[ocr errors]

The mistake is, to suppose that it is Bacon's rules that have accomplished all this; it has been accomplished, because he has, as it were, aroused the human mind by showing that deeds are better than words, fruitfulness better than barrenness. He proclaimed, in effect, that he had discovered a gold mine ; and gave directions to show how the gold could be procured with most facility and in largest quantities; but did not force any one to be guided by them any further than they thought proper. Perhaps none followed them exactly. Some tried one way, some another, and the total amount procured was greater than any other mine ever furnished. He might say, “ Search this or that way." The miners might try their own way and get abundance ; but would their gratitude be anything the less due to him who let them know where the treasure lay, and showed them that they had only to use some exertion to avail themselves of it? Assuming that none of them followed his particular plan—nay, assuming that they found it to be erroneous in many particulars, but at the same time were able to get enough for all their wants, whereas few of them had any before, ought they not still regard, as a benefactor, the person who called their attention to it? Thus, in substance, the general rule of Bacon's system is to make a complete collection of facts, and to extract science from these facts. In commenting on this, Mr. Ellis, one of the editors of the new edition, very forcibly and justly remarks : "In truth, it is a design which cannot be completed, there being no limit to the

phenomena universi,' which are potentially, if not actually, cognizable ; and it is to be observed, that even if all the facts known at any instant, could be collected and systematized (and even this is plainly impossible,) yet, still Bacon's aim would not be obtained. * Every day brings new facts to light, not less entitled than those previously known, to find a place in a complete description of the phenomena of the universe."*

These, be it observed, are the comments of the philosophic editor, than whom, perhaps, no other English critic, of the present day, is better qualified to give a correct view of the Baconian system.


fidele écho, Bacon fut représente comme le precurseur de la philosophia du jour. On se fait de sa gloire une sorte de drapeau; et peu á peu l'homme dont la vaste intelligence arait enbrassé toutes les sciences, et dont la firm raison s'etait toujours derobée aux judgements exclusifs, se trouva rapatissé á la taille d'un chef de secte.- Ouvres de Bacon, Tome 1, p. ü.

* Vol. 1, of London Edition, p. 76.

It is evident, in all his criticisms, that he has carefully studied the ancient, as well as the modern systems. Mr. Spedding is not quite so well versed in philosophy as Vr. Ellis, but he is fully his equal in liberality, candor, and general intelligence. The former illustrates the Baconian systein by supposing two men, James and Joli, to be employed in deciphering a manuscript in an unknown character. James, a clever, practical man, proceeds by guessing one word after another, so as to make sense, and so arrives at a series of discoveries, each of which confirms tlıe other. John, who is it scrupulous Baconian, says : "You are not going the right way to work. You will never be able to decipher the manuscript in this way." IIc advises him to write the recurrences of characters and make lists of them. “In the meantime," he says, “I will undertake, upon a consideration of the general laws of language, to tell you by the comparative frequency of their recurrence, what parts of speech most of them are." And so he promises that they will be able to decipher and read the whole book. James, who represents the scientific discoverers, who have not followed the Baconian plan, would, probably, reply: “But, my good John, I have interpreted a great part of the book. Read it, with my interpretation, and you will see that it proves itself. As for your plan, it will not do at any rate, to begin with, for you do not know the language of our book, nor whether it declines its substances by terminations or by particles, and consequently you know nothing of the frequency of its particles—you cannot apply any language to it yet. When I have made out the general structure of the language, and the leading purport of the writing, your method may serve to determine the meaning of a few outstanding terms, or the rules of its grammar and etymology in detail ; but, in the meantime, I shall try to divine the mcaning of the rest of the book in the way which has succeeded so well hitherto.”

To many, it will seem something like heresy, to say thať even among the moderns, Bacon was not the first to teach and practice the inductive system. Ramus had been before him at the good work, and well did he suffer for it. He was a contemporary of Montaigne, Charron, and De Thou. It was he who founded the mathematical chair in the Royal College of Paris, thereby conferring on science the greatest honor it had yet received in the modern world. He adopted, as a motto, the well

known notiće to students, placed by Plato over the renowned Academy,* warning them that none, ignorant of science, were admitted ; and, at the same time, he attacked the syllogistic system of Aristotle with so much zeal and vigor, that his life was sacrificed as a due reparation to the insulted glory of the Stagirite. His assassins were no others than professors and scholars of the University of Paris ; and, not content with murdering him, they had his bloody corpse dragged to the gates of all the colleges. It should be borne in mind, also, that the great intellectual activity which led to the Reformation, had its effect on the times of Bacon. No one was more opposed to the Aristotelian system than Luther. He loudly proclaimed that it was inconsistent with Christianity; and Bucer, Zwingle, and Calvin, held similar views. Nor was it alone in France and Germany the new opinions prevailed ; before Bacon was born the Scottish Universities had discarded the Aristotelian philosophy for that of Ramus. We might add many similar facts to show that the old system had been broken up before Bacon wrote a line. But this detracts nothing from the glory of the great English philosopher, who reduced the chaos to a system, proclaiming† his mission in such words as the following: “Theditor instaurationem philosophiæ ejusmodi quæ nihil inanis aut abstracti habeat quaeque vitæ huminæ conditiones in mellius provebat ;" even although it be added that there was a good deal of scientific knowledge possessed by his cotemporaries, of which he was ignorant. The editors of the new edition of his works have the good sense to admit this, or rather they have not been so thoughtless as to deny it, since no man that has ever lived knew all that was known in his time. In almost every book of the scientific works Mr. Ellis points out Baconian errors which an intelligent schoolboy of the present day would hardly fall into. It is proper to observe, at the same time, that they are not of much value—they are, indeed, little more than as the chaff is to the wheat, in comparison with the immense amount of true utilitarian knowledge through which, so to speak, they are so thinly scattered. Those that are most remarkable and interesting have been carefully collected by Mr. Spedding ; and, as they are compressed into a com

