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THE following Essays are to be regarded only
as sketches of more extensive works projected by
their author. That on LORD BACON was read, in
1818, to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, from
whose Transactions it has been reprinted. It is not
so much an exposition of his philosophy, of which
it gives only a slight and general outline, as an
attempt to trace and determine its influence, both
in this country and on the Continent. The Life
of Sir WALTER RALEIGH appeared some years ago
in an article in the Edinburgh Review, of which
Mr. Napier became the Editor on the retirement
of Lord Jeffrey in 1829. A complete biography
of Raleigh could not be comprised within its ne-
cessarily circumscribed limits; but it will be found
to contain a pretty full account of all the more

ii NOTI en.

remarkable events of his career, with an estimate
of his public and literary character, founded on ori-
ginal information derived from unpublished sources,
and on a careful examination of all the printed


THE obligations of experimental physics to the
labours of Lord Bacon have been largely acknow-
ledged by the generality of those who have treated
of the history of Modern Science ; insomuch, that
the title of Father of Experimental Philosophy has
been oftener conferred upon him than upon any
other of its benefactors. There are some, however,
who seem to think, that there is no good ground
for honouring him with this title, either on account
of the merits or the effects of his writings. They
do not indeed deny, that his views of the proper
objects and method of philosophizing were exten-
sive and just; but they contend that he had no
peculiar merit yn having stated these views; that
all that he taught was virtually and more effectually



taught by some of his contemporaries ; and that
there are no traces of his agency to be found in
the discoveries that followed.* These opinions,
though they are to be met with in respectable
books, and in the conversation of intelligent men,
seem to involve no small portion both of error and
misconception. It cannot be denied, indeed, that, at
the time when Bacon wrote, there was a growing
tendency to abandon the ancient systems, and that
some successful essays had been made in that course
of inquiry which he recommended ; but, on the
other hand, it appears to me equally clear, that his
labours for the advancement of Science were of such
importance, and productive of such results, as to
entitle him to a pre-eminent station among its early

* "Atqui Verulamius ille, qui Germanse Philosophise Resti-
tutor, quin etiam, si Superis placet, Parens a Brukero aliisque
habetur, quid aliud in Anglia preestitit, nisi, ut, qua ratione
philosophari deberemus, eo tempore admoneret, quo Galilseus
eadem ipsa ratione philosophari jam in Italia coeperat, ac caeteris,
ut idem facerent, non modo verbis, verum et rebus ipsis gravis-
simus auctor esset ?" FABRONI, Vita Italorum doctrina excel-
lentium qui sceculis xvn. et xvm. floruerunt> i. 223.

" C'est Galilee," says a French philosopher of the pre-
sent day, "qui a montre 1' 1'interroger par 1' experience.
On a sou vent attribue cette gloire a Bacon ; mais ceux qui lui
en font honneur, out etc (a notre avis) un peu prodigues d'un
bien qu'il ne leur appartenait peut-etre pas de dispenser."
Biographie Universelle, Art. GALILEO ; written by M. Biot.


reformers and promoters. It is the object of this
paper to offer some remarks, and to collect some
proofs, in support of /these views; but, as much has
been already written in illustration of the merits,
and but little in illustration of the effects produced
by his philosophical writings, I shall content myself,
at present, with a slight indication of their general
scope, and shall devote the greater part of this
paper to the proofs of their influence.

In order to clear the way for this inquiry, I
shall begin with a few remarks on a late estimate
of Bacon's philosophy, which is of so depreciatory
a character as to be remarkably at variance with
almost all that has been hitherto written on that
subject. And this estimate is the more worthy of
notice, that it has obtained a place in a Literary
Journal of great respectability, which is supposed
to speak the sentiments of the English Universities
in matters of philosophy.

