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FIRST BOOK - Sir Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning 
The Advancement of Learning, by Lord Bacon, edited by Joseph Devey, M.A. (New York: P.F. Collier and Son, 1901).
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The Different Objections to Learning stated and confuted; its Dignity and Merit maintained
TO THE KING
AS UNDER the old law, most excellent king, there were daily sacrifices and free oblations1 —the one arising out of ritual observance, and the other from a pious generosity, so I deem that all faithful subjects owe their kings a double tribute of affection and duty. In the first I hope I shall never be found deficient, but as regards the latter, though doubtful of the worthiness of my choice, I thought it more befitting to tender to your Majesty that service which rather refers to the excellence of your individual person than to the business of the State.
In bearing your Majesty in mind, as is frequently my custom and duty, I have been often struck with admiration, apart from your other gifts of virtue and fortune, at the surprising development of that part of your nature which philosophers call intellectual. The deep and broad capacity of your mind, the grasp of your memory, the quickness of your apprehension, the penetration of your judgment, your lucid method of arrangement, and easy facility of speech—at such extraordinary endowments I am forcibly reminded of the saying of Plato, “that all science is but remembrance,”2 and that the human mind is originally imbued with all knowledge; that which she seems adventitiously to acquire in life being nothing more than a return to her first conceptions, which had been overlaid by the grossness of the body. In no person so much as your Majesty does this opinion appear more fully confirmed, your soul being apt to kindle at the intrusion of the slightest object; and even at the spark of a thought foreign to the purpose to burst into flame. As the Scripture says of the wisest king, “That his heart was as the sands of the sea,”3 which, though one of the largest bodies, contains the finest and smallest particles of matter. In like manner God has endowed your Majesty with a mind capable of grasping the largest subjects and comprehending the least, though such an instrument seems an impossibility in nature. As regards your readiness of speech, I am reminded of that saying of Tacitus concerning Augustus Cæsar, “Augusto profluens ut quæ principem virum deceret, eloquentia fuit.”4 For all eloquence which is affected or overlabored, or merely imitative, though otherwise excellent, carries with it an air of servility, nor is it free to follow its own impulses. But your Majesty’s eloquence is indeed royal, streaming and branching out in nature’s fashion as from a fountain, copious and elegant, original and inimitable. And as in those things which concern your crown and family, virtue seems to contend with fortune—your Majesty being possessed of a virtuous disposition and a prosperous government, a virtuous observance of the duties of the conjugal state with most blessed and happy fruit of marriage, a virtuous and most Christian desire of peace at a time when contemporary princes seem no less inclined to harmony—so likewise in intellectual gifts there appears as great a contention between your Majesty’s natural talents and the universality and perfection of your learning. Nor indeed would it be easy to find any monarch since the Christian era who could bear any comparison with your Majesty in the variety and depth of your erudition. Let any one run over the whole line of kings, and he will agree with me. It indeed seems a great thing in a monarch, if he can find time to digest a compendium or imbibe the simple elements of science, or love and countenance learning; but that a king, and he a king born, should have drunk at the true fountain of knowledge, yea, rather, should have a fountain of learning in himself, is indeed little short of a miracle. And the more since in your Majesty’s heart are united all the treasures of sacred and profane knowledge, so that like Hermes your Majesty is invested with a triple glory, being distinguished no less by the power of a king than by the illumination of a priest and the learning of a philosopher.5 Since, then, your Majesty surpasses other monarchs by this property, which is peculiarly your own, it is but just that this dignified pre-eminence should not only be celebrated in the mouths of the present age, and be transmitted to posterity, but also that it should be engraved in some solid work which might serve to denote the power of so great a king and the height of his learning.
Therefore, to return to our undertaking: no oblation seemed more suitable than some treatise relating to that purpose, the sum of which should consist of two parts—the first of the excellence of learning, and the merit of those who labor judiciously and with energy for its propagation and development. The second, to point out what part of knowledge has been already labored and perfected, and what portions left unfinished or entirely neglected; in order, since I dare not positively advise your Majesty to adopt any particular course, that by a detailed representation of our wants, I may excite your Majesty to examine the treasures of your royal heart, and thence to extract, whatever to your magnanimity and wisdom may seem best fitted to enlarge the boundaries of knowledge.
