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ALL the editions of Bacon's works contain a small collection of Latin sentences selected from the Mimi of Publius Syrus, under the title of Ornamenta Rationalia; followed by a larger collection of English sentences selected from Bacon's own writings. These are printed as two separate pieces, with titles which seem to imply that the selection was made by Bacon himself. But this is wrong.
The history of them is shortly this. Dr. Tenison found in three several lists of Bacon's unpublished papers the title Ornamenta Rationalia. He remembered also to have seen in the possession of Dr. Rawley's son a collection made by Bacon under that title. But no part of it was to be found among the manuscripts transmitted to him, and he retained only a general remembrance of its quality, namely that “it consisted of divers short sayings, aptly and smartly expressed, and containing in them much of good sense in a little room ;” and that “it was gathered partly out of his own store and partly from the ancients.” 1 Considering himself to blame however for not having preserved it," he held himself obliged, in some sort, and as he was able, to supply the defect ;” and accordingly made a collection
1 Baconiana, pp. 89. 94.
on the same plan, and printed it in the Baconiana with the following title:
66 Ornamenta Rationalia. A supply (by the Publisher) of certain weighty and elegant Sentences, some made, others collected, by the Lord Bacon ; and by him put under the above said Title; and at present not to be found.”
The “ supply” consists of, 1st, “a collection of sentences out of the Mimi of Publius ; englished by the publisher;” 2nd, “a collection of sentences out of some of the writings of the Lord Bacon.”
Whatever be the value of these collections, they have clearly no right to appear among the works of Bacon, – least of all under a title which ascribes them to Bacon himself, inasmuch as the selection was avowedly and entirely the work of Dr. Tenison. But there is a MS, in the British Museum written in Bacon's own hand, and entitled Promus of Formularies and Elegancies, which (though made in his early life for his own use and not intended for preservation in that shape) contains many things which might have formed part of such a collection as Tenison describes; and the place of the lost Ornamenta Rationalia will perhaps be most properly supplied by an account of it.
A date at the top of the first page shows that it was begun on the 5th of December 1594, — the commencement of the Christmas vacation. It consists of single sentences, set down one after the other without any marks between or any notes of reference or explanation. This collection (which fills more than forty 4to pages) is of the most miscellaneous character, and seems by various marks in the MS. to have been
afterwards digested into other collections which are lost.
The first few pages are filled chiefly, though not exclusively, with forms of expression applicable to such matters as a man might have occasion to touch in conversation, — neatly turned sentences describing personal characters or qualities, — forms of compliment, application, excuse, repartee, &c. These are apparently of his own invention, and may have been suggested by his own experience and occasions. But interspersed among them are apophthegms, proverbs, verses out of the Bible, and lines out of the Latin poets ; all set . down without any order or apparent connexion of subject; as if he had been trying to remember as many notable phrases as he could out of his various reading and observation, and setting them down just as they happened to present themselves.
As we advance, the collection becomes less miscellaneous; as if his memory had been ranging within a smaller circumference. In one place, for instance, we find a cluster of quotations from the Bible, following one another with a regularity which may be best explained by supposing that he had just been reading the Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, and then the Gospels and Epistles or (perhaps some commentary upon them), regularly through. The quotations are in Latin, and most of them agree exactly with the Vulgate, but not all; the differences however are not more than might perhaps have been expected, if he quoted from memory
Passing this Scripture series, we come again into a collection of very miscellaneous character. Proverbs, French, Spanish, Italian, and English, - sentences out
of Erasmus's Adagia, – verses from the Epistles, , Gospels, Psalms, Proverbs of Solomon, - lines from
Seneca, Horace, Virgil, Ovid, - succeed each other
, , according to some law which, in the absence of all notes or other indications to mark the connexion between the several entries, the particular application of each, or the change from one subject to another, there is no hope of discovering ; though in some places several occur together, which may be perceived by those who remember the struggling fortune and uncertain prospects of the writer in those years, together with the great design which he was meditating, to be connected by a common sentiment.
Here for instance is a cluster of passages taken indiscriminately from several poets, but all pointing to the same subject; which may be described generally as notes of encouragement to those who undertake enterprises that seem too great for their powers :
Est quâdam prodire tenus, si non datur ultra.1
1 Hor. Epist. I. i. 32.
9 Virg. Ec. iv. 52.
2 Ov. Met. ii. 328.
Nor is it less easy, when we consider Bacon's position with regard to the reigning philosophy taught at the universities, to divine the connexion between the eight entries which follow:
In academiis discunt credere.
which is to discover truth.
Vitæ me redde priori.1 I had rather know than be known.2 Orpheus in sylvis, inter delphinas Arion.3 Inopem me copia fecit.4 An instrument in tuning. A youth set will never be higher. The nine following entries, which also stand together, need no antiquarian interpreter to make their meaning intelligible:
Væ vobis jurisperiti. 1 Hor. Epist. I. 7. 96. 2 " Is enim ego sum qui malim scire quam nosci, discere quam docere."
Ghetaldus’s Archimedes Promotus ; quoted in Mr. Ellis's preface to Historia Densi et Rari. 3 Ec. viii. 56.
4 Ov. Met. iii. 466.