« AnteriorContinuar »
tion of natural bodies in mechanical arts and the like; as the discovery of the heavenly motions in astronomy, of harmony in music, of the letters of the alphabet (still unadopted by the Chinese) in grammar; or, again, in mechanical operations.
term. For the old age and increasing years of the world should in reality be considered as antiquity, and this is rather the character of our own times than of the less advanced age of the world in those of the ancients. For the latter, with respect to ourselves, are ancient and elder, with the productions of Bacchus and Ceres, that is, respect to the world, modern and younger. And as we expect a greater knowledge of human affairs and more mature judgment from an old man, than from a youth, on account of his experience, and the variety and number of things he has seen, heard, and meditated upon; so we have reason to expect much greater things of our own age, (if it knew but its strength and would essay and exert it,) than from antiquity, since the world has grown older, and its stock has been increased and accumulated with an infinite number of experiments and observations. We must also take into our consideration that many objects in nature fit to throw light upon philosophy have been exposed to our view and discovered by means of long voyages and travels, in which our times have abounded. It would indeed be dishonourable to mankind, if the regions of the material globe, the earth, the sea, and stars should be so prodigiously developed and illustrated in our age, and yet the boundaries of the intellectual globe should be confined to the narrow discoveries of the ancients.
With regard to authority, it is the greatest weakness to attribute infinite credit to particular authors, and to refuse his own prerogative to time, the author of all authors, and, therefore, of all authority. For, truth is rightly named the daughter of time, not of authority. It is not wonderful, therefore, if the bonds of antiquity, authority, and unanimity, have so enchained the power of man, that he is unable (as if bewitched) to become familiar with things themselves.
85. Nor is it only the admiration of antiquity, authority, and unanimity, that has forced man's industry to rest satisfied with present discoveries, but also the admiration of the effects already placed within his power. For, whoever passes in review the variety of subjects, and the beautiful apparatus collected and introduced by the mechanical arts for the service of mankind, will certainly be rather inclined to admire our wealth than to perceive our poverty; not considering that the observations of man and operations of nature (which are the souls and first movers of that variety) are few, and not of deep research; the rest must be attributed merely to man's patience and the delicate and well regulated motion of the hand or of instruments. To take an instance, the manufactory of clocks is delicate and accurate, and appears to imitate the heavenly bodies in its wheels, and the pulse of animals in its regular oscillation, yet it only depends upon one or two axioms of nature.
Again, if one consider the refinement of the liberal arts, or even that exhibited in the prepara
the preparation of wine and beer, the making of bread, or even the luxuries of the table, distillation, and the like; if one reflect also and consider for how long a period of ages (for all the above, except distillation, are ancient) these things have been brought to their present state of perfection, and, as we instanced in clocks, to how few observations and axioms of nature they may be referred, and how easily, and, as it were, by obvious chance or contemplation they might be discovered, one would soon cease to admire and rather pity the human lot, on account of its vast want and dearth of things and discoveries for so many ages. Yet, even the discoveries we have mentioned were more ancient than philosophy, and the intellectual arts; so that, to say the truth, when contemplation and doctrinal science began, the discovery of useful works ceased.
But if any one turn from the manufactories to libraries, and be inclined to admire the immense variety of books offered to our view, let him but examine and diligently inspect the matter and contents of these books, and his astonishment will certainly change its object : for when he finds no end of repetitions, and how much men do and speak the same thing over again, he will pass from admiration of this variety to astonishment at the poverty and scarcity of matter, which has hitherto possessed and filled men's minds.
But if any one should condescend to consider such sciences as are deemed rather curious than sound, and take a full view of the operations of the alchymists or magi, he will perhaps hesitate whether he ought rather to laugh or to weep. For the alchymist cherishes eternal hope, and when his labours succeed not, accuses his own mistakes, deeming, in his self-accusation, that he has not properly understood the words of art, or of his authors; upon which he listens to tradition and vague whispers, or imagines there is some slight unsteadiness in the minute details of his practice, and then has recourse to an endless repetition of experiments: and, in the mean time, when in his casual experiments he falls upon something in appearance new, or of some degree of utility, he consoles himself with such an earnest, and ostentatiously publishes them, keeping up his hope of the final result. Nor can it be denied that the alchymists have made several discoveries, and presented mankind with useful inventions. But we may well apply to them the fable of the old man, who bequeathed to his sons some gold buried in his garden, pretending not to know the exact spot, whereupon they worked diligently in digging the vineyard, and though they found no
gold, the vintage was rendered more abundant | revelation of hidden objects and the like. One by their labour.
