The Works of Francis Bacon, Volume 1/Miscellaneous Tracts III
1. Francis Bacon thought in this manner. The knowledge whereof the world is now possessed, especially that of nature, extendeth not to magnitude and certainty of works. The physician pronounceth many diseases incurable, and faileth oft in the rest. The alchemists wax old and die in hopes. The magicians perform nothing that is permanent and profitable. The mechanics take small light from natural philosophy, and do but spin on their own little threads. Chance sometimes discovereth inventions; but that worketh not in years, but ages. So he saw well, that the inventions known are very unperfect, and that new are not like to be brought to light but in great length of time; and that those which are, came not to light by philosophy.
2. He thought also this state of knowledge was the worse, because men strive against themselves to save the credit of ignorance, and to satisfy themselves in this poverty. For the physician, besides the cautels of practice, hath this general cautel of art, that he dischargeth the weakness of his art upon supposed impossibilities: neither can his art be condemned, when itself judgeth. That philosophy also, out of which the knowledge of physic which now is in use is hewed, receiveth certain positions and opinions, which, if they be well weighed, induce this persuasion, that no great works are to be expected from art, and the hand of man; as, in particular that opinion, that "the heat of the sun and fire differ in kind;" and that other, "that composition is the work of man, and mixture is the work of nature," and the like; all tending to the circumscription of man's power, and to artificial despair; killing in men not only the comfort of imagination, but the industry of trial; only upon vainglory, to have their art thought perfect, and that all is impossible that is not already found. The alchemists dischargeth his art upon his own errors, either supposing a misunderstanding of the words of his authors, which maketh him listen after auricular traditions; or else a failing in the true porportions and scruples of practice, which maketh him renew infinitely his trials; and finding also that he lighteth upon some mean experiments and conclusions by the way, feedeth upon them, and magnifieth them to the most, and supplieth the rest in hopes. The magician, when he findeth something, as he conceiveth, above nature, effected, thinketh, when a breach is once made in nature, that it is all one to perform great things and small; not seeing, that they are but subjects of a certain kind, wherein magic and superstition hath played in all times. The mechanical person, if he can refine an invention, or put two or three observations or practices together in one, or "couple things better with their use, or make the work in less or greater volume, taketh himself for an inventor. So he saw well, that men either persuade themselves of new inventions as of impossibilities, or else think they are already extant, but in secret and in few hands; or that they account of those little industries and additions, as of inventions: all which turneth to the averting of their minds from any just and constant labour, to invent further in any quantity.
3. He thought also, when men did set before themselves the variety and perfection of works produced by mechanical arts, they are apt rather to admire the provisions of man, than to apprehend his wants; not considering, that the original inventions and conclusions of nature, which are the life of all that variety, are not many, nor deeply fetched; and that the rest is but the subtile and ruled motion of the instrument and hand; and that the shop therein is not unlike the library, which in such number of books containeth, for the far greater part, nothing but iterations, varied sometimes in form, but not new in substance. So he saw plainly, that opinion of store was a cause of want; and that both works and doctrines appear many, and are few.
4. He thought also, that knowledge is uttered to men in a form, as if every thing were finished; for it is reduced into arts and methods; which in their divisions do seem to include all that may be. And how weakly soever the parts are filled, yet they carry the show and reason of a total; and thereby the writings of some received authors go for the very art: whereas antiquity used to deliver the knowledge which the mind of man hath gathered, in observations, aphorisms, or short and dispersed sentences, or small tractates of some parts that they had diligently meditated and laboured; which did invite men, both to ponder that which was invented, and to add and supply further. But now sciences are delivered to be believed and accepted, and not to be examined and further discovered; and the succession is between master and disciple, and not between inventor and continuer or advancer: and therefore sciences stand at a stay, and have done for many ages, and that which is positive is fixed, and that which is question is kept question, so as the columns of no further proceeding are pitched. And therefore he saw plainly men had cut themselves off from further invention; and that it is no marvel, that that is not obtained which hath not been attempted, but rather shut out and debarred.
5. He thought also, that knowledge is almost generally sought either for delight and satisfaction, or for gain or profession, or for credit and ornament, and that every of these are as Atalanta's balls, which hinder the race of invention. For men are so far in these courses from seeking to increase the mass of knowledge, as of that mass which is they will take no more than will serve their turn: and if any one amongst so many seeketh knowledge for itself, yet he rather seeketh to know the variety of things, than to discern of the truth and causes of them; and if his inquisition be yet more severe, yet it tendeth rather to judgment than to invention; and rather to discover truth in controversy, than new matter; and if his heart be so large as he propoundeth to himself further discovery or invention, yet it is rather of new discourse and speculation of causes, than of effects and operations. And as for those that have so much in their mouths, action and use and practice, and the referring of sciences thereunto; they mean it of application of that which is known, and not of a discovery of that which is unknown. So he saw plainly, that this mark, namely, invention of further means to endow the condition and life of man with new powers or works, was almost never yet set up and resolved in man's intention and inquiry.
