Francis Bacon,
The Great Instauration (excerpts)

Basil Montague, ed. and trans.
The Works, 3 vols. (Philadelphia: Parry & MacMillan, 1854), 3:333-42

Hanover Historical Texts Project
Scanned by Alison Waugh and proofread by Monica Banas in 1996.
Proofread and pages added by Jonathan Perry, March 2001.


Epistle Dedicatory to James I

Preface

Distribution of the Work

See also the complete text of Novum Organum,
the second of six projected parts of the Great Instauration.





Epistle Dedicatory to James I

[Page 333] TO OUR MOST SERENE AND MIGHTY PRINCE AND LORD JAMES, BY THE GRACE OF GOD, KING OF GREAT BRITAIN, FRANCE, AND IRELAND, DEFENDER OF THE FAITH, ETC.

MOST SERENE AND MIGHTY KING:

Your majesty will, perhaps, accuse me of theft, in that I have stolen from your employments time sufficient for this work. I have no reply, for there can be no restitution of time, unless, perhaps, that which has been withdrawn from your affairs might be set down as devoted to the perpetuating of your name and to the honour of your age, were what I now offer of any value. It is at least new, even in its very nature; but copied from a very ancient pattern, no other than the world itself, and the nature of things, and of the mind. I myself (ingenuously to confess the truth) am wont to value this work rather as the offspring of time than of wit. For the only wonderful circumstance in it is, that the first conception of the matter, and so deep suspicions of prevalent notions should ever have entered into any person's mind; the consequences naturally follow. But, doubtless, there is a chance, (as we call it,) and something as it were accidental in man's thoughts, no less than in his actions and words. I would have this chance, however, (of which I am speaking,) to be so understood, that if there be any merit in what I offer, it should be attributed to the immeasurable mercy and bounty of God, and to the felicity of this your age; to which felicity I have devoted myself whilst living with the sincerest zeal, and I shall, perhaps, before my death have rendered the age a light unto posterity, by kindling this new torch amid the darkness of philosophy. This regeneration and instauration of the sciences is with justice due to the age of a prince surpassing all others in wisdom and learning. There remains for me to but to make one request, worthy of your majesty, and very especially relating to my subject, namely, that, resembling Solomon as you do in most respects, in the gravity of your decisions, the peacefulness of your reign, the expansion of your heart, and, lastly, in the noble variety of books you have composed, you would further imitate the same monarch in procuring the compilation and completion of a Natural and Experimental History, that shall be genuine and rigorous, not that of mere philologues, and serviceable for raising the superstructure of philosophy, such, in short, as I will in its proper place describe: that, at length, after so many ages, philosophy and the sciences may no longer be unsettIed and speculative, but fixed on the solid foundation of a varied and well considered experience. I for my part have supplied the instrument, the matter to be worked upon must be sought from things themselves. May the great and good God long preserve your majesty in safety.

Your majesty's
Most bounden and devoted,
FRANCIS VERULAM, Chancellor





Preface

[Page 334] ON THE STATE OF LEARNING.--THAT IT IS NEITHER PROSPEROUS NOR GREATLY ADVANCED, AND THAT AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT WAY FROM ANY KNOWN TO OUR PREDECESSORS MUST BE OPENED TO THE HUMAN UNDERSTANDING, AND DIFFERENT HELPS BE OBTAINED, IN ORDER THAT THE MIND MAY EXERCISE ITS JURISDICTION OVER THE NATURE OF THINGS.