The followers of natural magic, who explain every thing by sympathy and antipathy, have assigned false powers and marvellous operations to things, by gratuitous and idle conjectures: and if they have ever produced any effects, they are rather wonderful and novel than of any real benefit or utility.
In superstitious magic, (if we say any thing at all about it,) we must chiefly observe, that there are only some peculiar and definite objects with which the curious and superstitious arts have in every nation and age, and even under every religion, been able to exercise and amuse themselves. Let us, therefore, pass them over. In the mean time we cannot wonder that the false notion of plenty should have occasioned want.
86. The admiration of mankind with regard to the arts and sciences, which is of itself sufficiently simple and almost puerile, has been increased by the craft and artifices of those who have treated the sciences and delivered them down to posterity. For they propose and produce them to our view so fashioned, and as it were masked, as to make them pass for perfect and complete. For, if you consider their method and divisions, they appear to embrace and comprise every thing which can relate to the subject. And although this frame be badly filled up, and resemble an empty bladder, yet it presents to the vulgar understanding the form and appearance of a perfect science.
The first and most ancient investigators of truth were wont, on the contrary, with more honesty and success, to throw all the knowledge they wished to gather from contemplation, and to lay up for use, into aphorisms, or short, scattered sentences, unconnected by any method, and without pretending or professing to comprehend any entire art. But, according to the present system, we cannot wonder that men seek nothing beyond that which is handed down to them as perfect, and already extended to its full complement.
87. The ancient theories have received additional support and credit, from the absurdity and levity of those who have promoted the new, especially in the active and practical part of natural philosophy. For there have been many silly and fantastical fellows who, from credulity or imposture, have loaded mankind with promises, announcing and boasting of the prolongation of life, the retarding of old age, the alleviation of pains, the remedying of natural defects, the deception of the senses, the restraint and excitement of the passions, the illumination and exaltation of the intellectual faculties, the transmutation of substances, the unlimited intensity and multiplication of motion, the impressions and changes of the air, the bringing into our power the management of celestial influences, the divination of future events, the representation of distant objects, the
would not be very wrong in observing, with regard to such pretenders, that there is as much difference in philosophy, between their absurdity and real science, as there is in history between the exploits of Cæsar or Alexander, and those of Amadis de Gaul and Arthur of Britain. For those illustrious generals are found to have actually performed greater exploits, than such fictitious heroes are even pretended to have accomplished, by the means, however, of real action, and not by any fabulous, and portentous power. Yet it is not right to suffer our belief in true history to be diminished, because it is sometimes injured and violated by fables. In the mean time we cannot wonder that great prejudice has been excited against any new propositions (especially when coupled with any mention of effects to be produced) by the conduct of imposters who have made a similar attempt, for their extreme absurdity and the disgust occasioned by it, has even to this day overpowered every spirited attempt of the kind.
88. Want of energy, and the littleness and futility of the tasks that human industry has undertaken, have produced much greater injury to the sciences: and yet (to make it still worse) that very want of energy manifests itself in conjunction with arrogance and disdain.
For, in the first place, one excuse, now from its repetition become familiar, is to be observed in every art, namely, that its promoters convert the weakness of the art itself into a calumny upen nature: and whatever it in their hands fails to effect, they pronounce to be physically impossible. But how can the art ever be condemned, whilst it acts as judge in its own cause? Even the present system of philosophy cherishes in its bosom certain positions or dogmas, which (it will be found on diligent inquiry) are calculated to produce a full conviction that no difficult, commanding, and powerful operation upon nature, ought to be anticipated through the means of art; we instanced* above, the alleged different quality of heat in the sun and fire, and composition and mixture. Upon an accurate observation, the whole tendency of such positions is wilfully to circumscribe man's power, and to produce a despair of the means of invention and contrivance, which would not only confound the promises of hope, but cut the very springs and sinews of industry, and throw aside even the chances of expe rience. The only object of such philosophers is, to acquire the reputation of perfection for their own art, and they are anxious to obtain the most silly and abandoned renown, by causing a belief that whatever has not yet been invented and un derstood, can never be so hereafter. But if any one attempt to give himself up to things, and tr
See Axiom 75.
