To the King.
There were under the law, excellent King, both daily sacrifices and freewill offerings; the one proceeding upon ordinary observance, the other upon a devout cheerfulness: in like manner there belongeth to kings from their servants both tribute of duty and presents of affection.
In the former of these I hope I shall not live to be wanting, according to my most humble duty and the good pleasure of your Majesty’s employments: for the latter, I thought it more respective to make choice of some oblation which might rather refer to the propriety and excellency of your individual person, than to the business of your crown and state.
Wherefore, representing your Majesty many times unto my mind, and beholding you not with the inquisitive eye of presumption, to discover that which the Scripture telleth me is inscrutable, but with the observant eye of duty and admiration, leaving aside the other parts of your virtue and fortune, I have been touched—yea, and possessed—with an extreme wonder at those your virtues and faculties, which the philosophers call intellectual; the largeness of your capacity, the faithfulness of your memory, the swiftness of your apprehension, the penetration of your judgment, and the facility and order of your elocution: and I have often thought that of all the persons living that I have known, your Majesty were the best instance to make a man of Plato’s opinion, that all knowledge is but remembrance, and that the mind of man by Nature knoweth all things, and hath but her own native and original notions (which by the strangeness and darkness of this tabernacle of the body are sequestered) again revived and restored: such a light of Nature I have observed in your Majesty, and such a readiness to take flame and blaze from the least occasion presented, or the least spark of another’s knowledge delivered. And as the Scripture saith of the wisest king, “That his heart was as the sands of the sea;” which, though it be one of the largest bodies, yet it consisteth of the smallest and finest portions; so hath God given your Majesty a composition of understanding admirable, being able to compass and comprehend the greatest matters, and nevertheless to touch and apprehend the least; whereas it should seem an impossibility in Nature for the same instrument to make itself fit for great and small works. And for your gift of speech, I call to mind what Cornelius Tacitus saith of Augustus Cæsar: Augusto profluens, et quæ principem deceret, eloquentia fuit. For if we note it well, speech that is uttered with labour and difficulty, or speech that savoureth of the affectation of art and precepts, or speech that is framed after the imitation of some pattern of eloquence, though never so excellent; all this hath somewhat servile, and holding of the subject. But your Majesty’s manner of speech is, indeed, prince-like, flowing as from a fountain, and yet streaming and branching itself into Nature’s order, full of facility and felicity, imitating none, and inimitable by any. And as in your civil estate there appeareth to be an emulation and contention of your Majesty’s virtue with your fortune; a virtuous disposition with a fortunate regiment; a virtuous expectation (when time was) of your greater fortune, with a prosperous possession thereof in the due time; a virtuous observation of the laws of marriage, with most blessed and happy fruit of marriage; a virtuous and most Christian desire of peace, with a fortunate inclination in your neighbour princes thereunto: so likewise in these intellectual matters there seemeth to be no less contention between the excellency of your Majesty’s gifts of Nature and the universality and perfection of your learning. For I am well assured that this which I shall say is no amplification at all, but a positive and measured truth; which is, that there hath not been since Christ’s time any king or temporal monarch which hath been so learned in all literature and erudition, divine and human. For let a man seriously and diligently revolve and peruse the succession of the Emperors of Rome, of which Cæsar the Dictator (who lived some years before Christ) and Marcus Antoninus were the best learned, and so descend to the Emperors of Græcia, or of the West, and then to the lines of France, Spain, England, Scotland, and the rest, and he shall find this judgment is truly made. For it seemeth much in a king if, by the compendious extractions of other men’s wits and labours, he can take hold of any superficial ornaments and shows of learning, or if he countenance and prefer learning and learned men; but to drink, indeed, of the true fountains of learning—nay, to have such a fountain of learning in himself, in a king, and in a king born—is almost a miracle. And the more, because there is met in your Majesty a rare conjunction, as well of divine and sacred literature as of profane and human; so as your Majesty standeth invested of that triplicity, which in great veneration was ascribed to the ancient Hermes: the power and fortune of a king, the knowledge and illumination of a priest, and the learning and universality of a philosopher.
This propriety inherent and individual attribute in your Majesty deserveth to be expressed not only in the fame and admiration of the present time, nor in the history or tradition of the ages succeeding, but also in some solid work, fixed memorial, and immortal monument, bearing a character or signature both of the power of a king and the difference and perfection of such a king.