IT appears to me that men know not either their acquirements or their powers, and trust too much to the former, and too little to the latter. Hence it arises that, either estimating the arts they have become acquainted with at an absurd value, they require nothing more, or forming too low an opinion of themselves, they waste their powers on trivial objects, without attempting any thing to the purpose. The sciences have thus their own pillars, fixed as it were by fate, since men are not roused to penetrate beyond them either by zeal or hope: and inasmuch as an imaginary plenty mainly contributes to a dearth, and from a reliance upon present assistance, that which will really hereafter aid us is neglected, it becomes useful, nay, clearly necessary, in the very outset of our work, to remove, without any circumlocution or concealment, all excessive conceit and admiration of our actual state of knowledge, by this wholesome warning not to exaggerate or boast of its extent or utility. For, if any one look more attentively into that vast variety of books which the arts and sciences are so proud of, he will everywhere discover innumerable repetitions of the same thing, varied only by the method of treating it, but anticipated in invention; so that although at first sight they appear numerous, they are found, upon examination, to be but scanty. And with regard to their utility I must speak plainly. That philosophy of ours which we have chiefly derived from the Greeks, appears to me but the childhood of knowledge, and to possess the peculiarity of that age, being prone to idle loquacity, but weak and unripe for generation; for it is fruitful of controversy and barren of effects. So that the fable of Scylla seems to be a lively image of the present state of letters; for she exhibited the countenance and expression of a virgin, but barking monsters surrounded and fastened themselves to her womb. Even thus, the sciences to which we have been accustomed have their flattering and specious generalities, but when we come to particulars, which, like the organs of generation, should produce fruit and effects, then spring up altercations and barking questions, in the which they end, and bring forth nothing else. Besides, if these sciences were not manifestly a dead letter, it would never happen, as for many ages has been the case in practice, that they should adhere almost immovably to their original footing, without acquiring a growth worthy of mankind: and this so completely, that frequently not only an assertion continues to be an assertion, but even a question to be a question, which, instead of being solved by discussion, becomes fixed and encouraged; and every system of instruction successively handed down to us brings upon the stage the characters of master and scholar, not those of an inventor and one capable of adding some excellence to his inventions. But we see the contrary happen in the mechanical arts. For they, as if inhaling some life-inspiring air, daily increase, and are brought to perfection; they generally in the hands of the inventor appear rude, cumbrous, and shapeless, but afterwards acquire such additional powers and facility, that sooner may menís wishes and fancies decline and change, than the arts reach their full height and perfection. Philosophy and the intellectual sciences on the contrary, like statues, are adored and celebrated, but are not made to advance: nay, they are frequently most vigorous in the hands of their author, and thenceforward degenerate. For since men have voluntarily surrendered themselves, and gone over in crowds to the opinion of their leader, like those silent senators of Rome, they add nothing to the extent of learning themselves, but perform the servile duty of illustrating and waiting upon particular authors. Nor let any one allege that learning, slowly springing up, attained by degree its full stature, and from that time took up its abode in the works of a few, as having performed its predetermined course; and that, as it is impossible to discover any further improvement, it only [Page 335] remains for us to adorn and cultivate that which has been discovered. It were indeed to be wished that such were the case; the more correct and true statement, however, is, that this slavery of the sciences arises merely from the impudence of a few, and the indolence of the rest of mankind. For, no sooner was any particular branch of learning (diligently enough, perhaps) cultivated and laboured, than up would spring some individual confident in his art, who would acquire authority and reputation from the compendious nature of his method, and, as far as appearances went, would establish the art, whilst in reality he was corrupting the labours of his ancestors. Yet will this please succeeding generations, from the ready use they can make of his labour, and their wearisome impatience of fresh inquiry. But if any one be influenced by an inveterate uniformity of opinion, as though it were the decision of time--let him learn that he is relying on a most fallacious and weak argument. For not only are we, in a great measure, unacquainted with the proportion of arts and sciences that has been discovered and made its way to the public in various ages and regions, (much less with what has been individually attempted and privately agitated,) neither the births nor the abortions of time being extant in any register; but also that uniformity itself, and its duration are not to be considered of any great moment. For, however varied the forms of civil government may be, there is but one state of learning, and that ever was and ever will be the democratic. Now with the people at large, the doctrines that most prevail are either disputatious and violent, or specious and vain, and they either ensnare or allure assent. Hence, without question, the greatest wits have undergone violence in every age, whilst others of no vulgar capacity and understanding have still, from consulting their reputation, submitted themselves to the decision of time and the multitude. Wherefore, if more elevated speculations have perchance anywhere burst forth, they have been from time to time blown about by the winds of public opinion, and extinguished; so that time, like a river, has brought down all that was light and inflated, and has sunk what was weighty and solid. Nay, those very leaders who have usurped, as it were, a dictatorship in learning, and pronounce their opinion of things with so much confidence, will yet, when they occasionally return to their senses, begin to complain of the subtility of nature, the remoteness of truth, the obscurity of things, the complication of causes, and the weakness of human wit. They are not, however, more modest in this than in the former instances, since they prefer framing an excuse of the common condition of men and things, to confessing their own defects. Besides, it is generally their practice, if some particular art fail to accomplish any object, to conclude that it cannot be accomplished by that art. But yet the art cannot be condemned, for she herself deliberates and decides the question; so that their only aim is to deliver their ignorance from ignominy. The following statement exhibits sufficiently well the state of knowledge delivered down and received by us. It is barren in effects, fruitful in questions, slow and languid in its improvement, exhibiting in its generality the counterfeit of perfection, but ill filled up in its details, popular in its choice, but suspected by its very promoters, and therefore bolstered up and countenanced with artifices. Even those who have been determined to try for themselves, to add their support to learning, and to enlarge its limits, have not dared entirely to desert received opinions, nor to seek the springhead of things. But they think they have done a great thing if they intersperse and contribute something of their own, prudently considering that by their assent they can save their modesty, and by their contributions their liberty. Whilst consulting, however, the opinions of others, and good manners, this admired moderation tends to the great injury of learning: for it is seldom in our power both to admire and surpass our author, but, like water, we rise not higher than the springhead whence we have descended. Such men, therefore, amend some things, but cause little advancement, and improve more than they enlarge knowledge. Yet there have not been wanting some, who, with greater daring, have considered every thing open to them, and, employing the force of their wit, have opened a passage for themselves and their dogmas by prostrating and destroying all before them; but this violence of theirs has not availed much, since they have not laboured to enlarge philosophy and the arts, both in their subject matter and effect; but only to substitute new dogmas, and to transfer the empire of opinion to themselves, with but small advantage; for opposite errors proceed mostly from common causes. Even if some few, who neither dogmatise nor submit to dogmatism, have been so spirited as to request others to join them in investigation, yet have such, though honest in their zeal, been weak in their efforts. For they seem to have followed only probable reasoning, and are hurried in a continued whirl of arguments, till, by an indiscriminate license of inquiry, they have enervated the strictness of investigation. But not one has there been found of a disposition to dwell sufficiently on things themselves and experience. For some again, who have committed themselves to the waves of experience, and become almost mechanics, yet in their very experience employ an unsteady investigation, and war not with it by fixed rules. Nay, some have only proposed to themselves a few paltry tasks, and think it a great thing if they can work out one single discovery, a plan no less beggarly than unskilful. For no one examines thoroughly or successfully the nature of any thing in the thing itself, but after [Page 336] a laborious variety of experiments, instead of pausing there, they set out upon some further inquiry. And we must by no means omit observing, that all the industry displayed in experiment, has, from the very first, caught with a too hasty and intemperate zeal at some determined effect; has sought (I say) productive rather than enlightening experiments, and has not imitated the Divine method, which on the first day created light alone, and assigned it one whole day, producing no material works thereon, but descending to their creation on the following days. Those who have attributed the pre-eminence to logic, and have thought that it afforded the safest support to learning, have seen very correctly and properly that man's understanding, when left to itself, is deservedly to be suspected. Yet the remedy is even weaker than the disease; nay, it is not itself free from disease. For the common system of logic, although most properly applied to civil matters, and such arts as lie in discussion and opinion, is far from reaching the subtility of nature, and, by catching at that which it cannot grasp, has done more to confirm, and, as it were, fasten errors upon us, than to open the way to truth.