The fictions of those who have not feared to deduce and confirm the truth of the Christian religion by the principles and authority of philosophers, tend to the same end, though in a different manner. They celebrate the union of faith and the senses as though it were legitimate, with great pomp and solemnity, and gratify men's pleasing minds with a variety, but, in the mean time, confound most improperly things divine and human. Moreover, in these mixtures of divinity and philosophy, the received doctrines of the latter are alone included, and any novelty, even though it be an improvement, scarcely escapes banishment and extermination.
discover something new, yet he will only propose and destine for his object, the investigation and discovery of some one invention, and nothing more; as the nature of the magnet, the tides, the heavenly system and the like, which appear enveloped in some degree of mystery, and have hitherto been treated with but little success. Now, it is the greatest proof of want of skill, to investigate the nature of any object in itself alone; for that same nature, which seems concealed and hidden in some instances, is manifest and almost palpable in others; and excites wonder in the former, whilst it hardly attracts attention in the latter. Thus the nature of consistency is scarcely observed in wood or stone, but passed over by the term solid, without any further inquiry about the repulsion of separation, or the solution of continuity. But in water-bubbles the same circumstance appears matter of delicate and ingenious research, for they form themselves into thin pellicles, curiously shaped into hemispheres, so as for an instant to avoid the solution of continuity. In general, those very things which are consi-ries of nature, which are not forbidden by any dered as secret, are manifest and common in other objects, but will never be clearly seen if the experiments and contemplation of man be directed to themselves only. Yet it commonly happens, that if, in the mechanical arts, any one bring old discoveries to a finer polish, or more elegant height of ornament, or unite and compound them, or apply them more readily to practice, or exhibit them on a less heavy and voluminous scale, and the like, they will pass off as new.
We cannot, therefore, wonder that no magnificent discoveries, worthy of mankind, have been brought to light, whilst men are satisfied and delighted with such scanty and puerile tasks, nay, even think that they have pursued or attained some great object in their accomplishment.
In short, you may find all access to any species of philosophy, however pure, intercepted by the ignorance of divines. Some, in their simplicity, are apprehensive that a too deep inquiry into nature may penetrate beyond the proper bounds of decorum, transferring and absurdly applying what is said of sacred mysteries in holy writ against those who pry into divine secrets, to the myste
prohibition. Others, with more cunning, imagine and consider that if secondary causes be unknown, every thing may more easily be referred to the divine hand and wand; a matter, as they think, of the greatest consequence to religion, but which can only really mean that God wishes to he gratified by means of falsehood. Others fear from past example, lest motion and change in philosophy should terminate in an attack upon religion. Lastly, there are others who appear anxious lest there should be something discovered in the investigation of nature to overthrow, or at least shake religion, particularly among the unlearned. The two last apprehensions appear to resemble animal instinct, as if men were diffident, in the bottom of their minds, and secret meditations, 89. Nor should we neglect to observe that na- of the strength of religion, and the empire of tural philosophy has, in every age, met with a faith over the senses; and therefore feared that troublesome and difficult opponent: I mean su- some danger awaited them from an inquiry into perstition, and a blind and immoderate zeal for nature. But any one who properly considers the religion. For we see that among the Greeks subject, will find natural philosophy to be, after those who first disclosed the natural causes of the word of God, the surest remedy against suthunder and storms to the yet untrained ears of perstition, and the most approved support of faith. man, were condemned as guilty of impiety to- She is therefore rightly bestowed upon religion wards the gods. Nor did some of the old fathers as a most faithful attendant, for the one exhibits of Christianity treat those much better who show- the will and the other the power of God. Nor ed by the most positive proofs (such as no one was he wrong who observed, "Ye err, not now disputes) that the earth is spherical, and knowing the Scriptures and the power of God;" thence asserted that there were antipodes.
Even in the present state of things, the condition of discussions on natural philosophy is rendered more difficult and dangerous by the summaries and methods of divines, who, after reducing Jivinity into such order as they could, and brought it into a scientific form, have proceeded to mingle an undue proportion of the contentious and thorny philosophy of Aristotle with the substance of reigion.
thus uniting in one bond the revelation of his will, and the contemplation of his power. In the mean while it is not wonderful that the progress of natural philosophy has been restrained, since religion, which has so much influence on men's minds, has been led and hurried to oppose her through the ignorance of some and the imprudent zeal of others.