6. He thought also, that, amongst other knowledges, natural philosophy hath been the least followed and laboured. For since the Christian faith, the greatest number of wits have been employed, and the greatest helps and rewards have been conferred, upon divinity. And before-time likewise, the greatest part of the studies of philosophers was consumed in moral philosophy, which, was as the heathen divinity. And in both times a great part of the best wits betook themselves to law, pleadings, and causes of estate; specially in the time of the greatness of the Komans, who by reason of their large empire needed the service of all their able men for civil business. And the time amongst the Grecians, in which natural philosophy seemed most to flourish, was but a short space; and that also rather abused in differing sects and conflicts of opinions than profitably spent. Since which time, natural philosophy was never any profession, nor never possessed any whole man, except perchance some monk in a cloister, or some gentleman in the country, and that very rarely; but became a science of passage, to season a little young and unripe wits, and to serve for an introduction to other arts, especially physic and the practical mathematics. So as he saw plainly, that natural philosophy hath been intended by few persons, and in them hath occupied the least part of their time, and that in the weakest of their age and judgment.
7. He thought also, how great opposition and prejudice natural philosophy had received by superstition, and the immoderate and blind zeal of religion; for he found that some of the Grecians, which first gave the reason of thunder, had been condemned of impiety; and that the cosmographers, which first discovered and described the roundness of the earth, and the consequence thereof touching the antipodes, were not much otherwise censured by the ancient fathers of the Christian church; and that the case is now much worse, in regard of the boldness of the school men and their dependences in the monasteries, who having made divinity into an art, have almost incorporated the contentious philosophy of Aristotle into the body of Christian religion: and generally he perceived in men of devout simplicity this opinion, that the secrets of nature were the secrets of God; and part of that glory whereinto the mind of man, if it seek to press, shall be oppressed; and that the desire in men to attain to so great and hidden knowledge, hath a resemblance with that temptation which caused the original fall; and on the other side, in men of a devout policy, he noted an inclination to have the people depend upon God the more, when they are less acquainted with second causes; and to have no stirring in philosophy, lest it may lead to an innovation in divinity, or else should discover matter of further contradiction to divinity. But in this part, resorting to the authority of the Scriptures, and holy examples, and to reason, he rested not satisfied alone, but much confirmed. For first, he considered that the knowledge of nature, by the light whereof man discerned of every living creature, and imposed names according to their propriety, was not the occasion of the fall; but the moral knowledge of good and evil, affected to the end to depend no more upon God's commandments, but for man to direct himself. Neither could he find in any Scripture, that the inquiry and science of man in any thing, under the mysteries of the Deity, is determined and restrained, but contrariwise allowed and provoked. For concerning all other knowledge the Scripture pronounceth, "That it is the glory of God to conceal, but it is the glory of man (or of the king, for the king is but the excellency of man) to invent;" and again, "The spirit of man is as the lamp of God, wherewith he searcheth every secret;" and again most effectually, "That God hath made all things beautiful and decent, according to the return of their seasons; also that he hath set the world in man's heart, and yet man cannot find out the work which God worketh from the beginning to the end;" showing that the heart of man is a continent of that concave or capacity, wherein the content of the world, that is, all forms of the creatures, and whatsoever is not God, may be placed or received; and complaining, that through the variety of things, and vicissitudes of times, which are but impediments and not impuissances, man cannot accomplish his invention. In precedent also he set before his eyes, that in those few memorials before the flood, the Scripture honoureth the name of the inventors of music and works in metal; that Moses had this addition of praise, that he was seen in all the learning of the Egyptians; that Solomon, in his grant of wisdom from God, had contained, as a branch thereof, that knowledge whereby he wrote a natural history of all verdure, from the cedar to the moss, and of all that breatheth: that the book of Job, and many places of the prophets, have great aspersion of natural philosophy; that the church in the bosom and lap thereof, in the greatest injuries of times, ever preserved, as holy relics, the books of philosophy and all heathen learning; and that when Gregory, the bishop of Rome, became adverse and unjust to the memory of heathen antiquity, it was censured for pusillanimity in him, and the honour thereof soon after restored, and his own memory almost persecuted by his successor Sabinian; and lastly, in our times, and the ages of our fathers, when Luther and the divines of the Protestant church on the one side, and the Jesuits on the other, have enterprised to reform, the one the doctrine, the other the discipline and manners of the church of Rome, he saw well how both of them have awaked to their great honour and succour, all human learning. And for reason, there cannot be a greater and more evident than this, that all knowledge, and specially that of natural philosophy, tendeth highly to the magnifying of the glory of God, in his power, providence, and benefits, appearing and engraven in his works, which without this knowledge are beheld but as through a veil: for if the heavens in the body of them do declare the glory of God to the eye, much more do they in the rule and decrees of them declare it to the understanding. And another reason, not inferior to this, is, that the same natural philosophy principally amongst all other human knowledge, doth give an excellent defence against both extremes of religion, superstition, and infidelity; for both it freeth the mind from a number of weak fancies and imaginations, and it raiseth the mind to acknowledge that to God all things are possible: for to that purpose speaketh our Saviour in that first canon against heresies, delivered upon the case of the resurrection, "You err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God;" teaching that then are but two fountains of heresy, not knowing the will of God revealed in the Scriptures, and not knowing the power of God revealed or at least made most sensible in his creatures. So as he saw well, that natural philosophy was of excellent use to the exaltation of the Divine Majesty; and, that which is admirable, that being a remedy of superstition, it is nevertheless an help to faith. He saw likewise, that the former opinions to the prejudice hereof had no true ground; but must spring either out of mere ignorance, or out of an excess of devotion, to have divinity all in all ; whereas it should be only above all; both which states of mind may be best pardoned; or else out of worse causes, namely out of envy, which is proud weakness, and deserveth to be despised; or out of some mixture of imposture, to tell a lie for God's cause; or out of an impious diffidence, as if men should fear to discover some things in nature which might subvert faith. But still he saw well, howsoever these opinions are in right reason reproved, yet they leave not to be most effectual hinderances to natural philosophy and invention.
