Page images

for our induction, can never arrive at absolute certainty; inasmuch as it is impossible to examine all the phenomena of a single class, and as while any phenomena remain unexamined we never can be certain that the discovery of some new fact will not completely overset our conclusions. The utmost that we can arrive at, therefore, by this route, is a very high degree of probability — a degree which will be higher in proportion as it is founded upon a greater number of instances, and attained by a more careful process of sifting. But the nature of the human mind is such that it is practically incapable of distinguishing between a very high probability and an absolute certainty; at least the latter is able to produce upon the reason the same amount of conviction - in some cases, perhaps, even a greater amount — than even an absolute certainty. If we consider, therefore, the enormous number of chances against any given à priori deduction being the right one, - for, as in an arithmetical problem, there can be only one correct solution, while the number of possible incorrect solutions is infinite, – and observe that till all the possible phenomena have been submitted to the synthetic test we never can be sure that we have the right theory, we shall easily agree that the possible certainty of a theory is dearly bought when compared with the far greater safety of the analytical method of reasoning, which, keeping fast hold of nature at each step of its progress, has the possibility, nay, even the certainty, of correcting its errors as they may arise.

The most important portion of the whole Instauratio is the Novum Organum, in which Bacon lays down the rules for the employment of Induction in the investigation of truth, and points out the origin and remedies of the errors which most commonly oppose us in our search. The earlier philosophers, and particularly Aristotle, assigning a great and almost unlimited efficacy in this research to the intellectual faculties alone, contented themselves with perfecting those logical formulas, among which the syllogism was the principal, by whose aid, as by the operation of some infallible instrument, they conceived that that result would assuredly be attained; and gave rules for the legitimate employment of their syllogism, pointing out the means of detecting and guarding against fallacies or irregularities in the expression of their reasoning. Bacon went far deeper than this, and showed that the most dangerous and universal sources of human error have their origin, not in the illegitimate employment of terms, but in the weaknesses, the prejudices, and the passions of mankind, exhibited either in the race or the individual. He classifies these sources of error, which in his vivid picturesque language he calls Idols or false appearances, in four categories; the Idols of the Tribe, of the Den, of the Market-place, of the Theatre. Under the first he warns us against those errors and prejudices which are common to the whole human race, the tribe to which we all belong; the idols of the Den are those which arise from the particular circumstances of the individual, as his country, his age, his religion, his profession, or his personal character; the errors of the Market-place are the result of the universal habit of using terms the meaning of which we have either not distinctly agreed on, or which we do not clearly understand. These terms are used in the interchange of thought, as money is passed from hand to hand in the market; and we accept and transfer to others coins whose real value we have not taken the trouble to test. The idols of the Theatre are the errors arising from false systems of philosophy, which dress up conceptions in unreal disguises, like comedians upon the stage. We may compare the precautions of the older logic to that of a physician who should direct his efforts to the getting rid of the external efflorescence of a disorder, and should think his duty performed when he had purified the skin, though perhaps at the cost of driving in the disease and rendering it doubly dangerous. Bacon, like the more enlightened practitioner, sought out the deep-seated constitutional source of the malady; it is to that that he addresses his treatment, certain that when the internal cause is removed, the symptoms will vanish of themselves.

$ 11. Of the Third Book Bacon has given only a specimen, intended to show the method to be adopted in collecting and classifying facts and experiments; for in a careful examination of facts and experiments consists the whole essence of his induction, and in it are concealed the future destinies of human knowledge and power. Bacon contributed to this portion of the work a History of the Winds, of Life and Death, written in Latin; and a collection of experiments in Physics, or, as he calls it, Natural History in English. This portion of the work is alone sufficient to show how small are Bacon's claims or pretensions to the character of a discoverer in any branch of natural science, and how completely he was under the influence of the errors of his day; but at the same time it proves the innate merit of his method, and the power of that mind which could legislate for the whole realm of knowledge, and for sciences yet unborn. To the English fragment he gives the title of Silva Silvarum, i. e. a collection of materials.