On the threshold of the first part it is advisable to sift the merits of knowledge, and clear it of the disgrace brought upon it by ignorance, whether disguised (1) in the zeal of divines, (2) the arrogance of politicians, or (3) the errors of men of letters.
Some divines pretend, 1. “That knowledge is to be received with great limitation, as the aspiring to it was the original sin, and the cause of the fall; 2. That it has somewhat of the serpent, and puffeth up”; 3. That Solomon says, “Of making books there is no end: much study is weariness of the flesh; for in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow”:6 4. “That St. Paul cautions being spoiled through vain philosophy”:7 5. “That experience shows learned men have been heretics; and learned times inclined to atheism; and that the contemplation of second causes takes from our dependence upon God, who is the first.”
To this we answer, 1. It was not the pure knowledge of nature, by the light whereof man gave names to all the creatures in Paradise, agreeable to their natures, that occasioned the fall; but the proud knowledge of good and evil, with an intent in man to give law to himself, and depend no more upon God. 2. Nor can any quantity of natural knowledge puff up the mind; for nothing fills, much less distends the soul, but God. Whence as Solomon declares, “That the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing”;8 so of knowledge itself he says, “God hath made all things beautiful in 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”;9 hereby declaring plainly that God has framed the mind like a glass, capable of the image of the universe, and desirous to receive it as the eye to receive the light; and thus it is not only pleased with the variety and vicissitudes of things, but also endeavors to find out the laws they observe in their changes and alterations. And if such be the extent of the mind, there is no danger of filling it with any quantity of knowledge. But it is merely from its quality when taken without the true corrective that knowledge has somewhat of venom or malignity. The corrective which renders it sovereign is charity, for according to St. Paul, “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity buildeth.”10 3. For the excess of writing and reading books, the anxiety of spirit proceeding from knowledge, and the admonition that we be not seduced by vain philosophy; when these passages are rightly understood, they mark out the boundaries of human knowledge, so as to comprehend the universal nature of things. These limitations are three: the first, that we should not place our felicity in knowledge, so as to forget mortality; the second, that we use knowledge so as to give ourselves ease and content, not distaste and repining; and the third, that we presume not by the contemplation of nature, to attain to the mysteries of God. As to the first, Solomon excellently says, “I saw that wisdom excelleth folly as far as light excelleth darkness. The wise man’s eyes are in his head but the fool walketh in darkness; and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.”11 And for the second, it is certain that no vexation or anxiety of mind results from knowledge, but merely by accident; all knowledge, and admiration, which is the seed of knowledge, being pleasant in itself; but when we frame conclusions from our knowledge, apply them to our own particular, and thence minister to ourselves weak fears or vast desires; then comes on that anxiety and trouble of mind which is here meant—when knowledge is no longer the dry light of Heraclitus, but the drenched one, steeped in the humors of the affections.12 4. The third point deserves to be more dwelt upon; for if any man shall think, by his inquiries after material things, to discover the nature or will of God, he is indeed spoiled by vain philosophy; for the contemplation of God’s works produces knowledge, though, with regard to him, not perfect knowledge, but wonder, which is broken knowledge. It may, therefore, be properly said, “That the sense resembles the sun, which shows the terrestrial globe, but conceals the celestial”;13 for thus the sense discovers natural things, while it shuts up divine. And hence some learned men have, indeed, been heretical, while they sought to seize the secrets of the Deity borne on the waxen wings of the senses. 5. As to the point that too much knowledge should incline to atheism, and the ignorance of second causes make us more dependent upon God, we ask Job’s question, “Will ye lie for God, as one man will do for another, to gratify him?”14 For certainly God works nothing in nature but by second causes;15 and to assert the contrary is mere imposture, as it were, in favor of God, and offering up to the author of truth the unclean sacrifice of a lie. Undoubtedly a superficial tincture of philosophy may incline the mind to atheism, yet a further knowledge brings it back to religion;16 for on the threshold of philosophy, where second causes appear to absorb the attention, some oblivion of the highest cause may ensue; but when the mind goes deeper, and sees the dependence of causes and the works of Providence, it will easily perceive, according to the mythology of the poets, that the upper link of Nature’s chain is fastened to Jupiter’s throne.17 To conclude, let no one weakly imagine that man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, and works, divinity, and philosophy; but rather let them endeavor an endless progression in both, only applying all to charity, and not to pride—to use, not ostentation, without confounding the two different streams of philosophy and revelation together.18
