Page images
PDF
EPUB

“I have, though in a despised weed, procured the good of all men. If any have been my 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 of maliciousness.

“Just are thy judgments upon me for my sins, which are more in number than the sands of the sea, but have no proportion to thy mercies; for what are the sands of the sea ? Earth, heaven, and all these are nothing to thy mercies.”

Addison observes of this prayer, that for elevation of thought and greatness of expression, “it seems — rather the devotion of an angel than a

man."

In taking leave of the life and the works of the greatest of philosophers, and alas! the least of men, we have endeavored to present a succinct but faithful narrative — "his glory not extenuated wherein he was worthy, nor his offences enforced, for which he suffered” merited obloquy with his own contemporaries and all posterity. Our endearor has been

Verba animi proferre et vitam impendere vero. But his failings, great as they were, are forgotten through his transcendent merit; his faults injured but few, and in his own time alone; his genius has benefited all mankind. The new direction he gave to philosophy was the indirect cause of all the modern conquests of science over matter, or, as it were, over nature. What it has already accomplished, and may yet effect for the whole human race, is incalculable. Macaulay, the historian of England, has been likewise the eloquent narrator of the progress, that owes its origin to the genius of Francis Bacon.

“Ask a follower of Bacon,” says Macaulay, “what the new philosophy, as it was called in the time of Charles the Second, has effected for mankind, and his answer is ready : 'It hath lengthened life; it has mitigated pain; it has ex. tinguished diseases; it has increased the fertility of the soil ; it has given new securities to the mariner; it has furnished new arms to the warrior ; it has spanned great rivers and estuaries with bridges of form unknown to our fathers; it bas guided the thunderbolt innocuously from heaven to earth; it has lighted up the night with the splendor of the day; it has extended the range of the human vision ; it has multiplied the power of the human muscle : it has accelerated motion; it has annihilated distance ; it has facilitated intercourse, correspondence, all friendly offices, all dispatch of business; it has enabled man to descend to the depths of the sea, to soar into the air, to penetrate securely into the noxions recesses of the earth, to traverse the land on cars which whirl along without horses, and the ocean in ships which sail against the wind. These are but a part of its fruits, and of its first-fruits. For it is a philosophy which never rests, which has never attained, which is never perfect. Its law is progress. A point which vesterday was invisible is its goal to-day, and will be its starting-post to-morrow.'1

1 Essays.

ESSAYS.

I.—OF TRUTH. What is truth ? said jesting Pilate ;and would not stay for an answer. Certainly, there be that delight in giddiness; and count it a bondage to fix a belief; affecting freewill in thinking as well as in acting. And though the sects of philosophers of that kind be gone, yet there remain certain discoursing wits which are of the same veins, though there be not so much blood in them as was in those of the ancients. But it is not only the difficulty and labor which men take in finding out of truth; nor again, that, when it is found, it imposeth upon men's thoughts, that doth bring lies in favor; but a natural though corrupt love of the lie itself. One of the later schools ? of the Grecians examineth the matter, and is at a stand to think what should be in it, that men should love lies; where neither they make for pleasure, as with poets ; nor for advantage, as with the merchant, but for the lie's sake. But I cannot tell : this same truth is a naked and open daylight, that doth not show the masks, and mummeries, and triumphs of the world, half so stately and daintily as candle-lights. Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that showeth best by day, but it will not rise to the price of a diamond or carbuncle, that showeth best in varied lights. A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of men's minds vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds of a number of men poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves? One of the fathers,' in great severity, called poesy “vinum dæmonum,” 2 because it filleth the imagination, and yet it is but with the shadow of a lie. But it is not the lie that passeth through the mind, but the lie that sinketh in, and settleth in it, that doth the hurt, such as we spake of before. But howsoever these things are thus in men's depraved judgments and affections, yet truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making, or wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature. The first creature of God, in the works of the days, was the light of the sense ; 8 the last was the light of reason ;and his

1 He refers to the following passage in the Gospel of St. John, xviii. 38: “ Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find' in him no fault at all.”

2 He probably refers to the “New Academy,'' a sect of Greek philosophers, one of whose moot questions was, “What is truth ? " Upon which they came to the unsatisfactory conclusion, that mankind has no criterion by which to form a judgment.

1 Perhaps he was thinking of St. Augustine. - See Aug. Con fess. i. 25, 26. 2 “ The wine of evil spirits."

8 Genesis i. 3: “And God said, Let there be light, and there was light."

4 At the moment when “ The Lord God formed man out of

sabbath work, ever since, is the illumination of his Spirit. First, he breathed light upon the face of the matter, or chaos; then he breathed light into the face of man; and still he breatheth and inspireth light into the face of his chosen. The poet ? that beautified the sect,2 that was otherwise inferior to the rest, saith yet excellently well: “It is a pleasure to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle, and the adventures thereof below; but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage-ground of truth,” (a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene, “and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below; "8 so always that this prospect be

the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” – Genesis ii. 7.

1 Lucretius, the Roman poet and Epicurean philosopher, is alluded to. - Lucret. ii. init. Comp. Adv. of Learning, i. 8. 5.'

2 He refers to the sect which followed the doctrines of Epicurus. The life of Epicurus himself was pure and abstemious in the extreme. One of his leading tenets was, that the aim of all speculation should be to enable men to judge with certainty what course is to be chosen, in order to secure health of body and tranquillity of mind. The adoption, however, of the term “ pleasure," as denoting this object, has at all periods subjected the Epicurean system to great reproach; which, in fact, is due rather to the conduct of many who, for their own purposes, have taken shelter under the system in name only, than to the tenets themselves, which did not inculcate libertinism. Epicurus admitted the existence of the Gods, but he deprived them of the characteristics of Divinity, either as creators or preservers of the world.

8 Lord Bacon has either translated this passage of Lucretius from memory, or has purposely paraphrased it. The following is the literal translation of the original: “'Tis a pleasant thing, from the shore, to behold the dangers of another upon the mighty ocean, when the winds are lashing the main; not because it is a grateful pleasure for any one to be in misery, but because it is a pleasant thing to see those misfortunes from which you yourself are free : 'tis also a pleasant thing to behold the mighty

« PreviousContinue »