To sum up, therefore, our observations, neither reliance upon others, nor their own industry, appear hitherto to have set forth learning to mankind in her best light, especially as there is little aid in such demonstrations and experiments as have yet reached us. For the fabric of this universe is like a labyrinth to the contemplative mind, where doubtful paths, deceitful imitations of things and their signs, winding and intricate folds and knots of nature everywhere present themselves, and a way must constantly be made through the forests of experience and particular natures, with the aid of the uncertain light of the senses, shining and disappearing by fits. But the guides who offer their services are (as has been said) themselves confused, and increase the number of wanderings and of wanderers. In so difficult a matter we must despair of man's unassisted judgment, or even of any casual good fortune: for neither the excellence of wit, however great, nor the die of experience, however frequently cast, can overcome such disadvantages. We must guide our steps by a clue, and the whole path, from the very first perceptions of our senses, must be secured by a determined method. Nor must I be thought to say, that nothing whatever has been done by so many and so much labour; for I regret not our discoveries, and the ancients have certainly shown themselves worthy of admiration in all that requires either wit or abstracted meditation. But, as in former ages, when men at sea used only to steer by their observations of the stars, they were indeed enabled to coast the shores of the Continent, or some small and inland seas; but before they could traverse the ocean and discover the regions of the new world, it was necessary that the use of the compass, a more trusty and certain guide on their voyage, should be first known; even so, the present discoveries in the arts and sciences are such as might be found out by meditation, observation, and discussion, as being more open to the senses and lying immediately beneath our common notions: but before we are allowed to enter the more remote and hidden parts of nature, it is necessary that a better and more perfect use and application of the human mind and understanding should be introduced.

We, for our part at least, overcome by the eternal love of truth, have committed ourselves to uncertain, steep, and desert tracks, and trusting and relying on Divine assistance, have borne up our mind against the violence of opinions, drawn up as it were in battle array, against our own internal doubts and scruples, against the mists and clouds of nature, and against fancies flitting on all sides around us: that we might at length collect some more trustworthy and certain indications for the living and posterity. And if we have made any way in this matter, no other method than the true and genuine humiliation of the human soul has opened it unto us. For all who before us have applied themselves to the discovery of the arts, after casting their eyes a while upon things, instances, and experience, have straightway invoked, as it were, some spirits of their own to disclose their oracles, as if invention were nothing but a species of thought. But we, in our subdued and perpetual intercourse with things, abstract our understanding no farther from them than is necessary to prevent the confusion of the images of things with their radiation, a confusion similar to that we experience by our senses: and thus but little is left for the powers and excellence of wit. And we have in teaching continued to show forth the humility, which we adopt in discovering. For we do not endeavour to assume or acquire any majestic state for these our discoveries, by the triumphs of confutation, the citing of antiquity, the usurpation of authority, or even the veil of obscurity, which would easily suggest themselves to one endeavouring to throw light upon his own name, rather than the minds of others. We have not, I say, practised either force or fraud on men's judgments, nor intend we so to do; but we conduct them to things themselves and the real connexion of things, that they may themselves behold what they possess, what they prove, what they add, and what they contribute to the common stock. If, however, we have in any matter given too easy credit, or slumbered and been too inadvertent, or have mistaken our road, and broken off inquiry, yet we exhibit things plainly and openly, so that our errors can be noted and separated before they corrupt any further the mass of sciences, and the continuation of our labours [Page 337] is rendered easy and unembarrassed. And we think that by so doing we have established forever the real and legitimate union of the empiric and rational faculties, whose sullen and inauspicious divorces and repudiations have disturbed every thing in the great family of mankind.

