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We have now collected all of Bacon's philosophical works which there is reason to believe he would himself have cared to preserve. The rest contain but little matter of which the substance may not be found in one part or another of the preceding volumes, reduced to the shape in which he thought it would be most effective. In his eyes, those which follow belonged to the part of the race which was past and was not to be looked back upon; for the end which he was pursuing lay still far before him, and his great anxiety was to bequeath the pursuit to a second generation, which should start fresh from the point where he was obliged to leave it.
It is not so however with us. In our eyes the interest which attaches to his labours is of a different kind. We no longer look for the discovery of any great treasure by following in that direction. His peculiar system of philosophy,—that is to say, the peculiar method of investigation, the “organum," the “formula,” the “clavis," the “ars ipsa interpretandi naturam," the “filum Labyrinthi,” or by whichever of its many names we choose to call that artificial process by which alone he believed that man could attain a knowledge of the laws and a command over the powers of nature, — of this philosophy we can make nothing. If we have not tried it, it is because we feel confident that it would not answer. We regard it as a curious piece of machinery, very subtle, elaborate, and ingenious, but not worth constructing, because all the work it could do may be done more easily another way. But though this, the favourite child of Bacon's genius which he would fain have made heir of all he had, died thus in the cradle, his genius itself still lives and works among us; whatever brings us into nearer communion with that is still interesting, and it is as a product and exponent of Bacon's own mind and character that the Baconian philosophy, properly so called, retains its chief value for modern men.
Viewed in this light, the superseded or abandoned pieces which are here gathered together under this third head are among the most interesting of the whole collection. For in them we may trace more than can be traced elsewhere of what may be called the personal history of his great philosophical scheme, — the practical enterprise in which it engaged him, and its effect on his inner and outer life. We cannot indeed trace the Idea back to its great dawn: to the days when, in the fearless confidence of four and twenty, he wrote TEMPORIS PARTUS MAXIMUS at the head of the manuscript in which it was first set forth, — thinking no doubt in his inexperience that Truth had only to show her face in order to prevail. Our records do not go so far back as that: and before the period at which they begin a shadow had fallen across the prospect. The presumptuous “maximus” has been silently withdrawn and “masculus” put in its place. Instead of that overconfidence in the sympathy of his generation we find what looks like an overapprehension of hostility. And it is in deprecating general objections; in answering, mollifying, conciliating, or contriving to pass by prejudices; in devising prefaces, apologies, modes of putting his case and selecting his audience so as to obtain a dispassionate hearing for it; that we find him, if not chiefly, yet much and anxiously employed.
It is probably to the experiences and discouragements of this part of his career that we owe the greater part of the first book of the Novum Organum, which embodies all the defensive measures into which they drove him; but though the result may be seen there, the history may be better traced in these fragments. It is in them that we can best see how early this idea of recovering to Man the mastery over Nature presented itself to him; presented itself not as a vague speculation or poetic dream, but as an object to be attempted; the highest at which a man could aim, yet not too high for man to aim at; — how certain he felt that it might be accomplished if men would but make the trial fairly; how clearly he saw or thought he saw the way to set about it; how vast his expectations of the good to come; how unshakable his confidence in the means to be used; what immense intellectual operations that confidence gave him courage to enter upon and patience to proceed with, - deliberately, alone, year after year, and decade after decade, still hoping for success in the end, -- delays, distractions, disappointments, discouragements internal and external, notwithstanding. They serve moreover to remind us of another fact which it is not unimportant to remember, and which, judging from the events of later times, we are too apt to overlook or forget, — namely, how little authority in matters of this kind his name carried with it in those days. “A fool could not have written it, and a wise man would not,” is said to have been the criticism of a great Oxford scholar upon an early sketch of the Instauratio. And how little Bacon could trust for a favourable hearing of his case to his personal reputation among his contemporaries during the first fifty years of his life, appears from his hesitation, uncertainty, and anxiety as to the form in which he should cast it, and the manner in which he should bring it forward. For we find among these fragments not merely successive drafts of the same design, (which would prove nothing more than solicitude to do the work well,) but also experimental variations of the design itself, in which the same matter is dressed up in different disguises, with the object apparently of keeping the author