The reflections cast upon learning by politicians, are these. 1. “That it enervates men’s minds, and unfits them for arms; 2. That it perverts their dispositions for government and politics; 3. That it makes them too curious and irresolute, by variety of reading; too peremptory or positive by strictness of rules; too immoderate and conceited by the greatness of instances; too unsociable and incapacitated for the times, by the dissimilitude of examples; or at least, 4. That it diverts from action and business, and leads to a love of retirement; 5. That it introduces a relaxation in government, as every man is more ready to argue than obey; whence Cato the censor—when Carneades came ambassador to Rome, and the young Romans, allured with his eloquence, flocked about him—gave counsel in open senate, to grant him his despatch immediately, lest he should infect the minds of the youth, and insensibly occasion an alteration in the State.”19
The same conceit is manifest in Virgil, who, preferring the honor of his country to that of his profession, challenged the arts of policy in the Romans, as something superior to letters, the pre-eminence in which, he freely assigns to the Grecians.
And we also observe that Anytus, the accuser of Socrates, charged him in his impeachment with destroying, in the minds of young men, by his rhetorical arts, all authority and reverence for the laws of the country.20
1. But these and the like imputations have rather a show of gravity, than any just ground; for experience shows that learning and arms have flourished in the same persons and ages. As to persons, there are no better instances than Alexander and Cæsar, the one Aristotle’s scholar in philosophy, and the other Cicero’s rival in eloquence; and again, Epaminondas and Xenophon, the one whereof first abated the power of Sparta, and the other first paved the way for subverting the Persian monarchy. This concurrence of learning and arms, is yet more visible in times than in persons, as an age exceeds a man. For in Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome, the times most famous for arms are likewise most admired for learning; so that the greatest authors and philosophers, the greatest leaders and governors, have lived in the same ages. Nor can it well be otherwise; for as the fulness of human strength, both in body and mind, comes nearly at an age; so arms and learning, one whereof corresponds to the body, the other to the soul, have a near concurrence in point of time.
2. And that learning should rather prove detrimental than serviceable in the art of government, seems very improbable. It is wrong to trust the natural body to empirics, who commonly have a few receipts whereon they rely, but who know neither the causes of diseases, nor the constitutions of patients, nor the danger of accidents, nor the true methods of cure. And so it must needs be dangerous to have the civil body of States managed by empirical statesmen, unless well mixed with others who are grounded in learning. On the contrary, it is almost without instance, that any government was unprosperous under learned governors. For however common it has been with politicians to discredit learned men, by the name of pedants, yet it appears from history, that the governments of princes in minority have excelled the governments of princes in maturity, merely because the management was in learned hands. The State of Rome for the first five years, so much magnified, during the minority of Nero, was in the hands of Seneca, a pedant: so it was for ten years, during the minority of Gordianus the younger, with great applause in the hands of Misitheus, a pedant; and it was as happy before that, in the minority of Alexander Severus, under the rule of women, assisted by preceptors. And to look into the government of the bishops of Rome, particularly that of Pius and Sextus Quintus, who were both at their entrance esteemed but pedantical friars, we shall find that such popes did greater things, and proceeded upon truer principles of state, than those who rose to the papacy from an education in civil affairs, and the courts of princes. For though men bred to learning are perhaps at a loss in points of convenience, and present accommodations, called21 reasons of state, yet they are perfect in the plain grounds of religion, justice, honor, and moral virtue, which, if well pursued, there will be as little use of reasons of state, as of physic in a healthy constitution. Nor can the experience of one man’s life furnish examples and precedents for another’s: present occurrences frequently correspond to ancient examples, better than to later. And lastly, the genius of any single man can no more equal learning, than a private purse hold way with the exchequer.
