Imatges de pÓgina
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body the new philosophy, in all its completeness and grandeur. This crowning part of the whole work Bacon left wholly untouched.

We shall confine our attention, at the present time, however, chiefly to the two first and completest divisions of this great work, viz., to the "De augmentis scientiarum" and the “Novum Organum." But, in order to judge Bacon aright, we must first cast a glance at the intellectual character, not only of the age in which he lived, but of the centuries just preceding.

We have seen that, in those centuries, supreme homage was paid to the word alone in all books, in disputations and declamations, and that thinking men displayed neither sense nor feeling for any thing but language, deriving from this, and basing upon this, all their knowledge. Every avenue to nature, to a direct and independent investigation of the external world, was closed. That gifted monk, Roger Bacon, a most worthy predecessor of Lord Bacon, was, in the middle ages, regarded as a magician; and, as a magician, suffered persecution, because he was not content to view nature through the eyes of Aristotle, choosing rather to go himself to the fountain-bead and converse with her, face to face. He maintained that men ought not to be satisfied with traditional and accepted knowledge. Reason and experience were the two sources of science; but experience alone was the parent of a well-grounded certainty, and this true empiricism had hitherto been wholly neglected by most scholars. That Roger Bacon did not speak of experimental knowledge, as a blind man would discourse of colors, is proved by some remarkable expressions of his, anticipatory and unambiguous, upon spectacles, telescopes, and gunpowder. But Roger stood alone in that age of the world, like a solitary preacher in the desert; and hence it was that he was regarded with wonder, as a magician, and persecuted.

But that which showed in Roger Bacon as mere anticipation, and obscure prophecy, appeared, after the Japse of three hundred years, full-formed and clear in Francis Bacon. Even as Luther came forth to strip off the thick veil of human traditions, that had been woven over the revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures, distorting its features, concealing it, and even burying it in oblivion, for multitudes of his fellow men, so did Bacon make war upon the traditions and postulates of men, which had quite darkened over the revelation of God, in the material world. He wished men no longer to put their faith in arbitrary and fanciful glosses upon this revelation, but to go themselves directly to its living record.

He saw, moreover, that the more sagacious intellects of his time were wholly divorced from nature, and wedded to books alone; their

energies all expended upon words, and belittled by the endless hairsplitting subtleties of logic. He perceived that the physical philosophy current among his contemporaries, was gathered from Aristotle, or his disciples; and that it no where rested upon the solid basis of nature. Men read in books what authors said concerning stones, plants, animals, and the like; but to inspect these stones, plants, and animals, with their own eyes, was far enough from their thoughts. And hence were they compelled to defer to the authority of these authors, whether they would or no, because they cherished not the remotest idea of subjecting these descriptions and recitals to the test of actual experiment. Consider, too, that such test was the more needed, since these very authors had, mostly themselves, received their information even from third or fourth hands. We are amazed when we read the farrago of incredible and impossible stories, in which the books of natural history, especially those of the middle ages, abounded; when we contemplate, for example, the monsters to which we are introduced in the zoölogies of this period, or the inarvelous virtues which were foolishly claimed for various stones, &c. And even if these books, thus treating of nature, did contain many things that were true, yet it was manifest, that progress in natural science was not to be hoped for, so long as men remained satisfied with their teachings. And how, I ask, could men have been otherwise than satisfied, when they appeared not even to realize the existence of nature, the mighty fountain-head of all authorities.

Now, from this unworthy and slavish homage and deference to authors, authors too, mostly, with no title to confidence, Bacon purposed to recall men, by inviting them to a direct communion with the creation around them, and by pointing them to those eternal truths, whose obligation they were bound humbly to acknowledge, and yet whose claims would never tarnish their honor.

For an implicit obedience to nature is attended with a double reward, viz., an understanding of her processes and dominion over her. “ Forsooth,” he says, we suffer the penalty of our first parents' sin, and yet follow in their footsteps. They desired to be like God, and we, their posterity, would be so in a higher degree. For we create worlds, direct and control nature, and, in short, square all things by the measure of our own folly, not by the plummet of divine wisdom, nor as we find them in reality. I know not whether, for this result, we are forced to do violence to nature or to our own intelligence the most; but it nevertheless remains true, that we stamp the seal of our own image upon the creatures and the works of God, instead of carefully searching for, and acknowledging, the seal of the Creator, mani

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fest in them. Therefore have we lost, the second time, and that deservedly, our empire over the creature; yea, when, after and notwithstanding the fall, there was left to us some title to dominion over the unwilling creatures, so that they could be subjected and controlled, even this we have lost, in great part, through our pride, in that we have desired to be like God, and to follow the dictates of our own reason alone. Now then, if there be any humility in the presence of the Creator, if there be any reverence for, and exaltation of, his handiwork, if there be any charity toward men, any desire to relieve the woes and sufferings of humanity, any love for the light of truth, any hatred toward the darkness of error,-I would beseech men, again and again, to dismiss altogether, or at least for a moment to put away, their absurd and intractable theories, which give to assumptions the dignity of hypotheses, dispense with experiment, and turn them away from the works of God. Then let them with teachable spirit approach the great volume of the creation, patiently decipher its secret characters, and converse with its lofty truths; so shall they leave behind the delusive echoes of prejudice, and dwell within the perpetual outgoings of divine wisdom. This is that speech, and language, whose lines have gone out into all the earth; and no confusion of tongues has ever befallen it. This language we should all strive to understand; first condescending, like little children, to master its alphabet.' “Our concern is not,” he says in another place, “with the inward delights of contemplation alone, but with all human affairs and fortunes, yea, with the whole range of man's activity. For man, the servant and interpreter of nature, obtains an intelligent dominion over her, only in so far as he learns her goings on by experiment or observation; more than this, he neither knows, nor can he do. For his utmost power is inadequate to loosen or to break the established sequence of causes ; nor is it possible for him to subjugate nature, except as he submits to her bidding. Hence, the twin desires of man for knowledge, and for power, coincide in one; and therefore the ill-success of his operations springs mainly from his ignorance of their essential causes."

