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So the generalities of the schoolmen are for a while fair and Edition: current; Page: [ 59 ] proportionable; but to descend into their distinctions and decisions, they end in monstrous altercations and barking questions. Whence this kind of knowledge must necessarily fall under popular contempt; for the people are ever apt to contemn truth, upon account of the controversies raised about it; and so think those all in the wrong way, who never meet.

And thus much for the second disease of learning.


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The third disease, which regards deceit or falsehood, is the foulest; as destroying the essential form of knowledge, which is nothing but a representation of truth; for the truth of existence and the truth of knowledge are the same thing, or differ no more than the direct and reflected ray. This vice, therefore, branches into two; viz. For, as in the verse,. We see the inconvenience of the former in ecclesiastical history, which has too easily received and registered relations of miracles wrought by martyrs, hermits, monks, and their relics, shrines, chapels, and images.

So in natural history, there has not been much judgment employed, as appears from the writings of Pliny, Carban, Albertus, and many of the Arabians; which are full of fabulous matters; many of them not only untried, but notoriously false, to the great discredit of natural philosophy with grave and sober minds.

But the produce and integrity of Aristotle is here worthy our observation, who, having compiled an exact history of animals, dashed it very sparingly with fable or fiction, throwing all strange reports which he thought worth recording in a book by themselves, 60 thus wisely intimating, that matter of truth which is the basis of solid experience, philosophy, and the sciences, should not be mixed with matter of doubtful credit; and yet that curiosities or prodigies, though seemingly incredible, are not to be suppressed or denied the registering.

Credulity in arts and opinions, is likewise of two kinds; viz. The sciences that sway the imagination more than the reason, are principally three; viz. For astrology pretends to discover the influence of the superior upon the inferior bodies; natural magic pretends to reduce natural philosophy from speculation to works; and chemistry pretends to separate the dissimilar parts, incorporated in natural mixtures, and to cleanse such bodies as are impure, throw out the heterogeneous parts, and perfect such as are immature.

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But the means supposed to produce these effects are, both in theory and practice, full of error and vanity, and besides, are seldom delivered with candor, but generally concealed by artifice and enigmatical expressions, referring to tradition, Edition: current; Page: [ 61 ] and using other devices to cloak imposture. Yet alchemy may be compared to the man who told his sons, he had left them gold buried somewhere in his vineyard; where they, by digging, found no gold, but by turning up the mould about the roots of the vines, procured a plentiful vintage.

So the search and endeavors to make gold have brought many useful inventions and instructive experiments to light. Credulity in respect of certain authors, and making them dictators instead of consuls, is a principal cause that the sciences are no further advanced. For hence, though in mechanical arts, the first inventor falls short, time adds perfection; while in the sciences, the first author goes furthest, and time only abates or corrupts.

Thus artillery, sailing, and printing, were grossly managed at the first, but received improvement by time; while the philosophy and the sciences of Aristotle, Plato, Democritus, Hippocrates, Euclid, and Archimedes, flourished most in the original authors, and degenerated with time. The reason is, that in the mechanic arts, the capacities and industry of many are collected together; whereas in sciences, the capacities and industry of many have been spent upon the invention of some one man, who has commonly been thereby rather obscured than illustrated.

For as water ascends no higher than the level of the first spring, so knowledge derived from Aristotle will at most rise no higher again than the knowledge of Aristotle.

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And therefore, though a scholar must have faith in his master, yet a man well instructed must judge for himself; for learners owe to their Edition: current; Page: [ 62 ] masters only a temporary belief, and a suspension of their own judgment till they are fully instructed, and not an absolute resignation or perpetual captivity. Let great authors, therefore, have their due, but so as not to defraud time, which is the author of authors, and the parent of truth. Besides the three diseases of learning above treated, there are some other peccant humors, which, falling under popular observation and reprehension, require to be particularly mentioned.

The first is the affecting of two extremes; antiquity and novelty: wherein the children of time seem to imitate their father; for as he devours his children, so they endeavor to devour each other; while antiquity envies new improvements, and novelty is not content to add without defacing. And to speak the truth antiquity, as we call it, is the young state of the world; for those times are ancient when the world is ancient; and not those we vulgarly account ancient by computing backward; so that the present time is the real antiquity.

He pleasantly asks why the gods begot so many children in the first ages, but none in his days; and whether they were grown too old for generation, or were restrained by the Papian law, which prohibited old men from marrying? But this happens much more frequently in intellectual matters, as we see in most of the propositions of Euclid, which, till demonstrated, seem strange, but when demonstrated, the mind receives them by a kind of affinity, as if we had known them before. Another error of the same nature is an imagination that of all ancient opinions or sects, the best has ever prevailed, and suppressed the rest; so that if a man begins a new search, he must happen upon somewhat formerly rejected; and by rejection, brought into oblivion; as if the multitude, or the wiser sort to please the multitude, would not often give way to what is light and popular, rather than maintain what is substantial and deep.