out of sight; as if he had thought that a project of such magnitude would be entertained less favourably if associated with the person of one who had done nothing as yet to prove any peculiar aptitude for scientific investigation, or to entitle him to speak on such matters with authority. Thus at one time he seems to have thought of bringing his work out under a fanciful name, probably with some fanciful story to explain it; as we see in the mysterious title “ Valerius Terminus, &c. with the Annotations of Hermes Stella.” At another he presents the same argument in a dramatic form ; as in the Redargutio Philosophiarum, where great part of what became afterwards the first book of the Novum Organum is given as a report of a speech addressed to an assembly of philosophers at Paris. At another he tries to disguise himself under a style of assumed superiority, quite unlike his natural style; as in the Temporis Partus Masculus, where again the very same argument (for it is but another version of the Redargutio Philosophiarum) is set forth in a spirit of scornful invective poured out upon all the popular reputations in the annals of philosophy; - a spirit not only alien from all his own tastes and habits moral and intellectual, but directly at variance with the policy which he was actually pursuing in this very matter; which was to avoid as much as possible all contradiction and collision, and to treat popular prejudices of all kinds with the greatest courtesy and tenderness: — an inconsistency which I know not how to account for, except by supposing that he had been trying experiments as to the various ways in which popular opinion may be conciliated; and knowing that many a man had enjoyed great authority in the world by no better title than that of boldly assuming it, had a mind to try how he could act that part himself, and so wrote this exercise to see the effect of it; and finding the effect bad, laid it by. Another thought which he had, - still probably with the same view of avoiding the contrast between the lofty pretensions of the project and the small reputation of the author, -- was to publish it in a distant place. In July, 1608, remembering that a prophet is not without honour except in his own country, he was considering the expediency of beginning to print in France. And about the same time the idea of shadowing himself under the darkness of antiquity seems to have occurred to him: for I am much inclined to think that it was some such consideration which induced him in 1609 to bring out his little book De Sapientiâ Veterum ; where, fancying that some of the cardinal principles of his own philosophy lay hid in the oldest Greek fables, he took advantage of the circumstance to bring them forward under the sanction of that ancient prescription, — and so made those fables serve partly as pioneers to prepare his way, and partly as auxiliaries to enforce his authority,
Altogether, the result of my endeavours to arrange and understand these experimental essays and discarded beginnings, is a conviction that Bacon was not more profoundly convinced that he was right, than uneasily apprehensive that his contemporaries would never think him so; and that for the first fifty years of his life his chief anxiety was, not so much to bring his work into the most perfect shape according to his own conception, as to bring it before the world in a manner which should insure patient and attentive listeners, and involve least risk of miscarriage, — the carrying of the world with him being in such an enterprise a condition essential to success. And this I have thought the more worth pointing out, because the course of
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proceeding which he ultimately resolved on tends to hide it from us. For his final resolution was, as we know, to discard all fictions and disguises, and utter his own thoughts in his own person after the manner which was most natural to him. But we are to remember that before he came to that determination, or at least before he put it in execution, the case was materially altered and the principal cause of embarrassment removed. For besides that he had then been four years Lord Chancellor, the great reputation which he had acquired in other fields -- in the House of Commons, the Courts of Law, and the Star-Chamber, coupled with the well-known fact that his favourite pursuit all the time had been natural philosophy, concerning which he had long had a great work in preparation,—this reputation had given to his name the weight which before it wanted; insomuch that there was then perhaps no mouth in Europe which could command a larger audience, or from which the prophecy of a new intellectual era coming upon the earth could proceed with greater authority, than that of Francis Bacon.
Nevertheless, when I say that these pieces are chiefly interesting on account of the light they throw on Bacon's personal hopes, fears, and struggles, I am far from meaning to underrate their intrinsic and independent value. Those who are most perfectly acquainted with the works by which they were superseded will not the less find them well worth the studying. Many of them are in form and composition among Bacon's most perfect productions; and if in successive processes of digestion he succeeded in sinking the thought deeper and packing the words closer, it was often at the expense of many natural and original graces. What they have gained in weight and solidity they have lost sometimes in freshness, freedom, and perspicuity; and it will generally be found that each helps to throw light on the other.