Francis Bacon.

The works of Francis Bacon, baron of Verulam, viscount St. Alban, and lord high chancellor of England (Volume 1) online

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arrogantly and uncivilly, being applied to himself out
of his own mouth ; but, being applied to the general
state of this question, pertinently and justly ; when,
being invited to touch a lute, he said, " He could
not fiddle, but he could make a small town a great
state." So, no doubt, many may be well seen in
the passages of government and policy, which are to
seek in little and punctual occasions. I refer them
also to that which Plato said of his master Socrates,
whom he compared to the gallypots of apothecaries,
which on the outside had apes and owls, and antiques,
but contained within sovereign and precious liquors
and confections ; acknowledging, that to an external
report, he was not without superficial levities and
deformities, but was inwardly replenished with ex-
cellent virtues and powers. And so much touching
the point of manners of learned rnen.

But in the mean time I have no purpose to give
allowance to some conditions and courses base and
unworthy, wherein divers professors of learning have
wronged themselves, and gone too far ; such as were
those trencher philosophers, which in the later age
of the Roman state were usually in the houses of
great persons, being little better than solemn pa-
rasites ; of which kind Lucian niaketh a merry de-
scription of the philosopher that the great lady took
to ride with her in her coach, and would needs have
him carry her little dog, which he doing officiously,
and yet uncomely, the page scoffed, and said, " That
he doubted, the philosopher of a Stoic would turn
to be a Cynic." But above all the rest, the gross
and palpable Hattcry, whcrcunto many, not un-


learned, have abased and abused their wits and pens,
turning, as Du Bartas saith, Hecuba into Helena, and
Faustina into Lueretia, hath most diminished the
price and estimation of learning. Nqther is the mo- ^
dern dedications ofbooks and writings,„as to patrons,
to b^^commended : j^r that books, such as are wortKy
the name of books, ought to have no patrons but
trutK' and reason. And the ancient custom was, to
dedicate them only to private and ccjual friends, or
to intitlc the books with their names ; or if to kings
and great persons, it was to some such as the argu-
ment of the book was lit and proper for : but these
and the like courses may deserve rather reprehension
than defence.

Not that I can tax or condemn the morigeration or
application of learned men to men in fortune. For the
answer was good that Diogenes made to oiie that asked
him in mockery, " How it came to pass that philoso-
phers were the followers of rich men, and not rich
men of philosophers?" He answered soberly, and
yet sharply, " Because the one sort knew what they
had need of, and the other did not." And of the
like nature was the answer which Aristippus made,
when having a petition to Dionysius, and no ear given
to him, he fell down at his feet ; whereupon Diony-
sius staid, and gave him the hearing, and granted
it ; and afterwards some person, tender on the behalf
of philosophy, reproved Aristippus, that he would
offer the profession of philosophy such an indignity,
as for a private suit to fall at a tyrant's feet. But
he answered, "It was not his fault, but it was the
fault of Dionysius, that he had his ears in his feet."
Neither was it accounted weakness, but discretion
in him that would not dispute his best with Adria-
nus Caesar ; excusing himself, '* That it was reason
to yield to him that commanded thirty legions." These
and the like applications, and stooping to points of
necessity and convenience, cannot be disallowed :
for though they may have some outward baseness, yet
in a judgment truly made, they are to be aceounte^
submissions to, the occasion^ and not to the person. '


Now I proceed to those errors and vanities, which
have intiervened amongst the studies themsclvcj^j^ the
learned, which is that which is principal and proper
to file present argument ; Avherein my purpose is not
to make a justification of the errors, but, by a
censure and separation of the errors, to make a justi-
fication of that which is good and sound, and to deli-
ver that from the aspersion of the other. For we see,
that it is the manner of men to scandalize and
deprave that whicli retaineth the state and virtue, by
taking advantage upon that which is corrupt and de-
generate ; as the heatliens in the primitive Church
used to blemish and taint the Christians with the
faults and corruptions of heretics. But nevertheless I
have no meaning at this time to make any exact ani-
madversion of the errors and impediments in matters
of learning, which are more secret and remote from
vulgar opinion, but only to speak unto such as do fall
under, or near unto, a popular observation.