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Another different error is, the over-early and peremptory reduction of knowledge into arts and methods, from which time the sciences are seldom improved; for as young men rarely grow in stature after their shape and limbs are fully formed, so knowledge, while it lies in aphorisms and observations, remains in a growing state; but when once fashioned into methods, though it may be further polished, illustrated, and fitted for use, it no longer increases in bulk and substance.

Another error is, that after the distribution of particular arts and sciences, men generally abandon the study of nature, or universal philosophy, which stops all further progress. For as no perfect view of a country can be taken upon a flat, so it is impossible to discover the remote and deep parts of any science by standing upon the level of the same science, or without ascending to a higher.

Another error proceeds from too great a reverence, and a kind of adoration paid to the human understanding; whence men have withdrawn themselves from the contemplation of nature and experience, and sported with their own reason and the fictions of fancy.

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Another error is, that men often infect their speculations and doctrines with some particular opinions they happen to be fond of, or the particular sciences whereto they have most applied, and thence give all other things a tincture that is utterly foreign to them. Thus Plato mixed philosophy with theology; 66 Aristotle with logic; Proclus with mathematics; as these arts were a kind of elder and favorite children with them. Another error is, an impatience of doubting and a blind hurry of asserting without a mature suspension of judgment.

For the two ways of contemplation are like the two ways of action so frequently mentioned by the ancients; the one plain and easy at first, but in the end impassable; the other rough and fatiguing in the entrance, but soon after fair and even: so in contemplation, if we begin with certainties, we shall end in doubts; but if we begin with doubts, and are patient in them, we shall end in certainties.

Another error lies in the manner of delivering knowledge, which is generally magisterial and peremptory, not ingenuous and open, but suited to gain belief without examination. And in compendious treatises for practice, this form should not be disallowed; but in the true delivering of knowledge, both extremes are to be avoided; viz.

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There are other errors in the scope that men propose to themselves: for whereas the more diligent professors of any science ought chiefly to endeavor the making some additions or improvements therein, they aspire only to certain second prizes; as to be a profound commentator, a sharp disputant, a methodical compiler, or abridger, whence the returns or revenues of knowledge are sometimes increased, but not the inheritance and stock. But the greatest error of all is, mistaking the ultimate end of knowledge; for some men covet knowledge out of a natural curiosity and inquisitive temper; some to entertain the mind with variety and delight; some for ornament and reputation; some for victory and contention; many for lucre and a livelihood; and but few for employing the Divine gift of reason to the use and benefit of mankind.

Thus some appear to seek in knowledge a couch for a Edition: current; Page: [ 66 ] searching spirit; others, a walk for a wandering mind; others, a tower of state; others, a fort, or commanding ground; and others, a shop for profit or sale, instead of a storehouse for the glory of the Creator and the endowment of human life.

But that which must dignify and exalt knowledge is the more intimate and strict conjunction of contemplation and action; a conjunction like that of Saturn, the planet of rest and contemplation; and Jupiter, the planet of civil society and action. But here, by use and action, we do not mean the applying of knowledge to lucre, for that diverts the advancement of knowledge, as the golden ball thrown before Atalanta, which, while she stoops to take up, the race is hindered.

Nor do we mean, as was said of Socrates, to call philosophy down from heaven to converse upon earth: 70 that is, to leave natural philosophy behind, and apply knowledge only to morality and policy: but as both heaven and earth contribute to the use and benefit of man, so the end ought to be, from both philosophies, to separate and reject vain and empty speculations, and preserve and increase all that is solid and fruitful.

We have now laid open by a kind of dissection the chief of those peccant humors which have not only retarded the advancement of learning, but tended to its traducement. It is, notwithstanding, far from our Edition: current; Page: [ 67 ] purpose to enter into fulsome laudations of learning, or to make a hymn to the Muses, though we are of opinion that it is long since their rites were celebrated; but our intent is to balance the dignity of knowledge in the scale with other things, and to estimate their true values according to universal testimony. Next, therefore, let us seek the dignity of knowledge in its original; that is, in the attributes and acts of God, so far as they are revealed to man, and may be observed with sobriety.