Therefore I did conclude with myself that I could not make unto your Majesty a better oblation than of some treatise tending to that end, whereof the sum will consist of these two parts: the former concerning the excellency of learning and knowledge, and the excellency of the merit and true glory in the augmentation and propagation thereof; the latter, what the particular acts and works are which have been embraced and undertaken for the advancement of learning; and again, what defects and undervalues I find in such particular acts: to the end that though I cannot positively or affirmatively advise your Majesty, or propound unto you framed particulars, yet I may excite your princely cogitations to visit the excellent treasure of your own mind, and thence to extract particulars for this purpose agreeable to your magnanimity and wisdom.
I. (1) In the entrance to the former of these—to clear the way and, as it were, to make silence, to have the true testimonies concerning the dignity of learning to be better heard, without the interruption of tacit objections—I think good to deliver it from the discredits and disgraces which it hath received, all from ignorance, but ignorance severally disguised; appearing sometimes in the zeal and jealousy of divines, sometimes in the severity and arrogancy of politics, and sometimes in the errors and imperfections of learned men themselves.
(2) I hear the former sort say that knowledge is of those things which are to be accepted of with great limitation and caution; that the aspiring to overmuch knowledge was the original temptation and sin whereupon ensued the fall of man; that knowledge hath in it somewhat of the serpent, and, therefore, where it entereth into a man it makes him swell; Scientia inflat; that Solomon gives a censure, “That there is no end of making books, and that much reading is weariness of the flesh;” and again in another place, “That in spacious knowledge there is much contristation, and that he that increaseth knowledge increaseth anxiety;” that Saint Paul gives a caveat, “That we be not spoiled through vain philosophy;” that experience demonstrates how learned men have been arch-heretics, how learned times have been inclined to atheism, and how the contemplation of second causes doth derogate from our dependence upon God, who is the first cause.
(3) To discover, then, the ignorance and error of this opinion, and the misunderstanding in the grounds thereof, it may well appear these men do not observe or consider that it was not the pure knowledge of Nature and universality, a knowledge by the light whereof man did give names unto other creatures in Paradise as they were brought before him according unto their proprieties, which gave the occasion to the fall; but it was the proud knowledge of good and evil, with an intent in man to give law unto himself, and to depend no more upon God’s commandments, which was the form of the temptation. Neither is it any quantity of knowledge, how great soever, that can make the mind of man to swell; for nothing can fill, much less extend the soul of man, but God and the contemplation of God; and, therefore, Solomon, speaking of the two principal senses of inquisition, the eye and the ear, affirmeth that the eye is never satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing; and if there be no fulness, then is the continent greater than the content: so of knowledge itself and the mind of man, whereto the senses are but reporters, he defineth likewise in these words, placed after that calendar or ephemerides which he maketh of the diversities of times and seasons for all actions and purposes, and concludeth thus: “God hath made all things beautiful, or decent, in the true return of their seasons. Also He hath placed the world in man’s heart, yet cannot man find out the work which God worketh from the beginning to the end”—declaring not obscurely that God hath framed the mind of man as a mirror or glass, capable of the image of the universal world, and joyful to receive the impression thereof, as the eye joyeth to receive light; and not only delighted in beholding the variety of things and vicissitude of times, but raised also to find out and discern the ordinances and decrees which throughout all those changes are infallibly observed. And although he doth insinuate that the supreme or summary law of Nature (which he calleth “the work which God worketh from the beginning to the end”) is not possible to be found out by man, yet that doth not derogate from the capacity of the mind; but may be referred to the impediments, as of shortness of life, ill conjunction of labours, ill tradition of knowledge over from hand to hand, and many other inconveniences, whereunto the condition of man is subject. For that nothing parcel of the world is denied to man’s inquiry and invention, he doth in another place rule over, when he saith, “The spirit of man is as the lamp of God, wherewith He searcheth the inwardness of all secrets.” If, then, such be the capacity and receipt of the mind of man, it is manifest that there is no danger at all in the proportion or quantity of knowledge, how large soever, lest it should make it swell or out-compass itself; no, but it is merely the quality of knowledge, which, be it in quantity more or less, if it be taken without the true corrective thereof, hath in it some nature of venom or malignity, and some effects of that venom, which is ventosity or swelling. This corrective spice, the mixture whereof maketh knowledge so sovereign, is charity, which the Apostle immediately addeth to the former clause; for so he saith, “Knowledge bloweth up, but charity buildeth up;” not unlike unto that which he deilvereth in another place: “If I spake,” saith he, “with the tongues of men and angels, and had not charity, it were but as a tinkling cymbal.”