There be therefore chiefly three vanities Jii s:tudies,
whereby learning hath been mosTTraiTiicetT. For fho^
things we do esteem vain, which are either false or fri-
V olous, those which either have no truth, or no use: and
those persons we esteem vain, which are either credu-
lous or curious ; and curiosity is either in matter, or
words : so that in reason, as well as in experience, there
fall out to be these three distempers, as I may term
them, of learning:' xhc first, fantastical Icanujig ; the

< second, contentious le(iri|twg°5'itnd the "last, del icate _
learning; vain imaginations, vain altercations, and vam
affectations; and witli_ the last I will begin.
^ C^' Martin Luther, conducted no doubt by an higher

^rovideiice,n[iifl:~ln discourse of reason, finding what
a province he had undertaken against the bisliop of
Rome, and the degenerate traditions of the church,
and finding his own solitude being no ways aided
by the opinions of liis own time, was enforced to
awake all antiquity, and to (?all former times to his
succour, to make a party ngainst tlic present time.
So that the ancient authors, both in divinity, and in
humanity, which had long time slept in libraries, began


generally to be read and revolved. This by consequence
did draw on a necessity of a more exquisite travel in
the languages original, wherein those authors did write :
for the better understanding of tliosc authors, and the
better advantage of pressing and applying their words.
And thereof grew again a delight in tlieir manner and
style of phrase, and an admiration of tliat kind of
writing; which was much furthered and precipitated by
the enmity and opposition, that the propoundersof thovse
primitive, but seeming new, opinions had against the
schoolmen, who were generally of the contrary part,
and whose writings were altogether in a differing style
and form ; taking liberty to coin, and frame new terms
of art to express their own sense, and to avoid circuit
of speech, without regard to the pureness, pleasant-
ness, and, as I may call it, lawfulness of the phrase
or word. And again, because the great labour then
was with the people, of whom the Pharisees were wont
to say, " Execrabilis ista turba, qux non novit
legem ; " for the winning and jjersuading of them,
there grew of necessity in chief price and request,
eloquence and variety of discourse, as the fittest and
forciblest access into the capacity of the vulgar sort :
so that these four causes concurring, the admiration
of ancient authors, the hate of the scHoolmen, the
exact"study of llmguages, and the eflicacy of preach-
ing, did bring in an affectionate study of eloquence,
and'Wpia of speech, which then began to flourisli.
This grew speedily to an excess ; for men began to
hunt more after words than matter ; and more after
the choiceness of the phrase, and the round and
clean composition of the sentence, and the sweet falling
of the clauses, and the varying and illustration of
their works with tropes and figures, than after the
weight of matter, worth of subject, soundness of
argument, life of invention, or depth of judgment.
Then grew the flowing and watery vein of Osorius,
the Portugal bishop, to be in price. Then did Stur-
mius spend such infinite and curious pains upon
Cicero the orator, and Hermogenes the rhetorician,
besides his own books of periods, and imitation, and


the like. Then did Car of Cambridge, and Aschara,
M^ith their lectures and writings, almost deify Cicero
and Demosthenes, and allure all young men, that
were studious, unto that delicate and polished kind of
leamins'. Then did Erasmus take occasion to make
the scoffing echo ; " Decern annos consumpsi in le-
gendo Cicerone : " and the echo answered in Greek,
" Oi/f, Asine. Then grew the learning of the schoolmen
to be utterly despised as barbarous, Iii^suni, the
whole -ineliiiatioii aiid-'bent-of - those
towards co/;za, than weiglit..

Here therefore is the first dbteniper of leari^ing,
when meixj^tiwly-words, and not majy^er: whereof
though I have represented an example of late times,
yet it hath been, and will be secutidum majus et minus
in all time. And how is it possible but this should
have an operation to discredit learning, even with
vulgar capacities, when they see learned mens works
like the first letter of a patent, or limned book ; which
though it hath large flourishes, yet it is but a letter ?
It seems to me that Pygmalion's frenzy is a good em-
blem or portraiture of this vanity : for words are but
the images of matter, and except they have life
of reason and invention, to fall in love with them is
all one as to fall in love with a pictiu'e.

