Page images

have made a sacrifice of the study of general beings to that of particular objects, he seems, notwithstanding, by the frequent use he makes of school-terms, and sometimes also by the adopting of scholastic principles, and by the divisions and sub-divisions then much in

vogue, to have shewed too much deference for the predominant taste of his age. This great man, after breaking the shackles of so many irons, was still entangled by some chains, which he either could not, or dared not to break asunder."

Such were the intellectual labours of this wonderful man. He has been styled, the father of experimental philosophy. The expression should be more comprehensive; he was the father of universal philosophy. Yet it is not strictly true, as D'Alembert affirms, that he was born amidst the obscurity of the most profound night. In respect of experimental philosophy, indeed, the expression is just; but it must be understood with very great limitations, if applied to the state of general knowledge. In truth, the dawn of knowledge had so far advanced, that broad day had already begun to appear.

The age was prepared for him. The two great events, the revival of letters and the reforand many

mation, had shaken and enlivened the wits of men;

had struck out into new paths of successful research. But these were travellers on journeys of discovery. The map of the intellectual regions had not yet been sketched. A few positions only ascertained; the other parts were desert and un. known. But Bacon came, and with the light of his effulgent genius, illumined the whole hemisphere of things; the various objects of enquiry now became distinctly marked, with their relative positions and bearings; the seves ral tracts towards them were likewise indicated, and even made plain; and men had nothing more to do than to proceed patiently and perseveringly to reach with certainty the expected end of their labours. From the time of Bacon therefore the progress of knowledge of all kinds has been rapid and continual. That his writings constituted the sole cause of this general progression, I by no means intend to assert;, but that they taught solely, and established the only true method of acquiring knowledge, will not be disputed. The minds of men thus enlightened, their views of things became clear and settled. All future change, relative to the method of proceeding, is now


VOL. 11.

out of the question; and we may go on with out any risk that our labour shall be in vain, to accumulate knowledge, to spread illumination and happiness. The writings of Bacon, therefore, form one of the most important æras, not merely in the history of English literature, but in the annals of mankind.

Bacon was fully sensible of the value of his labours. His last will contains this remarkable passage : “My name and memory I leave to foreign nations, and to mine own country after some time is passed over."

His great talents shone forth even in his tender years, and were assisted by an ardent application. Before he was sixteen, such was the maturity of his powers that he had run through the whole circle of the liberal arts as taught in his time, and began to perceive those imperfections in the prevalent philosophy, which he afterwards so effectually exposed and dethroned.

As one proof, among numberless others, of his greatness, it is recorded, that through all the changes of his fortune, he never lost the command of his thoughts; but was able to direct them at will, and to bring them to bear upon what he always regarded as the great business of his life, the regeneration of philosophy. This self-command is placed in a strong light, by the following anecdote. Bacon had applied to the court for some important favour; and the friend who reported the answer, found him dictating to his chaplain an account of some philosophical experiments. On being informed that his suit had failed, he calmly replied—“Be it so"-and dismissing his friend, he turned to his chaplain, saying "Well, sir, if that business will not succeed, let us go on with this, which is in our power;" and he continued to dictate for some time without embarrassment or interruption.

The quality of mind by which Bacon was pre-eminently distinguished--a quality which of all others is the most distinctive of geniuswas that variety, that universality of intellec- . tual powers, which enabled him to embrace all nature in the ample vision of his capacious soul. Thus largely endowed, his faculties were kept in unceasing activity by their native force; the voice of fame was to him an unnecessary stimulus, and he never sought extensive and indiscriminate applause. Yet his studies were always the principal business of his life. His great aim in his philosophical pursuits was, to discover remedies for all human ills. Hence, he modestly stiles himself the servant of posterity; and the gh himself born for the use of human kind.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »