BACON’S ESSAYS an Introduction

There are certain periods in the world’s history which have a special attraction for those who are watching with interest the intellectual and moral development of India. Such a period is the age of Socrates and the Sophists in Greece. Then, as now in India, the belief in an old mythology was being shattered; tradition, authority, and custom, were no longer accepted as adequate sanctions for moral rules and political institutions. In a word, a spirit of rational inquiry and criticism was supervening upon an age of childlike faith. Such a period again is the age of the Reformation and the Revival of Learning. Here, too, we have a revolt of reason against authority. The dangers of such a movement were greater in Greece than in modern Europe. There was no political stability in any Grecian city, and therefore no natural resistance to revolutionary doctrines. There was no organized or powerful system of scientific or moral beliefs to check the free play of crude and wanton speculation. In this respect here is a close analogy between Greece and India. Both countries suffered in the same ways and from the same causes. The Indian mind was bewildered, at the same time that it was attracted, by the novelty of English philosophy and science. Here, as in Greece, the uprooting of old beliefs has begotten a premature and excessive skepticism, and an exaggerated distrust of everything established. The fascination of a new intellectual world has produced a recklessness in speculation and criticism, which time and experience only can correct. Lastly, a gulf has been set between old an young, and there are dangerous disruptions in families and in society. The spirit of the sixteenth century was a more serious one. The Church had established over the world a dominion which was not to be lightly attacked or easily overthrown. On its religious side, the new movement was, in its essence, a revolt in favour of high spiritual principles. On its secular side, it was a free and generous interest in the new world presented by literature, and in the promises of science. India has differed from Europe in this respect, that Europe had by serious struggle and effort to create for herself that great body of knowledge which she has presented as a gift to India. It may be doubted whether this difference represents pure gain to India – “Difficulty is a severe instructor, set over us by the supreme ordinance of a parental guardian and legislator, who knows us better than we know ourselves, as he loves us better too.”
With the sixteenth century the modern world begins. The spirit of its religion, its philosophy, and its science is our spirit. Reason was asserting, as against authority that independence which is still our dearest object. Bacon is one of the most interesting figures of that interesting age. He represents its deep patriotism, its patient effort, its wide interests, its high aims, its lofty enthusiasm. His earliest and chief interest in life was the reform of scientific method. When only twelve years and three months old he was sent to Cambridge. His experience there was disappointing to him. Aristotle regained supreme in the schools, and Bacon was struck with “the unfruitfulness of his way”. Science had little or nothing to show in the way of results; and nothing, it occurred to him, was to be hoped for, until a new method was invented and applied. To supply this want became henceforth the passion of his life. Writing to Lord Burleigh at the beginning of his thirty-second year, he says, “I have taken all knowledge to be my province; and if I could purge it of two sorts of rovers, whereof the one with frivolous disputations, confutations, and verbosities, the other with blind experiments and auricular traditions and impostures, hath committed so many spoils, I hope I should bring in industrious observations, grounded conclusions, and profitable inventions and discoveries: the best state of that province.” There was, he complains, no “art of invention.” Such discoveries as had been made were the result of accident, not of methodical and rational inquiry. The so-called induction that was practised was nothing but a process of hasty generalization. The human mind had neglected those artificial aids which alone can enable it to cope with the subtlety of nature. Impatience and an undue eagerness to show results had led to premature dogmatizing and hypothesis. Conclusions had been deduced from premises which were mere combinations of inaccurate, ill-defined, inadequate notions of things. Instead of ascertaining the laws of phenomena, science had been content to point out the final causes of things. Above all,

no attempt had been made to compare and co-ordinate the results of the different branches of inquiry.