But here we are not to seek it by the name of learning; for all learning is knowledge acquired, but all knowledge in God is original: we must, therefore, look for it under the name of wisdom or sapience, as the Scriptures call it. In the work of creation we see a double emanation of virtue from God; the one relating more properly to power, the other to wisdom; the one expressed in making the matter, and the other in disposing the form. To proceed from God to spirits. We find, as far as credit may be given to the celestial hierarchy of the supposed Dionysius the Areopagite, the first place is given to the angels of love, termed Seraphim; the second, to the angels of light, called Cherubim; and the third and following places to thrones, principalities, and the rest, which are all angels of power and ministry; so that the angels of knowledge and illumination are placed before the angels of office and domination.

To descend from spiritual and intellectual, to sensible and material forms; we read the first created form was light, 74 which, in nature and corporeal things, hath a relation and correspondence to knowledge in spirits, and things incorporeal; so, in the distribution of days, we find the day wherein God rested and completed his works, was blessed above all the days wherein he wrought them.

Again, the first acts which man performed in Paradise consisted of the two summary parts of knowledge, a view of the creature, and imposition of names. In the first event after the fall, we find an image of the two states, the contemplative and the active, figured out in the persons of Abel and Cain, by the two simplest and most primitive trades, that of the shepherd and that of the husbandman; 77 where again, the favor of God went to the shepherd, and not to the tiller of the ground.

So in the age before the flood, the sacred records mention the name of the inventors of music and workers in metal. Another hereupon observes a position of moral philosophy, that men abandoned to vice do not corrupt the manners of others, so much as those who are but half wicked. And in many other places of the Jewish law, besides the theological sense, there are couched many philosophical matters.

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The book of Job 83 likewise will be found, if examined with care, pregnant with the secrets of natural philosophy. Nor did the dispensation of God vary in the times after our Saviour, who himself first showed his power to subdue ignorance, by conferring with the priests and doctors of the law, before he showed his power to subdue nature by miracles. And the coming of the Holy Spirit was chiefly expressed in the gift of tongues, which are but the conveyance of knowledge.

So in the election of those instruments it pleased God to use for planting the faith, though at first he employed persons altogether unlearned, otherwise than by inspiration, the more evidently to declare his immediate working, and to humble all human wisdom or knowledge, yet in the next succession he sent out his divine truth into the world, attended with other parts of learning as with servants or handmaids; thus St. Paul, who was the only learned among the apostles, had his pen most employed in the writings of the New Testament. Again, we find that many of the ancient bishops and fathers of the Church were well versed in all the learning of the heathens, insomuch that the edict of the Emperor Julian prohibiting Christians the schools and exercises, was accounted a more pernicious engine against the faith than all the sanguinary persecution of his predecessors.

And of late years the Jesuits, partly of themselves and partly provoked by example, have greatly enlivened and strengthened the state of learning, and contributed to establish the Roman See. And thus much for Divine testimony concerning the dignity and merits of learning. Next for human proofs. Deification was the highest honor among the heathens; that is, to obtain veneration as a god was the supreme respect which man could pay to man, especially when given, not by a formal act of state as it usually was to the Roman emperors, but from a voluntary, internal assent and acknowledgment.

This honor being so high, there was also constituted a middle kind, for human honors were inferior to honors heroical and divine. Edition: current; Page: [ 72 ] Antiquity observed this difference in their distribution, that whereas founders of states, lawgivers, extirpers of tyrants, fathers of the people, and other eminent persons in civil merit, were honored but with the titles of heroes, or demigods, such as Hercules, Theseus, Minos, Romulus, etc.

Inventors, and authors of new arts or discoveries for the service of human life, were ever advanced among the gods, as in the case of Ceres, Bacchus, Mercury, Apollo, and others. And this appears to have been done with great justice and judgment, for the merits of the former being generally confined within the circle of one age or nation, are but like fruitful showers, which serve only for a season and a small extent, while the others are like the benefits of the sun, permanent and universal.

Again, the former are mixed with strife and contention, while the latter have the true character of the Divine presence, as coming in a gentle gale without noise or tumult.


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  • The merit of learning in remedying the inconveniences arising from man to man, is not much inferior to that of relieving human necessities. Such senators likewise as are learned proceed upon more safe and substantial principles than mere men of experience—the former view dangers afar off, while the latter discover them not till they are at hand, and then trust to their wit to avoid them. This felicity of times under learned princes appears eminent in the age between the death of Domitian and the reign of Commodus, comprehending a succession of six princes, all of them learned, or singular favorers and promoters of learning.

    And this age, for temporal respects, was the happiest and most flourishing that ever the Roman State enjoyed; as was revealed to Domitian in a dream the night before he was slain, 96 when he beheld a neck and head of gold growing upon his shoulders; a vision which was, in the golden times succeeding this divination, fully accomplished. Though the taste of his court was warlike, professors and preceptors were found there in great credit and admiration.

    Adrian was the greatest inquirer that ever lived, and an insatiable explorer into everything curious and profound.