* αγε ωμέτρητος εσίτο.
# Vide Hommes Illustres ly Brantome. Tom. ii.

paratively narrow space, we transcribe the passage in which they are given :

• Though he paid great attention to astronomy, discussed carefully the methods in which it ought to be studied, constructed for the satisfaction of his own mind an elaborate theory of the heavens, and listened eagerly for the news from the stars brought by Galileo's telescope, he appears to have been utterly ignorant of the discoveries which had just been made by Kepler's calculations. Though he complained, in 1623, of the want of compendious methods for facilitating arithmetical computations, especially with regard to the doctrine of Sories, and fully recognized the importance of then as an aid to physical inquiries; he does not say a word about Sapier's Logarithms, which had been published only nine years before, and reprinted more than once in the interval. He complained that no considerable adrance had been made in geometry beyond Euclid, without taking any notice of what had been done by Archimedes and Apollonius. lle saw the importance of determining, accurately, the specific grarities of different substances and attempted himself to form a table of them hy a rude process of his own, without knowing of the more scientific, though still imperfect methods, previously employed by Archimedes, Ghetaldus, and l’orta. Ile speaks of the süpria of Archimedes, in a manner which implies that he did not clearly apprehend either the nature of the problem to be solved, or the principles upon which the solution depended. In reviewing the progress of Mechanics, he makes no mention of Archimedes himself, or of Stevinus, Galileo, Guldinus, or Ghetaldus. lle makes no allusion to the theory of Equilibrium. Ile observes that a ball of one pound weight will fall nearly as fast, through the air, as a ball of two, without alluding to the theory of the acceleration of falling bodies, which had been made known by Galileo more than thirty years before. He proposes an inquiry with regard to the lever.-namely, whether in a balance with arms of different length, but equal weight, the distance from the fulcrum has any effect upon the inclination—though the theory of the lever was as well understood in his own time as it is now. In making an experiment of his own, to ascertain the cause of the motion of a wind-inill, he orerlooks an obvious circumstance which makes the experiment inconclusive, and an equally obvious variation of the same experiment which would have shown him that his theory was false. IIe speaks of the poles of the earth as fixed, in a manner which seems to imply that he was not acquainted with the precession of the equinoxes; and in another place of the north pole being above, and the south pole below, as a reason why, in our hemisphere, the north winds predominate over the south.” Vol. iii., p. 511-12.

There are

smatterers in science at the present day who affect to sneer at Bacon on account of such mistakes or oversights as those contained in the above extract; whereas, had they taken the trouble to examine his writings, they would have found that scarcely a discovery has been made since his time which he had not indicated in one form or other. Newton generally gets the

credit of having discovered the principles of attraction, but in point of fact he has only demonstrated what Bacon had described in plain terms in his Novum Organum. It should be inquired," says the philosopher, writing nearly half a century before Newton was born, “ whether there be not a kind of magnetic force which operates between the earth and heavy bodies, between the moon and the ocean, and between the planets respectively. It must either be that weighty substances are forced towards the earth, or that they are mutually attracted ; and in this last case it is evident that the nearer falling bodies approach to the earth the more strongly they are attracted. It might be tried whether a pendulum of the same weight might go quicker on the top of a mountain than at the bottom of a mine. If the force of the weight diminishes on the mountain and increases in the mine, it would appear that the earth has a true attraction." We might fill pages with passages equally prophetic of other discoveries. Nor did Bacon content himself with teaching others how to make discoveries. More than twenty years prior to the publication of the Norum Organum he presented the Earl of Essex with a thermometer, which he had just invented, and which he speaks of in his writings as Vitrum Kalendare. He formed pneumatic machines with his own hands while he held the Great Seal of England, by which he proved the elasticity of the air. At the same time he was not the first discoverer among the moderns; who, after all, had perhaps made as great discoveries and inventions before his time, as have been made since. Suffice it to mention, the art of printing, the mariner's compass, plate engraving, oil painting, gunpowder, and the discovery of America by Columbus.

But had Bacon never written the Norum Organum, undoubtedly his greatest work — that which may be called the scaffold by which experimental philosophy has been built-had he written nothing but his “Essays,” and his “Advancement of Learning,” he would be justly entitled to be ranked among the benefactors of mankind. As for his Essays they are familiar to all who read the best English classics ; but truly excellent as they are, replete with instruction, and abounding in all the beauties that can adorn language without rendering it gaudy, it may be doubted whether they have done as much good as the other productions just mentioned. At any rate the latter are less known; and therefore we shall make two or three extracts from them to show that they ought to be universally known and studied; for

« VorigeDoorgaan »