3. As to the particular indispositions of the mind for politics and government, laid to the charge of learning, if they are allowed of any force, it must be remembered, that learning affords more remedies than it breeds diseases; for if, by a secret operation, it renders men perplexed and irresolute, on the other hand, by plain precept, it teaches when, and upon what grounds, to resolve, and how to carry things in suspense, without prejudice: if it makes men positive and stiff, it shows what things are in their nature demonstrative, what conjectural; and teaches the use of distinctions and exceptions, as well as the rigidness of principles and rules. If it misleads, by the unsuitableness of examples, it shows the force of circumstances, the errors of comparisons, and the cautions of application; so that in all cases, it rectifies more effectually than it perverts: and these remedies it conveys into the mind much more effectually by the force and variety of examples. Let a man look into the errors of Clement the Seventh, so livelily described by Guicciardini; or into those of Cicero, described by himself in his epistles to Atticus, and he will fly from being irresolute: let him look into the errors of Phocion, and he will beware of obstinacy or inflexibility: let him read the fable of Ixion,22 and it will keep him from conceitedness: let him look into the errors of the second Cato, and he will never tread opposite to the world.23
4. For the pretence that learning disposes to retirement, privacy, and sloth; it were strange if what accustoms the mind to perpetual motion and agitation should induce indolence; whereas no kind of men love business, for its own sake, but the learned; while others love it for profit, as hirelings for the wages; others for honor; others because it bears them up in the eyes of men, and refreshes their reputations, which would otherwise fade; or because it reminds them of their fortune, and gives them opportunities of revenging and obliging; or because it exercises some faculty, wherein they delight, and so keeps them in good humor with themselves. Whence, as false valor lies in the eyes of the beholders, such men’s industry lies in the eyes of others, or is exercised with a view to their own designs; while the learned love business, as an action according to nature, and agreeable to the health of the mind, as exercise is to that of the body: so that, of all men, they are the most indefatigable in such business as may deservedly fill and employ the mind. And if there are any laborious in study, yet idle in business, this proceeds either from a weakness of body, or a softness of disposition, and not from learning itself, as Seneca remarks, “Quidam tam sunt umbratiles ut putent in turbido esse, quicquid in luce est.”24 The consciousness of such a disposition may indeed incline a man to learning, but learning does not breed any such temper in him.
If it be objected, that learning takes up much time, which might be better employed, I answer that the most active or busy men have many vacant hours, while they expect the tides and returns of business; and then the question is, how those spaces of leisure shall be filled up, whether with pleasure or study? Demosthenes being taunted by Æschines, a man of pleasure, that his speeches smelt of the lamp, very pertly retorted, “There is great difference between the objects which you and I pursue by lamplight.”25 No fear, therefore, that learning should displace business, for it rather keeps and defends the mind against idleness and pleasure, which might otherwise enter to the prejudice both of business and learning. 5. For the allegation that learning should undermine the reverence due to laws and government, it is a mere calumny, without shadow of truth; for to say that blind custom of obedience should be a safer obligation than duty, taught and understood, is to say that a blind man may tread surer by a guide than a man with his eyes open can by a light. And, doubtless, learning makes the mind gentle and pliable to government, whereas ignorance renders it churlish and mutinous; and it is always found that the most barbarous, rude, and ignorant times have been most tumultuous, changeable, and seditious.
