LORD BACON'S WORKS.
A NATURAL HISTORY,
IN TEN CENTURIES
In the spring of 1626, Lord Bacon died. In the same year, Dr. Rawley, " his lordship's first and last chaplain," as he always proudly entitles himself, collected and published the different poems which were written to the memory of his honoured master. In the year 1627, he published the Sylva Sylvarum, with an address to the reader, explaining the intention of Lord Bacon in the compilation of ; this work, and the probable objections which might be made to the publication; that it was not methodical ; and that many of the experiments would be deemed vulgar and trivial.
With respect to the want of method, although, to use the words of Dr. Rawley,
" he that looketh attentively into the work, shall find that they have a secret order,"
yet knowing as he did the charms of symmetry in arrangement and beauty of style, and the necessity of adopting them to insure an immediate and favourable reception of abtruse works, Lord Bacon was never misled by the love of order: he did not worship this idol; but
" as Hercules, when he saw the image of Adonis, Venus' minion, in a temple, said in disdain, "Nil sacri es;' so there are none of Hercules' 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 diviness."
"No man was, for his own sake, less attached to system or ornament than Lord Bacon. A plain unadorned style in aphorisms, in which the Novum Organum is written, is, he invariably states, the proper style for philosophy. In the midst of his own arrangment, in the Advancement of Learning, he says : "The worst and most absurd sort of triflers are those who have pent th whole art into strict methods and narrow systems, which men commonly cry up for the sake of their regualarity and style."
Again he says:
" It is of great consequence to consider whether sciences should be delievered by way of aphorism or of method. Methodical delivery is more fit to win consent or belief; but less fit to point to action; for they carry a show of demonstration in orb or circle, one part illuminating another; and therefore do more satisy the understanding; but being that actions in common course of life are dispersed, and not orderly digested; they do best agree with dispersed directions. Lastly, aphorisms representing certain portions only, and as it were fragaments of sciences, invite others to contribute and add something; whereas methodical delivery carrying show of a total and perfect knowledge, forthwith secureth men as if they were at the furthest."
" Science is much injured by the over early and peremptory reduction of knowledge into arts and method; from which time commonly sciences receive small or no augmentation. But as young men, when they knit and shape perfectly, do seldom grow to a further stature; so knowledge, while it is in aphorisms and observations, it is in growth; but when it once is comprehended in exact methods, it may perchance be further polished and illustrated, and accomodated for use and practice, but it increaseth no more in bulk and substance."
" And as for the overmuch credit that hath been given unto authors in sciences, in making them dictators, that their words should stand, and not consuls, to give advice; the damage is infinite that sciences have received thereby, as the principal cause that hath kept them low, at a stay, without growth or advancement. For hence it hath come, tht in arts mechanical the first devisor comes shortest, and time addeth and perfecth; but in sciences the first author goeth farthest, and time lesseth and corrupth. So, we see, artillery, sailing, printing, and the like, were grossly managed at the first, and by time accomodated and refined: but contrariwise, the philosophies and sciences of Aristotle, Plato, Democritus, Hippocrates, Euclides, Archmides, of most vigour at the first, and by time degenerate and embased; whereof the reason is no other, but that in the former many wits and industries have contributed one; and in the later many wits and industries have have been spent about the wit so some one, whom many times they have rather depraved than illustrated. For as water will not ascend higher than the level of the first spring-head from whence descendeth, so knowledge derived from Aristotle, and exempted from liberty of examination, will not rise again higher than the knowledge of Aristotle." This was the reason why the Sylva Sylvarum was published in Aphorisms, as "he knew well, tht thre was no other way open to unloose men's minds, being bound, and, as it were, maleficiate, by the charms of deceiving notions and theories, and thereby made impotent for generation of works."
With respect to some of the experiments being vulgar and trivial, Lord Bacon says in the Novum Organum,
"But for unpolite, or even sordid particulars, which as Pliny observes, require an apology for being mentioned; even these ought to be received into a Natural History, no less than the most rich and delicate; for Natural History is not defiled by them, any more than the sun, by shining alike upon the palace and the privy. And we do not endeavour to build a Capitol, or erect a pyramid, to the glory of mankind; but to found a temple, in imitation of the world, adn consecrate it to the human understanding: so that we must frame our model accordingly. For whatever is worthy of existence, is worthy of our knowledge, which is the image of existence: but ignoble things exist, as well as the noble. Nay, as some excrementitious matters, for example, musk, civet, &c. sometimes produce excellent odours; so sordid instances sometimes afford great light and information. But enough of this; as such a delicacy is perfectly childish and effeminate."
"with relation to this contempt of natural history, on account of its containing things that are vulgar, ignoble, subtile, or useless in their origins, we should here consider, as an oracle the saying of the poor woman to the haughty prince, who rejected her petition as a thing below his dignity to take notice of; then cease to reign; for it is certain, that whoever will not attend to matters of this kind, as if they were too minute or trifling, shall never obtain command or rule over nature."
