« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
or to shape his academic rebellion into any consistent form, is matter of conjecture merely; but the fact of his early attention to philosophy is undoubted,—his letter to Father Fulgentio proves his attachment to these studies, and the circumstance of his being sent so soon on his travels must have been highly favourable to his scientific independence. The professors of any science are generally satisfied if they teach what they know, and seldom aspire to become its benefactors, by enlarging its bounds, or reforming its method. So early an emancipation, therefore, from the personal authority of pedagogues, may be regarded as fortunate; and the career he was destined to run in after-life was sufficiently high and difficult, to render it desirable that the commencement should be smoothed. He staid long enough at the University to learn what they could teach; and not so long as to have much to unlearn. He experienced no disadvantage in consequence of not completing his curriculum, which so ardent and vigorous a genius would not easily surmount; and there is something extremely ludicrous in the assertion, that by reason of his premature despatch on his travels, Plato and Aristotle were sealed books to him in the originals. The late Mr. Coleridge has hazarded this singular opinion in one of his "Friends ;" and the imputation is indulged in to cover the still greater absurdity which he maintains, of the absolute identity of the Baconian and Platonic systems; but it would be an insult to the memories of mighty philosopher and wayward poet, to assert the classical learning of the one against the juvenile sneer of the other.
It must not be imagined, however, that Bacon and the Universities were on any but the very best of terms. He was as fully sensible of his obligations to them, as they were of the honour of having reared such an alumnus. They were then, perhaps more than they are now, in consequence of anti-national restrictions, the centres from which emanated all the existing learning, and the main sources of political and religious agitation. Our author did them some service in his official character, and presentation copies of his greater works were always acknowledged with respectful promptitude. But the reader will be amused with the ex-cathedrâ sort of advice which the layman gives to them, he could deal more independently with a convocation of Aristotelians than with the pettiest court minion.
While nothing is positively known of the circumstances which first led our author to these studies, it is by no means an improbable conjecture that his father's Puritanical chaplain, whom we have already referred to, might have engaged his early attention to them. Johnson's letters to Bishop Sandys show that the chaplain was no mean proficient in logic; and there is no reason to suppose that he was below par with his brethren in his hatred of the Schoolmen, who had metamorphosed the laws of thought into the laws of their church. It is indeed more than likely that the precocious and inquisitive mind of Bacon was thus inoculated with an anti-scholastic prepossession, long before he was committed to the educational tutelage of Whitgift.
However this may be accounted for, the philosophy which had smitten the boy at college became the constant delight of the man. He was never intended for an "abbey lubber," or a mere "sorry book-maker." He was eminently fitted to play a distinguished part in the affairs of the world; and if he had not fallen, by risking a popular penalty on the security of a princely protection, we should never have heard of the regrets pathetically bewailing his immersion from youth to age in civil business. The philosophy partially hatched at college was of too robust and practical a kind to be addled by brooding over. It was intended to come home to men's business and bosoms," and it is only necessary to point to the results. His letters abound with references to his favourite pursuit, "whereby he should be able to maintain memory and merit of the times succeeding." The unwearied industry with which he applied himself, in the midst of ordinary engagements, to the completion of his all-comprehensive scheme, is one of the most pleasing and consolatory facts of his history. Life and society were largely mingled in, he used to cry," Eastward ho!"