Besides the mistakes into which men had been led by peculiarities of temperament and education, by language, and by an exaggerated respect for the authority of great names, there are certain fallacies to which the human mind is from its very nature liable. “The mind of man is far from the nature of a clear and equal glass, wherein the beams of things should reflect according to their true incidence: nay, it is rather like an enchanted glass, full of superstition and imposture, if it be not delivered and reduced.” These inherent and universal tendencies to error Bacon calls “idols of the tribe.” The times in the world’s history in which learning of any kind had flourished had been but few, and even in them

inquiry had been directed rather to ethics, politics, and theology, than to natural science. The progress of science had been further impeded by the jealousy of theologians

and statesmen, as well as by the credulity and frivolity of professed students, and the ignorance and affection of professed teachers.
It seemed, however, to bacon that there were grounds for hopefulness in his day partly because of the unexpected discoveries which science had recently made, partly because of the extension of cosmography. “It may be truly affirmed, to the honour of these times, and in a virtuous emulation with antiquity, that this great building of the world had never through-lights made in it, till the age of us and our fathers.” Two things where wanted to secure progress: 1. a right conception of the end and aim of science, and 2. a method which should correct the natural defects of the intellect should put all inquirers on one level, and should be certain in its results. “Men have entered into a desire of learning and knowledge, sometimes upon a natural curiosity and inquisitive appetite; sometimes to entertain their minds with variety and delight; sometimes for ornament and reputation ; sometimes to enable them to victory of wit and contradiction ; and most times for lucre and profession ; and seldom sincerely to give a true account of their gift of reason, to the benefit and use of men: as if there were sought in knowledge a couch wherupon to rest a searching and restless spirit; or a terrace for a wandering and variable mind to walk up and down with a fair prospect; or a tower of state for a proud mind to raise itself upon ; or a fort or commanding ground for strife and contention; or a shop for profit or sale; and not a rich storehouse for the glory of the Creator and the relief of men’s estate”.

Over and over again Bacon insists that knowledge is to be judged by its results.

