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VIEW OF THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE AND LITERATURE IN EUROPE, FROM THE END OF THE FIFTEENTH TO THe end of the SEVENTEENTH CENTURY :-Progress of Philosophy-Lord BaconExperimental Philosophy-Des Cartes-Galileo-KeplerLogarithms-Circulation of the Blood-Royal Society of London instituted-Sir Isaac Newton-Locke-Progress of Literature-Epic Poetry-Ariosto-Tasso-Milton-Lyric Poetry-Drama - English and French-History.
As one of the most useful objects of the study of history is to mark the progress of the human mind in those sciences and arts which either contribute to the great purposes of public utility, or conduce to the rational enjoyments of social life, we have endeavoured, through the course of this work, to exhibit, from time to time, a progressive picture of the state of the sciences and of literature. A former chapter on this subject embraced a very comprehensive period, from the revival of literature in Europe, to the end of the fifteenth century.
We have there observed how much literature was indebted to the discovery of the art of printing for its advancement and dissemination. Classical learning, the art of criticism, poetry, and history, among the sciences, began from that time to make a rapid progress in most of the kingdoms
of Europe. It was not so, however, with philosophy, and the more abstract sciences; and the reason was obvious; the remains of ancient learning are to this day the models of a good taste in the 'Belles Lettres,' and the knowledge of the classical authors, poets, and historians, was no sooner revived, and their works disseminated, than they were successfully imitated by the moderns. In philosophy, on the contrary, the light which was borrowed from the works of the ancients served only to mislead and bewilder. The philosophy of Aristotle, which then had possession of the schools, or even the more pleasing systems of Plato, which began to be opposed to his scholastic subtleties, were fetters upon all real improvement in philosophical researches. It was not till these were removed, till all the rubbish of the ancient philosophy was entirely cleared away, that men began to perceive, that, to understand the laws of nature, it was necessary to observe her phenomena, and to study her works; and that all systems and theories antecedent to such study were idle and absurd chimeras. We formerly remarked the commendable attempt which was made by our countryman, Roger Bacon, so early as the middle of the thirteenth century, to undermine the fabric of the Aristotelian philosophy, and to substitute experiment and observation to system and conjecture; but his attempt was ineffectual. There is nothing so difficult to be removed as dogmatism and pedantry. Conviction is a severe mortification of pride to a man who values himself upon his wisdom; besides, the philosophy of Aristotle had at this time become a part of the tenets of the
church, and it was reckoned equally impious to combat any of the doctrines of that philosopher as to attack the fundamental articles of the Christian faith.
The learning of the schools continued then to reign triumphant, even down to the middle of the sixteenth century, when it received, at least in England, a mortal blow from a second philosopher of the same name, Francis Bacon, Lord Verulam, who flourished in the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth, and was afterwards chancellor of England under James I. When we consider the vast variety of researches to which this great man has turned his attention, employed alternately in the study of nature, of the operations of the mind, of the sciences of morals, politics and economics, we must allow him the praise of the most universal genius that any age has produced. But when, on an acquaintance with these works, we discern the amazing views which he has opened; the just estimate he has formed of the knowledge of the preceding ages in every one of the sciences, the immense catalogue which he has given of the desiderata still to be known in each department, and the methods he has pointed out for prosecuting discoveries, and attaining that improvement of knowledge, we regard the intellect of Bacon as that of a superior being. In his treatise De Augmentis Scientiarum, and the Novum Organum, he enforces the necessity of experiment to the knowledge of nature. He exposes the absurdity of forming systems and theories antecedent to the recording of facts. He points out the numberless errors thence arising; and thus having
purged philosophy of all its mystical and unintelligible jargon of terms, categories, essences, and universals, he points out the sure method of reasoning from experiment, so as to attain the knowledge of general laws.
Although the works of Bacon began to open the eyes of the learned world, and to unmask the futility of those researches in which philosophers had hitherto employed themselves, they produced this effect only by very slow degrees. In the continental kingdoms of Europe the Aristotelian philosophy maintained its ground, even down to the seventeenth century. Gassendi, a native of Provence, about the year 1640, had ventured, with great caution, to dispute some of the principles of that philosophy, and without availing himself of the works of Bacon, attempted to revive the atomic system of Epicurus; but he had very few followers.
Des Cartes soon after proposed his system of the world; in which, though he condemns the common practice of laying down vague conjectures for principles, he himself did nothing better. He sets out upon this principle, that in order to form the universe, nothing else was requisite but matter and motion: that extension is the essence of all bodies, and space being extended as well as matter, there is no difference between space and matter, consequently there is no void or vacuum in nature. He divides this homogeneous mass of space and matter into angular parts of a cubical form leaving no interstices between them. "To these, cubes," says he "the Author of Nature gave a rotatory motion round their axes, and like
wise an impulse forwards, which drives them round the sun as a centre." From the attrition of the parts in this rotation, he supposes the planets to be formed. This strange romance of the Vortices of Des Cartes struck at first by its novelty, and, in fact, seemed to explain several of the phenomena of nature. He gained a great number of disciples, and more admirers; and such is the dogmatism of opinion, that even after a complete detection of the errors of the Cartesian system, and the publication of the Newtonian philosophy, that of Des Cartes continued to have its advocates in France till the middle of the present century.
The Copernican system of the planets, which is now universally received, had been proposed long before the age of Des Cartes, and was adopted by him as the groundwork of his philosophy. Copernicus gave this system to the world in the year 1553. It was solemnly condemned by the Inquisition in the year 1615; at the very time when many new experiments and discoveries had concurred to establish its absolute certainty.
In the year 1609, Galileo constructed telescopes. We have formerly observed, that in the Opus Majus of Roger Bacon, there are plain intimations that the effect of a combination of convex glasses in approaching and magnifying distant objects, was known to that ingenious man; but there is reason to believe that after his time the invention was lost: nor was it recovered till about four hundred years afterwards by Galileo. In the year 1610 Galileo, with a telescope which magnified the object thirty-six times, discovered