The Fourth Book, Scala Intellectus, of which Bacon has given but a brief extract, was intended to show the gradual march to be followed by induction, in ascending from the fact perceptible to the senses to principles which were to become more and more general as we advance; and the author's object was to warn against the danger of leaping abruptly over the intermediate steps of the investigation. Of the Fifth Book he wrote only a preface, and the Sixth was never commenced.

$ 12. Of the soundness and the fertility of Bacon's method of investigation, the best proof will be a simple and practical one: we have only to compare the progress made by humanity in all the useful arts during the two centuries and a half since induction has been generally employed in all branches of science, with the progress made during the twenty centuries which elapsed between Aristotle and the age of Bacon. It is no exaggeration to say that in the shorter interval that progress has been ten times greater than in the longer. That this progress is in any degree attributable to any superiority of the human intellect in modern times is a supposition too extravagant to deserve a moment's attention. Never did humanity produce intellects more vast, more penetrating, and more active, I will not say than Aristotle himself, but than the series of great men who wasted their powers in abstract questions which never could be solved, or in the sterile subtleties of scholastic disputation. We may remark, too, as a strong confirmation of the truth of what we are saying, that in those sciences which are independent of experiment, and proceed by the efforts of reasoning and contemplation alone, -- as theology, for instance, or pure geometry, the ancients were fully as far advanced as we are at this moment. The glory of Bacon is founded upon a union of speculative power with practical utility which were never so combined before. He neglected nothing as too small, despised nothing as too low, by which our happiness could be augmented; in him, above all, were combined boldness and prudence, the intensest enthusiasm, and the plainest common sense. He could foresee triumphs over nature far surpassing the wildest dreams of imagination, and at the same time warn posterity against the most trifling ill consequences that would proceed from a neglect of his rules. It is probable that Bacon generally wrote the first sketch of his works in English, but afterwards caused them to be translated into Latin, which was at that time the language of science, and even of diplomacy. He is reported to have employed the services of many young men of learning as secretaries and translators : amomg these the most remarkable is Hobbes, afterwards so celebrated as the author of the Leviathan. The style in which the Latin books of the Instauratio were given to the world, though certainly not a model of classical purity, is weighty, vigorous, and picturesque.

§ 13. Bacon's English writings are very numerous : among them unquestionably the most important is the little volume entitled Essays, the first edition of which he published in 1597, and which was several times reprinted, with additions, the last in 1625. These are short papers on an immense variety of subjects, from grave questions of morals and policy down to the arts of amusement and the most trifling accomplishments; and in them appears, in a manner more appreciable to ordinary intellects than in his elaborate philosophical works, the wonderful union of depth and variety which characterizes Bacon. The intellectual activity they display is literally portentous; the immense multiplicity and aptness of unexpected illustration is only equalled by the originality with which Bacon manages to treat the most worn-out and commonplace subject, such, for instance, as friendship or gardening. No author was ever so concise as Bacon; and in his mode of writing there is that remarkable quality which gives to the style of Shakspeare such a strongly-marked individuality; that is, a combination of the intellectual and imaginative, the closest reasoning in the boldest metaphor, the condensed brilliancy of an illustration identified with the development of thought. It is this that renders both the dramatist and the philosopher at once the richest and the most concise of writers. Many of Bacon's essays, as that inimitable one on Studies, are absolutely oppressive from the power of thought compressed into the smallest possible compass. Bacon wrote also an Essay on the Wisdom of the Ancients, in which he endeavored to explain the political and moral truths concealed in the mythology of the classical ages; and in this work he exhibits an ingenuity which Macaulay justly describes as almost morbid; an unfinished romance, The New Atlantis, which was intended to embody the fulfilment of his own dreams of a philosophical millennium; a History of Henry VII., and a vast number of state-papers, judicial decisions, and other professional writings. All these are marked by the same vigorous, weighty, and somewhat ornamented style which is to be found in the Instauratio, and are among the finest specimens of the English language at its period of highest majesty and perfection.

