صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

guished all good qualities. Again-he tells us that in music a discord endingin a concord is agreeable, and that the same thing may be noted in the affections. Once more he tells us, that in physics the energy with which a principle acts is often increased by the antiperistasis of its opposite ; and that it is the same in the contests of factions. If this be indeed the philosophia prima, we are quite sure that the greatest philosophical work of the nineteenth century is Mr Moore's ‘Lalla Rookh. The similitudes which we have cited are very happy similitudes. But that a man like Bacon should have taken them for more,—that he should have thought the discovery of such resemblances as these an important part of philosophy,-has always appeared to us one of the most singular facts in the history of letters.

The truth is, that his mind was wonderfully quick in perceiving analogies of all sorts. But, like several eminent men whom we could name, both living and dead, he sometimes appeared strangely deficient in the power of distinguishing rational from fanciful analogies,--analogies which are arguments from analogies which are mere illustrations,--analogies like that which Bishop Butler so ably pointed out between natural and revealed religion, from analogies like that which Addison discovered between the series of Grecian gods carved by Phidias, and the series of English kings painted by Kneller. This want of discrimination, has led to many strange political speculations. Sir William Temple deduced a theory of government from the properties of the pyramid. Mr Southey's whole system of finance is grounded on the phenomena of evaporation and rain. In theology this perverted ingenuity has made still wilder work. From the time of Irenæus and Origen, down to the present day, there has not been a single generation in wbich great divines have not been led into the most absurd expositions of Scripture, by mere incapacity to distinguish analogies proper,—to use the scholastic phrase--from analogies metaphorical.* It is curious that Bacon has himself mentioned this very kind of delusion among the idola specus; and has mentioned it in language which, we are inclined to think, indicates that he knew himself to be subject to it. It is the vice, he tells us, of subtle minds to attach too much importance to slight distinctions;—it is the vice, on the other hand, of high and discursive intellects to attach too much importance to slight resemblances; and he adds, that when this last propensity is indulged to excess, it leads men to catch at shadows instead of substances.f

See some interesting remarks on this subject in Bishop's Berkeley's • Minute Philosopher.' Dialogue IV.

of Novum Organum, Lib. 1. Aph. 55.

Yet we cannot wish that Bacon's wit had been less luxuriant. For,--to say nothing of the pleasure which it affords, it was in the vast majority of cases employed for the purpose of making obscure truth plain-of making repulsive truth attractive of fixing in the mind for ever truth which might otherwise have made but a transient impression.

The poetical faculty was powerful in Bacon's mind; but not, like bis wit, so powerful as occasionally to usurp the place of his reason, and to tyrannize over the whole man. No imagination was ever at once so strong and so thoroughly subjugated. It never stirred but at a signal from good sense. It stopped at the first check from good sense. Yet though disciplined to such obedience, it gave noble proofs of its vigour. In truth, much of Bacon's life was passed in a visionary world, amidst things as strange as any that are described in the Arabian Tales,' or in those romances on which the curate and barber of Don Quixote's village performed so cruel an auto-da-fe,--amidst buildings more sumptuous than the palace of Aladdin,--fountains more wonderful than the golden water of Parizade, --conveyances more rapid than the hippogryph of Ruggiero,--arms more formidable than the lance of Astolfo,--remedies more efficacious than the balsam of Fierabras. Yet in his magnificent day-dreams there was nothing wild,- nothing but what sober reason sanctioned. He knew that all the secrets feigned by poets to have been written in the books of enchanters, are wortbless when compared with the mighty secrets which are really written in the book of nature, and wbich, with time and patience, will be read there. He knew that all the wonders wrought by all the talismans in fable were trifles when compared to the wonders which might reasonably be expected from the philosophy of fruit; and, that if his words sank deep into the minds of men, they would produce effects such as superstition had never ascribed to the incantations of Merlin and Michael Scot. It was here that he loved to let his imagination loose. He loved to picture to himself the world as it would be when his philosophy should, in his own noble phrase,' have en• larged the bounds of human empire.'* We might refer to many instances. But we will content ourselves with the strongestthe description of the House of Solomon' in the New Atlantis.' By most of Bacon's contemporaries, and by some people of ourtime, this remarkable passage would, we doubt not, be considered as an ingenious rhodomontade,--a counterpart to the adventures of Sinbad or Baron Munchausen. The truth is, that there is not to be found in any human composition a passage more eminently distinguished by profound and serene wisdom. The boldness and originality of the fiction is far less wonderful than the nice discernment which carelully excluded from that long list of prodigies every thing that can be pronounced impossible; every thing that can be proved to lie beyond the mighty magic of induction and of time. Already some parts, and not the least startling parts, of this glorious prophecy have been accomplished, even according to the letter; and the whole, construed according to the spirit, is daily accomplishing all around us.

* New Atlantis.'

