture of glass, enamel, sugar, gunpowder, artificial fires, paper, and the like. Those which consist principally in the subtle motion of the hands or instruments are of less use; VOL. IV.