By its fruit ye shall know it. “The true relation between the nature of things and the nature of the mind is as the strewing and decoration of the bridal chamber of the mind and the universe, the Divine goodness assisting; out of which marriage let us hope (and be this the prayer of the bridal song) there may spring helps to man, and a line and race of inventions that may in some degree subdue and overcome the necessities and miseries of humanity.” Fruit, in fact, is not so much the justification as the test of knowledge. Bacon is not degrading knowledge by representing it as an instrument for promoting the comfort of man. He was quit aware that study is a duty imposed upon us by the possession of our talents, that it is a source of innocent pleasure, that it is the handmaid of religion, and that it is the condition of all moral and spiritual perfection. God is disgraced and man rendered miserable by ignorance and the barbarism which attends it. The removal of superstition, refinement of manners, and improvement of morals are all included in the fruit of knowledge. Bacon was not thinking merely of additions to man’s stock of material comforts. But he was deeply impressed with the idea that what nature does we can do, if we can only find out how she does it. And man may, if he will possess himself of the key to the interpretation of nature. “The spirit of man is as the lamp of God, wherewith he searcheth the inwardness of all secrets.” It was Bacons mission to 1. point out the vast dominion which a perfected science would open up to man, and at the same time 2. to point out the road which man must follow if he would enter into possession of his kingdom. “I most humbly,” he says, “and fervently pray to God that, remembering the sorrows of mankind and the pilgrimage of this our life, wherein we wear out days few and evil, he will vouchsafe through my hands to endow the human family with new mercies.” It is ordained that man shall possess nothing but by the sweat of his brow. Power can be gained only through knowledge; and knowledge can be reached only by a patient and methodical study of nature. We must be content to be the servants and interpreters of nature. We must become as little children, if we wish to enter into “the kingdom of man”.
Fired with this idea of a perfect science which, besides being a fresh revelation of God’s glory, should also be fraught with untold blessings to man, Bacon projected “a total reconstruction of sciences, arts, and all human knowledge, raised upon the proper foundations,” namely, “experience of every kind, and the same well examined and weighed.” This Great Intauration was to consist of six parts. In the first part he proposed “to exhibit a summary or general description of the knowledge which the human race in his day possessed, taking note at the same time of things omitted which ought to be there.” This part of the scheme is represented by the Advancement of Learning. and the expanded translation of it known as the De Augmentis Scientiarum. After this was to come the New Organon, or Bacon’s Own scientific method. This method was, in the first place, to be inductive. But it was to differ altogether from that hasty process of generalization from a few casual observations, which generally passed by the name of induction. Experience was to be analyzed. By a process of exclusion and rejection conclusions were to be reached, the truth of which could not be doubted. The mind was to be led gradually and regularly from one axiom to another, at the most general being reached last, so that no loophole might be left by which error could creep in. Lastly, men were to be warned against such tendencies to error as are ineradicable, as well as against those that are accidental: while instruments and experiments were to supply the failures and correct the errors of sense. The experience which this method of interpretation presupposes was to be accumulated in a Natural and Experimental history, which was to form the third part of the Instauration. It was to supply the intellect with fit matter to work upon, as the Logic supplied it with safeguards to guide and control its working. It was to be a complete and exhaustive description of the phenomena of nature as revealed by observation and experiment. Bacon, strangely enough, thought that, if a sufficient number of workers were employed, such a history might in a short time be compiled, and that then nothing would remain to complete the sum of knowledge but to interpret the “stuff and matter” thus supplied according to the rules of his Logic. Bacon’s own contributions to this history are to be found in the second volume of Ellis and Spedding’s Edition of his works. The Natural and Experimental history was to be followed by the Ladder of the Intellect. As all rules and reasonings are made more intelligible by examples, Bacon proposed in this part of his scheme “to set forth examples of inquiry and invention according to his method, exhibited by anticipation in some particular subjects; choosing such subjects as are at once the most noble in themselves, and most different from one another; that there may be an example in every kind.”
This was to be followed by Anticipations of the New Philosophy, or conclusions which Bacon himself had arrived at, but which, as not being discovered and proved by his new method, were to be accepted only provisionally. Last of all was to come the New Philosophy or Active Science: -“the apocalypse or true vision of the footsteps of the Creator imprinted on his creatures,” which will be revealed by the proper “Interpretation of Nature.” Bacon did not do more than write the prefaces to the fourth and fifth parts. If we wish to understand what practical results he anticipated from that “legitimate, chaste, and severe course of inquiry” which he had propounded, we must read his New Atlantis.
But Bacon’s interests were not confined to the advancement of science. There is nothing, he says, in being and action, which should not be drawn into contemplation and doctrine. He was anxious that “pragmatical men may not go away with an opinion that learning is like a lark that can mount, and sing, and please herself, and nothing else: but may know that she holdeth as well of hawk, that can soar aloft, and can also descend and strike upon the prey.” No more keen observer of life and affairs than Bacon ever lived. he delighted in writings of moralists, like Seneca, Lucian, and Montaign: of critics of character, like Tacitus, Plutarch, and Suetonius: and of critics of affairs, like Cicero and Machiavelli. His curiosity had been whetted and his mind enlarged by travel. In the Essays he presents himsolf as the moralist, the statesman, and the man of the world. He calls them “certain brief notes set down rather significantly than curiously: not vulgar, but of a kind whereof men shall find much in experience and little in books.” As we read them, we naturally compare Bacon to one of those old Romans whom he himself describes as walking at certain hours in the Forum, and giving audience to those that would use their advice. They are specimens of that wisdom which arises out of an universal insight into the affairs of the world. They come home, he says, to men’s business and bosoms. He describes them truly as being not set treatises, but “dispersed meditations.” It was a favourite idea with him that such was the best form of writing in matters relating to conduct. The Essays are the fruits of his observation of life. They reflect his experience of men and the world. The most curious are those which treat of cunning, of suitors, of wisdom for a man’s self, of simulation and dissimulation, and other subjects of the kind. They reveal a habit of thought and action which is naturally generated under despotic rule. When all depends on the favour of one man, men will intrigue to gain his favour. There is probably nothing in the whole range of literature which would be more appreciated in an Indian darbar than these Essays of Bacon and the Prince of Machiavelli. Bacon often checks himself, as if half ashamed of the practices which he is criticizing, if not recommending. He knew quiet well the moral dangers that beset a public man. But he had laid himself out to get on in the world, and success then was hard to attain without servility, adulation, and complacency. The very advantages which he possessed of tact and address were an additional danger to him. Left a poor man by his father’s death, he found himself forced at the beginning of his career to become a suitor to those in power. At first he wanted a place chiefly with a view to securing leisure and means for carrying out his scientific work. During the reign of Elizabeth all his applications for office were unsuccessful. Hope deferred made his heart grow sick. Time was passing, and with it the chances of accomplishing that reform of learning, which was the dominant interest of his life. He was conscious too of great abilities, which might be turned to the advantage of the state. In the House of Commons he found his talents recognised, and his judgment respected. The traditions of his family made him look naturally to a public career. Life and its problems, the world and its honours, the court and its pageantry had a real attraction for him. Yet he remained outside the charmed circle of office. The queen probably thought it unnecessary to reward him with a permanent place, seeing that he was always ready and able to perform such occasional services as were required of him. He was a man of wisdom and discretion beyond his years, an eloquent and thougthful speaker