90. Again, in the habits and regulations of schools, universities, and the like assemblies, de
stined for the abode of learned men, and the improvement of learning, every thing is found to be opposed to the progress of the sciences. For the lectures and exercises are so ordered, that any thing out of the common track can scarcely enter the thoughts and contemplations of the mind. If, however, one or two have perhaps dared to use their liberty, they can only impose the labour on themselves, without deriving any advantage from the association of others: and if they put up with this, they will find their industry and spirit of no slight disadvantage to them in making their fortane. For the pursuits of men in such situations are, as it were, chained down to the writings of particular authors, and if any one dare to dissent from them, he is immediately attacked as a turbulent and revolutionary spirit. Yet how great is the difference between civil matters and the arts; for there is not the same danger from new activity and new light. In civil matters even a change for the better is suspected on account of the commotion it occasions; for civil government is supported by authority, unanimity, fame, and public opinion, and not by demonstration. In the arts and sciences, on the contrary, every department should resound, as in mines, with new works and advances. And this is the rational, though not the actual view of the case: for that administration and government of science we have spoken of, is wont too rigorously to repress its growth.
91. And even should the odium I have alluded to be avoided, yet it is sufficient to repress the increase of science that such attempts and industry was unrewarded. For the cultivation of science and its reward belong not to the same individual. The advancement of science is the work of a powerful genius, the prize and reward belong to the vulgar or to princes, who (with a few exceptions) are scarcely moderately well informed. Nay, such progress is not only deprived of the rewards and beneficence of individuals, but even of popular praise: for it is above the reach of the generality, and easily overwhelmed and extinguished by the winds of common opinions. It is not wonderful, therefore, that little success has attended that which has been little honoured.
92. But by far the greatest obstacle to the advancement of the sciences and the undertaking of any new attempt or department is to be found in men's despair and the idea of impossibility. For men of a prudent and exact turn of thought are altogether diffident in matters of this nature, considering the obscurity of nature, and the shortness of life, the deception of the senses, and weakness of the judgment. They think, therefore, that in the revolutions of ages and of the world there are certain floods and ebbs of the sciences, and that they grow and flourish at one time, and wither and fall off at another, that VOL. III.-46
when they have attained a certain degree and condition they can proceed no further.
If, therefore, any one believe or promise greater things, they impute it to an uncurbed and inimature mind, and imagine that such efforts begin pleasantly, then become laborious, and end in confusion. And since such thoughts easily enter the minds of men of dignity and excellent judg. ment, we must really take heed lest we should be captivated by our affection for an excellent and most beautiful object, and relax or diminish the severity of our judgment! and we must diligently examine what gleam of hope shines upon us, and in what direction it manifests itself, so that, banishing her lighter dreams, we may discuss and weigh whatever appears of more sound importance. We must consult the prudence of ordinary life, too, which is diffident upon principle, and in all human matters augurs the worst. Let us then speak of hope, especially as we are not vain promisers, nor are willing to force or ensnare men's judgment, but would rather lead them willingly forward. And, although we shall employ the most cogent means of enforcing hope when we bring them to particulars, and especially those which are digested and arranged in our Tables of Invention, (the subject partly of the second, but principally of the fourth part of the Instauration,) which are indeed rather the very object of our hopes than hope itself; yet to proceed more leniently, we must treat of the preparation of men's minds, of which the manifestation of hope forms no slight part. For, without it, all that we have said tends rather to produce a gloom than to encourage activity or quicken the industry of experiment, by causing them to have a worse and more contemptuous opinion of things as they are than they now entertain, and to perceive and feel more thoroughly their unfortunate condition. We must therefore disclose and prefix our reasons for not thinking the hope of success improbable, as Columbus before his wonderful voyage over the Atlantic gave the reasons of his conviction that new lands and continents might be discovered besides those already known. And these reasons though at first rejected, were yet proved by subsequent experience, and were the causes and beginnings of the greatest events.
93. Let us begin from God, and show that our pursuit from its exceeding goodness clearly proceeds from him, the Author of good and Father of light. Now, in all divine works, the smallest beginnings lead assuredly to some result, and the remark in spiritual matters that "The kingdom of God cometh without observation," is also found to be true in every great work of divine Providence; so that every thing glides quietly on without confusion or noise, and the matter is achieved before men either think or perceive that it is commenced. Nor should we neglect to 2 H
mention the prophecy of Daniel of the last days of the world,* Many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall be increased," thus plainly hinting and suggesting that Fate (which is Providence) would cause the complete circuit of the globe, (now accomplished, or at least going forward by means of so many distant voyages,) and the increase of learning, to happen at the same epoch.
