Page images
PDF
EPUB

has in the end been mighty and universal. He was not however the first among the moderns who ventured to dissent from Aristotle. Ramus, Patricius, Bruno, Severinus, to name no more, had already attacked the authority of that tyrant in learning, who had long reigned as absolutely over the opinions of men, as his restless pupil had of old affected to do over their persons. But these writers invented little that was valuable themselves, however justly they might reprehend many things in him. And as to the real improvements made in some parts of natural knowledge before our author appeared, by Gilbert, Harvey, Copernicus, father Paul, and some few others, they are well known, and have been deservedly celebrated. Yet there was still wanting one great and comprehensive plan, that might embrace the almost infinite varieties of science, and guide our inquiries aright in all. This Sir Francis Bacon first conceived, in its utmost extent; to his own lasting honour, and to the general utility of mankind. If we stand surprised at the happy imagination of such a system, our surprise redoubles upon us when we reflect, that he invented and methodized this system, perfected so much, and sketched out so much more of it, amidst the drudgery of business and the civil tumults of a court. Nature seems to have intended him peculiarly for this province, by bestowing on him with a liberal hand all the qualities requisite: a fancy voluble and prompt to discover the similitudes of things; a judgment steady and intent to note their subtlest differences; a love of meditation and inquiry; a patience in doubting; a slowness and diffidence in affirming; a facility of retracting; a careful anxiety to plan and dispose, A mind of such a cast, that neither affected novelty, nor idolized antiquity, that was an enemy to all imposture, must have had a certain congeniality and

relation to truth. These characters, which, with a Bacon, noble confidence, he has applied to himself, are obviVol. VII.

ous and eminent in his Instauration of the Sciences : p. 28, 29,

a work by him designed, not as a monument to his own fame, but a perpetual legacy to the common benefit of others. He has divided the whole of it into six capital parts; with a short account of which we shall close this imperfect relation of his life and writings.

30.

rum.

1. The first part of this Instauration proposes a De auggeneral survey of human knowledge: and this he mentis

scientiaexecuted in that admirable treatise intitled, The Advancement of Learning. As he intended to raise a new and lasting structure of philosophy, founded not in arbitrary opinions or specious conjectures, but in truth and experience; it was absolutely necessary to his design, first to review accurately the state of learning as it then stood, through all its provinces and divisions. To do this effectually required, with an uncommon measure of knowledge, a discernment not only exquisite but universal : the whole intellectual world was subjected to its examination and censure. That he might not lose himself on a subject so vast and of such variety; he has, according to the three faculties of the soul, memory, fancy, understanding, ranged the numerous train of arts under three great classes, history, poetry, philosophy. These may be considered as the principal trunks from which shoot forth, in prodigious diversity, the lesser parts and branches of science. Whatever is deficient, erroneous, or still wanting in each, he has pointed out at large: together with the properest means for amending the defects, for rectifying the errors, and for supplying the omissions in all. Upon the whole, he was not only well acquainted with every thing that had been discovered in books before his time, and able to pronounce critically on those discoveries : he saw clearly, and at the end of this treatise has marked out in one general chart, the several tracts of science that lay still neglected or unknown. And to say truth, some of the most valuable improvements since made have grown out of the hints and notices scattered through this work: from which the moderns have selected, each according to his fancy, one or more plants to cultivate and bring to perfection.