One of the most remarkable circumstances in the history of Bacon's mind, is the order in which its powers expanded themselves. With him the fruit came first and remained till the last : the blossoms did not appear till late. In general, the development of the fancy is to the development of the judgment what the growth of a girl is to the growth of a boy. The fancy attains at an earlier period to the perfection of its beauty, its power, and its fruitfulness; and, as it is first to ripen, it is also first to fade. It has generally lost something of its bloom and freshness before the sterner faculties have reached maturity; and is commonly withered and barren while those faculties still retain all their energy. It rarely happens that the fancy and the judgment grow together. It happens still more rarely that the judgment grows faster than the fancy. This seems, however, to have been the case with Bacon. His boyhood and youth appear to have been singularly sedate. His gigantic scheme of philosophical reform is said by some writers to have been planned before he was fifteen; and was undoubtedly planned while he was still young. He observed as vigilantly, meditated as deeply, and judged as temperately, when he gave his first work to the world as at the close of his long career. But in eloquence, in sweetness and variety of expression, and in richness of illustration, his later writings are far superior to those of his youth. In this respect the history of his mind bears some resemblance to the history of the mind of Burke. The treatise on the Sublime and • Beautiful,' though written on a subject which the coldest metaphysician could hardly treat without being occasionally betrayed into florid writing, is the most unadorned of all Burke's works. It appeared when he was twenty-five or twenty-six. When, at forty, he wrote the Thoughts on the causes of the existing Discontents,' his reason and his judgment had reached their full maturity; but his eloquence was still in its splendid dawn. At fifty, his rhetoric was quite as rich as good taste would permit, and when he died, at almost seventy, it had become ungracefully gorgeous. In his youth he wrote on the emotions produced by mountains and cas


[ocr errors]


cades; by the master-pieces of painting and sculpture; bythe faces and necks of beautiful women; in the style of a parliamentary report. In his old age, he discussed treaties and tariffs in the most fervid and brilliant language of romance. It is strange that the Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful,' and the Letter to a Noble • Lord,' should be the productions of one man. But it is far more strange that the Essay should have been a production of his youth, and the Letter of his old age.

We will give very short specimens of Bacon's two styles. In 1597, he wrote thus :— Crafty men contemn studies; simple ' men admire them; and wise men use them; for they teach not • their own use : that is a wisdom without them, and won by • observation. Read not to contradict, nor to believe, but to

weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to • be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. Read• ing maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an

exact man. And therefore if a man write little, he had need • have a great memory; if he confer little, have a present wit; • and if he read little, have much cunning to seem to know that • he doth not. Histories make men wise, poets witty, the ma• thematics subtle, natural philosophy deep, morals grave, logic

and rhetoric able to contend.' It will hardly be disputed that this is a passage to be chewed and digested.' We do not believe that Thucydides himself has any where compressed so much thought into so small a space.

In the additions which Bacon afterwards made to the · Essays,' there is nothing superior in truth or weight to what we have quoted. But his style was constantly becoming richer and softer. The following passage, first published in 1625, will show the extent of the change :-Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Tes

tament; adversity is the blessing of the New, which carried the ' greater benediction and the clearer evidence of God's favour.

Yet, even in the Old Testament, if you listen to David's harp you shall bear as many hearse-like airs as carols; and the pen

cil of the Holy Ghost hath-laboured more in describing the • afflictions of Job than the felicities of Solomon. Prosperity is ' not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not

without comforts and hopes. We see in needle-works and em

broideries it is more pleasing to have a lively work upon a sad ' and solemn ground, ihan to have a dark and melancholy work

upon a lightsome ground. Judge therefore of the pleasure of • the beart by the pleasure of the eye. Certainly virtue is like ' precious odours, most fragrant when they are incensed or • crushed; for prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity • doth best discover virtue.'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


It is by the · Essays' that Bacon is best known to the multitude. The Novum Organum and the De Augmentis are much talked of, but little read. They have produced indeed a vast effect on the opinions of mankind; but they have produced it through the operation of intermediate agents. They have moved the intellects which have moved the world. It is in the Essays' alone that the mind of Bacon is brought into immediate contact with the minds of ordinary readers. There, he opens an exoteric school, and he talks to plain men in language which every body understands, about things in which every body is interested. He bas thus enabled those who must otherwise havetaken his merits on trust to judge for themselves; and the great body of readers have, during several generations, acknowledged that the man who bas treated with such consummate ability questions with which they are familiar, may well be supposed to deserve all the praise bestowed on him by those who have sat in his inner school.

Without any disparagement to the admirable treatise De Augmentis, we must say that, in our judgment, Bacon's greatest performance is the first book of the Novum Organum. All the peculiarities of his extraordinary mind are found there in the highest perfection. Many of the aphorisms, but particularly those in which he gives examples of the influence of the idola, show a nicely of observation that has never been surpassed. Every part of the book blazes with wit, but with wit which is employed only to illustrate and decorate truth. No book ever made so great a revolution in the mode of thinking--overthrew so many prejudices--introduced so many new opinions. Yet no book was ever written in a less contentious spirit. It truly conquers with chalk and not with steel. Proposition after proposition enters into the mind, is received not as an invader, but as a welcome friend, and though previously unknown, becomes at once domesticated. But what we most admire is the vast capacity of that intellect which, without effort, takes in at once all the domains of science,--all the past, the present and the future,—all the errors of two thousand years,-all the encouraging signs of the passing times,—all the bright hopes of the coming age. Cowley, who was among the most ardent, and not among the least discerning followers of the new philosophy, has, in one of his finest poems, compared Bacon to Moses standing on Mount Pisgah.

It is to Bacon, we think, as he appears in the first book of the Novum Organum, that the comparison applies with peculiar felicity. There we see the great Law-giver looking round from his lonely elevation on an infinite expanse ;-behind him a wilderness of dreary sands and bitter waters in which successive generations have sojourned, always moving, yet never advancing, reaping no

« السابقةمتابعة »