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Nec me verbosas leges ediscere, nec me
Ingrato voces prostituisse foro.1
Fixit leges pretio atque refixit.
Nec ferrea jura
Insanumque forum et populi tabularia vidit.2
Hic clamosi rabiosa fori
Jurgia vendens improbus, iras
Presently we come to a series of English proverbs, all set down together, remembrances probably or extracts out of some collection which he had been reading; and immediately after these, to a number of Latin proverbs, all taken apparently from some collection of the Adagia of Erasmus, in which the proverbs were arranged under heads, and the heads arranged alphabetically. For they are set down throughout in the order in which they would present themselves in such a volume, with no more exceptions than might naturally in such a case occur by accident.
1 Ov. Amor. I. xv. 5.
2 Virg. Georg. ii. 502.
8 This is a good instance of a mode of quotation not uncommon in Bacon, where an alteration is intentionally introduced for the sake of keeping so much as is to the purpose, and leaving out what is not so. Virgil's words (Georg. ii. 128,) are :
Pocula si quando savo infecere novercœ,
Miscueruntque herbas et non innoxia verba.
Applied to the lawyers, the word herbas would have had no meaning. Noverca is substituted merely to complete the line.
4 Seneca, Herc. Fur.
Having gone through this volume (for the last extract is within a few pages of the end) he returns to modern proverbs; of which there follow a great number, at first chiefly Italian, then entirely Spanish, and lastly English again.
After this he returns again to his Erasmus, commencing as before near the beginning and proceeding regularly to the end, with only two or three deviations from the alphabetical order. The difference is, that in the former collection he selected nothing but proverbs and sentences, whereas in this he selects phrases only. The series is interrupted once or twice by a note or query of his own, relating to something which had occurred to him perhaps during his walk; as for instance that "wild thyme on the ground hath a scent like a cypress chest." "Where harts cast their horns;" "Few dead birds found;""Salt to water, whence it came;" and the like.
Next we have another collection of proverbs like the former, one or two French, several Italian, more Spanish, most English. After which he returns for the third time to Erasmus, proceeding as before, but now again selecting sentences.
Having as before come to the end of the volume, he now it seems takes up the Æneid and reads it through ; for there follow sixteen or seventeen lines, or fragments of lines, all taken from the Eneid and all set down in the order in which they come in the poem; the last being the 833rd line of the 12th book. Then come several lines from Ovid; then a few from Virgil's Eclogues and Georgics; then a good many from the Satires, Epistles, and Art Poetic of Horace; then another selection from the Eneid; and lastly a good
many from Ovid's Heroides, and a few from the 1st and 2nd books of his Amores; and so the Promus concludes.
I have been thus particular in describing it, because it is chiefly interesting as an illustration of Bacon's manner of working. There is not much in it of his own. The collection is from books which were then in every scholar's hands, and the selected passages, standing as they do without any comment to show what he found in them or how he meant to apply them, have no peculiar value. That they were set down not as he read, but from memory afterwards, I infer from the fact that many of the quotations are slightly inaccurate. And because so many out of the same volume come together, and in order, I conclude that he was in the habit of sitting down from time to time, reviewing in memory the book he had last read, and jotting down those passages which for some reason or other he wished to fix in his mind. This would in all cases be a good exercise for the memory, and in some cases (as in the long list of classical phrases out of Erasmus, hardly any of which he ever made use of in his own writings) it may have been practised for that alone. But there is something in his selection of sentences and verses out of the poets which seems to require another explanation; for it is difficult sometimes to understand why those particular lines should have been taken and so many others apparently of equal note passed by. My conjecture is, that most of these selected expressions were connected in his mind, by some association more or less fanciful, with certain trains of thought; and stood as mottoes (so to speak) to little chapters of meditation. My meaning will be easily understood by any one who will
observe carefully the manner in which similar passages are introduced by the way, or specially commented upon, in his works. If for instance we had met in some collection like this with Homer's line,
χαίρετε κήρυκες, Διὸς ἄγγελοι ἠδὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν,
we might well have wondered what he saw in it to make him select it for special distinction. But observe how it is introduced in the opening of the 4th book of the De Augmentis Scientiarum, and the value of it is explained. So again if we met in a similar collection with the twenty-four proverbs which are selected for exposition in the 8th book of the De Augmentis, standing by themselves without comment, we might wonder at the selection; but when we read the explanations which are there annexed, we see how much meaning in his mind they carried with them. Some further light may perhaps be thrown on this point by an observation, or the hint of an observation, which I find in a sheet of memoranda in his hand-writing (Harl. MSS. 7017. fo. 107.) which seems to have been preserved in the same bundle with the "Promus." It is a thought jotted down in evident haste, and in circumstances apparently very inconvenient for calligraphy, — with a bad pen or bad ink, or in the dark, or perhaps in a carriage, — and stands thus, literatim.
"Mot. of the mynd explicate in woords implicate in thowghts. I judg. best implicate in thowg. or pticul. or mark. bycause of swiftnes collocat. and differe. and to make woords sequac."
By which I understand him to mean, that he found the slow and imperfect process of expounding ideas in
words to impede too much the free motions of the mind; and that he judged it a better practice to keep the pure mental conception involved in the thought, or represented by some particular image or simple mark; because by that means the mental process of comparison and distinction could be carried on more swiftly, and a habit acquired of "making words sequacious; that is of teaching words to follow ideas, instead of making ideas wait upon words. I am not aware that he ever recorded this as his final judgment upon the point, but it may serve to explain his own practice at this time of embodying his thoughts in brief sentences, picturesque images, or memorable expressions; such as might serve to represent and recall the entire idea which remained in puris naturalibus in his mind.
From what I have said, it will be readily understood that this Promus, which is of considerable length, is not worth printing in extenso. But my account of it may be thought too incomplete without some extracts by way of specimen. For this purpose I shall select such entries as have most substantial value, independent of that Baconian comment which no editor can now supply; and I shall arrange them as well as I can under separate heads according to their character.