and his arduous calling, the intrigues of ambition, cabinet schemes, and court cabals, were certainly not without their claims or their fascinations. But the philosophy was the business of his great soul, and through evil and good report he followed after it. He never gave it up, and it never gave him up. It injured, or at least his literary, injured, his legal, reputation at first, but most unjustly; for with him it was no excuse for the neglect of professional duties; and we have seen that he was neither dreamer, nor idler, nor wholesale delaimer, nor juggling dealer in rhapsodies, but a most assiduous plodder in the beaten and legitimate track of distinction. His mighty heart was no more to be won by phantasy, or disordered by enthusiasm, than it could be filled and engrossed by forensic, courtly, or political avocations. Yet notwithstanding his practical subserviency to many a wearisome and many a humiliating exigency, his allegiance to his destiny was paramount. And he had his reward, for it made him not more great than happy. Schiller has a saying, that be found the happiness of life, after all, to consist in the discharge of some mechanical duty;" and upon this principle, Bacon must have found his chosen labour an abundant source of comfort and satisfaction. To use a vulgar but strong expression, he was always at it. The mere mechanical labour of such frequent composition, correction, and transcription for THIRTY YEARS, in the "great work," became delightful. And when we add the stimulus of fame, utility, and the pleasure of intellectual exercise, it will be less difficult to imagine his real indifference to popular or imperial frowns, than to account for his sensitiveness to them. It is certain that he found more genuine pleasure in polishing an aphorism than in counselling a king. But he was determined to do both, and he did. The success of the philosopher was not disturbed by the failure of low intrigues and servile ambition. For the one he was sufficiently punished, and for the other he has had his reward.
The reader will observe that there appears to be two sets of Philosophical works; the English, which properly occupy the first 200 pages of this edition; and the Latin, which appear to be much more extensive. We have hitherto, with a single exception, adhered to the convenient order of arrangement adopted by the earlier printers; but the object of our brief summary will perhaps be best attained by diverging from this order again; and instead of considering the English apart from the Latin works, to give an account of them as one "great work." If we only had the English Philosophical works, the author would have been our lasting benefactor, and they would have borne the stamp of immortality. Looking at them as they now stand, at the Advancement of Learning, the Sylva Sylvarum, with its acknowledged imperfections, and the two fragments of the Interpretation of Nature, and Filum Labyrinthi, (beyond all comparison the most wonderful of fragments,) we should not merely have said that this man was sublime in eloquence, subtle of wit, exact in learning, gigantic in comprehension, and of wonderful insight; but that he was convinced of a disease which infected all science, when every one thought it in a sound state, and more than hinted at the remedy; that when the conception of being in the wrong way was in itself an achievement, he had a perpetual craving after, as well as an idea of, the right way; that he was not merely to leave the high road on which the footsteps of Plato and Aristotle were still visible, but find out one more excellent; and that the toil of his first steps was encouraged by visions, and refreshed by prospects, of the good and glory that were to follow. Nor would this be exaggeration; though the judgment may be considerably influenced by our acquaintance with some of them in that more matured and systematic shape, in which they have earned surpassing credit; but if we compare the English works with any others of that era, their superiority will be at once admitted.
The Advancement of Learning was published in 1605, under the title of The two Books of Francis Bacon, of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, divine and human. To the King. The letters which accompany the presentation copies of this work are very interest
ing. He begs the Earl of Northampton to " present this mean, but well meant, writing to the learnedest king that hath reigned," as his Lordship was "the learnedest counsellor in this kingdom." Sir Thomas Bodley receives the second copy, " in regard of his great and rare desert of learning: for books are the shrines where the saint is, or is believed to be And he having built an ark to save learning from the deluge, deserved in propriety, any new instrument or engine whereby learning should be improved or advanced." He presents "the like argument " to the lord chancellor, and reminds him that as he had " much commandment over the author, so his Lordship had also a great interest in the argument." He prays the Earl of Salisbury's "acceptation" of it, after complimenting him on his being "a great governor in a province of learning, and adding to his place affection towards learning, and to his affection judgment." He signifies his duty to the lord treasurer, Buckhurst, and desires his favourable acceptance of a copy," not only as a chancellor of an university, but as one that was excellently bred in all learning, and would therefore yield a gracious assent to his first love, and take pleasure in the adorning of that wherewith he was so much adorned." But we shall not refer to others.
