« PreviousContinue »
fable and fiction of Scylla seemeth to be a lively image of this kind of philosophy or knowledge; who was transformed into a comely virgin for the upper parts ; but then“ Candida succinctam latrantibus inguina monstris :" so the generalities of the schoolmen are for a while good and proportionable ; but then, when you descend into their distinctions and decisions, instead of a fruitful womb, for the use and benefit of man's life, they end in monstrous altercations and barking questions. So as it is not possible but this quality of knowledge must fall under popular contempt, the people being apt to contemn truth upon occasion of controversies and altercations, and to think they are all out of their way which never meet: and when they see such digladiation about subtilties and matters of no use or moment, they easily fall upon that judgment of Dionysius of Syracuse, “ Verba ista sunt senum otiosorum.”
Notwithstanding, certain it is that if those schoolmen, to their great thirst of truth and unwearied travail of wit, had joined variety and universality of reading and contemplation, they had proved excellent lights, to the great advancement of all learning and knowledge; but as they are, they are great undertakers indeed, and fierce with dark keeping : but as in the inquiry of the divine truth, their pride inclined to leave the oracle of God's word, and to vanish in the mixture of their own inventions ; so in the inquisition of nature, they ever left the oracle of God's works, and adored the deceiving and deformed images, which the un. equal mirror of their own minds, or a few received authors or principles, did represent unto them. And thus much for the second disease of learning.
For the third vice or disease of learning, which concerneth deceit or untruth, it is of all the rest the foulest; as that which doth destroy the essential form of knowledge, which is nothing but a representation of truth : for the truth of being and the truth of knowledge are one, differing no more than the direct beam and the beam reflected. This vice therefore brancheth itself into two sorts; delight in deceiving, and aptness to be deceived; imposture and credulity; which, although they appear to be of a diverse nature, the one seeming to proceed of cunning
* But howling monsters lurk beneath her waist. + Fierce dispute. # These are the words of idle old men.
and the other of simplicity, yet certainly they do for the most part concur : for, as the verse noteth,
“ Percontatorem fugito, nam garrulus idem est," an inquisitive man is a prattler; so, upon the like reason, a credulous, man is a deceiver: as we see it in fame, that he that will easily believe rumours, will as easily augment rumours, and add somewhat to them of his own; which Tacitus wisely noteth, when he saith, “ Fingunt simul creduntque :" + so great an affinity hath fiction and belief.
This facility of credit, and accepting or admitting things weakly authorised or warranted, is of two kinds, according to the subject: for it is either a belief of history, or, as the lawyers speak, matter of fact; or else of matter of art and opinion. As to the former, we see the experience and inconvenience of this error in ecclesiastical history; which hath too easily received and registered reports and narrations of miracles wrought by martyrs, hermits, or monks of the desert, and other holy men, and their relics, shrines, chapels, and images : which, though they had a passage for a time, by the ignorance of the people, the superstitious simplicity of some, and the politic toleration of others holding them but as divine poesies; yet after a period of time, when the mist began to clear up, they grew to be esteemed but as old wives' fables, impostures of the clergy, illusions of spirits, and badges of antichrist, to the great scandal and detriment of religion.
So in natural history, we see there hath not been that choice and judgment used as ought to have been; as may appear in the writings of Plinius, Cardanus, Albertus, and divers of the Arabians, being fraught with much fabulous matter, a great part not only untried, but notoriously untrue, to the great derogation of the credit of natural philosophy with the grave and sober kind of wits: wherein the wisdom and integrity of Aristotle is worthy to be observed; that, having made so diligent and exquisite a history of living creatures, hath mingled it sparingly with any vain or feigned matter: and yet, on the other side, hath cast all prodigious narrations, which he thought worthy the recording, into one book: excellently discerning that matter of manifest truth (such whereupon observation and rule were to be built) was not to be mingled or weakened with matter of doubtful credit; and yet
* Avoid an inquisitive man, for he is also a tell-tale. + They invent and believe at the same time.
again, that rarities and reports that seem incredible are not to be suppressed or denied to the memory of men.
And as for the facility of credit which is yielded to arts and opinions, it is likewise of two kinds; either when too much belief is attributed to the arts themselves, or to certain authors in any art. The sciences themselves, which have had better intelligence and confederacy with the imagination of man than with his reason, are three in number; astrology, natural magic, and alchemy; of which sciences, nevertheless, the ends or pretences are' noble. For astrology pretendeth to discover that correspondence or concatenation which is between the superior globe and the inferior: natural magic pretendeth to call and reduce natural philosophy from variety of speculations to the magnitude of works : and alchemy pretendeth to make separation of all the unlike parts of bodies, which in mixtures of nature are incorporate. But the derivations and prosecutions to these ends, both in the theories and in the practices, are full of error and vanity; which the great professors themselves have sought to veil over and conceal by enigmatical writings, and referring themselves to auricular traditions and such other devices, to save the credit of impostures: and yet surely to alchemy this right is due, that it may be compared to the husbandman whereof Æsop makes the fable; that, when he died, told his sons that he had left unto them gold buried under ground in his vineyard; and they digged over all the ground, and gold they found none; but by reason of their stirring and digging the mould about the roots of their vines, they had a great vintage the year following: so assuredly the search and stir to make gold hath brought to light a great number of good and fruitful inventions and experiments, as well for the disclosing of nature, as for the use of man's life.