Novum

2. The design of the Novum Organon, which Organon. stands as the second part to his Instauration, and

may be reckoned the most considerable, was to raise and enlarge the powers of the mind, by a more useful application of its reasoning faculty to all the different objects that philosophy considers. In this place, our author offers to the world a new and better logic; calculated not to supply arguments for controversy, but arts for the use of mankind; not to triumph over an enemy by the sophistry of disputation, but to subdue nature itself by experiment and inquiry. As it differs from the vulgar logic in its aim, it varies no less from that captious art in the form of demonstrating : for it generally rejects syllogism, as an instrument rather hurtful than serviceable to the investigation of nature, and uses in its stead a severe and genuine induction. Not the trivial method of the schools, that, proceeding on a simple and superficial enuineration, pronounces at once from a few particulars, exposed to the danger of contradictory instances: but an induction that examines scrupulously the experiment in question, views it in all possible lights, rejects and excludes whatever does not necessarily belong to the subject ; then, and not till then, concluding from the affirmatives left. A crowd of instances might be brought to shew how greatly this method of inquiry has prospered in the hands of the moderns; and how fruitful it has been of new discoveries, unknown and unimagined by antiquity. But I will only mention one that may stand in place of many; the Optics of our immortal Newton: where, in a variety of experiments, he has analysed the nature and properties of light itself, of the most subtile of all bodies, with an accuracy, a precision, that could hardly have been expected from examining the grossest and most palpable. From whence, by the method of induction, he has raised the noblest theory that any age or

country can shew. Pheno+

3. It has been the fate of almost every considerauniversi. ble scheme for the good of mankind to be treated, at first, as visionary, or impracticable, merely for being new. This our author foresaw, and endeavoured to obviate, in the third part of his Instauration; by furnishing materials himself towards a natural and experimental history; a work which he thought so indispensably necessary, that without it the united endeavours of all mankind, in all ages, would be insufficient to rear and perfect the great structure of the sciences.

mena

He was aware too, that even men of freer and more extensive notions, who relished his new logic, might be deterred from reducing it to practice, by the difficulties they would meet with in experimenting, according to the rules by him prescribed. He therefore led the way to other inquirers in his Sylva Sylvarum, or history of nature : which, however imperfect in many respects, ought to be looked upon as extensive and valuable for that age, when the whole work was to be begun. This collection, which did not appear till after his death, has been generally considered as detached from, and independent on his general plan: and therefore his design in making and recording these experiments has not been duly attended to by the reader. They are a common repository or store-house of materials, not arranged for ornament and show, but thrown loosely together for the service of the philosopher : who may from thence select such as fit his present purpose ; and with them, by the aid of that organ or engine already described, build up some part of an axiomatical philosophy, which is the crown and completion of this system. The phænomena of the universe Bacon, he ranges under three principal divisions; the history Vol. VIII. of generations, or the production of all species according to the common laws of nature; that of preter-generations, or of births deviating from the stated rule; and thirdly, the history of nature as confined or assisted, changed or tortured by the art of man: which last discloses to us a new face of things, and as it were another world of appearances. The use of such a history he reckons two-fold; either the knowledge of qualities in themselves : or to serve for the

p. 225.

first matter of a true and useful philosophy. With this view only did our author make and gather together the miscellaneous collection I am speaking of. That many particular experiments have been found doubtful or false, cannot be wondered at: the whole was then a tract of science uncultivated and desert. If several considerable men, treading in the path he struck out for them, have gone farther and surveyed it more exactly than he did, yet to him is the honour of their discoveries in a manner due. It was Columbus alone who imagined there might be a new world; and who had the noble boldness to go in search of it, through an ocean unexplored and immense. He succeeded in the attempt; and led his followers into a spacious continent, rich and fruitful. If succeeding adventurers have penetrated farther than he into its several regions, marked out and distinguished them with more accuracy; the result of these discoveries has less extended their fame than it

has raised and enlarged his. Scala In- 4. After these preparations, nothing seems wanttellectus. ing but to enter at once on the last and most exalted

kind of philosophy : but the author judged, that, in an affair so complicated and important, some other things ought to precede, partly for instruction, and partly for present use. He therefore interposed a fourth and fifth part: the former of which he named Scala Intellectus, or a series of steps by which the understanding might regularly ascend in its philosophical researches. For this purpose he proposed examples of inquiry and investigation, agreeable to his own method, in certain subjects; selecting such especially as are of the noblest order, and most widely differing from one another, that instances of every sort might not be wanting. The fourth part then was to contain a particular application and illustration of the second. In this light we choose to consider the six monthly histories which he proposed to write on six principal topics in natural history: namely, of winds; of life and death ; of rarefaction and condensation ; of the three chemical principles, salt, sul

« PreviousContinue »