Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

LORD BACON.

99 I was once conversing with an intelligent and liberal-minded man, who was expressing his strong disapprobation of some late decisions and proceedings of the leading persons of the society he belonged to, and assuring me that the greater part of the subordinates regarded them as wrong and unjustifiable. “But,” said 1, " they will nevertheless, I suppose, comply, and act as they are required ?” "Oh, yes, they must do that!”

Of course, there are many various degrees of partisanship, as there are also different degrees of custom in all other things, and it is not meant that all who are in any degree connected with any party must be equally devoted adherents of it. But I am speaking of the tendency of party-spirit, and describing a partyman so far forth as he is such. And persons of much experience in human affairs lay it down accordingly as a maxim, that you should be very cautious how you fully trust a party-man, however sound his own judgment, and however pure the principles on which he acts, when left to himself. A sensible and upright man, who keeps himself quite unconnected with party, may be calculated on as likely to act on the views which you have found him to take on each point. In some things, perhaps, you find him to differ from you ; in others to agree; but when you have learnt what his sentiments are, you know in each case what to expect. But it is not so with one who is connected with, and consequently controlled by, a party. In proportion as he is so, he is not fully his own master; and in some instances you will probably find him take you quite by surprise, by assenting to some course quite at variance with the sentiments which you have heard himn express-probably with perfect sincerity--as his own. When it comes to action, a formed habit of following the party will be likely to prevail over every thing. At least, “I'd just na advise ye to try!"

It is important to keep in mind that—as is evident from what has been said just above-habits are formed, not at one stroke, but gradually and insensibly ; so that, unless vigilant care be employed, a great change may come over the character, without our being conscious of any. For, as Dr. Johnson has well expressed it, "The diminutive chains of habit are seldom heavy enough to be felt, till they are too strong to be broken."

And this is often strongly exemplified in the case just adverted to that of party-spirit. It is not often that a man, all at once, resolves to join himself to a party; but he is drawn in by little and little. Party is like one of those perilous whirlpools sometimes met with at sea. When a vessel reaches the outer edge of one of them, the current moves so slowly, and with so little of a curve, that the mariners may be unconscious of moving in any curve at all, or even of any motion whatever. But each circuit of the spiral increases the velocity, and gradually increases the curve, and brings the vessel nearer to the center. And perhaps this rapid motion, and the direction of it, are for the first time perceived, when the force of the current has become irresistible.

" It is true that a man may, if he will, withdraw from, and disown, a party which he had formerly belonged to. But this is a step which requires no small degree of moral courage. And not only are we strongly tempted to shrink from taking such a step, but also our dread of doing so is likely rather to mislead our reason than to overpower it. A man will wish to think it justifiable to adhere to the party; and this wish is likely to bias his judgment, rather than to prevail on him to act contrary to his judgment. For, we know how much the judgment of men is likely to be biased, as well as how much they are tempted to acquiesce in something against their judgment, when earnestly pressed by the majority of

those who are acting with them—whom they look up to—whose approbation encourages them and whose censure they can not but dread.

"Some doctrine, suppose, is promulgated, or measure proposed, or mode of procedure commenced, which some members of a party do not, in their unbiased judgment, approve. But any one of them is disposed, first to wish, then to hope, and lastly to believe, that those are in the right whom he would be sorry to think wrong. And again, in any case where his judgment may still be unchanged, he may feel that it is but a small concession he is called on to make, and that there are great benefits to set against it; and that, after all, he is perhaps called on merely to acquiesce silently in what he does not quite approve; and he is loth to incur censure, as lukewarm in the good cause-as presumptuous—as unfriendly toward those who are acting with him. To be “a breaker up of the Club” (éraiplas dalurns) was a reproach, the dread of which, we learn from the great historian of Greece, carried much weight with it in the transactions of the party warfare he is describing. And we may expect the like in all similar cases.

"One may sometimes hear a person say, in so many words—though far oftener in liis conduct — It is true, I do not altogether approve of such and such a step; but it is insisted on as essential, by those who are acting with us; and if we were to hold out against it, we should lose their co-operation ; which would be a most serious evil. There is nothing to be done, therefore, but to comply.'” "Certainly custom is most perfect when it beginneth in young years : this we

call education, which is, in effect, but an early custom.