These two objections stated by Rawley were anticipated by Lord Bacon in the Novum Organum, where he mentions a third objection which is,even at this day, repeatedly urged against the Sylva Sylvarum. "Some," he says,
"without doubt, upon reading our history and tables of invention, will meet with experiments not well verified, or even absolutely false; and many thence, perhaps, be apt to suspect, that that our inventions are built upon doubtful principles, and erroneous foundations. But this is nothing: for such slips must necessarily happen in the beginning. It is but as if here and there a letter should be misplaced, or mistaken,in a writing,or a printed book; which does not, usually, much interrupt the reader: as such errors are easily corrected, from the sense of the place. In the same manner let men observe, that experiments may be falsely believed, and received in natural history; and yet soon after be expunged and rejected, when causes and axioms are discovered. Though, it is true, that if there should be many, and frequent, and continued errors, in a natural and experimental history, they cannot be corrected by any felicity of art or genius: and therefore, if in our Natural History, which is collected, and examined, with so much diligence, so rigourous, and , as it were, with so relgious a severity, there should sometimes happen any falsity, or mistake, with regard to particulars; what must be thought of the common Natural History, which in comparison of ours, is so negligent and remiss; or, what of the philosophy, and the sciences, built upon such quicksands? Let no one, therefore, be concerned, if our history has it's errors."
And, in the Advancement of Learning, when treating of credulity, he says,
"The matter of manifest, truth is not be mingled or weakened with matter of doubtful credit; and yet again, rarities and reports that seem incredible are no to be suppressed or denied to the memory of men."
From the slightest examination of this work it will appear that, not having such a collection of natural history as he ahd measured out in his mind, which would have required the purse of a prince, and the assistance of a people, Lord Bacon did the best in his power, trying all things but not believing all things, to make such a collection as might render some assistance to future inquirers, by pointing out the mode in which a natural history ought to be compiled, without haste in the admission or rejection of received reports.
"The rejection," he says, "which I continually use, of experiments, though it appeareth not, is infinite; but yet if an experiment be probable in the work, and of great use, I receive it, but deliver it as doubtful."
This perhaps, will be illustrated by some of the articles in the tenth century of this work, in his inquiry touching the "transmission and influx of immateriate virtues and the force of imagination," where he thus begins :
"The philosophy of Pythagoras, which afterwards was, by the school of Plato and others, watered and nourished. It was, that the world was one entire perfect living creature; insomuch as Apollonius of Tyana, a Pythagorean prophet, affirmed, that the ebbing and flowing of the sea was the respiration of the world, drawing in water as breath, and putting it forth again. They went on, and inferred, that if the world were a living creature, it had a soul and spirit; which also they held, calling it spiritus mundi, he spirit or soul of the world : by which they did not intend God, for they did admit of a Deity besides, but only the soul or essential form of the universe.".....
With these vast and bottomless follies men have been in part entertained.
"But we, that hold firm to the works of God, and to the sense, which is God's lamp, lucerna Dei spiraculum hominis, will inquire with all sobriety and severity, whether there be to be found in the footsteps of nature, any such transmission and influx of immateriate virtues; and what the force of imagination is; either upon the body imaginant, or upon another body; wherein it will be like that labour of Hercules, in purging the stable of Augeas, to separate from superstitious and magical arts and observations, any thing that is clean and pure natural; and not to be either contemned or condemned.
In this spirit, mistaken for credulity, he says,
"the sympathy of individuals, that have been entire, or have touched, is of all others the most incredible; yet according unto our faithful manner of examination of nature, we will make some little mention of it. The taking away of warts, by rubbing them with somewhat that afterwards is put to waste and consume, is a common experiment; and I do apprehend it the rather because of my own experience. I had from my childhood a wart upon one of my fingers: afterwards, when I was about sixteen years old, being then in Paris, there grew upon both my hands a number of warts, at the least a hundred, in a month's space. The English ambassador's lady, who was a woman far from superstition, told me one day,she would help me away with my warts : whereupon she got a piece of lard with the skin on and rubbed the warts all over with the fat side; and amongst the rest, that wart which I had from my childhood: then she nailed the piece of lard, with the fat towards the sun, upon a post or her chamber window, which was to the south. The success was, that within five weeks' space all the warts went quite away: and that wart which I had so long endured for company.But at the rest I did little marvel, because they came in a short time again : but the going away of that which had stayed so long doth yet stick with me."
(Footnote : There are in different parts of the Sylva Sylvarum facts evincing Bacon's life of mind, and the faculty of generalizing from his earliest infancy. See Art 906, when his mind is at work upon the nature of imagination, most probably before he was twelve years old, when he quitted his father's house for the university from whence at sixteen, he went with Sir Amyas Paulet to Paris, and returned after his father's death. See also Art 151, when in Trinity College meditating upon the nature of sound. See also Art 140,148, 248.
