« ZurückWeiter »
What must have passed in his youthful, thoughtful, ardent mind, at this eventful moment, when he first quitted his father's house to engage in active life? What must have been his feelings when he approached the university, and saw, in the distance, the lofty spires, and towers, and venerable walls, raised by intellect and piety "and hallowed by the shrines where the works of the mighty dead are preserved and reposed, (a) and by the labours of the mighty living, with joint forces directing their strength against Nature herself, to take her high towers, and dismantle her fortified holds, and thus enlarge the borders of man's dominion, so far as Almighty God of his goodness shall permit ?"(6)
"As water," he says, " whether it be the dew of heaven, or the springs of the earth, doth scatter and lose itself in the ground, except it be collected into some receptacle, where it may by union comfort and sustain itself, and for that cause the industry of man hath made and framed spring
(a) Hut the works touching Books are chiefly two: first, Libraries, wherein, as in famous shrines, the reliques of the ancient saints, full of virtue, are reposed. Secondly, New Editions of Authors, with corrected impressions; more faithful Translations, more profitable glosses, more diligent annotations; with the like train furnished and adorned.
In a letter to Sir Thomas Bodley, he says, " and the second copy I have sent unto you, not only in good affection, but in a kind of congruity, in regard of your great and rare desert of learning. For books are the shrines where the saint is, or is believed to be. And you, having built an ark to save learning from deluge, deserve propriety in any new instrument or engine, whereby learning should be improved or advanced."—Steph. 19.
(A) Nor doth our trumpet summon, and encourage men to tear and rend one another with contradictions; and in a civil rage to bear arms, and wage war against themselves; but rather, a peace concluded between them, they may with joint forces direct their strength against Nature herself; and take her high towers, and dismantle her fortified holds; and thus enlarge the borders of man's dominion, so far as Almighty God of his goodness shall permit. Adv. Learn.
heads, conduits, cisterns, and pools, which men have accustomed likewise to beautify and adorn with accomplishments of magnificence and state, as well as of use and necessity; so this excellent liquor of knowledge, whether it descend from divine inspiration, or spring from human sense, would soon perish and vanish to oblivion, if it were not preserved in books, traditions, conferences, and places appointed; as universities, colleges, and schools, for the receipt and comforting of the same. All tending to quietness and privateness of life, and discharge of cares and troubles; much like the stations which Virgil prescribeth for the hiving of bees:
Principio sedes apibus statioque petenda,
Such were his imaginations of the tranquillity and occupations in our universities.
He could not long have resided in Cambridge before he must have discovered his erroneous notions of the mighty living, and of the pursuits in which they were engaged. Instead of students ready at all times to acquire any sort of knowledge, he found himself " amidst men of sharp and strong wits, and abundance of leisure, and small variety of reading, their wits being shut up in the cells of a few authors, chiefly Aristotle their dictator, as their persons were shut up in the cells of monasteries and colleges; and knowing little history, either of nature or time, did, out of no great quantity of matter, and infinite agitation of wit, spin cobwebs of learning, admirable for the fineness of thread and work, but of no substance or profit."(a)
(a) See the Advancement of Learning, under Contentious Learning. See Gibbon's Memoirs. See vol. viii. Loudon Magazine, page 509. Let him who is fond of indulging in a dream-like existence go to Oxford, and stay there; let him study this magnificent spectacle, the same under all aspects, with its mental twilight tempering the glare of noontide, or mel
Instead of the University being formed for the discovery of truths, he saw that its object was merely to preserve and diffuse the knowledge of our predecessors: instead of general inquiry, he found that all studies were confined to Aristotle, who was considered infallible in philosophy, a Dictator to command, not a Consul to advise;* the lectures, both in private in the colleges, and in public in the schools, being but expositions of his text, and comments upon his opinions, held as authentic as if they had been given under the seal of the Pope.(a) Their infallibility, however, he was not disposed to acknowledge. Whilst in the university he formed his dislike of the philosophy of Aristotle, not for the worthlessness of the author, to whose gigantic intellect he ever ascribed all high attributes, but for the unfruitfulness of his method, being a philosophy, as he was wont to say, strong for disputations and contentions,(6) but barren for the production of works for the benefit and use of man: which, according to Bacon's opinion, is the only test of the purity of our motives for acquiring knowledge and of the value of knowledge when acquired; "Men," he says, " have entered into a desire of knowledge sometimes from a natural curiosity and inquisitive appetite; sometimes to entertain their minds with variety and delight; sometimes for ornament and reputation; sometimes to enable them to victory of wit and contradiction, and most times for lucre and profession; and seldom sincerely to give a true account
lowing the shadowy moonlight; let him wander in her sylvan suburbs, or linger in her cloistered halls; but let him not catch the din of scholars or teachers, or dine or sup with them, or speak a word to any of the privileged inhabitants; for if he does, the spell will be broken, the poetry and the religion gone, and the palace of enchantment will melt from his embrace into thin air.