94. We will next give a most potent reason for hope deduced from the errors of the past, and the ways still unattempted. For well was an ill governed state thus reproved, "That which is worst with regard to the past, should appear most consolatory for the future. For if you had done all that your duty commanded, and your affairs proceeded no better, you could not even hope for their improvement; but since their present unhappy situation is not owing to the force of circumstances, but to your own errors, you have reason to hope, that by banishing or correcting the latter, you can produce a great change for the better in the former." So, if men had, during the many | years that have elapsed, adhered to the right way of discovering and cultivating the sciences without being able to advance, it would be assuredly bold and presumptuous to imagine it possible to improve; but if they have mistaken the way and wasted their labour on improper objects, it follows that the difficulty does not arise from things themselves, which are not in our power, but from the human understanding, its practice and application, which is susceptible of remedy and correction. Our best plan, therefore, is to expose these errors. For, in proportion as they impeded the past, so do they afford reason to hope for the future. And although we have touched upon them above, yet we think it right to give a brief, bare, and simple enumeration of them in this place.
95. Those who have treated of the sciences have been either empirics or dogmatical. The former like ants only heap up and use their store, the latter like spiders spin out their own webs. The bee, a mean between both, extracts matter from the flowers of the garden and the field, but works and fashions it by its own efforts. The true labour of philosophy resembles hers, for it neither relies entirely or principally on the powers of the mind, nor yet lays up in the memory, the matter afforded by the experiments of natural history or mechanics in its raw state, but changes
* Daniel, c. xii. ver. 4.
+ Hence to Aphorism 108 treats of the grounds of hope to be derived from correcting former errors.
See Demosthenes's 3d Philippic near the beginning,
τὸ χείρισον ἐν τοῖς παρεληλυθέσι, τοῦτο προς τὰ μελλοντα βέλτισον ὑπάρκει. Τί οὖν ἐπὶ τοῦτο; ὅτι οὔτε μικρὸν, οὔτε
μέγα οὐδὲν τῶν δεόντων ποιούντων ὑμῶν, κακῶς τὰ πράγματα ἔχει· ἐπείτοιγε εἰ πάνθ ̓ ἅ προσήκει πραττόντων ὑμῶν, οὕτω διέκειτο οὐδ' ἂν ἐλπὶς ἦν αὐτὰ γένεσθαι βελτίω, νῦν δὲ τῆς τὸν ῥαθυμίας τῆς ἡμετέρας, καὶ τῆς ἀμελείας κεκράτηκε Φιλιπ. και, τῆς πόλεως δ' οὐ κεκράτηκεν.
and works it in the understanding. We have good reason, therefore, to derive hope from a closer and purer alliance of these faculties, (the experimental and rational) than has yet been attempted.
96. Natural philosophy is not yet to be found unadulterated, but is impure and corrupted; by logic in the school of Aristotle, by natural theology in that of Plato, by mathematics in the second school of Plato, (that of Proclus and others,) which ought rather to terminate natural philosophy than to generate or create it. We may, therefore, hope for better results from pure and unmixed natural philosophy.
97. No one has yet been found possessed of sufficient firmness and severity, to resolve upon and undertake the task of entirely abolishing common theories and notions, and applying the mind afresh, when thus cleared and levelled, to particular researches. Hence our human reasoning is a mere farrago and crude mass, made up of a great deal of credulity and accident, and the puerile notions it originally contracted.
But if a man of mature age, unprejudiced senses, and clear mind, would betake himself anew to experience and particulars, we might hope much more from such a one. In which respect we promise ourselves the fortune of Alexander the Great, and let none accuse us of vanity till they have heard the tale, which is intended to check vanity.
For Eschines spoke thus of Alexander and his exploits: "We live not the life of mortals, but are born at such a period that posterity will relate and declare our prodigies." As if he considered the exploits of Alexander to be miraculous.
But in succeeding ages* Livy took a better view of the fact, and has made some such observation as this upon Alexander: "That he did no more than dare to despise insignificance." So in our opinion posterity will judge of us, "That we have achieved no great matters, but only set less account upon what is considered important." For the mean time (as we have before observed) our only hope is in the regeneration of the sciences, by regularly raising them on the foundation of experience and building them anew, which I think none can venture to affirm to have been already done or even thought of.
98. The foundations of experience (our sole resource) have hitherto failed completely or have been very weak; nor has a store and a collection of particular facts capable of informing the mind or in any way satisfactory, been either sought after or amassed. On the contrary, learned, but
bable effect of a contest between Rome and Alexander the *See Livy, lib. x. c. 17, where in a digression on the pro
mulierum ac spadonum agmen trahentem inter purpuram atque aurum, oneratum fortunæ apparatibus, prædam verius quam hostem, nihil aliud quam ausus vana contemnere, έπετω entus devicit."
Great, he says: "Non cum Dario rem esse dixisset: quem