Not but that it is an excellent thing to speak with the tongues of men and angels, but because, if it be severed from charity, and not referred to the good of men and mankind, it hath rather a sounding and unworthy glory than a meriting and substantial virtue. And as for that censure of Solomon concerning the excess of writing and reading books, and the anxiety of spirit which redoundeth from knowledge, and that admonition of St. Paul, “That we be not seduced by vain philosophy,” let those places be rightly understood; and they do, indeed, excellently set forth the true bounds and limitations whereby human knowledge is confined and circumscribed, and yet without any such contracting or coarctation, but that it may comprehend all the universal nature of things; for these limitations are three: the first, “That we do not so place our felicity in knowledge, as we forget our mortality;” the second, “That we make application of our knowledge, to give ourselves repose and contentment, and not distaste or repining;” the third, “That we do not presume by the contemplation of Nature to attain to the mysteries of God.” For as touching the first of these, Solomon doth excellently expound himself in another place of the same book, where he saith: “I saw well that knowledge recedeth as far from ignorance as light doth from darkness; and that the wise man’s eyes keep watch in his head, whereas this fool roundeth about in darkness: but withal I learned that the same mortality involveth them both.” And for the second, certain it is there is no vexation or anxiety of mind which resulteth from knowledge otherwise than merely by accident; for all knowledge and wonder (which is the seed of knowledge) is an impression of pleasure in itself; but when men fall to framing conclusions out of their knowledge, applying it to their particular, and ministering to themselves thereby weak fears or vast desires, there groweth that carefulness and trouble of mind which is spoken of; for then knowledge is no more Lumen siccum, whereof Heraclitus the profound said, Lumen siccum optima anima; but it becometh Lumen madidum, or maceratum, being steeped and infused in the humours of the affections. And as for the third point, it deserveth to be a little stood upon, and not to be lightly passed over; for if any man shall think by view and inquiry into these sensible and material things to attain that light, whereby he may reveal unto himself the nature or will of God, then, indeed, is he spoiled by vain philosophy; for the contemplation of God’s creatures and works produceth (having regard to the works and creatures themselves) knowledge, but having regard to God no perfect knowledge, but wonder, which is broken knowledge. And, therefore, it was most aptly said by one of Plato’s school, “That the sense of man carrieth a resemblance with the sun, which (as we see) openeth and revealeth all the terrestrial globe; but then, again, it obscureth and concealeth the stars and celestial globe: so doth the sense discover natural things, but it darkeneth and shutteth up divine.” And hence it is true that it hath proceeded, that divers great learned men have been heretical, whilst they have sought to fly up to the secrets of the Deity by this waxen wings of the senses. And as for the conceit that too much knowledge should incline a man to atheism, and that the ignorance of second causes should make a more devout dependence upon God, which is the first cause; first, it is good to ask the question which Job asked of his friends: “Will you lie for God, as one man will lie for another, to gratify him?” For certain it is that God worketh nothing in Nature but by second causes; and if they would have it otherwise believed, it is mere imposture, as it were in favour towards God, and nothing else but to offer to the Author of truth the unclean sacrifice of a lie. But further, it is an assured truth, and a conclusion of experience, that a little or superficial knowledge of philosophy may incline the mind of men to atheism, but a further proceeding therein doth bring the mind back again to religion. For in the entrance of philosophy, when the second causes, which are next unto the senses, do offer themselves to the mind of man, if it dwell and stay there it may induce some oblivion of the highest cause; but when a man passeth on further and seeth the dependence of causes and the works of Providence; then, according to the allegory of the poets, he will easily believe that the highest link of Nature’s chain must needs he tied to the foot of Jupiter’s chair. To conclude, therefore, let no man upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill-applied moderation think or maintain that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or in the book of God’s works, divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless progress or proficience in both; only let men beware that they apply both to charity, and not to swelling; to use, and not to ostentation; and again, that they do not unwisely mingle or confound these learnings together.
The Advancement of Learning by Francis Bacon.