Education may be compared to the grafting of a tree. Every gardener knows that the younger the wilding-stock is that is to be grafted, the easier and the more effectual is the operation ; because, then, one scion put on just above the root, will become the main stem of the tree, and all she branches it puts forth will be of the right sort. When, on the other hand, a tree is to be grafted at a considerable age (which may be very successfully done,) you have to put on twenty or thirty grafts on the several branches ; and afterward you will have to be watching from time to time for the wilding-shoots, which the stock will be putting forth, and prunning them off. And even so one, whose character is to be reformed at mature age,

will find it necessary, not merely to implant a right principle once for all, but also to bestow a distinct attention on the correction of this, that, and the other bad habit.

It is wonderful that so many persons should confound together being accustomed to certain objects, and accustomed to a certain mode of acting. Aristotle, on the contrary, justly remarks that opposite habits are formed by means of the same things (ex TWV avrwv, kar dia twv avtwr.) treated in opposite ways; as, for instance, humanity and inhumanity—by being accustomed to the view of suffering, with and without the effort to relieve it. Of two persons who have been accustomed to the sight of much human misery, one, who has been used to pass it by without any effort to relieve it, will become careless and hardened to such spectacles ; while another, who has been in the practice of relieving sufferers, will acquire a strong habit of endeavoring to afford relief. These two persons will both have been accustomed to the same objects, but will have acquired opposite habits, from being accustomed to act in opposite ways.

Suppose that there is in your neighborhood a loud bell, that is rung very early every morning, to call the laborers in some great manufactory. At first, and for some time, your rest will be broken by it; but, if you accustom yourself to lie still, and try to compose yourself, you will become, in a few days, so used

to it, that it will not even wake you. But any one who makes a point of rising immediately at the call, will become so used to it in the opposite way, that the sound will never fail to rouse him from the deepest sleep. Both will have been accustomed to the same bell, but will have formed opposite habits from their contrary modes of action.

But it must not be forgotten that education resembles the grafting of a tree in this point, also, that there must be some affinity between the stock and the graft, though a very important practical difference may exist; for example, between a worthless crab, and a fine apple. Even so, the new nature, as it may be called, superinduced by education, must always retain some relation to the original one, though diftering in most important points. You can not, by any kind of artificial training, make any thing of any one, and obliterate all trace of the natural character. Those who hold that this is possible, and attempt to effect it, resemble Virgil, who (whether in ignorance or, as some think, by way of “poetical license,'') talks of grafting an oak on an elm : "glandesque sues fregere sub ulmis.”

One of Dr. Johnson's paradoxes, more popular in his time than now, but far from being now exploded, was, that a given amount of ability may be turned in any direction, “ even as a man may walk this way or that,” And so he can; because walking is the action for which the legs are fitted; but, though he may use his eyes for looking at this object or that, he can not hear with his eyes, or see with his ears. And the eyes and ears are not more different than,' for instance, the poetical faculty, and the mathematical. “Oh, but if Milton had turned his mind to mathematics, and if Newton had turned his mind to poetry ; the former might have been the great mathematician, and the latter the great poet.” This is open to the proverbial reply, “If my aunt had been a man, she would have been my uncle.” For, the supposition implied in these if& is, that Milton and Newton should have been quite different characters from what they were.

: . Minds that have not suffered themselves to fix, but have kept themselves open and prepared to receive continual amendment, which is exceeding rare."

And as admirable as it is rare. Such minds may indeed print their opinions, but do not stereotype them. Nor does the self-distrust, the perpetual care, the diligent watchfulness, the openness to conviction, the exercise of which is implied in Bacon's description, necessarily involve a state of painful and unceasing doubt. For, in proportion as a man is watchfully and prayerfully on his guard against the unseen current of passions and predjudices, which is ever tending to drive him out of the right course, in the same degree he will have reason for cherishing an humble hope that Hle, the Spirit of Truth, is, and will be, with him, to enlighten his understanding, to guide his conduct, and to lead him onward to that state in which Faith shall be succeeded by sight, and hope by enjoyment. "The force of custom, copulate, and conjoined, and collegiate, is far greater."

For this reason it is, that what is said or done by very inferior persons, is the best sign of what is commonly said or done in the place and time in which they live. A man of resolute character, and of an original turn of thought, being more likely to resist this force of "copulate and collegiate custom," does not furnish so good a sign of what are the prevailing opinions and customs. Hence the proverb :

"A straw best shows

How the wind blows."
A bar of heavy metal would not be perceptibly influenced by the wind.

