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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account ancient ordine retrogrado, by a computa-
tion backward from ourselves.

Another error, induced by the former, is j. distrust
that any thing should be now to be found out, which
the world should have missed and passed over so long
time ; as if the same objection were to be made to
time, that Lucian maketh to Jupiter and other the
heathen gods, of which he wondereth, that they begot
so many children in old time, and begot none in his
time ; and asketh, whether they were become septua-
genary, or whether the law Papia, made against old
mens marriages, had restrained them. So it seemeth
men doubt, lest time is become past children and
generation ; wherein, contrariwise, we see commonly
the levity and unconstancy of mens judgments,
which, till a matter be done, wonder that it can be
done ; and, as soon as it is done, wonder again that
it was no sooner done ; as we see in the expedition of
Alexander into Asia, which at first was prejudged as
a vast and impossible enterprise : and yet afterwards
it pleaseth Livy to make no more of it than this ;
** Nil aliud. quam bene ausus est vana contemnere : "


and the same happened to Columbus in the western
navigation. But in intellectual matters, it is much
more common ; as may be seen in most of the proposi-
tions of Euclid, which till they be demonstrated, they
seem strange to our assent ; but being demonstrated,
our mind accepteth of them by a kind of relation, as
the lawyers speak, as if we had known them

Another error that hath also some affinity with the
former, is a conceit, that of former opinions or sects,
after variety and examinatToai7^ffieBi&tliath still pre-
vailed^^ and suppressed the rest: so as, if a man shoTild
begin the labour of a new search, he were but like to
light upon somewhat formerly rejected, and by rejec-
tion brought into oblivion ; as if the multitude, or the
wisest, for the multitude's sake, were not ready to give
passage, rather to that which is popular and superfi-
cial, than to that which is substantial and profound :
for the truth is, that time seemeth to be of the nature
of a river or stream, which carrieth down to us that
which is light and blown up, and sinketh and drown-
eth that which is weighty and solid.

Another error, of a diverse nature from all the
former, is the over-ear|y and peremptory reduction
of knowk.dg£^«i»~ai'tsa»d- methods ; from which
time commonly sciences receive small or no augmen-
tation. But as young men, when they knit and
shape perfectly, do seldom grow to a farther stature :
so knowledge, while it is in aphorisms and observa-
tions, it is in growth ; but when it once is compre-
hended in exact methods, it may perchance be farther
polished and illustrated, and accommodated for use
and practice ; but it increaseth no more in bulk and

* Another error which doth succeed tliat which we
last mentioned, is, that after the distribution of par-
ticular arts and sciences, men have abandoned univer-
sality, or /?/«i/o*o/)///^ /;rmz«; which cannot but cease,
and stop all progression. For no perfect discovery
can be made upon a Hat or a level : neither is it
possible to discover the more remote, and deeper
parts of any science, if you stand but upon the level


of the same science, and ascend not to a higher

Another error hat]i proceeded from too great a
reverence, and a kind of adoration of the mind and
understanding of man : by means whereof, men have
withdrawn themselves too much from the contem-
plation of nature, and the observations of experience,
and have tumbled up and down in their own reason
andj, conceits, U'pon these intcllectualists, which are,
notwithstanding, commonly taken for the most sub-
lime and divine philosophers, Hcraclitus gave a just
censure, saying, " INIen sought truth in their own
little worlds, and not in the great and common
world ;" for they disdain to spell, and so by de-
grees to read in the volume of God's works ; and con-
trariwise, by continual meditation and agitation of
wit, do urge and as it were invocate their own spirits
to divine, and give oracles unto them, whereby they
are deservedly deluded.

Another error that hath some connexion with this
latter, is, that_mexiJl5tYe_usedJio infect theirjnedita-
tions^ opinions, and doctrines, with some conceits
which tlicy have most admired, or .some scieiaces
which,j;heyjiav.e most applied; and given all things
else a tincture according to them, utterly untrue and
unproper. So hath Plato intermingled his philosophy
with theology, and Aristotle with logic ; and the
second school of Plato, Proclus, and the rest, with
the mathematics. For these were the arts which had
a kind of primogeniture with them severally. So
have the alchemists made a philosophy out of a few
experiments of the furnace; and Gilbertus, our
countryman, hath made a philosophy out of the
observations of a loadstone. So Cicero, when, re-
citing the several opinions of the nature of the soul,
he found a musician, that held the soul was but a
harmony, saith pleasantly, " Hie ab arte sua non re-
cessit," etc. But of these conceits Aristotle speaketh
seriously and wisely, when he saith, " Qui respiciunt
ad pauca, de facili pronuntiant."