6. As to the judgment of Cato the Censor, he was punished for his contempt of learning, in the kind wherein he offended, for when past threescore the humor took him to learn Greek, which shows that his former censure of the Grecian learning was rather an affected gravity than his inward sense.26 And, indeed, the Romans never arrived at their height of empire till they had arrived at their height of arts; for in the time of the first two Cæsars, when their government was in its greatest perfection, there lived the best poet, Virgil; the best historiographer, Livy; the best antiquary, Varro; and the best, or second best orator, Cicero, that the world has known. And as to the persecution of Socrates, the time must be remembered in which it occurred, viz., under the reign of the Thirty Tyrants, of all mortals the bloodiest and basest that ever reigned, since the government had no sooner returned to its senses than that judgment was reversed. Socrates, from being a criminal, started at once into a hero, his memory loaded with honors human and divine, and his discourses, which had been previously stigmatized as immoral and profane, were considered as the reformers of thought and manners.27 And let this suffice as an answer to those politicians who have presumed, whether sportively or in earnest, to disparage learning.
We come now to that sort of discredit which is brought upon learning by learned men themselves; and this proceeds either (1) from their fortune, (2) their manners, or (3) the nature of their studies.
1. The disrepute of learning from the fortune or condition of the learned, regards either their indigence, retirement, or meanness of employ. As to the point, that learned men grow not so soon rich as others, because they convert not their labors to profit, we might turn it over to the friars, of whom Machiavel said, “That the kingdom of the clergy had been long since at an end, if the reputation and reverence toward the poverty of the monks and mendicants had not borne out the excesses of bishops and prelates.”28 For so the splendor and magnificence of the great had long since sunk into rudeness and barbarism, if the poverty of learned men had not kept up civility and reputation. But to drop such advantages, it is worth observing how reverend and sacred poverty was esteemed for some ages in the Roman State, since, as Livy says, “There never was a republic greater, more venerable, and more abounding in good examples than the Roman, nor one that so long withstood avarice and luxury, or so much honored poverty and parsimony.”29 And we see, when Rome degenerated, how Julius Cæsar after his victory was counselled to begin the restoration of the State, by abolishing the reputation of wealth. And, indeed, as we truly say that blushing is the livery of virtue, though it may sometimes proceed from guilt,30 so it holds true of poverty that it is the attendant of virtue, though sometimes it may proceed from mismanagement and accident.
As for retirement, it is a theme so common to extol a private life, not taxed with sensuality and sloth, for the liberty, the pleasure, and the freedom from indignity it affords, that every one praises it well, such an agreement it has to the nature and apprehensions of mankind. This may be added, that learned men, forgotten in States and not living in the eyes of the world, are like the images of Cassius and Brutus at the funeral of Junia, which not being represented as many others were, Tacitus said of them that “they outshone the rest, because not seen.”31
As for their meanness of employ, that most exposed to contempt is the education of youth, to which they are commonly allotted. But how unjust this reflection is to all who measure things, not by popular opinion, but by reason, will appear in the fact that men are more careful what they put into new vessels than into those already seasoned. It is manifest that things in their weakest state usually demand our best attention and assistance. Hearken to the Hebrew rabbis: “Your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams”;32 upon which the commentators observe, that youth is the worthier age, inasmuch as revelation by vision is clearer than by dreams. And to say the truth, how much soever the lives of pedants have been ridiculed upon the stage, as the emblem of tyranny, because the modern looseness or negligence has not duly regarded the choice of proper schoolmasters and tutors; yet the wisdom of the ancientest and best times always complained that States were too busy with laws and too remiss in point of education. This excellent part of ancient discipline, has in some measure been revived of late by the colleges of Jesuits abroad; in regard of whose diligence in fashioning the morals and cultivating the minds of youth, I may say, as Agesilaus said to his enemy Pharnabasus, “Talis quum sis, utinam noster esses.”33
