Philosophy Index

Francis Bacon

The Advancement of Learning

Second Book

XIX. (1) There remain two appendices touching the tradition of knowledge, the one critical, the other pedantical.  For all knowledge is either delivered by teachers, or attained by men’s proper endeavours: and therefore as the principal part of tradition of knowledge concerneth chiefly writing of books, so the relative part thereof concerneth reading of books; whereunto appertain incidently these considerations.  The first is concerning the true correction and edition of authors; wherein nevertheless rash diligence hath done great prejudice.  For these critics have often presumed that that which they understand not is false set down: as the priest that, where he found it written of St. Paul Demissus est per sportam, mended his book, and made it Demissus est per portam; because sporta was a hard word, and out of his reading: and surely their errors, though they be not so palpable and ridiculous, yet are of the same kind.  And therefore, as it hath been wisely noted, the most corrected copies are commonly the least correct.

The second is concerning the exposition and explication of authors, which resteth in annotations and commentaries: wherein it is over usual to blanch the obscure places and discourse upon the plain.

The third is concerning the times, which in many cases give great light to true interpretations.

The fourth is concerning some brief censure and judgment of the authors; that men thereby may make some election unto themselves what books to read.

And the fifth is concerning the syntax and disposition of studies; that men may know in what order or pursuit to read.

(2) For pedantical knowledge, it containeth that difference of tradition which is proper for youth; whereunto appertain divers considerations of great fruit.

As first, the timing and seasoning of knowledges; as with what to initiate them, and from what for a time to refrain them.

Secondly, the consideration where to begin with the easiest, and so proceed to the more difficult; and in what courses to press the more difficult, and then to turn them to the more easy; for it is one method to practise swimming with bladders, and another to practise dancing with heavy shoes.

A third is the application of learning according unto the propriety of the wits; for there is no defect in the faculties intellectual, but seemeth to have a proper cure contained in some studies: as, for example, if a child be bird-witted, that is, hath not the faculty of attention, the mathematics giveth a remedy thereunto; for in them, if the wit be caught away but a moment, one is new to begin.  And as sciences have a propriety towards faculties for cure and help, so faculties or powers have a sympathy towards sciences for excellency or speedy profiting: and therefore it is an inquiry of great wisdom, what kinds of wits and natures are most apt and proper for what sciences.

Fourthly, the ordering of exercises is matter of great consequence to hurt or help: for, as is well observed by Cicero, men in exercising their faculties, if they be not well advised, do exercise their faults and get ill habits as well as good; so as there is a great judgment to be had in the continuance and intermission of exercises.  It were too long to particularise a number of other considerations of this nature, things but of mean appearance, but of singular efficacy.  For as the wronging or cherishing of seeds or young plants is that that is most important to their thriving, and as it was noted that the first six kings being in truth as tutors of the state of Rome in the infancy thereof was the principal cause of the immense greatness of that state which followed, so the culture and manurance of minds in youth hath such a forcible (though unseen) operation, as hardly any length of time or contention of labour can countervail it afterwards.  And it is not amiss to observe also how small and mean faculties gotten by education, yet when they fall into great men or great matters, do work great and important effects: whereof we see a notable example in Tacitus of two stage players, Percennius and Vibulenus, who by their faculty of playing put the Pannonian armies into an extreme tumult and combustion. 

For there arising a mutiny amongst them upon the death of Augustus Cæsar, Blæsus the lieutenant had committed some of the mutineers, which were suddenly rescued; whereupon Vibulenus got to be heard speak, which he did in this manner:- “These poor innocent wretches appointed to cruel death, you have restored to behold the light; but who shall restore my brother to me, or life unto my brother, that was sent hither in message from the legions of Germany, to treat of the common cause? and he hath murdered him this last night by some of his fencers and ruffians, that he hath about him for his executioners upon soldiers.  Answer, Blæsus, what is done with his body?  The mortalest enemies do not deny burial.  When I have performed my last duties to the corpse with kisses, with tears, command me to be slain besides him; so that these my fellows, for our good meaning and our true hearts to the legions, may have leave to bury us.”  With which speech he put the army into an infinite fury and uproar: whereas truth was he had no brother, neither was there any such matter; but he played it merely as if he had been upon the stage.

(3) But to return: we are now come to a period of rational knowledges; wherein if I have made the divisions other than those that are received, yet would I not be thought to disallow all those divisions which I do not use.  For there is a double necessity imposed upon me of altering the divisions.  The one, because it differeth in end and purpose, to sort together those things which are next in nature, and those things which are next in use.  For if a secretary of estate should sort his papers, it is like in his study or general cabinet he would sort together things of a nature, as treaties, instructions, &c. 

But in his boxes or particular cabinet he would sort together those that he were like to use together, though of several natures.  So in this general cabinet of knowledge it was necessary for me to follow the divisions of the nature of things; whereas if myself had been to handle any particular knowledge, I would have respected the divisions fittest for use.  The other, because the bringing in of the deficiences did by consequence alter the partitions of the rest.  For let the knowledge extant (for demonstration sake) be fifteen.  Let the knowledge with the deficiences be twenty; the parts of fifteen are not the parts of twenty; for the parts of fifteen are three and five; the parts of twenty are two, four, five, and ten.  So as these things are without contradiction, and could not otherwise be.

The Advancement of Learning by Francis Bacon.