" The relations touching the force of imagination, and the secret instincts of nature, are so uncertain, as they require a great deal of examination ere we conclude upon them. I would have if first thoroughly inquired, whether there be any secret passages of sympathy between persons of near blood, as parents, children, brothers, sisters, nurse-children, husbands, wives, &c. There be many reports in history, that upon the death of persons of such nearness, men have had an inward feeling of it. I myself remember, being in Paris, and my father dying in London, two or three days before my father's death, I had a dream, which I told to diverse English gentlemen, that my father's house in the country was plastered all over with black mortar. There is an opinion abroad, whether idle or no I cannot say, that loving and kind husbands have a sense of their wives breeding children, by some accident in their own body."
Passing from these objections to the use of natural history, they are explained by Lord Bacon in the treatise De Augmentis and in the Novum Organum. In the treatise De Augmentis, the subject of Natural History is thus exhibited.
1. As to the Subject of History
1.Of Nature in Course.
2. Of the Region of the Air.
3. Of the Earth and Water
4. Of the Elements or Genera
5. Of the Species
2. Of Nature wandering or Marvails
II. As to Use.
1. In the knowledge or History Narrative.
2. In being the primitive matter of Philosophy, which he says is defective, and to supply this defect, to discover the properties of creatures and to impose names, the occupation of Adam in Paradise, his tables of invention are constructed in the Novum Organum with the admonition
"That all partitions of knowledges be accepted rather for lines and veins, than for sections and separations; and that the continuance and entireness of knowledge be preserved. "
"The sciences being the pyramids supported by history upon experience as their only true basis ; and so the basis of natural philosophy is natural philosophy; the stage next the basis is physic; the stage next the vertical point is metaphysic : as for the cone and vertical point itself ('opus quod operatur Deus a principio usque ad finem;' the summary law of nature) we do justly doubt, whether man's inquiry can attain unto it. But these three be the true stages of sciences; and are to men swelled up with their own knowledge, and a daring insolence to invade heaven, like the three hills of the giants...."
Of this work there have been many editions : and
there is an edition in Latin, published in Holland in 1648, and 1661,
and at Frankfurt in 1665.
There are some observations upon the Sylva Sylvarum in Archbishop Tennison's work, *(Footnote below) which thus conclude,
"Whilst I am speaking of this work of his lordship of Natural History, there comes to my mind a very memorable relation, reported by him who bare a part in it, the Rev. Dr. Rawley. One day, his lordship was dictacting 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 other, from the suspense 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 acknowledgements of his service. His friend being gone, he came straightway to Dr.Rawley, and said thus to him.Well sir! yon business wont go on; let us go on with this, for this is in our power. And he dictated to him afresh, for some hours, without the least hesitancy of speech, or discernible interruption of thought."
*(The seventh and greatest branch of the Third Part of the Instauration, is his Sylva Sylvarum, or Natural History; which containeth many materials for the building of philosophy, as the Organum doth direction for the work. It is a history not only of nature freely moving in her course as in the production of meteors, plants, minerals, but also of nature in constraint, and vexed and tortured by human art and experiment. And it is not a history of such orderly ranged;but thrown into a heap.For his lordship, that he might not discourage other collectors, did not cast this book into exact method; for which reason it hath the less ornament, but not much the less use.
"In this book are contained experiments of light, and experiments of use, (as his lordship was wont to distinguish) and amongst them some extraordinary, and othere common. He understood that what was common in one country, might be a rarity in another: for which reason, Dr. Caius, when in Italy, thought it worth his pains to make a large and elegant description of our way of brewing. his lordship also knew well, that an experiment manifest to the vulgar, was a good ground for the wise to build further upon. And himself rendered common and once extraordinary, by admonitions for further trials and improvements. Hence his lordship took occasion to say, tha this writing of Sylva Sylvarum, was (to speak properly) not a Natural History, but a high kind of natural magic : because it was not only a description of nature, but a breaking of nature into great and strange works.
"This book was written by his Lordship in the English tongue, and translated by an obscure interpreter, into French, and out of that translation into Latin, by James Gruter, in such ill manner, that they darkened his lordship's sense, and debased his expression. James Gruter was sensible of his miscarriage, being kindly advertised of it by Dr.Rawley: and he left behind him divers amendments, published by his brother Issac Gruter, in a second edition. Yet still so many errors have escaped, that that work requireth a third hand.
"Monsieur AElius Deodatus had once engaged an able person in the translation of this book; one who could have done his lordship right , and obliged such readers as understood not the English original. He began, and went through the three centuries, and then desisted; being desired by him who set him on work, to take his hand quite off from the pen with which he moved so slowly. His translation of the third century is now in my hands; just that the two first I believe is lost." Archbishop Tennison then annexes some specimens of the translation.)
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