Since, therefore, these matters are beyond our control, we in the beginning of our work pour forth most humble and ardent prayers to God the Father, God the Word, and God the Spirit, that, mindful of the cases of man, and of his pilgrimage through this life, in which we wear out some few and evil days, they would vouchsafe through our hands to endow the family of mankind with these new gifts; and we moreover humbly pray that human knowledge may not prejudice divine truth, and that no incredulity and darkness in regard to the divine mysteries may arise in our minds upon the disclosing of the ways of sense, and this greater kindling of our natural light; but rather that, from a pure understanding, cleared of all fancies and vanity, yet no less submitted to, nay, wholly prostrate before the divine oracles, we may render unto faith the tribute due unto faith. And, lastly, that being freed from the poison of knowledge, infused into it by the serpent, and with which the human soul is swoln and puffed up, we may neither be too profoundly nor immoderately wise, but worship truth in charity.

Having thus offered up our prayers, and turning our thoughts again towards man, we propound some salutary admonitions, and some just requests. First, then, we admonish mankind to keep their senses within the bounds of duty as regards divine objects. For the senses, like the sun, open the surface of the terrestrial globe, but close and seal up that of the celestial; next, that, whilst avoiding this error, they fall not into the contrary, which will surely be the case, if they think the investigation of nature to be in any part denied as if by interdict. For it was not that pure and innocent knowledge of nature, by which Adam gave names to things from their properties, that was the origin or occasion of the fall, but that ambitious and imperious appetite for moral knowledge, distinguishing good from evil, with the intent that man might revolt from God and govern himself, was both the cause and means of temptation. With regard to the sciences that contemplate nature, the sacred philosopher declares it to be "the glory of God to conceal a thing, but of the king to search it out," just as if the Divine Spirit were wont to be pleased with the innocent and gentle sport of children, who hide themselves that they may be found; and had chosen the human soul as a playmate out of his indulgence and goodness towards man. Lastly, we would in general admonish all to consider the true ends of knowledge, and not to seek it for the gratifications of their minds, or for disputation, or that they may despise others, or for emolument, or fame, or power, or such low objeets, but for its intrinsic merit and the purposes of life, and that they would perfect and regulate it by charity. For from the desire of power the angels fell, and men from that of knowledge; but there is no excess in charity, and neither angel nor man was ever endangered by it.

The requests we make are three. Of ourselves we say nothing; but for the matter which we treat, we desire men not to regard it as an opinion, but as a work, and to hold it for certain that we are not laying the foundation of any sect or theory, but of that which will profit and dignify mankind. In the next place, that they should fairly consult their common advantage, laying aside the jealousies and prejudices of opinions, and themselves participate in the remaining labours, when they have been rescued by us from the errors and impediments of the road, and furnished with our defence and assistance. Moreover, that they should be strong in hope, and should not pretend or imagine that our instauration is an infinite work, surpassing human strength, since it is really an end and legitimate termination of infinite error, yet that they should still recollect the mortal lot of man, and not trust that the matter can be altogether perfected within the course of one age, but deliver it over to succeeding ages, and, finally, that they should not arrogantly search for the sciences in the narrow cells of human wit, but humbly in the greater world. That, however, which is empty is commonly vast, whilst solid matter is generally condensed, and lies in a small space. Lastly, we must require (lest any one should be disposed to injustice towards us in the very point on which our subject turns) that men would consider how far they imagine they can be permitted to comment and pass judgment on our work, after considering what it is necessary for us to claim for ourselves, if we would preserve any consistency, seeing we reject all human methods that are premature, anticipating, carelessly and too rapidly abstracted from things as regards the investigation of nature, considering them to be changeable, confused, and badly constructed; nor is it to be required that we should be judged by that which we ourselves arraign.





Distribution of the Work

[Page 338] IT CONSISTS OF SIX PARTS.

  1. DIVISIONS OF THE SCIENCES.
  2. NOVUM ORGANUM; OR, PRECEPTS FOR THE INTERPRETATION OF NATURE.
  3. PHENOMENA OF THE UNIVERSE; OR, NATURAL AND EXPERIMENTAL HISTORY ON WHICH TO FOUND PHILOSOPHY.
  4. SCALE OF THE UNDERSTANDING.
  5. PRECURSORS OR ANTICIPATIONS OF THE SECOND PHILOSOPHY.
  6. SOUND PHILOSOPHY, OR ACTIVE SCIENCE.

