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To form a correct judgment of the merits of this treatise it is but justice to the author to remember, both the time when it was written and the persons for whom it was composed, length and ornament of speech being fit for persuasion of Multitudes, although not for information of Kings.
The work is divided into two books : the first consisting of his dedication to the King ; — of his statement of the objections to Learning, by Divines, by Politicians, and from the errors of learned men ;- and of some of the advantages of Knowledge.
If, in compliance with the custom of the times, or from an opinion that Wisdom, although it ought not to stoop to persons, should submit to occasions, or from a morbid anxiety to accelerate the advancement of Knowledge, Bacon could delude himself by the supposition that his fulsome dedication to the King was consistent either with the fimplicity or dignity of Philosophy, he must have forgotten what Seneca faid to Nero, Suffer me to stay here a little longer with thee, not to flatter thine ear, for that is not my custom, as I have always preferred to offend by Truth than to please by Flattery. He must have forgotten that when Æsop said to Solon, Either we must not come to Princes, or we must seek to please and content them: Solon answered, Either we must not come to Princes at all, or we must speak truly, and counsel them for the best. He must have forgotten his own doctrine, that books ought to have no patrons but Truth and Reason, and he must also have forgotten his own nervous and beau
tiful admonition, that the honest and just bounds of observation by one person upon another extend no further but to understand him sufficiently whereby not to give him offence; or whereby to be able to give him faithful counsel; or whereby to stand upon reafonable guard and caution with respect to a man's felf: but to be speculative into another man to the end to know how to work him, or wind him, or govern him, proceedeth from a heart that is double and cloven, and not entire and ingenuous, which as in friendship, it is want of integrity, so towards Princes or Superiors it is want of duty.
If his work had been addressed to the Philosophy of the country, instead of having confined his professional objections to divines and politicians, he would have explained that, as our opinions always constitute our intellectual and often our worldly wealth, prejudice is common to us all, and is particularly conspicuous amongst all professional men with respect to the Sciences which they profess.
His objections to Learning from the errors of learned men contain his observations upon the study of words; upon useless Knowledge; and upon Falsehood, called by him delicate Learning; contentious Learning; and fantastical Learning; all of them erroneously considered objections to Learning; as the study of words is merely the selection of one species of Knowledge, and contentious Learning is only the conflict of opinion, which ever exists when any Science is in progress, and the way from Sense to the Understanding is not sufficiently cleared ; and Falsehood is one of the
consequences attendant upon Inquiry, as our opinions, being formed not only by impressions upon our Senses, but by confidence in the communication of others and our own Reasonings, unavoidably teem with Error, which can by time alone be corrected.
As it is Bacon's doctrine that Knowledge confifts in understanding the properties of creatures and the names by which they are called, the occupation of Adam in Paradise, it may seem extraordinary that he should not have formed a higher estimate than he appears to have formed of the study of words. Words assist thought; they teach us correctness; they enable us to acquire the knowledge and character of other Nations; and the study of ancient literature in particular, if it is not an exercise of the Intellect, is a discipline of Humanity; if it do not strengthen the Understanding, it softens and refines the Taste; it gives us liberal views; it accustoms the Mind to take an interest in things foreign to itself; to love Virtue for its own sake; to prefer glory to riches, and to fix our thoughts on the remote and permanent, instead of narrow and fleeting objects. It teaches us to believe that there is really something great and excellent in the world, surviving all the shocks and accidents and Auctuations of opinion, and raises us above that low and servile fear, which bows only to present power and upstart authority. Rome and Athens filled a place in the history of mankind which can never be occupied again. They were
two cities set on a hill, which cannot be hid; all eyes have seen them, and their light shines like a mighty sea-mark into the abyss of time,
Still green with bays each ancient altar stands. But, notwithstanding these advantages, Bacon says, the studying words and not matter is a distemper of Learning, of which Pygmalion's frenzy is a good emblem; for words are but the images of Matter, and to fall in love with them is all one as to fall in love with a Picture.
These different subjects are classed under the quaint expression of Distempers of Learning ; to which, that the Metaphor may be preserved, he has appended various other defects, under the more quaint term of peccant Humours of Learning.
His observations upon the advantages of Learning, although encumbered by fanciful and minute analysis, abound with beauty; for, not contenting himself with the simple position with which Philosophy would be satisfied, that Knowledge teaches us how to select what is beneficial, and avoid what is injurious, he enumerates various modes, divine and human, by which the happiness resulting from Knowledge ever has been and ever will be manifested.
After having stated what he terms divine proofs of the advantages of Knowledge, he says, the human proofs are :
1. Learning diminishes afflictions from Nature. 2. Learning diminishes evils from man to man.
3. There is a union between Learning and mili
tary virtue. 4. Learning improves private Virtues.
1. It takes away the barbarism of men's
minds. 2. It takes away levity, temerity, and in
folency. 3. It takes away vain admiration. 4. It takes away or mitigates fear. 5. It disposes the constitution of the Mind
not to be fixed or settled in its defects, but to be susceptible of growth and re
formation. 5. It is Power. 6. It advances fortune. 7. It is our greatest source of delight. 8. It insures immortality.
These positions are proved by all the force of his Reason, and adorned by all the beauty of his Imagination. When speaking of the power of Knowledge to repress the inconveniences which arise from man to man, he says, In Orpheus's theatre all beasts and birds assembled, and, forgetting their several appetites, some of prey, some of game, some of quarrel, stood all sociably together, listening to the airs and accords of the Harp; the found whereof no sooner ceased, or was drowned by fome louder noise, but every beast returned to his own Nature; wherein is aptly described the Nature and condition of men, who are full of savage and unre