But yet, notwithstanding, it is a thing not hastily
to be condemned, to clothe and adorn the obscurity,
even of philosophy itself, with sensible and plausible
elocution. For hereof we have great examples in
Xenophon, Cicero, 8eneca, Plutarch, and of Plato
also in some degree; and hereof likewise there is
great use : for surely, to the severe inquisition of
truth, and the deep progress into philosophy, it is
some hindrance ; because it is too early satisfactory
to the mind of man, and qucncheth tlie desire of
farther. searcli, before we come to a just period:
but then, if a man be to have any use of such know-
ledge in civil occasions, of conference, counsel, per-
suasion, discourse, or the like ; then shall he find it
prepared to his hands in those autliors whicli write
in tliat manner. But the excess of this is so justly



contcinptiblc, that as Hercules, when he saw the
image of Adonis, Vcnns's minion, in a temple, said
in disdain, " Nil sacri es ;" so there is none of Her-
cules's followers in learning, that is, the more severe
and laborious sort of inquirers into truth, but will de-
spise those delicacies and affectations, as indeed capa-
ble of no divineness. And thus much of the first dis-
ease or distemper of learning.

The second, which followeth, is in nature worse / *>,)
than the former : for as substance of matter is better
than beauty of words, so, contrariwise, XQinmatte^
is wsr§£jtoL,.Xaift^^;jQj:ils ; wherein it seemetlT the
reprehension of St. Paul was not only proper for
those times, but prophetical for the times following ;
and not only respective to divinity, but extensive to
all knowledge : " Devita profanas vocum novitates, et
oppositiones falsi nominis scientiflD." For he assignetli
two marks and badges of suspected and falsified
science: the one, the novelty and strangeness of
terms ; the other, the strictness of positions, which
of necessity doth induce oppositions, and so questions
and altercations. Surely, like as many substances in
nature which are solid, do putrify and corrupt into
worms ; so it is the propriety of good and sound
knowledge, to putrify and dissolve into a number of
subtle, idle, unwholesome, and, as I may term them,
vermiculate questions, which have indeed a kind of
quickness, and life of spirit, but no soundness of
matter, or goodness of quality. This kind of dege- \
nerate learning did chiefly reigu amongst the schodh r
men, who, having sharp and strong wits, and abun- j
dance of leisure, and small variety of reading ; but
their wits being shut up in the cells of a few authors,
chiefly Aristotle their dictator, as their persons were
shut up in the cells of monasteries and colleges, and i
knowing little history, either of nature or time, did, '
out of no great quantity of matter, and infinite agi-
tation of wit, spin out unto us those laborious webs of
learning, which are extant in their books. For the
wit and mind of man, if it work upon matter, which
is the contemplation of the creatures of God, worketh


according to the stuff, and is limited thereby : but if
it work upon itself, as the spider worketh his web,
tlien it is endless, and brings forth indeed cobwebs of
learning, admirable for the fineness of thread and
work, but of no substance or profit.

This same unprofitable subtility or curiosity is of
two sorts; either in the subject itself that tlicy han-
dle, when it is fruitless speculation, or controversy,
whereof there are no small number both in divinity
and philosophy ; or in the manner or method of hand-
ling of a knowledge, which amongst them was this ;
upon every particular position or assertion to frame
objections, and to those objections, solutions ; which
solutions were for the most part not confutations,
but distinctions : whereas indeed the strengtli of all
sciences is, as the strength of the old man's faggot,
in the band. For the harmony of a science, support-
ing each part the other, is and ouglit to be the true
and brief confutation and supj)ression of all the
smaller sort of objections. But, on the other side,
if you take out every axiom, as the sticks of the
faggot, one by one, you may quarrel with them, and
bend them, and break them at your pleasure : so that
as was said of Seneca, " Verborum minutiis rerum
frangit pondera ; " so a man may truly say of the
schoolmen, " Quaestionum minutiis scientiaruni fran-
gunt soiiditatem." For were it not better for a man
in a fair room, to set up one great light, or branching
candlestick of lights, than to go about with a small
watch candle into every corner ? And such Jji.Jjb£ir
method, that rests not so much upon evidence of truth
proved by arguments, authorities, similitudes, exam-
ples, as upon particular confutations and solutions of
every scruple, cavillation, and objection ; breeding for
the most part one question, as fast as it solvetli an-
other ; even as in the former resemblance, when you
carry tlie light into one corner, you darken the rest :
so that the fable and fiction of Scylla seemeth to be a
lively image of this kind of pliilosopliy or knowledge,
whicli was transformed into a comely virgin for the
upper parts ; but then, '* Candida succinctam latranr


