Page images
PDF
EPUB

D ES C R IPTION

OF A

NATURAL AND EXPERIMENTAL HISTORY,

SUCII AS MAY SERVE FOR TIIe FOUNDATION
OF A TRUE PHILOSOPHY.

MY object in publishing my Instauration by parts is that some portion of it may be put out of peril. A similar reason induces me to subjoin here another small portion of the work, and to publish it along with that which has just been set forth. This is the description and delineation of a Natural and Experimental History such as may serve to build philosophy upon, and containing material true and copious and aptly digested for the work of the Interpreter which follows. The proper place for it would be when I come in due course to the Preparatives of Inquiry. I have thought it better however to introduce it at once without waiting for that. For a history of this kind, such as I conceive and shall presently describe, is a thing of very great size, and cannot be executed without great labour and expense; requiring as it does many people to help, and being (as I have said elsewhere) a kind of royal work. It occurs to me therefore that it may not be amiss to try if there be any others who will take these matters in hand; so that while I go on with the completion of my original design, this part which is so manifold and laborious may even during my life (if it so please the Divine Majesty) be prepared and set forth, others applying themselves diligently to it along with me; the rather because my own strength (if I should have no one to help me) is hardly equal to such a province. For as much as relates to the work itself of the intellect, I shall perhaps be able to master that by myself; but the materials on which the intellect has to work are so widely spread, that one must employ factors and merchants to go everywhere in search of them and bring them in. Besides I hold it to be somewhat beneath the dignity of an undertaking like mine that I should spend my own time in a matter which is open to almost every man's industry. That however which is the main part of the matter I will myself now supply, by diligently and exactly setting forth the method and description of a history of this kind, such as shall satisfy my intention; lest men for want of warning set to work the wrong way, and guide themselves by the example of the natural histories now in use, and so go far astray from my design. Meanwhile what I have often said I must here emphatically repeat; that if all the wits of all the ages had met or shall hereafter meet together; if the whole human race had applied or shall hereafter apply themselves to philosophy, and the whole earth had been or shall be nothing but academies and colleges and schools of learned men; still without a natural and experimental history such as I am going to prescribe, no progress worthy of the human race could have been made or can be made in philosophy and the sciences. Whereas on the other hand, let such a history be once provided and well set forth, and let there be added to it such auxiliary and light-giving experiments as in the very course of interpretation will present themselves or will have to be found out; and the investigation of nature and of all sciences will be the work of a few years. This therefore must be done, or the business must be given up. For in this way, and in this way only, can the foundations of a true and active philosophy be established; and then will men wake as from deep sleep, and at once perceive what a difference there is between the dogmas and figments of the wit and a true and active philosophy, and what it is in questions of nature to consult nature herself. First then I will give general precepts for the composition of this history; then I will set out the particular figure of it, inserting sometimes as well the purpose to which the inquiry is to be adapted and referred as the particular point to be inquired; in order that a good understanding and forecast of the mark aimed at may suggest to men's minds other things also which I may perhaps have overlooked. This history I call Primary History, or the Mother History.

A PHORISMS

ON Time

COMPOSITION OF THE PRIMARY HISTORY.

APHORISM
I.

NATURE exists in three states, and is subject as it were to three kinds of regimen. Either she is free, and develops herself in her own ordinary course; or she is forced out of her proper state by the perverseness and insubordination of matter and the violence of impediments; or she is constrained and moulded by art and human ministry. The first state refers to the species of things; the second to monsters; the third to things artificial. For in things artificial nature takes orders from man, and works under his authority: without man, such things would never have been made. But by the help and ministry of man a new face of bodies, another universe or theatre of things, comes into view. Natural History therefore is threefold. It treats of the liberty of nature, or the errors of nature, or the bonds of nature: so that we may fairly distribute it into history of Generations, of Pretergenerations, and of Arts ; which last I also call Mechanical or Erperimental history. And yet I do not make it a rule that these three should be kept apart and separately treated. For why should not the history of the monsters in the several species be joined with the history of the species themselves? And things artificial again may sometimes be rightly joined with the species, though sometimes they will be better kept separate. It will be best therefore to consider these things as the case arises. For too much method produces iterations and prolixity as well as none at all.

II.

Natural History, which in its subject (as I said) is threefold, is in its use twofold. For it is used either for the sake of the knowledge of the particular things which it contains, or as the primary material of philosophy and the stuff and subjectmatter of true induction. And it is this latter which is now in hand; now, I say, for the first time: nor has it ever been taken in hand till now. For neither Aristotle, nor Theophrastus, nor Dioscorides, nor Caius Plinius, ever set this before them as the end of natural history. And the chief part of the matter rests in this: that they who shall hereafter take it upon them to write natural history should bear this continually in mind– that they ought not to consult the pleasure of the reader, no nor even that utility which may be derived immediately from their narrations; but to seek out and gather together such store and variety of things as may suffice for the formation of true axioms. Let them but remember this, and they will find out for themselves the method in which the history should be composed. For the end rules the method.

III.

But the more difficult and laborious the work is, the more ought it to be discharged of matters superfluous. And therefore there are three things upon which men should be warned to be sparing of their labour, -as those which will immensely increase the mass of the work, and add little or nothing to its worth.

First then, away with antiquities, and citations or testimonies of authors; also with disputes and controversies and differing opinions; everything in short which is philological. Never cite an author except in a matter of doubtful credit: never introduce a controversy unless in a matter of great moment. And for all that concerns ornaments of speech, similitudes, treasury of eloquence, and such like emptinesses, let it be utterly dismissed. Also let all those things which are admitted be themselves set down briefly and concisely, so that they may be nothing less than words. For no man who is collecting and storing up materials for ship-building or the like, thinks of arranging them elegantly, as in a shop, and displaying them so as to please the eye; all his care is that they be sound and good, and that they be so arranged as to take up as little room as possible in the warehouse. And this is exactly what should be done here. Secondly, that superfluity of natural histories in descriptions and pictures of species, and the curious variety of the same, is not much to the purpose. For small varieties of this kind are only a kind of sports and wanton freaks of nature; and come near to the nature of individuals. They afford a pleasant recreation in wandering among them and looking at them as objects in themselves; but the information they yield to the sciences is slight and almost superfluous. Thirdly, all superstitious stories (I do not say stories of prodigies, when the report appears to be faithful and probable; but superstitious stories) and experiments of ceremonial magic should be altogether rejected. For I would not have the infancy of philosophy, to which natural history is as a nursingmother, accustomed to old wives' fables. The time will perhaps come (after we have gone somewhat deeper into the investigation of nature) for a light review of things of this kind; that if there remain any grains of natural virtue in these dregs, they may be extracted and laid up for use. In the meantime they should be set aside. Even the experiments of natural magic should be sifted diligently and severely before they are received; especially those which are commonly derived from vulgar sympathies and antipathies, with great sloth and facility both of believing and inventing. And it is no small thing to relieve natural history from the three superfluities above mentioned, which would otherwise fill volumes. Nor is this all. For in a great work it is no less necessary that what is admitted should be written succinctly than that what is superfluous should be rejected; though no doubt this kind of chastity and brevity will give less pleasure both to the reader and the writer. But it is always to be remembered that this which we are now about is only a granary and storehouse of matters, not meant to be pleasant to stay or live in, but only to be entered as occasion requires, when anything is wanted for the work of the Interpreter, which follows.

IV.

In the history which I require and design, special care is to be taken that it be of wide range and made to the measure of the universe. For the world is not to be narrowed till it will

« PreviousContinue »