Another error is. an impatience J3fdou,b,t»9Ad,h^ste^




to assertion without due and mature suspension of
judgment. For the two ways of contemphition are
not unlike the two ways of action, commonly spoken
of by the ancients : the one plain and smooth in the
beginning, and in the end impassable ; the other
rough and troublesome in the entrance, but after a
while fair and even: so it is in contemplation ; jf a
man. will be^in with certainties, he shall end in
doubts; but if he mil be content to begin with
doubts, he shall end in certainties.

Another error is in the manner of the tradition and
delivery of knowledge, which is for the most part
magistral and peremptory ; and not ingenuous and
faithful, in a sort, as may be soonest believed, and
not easiliest examined. It is true, that in compen-
dious treatises for practice, that form is not to be dis-
allowed. But in the true handling of knowledge,
men ought not to fall eitlier, on the one side, into the
vein of Velleius the Epicurean: "Nil tam metuens,
quam ne dubitare aliqua de re videretur:" nor, on the
other side, into Socrates his ironical doubting of all
things ; but to propound things sincerely, with more
or less asseveration, as they stand in a man's own
judgment proved more or less.

Other errors there are in the scope that men pro-
pound to themselves, whcreunto they bend their en-
deavours : for whereas the more constant and devote
kind of professors of any science ought to propound to
themselves to make some additions to their science ;
they convert their labours to aspire to certain second
prizes ; as to be a profound interpreter, or commenta-
tor ; to be a sharp champion or defender ; to be a
methodical compounder or abridger ; and so the patri-
mony of knowledge cometh to be sometimes improved,
but seldom augmented.
I But the gi'catcst error of all the reslj is tj^ o mist ake
f ing or misjiTacing o? tlie last or farthest end of know-
I ledge : for men have entered into a desire of learning
and knowledge, sometimes upon a iiatitTatTTTriosity,
and inquisitive appetite ; sometimes to enteftam their
minds with variety and delight ; sometimes for orna-


ment and reputation ; and sometimes to enable them
to victory of wit and contradiction ; and most times
for lucre and profession ; and seldom sincerely to give
a true account of their gift of reason, to the benefit
and use of men : as if there were sought in knowledge
a couch, whereupon to rest a searching and restless
spirit ; or a terras, for a wandering and variable mind
to walk up and down with a fair jirospect ; or a tower
of state, for a proud mind to raise itself upon ; or a
fort or commanding ground, for strife and contention ;
or a shop, for profit, or sale ; and not a rich storehouse,
for the glory of tlie Creator, and the relief of man's
estate. But this is that which will indeed dignify
and exalt knowledge, if contemplation and action may
be more nearly and straitly conjoined and united to-
gether than they have been ; a conjunction like unto
that of the two highest planets, Saturn, the planet of
rest and contemjilation, and Jupiter, the planet of
civil society and action. Howbeit, I do not mean,
when I speak of use and action, that end before-men-
tioned of the applying of knowledge to lucre and
profession ; for I am not ignorant how much that
diverteth and interrupteth the prosecution and ad-
vancement of knowledge, like unto the golden ball
thrown before Atalanta, which while she goeth aside
and stoopeth to take up, the race is hindered ;
Declinat cursus, aurumque volubile toUit.
Neither is my meaning, as was spoken of Socrates,
to call philosophy down from heaven to converse upon
the earth ; that is, to leave natural philosophy aside,
and to apply knowledge only to manners and policy.
£7 But as both heaven and earth do conspire and contri-
bute to the use and benefit of man ; so the end ought j
to be, from both philosophies to separate and reject n^
vain speculations, and whatsoever is empty and void,; ""

and to preserve and augment whatsoever is solid and \
fruitful : that knowledge may not be, as a courtesan, ' j
for pleasure and vanity only, or, as a bond- woman, to 1 1
acquire and gain to her master's use ; but».55-a spouse, I. »
for^generation, fruit, and comfort. 7

Thus have TdescrTHed and opened, as by a kind ol"
n 2


dissection, those peccant humours, the principal of
them, which have not only given impediment to the
proficience of learning, but have given also occasion
to the traducement thereof: wherein if I have been
too plain, it must be remembered, " Fidelia vulnera
amantis, sed dolosa oscula malignantis."