THE ARGUMENTS OF THE SEVERAL PARTS.

ONE point of our design is, that every thing should be set out as openly and clearly as possible. For this nakedness, as once that of the body, is the companion of innocence and simplicity. The order and method of the work, therefore, shall first be explained. We divide it into six parts. The first part exhibits a summary, or universal description of such science and learning as mankind is, up to this time, in possession of. For we have thought fit to dwell a little even on received notions, with a view the more easily to perfect the old, and approach the new; being nearly equally desirous to improve the former and to attain the latter. This is of avail also towards our obtaining credit: according to the text, "The unlearned receives not the words of knowledge, unless you first speak of what is within his own heart." We will not, therefore, neglect coasting the shores of the now received arts and sciences, and importing thither something useful on our passage.

But we also employ such a division of the sciences as will not only embrace what is already discovered and known, but what has hitherto been omitted and deficient. For there are both cultivated and desert tracts in the intellectual as in the terrestrial globe. It must not, therefore, appear extraordinary if we sometimes depart from the common divisions. For additions, whilst they vary the whole, necessarily vary the parts, and their subdivisions, but the received divisions are only adequate to the received summary of the sciences, such as it now exists.

With regard to what we shall note as omitted, we shall not content ourselves with offering the mere names and concise proofs of what is deficient: for if we refer any thing to omissions, of a high nature, and the meaning of which may be rather obscure, (so that we may have grounds to suspect that men will not understand our intention, or the nature of the matter we have embraced in our conception and contemplation,) we will always take care to subjoin to an instance of the whole, some precepts for perfecting it, or perhaps a completion of a part of it by ourselves. For, we consider it to concern our own character as well as the advantage of others, that no one may imagine a mere passing idea of such matters to have crossed our mind, and that what we desire and aim at resembles a wish; whilst in reality it is in the power of all men, if they be not wanting to themselves, and we ourselves are actually masters of a sure and clear method. For we have not undertaken to measure out regions in our mind, like augurs for divination, but like generals to invade them for conquest.-

And this is the first part of the work.

Having passed over the ancient arts, we will prepare the human understanding for pressing on beyond them. The object of the Second Part, then, is the doctrine touching a better and more perfect use of reasoning in the investigation of things, and the true helps of the understanding; that it may by this means be raised, as far as our human and mortal nature will admit, and be enlarged in its powers so as to master the arduous and obscure secrets of nature. And the art which we employ (and which we are wont to call the interpretation of nature) is a kind of logic. For common logic professes to contrive and prepare helps and guards for the understanding, and so far they agree. But ours differs from the common, chiefly in three respects, namely, in its end, the order of demonstration, and the beginning of the inquiry.

For the end of our science is not to discover arguments, but arts, nor what is agreeable to certain principles, but the principles themselves, nor probable reasons, but designations and indications of effects. Hence, from a diversity of intention follows a diversity of consequences. For, in in the one an opponent is vanquished and constrained by argument, in the other, nature by effects.

And the nature and order of tbe demonstrations agree with this end. For in common logic almost our whole labour is spent upon the syllogism. [Page 339] The logicians appear scarcely to have thought seriously of induction, passing it over with some slight notice, and hurrying on to the formulae of dispute. But we reject the syllogistic demonstration, as being too confused, and letting nature escape from our hands. For, although nobody can doubt that those things which agree with the middle term agree with each other, (which is a sort of mathematical certainty,) nevertheless, there is this source of error, namely, that a syllogism consists of propositions, propositions of words, and words are but the tokens and signs of things. If, therefore, the notions of the mind (which are as it were the soul of words, and the basis of this whole structure and fabric) are badly and hastily abstracted from things, and vague, or not sufficiently defined and limited, or, in short, faulty (as they may be) in many other respects, the whole falls to the ground. We reject, therefore, the syllogism, and that not only as regards first principles, (to which even the logicians do not apply them,) but also in intermediate propositions, which the syllogism certainly manages in some way or other to bring out and produce, but then they are barren of effects, unfit for practice, and clearly unsuited to the active branch of the sciences. Although we would leave therefore to the syllogism, and such celebrated and applauded demonstrations, their jurisdiction over popular and speculative arts, (for here we make no alteration,) yet, in every thing relating to the nature of things, we make use of induction, both for our major and minor propositions. For we consider induction to be that form of demonstration which assists the senses, closes in upon nature, and presses on, and, as it were, mixes itself with action.

