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Centaur, who was part a Man and part a Beast, expounded ingeniously, but corruptly, by Machiavel, that it belongeth to the Education and Difcipline of Princes to know how as well to play the part of the Lion in violence, and the Fox in guile as of the Man in virtue and justice.
Nevertheless, in many of the like encounters, I do rather think that the Fable was first, and the Exposition devised, than that the Moral was first, and thereupon the Fable framed. For I find it was an ancient vanity in Chryfippus, that troubled himself with great contention to fasten the Assertions of the Stoics upon the Fictions of the ancient Poets; but yet that all the Fables and Fictions of the Poets were but pleasure and not figure, I interpose no opinion. Surely of those Poets which are now extant, even Homer himself, (notwithstanding he was made a kind of Scripture by the latter Schools of the Grecians) yet I should without any difficulty pronounce that his Fables had no such inwardness in his own meaning; but what they might have upon a more original Tradition is not easy to affirm; for he was not the Inventor of many of them.”
The same sentiments, with a'flight alteration, occur again in the Treatise De Augmentis, where he says, “ There is another use of Parabolical Poesy opposite to the former, which tendeth to the folding up of those things the Dignity whereof deserves to be retired and distinguished as with a drawn curtain ; that is, when the Secrets and Mysteries of Religion, Policy, and Philosophy are veiled and invested with Fables and Parables. But whether there be any mystical sense couched under the ancient Fables of the Poets, may admit of some doubt: and, indeed, for our part, we incline to this opinion, as to think that there was an infused Mystery in many of the ancient Fables of the Poets. Neither doth it move us that these matters are left commonly to Schoolboys and Grammarians, and so are embased, that we should therefore make a slight judgment upon them; but contrariwise, because it is clear that the Writings which recite these Fables, of all the Writings of Men, next to Sacred Writ, are the most ancient : and that the Fables themselves are far more ancient than they, (being alleged by those Writers, not as excogitated by them, but as credited and recepted before) and seem to be like a thin rarified air which, from the Traditions of much more ancient Nations fell into the Flutes of the Grecians. And because whatsoever hath hitherto been attempted for the interpretation of these Parables, by unskilful men, not learned beyond common-places, in no measure satisfies us, we have thought good to place Philosophy according to ancient Parables in the number of Desiderata."
Archbishop Tenison, in his Baconiana thus speaks of this tract: “ In the seventh place I may mention his book De Sapientiâ Veterum, written by him in Latin, set forth a second time with enlargement, and translated into English by Sir Arthur Gorges : A book in which the Sages of former times are rendered more wise than it they were, by so dextrous an Interpreter of their
Fables. It is this book which Mr. Sandys means, in those words which he hath put before his Notes on the Metamorphoses of Ovid : (*Of Modern writers I have received the greatest light from Gyraldus, Pontanus, Ficinus, Comes, Scaliger, Sabinus, Pierius, and the crown of the latter, the Viscount of St. Albans.') The design of this book was Instruction in Natural and Civil matters, either couched by the Ancients under these Fictions, or rather made to seem so by his Lordship’s wit in the opening and applying of them.”
The author of the Life of Bacon in the Biographia Britannica, says, “ That he might relieve himself a little from the Severity of these Studies, and, as it were, amuse himself with erecting a magnificent Pavilion, while his great Palace of Philofophy was building; he composed, and sent abroad in 1610, his celebrated Treatise Of the Wisdom of the Ancients, in which he shewed that none had studied them more closely, was better acquainted with their beauties, or had pierced deeper into their meaning. There have been very few books published in this or in any other Nation which either deserved or met with more general applause, and scarce any that are like to retain it longer; for, in this performance, Sir Francis Bacon gave as fingular proof of his capacity to please all parties in Literature, as in his political conduct he stood fair with all parties in the Nation. The admirers of Antiquity were charmed with this discourse, which seems expressly calculated to justify their admiration; and, on the other hand, their opposites were
no less pleased with a piece, from which they thought they could demonstrate that the Sagacity of a modern Genius had found out much better meanings for the Ancients than ever were meant by them.”
Mallet, in his meagre Life of Bacon, observes that " This work bears the same stamp of an original and inventive genius with his other performances. Resolving not to tread in the steps of those who had gone before him, he strikes a new track for himself, and enters into the most secret recesses of this wild and shadowy region, so as to appear new on a known and beaten subject. Upon the whole, if we can bring ourselves readily to believe that there is all this moral and political meaning veiled under those Fables of Antiquity, which he has discovered in them, we must own that it required no common penetration to be mistaken with so great a degree of probability on his side. Though it still remains doubtful whether the Ancients were so knowing as he attempts to shew they were, the variety and depth of his own knowledge are in that very attempt unquestionable.”
The learned reader need not be reminded of the various ingenious attempts of the Germans in recent times to unveil the hidden meanings of the Mythological Fables, but few have surpassed the ingenuity and keen perception of this early attempt of Bacon.
The principal editions of this work, which attained great popularity, are :
Year. 1609. 1617. 1618.
I 2mo. Ditto, J. Bill,
Ditto. Italian, Ditto,
Ditto. Of this there were two impressions with the same date. English, Ditto,
Ditto. * The translation of Sir Arthur Gorges. Ditto, Ditto,
Ditto. Latin, F. Maire,
F. Kingston, London, Ditto. Ditto,
E. Griffin, London, Folio. Ditto, H. Wilstein, Amsterdam, Izmo. French, H. Frantin, Dijon,
1620. 1633. 1634. 1638. 1691. 1804.
The translation of Sir Arthur Gorges has been given in the following pages, as it was published evidently under the fanction of the author, by one of his greatest admirers; and, although it would be poffible to render the Latin more closely, it has been thought, that, by retaining this version, the volume as a whole, obtains more uniformity of style, carrying the reader back to the time of its production.
To dwell upon the Character and Writings of this great man would now be superfluous, after the eloquent and judicious appreciation of both in the Essay of Mr. Macaulay, and in the Literary Hiftory of Mr. Hallam. But one of the most striking evidences of how far the Odium Theologicum can be carried, occurs in the recent posthumous work“ Examen de la Philosophie de Bacon," by the Count Joseph De Maistre, in which Bacon is depicted as a monster of iniquity and a propagator of all that is false in Philosophy and Theology!
This reminds us that Bacon thought such perversity incredible.
“I make no haste [he says] to believe that the world should be
grown to such