« PreviousContinue »
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 those authors, and the better advantage of pressing and applying their words. And thereof grew again a delight in their manner of style and phrase, and an admiration of that kind of writing; which was much furthered and precipitated by the enmity and opposition that the propounders of those 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, pleasantness, 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, quæ non novit legem; for the winning and persuading 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 languages, and the efficacy of preaching, did bring in an affected study of eloquence, and copia of speech, which then began to flourish. 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 Sturmius 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 Ascham, with their lectures and writings, almost defy Cicero and Demosthenes, and allure all young men, that were studious, into that delicate and polished kind of learning. Then did Erasmus take occasion to make the scoffing echo: Decem annos consumpsi in legendo Cicerone: and the echo answered in Greek, "Ove, Asine. Then grew the learning of the schoolmen to be utterly despised as barbarous. In sum, the whole inclination and bent of those times was rather towards copia, than weight.
Here therefore is the first distemper of learning, when men study words, and not matter: whereof though I have represented an example of late times, yet it hath been, and will be secundum majus et minus in all time. And how it is possible but this should have an operation to discredit learning, even with vulgar capacities, when they see learned men's 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 emblem 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 picture.
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, Seneca, 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 quencheth the desire of farther search, before we come to a just period: but then, if a man be to have any use of such knowledge in civil occasions, of conference, counsel, persuasion, discourse, or the like; then shall he find it
prepared to his hands in those authors which write in that manner. But the excess of this is so justly contemptible, that as Hercules, when he saw the image of Adonis, Venus's minion, in a temple, said in disdain, Nil sacri es; so there is none of Hercules's followers in learning, that is, the more severe and laborious sort of inquirers into truth, but will despise those delicacies and affectations, as indeed capable of no divineness. And thus much of the first disease 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, vain matter is worse than vain words; wherein it seemeth 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 scientia. For he assigneth 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 putrefy and corrupt into worms; so it is the property of good and sound knowledge, to putrefy 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 degenerate learning did chiefly reign amongst the schoolmen, who, having sharp and strong wits, and abundance 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 knowing little history, either of nature or time, did, out of no great quantity of matter, and infinite agitation 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, then 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 subtilty or curiosity is of two sorts; either in the subject itself that they handle, when it is a fruitless speculation, or controversy, whereof there are no small number both in divinity and philosophy, or in the manner or method of handling 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 strength of all sciences is, as the strength of the old man's faggot in the band. For the harmony of a science, supporting each part the other, is and ought to be the true and brief confutation and suppression of all the smaller sorts 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, Quastionum minutiis scientiarum frangunt soliditatem. 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 is their method, that rests not so much upon evidence of truth proved by arguments, authorities, similitudes, examples, as upon particular confutations and solutions of every scruple, cavillation, and objection; breeding for the most part one question as fast as it solveth another; even as in the former resemblance, when you carry the 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 philosophy or knowledge,
which was transformed into a comely virgin for the upper parts; but then, Candida succinctam latrantibus inguina monstris: so the generalities of the schoolmen are for a while 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 altercations, and barking questions. So as it is not possible 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 are all out of their way which never meet and when they see such digladiation about subtilties, and matters of no use or moment, they easily fall upon that judgment of Dionysius of Syracusa, Verba ista sunt senum otiosorum.
Notwithstanding, certain it is, that if those schoolmen, to their great thirst of truth, and unwearied travel of wit, had joined variety and universality of reading and contemplation, they had proved excellent lights, to the great advancement of all learning and knowledge; but as they are, they are great undertakers indeed, and fierce with dark keeping : 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 received authors or principles, did represent unto them. And thus much for the second disease of learning.
For the third vice or disease of learning, which concerneth deceit or untruth, it is of all the rest the foulest; as that which doth destroy the essential form 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, and aptness to be deceived; imposture and