Hence also the order of demonstration is naturally reversed. For at present the matter is so managed, that from the senses and particular objects they immediately fly to the greatest generalities, as the axes round which their disputes may revolve: all the rest is deduced from them intermediately, by a short way we allow, but an abrupt one, and impassable to nature, though easy and well suited to dispute. But, by our method, axioms are raised up in gradual succession, so that we only at last arrive at generalities. And that which is most generalized, is not merely national but well defined, and really acknowledged by nature as well known to her, and cleaving to the very pith of things.

By far our greatest work, however, lies in the form of induction and the judgment arising from it. For the form of which the logicians speak, which proceeds by bare enumeration, is puerile, and its conclusions precarious, is exposed to danger from one contrary example, only considers what is habitual, and leads not to any final result.

The sciences, on the contrary, require a form of induction capable of explaining and separating experiments, and coming to a certain conclusion by a proper series of rejections and exclusions. If, however, the common judgment of the logicians has been so laborious, and has exercised such great wits, how much more must we labour in this which is drawn not only from the recesses of the mind, but the very entrails of nature.

Nor is this all, for we let down to a greater depth, and render more solid the very foundations of the sciences, and we take up the beginning of our investigation from a higher part than men have yet done, by subjecting those matters to examination which common logic receives upon the credit of others. For the logicians borrow the principles of one science from another, in the next place they worship the first formed notions of their minds, and, lastly, they rest contented with the immediate information of the senses, if well directed. But we have resolved that true logic ought to enter upon the several provinces of the sciences with a greater command than is possessed by their first principles, and to force those supposed principles to an account of the grounds upon which they are clearly determined. As far as relates to the first notions of the understanding, not any of the materials which the understanding, when left to itself, has collected, is unsuspected by us, nor will we confirm them unless they themselves be put upon their trial and be judged accordingly. Again, we have many ways of sifting the information of the senses themselves: for the senses assuredly deceive, though at the same time they disclose their errors: the errors, however, are close at hand, whilst their indication must be sought at a greater distance.

There are two faults of the senses: they either desert or deceive us. For in the first place there are many things which escape the senses, however well directed and unimpeded, owing either to the subtilty of the whole body, or the minuteness of its parts, or the distance of place, or the slowness or velocity of motion, or the familiarity of the object, or to other causes. Nor are the apprehensions of the senses very firm, when they grasp the subject; for the testimony and information of the senses bears always a relation to man and not to the universe, and it is altogether a great mistake to assert that our senses are the measure of things.

To encounter these difficulties, we have everywhere sought and collected helps for the senses with laborious and faithful service, in order to supply defects and correct errors: and that not so much by means of instruments, as by experiments. For experiments are much more delicate than the senses themselves, even when aided by instruments, at least if they are skilfully and scientifically imagined and applied to the required point. We attribute but little, therefore, to the immediate and proper perception of the senses, [Page 340] but reduce the matter to this, that they should decide on the experiment, and the experiment on the subject of it. Wherefore, we consider that we have shown ourselves most observant priests of the senses, (by which all that exists in nature must be investigated if we would be rational,) and not unskilful interpreters of their oracles: for others seem to observe and worship them in word alone, but we in deed. These then are the means which we prepare for kindling and transmitting the light of nature: which would of themselves be sufficient, if the human understanding were plain and like a smoothed surface. But since the minds of men are so wonderfully prepossessed, that a clear and polished surface for receiving the true rays of things is wholly wanting, necessity urges us to seek a remedy for this also.

The images or idols by which the mind is preoccupied are either adventitious or innate. The adventitious have crept into the minds of men either from the dogmas and sects of philosophers, or the perverted rules of demonstration. But the innate are inherent to the very nature of the understanding, which appears to be much more prone to error than the senses. For however men may be satisfied with themselves, and rush into a blind admiration and almost adoration of the human mind, one thing is most certain, namely, that as an uneven mirror changes the rays proceeding from objects according to its own figure and position, so the mind when affected by things through the senses does not act in the most trustworthy manner, but inserts and mixes her own nature into that of things, whilst clearing and recollecting her notions.

The first two species of idols are with difficulty eradicated, the latter can never be so. We can only point them out, and note and demonstrate that insidious faculty of the mind, lest new shoots of error should happen to spring up, from the destruction of the old, on account of the mind's defective structure; and we should then find ourselves only exchanging instead of extinguishing errors; whilst it ought on the other hand to be eternally resolved and settled, that the understanding cannot decide otherwise than by induction and by a legitimate form of it. Wherefore the doctrine of the purifying of the understanding, so as to fit it for the reception of truth, consists of three reprehensions; the reprehension of the schemes of philosophy, the reprehension of methods of demonstration, and the reprehension of natural human reason. But when these have been gone through, and it has at last been clearly seen, what results are to be expected from the nature of things and the nature of the mind, we consider that we shall have prepared and adorned a nuptial couch for the mind and the universe; the divine goodness being our bridemaid. But let the prayer of our epithalamium be this; that from this union may spring assistance to man, and a race of such discoveries as will in some measure overcome his wants and necessities.---

And this is the second part of the work.