“He was full of gravity in his speaking. His language, when he could spare, or pass by a jest, was nobly censorious. No man ever spoke more neatly, more prestly, more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness, in what he uttered. No member of his speech but consisted of his own graces. His hearers could not cough, or look aside from him, without loss. He commanded, where he spoke; and had his judges angry and pleased at his devotion. No man had their affections more in his power. The fear of every man that heard him was, lest he should make an end.” Ben Jonson

a keen observer, but above all a pliant instrument. Just as in after times he could sound the very depths of subservience when he thought he had offended Villiers, so under Elizabeth he was willing to appear as the prosecutor of his friend Essex, because hesitation or refusal would have prejudiced his own interests. Promotion came to him under Elizabeth’s successor. The history of his advancement may be told in his own words. Writing to the king, he says, “You found me of the Learned Counsel, Extraordinary, without patent or fee; a kind of individuum vagum. You established me, and brought me into ordinary. Soon after you placed me Solicitor, where I served seven years. Then your Majesty made me your Attorney or Procurator General. Then a Privy Councillor, while I was Attorny; a kind of miracle of your favour, that had not been in many ages. Then Keeper of your Seal: and because that was a kind of planet and not fixed, Chancellor. And when your Majesty could raise me no higher, it was your grace to illustrate me with beams of honour; first making me Baron Verulam, and now viscount St. Albans.” The key to his life is to be found in his favorite quotation, “My soul hath been a stranger in the course of my pilgrimage.” Destined by inclination and capacity to be a student, he found himself engrossed with the cares and occupations of public life. Animated by a high ideal of government and law, he had to stoop to be the instrument of the petty police, the mean conceptions, and the narrow jealousies of James. Profoundly religious at heart, and filled with high principles of morality, he had yet to adapt himself to the conditions of a selfish and intriguing world, and to study and practice the arts by which material success in life was to be won. To James he was invaluable servant. But the very conditions of service were full of danger to one who combined so much ability with so much suppleness. We need not wonder at the cynical contempt which he sometimes expresses for human nature. He found favorites to be conciliated, and rivals to be outwitted. Ready obedience was more valued than honest independence. Courtly deference was necessary to obtain commendation for conscientious and useful work.
It was Bacon’s practice through life to record his opinions on the current questions of the day; and even when the king failed to appreciate his higher aims and statesmanship, yet he could always understand and profit by his knowledge of men, and his keen insight into the requirements of expediency. Bacon said truly of himself that he was never the author of immoderate or unsuccessful counsels, and that he had always desire to have things carried in pleasant ways. He was just the man to smooth away by the practical wisdom of compromise the differences which could not but arise between an arbitrary king like James and his subjects. He was a strong defender of the king’s prerogative.

He regarded monarchy as the earliest and most natural form of government, as being only an extension of the original patriarchal authority. But he wished it to be limited as in England, not despotic as in Turkey.