8. He thought also, that there wanted not great contrariety to the further discovery of sciences in regard of the orders and customs of universities, and also in regard of common opinion. For in universities and colleges men's studies are almost confined to certain authors, from which if any dissenteth or propoundeth matter of redargution, it is enough to make him thought a person turbulent; whereas if it be well advised, there is a great difference to be made between matters contemplative and active. For in government change is suspected, though the better; but it is natural to arts to be in perpetual agitation and growth. Neither is the danger alike of new light, and of new motion or remove; and for vulgar and received opinions, nothing is more usual, or more usually complained ofVthan that it is imposed for arrogancy and presumption, for men to authorize themselves against antiquity and authors, towards whom envy is ceased, and reverence by time amortised; it not being considered what Aristotle himself did, upon whom the philosophy that now is chiefly dependeth, who came with a professed contradiction to all the world, and did put all his opinions upon his own authority and argument, and never so much as nameth an author but to confute and reprove him; and yet his success well fulfilled the observation of Him that said, "If a man come in his own name, him will you receive." Men think, likewise, that if they should give themselves to the liberty of invention and travail of inquiry, that they shall light again upon some conceits and contemplations which have been formerly offered to the world, and have been put down by the better, which have prevailed and brought them to oblivion; not seeing, that howsoever the property and breeding of knowledges is in great and excellent wits, yet the estimation and price of them is in the multitude, or in the inclinations of princes and great persons meanly learned. So as those knowledges are like to be received and honoured, which have their foundation in the subtilty or finest trial of common sense, or such as fill the imagination, and not such knowledge as is digged out of the hard mine of history and experience, and falleth out to be in some points as adverse to common sense, or popular reason, as religion, or more. Which kind of knowledge, except it be delivered with strange advantages of eloquence and power, may be likely to appear and disclose a little to the world, and straight to vanish and shut again. So that time seemeth to be of the nature of a river or flood, that bringeth down to us that which is light and blown up, and sinketh and drowneth that which is solid and grave. So he saw well, that both in the state of religion, and in the administration of learning, and in common opinion, there were many and continual stops and traverses to the course of invention.
9. He thought also, that the invention of works and further possibility was prejudiced in a more special manner than that of speculative truth; for besides the impediments common to both, it hath by itself been notably hurt and discredited by the vain promises and pretences of alchemy, magic, astrology and such other arts, which, as they now pass, hold much more of imagination and belief than of sense and demonstration. But to use the poet's language, men ought to have remembered, that although Ixion of a cloud in the likeness of Juno begat Centaurs and Chimseras, yet Jupiter also of the true Juno begat Vulcan and Hebe. Neither is it just to deny credit to the greatness of the acts of Alexander, because the like or more strange have been feigned of an Amadis or an Arthur, or other fabulous worthies. But though this in true reason should be, and that, men ought not to make a confusion of unbelief; yet he saw well it could not otherwise be in event, but that experience of untruth had made access to truth more difficult, and that the ignominy of vanity had abated all greatness of mind.
10. He thought also, there was found in the mind of man an affection naturally bred and fortified, and furthered by discourse and doctrine, which did pervert the true proceeding towards active and operative knowledge. This was a false estimation, that it should be as a diminution to the mind of man to be much conversant in experiences and particulars, subject to sense, and bound in matter, and which are laborious to search, ignoble to meditate, harsh to deliver, illiberal to practise, infinite as is supposed in number, and noways accommodate to the glory of arts. This opinion or state of mind received much credit and strength by the school of Plato, who thinking that particulars rather revived the notions, or excited the faculties of the mind, than merely informed: and having mingled his philosophy with superstition, which never favoureth the sense, extolleth too much the understanding of man in the inward light thereof. And again, Aristotle's school, which giveth the due to the sense in assertion, denieth it in practice much more than that of Plato. For we see the school men, Aristotle's successors, which were utterly ignorant of history, rested only upon agitation of wit; whereas Plato giveth good example of inquiry by induction and view of particulars: though in such a wandering manner as is of no force or fruit. So that he saw well, that the supposition of the sufficiency of man's mind hath lost the means thereof.