It is our intention not only to open and prepare the way, but also to enter upon it. The third part, therefore, of our work embraces the phenomena of the universe; that is to say, experience of every kind, and such a natural history as can form the foundation of an edifice of philosophy. For there is no method of demonstration, or form of interpreting nature, so excellent as to be able to afford and supply matter for knowledge, as well as to defend and support the mind against error and failure. But those who resolve not to conjecture and divine, but to discover and know, not to invent buffooneries and fables about worlds, but to inspect, and, as it were, dissect the nature of this real world, must derive all from things themselves. Nor can any substitution or compensation of wit, meditation, or argument, (were the whole wit of all combined in one,) supply the place of this labour, investigation, and personal examination of the world; our method then must necessarily be pursued, or the whole forever abandoned. But men have so conducted themselves hitherto, that it is little to be wondered at if nature do not disclose herself to them.

For in the first place the defective and fallacious evidence of our senses, a system of observation slothful and unsteady, as though acting from chance, a tradition vain and dcpending on common report, a course of practice intent upon effects, and servile, blind, dull, vague, and abrupt experiments, and lastly our careless and meagre natural history, have collected together, for the use of the understanding, the most defective materials as regards philosophy and the sciences.

In the next place, a preposterous refinement, and, as it were, ventilation of argument, is attempted as a late remedy for a matter become clearly desperate, and neither makes any improvement, nor removes errors. There remains no hope therefore of greater advancement and progress, unless by some restoration of the sciences.

But this must commence entirely with natural history. For it is useless to clean the mirror if it have no images to reflect, and it is manifest that we must prepare proper matter for the understanding as well as steady support. But our history, like our logic, differs in many respects, from the received, in its end or office, in its very matter and compilation, in its nicety, in its selection, and in its arrangements relatively to what follows.

For, in the first place, we begin with that species of natural history which is not so much calculated to amuse by the variety of its objects, or to offer immediate results by its experiments, as to throw a light upon the discovery of causes, and to present, as it were, its bosom as the first nurse of philosophy. For, although we regard principally effects and the active division of the sciences [Page 341] yet we wait for the time of harvest, and do not go about to reap moss and a green crop: being sufficiently aware that well formed axioms draw whole crowds of effects after them, and do not manifest their effects partially, but in abundance. But we wholly condemn and banish that unreasonable and puerile desire of immediately seizing some pledges as it were of new effects, which, like the apple of Atalanta, retard our course--such then is the office of our natural history.

With regard to its compilation, we intend not to form a history of nature at liberty and in her usual course, when she proceeds willingly and acts of her own accord, (as for instance the history of the heavenly bodies, meteors, the earth and sea, minerals, plants, animals,) but much rather a history of nature constrained and perplexed, as she is seen when thrust down from her proper rank and harassed and modelled by the art and contrivance of man. We will therefore go through all the experiments of the mechanical and the operative part of the liberal arts, and all those of different practical schemes which have not yet been put together so as to form a peculiar art: as far as we have been able to investigate them and it will suit our purpose. Besides, (to speak the truth,) without paying any attention to the pride of man, or to appearances, we consider this branch of much more assistance and support than the other: since the nature of things betrays itself more by means of the operations of art than when at perfect liberty.

Nor do we present the history of bodies alone, but have thought it moreover right to exert our diligence in compiling a separate history of properties: we mean those which may be called the cardinal properties of nature, and of which its very elements are composed, namely, matter with its first accidents and appetites, such as density, rarity, heat, cold, solidity, fluidity, weight, levity, and many others.

But, with regard to the nicety of natural history, we clearly require a much more delicate and simple form of experiments than those which are obvious. For we bring out and extract from obscurity many things which no one would have thought of investigating, unless he were proceeding by a sure and steady path to the discovery of causes; since they are in themselves of no great use, and it is clear that they were not sought for on their own account, but that they bear the same relation to things and effects, that the letters of the alphabet do to discourse and words, being useless indeed in themselves, but the elements of all language.

In the selection of our reports and experiments, we consider that we have been more cautious for mankind than any of our predecessors. For we admit nothing but as an eyewitness, or at least upon approved and rigorously examined testimony; so that nothing is magnified into the miraculous, but our reports are pure and unadulterated by fables and absurdity. Nay, the commonly received and repeated falsehoods, which by some wonderful neglect have held their ground for many ages and become inveterate, are by us distinctly proscribed and branded, that they may no longer molest learning. For, as it has been well observed, that the tales, superstitions, and trash which nurses instil into children, seriously corrupt their minds, so are we careful and anxious whilst managing and watching over the infancy, as it were, of philosophy committed to the charge of natural history, that it should not from the first become habituated to any absurdity. In every new and rather delicate experiment, although to us it may appear sure and satisfactory, we yet publish the method we employed, that, by the discovery of every attendant circumstance, men may perceive the possibly latent and inherent errors, and be roused to proofs of a more certain and exact nature, if such there be. Lastly, we intersperse the whole with advice, doubts, and cautions, casting out and restraining, as it were, all phantoms by a sacred ceremony and exorcism.