It is pretty well known that Bacon's writings
have been recently commented upon by two of our
most eminent philosophers : by the one, in reference
to their connexion with the Philosophy of the Mind ;*

* See Mr. Stewart's Dissertation on the Progress of Meta-
physical and Ethical l^iilosop/iy, prefixed to the Encyclopedia



and by the other, in reference to their connexion
with the Material World.* Both of them represent
Bacon as the first who clearly pointed out the
legitimate rules and ends of philosophical inquiry;
and both consider his writings as fixing a new
and important era in the history of modern science.
The observations made by the former have been
examined at considerable length in an able article
of the journal referred to; and the following passage
contains the sum of what is there advanced in regard
to the scope and character of Bacon's philosophy.
' The topic on which Mr. Stewart chiefly dwells,
1 while panegyrizing the Philosophy of Bacon, is
1 the respect which it pays to the limits, the laws,
1 and resources of the human understanding; and this
c is surely the most extraordinary topic of any which
c he has selected. There is scarcely a page in the
c Novum Organum, that does not furnish a contra-
1 diction to it. So little, indeed, can Bacon be con-
c sidered as having risen in any great degree above
c the age in which he lived, with respect to his
' views as to the proper aim of philosophy, or the
c proper limits of the human understanding, that he

* See Professor Playfair's Dissertation on the Progress of Mathe-
matical and Physical Science, prefixed to the same work.


i even goes so far as to give us formal receipts for
c the making of gold, and performing other prodigies,

* which he tells us he judges very possible. With
4 the exception of the disciples of Raymond Lully
c and Jordano Bruno, the extravagant speculations in

* which Bacon unshed to embark philosophy^ had been

* long abandoned by sober inquirers.'*

* Quarterly Revieic, No. xxxni. The author of this article
seems to have been anxious to find some great names to counte-
nance his opinion of Bacon's philosophical writings. What his
success has been in this attempt, the following extract will

' I remember, said Sir Joshua Reynolds, that Mr. Burke,

* speaking of Bacon's Essays, said, he thought them the best
' of his works. Dr. Johnson was of opinion, that their excellence
' and their value consisted in their being observations of a strong
4 mind operating upon life ; and in consequence you find there
' what you seldom find in other works.' Account of Sir Joshua
Reynolds, prefixed to Malone's edition of his Discourses,

1 We are glad/ the Reviewer adds, ' to be able to defend our

* opinions concerning the inferior merits of Bacon's philosophical
' writings, compared with his other works, from the charge of
' singularity or presumption, by sheltering ourselves under the

* authority of such names as Burke and Johnson.'

It is observable, that, so far as Dr. Johnson's authority is con-
cerned, he does not appear, in the conversation referred to, to have
made any comparison whatever between Bacon's Essays and his
other works : he only made a remark descriptive of the Essays,
in which every one who has perused them will readily concur.
Besides, the Reviewer ought to have known that Johnson has,
in one of his papers in the Adventurer, represented Bacon as the
only modern worthy of being" compared in a philosophical point
of view with Newton ; thereby showing that he must have held
the philosophical works of the former in the highest possible
degree of estimation. Great as the excellence of the Essays


It is to be wished that this writer had explained
to us, to what delusion it has been owing, that so
many enlightened persons have, for more than a
century and a half, concurred in extolling Bacon
for his endeavours to withdraw philosophy from
'extravagant speculation,' and to give it a di-
rection and a method, calculated to improve the
condition, as well as the knowledge, of mankind.
Have they all been in error, and must Bacon be
branded with ignorance of the business of philoso-
phy, and the limits of the understanding, merely
because he has speculated upon the possibility of
making gold? Is this circumstance enough to es-
tablish any affinity between the general aims of his
philosophy and the extravagant pursuits of the Al-
chymists? A very few words will suffice upon this

There can be no doubt that Bacon did believe in
the possibility of discovering the means of converting
other substances into gold; a belief which so far
from being abandoned by all ' sober inquirers,' as

undoubtedly is, it is difficult to believe that such a man as Burke
could deliberately rate them as of higher merit than the De
Augmentis Scientiarum and Novum Organum. Surely some better
evidence of this is required than the scrap of conversation so
much relied on by the Reviewer.