This, I think, I have gained, that I ought to be
the better believed in that which I shall say pertain-
ing to commendation ; because I have proceeded so
freely in that which concerueth censure. And yet I
have no purpose to enter into a laudative of learning,
or to make a hymn to the JMuses, though I am
of opinion that it is long since their rites were duly
celebrated : but my intent is, without varnish or am-
plification, justly to weigh the dignity of knowledge
in the balance with'otlier things, and to take tlie l;rue
value thereof by testimoiiies and arguments divine
and human.

First therefore, let us seek the_di^iityofknow-
"w^ ledg^e in the archetype or first^^Iatibrra, ""wEEi^' is
the attributes and acts of God, as far as they are
revealed to man, and may be observed with sobriety ;
wherein we may not seek it by the name of learning;
for all learning is knowledge acquired, and all know-
ledge in God is original ; and therefore we must look
for it by another name, that of wisdom or sapience,
as the Scriptures call it.

It is so then, that in the work of the creatioiijve
see a double emanation of virtue from God ; the one
referring more properly to power, the other to wis-
dom ; the one expressed in making the subsistence of
the matter, and the other in disposing the beauty of
the form. This being supposed, it is to be observed,
that, for any thing which appeareth in the history of
the creation, the confused mass and matter of heaven
and earth was made in a moment ; and the order and
disposition of that chaos, or mass, was the work of six
days ; such a note of difference it pleased God to put
upon the works of power, and the works of wisdom :
wherewith concurreth, that in the former it is not set


down that God said, " Let there be heaven and
earth," as it is set down of the works following ; but
actually, that God made heaven and earth : the one
carrying the stile of a manufacture, and the other of
a law, decree, or council.

To proceed to that which is next in order, from
God^o^ spirits. We find, as far as credit is to be
given to the celestial hierarchy of that supposed
Dionysius the senator of Athens, the first place or
degree is given to the angels of love, which are termed
Seraphim ; the second to the angels of light, which
are termed Cherubim ; and the third, and so follow-
ing places, to thrones, principalities, and the rest, ^
which are all angels of power and ministry ; so as the Ua^ '>■$■■■
angels of knowledge and illumination are placed
before the angels of office and domination.

To descend from spirits and intellectual forms to
sensible and material forms ; we read the first form
that was created was light, which hath a relation and
correspondence in nature and corporal things to know-
ledge in spirits and in corporal things.

80 in the distribution of days, we see, the day
wherein God did rest, and contemplate his own works,
was blessed above all the days wherein he did effect
and accomplish them.

After the creation was finished, it is set down unto
us, that man was placed in the garden to woric
therein ;. which work, so appointed to him, could be
no other than work of contemplation; that is, when
the end of the work is but for exercise and experiment,
not for necessity ; for there being then no reluctation
of the creature, nor sweat of the brow, man's employ-
ment must of consequence have been matter of delight
in the experiment, and not matter of labour for the
use. Again, the first acts which man performed in
paradise, consisted of the two summary parts of know-
ledge ; the view of creatures, and the imposition of
names. As foiL the knowledge wliicli induced the
fall, it was, as was toud[ie€l before, not the natural
knowledge of creatures but the moral kiiowiedge of


good and evil^- wherein the supposition was, that
God's commandments or prohibitions were not the
originals of good and evil, but that they had other
beginnings, which man aspired to know, to the end
to make a total defection from God, and to depend
wholly upon himself.

To pass on : in the first event or occurrence after
the fall of man, we see, as the Scriptures have infinite
mysteries, not violating at all the truth of the
story or letter, an image of the two estates, the con-
templative state, and the active state, figured in the
two persons of Abel and Cain, and in the two sim-
plest and most primitive trades of life, that of the
shepherd, who, by reason of his leisure, rest in a place,
and living in view of heaven, is a lively image of a
.contemplative life ; and that of the husbandman ;
where we see again, the favour and election of God
went to the shepherd, and not to the tiller of the

So in the age before the flood, the holy records
within those few^meinorials, which are there entered
and registered, have vouchsafed to mention, and ho-
nour the name of the inventors and authors of music,
and works in metal. In the age after the flood, the
first great judgment of God upon the ambition of man
was the confusion of tongues ; whereby the open trade
and intercourse of learning and knowledge was chiefly