He saw the economic and social dangers of having too large an idle class. At the same time he thought an order of nobles useful, partly as an ornament and protection to the monarch, partly as a security to the people against oppression. He saw to the full the importance of trade and recommended the regulation of it by law in ways of which we should not approve. With regard to the masses of the people, he says that they must above all things be warlike. War is to the state what exercise is to the body. Pretexts for a declaration of war should never be wanting, when the interests of the state demand war. Our views on this subject are different. The difference is due partly to an improved morality, but partly also to our having learnt, what Bacon did not know, that the industrial prosperity of one country requires peace and prosperity in other nations. Bacon thought of war partly as being useful in diverting popular attention from internal grievances. The position of England, too, among the Protestant powers in his day suggested, if it did not actually demand, a military policy. True to his principle of turning observation and reflection to account for the benefit of man, Bacon was constantly revolving projects of practical reform. He was specially interested in the codification of law and the simplification of procedure. He was the determined foe of empiricism in politics. “It is almost without instance contradictory,” he says, “that ever any government was disastrous that was in the hands of learned governors.” One of his reasons for supporting the English form of government was that it represented government by intelligence. He was a strong advocate of Parliaments; but in all matters of importance he thought that the king and not the Parliament should take the initiative. He objected altogether to the position into which James was drifting with regard to Parliament. It seemed to him politically dangerous and altogether beneath the dignity of the Crown, that the king should become a mere suitor to Parliament, dependent for his supplies upon the concessions which the Commons could wrest from him. It seemed to him that the king should meet the Commons with proposals for legislation, and that they should inform and assist him with advice as to the wishes, the interests, and the grievances of the people. Common dangers and common patriotism had grappled Elizabeth to the souls of her people with hoops of steel. In Hooker’s account of government we find no suggestion of that divergence of interest between Sovereign and people which was implied in subsequent theories of contract, and which was persistently showing itself in the dealings of James with his Parliaments. Bacons studies in Greek and Italian history had familiarized him with the conception of social order as the result of a delicate balance of power, which might at any time be disturbed. We find him constantly endeavoring to keep irritating questions of principle in the background, and to effect a compromise between parties on the particular difficulties that might arise. He talks of setting one powerful noble against another, of balancing the gentry by the higher nobility and the higher nobility by the people. His historical studies will also account for his exaggerated ideas of the political results which can be produced by the intelligence and influence of individuals.
The conciliatory nature of Bacon’s policy is nowhere more manifest than in his utterances with regard to religion. He had himself been educated in a strict and narrow school of theology. The policy which he advocated, however, was a policy of toleration. His Essay on Superstition reflects the natural fear of Catholicism felt by men at a time when the life of the Sovereign was in danger from Catholic plots. The relation of the State to the Church was a question which could not then be overlooked. All matters affecting Church Government, Bacon says, have two considerations, 1.”the one in themselves, 2. the other how they stand compatible and agreeable to the civil state.” he tried his utmost to still the rage of doctrinal controversy within the Church itself. He hated controversy of every kind. In religious matters especially he deprecated it. It seemed to him both fruitless and wicked. Theological controversies, he says, have generally turned upon subjects which the human intellect can never comprehend, or have resulted from attempts to raise human inferences to the dignity of revealed dogmas. He draws a clear distinction between theology or revealed religion, and natural religion, which he defines as “that knowledge or rudiment of knowledge concerning God which may be obtained by the contemplation of His creatures.” The greatness, the power, and the wisdom of God are revealed in the book of His works. But of His nature and will we can know so much only as He has chosen to reveal in the book of His word. The contents of the latter are to accepted on faith. We are to believe absolutely what Scriptures says; and the greater the difficulty, the greater the merit of belief. Reason must be content with the task of understanding and interpreting, so far as she can, the text of the Bible. There is much in it that will always appear puzzling and even contradictory, but we must be content to accept the fact. God has willed that our knowledge of Him should, in this life at least, be imperfect. Our duty is to accept reverently what He has chosen to tell us of Himself. But we are not to pry into that which He has hidden. All must accept what God has positively said; but no man may compel another to accept his own individual interpretations and inferences.