“ This, then,” he continues, “is the substance of the whole matter, that we should fix the eyes of our mind upon things themselves, and thereby form a true conception of them. And may God keep us from the great folly of counting the visions of our own fancy for the types of his creation; nay, rather may he grant us the privilege of tracing the revelation and true vision of that seal and impress which he himself has stamped upon his creatures.” In another place Bacon entreats men for a little space to abjure all traditional and inherited

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views and notions, and to come as new-born children, with open and unworn sense, to the observation of nature. For it is no less true in this human kingdom of knowledge than in God's kingdom of heaven, that no man shall enter into it except be become first as a little child !" Man must put himself again in direct, close, and personal contact with nature, and no longer trust to the confused, uncertain, and arbitrary accounts and descriptions of her historians and would be interpreters. From a clear and correct observation and perception of objects, their qualities, powers, etc., the investigator must proceed, step by step, till he arrives at axioms, and at that degree of insight, that will enable him to interpret the laws, and analyze the processes of nature. To this end, Bacon proffers to us his new method, viz., the method of induction. With the aid of this method, we attain to an insight into the connection and mutual relation of the laws of matter, and thus, according to him, we are enabled, through this knowledge, to make nature subservient to our will.

“Natural philosophy," he says in another place,"is either speculative or operative; the one is concerned with the invention of causes, the other with the invention of new experiments. Again, speculative natural philosophy, or theory, is divided into Physic and Metaphysic. Natural history describes the variety of things; Physic, the causes, but variable or respective causes. As, for instance, it seeks to know why snow is white; but Metaphysic inquires after the true nature of whiteness, not only as it finds this quality in snow, but also in chalk, silver, lilies, &c. Thus Metaphysic mounts, at last, to the knowledge of essential forms, or absolute differences,—the Ideas of Plato. These forms constitute the ultimate aim of science. Physic leads, through acquaintance with immediate causes, to Mechanic; but Metaphysic, by virtue of dealing with ultimate forms, leads to Magic. Thus mechanic and Magic carry into practice what Physic and Metaphysic advance as theory. The knowledge of occult forms brings the power to work marvels."

Natural philosophy Bacon compares to a "pyramid, whose basis is Natural History; the stage next the basis, is Physic branching into Practical Mechanic; the stage next the vertical point, is Metaphysic. As for the vertical point, 'Opus quod operatur Deus a principio usque ad finem,' the summary law of nature, we know not whether man's inquiry can attain unto it."

Thus have we given a very general sketch of the positive side of the Baconian philosophy. Its gradations are as follows: beginning at observation and experiment, it lays down, by a process of induction, higher and higher axioms, till at last it penetrates to essential forms, increasing insight adding ever new vigor and breadth to experiment.

But Bacon well knew that many obstacles stood in the way of the reception of his new philosophy, and that he must first remove these obstacles. The greater portion of his "Novum Organum" is accordingly occupied with polemics.

Idols and false notions, he says here, govern the human understanding to that degree that, before the introduction of any positive system of truth, they must all be cleared away, and men be warned against them. There are four kinds of idols.

Idols of the Tribe ; or generic, and founded in the universal nature of mankind.

Idols of the Cave; or specific, growing out of the diversities of individual character.

Idols of the Forum; or such as proceed from the social relations

of men.

Idols of the Theater; or those which have been forced into the human mind by successive schools of philosophy, creating, as it were, fictitious or scenic representations of life.

I will now extract, from Bacon's exposition of these various idols, some remarks, bearing upon education. “It is false," he says, " to assert that our senses are the ultimate measure of the world; all the perceptions of the senses, as well as all the conceptions of the mind, find their correspondences in the nature of man, not in the being of the universe. The human understanding receives the rays that stream from created objects, as an uneven mirror, which mingles its own nature with that of the object it reflects, giving to them false shapes and colors."

Bacon here disclaims that absolute knowledge of objects, which penetrates to the essence of their being; for such all-sufficient knowledge is the prerogative of God alone. Our point of view is forever outside of the center of the universe. But yet he does not appear to realize the intimate connection of this view with the fall of man, and the conditions affixed, in consequence thereof, to human learning. For even were the knowledge possible to man radical and complete, yet it reaches only to the border-land, beyond which lie the inscrutable mysteries of the Deity. These mysteries man can prefigure and believe, but never fathom.

“The human intellect is led by its very essence to assume a greater order and equality in nature than it actually finds.” In another place he says, “The light of the understanding is not a clear light, but it is clouded by the will and the affections. Hence man rejects

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