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Another of the fruits of this year was bis little book De Sapientia Veterum; one of the most elegant of his works, and, in his own and the next generation, one of the most popular. It appears to have grown out of a thought dropped with much hesitation in the Advancement of Learning; where, speaking of" Poesy Parabolical," — and that one of its uses is “ when the secrets and mysteries of religion, policy, or philosophy are involved in fables or parables,"—he goes on, “ In Heathen poesy we see the exposition of fables doth fall out sometiines with great felicity, as in the fable that the Giants being overthrown,” etc. . “Nevertheless in many the like encounters I do rather think that the fable was first and the exposition devised, than that the moral was first and thereupon the fable framed. .... But yet that all the fables and fictions of the poets were but pleasure and not figure, I interpose no opinion. Surely of those poets which are now extant, even Homer himself, (notwithstanding he was made a kind of Scripture by the later school of the Grecians), yet I should without any difficulty pronounce that his fables had no such inwardness in his own meaning; but what they might have upon a more original tradition, is not easy to affirm; for he was not the inventor of many of them.”!
From the manner in which it is expressed, I imagine the thought to have been at this time in the first stage of digestion. But following out the hint in the last sentence, he came afterwards to the conclusion that, long before the days of Homer and Hesiod, a generation of wise men had flourished on the earth who taught the mysteries of nature in parables; that after they and what they taught had alike passed away and been forgotten, the names and incidents of these parables still floated in tradition; but that they were then taken merely for tales of old times, and falling into the hands of poets and minstrels were altered, adorned, and added to at pleasure, without regard to the original meaning, till they settled into the shape in which we find them. The problem, therefore, was to get rid of the overgrowths, and to recover and interpret the original parable; and Bacon, having already made the trial upon three or four,” followed it up in others.--collecting the incidents from a comparison of all extant traditions, and adding what he supposed to be the interpretations,-until he had enough to make a little volume. This he now published. His motive for doing so at this time--it came out about the end of 1609--was not, I think, merely that it was a very pretty book, shewing reading and scholarship, setting forth certain
| Adv. of Learn., Vol. III. p. 344. 2 See Phil. Works, Vol. III. p. 180.
favourite speculations of his own in a striking and attractive shape, and likely to raise his reputation among scholars; though that may seem motive sufficient; for it had never been his practice to publish small pieces. Old as he was and much as he had written, he had appeared as an author in print only twice before, and only once willingly : the Essays having been sent to the press as they were, only to rescue them from pirates. But he was now busily considering how the new ideas of the Instauratio might be introduced into the world with the best chance of favourable entertainment; and it occurred to him that if presented as treasures recorered from antiquity they would be more respectfully regarded than if propounded as his
When among other measures for preparing men’s minds to receive them, he suggested to himself the " discoursing scornfully of the philosophy of the Grecians, with some better respect to the Ægyptians, Persians, Caldes, and the utmost antiquity, and the mysteries of the poets," he was probably thinking of these fables: and from a passage in the Cogitata et Visa, where he observes how easy it would be to make out that the sages who flourished before the Greeks had a deeper knowledge of nature than they, and as new-risen men seek to ennoble themselves by adopting ancient pedigrees—to father these ideas upon them, we know that he had in fact considered the point with the thought of making this use of it. He concluded, indeed, that the argument was too doubtful to be fairly employed in that way; yet he had still too strong a fancy for it himself to be content that it should be thrown aside as worthless; and as the enquiry supplied him at any rate with a handsome occasion for announcing ideas of his own for which he wished to bespeak a hearing, he resolved-to cast his bread upon the waters, trusting that the world would find it in due time.
The value of the book to us does not depend upon our acceptance of the theory on which it is constructed. If it did, it would hardly rise above the price of a curiosity. That a state of high intellectual cultivation may have existed on the earth, and disappeared with all its fruits and all its traditions, leaving no record of itself behind, is not altogether inconceivable, if we suppose that the art of writing,
1 See above, p. 64.
2.“ Atque post has philosophiarum oras peragratas, se undique circumspicientem etiam ad antiquitatis penetralia oculos conjecisse, veluti versus tractum quendam nubilosum et obscurum. Atque scire se, si minus sincerâ fide agere vellet, non difficile esse hominibus persuadere, apud antiquos sapientes, diu ante Græcorum tempora, Scientiam de Naturâ majore virtute, sed majore etiam fortasse silentio floruisse : atque ideo solennius fore ea quæ jam afferuntur ad illa referre: ut novi homines solent, qui nobilitatem antiquæ alicujus prosapiæ per Genealogiarum rumores et conjecturas sibi aflingunt; sed se, rerum eridentià fretum, omnem im. posturæ conditionem recusasse," etc. Phil. Works, Vol. III. p. 604.
or of preserving writing in some durable material, was not among its inventions. If the preservation of any knowledge depended upon an unbroken succession of oral teachers, one or two unlucky generations might lose it beyond recovery. But it is harder to conceive that any such state could have existed without producing works of some kind, that could not have been so easily obliterated. A war might interrupt the succession of teachers, but it would take a convulsiou of nature to bury all evidence of works accomplished. The solution of the problem which modern enquirers, studying it with greater advantages, have arrived at, avoids this difficulty. Admitting-and so far agreeing with Bacon—that the existence of many of these fables cannot be satisfactorily accounted for without supposing that they grew out of earlier stories which contained an allegorical meaning of some kind, they look for the meaning which they did contain in the very opposite direction. Instead of seeking in those earlier stories for shadows of profound science, they take them to have been the simplest espressions of the simplest conceptions of an age when abstract thought had not yet formed for itself a language to speak in, and all speech was metaphor,—to have represented in fact not the secrets and mysteries of nature, but her most obvious and ordinary phenomena ; and had Bacon lived into the days of comparative philology and comparative mythology, I have little doubt that he would have accepted this solution as far easier and more probable than his own, and forth with renounced all claim to have his ideas regarded as the property of a forgotten generation. To us, however, the ideas themselves are not the less valuable on that account: and I doubt whether any one of his works can be mentioned which contains within the same compass a greater variety of fine and original observation upon the various businesses and conditions of human life, more agreeably delivered, or more available for the instruction of modern
This is the little work of which he sent Toby Matthew a copy with the following letter; which comes from his own collection.