And as for the overmuch credit that hath been given unto authors in sciences, in making them dictators that their words should stand, and not counsels to give advice; the damage is infinite that sciences have received thereby, as the principal cause that hath kept 'them low, at a stay without growth or advancement. For hence it hath come, that in arts mechanical the first deviser comes shortest, and time addeth and perfecteth: but in sciences the first author goeth farthest, and time leeseth and corrupteth. So, we see, artillery, sailing, printing, and the like, were grossly managed at the first, and by time accommodated and refined: but contrariwise, the philosophies and sciences of Aristotle, Plato, Democritus, Hippocrates, Euclides, Archimedes, of most vigour at the first, and by time degenerate and embased; whereof the reason is no other, but that in the former many wits and industries have contributed in one, and in the latter many wits and industries have been spent about the wit of some one, whom many times they have rather depraved than illustrated. For as water will not ascend higher than the level of the first spring-head from whence it descendeth, so knowledge derived from Aristotle, and exempted from liberty of examination, will not rise again higher than the knowledge of Aristotle. And, therefore, although the position be good, “ Oportet discentem, credere," * yet it must be coupled with this, " Oportet edoctum judicare,"+ for disciples do owe unto masters only a temporary belief and a suspension of their own judgment until they be fully instructed, and not an absolute resignation or perpetual captivity: and, therefore, to conclude this point, I will say no more, but so let great authors have their due, as time, which is the author of authors, be not deprived of his due, which is, further and further to discover truth.
Thus have I gone over these three diseases of learning; besides the which, there are some other, rather peccant humours than formed diseases; which, nevertheless, are not so secret and intrinsic, but that they fall under a popular observation and traducement, and, therefore, are not to be passed over.
The first of these is the extreme affecting of two extremities; the one antiquity, the other novelty; wherein it seemeth the children of time do take after the nature and malice of the father. For as he devoureth his children, so one of them seeketh to devour and suppress the other; while antiquity envieth there should be new additions, and novelty cannot be content to add but it must deface : surely, the advice of the prophet is the true direction in this matter, “ State super
vias antiquas, et videte quænam sit via recta et bona, et ambulate in ea." I Antiquity deserveth that reverence, that men should make a stand thereupon, and discover what is the best way; but when the discovery is well taken, then to make progression. And to speak truly, “ Antiquitas cæculi juventus mundi.” § These times are the ancient times,
A learner should believe. + The educated man should judge for himself. I Stand fast in the old ways, and see what is righteous and good, and walk therein. § Antiquity of time is the childhood of the world.
when the world is ancient, and not those which we account ancient “ ordine retrogrado,” * by a computation backward from ourselves.
Another error, induced by the former, is a distrust that any thing should be now to be found out, which the world should have missed and passed over so long time; as if the same objection were to be made to time that Lucian maketh to Jupiter and other the heathen gods ; of which he wondereth that they begot so many children in old time, and begot none in his time; and asketh whether they were become septuagenary, or whether the law Papia, made against old men's marriages, had restrained them. So it seemeth men doubt lest time is become past children and generation; wherein, contrariwise, we see commonly the levity and inconstancy of men's judgments, which, till a matter be done, wonder that it can be done; and, as soon as it is done, wonder again that it was no sooner done: as we see in the expedition of Alexander into Asia, which, at first, was prejudged as a vast and impossible enterprise : and yet, afterwards, it pleaseth Livy to make no more of it than this; “ Nil aliud quàm bene ausus vana contemnere : " + and the same happened to Columbus in the western navigation. But in intellectual matters it is much more common; as may be seen in most of the propositions of Euclid : which, till they be demonstrate, they seem strange to our assent; but being demonstrate, our mind accepteth of them by a kind of relation (as the lawyers speak), as if we had known them before.
Another error, that hath also some affinity with the former, is a conceit that of former opinions or sects, after variety and examination, the best hath still prevailed, and suppressed the rest; so as, if a man should begin the labour of a new search, he were but like to light upon somewhat formerly rejected, and by rejection brought into oblivion : as if the multitude, or the wisest for the multitude's sake, were not ready to give passage rather to that which is popular and superficial, than to that which is substantial and profound; for the truth is, that time seemeth to be of the nature of a river or stream, which carrieth down to us that which is light and blown up, and sinketh and drowneth that which is weighty and solid.
Another error, of a diverse nature from all the former, is the over * In a retrograde order. † He did nothing more than persevere in his noble and well-conceived enterprise, despite of idle remonstrances.