this writer imagines was entertained by Boyle,
and some other experimentalists, and not greatly
discouraged even by Newton, at a period when
experimental philosophy was much farther ad-
vanced.* There was no man of his day more
thoroughly apprised than Bacon of the follies of the
Alchymists, or who has mentioned them in terms of
stronger ridicule and reprobation, t He nowhere
holds out the making of gold as a prime object of
philosophical inquiry; on the contrary, he pointedly
censures the Alchymists, with whom he has been
so absurdly classed, for ' directing their main views
to such an object. \ The belief which he enter-
tained of the possibility of making gold, had a
very different foundation from that upon which it
rested among this fantastical fraternity. With him,
it formed part of his general belief, that the
essences of all material substances were capable of
being discovered by the inductive process. It was

* There is a curious letter upon this subject from Newton to
Mr. Oldenburg, Secretary of the Royal Society, printed in the
account of Boyle, in the Historical Dictionary. His remarks apply
wholly to a particular process of transmutation, and not to the
impossibility of the thing itself. See General Historical and Critical
Dictionary, iii. 5o8.

f See Novum Organwn, Lib. i. Aph. 85, 87.

I Ibid. Lib. i. Aph. 70.


a belief which flowed from his exalted notions of
the yet untried resources of experimental science.
There was then no sufficient stock of experience to
authorize any one to lay it down as an established
principle, that the knowledge of these essences is
placed beyond the reach of scientific discovery. It
is not very surprising, therefore, that Bacon should
believe that a series of skilfully conducted expe-
riments might ultimately lead to the detection of
the nature or essence of gold; and that having
thus discovered its constituent nature, it would then
be possible to superinduce it upon other substances.
There is nothing in all this to impeach his respect
for the laws and limits of the human understand-
ing. He recommended no inquiry upon any other
principles than those of induction; and he proposed
no object to philosophy, which anything but experi-
ence could shew to be unattainable.

But we are farther told that there is scarcely
a page in the Novum Organum which does not
afford proofs of Bacon's ignorance of the laws and
limits of the understanding ; and that his miscel-
laneous philosophical pieces seem to have been
written in express contempt of them.* Had this

* Quarterly Review, No. xxxin.


writer contented himself with stating, that there
are many things in Bacon's miscellaneous pieces,
which show that he was not exempt from credulity;
that his understanding, resplendent as it was, bore
some stains of the scurf and scum of an ignorant
age ; or had he only stated that Bacon's meta-
physical notions are sometimes vague and unsound,
and his use of language fanciful and uncertain, his
observations might have been allowed to pass un-
noticed as neither new nor objectionable. But
when he goes so far as to charge the Novum Or-
ganum with everywhere manifesting ignorance of
the fundamental conditions of philosophical rea-
soning, the only conclusion that can be adopted
in regard to such an assertion is, that it has pro-
ceeded from a very slender acquaintance with the
work in question. For my own part, I confess
myself wholly unable to conceive, how any man
of ordinary judgment can read the Novum Organum
with ordinary attention, without carrying away an
impression directly the reverse of that of Bacon's
ignorance and disregard of the laws and limits of
the human understanding. The first sentence of the
work contains an emphatic declaration of homage
to these very laws : Homo Naturce minister et inter-


pres, tantum facit et intelligit, quantum, de Natures
or dine , re vel mente observaverit ; nee amplius scit,
aut potest. The grand lesson which it everywhere
inculcates is, that all false philosophy had sprung
from the too high notions hitherto entertained of
the powers of the mind, which led to the disregard
of the only means by which true knowledge can
be obtained. Causa vero, et radix, fere omnium
maloruin in scientia ea una est, quod dum mentis
humanw vires falso miramur et extollimus, vera ejus
auxilia non qumramus. Bacon saw more clearly
than any preceding inquirer, the folly of supposing
the mind capable of explaining the constitution of
Nature by means of principles of its own invention,
and reasonings a priori ; and his great aim in the
Novum Organum was, to withdraw philosophy from
such airy speculations, and to employ it in a way
more suitable to its purposes, and the limited nature
of our faculties. Employed in this way, that,
namely, of inductive inquiry, he showed that phi-
losophy would greatly extend the compass of our
knowledge, and multiply the instruments of our