The work itself will be found in the first volume of the Literary and Professional Works, with a translation of my own; and a preface, to which I must refer for a fuller discussion of some of the questions just touched upon.
A Letter to Mr. MATTAEW, UPON SENDING HIS BOOK 'De
SAPIENTIA VETERUM."? Mr. Matthew, I do heartily thank you for your letter of the 24th of 1 P. 605.
: Addi. MSS. 5503, fo, 34 b.
August from Salamanca; and in recompence thereof, I send you a little work of mine that hath begun to pass the world. They tell me my latin is turned into silver, and become current. Had you been here, you should have been my inquisitor before it came forth : but I think the greatest inquisitor in Spain will allow it. But one thing you must pardon me if I make no haste to believe, that the world should be grown to such an ecstasy as to reject truth in philosophy, because the author dissenteth in religion; no more than they do by Aristotle or Averroes. My great work goeth forward ; and after my manner, I alter ever when I add. So that nothing is finished till all be finished. This I have written in the midst of a term and parliament; thinking no tine so precious, but that I should talk of these matters with so good and dear a friend. And so with my wonted wishes I leave you to God's goodness.
From Gray's-Inn, the 17th of Febr., 1610.
Among Bacon's memoranda of the 26th of July 1608, one runs thus : “Q. of learned men beyond the seas to be made, and hearkening who they be that may be so inclined.”
66 To be made" means of course to be persuaded to take an interest in the Great Instauration. In the course of the next year a chance presented itself, which he did not neglect, though I am not aware that anything came of it. Isaac Casaubon, the famous scholar, was then at Paris, invited by a pension from Henry IV. and hopes of a professorship. He had there become acquainted with some of Bacon's writings, probably through Sir George Cary, and perhaps at the instance of Bacon himself; and had written to Sir George to express bis admiration of them. Bacon took hold of the occasion to invite a correspondence, as we learn from the following letter ; which comes from the collection at Lambeth. It is only a draught, and may probably therefore be the record of an intention only, which was not fulfilled. But for our purposes the intention is enough. The date is not in this case of much consequence; except that if the letter was sent to Casaubon in 1609, we might have expected to hear of some further communication between them after he arrived in England; which he did the next year. Birch, by whom this letter was first published, observing that Casaubon had written to Sir George Cary, appears to have in
1 Possessed. Res.
2 27th. Res.
ferred that they could not have been both in France or both in England; and as Sir George returned from his embassy in France in Oetober 1609 and Casaubon arrived in England in October 1610, concluded that the letter must have been written between those dates. But as it is obvious that Casaubon might have sent a letter to Sir George when they were both in Paris or both in London, there is not really any ground for that conclusion. All that can be said is that this is as likely a date as any other, and that the letter comes in here more conveniently than it would anywhere else. Only it must be understood that any speculation which depends upon the assumption of this date as a fact, ought to be rejected as wanting evidence. Casaubon came to England after the death of Henry IV., and was well entertained by James both with attentions and preferments till 1614, when he died; but I find no traces of any further correspondence between him and Bacon ; which, if they had come into personal communication, could hardly have failed to be found in the ' Ephemerides.”
To Casaubon. Cum ex literis, quas ad dominum Carey misisti, cognossem scripta mea à te probari, et mihi ipse de judicio tuo gratulatus sum, et tibi quam ea res mihi fuerit voluptati, scribendum existimavi. Atque illud etiam de me recte auguraris, me scientias ex latebris in lucem extrahere vehementer cupere. Neque enim multum interest ea per otium scribi quæ per otium legantur, sed plane vitam et res humanas et medias earum turbas per contemplationes sanas et veras instructiores esse volo. Quanta autem in hoc genere aggrediar et quam parvis præsidiis, postmodum fortasse rescisces. Etiam tu pariter gratissimum mihi facies, si quæ in animo habes atque moliris et agitas inihi nota esse velis. Nam conjunctionem animorum et studiorum plus facere ad amicitias judico, quam civiles necessitates et occasionum officia. Equidem existimo neminem unquam magis verè potuisse dicere? de sese, quam me ipsum, illud quod habet psalmus, multum incola fuit anima mea. Itaque magis videor cum antiquis versari, quam cum his, quibuscum vivo. Quidni etiam possim cum absentibus potius versari quam cum iis qui præsto sunt, et magis electione in amicitiis uti, quam de more occasionibus submitti?
1 Lambeth MSS. Gibson papers viii. 272. Draft written apparently to dietation by an amanuensis; corrected in Bacon's own hand. No signature, date, docket, or address. Flyleaf gone. Indorsed “ To Casaubon ” in the hand of the person who put the papers up in the volume.
2 Discere in MS.