Finally, since we have learned how much experience and history distract the powers of the human mind, and how difficult it is (especially for young or prejudiced intellects) to become at the first acquainted with nature, we frequently add some observations of our own, by way of showing the first tendency, as it were, and inclination or aspect of history towards philosophy; thus assuring mankind that they will not always be detained in the ocean of history, and also preparing for the time when we shall come to the work of the understanding. And by such a natural history as we are describing, we think that safe and convenient access is opened to nature, and solid and ready matter furnished to the understanding.

But after furnishing the understanding with the most surest helps and precautions, and having completed, by a rigorous levy, a complete host of divine works, nothing remains to be done but to attack Philosophy herself. In a matter so arduous and doubtful, however, a few reflections must necessarily be here inserted, partly for instruction and partly for present use.

The first of these is, that we should offer some examples of our method and course of investigation and discovery, as exhibited in particular subjects; preferring the most dignified subjects of our inquiry, and such as differ the most from each other, so that in every branch we may have an example. Nor do we speak of those examples, which are added to particular precepts and rules by way of illustration, (for we have furnished them abundantly in the second part of our work,) but we mean actual types and models, calculated to place, as it were, before our eyes the whole process of the mind, and the continuous frame and order of discovery in particular subjects, selected [Page 342] for their variety and importance. For we recollected that in mathematics, with the diagram before our eyes, the demonstration easily and clearly followed, but without this advantage every thing appeared intricate and more subtile than was really the case. We devote, therefore, the FOURTH PART of our work to such examples, which is in fact nothing more than a particular and fully developed application of the second part.

But the FIFTH PART is only used for a temporary purpose, whilst the rest are being perfected, and is paid down as interest, until the principal can be raised. For we rush not so blindly to our object, as to neglect any thing useful on our way. We compose this fifth part of the work therefore of those matters which we have either discovered, tried, or added; without, however, employing our own method and rules for interpretation, but merely making the same use of our understanding as others are wont to do in their investigations and discoveries. For, from our constant intercourse with nature, we both anticipate greater results from our meditations than the mere strength of our wit would warrant; and yet such results as have been mentioned may also serve as inns upon the road for the mind to repose itself a while on its way to more certain objects. We protest, in the mean time, against any great value being set upon that which has not been discovered or proved by the true form of interpretation. There is no reason, however, for any one to be alarmed at such suspense of judgment in our method of teaching, which does not assert absolutely that nothing can be known, but that nothing can be known without a determined order and method; and in the mean time has settled some determined gradations of certitude, until the mind can repose in the full developement of causes. Nor were those schools of philosophers, who professed absolute skepticism, inferior to the others which took upon themselves to dogmatism. They did not, however, prepare helps for the senses and understanding, as we have done, but at once abolished all belief and authority, which is totally different, nay, almost opposite matter.

Lastly, the SIXTH PART of our work (to which the rest are subservient and auxiliary) discloses and propounds that philosophy which is reared and formed by the legitimate, pure, and strict method of investigation previously taught and prepared. But it is both beyond our power and expectation to perfect and conclude this last part. We will, however, furnish no contemptible beginning, (if our hopes deceive us not,) and men's good fortune will furnish the result; such, perhaps, as men cannot easily comprehend or define in the present state of things and the mind. For we treat not only of contemplative enjoyment, but of the common affairs and fortune of mankind, and of a complete power of action. For man, as the minister and interpreter of nature does, and understands, as much as he has observed of the order, operation, and mind of nature; and neither knows nor is able to do more. Neither is it possible for any power to loosen or burst the chain of causes, nor is nature to be overcome except by submission. Therefore those two objects, human knowledge and power, are really the same; and failure in action chiefly arises from the ignorance of causes. For every thing depends upon our fixing the mind's eye steadily in order to receive their images exactly as they exist, and may God never permit us to give out the dream of our fancy as a model of the world, but rather in his kindness vouchsafe to us the means of writing a revelation and true vision of the traces and stamps of the Creator on his creatures.

May thou, therefore, O Father, who gavest the light of vision as the first-fruits of creation, and hast inspired the countenance of man with the light of the understanding as the completion of thy works, guard and direct this work, which, proceeding from thy bounty, seeks in return thy glory. When thou turnedst to look upon the works of thy hands, thou sawest that all were very good, and restedst. But man, when he turned towards the works of his hands, saw that they were all vanity and vexation of spirit, and had no rest. Wherefore, if we labour in thy works, thou wilt make us partakers of that which thou beholdest and of thy rest. We humbly pray that our present disposition may continue firm, and that thou mayest be willing to endow thy family of mankind with new gifts through our hands, and the hands of those to whom thou wilt accord the same disposition.


Hanover Historical Texts Project
Hanover College Department of History