I wish I could feel justified in concluding this head without saying any thing of Bacon's own character ; without holding him up as himself a lamentable example of practice at variance with good sentiments, and sound judgment, and right preoepts. He thought well, and he spoke well; but he had accustomed himself to act very far from well. And justice requires that he should be held up as a warning beacon to teach all men an important lesson ; to afford them a sad proof that no intellectual power-no extent of learning---not even the most pure and exalted moral sentiments, confined to theory, will supply the want of a diligent and watchful conformity in practice to christian principle. All the attempts that have been made to vindicate or palliate Bacon's moral conduct, tend only to lower, and to lower very much, the standard of virtue. He appears but too plainly to have been worldly, ambitious, covetous, base, selfish, and unscrupulous.' And it is remarkable that the Mammon which he served proved but a faithless master in the end. He reached the highest pinnacle, indeed, to which his ambition had aimed ; but he died impoverished, degraded, despised, and broken-hearted. His example, therefore, is far from being at all seductive.

But let no one, thereupon, undervalue or neglect the lessons of wisdom which his writings may supply, and which we may, through divine grace, turn to better account than he did himself. It would be absurd to infer that, because Bacon was a great philosopher, and far from a good man, therefore you will be the better man for keeping clear of his philosophy. His intellectual superiority was no more the cause of his moral failures, than Solomon's wisdom was of his. You may be as faulty a character as either of them was, without possessing a particle of their wisdom, and without seeking to gain instruction from it. The intellectual light which they enjoyed did not, indeed, keep them in the right path; but you will not be the more likely to walk in it, if you quench any light that is afforded you.

The Canaanites of old, we should remember, dwelt in “a good land, flowing with milk and honey," though they worshiped not the true God, but served abominable demons, with sacrifices of the produce of their soil, and even with the blood of their children. But the Israelites were invited to go in, and take possession of “well-stored houses that they builded not, and wells which they digged not;” and they “ took the labors of the people in possession :" only, they were warned to beware, lest, in their prosperity and wealth, they should “forget the Lord their God," and to offer to IIim the first fruits of their land.

Neglect not, then, any of the advantages of intellectual cultivation, which God's providence has placed within your reach ; nor “think scorn of that pleasant land,” and prefer wandering by choice in the barren wilderness of ignorance; but let the intellect, which God has endowed you with, be cultivated as a servant to Him, and then it will be, not a master, but an useful servant, to you.

1. This censure of Bacon has actually been complained of as undeserved; not on the ground that his conduct was any better than it is but too well known to have been, but on the ground that his writings contain excellent views of Gospel truth!

This is exactly the doctrine of the ancient Gnostics; who held that their (so-called) knowledge (Gnosis) of the Gospel would save them, though leading a vicious life.

But, when instances of such teaching in our own days are adduced (as unhappily may be done to a great extent,) some persons--including some who are themselves of blameless liferesolutely shut their ears to evidence, and will not be brought to perceive, or at least to ac. knowledge, that any such thing as Gnosticism exists among us, or that we are in danger of antinomian doctrine.

so strong is the force of party!

LORD BACON AND ARCHBISHOP WHATELY ON STUDIES.

BACON'S ESSAY L. OF STUDIES. STUDIES serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability. Their chief use for delight is in privateness,' and retiring; for ornament, is in discourse; and for ability, is in the judgment and disposition of business; for, expert men can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars, one by one; but the general counsels, and the plots and marshaling of affairs, come best from those that are learned. To spend too much time in studies, is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar; they perfect nature, and are perfected by experience for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need pruning by study; and studies themselves do give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience. Crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them, for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation. Read not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously;' and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books; else distilled books are, like common distilled waters, flashy things. Reading 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, he had need have a present wit; and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know that he doth not. Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtle; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend: 'Abeunt studia in mores 6_ nay, there is no stond' or impediment in the wit, but may be wrought

1 Privateness. Privacy

2 Make. Give. 3 Curiously. Attentively. “At first I thought there had been no light reflected from the water. but observing it more curiously, I saw within it several spots which appeared darker than the rest."--Sir Isaac Newton. 4 Would. Should.

5 That. What.. 6 "Manners are influenced by studies."

7 Stond. Hindrances. 8 Wrought. Worked. “Who, through faith, wrought righteousness."—Heb. xi 33.

“How great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee !"Psalm xxxi. 19.

« AnteriorContinua »