tibiis inguina moiistris : " so tlic generalities of the
schoolmen arc for a wliilc good and proportionable ;
but then, when you descend into their distinctions
and decisions, instead of a fruitful womb, for the use
and benefit of man's life, they end in monstrous alter-
cations, and barking questions. So as it is not possi-
ble but this quality of knowledge must fall under
popular contempt, the people being apt to contemn
truth upon occasion of controversies and altercations,
and to think they arc all out of their way which
never meet : and wjien they see such digladiatiou
about subtilties, and matters of no use or moment,
they easily fall upon that judgment of Dionysius of
Syracusae, " Verba ista sunt senum otiosorum."

Notwithstanding, certain it is, that if those school-
men, to their great thirst of truth, and unwearied
travel of wit, had joined variety and universality of
reading and contemplation, they had proved excel-
lent lights, to the great advancement of all learning
and knowledge ; but as they are, they are great un-
dertakers indeed, and fierce. wijdi dark kcepii^^ But as
in the inquiry of the divine truth, their pride inclined
to leave the oracle of God*s word, and to vanish in the
mixture of their own inventions ; so in the inquisition
of nature, they ever left the oracle of God's works,
and adored the deceiving and deformed images, which "
the unequal mirror of their own minds, or a few re-
ceived authors or principles, did reiiresent unto them.
And thus much for the second disease of learning.

For the third vice or disease of learning, Avliidi (jA
conQcrneth deceit or untruth, it is of all_the_rest the
foulest ; as that which doth destroy the essentiaf mrm
of knowledge ; which is nothing but a representation
of truth ; for the truth of being, and the truth of
knowing are one, differing no more than the direct
beam, and the beam reflected. This vice therefore
brancheth itself into two sorts ; delight in deceiving,
aud„ aptness to be deceived ; imposture aiicT crediiirfy;
which, although they appear to be of a diverse nature,
the one seeming to proceed of cunning, and the other


of simplicity ; yet certainly they do for the most part
concur : for as the verse noteth,

" Percontatoreiu fagito, nam garrulus idem est: "
an inquisitive man is a prattler : so upon the like
reason, a credulous man is a deceiver: as vve see it in
fame, that he_JliatwiU. easily believe rumours^ will
as easily augment rumours, and add somewhat to
them bi his own ; which Tacitus wisely noteth, when
he saith, " Fingunt simul creduutque : " so great an
affinity hath fiction and belief.

Tiiis facility of. credit, and accepting or admitting
things weakly authorized or warranted, is of two
kinds, according to the subject : for it is either aTBe-
lief of history, or, as the lawyers speak,, matter of fact ;
or else of matter of art and opinion : as to the^rmcr,
we see the experience and inconvenience of tins error
in ecclesiastical history, which hath too easily receivecl
and registered reports and narrations of mhraclcs
wrought by martyrs, hermits, or monks of the desert,
and other holy men, and their relicks, shrines, chapels,
and images ; which though they had a passage for a
time, by the ignorance of the people, the superstitious
simplicity of some, and the politic toleration of others,
holding them but as divine poesies : yet after a period
of time, when the mist began to clear up, they grew
to be esteemed but as old wives fables, impostures of
the clergy, illusions of spirits, and badges of anti-
christ, to the great scandal and detriment of religion.

So in natural history, we see there hath not been
thatf clioice and judgment used as ought to have been,
as may appear in the writings of Plinius, Cardanus,
Albertus, and divers of the Arabians, being fraught
with much fabulous matter, a great part not only
untried, but notoriously untrue, to the great deroga-
tion of the credit of natural philosophy with the grave
and sober kind of wits : wherein the wisdom and
integrity of Aristotle is worthy to be observed, that,
having made so diligent and exquisite a history of
living creatures, hath mingled it sparingly with any
vain or feigned matter ; and yet, on the other side.


hath cast all prciligious narrations, which he thought
worthy the recording, into one hook : excellently
discerning that matter of manifest trnth, such where-
upon ohservation and rule was to be built, was not to
be mingled or weakened with matter of doubtful
credit ; and yet again, that rarities and reports, that
seem incredible, are not to be suppressed or denied to
the memory of men.

