Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

“ find it was an ancient vanity in Chrysippus, that “ troubled himself with great contention to fasten " the assertions of the Stoics upon the fictions of the “ ancient poets; but yet that all the fables and fic“ tions of the poets were but pleasure and not figure, “ I interpose no opinion. Surely of those poets “ which are now extant, even Homer himself, (not

withstanding he was made a kind of Scripture by “ the latter schools of the Grecians,) yet I should “ without any difficulty pronounce that his fables “ had no such inwardness in his own meaning; but “ what they might have upon a more original tradi

tion, is not easy to affirm ; for he was not the “ inventor of many of them.”

In the treatise “ De Augmentis,” the same sentiments will be found with a slight alteration in the expressions. He says,

" there is another use of parabolical poesy, opposite to the former, which “ tendeth to the folding up of those things, the

dignity whereof, deserves to be retired and dis

tinguished, as with a drawn curtain : that is, when “ the secrets and mysteries of religion, policy, and

philosophy are veiled and invested with fables, " and parables. But whether there be any mystical “sense couched under the ancient fables of the

poets, may admit some doubt: and indeed for our "part we incline to this opinion, as to think, that “ there was an infused mystery in many of the an“ cient fables of the poets. Neither doth it move “ us that these matters are left commonly to school

boys, and grammarians, and so are embased, that

“ we should therefore make a slight judgment,

upon them: but contrariwise because it is clear, " that the writings which recite those fables, of all “ the writings of men, next to sacred writ, are the “ most ancient; and that the fables themselves are “ far more ancient than they (being they are alleged

by those writers, not as excogitated by them, but “as credited and recepted before) seem to be, " like a thin rarified air, which from the traditions “ of more ancient nations, fell into the flutes of the “ Grecians."

This tract seems, in former times, to have been much valued, for the same reason, perhaps, which Bacon assigns for the currency of the Essays; “ because they are like the late new half-pence, which, though the silver is good, yet the pieces are small." Of this tract, Archbishop Tenison in his Baconiana, says, “ In the seventh place, I may reckon his book De Sapientia Veterum, written by him in Latin, “ and set forth a second time with enlargement;t and “ translated into English by Sir Arthur Georges : a “ book in which the sages of former times are ren“ dered more wise than it may be they were, by so “ dextrous an interpreter of their fables. It is this “ book which Mr. Sandys means, in those words which " he hath put before his notes, on the Metamor

phosis of Ovid. Of modern writers, I have

[ocr errors]

* See page vii of preface to Vol. I.

+ In the year 1617, in Latin. It was published in Italian in 1618-in French in 1619.

[ocr errors]

received the greatest light from Geraldus, Pontanus, “ Ficinus, Vives, Comes, Scaliger, Sabinus, Pierius, " and the crown of the latter, the Viscount of St. u Albans.

“ It is true, the design of this book was instruc“ tion in natural and civil matters, either couched

by the ancients under those fictions, or rather “made to seem to be so by his lordship’s wit, in the

opening and applying of them. But because the “ first ground of it is poetical story, therefore let it “ have this place, till a fitter be found for it.”

The author of Bacon's Life, in the Biographia Britannica, says, “ that he might relieve himself a little “ from the severity of these studies, and as it were “ amuse himself with erecting a magnificent pavi

lion, while his great palace of philosophy was “ building, he composed and sent abroad in 1610, “ his celebrated treatise Of the Wisdom of the An

cients, in which he shewed that none had studied “ them more closely, was better acquainted with " their beauties, or had pierced deeper into their

meaning. There have been very few books pub

lished, either in this or in any other nation, which “ either deserved or met with more general applause “than this, and scarce any that are like to retain it longer, for in this performance, Sir Francis Bacon gave a singular proof of his capacity to please all

parties in literature, as in his political conduct he “stood fair with all the parties in the nation. The “ admirers of antiquity were charmed with this dis

course, which seems expressly calculated to justify

" In

“ their admiration; and, on the other hand, their “ opposites were no less pleased with a piece, from “which they thought they could demonstrate, that “ the sagacity of a modern genius, had found out “ much better meanings for the ancients, than ever were meant by them.”

And Mallet, in his Life of Bacon, says, “ 1610 he published another treatise, entitled “ Of the Wisdom of the Ancients. This work “ bears the same stamp of an original and in“ ventive genius with his other performances. “Resolving not to tread in the steps of those who “ had gone before him, men, according to his own

expression, not learned beyond certain common

places, he strikes out a new tract for himself, and • enters into the most secret recesses of this wild and shadowy region, so as to appear new on a “ known and beaten subject. Upon the whole, if

we cannot bring ourselves readily to believe that " there is all the physical, moral, and political mean

ing veiled under those fables of antiquity, which " he has discovered in them, we must own that it

required no common penetration to be mistaken “ with so great an appearance of probability on his “ side. Though it still remains doubtful whether “ the ancients were so knowing as he attempts to “shew they were, the variety and depth of his own

knowledge are, in that very attempt, unquestion« able.”

In the year 1619, this tract was translated by Sir Arthur Georges. Prefixed to the work are two

letters; the one to the Earl of Salisbury, the other to the University of Cambridge, which Georges omits, and dedicates his translation to the High and Illustrious Princess the Lady Elizabeth of Great Britain, Duchess of Baviare, Countess Palatine of Rheine, and Chief Electress of the Empire. As this translation was published during the life of Lord Bacon, by a great admirer of his works, and as it is noticed by Archbishop Tenison, I have inserted it in this volume. I am not certain that I have done right, as it is my intention, with the translation of all the works, to publish a new translation of these fables ; for which I am indebted to a member of the University of Oxford, who has lately so eminently distinguished himself for his classical attainments, and who will I trust forgive this expression of my affectionate respect for his virtuous exertions. It would be grateful to me to say more.

$ 2.

CIVIL HISTORY. At an early period of his life, Bacon was impressed with the importance of a History of England from the union of the Roses to the union of the Kingdoms. In the Advancement of Learning, published in 1605, he says, “ But for modern histories,* “ whereof there are some few very worthy, but the

greatest part beneath mediocrity, leaving the care “ of foreign stories to foreign states, because I will “ not be curiosus in aliena republica,' I cannot fail

* See vol 11. page 110.

« VorigeDoorgaan »