To descend to Moses the lawgiver, and God's first
pen : he is adornectl5y*^e Scriptures with this addi-
tion and commendation, that he was " s aen in a ll the
leaming of tlie TRgyptians ; " whicli nation, weknow,
was oiie of the most ancient scliools of the world:
for so Plato brings in tlie i^.gyptian priest saying
unto Solon, " You (irecians are ever children ; you
have no knowledge of antiquity, nor antiquity of
knowledge." Take a view of the ceremonial law
of Moses ; you shall find, besides the prcfiguration
of Ghrist, the badge or difference of the people of
God, the exercise and impression ol" obedience, and


other divine uses and fruits thereof, that some of the
most learned Rabbins have travelled profitably, and
profoundly to observe, some of them a natural, some
of them a moral sense, or reduction of many of the
ceremonies and ordinances. As in the law of the
leprosy, where it is said, " If the whiteness have over-
spread the flesh, the patient may pass abroad for
clean ; but if there be any whole flesh remaining, he
is to be shut up for imclean : " one of them noteth a
principle of nature, that putrefaction is more conta-
gious before maturity, than after : and another noteth
a position of moral philosophy, that men, abandoned to
vice, do not so much corrupt manners, as those that are
half good and half evil. So in this, and very many
other places in that law, there is to be found, besides
the theological sense, much aspersion of philosophy.

So likewise in that excellent book of Job, if it be
revolved^mjEli (Tiligence, it will be foumT pregnant, and
swelling with^nat.UKll philosophy; as for example,
cosmograpliy, and the roundness of tlie world : " Qui
extendit aquilonem super vacuum, et appendit terrain
super nihilum ; " wherein the pensileness of the earth,
the pole of the north, and the finiteness or convexity
of heaven are manifestly touched. So again, matter
of [istronomy; *' Spiritus ejus ornavit coelos, et ob-
stetricante manu ejus eductus est Coluber tortuosus."
And in another place ; " Nimquid conjungere valebis
micantes stellas Pleiadas, aut gyrum Arcturi poteris
dissipare ? " Where the fixing of the stars, ever stand-
ing at equal distance, is with great elegancy noted.
And in another place ; " Qui facit Arcturum, et
Oriona, et Hyadas, et interiora Austri ; " where again
he takes knowledge of the depression of the southern
pole, calling it the secrets of the south, because the
southern stars were in that climate unseen. Matter
of generation, " Annoii sicut lac mulsisti me, et sicut
caseum coagulasti me," etc. Matter of minerals,
" Habet argentum venarum suarum principia : et auro
locus est in quo conflatur, ferrum de terra toUitur, et
lapis solutus calore in aes vertitur : " and so forwards
in that chapter.


So likev^ise m.the person of Solomon tlie king, we
see the gift or endowment of wisdom and - learning,
both in Solomon's petition, and in God's assent there-
nnto, preferred before all other terrene and temporal
felicity. By virtue of which grant or donative of
God, Solomon became enabled, not only to write those
excellent parables, or aphorisms, concerning divine and
moral philosophy ; but alfjo to compile a natural history
of all verdure, from the cedar upon the mountain to
the moss upon the wall, which is but a rudiment
between putrefaction and an herb, and also of all
things that breathe or move. Nay, the same Solo-
mon the king, although he excelled in the glory of
treasure and magnificent buildings, of shipping and
navigation, of service and attendance, of fame and
renown ; and the like, yet he maketh no claim to any
of those glories, but only to the glory of inquisition
of truth ; for so he saith expressly, " The glory of
God is to conceal a thing, but the glory of the king is
to find it out ; " as if, according to the innocent play
of children, the Divine Majesty took delight to hide
his works, to the end to have them found out ; and
as if kings could not obtain a greater honour than to be
(xod's playfellows in that game, considering the great
commandment of wits and means, whereby nothing
ncedcth to be hidden from them.

Neither did the dispensation of God vary in the
times after our Saviour came into the world ; for our
Savjoiii- Irinisclf did first shew his power to subdue
ignorance, by his conference with the priests and doc-
tors of the law, before he shewed his power to sUbdiQe
, nature by his miracles^ And the coming of the Holy
Spirit was chiefly figured and expressed in the simili-
tude andgiftof tongues, which are hYxir chiculasciciitia'.