§ 14. In every nation there may be found a small number of writers who, in their life, in the objects of their studies, and in the form and manner of their productions, bear a peculiar stamp of eccentricity. No country has been more prolific in such exceptional individualities than England, and no age than the sixteenth century. There cannot be a more striking example of this small but curious class than old RobERT BURTON (1576-1640), whose life and writings are equally odd. His personal history was that of a retired and laborious scholar, and his principal work, the Anatomy of Melancholy, is a strange combination of the most extensive and out-of-the-way reading with just observation and a peculiar kind of grave saturnine humor. The object of the writer was to give a complete monography of Melancholy, and to point out its causes, its symptoms, its treatment, and its cure: but the descriptions given of the various phases of the disease are written in so curious and pedantic a style, accompanied with such an infinity of quaint observation, and illustrated by such a mass of quotations from a crowd of authors, principally the medical writers of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, of whom not one reader in a thousand in the present day has ever heard, that the Anatomy possesses a charm which no one can resist who has once fallen under its fascination. The enormous amount of curious quotation with which Burton has incrusted every paragraph and almost every line of his work has rendered him the favorite study of those who wish to appear learned at a small expense; and his pages have served as a quarry from which a multitude of authors have borrowed, and often without acknowledgment, much of their materials, as the great Roman feudal families plundered the Coliseum to construct their frowning fortress-palaces. The greater part of Burton's laborious life was passed in the University of Oxford, where he died, not without suspicion of having hastened his own end, in order that it might exactly correspond with the astrological predictions which he is said, being a firm believer in that science, to have drawn from his own horoscope. He is related to have been himself a victim to that melancholy which he has so minutely described, and his tomb bears the astrological scheme of his own nativity, and an inscription eminently characteristic of the man: “Hic jacet Democritus, junior, cui vitam dedit et mortem Melancholia.”

Our notice of the prose writers of this remarkable period would be

incomplete without some mention of LORD HERBERT of CHERBURY (1581-1648), who was remarkable as a theologian and also as an historian. He was a man of great learning and rare dignity of personal character, and was employed in an embassy to Paris in 1616. There he first published his principal work, the treatise De Veritate, an elaborate pleading in favor of deism, of which Herbert was one of the earliest partisans in England. He also left a History of Henry VIII., not published until after his death, and which is certainly a valuable monument of grave and vigorous prose, though the historical merit of the work is diminished by the author's strong partiality in favor of the character of the king. Though maintaining the doctrines of a freethinker, Herbert gives indications of an intensely enthusiastic religious mysticism, and there is proof of his having imagined himself on more than one occasion the object of miraculous communications by which the Deity confirmed the doctrines maintained in his books.

§ 15. But in force of demonstration, and clearness and precision of language, none of the English metaphysicians have surpassed THOMAS HOBBES (1588–1679), who, however, more properly belongs to a later period. Hobbes was a man of extraordinary mental activity, equally remarkable, during the whole of a long literary career, for the power as for the variety of his philosophical speculations. The theories of Hobbes exerted an incalculable influence on the opinions, not only of English, but also of Continental thinkers, for nearly a century, and though that influence has since been much weakened by the errors and sophistries mingled in many of this great writer's works, in some important and arduous branches of abstract speculation, as for example in the great question respecting Free Will and Necessity, it is doubtful whether any later investigations have thrown any new light upon the principles established by him. He was born at Malmesbury in Wiltshire in 1588, was educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, and subsequently travelled abroad as private tutor to the Earl of Devonshire. On his return he became intimate with the most distinguished men of his day, through the influence of his patron the Earl of Devonshire. His first literary work, the translation of Thucydides, was published in the third year of the reign of Charles I., in 1628. He subsequently passed several years in Paris and Italy, and he was in constant communication with the most illustrious minds among his contemporaries, as with Descartes for example, with Galileo, and with Harvey. Though of extreme boldness in speculation, Hobbes was an advocate for high monarchical or rather despotic principles in government: his theory being that human nature was essentially ferocious and corrupt, he concluded that the iron restraint of arbitrary power could alone suffice to bridle its passions. This theory necessarily flowed from the fundamental proposition of Hobbes's moral system; viz. that the primum mobile of all human actions is selfish interest. Attributing all our actions to intellectual calculation, and thus either entirely ignoring or not allowing sufficient influence to the moral elements and the affections, which play at least an equal part in the drama of

« PreviousContinue »