The truth is that this writer is, after all, con-
strained to make an admission, which of itself suf-


ficicntly proves the groundlessness of his general
censure of Bacon's philosophy. ' That the rules
* of investigation which it lays down, are wise and
'salutary with reference to physics, we are happy,'
says he, ' to admit.'* Now, the No v urn Organum
is almost wholly occupied with the exposition and
illustration of these very rules ; and yet it is said
to manifest disrespect i in every page' to the laws
and limits of the understanding, and a total igno-
rance of the purposes of science. It would prove
a rather perplexing task, I should imagine, to
show how any one could methodize a set of i wise
c and salutary rules of investigation with reference
' to physics,' who had no sound views of the
nature and objects of philosophical inquiry. There
must either, in short, be something in the nature
of physics to take that branch of knowledge out
of the general category of philosophy, or it must
be absurd to say, that Bacon could unfold the
true principles of physical investigation, he being
at the same tune ignorant of the nature and aim
of genuine science. His rules with respect to phy-
sical inquiry were 'wise and salutary,' precisely
because they w r ere conformable to the laws and

* Quarterly Review, No. xxxm.


limits of the human understanding ; because c he
c saw well,' to use his own words, ' that the sup-
c position of the too great sufficiency of man's mind
4 had lost the means thereof.'*

It is besides to be observed, that there is no
ground whatever for limiting the wisdom and utility
of Bacon's logical precepts to the physical sciences
alone. He who admits that they are wise and
salutary with reference to physics, must go a step
farther, and admit that they are also wise and salu-
tary with reference to inquiries regarding the mind.
The object of philosophy, and the principles of
philosophizing are the same, whether the investi-
gation relates to the laws of matter or the laws of
mind ; and thus the logic of the Novum Organum
cannot be useful with reference to the one, without
having the same character with reference to the
other. It is upon this ground that Bacon himself
represents his logic as equally applicable to the
advancement of the moral and metaphysical as of
the physical sciences. ' Atque quernadinodurn vul-
4 garis Logica, quse regit res per Syllogismum, non
4 tantum ad naturales, sed ad omnes scientias per-

* Filum Labyrinthi, Works, i. 400, 4to. edit.


'tinet; ita et nostra, qua3 procedit per Inductionem,
4 omnia complectitur.'*

With respect to the influence of Bacon's writings
upon the progress of physical science, the same
writer observes, that it presents a i point as to
1 which it is very difficult to form an explicit opinion.
1 But this is sufficiently clear, that if Bacon is to
1 be allowed any considerable share in the honours
i which modern experimentalists have acquired, he
4 may, in many respects, be compared to the hus-
' bandman in .ZEsop's fable ; who, when he died,
' told his sons that he had left them gold buried
' under ground in his vineyard ; and they digged
c all over the ground, and yet 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 following year.' It would,
if I do not mistake the matter, be as difficult to
explain, how this simile could assist any one to
form a correct opinion upon the point in question,
as to explain how Bacon could deliver a wise system
of rules for the advancement of physics, without
having any just notions of the true nature of phi-
losophical inquiry. The object to which Bacon
* Novum Organum, Lib. i. Aph. 127.


directed the attention of his followers, was the very
object lie was desirous they should accomplish,
the regeneration of philosophy by means of a well-
regulated use of observation and experiment. The
benefits which accrued to mankind from his direc-
tions, were obtained precisely in the way, and were
precisely of the kind, which he pointed out and
promised. Thus the case of ^Esop's husbandman
is so far from furnishing an illustration of Bacon's
connexion with the advancement of physics, that
there is evidently no ground whatever for such a
parallel ; and the wTiter who institutes it only proves
that he has altogether mistaken the true bearings
of the question. But, before proceeding to state
the proofs of this connexion, it will be proper to
show somewhat more fully, that Bacon's philo-
sophical merit was of the highest kind, and that
it was unshared by any other person.