So in the election of those instruments, which it
pleased God to use for the plantation of the faith,
notwithstanding that at the first he did em])loy per-
sons altogether luilearned, otherwise than by inspira-
tion, more evidently to declare his immediate working,
and to abase all human wisdom or knowledge ; yet,
nevertheless, thai counsel of his was no sooner per-


formed, but in the next vicissitude and succession,
lie did send his divine tiutli into the world, waited
on with other learnings, as with servants or hand-
maids : for so we see St. Paul, who was only learned
amongst the apostles, ha^HTs" pcIT ffiosi iised in the
Scriptures of the New Testament.

So again, we find that many of the ancient bishops
and fathers of the Churcli were^'excellently read and
studied in all the learning of the heathen ; insomuch,
that the edict of the emperor Julianus, whereby it was
interdicted unto Christians to be admitted into schools,
lectures, or exercises of learning, was esteemed and
accounted a more pernicious engine and machination
against the Christian faith, than were all the sangui-
nary prosecutions of his predecessors ; neither could
the emulation and jealousy of Gregory, the first of
that name, bishop of Rome, ever obtain the oj)inion
of piety or devotion ; but contrariwise received the
censure of humour, malignity, and pusillanimity, even
amongst holy men ; in that he designed to obliterate
and extinguish the memory of heathen antiquity and
authors. But contrariwise it was the Christian Church,
which, amidst the inundations of the Scythians on the
one side from the north-west, and the Saracens from
the east, did preserve, in the sacred lap and bosom
thereof, the precious relicks even of heathen learning,
which otherwise had been extinguished, as if no such
thing had ever been.

And we see before our eyes, that in the age of our-
selves and our fathers, when it pleased God to call
the church of Rome to account for their degenerate
manners and ceremonies, and sundry doctrines obnox-
ious, and framed to uphold the same abuses ; at one
and the same time it was ordained by tlie divine pro-
vidence, that there should attend withal a renovation,
and new spring of all other knowledges : and, on the
other side, we see the Jesuits, who partly in themselves,
and partly by the enrutZITioir an cT provocation of their
example, liave mucli quickened and strengthened the
state of lcaruiiigT^'^c'"st^T f "'^Jij^" "^^'^^^^^
and reparation they have done to the Roman see.


Wherefore, to conclude this part, let it be observed,
that there be two prim^ipal 4litie§jya,d-5ei;Yice^^^
oruameut and ilTustratioii, which philosophy and hu-
man learning do perform to faith. and religion. The
one, l)ecause they ajg^j^jglfectnaLiBdwcemeiJillQ the
(^V exaltation of the ^'loiy of Gojd.^ For as the Psalms
and other Scriptures do often invite us to consider,
and magnify the great and wonderful works of God :
so if we should rest only in the contemplation of the
exterior of them, as they first offer themselves to our
senses, we shoidd do a like injury unto the majesty
of God, as if we should judge or construe of the
store of some excellent jeweller, by that only which
is set out toward the street in his shop. The other,
( • ; because they minister a singular help and preservative
' ^ against unbelief and error; ibr our Saviour saitb, " You
err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God;"
laving before us two books or volumes to study, if we
will be secured from error ; first, the Scriptures, re-
vealing the will of God; and then the creatures, express-
ing his power : whereof the latter is a key unto the for-
mer : not only opening our vuulerstanding to conceive
the true sense of the Scriptiu'es, by the general notions
of reason and rules of speech ; but chiefly opening our
bchef, in drawing us into a due meditation of the omni-
potency of God, which is chiefly signed and engraven
upon his works. Thus much therefore for diviuej;cs-
timony and evidence, concerning the true dig»ifey-aBd
value of learning.

As tisL.^^^"^^^^ proofs, it is so large a field, as, in
a discourse of tliis nature and brevity, it is fit rather
to use choice of those tilings which we shall produce,
than to embrace the variety of them. First, there-
fore, in the degrees of human honour amongst the
heathen, it was the highest, to obtain to a veneration
and adoration as a God. This unto the Christians is
as the forbidden fruit. But we speak now separately
of human testimony ; according to wliich, tliat which

Online LibraryFrancis BaconThe works of Francis Bacon, baron of Verulam, viscount St. Alban, and lord high chancellor of England (Volume 1) → online text (page 11 of 52)