Soon after the publication of this work Bacon requested Dr. Playfer, whose praise was in all the colleges at that time, to translate it into Latin; which he accordingly essayed, but with such an over-niceness, that he was not encouraged to go on with it. In the letter to Playfer on this business, he thus speaks of what he "chiefly sought" in that work. have this opinion, that if I had sought my own commendation, it had been a much fitter course for me to have done as gardeners used to do, of taking their seeds and slips, and rearing them first into plants, and so uttering them in pots, when they are in flower, and in their best state. But forasmuch as my end was merit of the state of learning, to my power, not glory; and because my purpose was rather to excite other men's wits, than to magnify mine own, I was desirous to prevent the uncertainness of mine own life and times, by uttering rather seeds than plants; nay, and farther, as the proverb is, by sowing with the basket, rather than with the hand." It will now be seen that this beautiful treatise was afterwards translated and greatly enlarged; but the De Augmentis will never diminish the home reputation of The Advancement. The first, however, was the only edition of The Advancement during the author's life.
We will now briefly notice the appearance of the De Augmentis, with the letters respecting it; and reserve any observations on the work itself, as the basis of the Great Instauration, until we review that performance as a whole. The De Augmentis Scientiarum was published in 1623; and this, says Tenison, is "the fairest and most correct edition." Copies were sent to the king, the prince, the Duke of Buckingham, Trinity College, and the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, by all of whom it was duly acknowledged. He sends "the poor fruits of his leisure" to his Majesty, from whose court and presence he was virtually excluded. "This book was the first thing that ever I presented to your Majesty, and it may be will be the last. For I had thought it should have been posthuma proles, but God hath otherwise disposed for a while. It is a translation, but almost enlarged to a new work." He sends to the prince "the Book of Advancement of Learning, translated into Latin, but so enlarged as it may go for a new work ;" and says, "it is a book, he thinks, will live, and be a citizen of the world, as English books are not." To Buckingham he writes, that "after his Majesty and his Highness, he was ever to have the third turn." This letter is literally a begging one, and so is that to the king, the postscript of which contains a petition worthy of Miserrimus himself. The philosopher was indeed their " prostrate and cast-down servant!" But these humiliating exhibitions are redeemed by the noble and dignified style which he assumes, in addressing the "famous college of Trinity," his alma mater, and her sister of Oxford. The "golden treatise," as Tenison would say, whose translations of these letters we adopt, is thus commended to their notice; and some will be
curious to be acquainted with their acknowledgments, but we can only gratify them with the Oxford reception.
"Francis, Baron of Verulam, Viscount of St. Alban, to the most famous College of the holy and undivided Trinity, in Cambridge, Health.
"The progress of things, together with themselves, are to be ascribed to their originals. Wherefore, seeing I have derived from your fountains my first beginnings in the sciences, I thought it fit to repay to you the increases of them. I hope, also, it may so happen that these things of ours may the more prosperously thrive among you, being replanted in their native soil. Therefore, I likewise exhort you, that ye yourselves, so far as is consistent with all due modesty and reverence to the ancients, be not wanting to the advancement of the sciences: but that, next to the study of those sacred volumes of God, the holy Scriptures, ye turn over that great volume of the works of God, his creatures, with the utmost diligence, and before all other books, which ought to be looked on only as commentaries on those texts. Fare ye well."
"To the indulgent Mother, the famous University of Cambridge, Health.
"I here repay you, according to my ability, the debts of a son. I exhort you also to do the same thing with myself: that is, to set your whole might towards the advancement of the sciences, and to retain freedom of thought together with humility of mind; and not to suffer the talent which the ancients have deposited with you to lie dead in a napkin. Doubtless the favour of the divine light will be present and shine amongst you, if philosophy being submitted to religion, you lawfully and dexterously use the keys of sense; and if, all study of opposition being laid aside, every one of you so dispute with another as if he were arguing with himself. Fare ye well."
"To the famous University of Oxford, Health.
"Since I have written to my indulgent mother the famous University of Cambridge, I should be wanting in respect were I not to offer a similar token of my affection to her sister. But as I have exhorted them, so do I now exhort you, strenuously to exert yourselves in the advancement of learning; and instead of imagining, that by the labours of the ancients, nothing or every thing has been attained, to reflect with humility upon your own powers, and aid their discoveries by your experience. The event must be prosperous, if, instead of mutually attacking each other, you unite your forces against the strong-holds of nature. This will afford you ample scope for honour and for victory. Fare ye well."
The following is the reply of Oxford; and that part of the heading, which is between brackets, was omitted by Tenison himself.