Bacon's grand distinction, then, considered as
an improver of physics, lies in this, that he was
the first who clearly and fully pointed out the rules
and safeguards of right reasoning in physical in-
quiries. Many other philosophers, both ancient and
modern, had referred to observation and experiment
in a cursory way, as furnishing the materials of


physical knowledge f but no one, before him, had
attempted to systematize the true method of dis-
covery; or to prove that the intlm-tice^ is the OH ft/
method by which the genuine office of philosophy
can be exercised, and its genuine ends accomplished.
It has sometimes been stated, that Galileo was,
at least in an equal degree with Bacon, the father
of the Inductive Logic ; but it would be more
correct to say, that his discoveries furnished some
fortunate illustrations of its principles. To explain
these principles was no object of his ; nor does he
manifest any great anxiety to recommend their
adoption, with a view to the general improvement
of science. The Aristotelian disputant, in his cele-
brated Dialogues, is made frequently to appeal to
observation and experiment ; but the interlocutor
through whom Galileo speaks, now here takes occa-
sion to distinguish between the flimsy inductions
of the Stagy rite, in regard to the subjects in dis-
pute, and those which he himself had instituted;
or to hint at the very different complexion which
philosophy must assume, according as the one or
the other is resorted to. Thus, though Galileo was
a great discoverer, it cannot be said that he was
distinguished by having taught the principles of


the art by which discoveries are made. That dis-
tinction belongs wholly to Bacon. i No man,' says
one of the most eminent of our earlier philosophers,
i except the incomparable Verulam, has had any
i thoughts of an art for directing the mind in phy-
4 sical inquiries.'*

Some late writers have, however, contended that
this distinction does not belong exclusively to any
of the moderns.f i It is an error,' we are told,
4 to represent Bacon as professing his principle of
4 induction to be a discovery. The method of in-
4 duction, which is the art of discovery, ivas so far
''from being unknown to Aristotle, that it was often
4 faithfully pursued by that great observer. What
4 Bacon aimed at, he accomplished ; which was, not
4 to discover new principles, but to excite a new
4 spirit, and to render observation and experiment
4 the predominant character of philosophy. '| It is
with considerable diffidence that I dissent from the
author of the splendid and instructive essay here
referred to. But I must be permitted to express

* Hooke.' Posthumous Works, p. 6.

t See some admirable remarks on this subject, in the 2nd
volume of Stewart's Philosophy of the Mind^ chap, iv. sect. 2
On the induction of Aristotle compared with that of Bacon.

j Edinburgh Review, No. LIII.


some surprise, that lie should represent Bacon's aims
as having been professedly limited to the revival of
a method of discovery which had been well known
to, and successfully practised by Aristotle. Nothing
can be more certain, than that Bacon rests the
whole hopes of his philosophy upon the novelty of
his logical precepts 5* and that he uniformly repre-
sents the ancient philosophers, particularly Aristotle,
as having been wholly regardless of the inductive
method in their physical inquiries. He does not,
indeed, say that the ancient philosophers never
employed themselves in observing Nature ; but he
maintains that there is a wide difference between
observation as it was employed by them, and the
art of observing for the purposes of philosophical
discovery. c Alia enini est ratio naturalis historian,
c quae propter se confecta est ; alia ejus, quae collecta
c est, ad informandum intellectum in ordine ad con-
4 dendam philosophiam.'f Bacon does not accuse
Aristotle of having always reasoned without re-
ference to facts ; but he contends that Aristotle
has nowhere laid down rules for aiding and regu-
lating the understanding in the process of discovery

* Novum Organum, Lib. i. Aph. 82, 95, 97, 125.
t Ibid. Lib. i. Aph. 98.


by means of facts; and that the use which he has
made of them in his philosophy, is very different
from the use which is made of them in the philoso-
phy of induction. * Ille enim prim deer ever at ^ neque
4 experientiam ad constituenda decreta et axiomata
1 rite consuluit ; sed postquarn pro arbitrio suo de-
4 crevisset, experientiam ad sua placita tortam cir-
4 cimiducit, et captivam.' * It should always be
recollected, that Bacon's call was not merely for
observation and experiment, but for observation and
experiment conducted according to certain forms

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Online LibraryMacvey NapierLord Bacon and Sir Walter Raleigh → online text (page 1 of 16)