Page images

that is raw; misanthropi, that make it their practice to bring men to the bough, and yet have never a tree for the purpose in their gardens, as Timon had. Such dispositions are the very errors of human nature, and yet they are the fittest timber to make great politics of; like to knee-timber, that is good for ships that are ordained to be tossed, but not for building houses that shall stand firm."

Knowing how to estimate the love of excelling, and looking with all due respect at intellectual gladiators, he saw that this passion was not the proper motive to actuate philosophy.

"It is commonly found, (he says,) that men have views to fame and ostentation, sometimes in uttering and sometimes in circulating the knowledge they think they have acquired. But for our undertaking, we judge it of such a nature, that it were highly unworthy to pollute it with any degree of ambition or affectation: as it is an unavoidable decree with us ever to retain our native candour and simplicity, and not attempt a passage to truth under the conduct of vanity; for seeking real Nature, with all her fruits about her, we should think it a betraying of our trust, to infect such a subject either with an ambitious, an ignorant, or any other faulty manner of treating it."

And in the same spirit, Milton says, "I am not speaking to the mercenary crew of false pretenders to learning, but the free and ingenuous sort of such as evidently were born to study, and love learning for itself, not for lucre, or any other end, but the service of God and of truth."

He saw, that the love of excellence was the only permanent motive for the acquisition of knowledge.

"For the pleasure and delight of knowledge, (he says,) it far surpasseth all other in nature. We see in all other pleasures there is satiety, and after they be used, their verdure departeth, which sheweth well they be but deceits of pleasure, and not pleasures and that it was the novelty which pleased, and not the quality and therefore we see, that voluptuous men turn friars, and ambitious princes turn melancholy: but of knowledge there is no satiety, but satisfaction and appetite are perpetually interchangeable."

He saw, that as the love of excelling has a tendency to generate bad passions, the love of excellence gives birth to all feelings that are good and holy.-It omits no pains to discover and direct the talents of the country for its service, and is ever anxious to forward those abilities which overpower its own.

To prevent the decay of this desire, " joyful to the mind as light to the eye, or sweet music to the ear,' "* it seems necessary -not to associate pain with the acquisition of knowledge:—but

* See his Essay on Truth.

to force the mind; and to excite it by proper mental stimulants. -The evils of erroneous associations and compulsion are fully noticed by his contemporary, Ascham. Upon the application of mental stimulants, he says:

"In the twentieth place come lancing instances, that is, such as remind the understanding of the admirable and exquisite subtilty of nature, so as to excite and awaken it to attention, observation, and proper enquiry.

For example; the following are lancing or vellicating instances. (1.) That so small a drop of ink in a pen should be drawn out into so many letters or lines, as we find it; (2.) that silver gilt upon its external surface, should be drawn to such a vast length of gilded wire; (3.) that so very small a worm as that found in the skin, should have a spirit, and a peculiar structure and organization of different parts; (4.) that a little saffron should tinge a whole hogshead of water; (5.) that a little civet or musk should fill a large chamber with its odour; (6.) that such a great cloud of smoke should be raised from a little incense: (7.) that the exact differences of sounds should be every way conveyed through the air, and even through the holes and pores of wood and water, (though much weakened, indeed, in the passage,) and be reflected with great distinctness and velocity; (8.) that light and colour should so suddenly pass through such a bulk of solid matter, as glass, or of a fluid, as water; yet so as at the same time to convey a great and exquisite variety of images, even though the light suffers refraction and reflection; (9.) that the loadstone should operate through all kinds of bodies, even the most compact and solid; and what is still more wonderful, (10.) that in all these cases the action of one thing does not greatly hinder the action of another, in a neutral or indifferent medium, such as the air is. Thus numberless images of visible objects are carried through the air; numberless percussions of articulate voices; numberless specific odours, as those of violets, roses, &c. even cold, heat, and magnetical virtues, all pass through the air at once, without obstructing one another, as if each of them had its own separate way or passage, so as to prevent impinging against, meeting with, or obstructing, one another."

We must reluctantly quit this subject, and proceed to
The obstacles to the acquisition of knowledge;

which are either from want of time, whether it originate in worldly occupation or in the shortness of life: or want of means or the opposition of ignorance, either from its general antipathy to intellect, or from the resistance of misguided and interested individuals.-Upon each of these topics, there are various remarks in Bacon's works.

Upon the obstacles from want of time, he says:

"If any man, notwithstanding, resolvedly maintaineth, that learning takes up too much time, which might otherwise be better em

ployed; I answer, that no man can be so straitened and opprest with business, and an active course of life, but may have many vacant times of leisure, whilst he expects the returns and tides of business, except he be either of a very dull temper and of no despatch: or ambitious (little to his credit and reputation) to meddle and engage himself in employment of all natures and matters above his reach. It remaineth, therefore, to be enquired, in what manner and how those spaces and times of leisure should be filled up and spent; whether in pleasures or study, sensuality or contemplation, as was well answered by Demosthenes to Æschines, a man given to pleasure; who, when he told him, by way of reproach, that his orations did smell of the lamp; indeed (said Demosthenes) there is great difference between the things that you and I do by lamp-light. Wherefore let no man fear lest learning should expulse business; nay, rather, it will keep and defend the possessions of the mind against idleness and pleasure, which otherwise, at unawares, may enter to the prejudice both of business and learning."