"Most noble and [what in nobility is next to a miracle] most learned Viscount. "Your honour could have given nothing more agreeable, and the University could have received nothing more acceptable, than the sciences; and those sciences which she formerly sent forth poor, of low stature, unpolished, she hath received elegant, tall, and by the supplies of your wit, by which alone they could have been advanced, most rich in dowry. She esteemeth it an extraordinary favour to have a return with usury made of that by a stranger, (if so near a relation may be called a stranger,) which she bestows as a patrimony upon her children; and she readily acknowledgeth that though the muses are born in Oxford, they grow elsewhere: grown they are under your pen, who, like some mighty Hercules in learning, have by your own hand further advanced those pillars in the learned world, which by the rest of that world were supposed immovable.
"We congratulate you, you most accomplished combatant, who by your most dilige patronage of the virtues of others have overcome other patrons, and by your own writin yourself. For by the eminent height of your honour, you advanced only learned men; ■ at last (oh ravishing prodigy!) you have also advanced learning itself.
"The ample munificence of this gift lays a burden upon your clients, in the receiving which we have the honour, but in the enjoying of it the emolument will descend to posterity; if, therefore, we are not able of ourselves to return sufficient and suitable than our nephews of the next age ought to give their assistance, and pay the remainder, if not yourself, to the honour of your name. Happy they, but we how much more happy, &c.j whom you were pleased to do the honour of sending a letter written by no other than your own hand; to whom you have pleased to send the clearest instructions for readi (your work,) and for concord in our studies, in the front of your book; as if it were a sm thing for your Lordship to enrich the muses out of your own stock, unless you taught the also a method of getting wealth. Wherefore, this most accurate pledge of your understandi has been with the most solemn reverence received in a very full congregation, both by t doctors and masters; and that which the common vote hath placed in our public librar every single person has gratefully deposited in his memory. Your Lordship's most devot servant, The University of Oxford."
We now come to the second part of the "Great Work," the Novum Organum Scientiaru which appeared in 1620, and was dedicated to the king. On presenting a copy to h Majesty, he thought fit to accompany it with some " private lines;" and this letter of th 12th October, 1620, was intended to "seek access" for the work, "not so much to h person, as to his judgment." The " private lines" are the best and most interesting accout of it. "The work, in what colours soever it may be set forth, is no more but a new logi teaching to invent and judge by induction, as finding syllogism incompetent for sciences é nature; and thereby to make philosophy more true and active." As it tended" to enlarg the bounds of reason, and to endow man's estate with new value," he thought it was no im proper oblation to a king. The merit of this small book is mightily enhanced, when h informs his illustrious correspondent, that he "had been about such work near thirty years. One reason of his publishing it, before completing his vast design, was the precarious stati of his health—" to speak plainly, because I number my days, and would have it saved;" and another reason for ushering it into the world by itself, was his desire to obtain assistance and royal assistance too, in the execution of an indispensable work-" to try whether I can get help in one intended part of this work, namely, the compiling a natural and experimental history, which must be the main foundation of a true and active philosophy." This short sentence was fraught with a volume of discovery. He thought his Majesty's favour to this work would be " as much as an hundred years' time." His assurance that this " portion of the work" would last, even if the whole were not completed by him, is perfect-" for I am persuaded the work will gain upon men's minds with ages;" and he stamps it with immortality. when with blended modesty and dignity, he describes it to be " a work not meant for praise or glory, but for practice and the good of men." "One thing" he was ambitious of, and be was ambitious of this one thing" with hope," and it was a memorable ambition to indulge in, when the ardent philosopher felt the weight of declining years,-" that after these beginnings, and the wheel once set agoing, men shall seek more truth out of christian pens, than hitherto they have done out of heathen;" and this he confesses he was ambitious of" with hope "“I say with hope, because I hear my former book of the Advancement of Learning is well tasted in the universities here, and abroad; and this is the same argument sunk deeper."
The "private lines" thus addressed to the king, whom he styled "the greatest master of reason, and author of beneficence," on earth, were acknowledged on the 16th October,