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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

But Bacon renounces this attempt from the beginning


the idea of Bacon had the most comprehensive tendency: it tended to free the thoughts and enquiries of men of science from the assumptions of a speculative theology which regulated their spiritual horizon. The most renowned adversaries of scholasticism he had to encounter in turn, because they covered things with a new web of words and theories which he could not accept. He thought to free men from the deceptive notions by which their minds are prepossessed, from the fascination of words which throw a veil over things, and of tradition consecrated by great names, and to open to them the sphere of the certain knowledge of experience. Nature is in his eyes God's book, which man must study directly for His glory and for the relief of man's estate; he thought that men must start from sense and experience, in order that by intercourse with things they might discover the cause of phenomena. He would have preferred for his own part to have been the architect of an universal science, an outline of which he had already composed; but he possessed the self-restraint to hold back from this in the first instance, to work at details, and to make experiments, or, as he once says, to contribute the bricks and stones which might serve for the great work in the future. He only wanted more complete devotion and more adequate knowledge for his task. His method is imperfect, his results are untrustworthy in points of detail; but his object is grand. He designates the insight for which he labours by the Heraclitean name of dry light, that is, a light which is obscured by no partiality and no subordinate aim. He would place the man who possesses it as it were upon the mountain top, at the foot of which errors chase one another like clouds. And in his eyes the satisfaction of the mind is not the only interest at stake, but such discoveries as rouse the activity of men and promote their welfare. Nature is at the same time the great storehouse of God: the dominion over nature which men originally possessed must be restored to them.

In these speculations the philosopher became aware that there was a risk lest men should imagine that by this means they could also discover the nature of God. Bacon lays down a complete separation of these two provinces; for he thinks that men can only attain to second causes, not to the first cause, which is God; and that the human mind can only cope with natural things; that divine things on the contrary confuse it. He will not even investigate the nature of the human soul, for it does not owe its origin to the productive powers of nature, but to the breath of God.

It had been from the beginning the tendency of those schools of philosophy erected on the basis of ancient systems, in which Latin and Teutonic elements were blended, to transfuse faith with scientific knowledge; but Bacon renounces this attempt from the beginning. He puts forward with almost repulsive abruptness the paradoxes which the Christian must believe: he declares it an Icarian flight to wish to penetrate these secrets: but so much stronger is the impulse he seeks to give the human mind in the direction of enquiry into natural objects.[379]

Among these he ranks the state of human society, to which all his life long he devoted a careful and searching observation. His Essays are not at all sceptical, like the French essays, from which he may have borrowed this appellation: they are thoroughly dogmatic. They consist of remarks on the relations of life as they then presented themselves, especially upon the points of contact between private and public life, and of counsels drawn from the perception of the conflicting qualities of things. They are extremely instructive for the internal relations of English society. They show wide observation and calm wisdom, and, like his philosophical works, are a treasure for the English nation, whose views of life have been built upon them.


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