An.djis for the Jfacility of credit which is yielded to
arts and opinions, it is likewise of two kinds, eitlier
whcii too much belief is attributed to the arts them-"
selves, or to certain aiithors in any art. The sciences
themselves, which have had better intelligence and
confederacy with the imagination of man, than with
his reason, are three in number : astrology, natural
magic, and alchemy ; of which sciences, nevertheless,
the ends or pretences are noble. For astrology pre-
tendeth to discover that correspondence, or concate-
nation, which is between the superior globe and the
inferior. Natural magic pretendeth to call and reduce
natural philosophy from variety of speculations to the
magnitude of works ; and alchemy pretendeth to
make separation of all the unlike parts of bodies,
which in mixtures of nature are incorporate. But the
derivations and prosecutions to these ends, both in the
theories and in the practices, are full of error and
vanity ; which the great professors themselves have
sought to veil over and conceal by enigmatical wri-
tings, and referring themselves to auricular traditions
and such other devices, to save the credit of impostors:
and yet surely to alchemy this right is due, that it
may be compared to the husbandman whereof ^sop
makes the fable ; that, when he died, told his sons,
that he had left unto them gold buried under ground
in his vineyard ; and they digged over all the ground,
and gold they found none ; but by reason of their
stirring and digging the mould about the roots of
their vines, they had a great vintage the year follow-
ing : so assuredly the search and stir to make gold
hath brought to light a great number of good
and fruitful inventions and experiments, as well


for the disclosing of nature, as for the use of man's

And as for the overmuch credit that hath, .been
given unto authors in sciences, injnaking them dic-
tatOfsr that their words should stand ; and not con-
suls'tb' give advice; the damage is infinite that sci-
ences have received thereby, as the principal cause
that hath kept them low, at a stay, without growth
or advancement. For hence it hath come, that in
arts mechanical, the first deviser comes shortest, and
time addeth and perfecteth : but in sciences, the first
author goeth farthest, and time loseth and corruptetli.
So we see, artillery, sailing, printing, and the like,
were grossly managed at the first, and by time ac-
commodated and refined : but contrariwise the philo-
sophies and sciences of Aristotle, Plato, Democritus,
Hippocrates, Euclides, Archimedes, of most vigour at
the first, and by time degenerate and embased ;
whereof the reason is no other, but that in the former
many wits and industries have contributed in one ;
and in the latter, many wits and industries have been
spent about the wit of some one, whom many times
they have rather depraved than illustrated. For as
water will not ascend higher than the level of the
first spring-head from whence it descendeth, so know-
ledge derived from Aristotle, and exempted from
liberty of examination, will not rise again higher than
the knowledge of Aristotle. And therefore, although
the position be good, " Oportet discentem credere ; "
yet it must be coupled with this, " Oportet edoctum
judicare : " for^djscijilcs, do o^vc iiuto masters only a
temporary belief, and a suspension of their own judg-
ment till they be fidly instructed, and not an absolute
resignation, or perpetual captivity : and, therefore, to
conclude this point, I will say no more ; but so let
great authors have their due, as time, which is the
author of authors, be not deprived of his due, which
is, farther and farther to discover truth. Thu s I have
gone over these three diseases of learning ; besides
the which, there are some other rather peccant -hu-
mours than formed diseases, which nevertheless are


not so secret and intrinsic, but that they fall under a
popular observation and traducement, and therefore
are not to be passed over.

The first of these is the extreme aifectixjg^of two J
extremitics"r tlicJcHie antiquity, the other novelty-;
wherein it seemcth the children of time do take after
the nature and malice of the father. For as he de-
voureth his children, so one of them seeketh to de-
vour and suppress the other, while antiquity envieth
there should be new additions, and novelty cannot
be content to add, but it must deface ; surely, the
advice of the prophet is the true direction in this mat-
ter, " State super vias antiquas, et videte quaenam
sit via recta et bona, et ambulate in ea." Antiquity
deserveth that reverence, that men should make a
staiTdr^hereupon, and discover what is the best way ;
but when the'discovery is well taken, then to make
progression. And to speak truly, " Antiquitas seculi,
juventus mundi." These times are the ancient times,
when the v/orld is ancient, and not those which we

Online LibraryFrancis BaconThe works of Francis Bacon, baron of Verulam, viscount St. Alban, and lord high chancellor of England (Volume 1) → online text (page 10 of 52)