* See Advancement of Learning, under Credulity, vol. ii. of this edition, p. 43.
(n) Tennison (b) Rawley—Tennison.
of their gift of reason, for the benefit and use of man:—as if there were sought in knowledge a couch whereupon to rest a searching and restless spirit; or a terrace for a wandering and variable mind to walk up and down, with a fair prospect; or a tower of state for a proud mind to raise itself upon; or a fort or commanding ground for strife and contention; or a shop for profit and sale; and not a rich store-house for the glory of the Creator and the relief of man's estate."
It was not likely that, with such sentiments he would meet with much sympathy in the university. It was still less probable that the antipathy by which he was opposed would check the ardour of his powerful mind. He went right onward in his course, unmoved by the disapprobation of men who turned from enquiries which they neither encouraged nor understood: and, seeing through the mists, by a light refracted from below the horizon, that knowledge must be raised on other foundations, and built with other materials than had been used through a long tract of many centuries, he continued his enquiries into the laws of nature, (a) and planned his immortal work upon which he laboured during the greater part of his life,(i) and ultimately published when he was Chancellor, saying, "I have held up a light in the obscurity of Philosophy; which will be seen centuries after I am dead."(c)
(a) I remember in Trinity College in Cambridge, there was an upper chamber, which being thought weak in the roof of it, was supported by a pillar of iron of the bigness of one's arm in the midst of the chamber; which if you had struck, it would make a little flat noise in the room where it was struck, but it would make a great bomb in the chamber beneath.—Sylva.
(6) See note 1 at end.
(c) See the dedication of the Novum Organum to the king. "Mortuus fortasse id effecero, ut ilia posteritati, nova hac accensa face in philosophise tenebris, perlucere possint.
1575. After two years residence he quitted the university with 15, the convictien not only that these seminaries of learning were stagnant, but that they were opposed to the advancement of knowledge. "In the universities," he says, " they learn nothing but to believe: first, to believe that others know that which they know not; and after, themselves know that which they know not. They are like a becalmed ship; they never move but by the wind of other men's breath, and have no oars of their own to steer withal :"(d) and in his Novum Organum, which he published when he was Chancellor, he repeats what he had said when a boy. "In the universities, all things are found opposite to the advancement of the sciences; for the readings and exercises are here so managed that it cannot easily come into any one's mind to think of things out of the common road: or if, here and there, one should venture to use a liberty of judging, he can only impose the task upon himself without obtaining assistance from his fellows; and if he could dispense with this, he will still find his industry and resolution a great hinderance to his fortune. For the studies of men in such places are confined, and pinned down to the writings of certain authors; from which if any man happens to differ, he is presently reprehended as a disturber and innovator." (e)
Whether the intellectual gladiatorship by which students in the universities of England are now stimulated, then prevailed, does not appear, but his dislike of this motive he early and always avowed. "It is," he says, "an unavoidable decree with us ever to retain our native candour and simplicity, and not attempt a passage to truth under the conduct of vanity; for, seeking real nature with
(d) See the tract in Praise of Knowledge, vol. i. of this edition, page 254. (c) Ax. 90. Lib. i.