Such a divorce of faith from reason is, of course, quite impossible. At the same time Bacon’s position is intelligible enough. His own acceptance of the Christian creed was little more than nominal. The Reformation was, in the first instance, a return to the text of Scripture, as distinguished from arbitrary interpretations of that text. There was no thought of questioning the claim of the Bible to be accepted as a Revelation. Bacon accepted the creed of Christianity as we accept so many of the commonplaces of the society in which we live. But it was no vital part of his spiritual self, in the sense in which his scientific convictions and interests were. As a statesman, he wished to obtain acceptance for a practical principle of compromise, which should unite all Englishmen upon essential matters of belief. He was anxious, too, in the interests of science, to persuade theologians that their jealousy of science was unreasonable. Hence he argued that theology and science cannot possibly come into competition. If theologians deprecated a criticism of the Book of God’s Word, on what principle could they claim the right to doubt the Book of His Works? Nature is, like the Bible, a book written by God for our instruction. But the two books have different objects, and are to be studied by different methods. The object of the Bible is not to teach science. Any attempts, therefore, to elicit the truths of nature from the Bible must result in false science; and any attempt to limit the inquiries of science in the interest of religion is essentially irrational. Conversely, any attempt to find in nature what can only be found in the Scriptures must end in heresy. The object, the method, and the evidence of science and theology are entirely distinct. But though Bacon was thus indifferent with regard to dogma, yet it is impossible to read his writings without seeing how sincere his religion was, and how profoundly he was influenced by it. He believed nothing for which warrant is not to be found in Scripture; at the same time we are not surprised to find that he supports his beliefs by the evidence of observation and reflection. There is a double advantage in this procedure. It not only gives certainty and precision to the beliefs themselves, but it also affords proof of the divine origin of Christianity. Every fresh analogy between Scripture and the work of God’s hands was to him a fresh proof that Scripture, too, comes from God. A careful and thorough study of nature, Bacon says, proves the existence of a God who created, and who continues to regulate the physical universe. The moral world is equally the object of His judgments, chastisements, deliverances, and blessings,” which history forces upon our observation. Lastly, in the life of each individual man we may trace “His fatherly compassion, His comfortable chastisements, His visible Providence.” Thus Bacon found in religion both a stimulus and consolation. So far as he was true to himself, he worked constantly with the sense of divine guidance and support. He worked in the spirit of an apostle commissioned to reveal to man the glory and the mercies of God. For mercy is the distinguishing characteristic of God. “In the first platform of the divine nature itself the heathen religion speaketh thus, Best and Greatest; and the sacred Scriptures thus, His mercy is over all His works.” Nature and revelation alike teach us that the first duty of man is “to aspire to a similitude of God in goodness or love.” Practical morality, indeed, may be summed up in the one rule of charity. For charity is “excellently called the bond of perfection, because it comprehendeth and fasteneth all virtues together.” Its insistence upon the virtue of charity, and its correspondence in this respect with the teachings of nature are among the proofs of the divine origin of Christianity. The moral teaching of Christianity in this respect naturally exercised a profound influence on a man of Bacon’s character and aims. he had by nature an even temper and a kindly and humane disposition. “The state and bread of the poor and oppressed,” he says, “have been precious in mine eyes; I have hated all cruelty and hardness of heart: I have (though in a despised week) procured the good of all men. If any have been mine enemies, I thought not of them; neither hath the sun almost set upon my displeasure; but I have been as a dove, free from superfluity and maliciousness.” To this we must add his strong conviction that human misery might be indefinitely relieved by scientific discovery. We need not wonder that he was attracted by a religion which exalted a life of active charity. By its condemnation of a life of selfish isolation; Christianity gave the death-blow to the doctrines of half the schools. “Men must know that in this theatre of man’s life it is reserved only for God and angles to be lookers on.” Bacon was no philosopher. Indeed, the questions of philosophy, if they had presented themselves to his mind, would probably have been dismissed by him as “barren.” We need not therefore to look at any systematic treatment of the problem of conduct in his writings. He would have said, and truly, that