2. The manners of learned men belong rather to their individual persons than to their studies or pursuits. No doubt, as in all other professions and conditions of life, bad and good are to be found among them; yet it must be admitted that learning and studies, unless they fall in with very depraved dispositions, have, in conformity with the adage, “Abire studia in mores,” a moral influence upon men’s lives. For my part I cannot find that any disgrace to learning can proceed from the habits of learned men, inherent in them as learned, unless peradventure that may be a fault which was attributed to Demosthenes, Cicero, the second Cato, and many others, that seeing the times they read of more pure than their own, pushed their servility too far in the reformation of manners, and to seek to impose, by austere precepts, the laws of ancient asceticism upon dissolute times. Yet even antiquity should have forewarned them of this excess; for Solon, upon being asked if he had given his citizens the best laws, replied, “The best they were capable of receiving.”34 And Plato, finding that he had fallen upon corrupt times, refused to take part in the administration of the commonwealth, saying that a man should treat his country with the same forbearance as his parents, and recall her from a wrong course, not by violence or contest, but by entreaty and persuasion.35 Cæsar’s counsellor administers the same caveat in the words, “Non ad vetera instituta revocamus quæ jampridem corruptis moribus ludibrio sunt.”36 Cicero points out the same error in the second Cato, when writing to his friend Atticus: “Cato optime sentit sed nocet interdum Reipublicæ; loquitur enim tanquam in Republica Platonis, non tanquam in fæce Romuli.”37 The same orator likewise excuses and blames the philosophers for being too exact in their precepts. These preceptors, said he, have stretched the lines and limits of duties beyond their natural boundaries, thinking that we might safely reform when we had reached the highest point of perfection.38 And yet himself stumbled over the same stone, so that he might have said, “Monitis sum minor ipse meis.”39
3. Another fault laid to the charge of learned men, and arising from the nature of their studies, is, “That they esteem the preservation, good, and honor of their country before their own fortunes or safeties.” Demosthenes said well to the Athenians, “My counsels are not such as tend to aggrandize myself and diminish you, but sometimes not expedient for me to give, though always expedient for you to follow.”40 So Seneca, after consecrating the five years of Nero’s minority to the immortal glory of learned governors, held on his honest course of good counsel after his master grew extremely corrupt. Nor can this be otherwise; for learning gives men a true sense of their frailty, the casualty of fortune, and the dignity of the soul and its office; whence they cannot think any greatness of fortune a worthy end of their living, and therefore live so as to give a clear and acceptable account to God and their superiors; while the corrupter sort of politicians, who are not by learning established in a love of duty, nor ever look abroad into universality, refer all things to themselves, and thrust their persons into the centre of the world, as if all lines should meet in them and their fortunes, without regarding in storms what becomes of the ship of the State, if they can save themselves in the cock-boat of their own fortune.
Another charge brought against learned men, which may rather be defended than denied, is, “That they sometimes fail in making court to particular persons.” This want of application arises from two causes—the one the largeness of their mind, which can hardly submit to dwell in the examination and observance of any one person. It is the speech of a lover rather than of a wise man, “Satis magnum alter alteri theatrum sumus.”41 Nevertheless he who cannot contract the sight of his mind, as well as dilate it, wants a great talent in life. The second cause is, no inability, but a rejection upon choice and judgment; for the honest and just limits of observation in one person upon another extend no further than to understand him sufficiently, so as to give him no offence, or be able to counsel him, or to stand upon reasonable guard and caution with respect to one’s self; but to pry deep into another man, to learn to work, wind, or govern him, proceeds from a double heart, which in friendship is want of integrity, and toward princes or superiors want of duty. The eastern custom which forbids subjects to gaze upon princes, though in the outward ceremony barbarous, has a good moral; for men ought not, by cunning and studied observations, to penetrate and search into the hearts of kings, which the Scripture declares inscrutable.42
Another fault noted in learned men is, “That they often fail in point of discretion and decency of behavior, and commit errors in ordinary actions, whence vulgar capacities judge of them in greater matters by what they find them in small.” But this consequence often deceives; for we may here justly apply the saying of Themistocles, who being asked to touch a lute, replied, “He could not fiddle, but he could make a little village a great city.”43 Accordingly many may be well skilled in government and policy, who are defective in little punctilios. So Plato compared his master Socrates to the shop-pots of apothecaries painted on the outside with apes and owls and antiques, but contained within sovereign and precious remedies.44