And again, when speaking of himself, he says:

"We judge also, that mankind may conceive some hopes from our example which we offer, not by way of ostentation, but because it may be useful. If any one therefore should despair, let him consider a man as much employed in civil affairs as any other of his age, a man of no great share of health, who must therefore have lost much time; and yet in this undertaking, he is the first that leads the way, unassisted by any mortal, and stedfastly entering the true path that was absolutely untrod before and submitting his mind to things, may somewhat have advanced the design."

The obstacles to the acquisition of knowledge, from want of means, Bacon must have deeply felt. His favorite maxim


"Let no man, upon a weak conceit of sobriety, or an ill-applied moderation, think or maintain, that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God's word, or in the book of God's works, divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour in an endless progress, or proficience in both; only let them beware, that they apply both to charity and not to swelling; to use and not to ostentation; for the true corrective specie of knowledge is charity. "If I spake, saith the Apostle, with the tongues of men and angels, and had not charity, it were but as a tinkling cymbal."

But in experimental philosophy Bacon placed his chief hope. It was the occupation of his leisure; and, notwithstanding his arduous public duties and private calamities, he proceeded in it, if not with the caution, with the patience and perseverance of a philosopher. Employed in the affairs of state, his mind was filled only with the contemplation and pur

suit of nature. This exalted pleasure was the delight of his life and its excess, an excess scarcely unworthy a philosopher, was the immediate cause of his death. "Whilst I am speaking," says Archbishop Tenison, " of his lordship's work of natural history, there comes to my mind a relation, reported by him who bore a part in it, the Reverend Dr. Rawley." "One day, his lordship was dictating to that doctor some of the experiments in his Sylva. The same day, he had sent a friend to court, to receive for him a final answer, touching the effect of a grant which had been made him by King James. He had hitherto only hope of it, and hope deferred; and he was desirous to know the event of the matter, and to be freed, one way or the other, from the suspence of his thoughts; his friend returning, told him plainly, that he must thenceforth despair of that grant, how much soever his fortunes needed it. Be it so, said his lordship; and then he dismissed his friend very cheerfully, with thankful acknowledgments of his service. His friend being gone, he came straightway to Dr. Rawley, and said thus to him." Well, sir! yon business won't go on; let us go on with this, for this is in our power;" and then he dictated to him afresh, for some hours, without the least hesitancie of speech, or discernable interruption of thought."

Aubrey thus relates the account of his death: "Mr. Hobbes told me, that the cause of his lordship's death was trying an experiment. As he was taking the aire in a coach with Dr. Witherborne (a Scotchman, physician to the king) towards Highgate, snow lay on the ground, and it came into my lord's thoughts, why flesh might not be preserved in snow as in salt. They were resolved they would try the experiment presently. They alighted out of the coach, and went into a poore woman's house at the bottome of Highgate-hill, and bought a hen, and made the woman exenterate it, and then stuffed the bodie with snow, and my lord did help to doe it himselfe. The snow so chilled him, that he immediately fell so extremely ill, that he could not returne to his lodgings, (I suppose then at Graye's Inne,) but went to the Earl of Arundell's house, at Highgate, where they putt him into a good bed warmed with a panne, but it was a damp bed, that had not been layn in above a yeare before, which gave him such a cold, that in two or three dayes, as I remember, he (Mr. Hobbes) told me, he dyed of suffocation."

In the last letter he wrote, which was to the Earl of Arundel, he says:

"I was likely to have the fortune of the elder Pliny, who lost his life by trying an experiment about the burning of the Mount Vesuvius; for I was also desirous to try an experiment or two upon the conservation and induration of bodies. For the experiment itself, it

succeeded excellently; but in the journey between London and Highgate, I was taken with such a fit of sickness, that when I came to your lordship's house, I was not able to go back. Your housekeeper is very careful and diligent about me. Indeed, your lordship's house was happy to me, and I kiss your hands for the welcome, which I am sure you give me to it.

I know how unfit it is for me to write to your lordship with any other hand than my own; but my fingers are so disjointed with this fit of sickness, that I cannot steadily hold a pen."

This was his last letter; he died a day or two after.

Experimental philosophy is, at every step, attended with expense. "Le gout de l'observation peut être inspiré à tous les hommes: il semble que celui de l'experience ne doive être inspiré qu'aux hommes riches," is the remark of one of the French philosophers; and when we think, for a moment, of Bacon's conceptions, we must acknowledge the truth of his lamentations, when he says:

"We must confess, that such a collection of natural and experimental history, as we have measured out in our mind, and such as really ought to be procured, is a great and royal work, requiring the purse of a prince and the assistance of a people."

Amidst the noble improvements by which our city has lately been adorned, we have sometimes imagined The New Atalantis about to be realized, and two palaces united by a structure, containing libraries, collections, pictures, statues, worthy of the age, the king, and the nation.

The obstacles to the progress of knowledge, from the opposition of language,

are examined at great length in the Advancement of Learning: to which we must beg to refer such of our readers as are desirous to be armed against these weapons. In these enlightened times, and in this enlightened and happy country, they are of little moment. There are no obstacles to the progress of knowledge, and we are not alarmed at the mistakes of ignorance. Galilæo may, without fear of inquisitors, assert, that the earth moves round and, if an altar is raised to the "Unknown God," he who is ignorantly worshipped we can "declare."

Annexed to this doctrine of Idols, there are some inquiries upon the causes and signs of false philosophy, and the grounds of hope that knowledge must be progressive. Of false philosophy, he says:

"It may be known from its seed, its origin as to time or place; from its growth, and from its fruit; for the knowledge which is planted in nature has the true character of the divine presence, coming in persuasion, that this third period of time will far surpass that of the

« PreviousContinue »