moral failure springs more often from the want of will to do what is right, than from ignorance of what right is.

There are some principles of conduct which are self-evident, and which constitute what he calls “the laws of nature.” Further, we have the positive commands of Scripture. The faculty of reason, too, has been given to us to enable us to develop and apply these. Lastly, there survive in man, as relics of the purity of his first estate, certain imperfect intuitions, insufficient indeed to inform him fully of his duty, but at the same time sufficient to tell him that certain actions are wrong. When dealing with the subject of conduct, Bacon lays the chief stress upon the necessity of a good moral training, or, as he calls it, “the Georgics of the mind.” The science of conduct, like all other sciences, must be “fruitful”; and, like all other sciences, it must be founded upon experience. Moral diseases must be studied as diseases of the body are. We require, first, an enumeration of the normal types of character. Special attention should be paid to such differences as involve a large number of subordinate differences. In the next place, just as the physician ascertains by anatomy the possible modifications of the normal bodily structure, so we must ascertain the varieties of disposition and temperament due to the accidents of sex, climate, and circumstances. Lastly, as the physician studies diseases and their cures, so we require a complete analysis of the passions, which are, as it were, the diseases of the mind, and a consideration of the influences of habit, praise, reproof, reading, and all the other cures for moral diseases. This is the course which must be adopted, unless we mean “to follow the indiscretion of empirics, which minister the same medicine to all patients.” There is a close analogy between the methods and the objects of moral discipline and of medicine. “For as we divided the good of the body into health, beauty, strength, and pleasure, so the good of the mind, inquired in rational and moral knowledges, tendeth to this, to make the mind sound and without perturbation; beautiful and graced with decency; and strong and agile for all duties of life.”
Bacon’s writings have always been widely read and admired. There is a stamp of greatness upon them. We are not to look to him for any particular discoveries. His acquaintance even with the results of scientific inquiry in his own time was imperfect. In some cases he rejected the truth, and clung to old fashioned but erroneous beliefs.

The method which he invented is not the method by which science has achieved her conquests. Indeed, it is from the nature of things impossible that the Logician should anticipate the method of science.

He can only formulate it by a study of results. The influence exercised by Bacon has been such as we should expect from a thinker surveying the whole field of knowledge. Inquirers were naturally gratified by the dignity which he gave to their labours, and encouraged by the prospects which held out. He gave to science a human interest. He gave it high hopes and a definite aim. For ourselves his writings have a great historical interest. The Advancement of Learning and the Novum Organum help to bridge the gulf which separates us from the era of Scholasticism. And, speaking generally, the world profits by an occasional survey and criticism of its intellectual achievements and efforts. Part of Bacon’s influence is of course due to the charm of his style. His sentences are often loosely constructed but they are generally clear and intelligible. He is always interesting, because his own interest in his subject never flags. Enthusiasm stimulates his eloquence. His luxuriant imagination enlivens every page. He is perhaps unrivaled in the combination of picturesqueness with wight. This is well illustrated in the Essays. We are alternately charmed by the play of fancy, and arrested by a sentence into which the experience of a lifetime is compressed. No language is too homely, no example too simple, which will serve to drive home a truth. The maxims of bacon have become the commonplaces of science. Yet his expression of them can never lose its charm and force. To the mass of men their positive value is as great as it ever was. Scientific hypotheses are now taken up, discussed, and adopted, without any adequate comprehension of them, or any appreciation of the evidence for and against them. In the sphere of political and social discussion especially, there is need of that patient and conscientious study and reflection advocated by Socrates in the old world, and by Bacon in the new. The history of Bacon’s fall will always serve to point a moral; yet it is true that he is one of our great masters in the art of life. He has shown men how full of interest life and the world are to every healthy mind. He has directed them to high aims and worthy interests as the true source of real and abiding satisfaction, and has encouraged them by the assurance that wisdom is justified by her children.


Leave a comment

Filed under Literature Feast

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s