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The manuscript from which Robert Stephens printed these frag. ments was found among some loose papers placed in his hands by the Earl of Oxford, and is now in the British Museum; Harl. MSS. 6462. It is a thin paper volume of the quarto size, written in the hand of one of Bacon's servants, with corrections, erasures, and interlineations in his own.
The chapters of which it consists are both imperfect in themselves (all but three), —some breaking off abruptly, others being little more than tables of contents, — and imperfect in their connexion with each other; so much so as to suggest the idea of a number of separate papers loosely put together. But it was not so (and the fact is important) that the volume itself was actually made up. However they came together, they are here fairly and consecutively copied out. Though it be a collection of fragments therefore, it is such a collection as Bacon thought worthy not only of being preserved, but of being transcribed into a volume ; and a particular account of it will not be out of place.
The contents of the manuscript before Bacon touched it may be thus described. 1. A titlepage, on which is written “ VALERIUS TERMINUS of
the Interpretation of Nature, with the annotations of
HERMES STELLA.” 2. “ Chapter I. Of the limits and end of knowledge;" with a
running title, “ Of the Interpretation of Nature.” 3. “The chapter immediately following the Inventory; being
the 11th in order." 4. “ A part of the 9th chapter, immediately precedent to the In
ventory, and inducing the same.” 5. “ The Inventory, or an enumeration and view of inventions
already discovered and in use, together with a note of the wants and the nature of the supplies; being the 10th chap
ter, and this a fragment only of the same.” 6. Part of a chapter, not numbered, “Of the internal and pro
found errors and superstitions in the nature of the mind, and of the four sorts of Idols or fictions which offer themselves to the understanding in the inquisition of knowledge."
7. “Of the impediments of knowledge; being the third chapter,
the preface only of it." 8. “Of the impediments which have been in the times and in
diversion of wits; being the fourth chapter.” 9. “ Of the impediments of knowledge for want of a true suc
cession of wits, and that hitherto the length of one man's life hath been the greatest measure of knowledge; being the fifth
chapter." 10. “ That the pretended succession of wits hath been evil placed,
forasmuch as after variety of sects and opinions the most popular and not the truest prevaileth and weareth out the
rest; being the sixth chapter.” 11. “Of the impediments of knowledge in handling it by parts,
and in slipping off particular sciences from the root and
stock of universal knowledge ; being the seventh chapter.” 12. “ That the end and scope of knowledge hath been generally
mistaken, and that men were never well advised what it was
they sought” (part of a chapter not numbered). 13. “ An abridgment of divers chapters of the first book ;"
namely, the 12th, 13th, and 14th, (over which is a running title “ Of active knowledge;") and (without any running title)
These abridgments have no headings; and at the end is written, “ The end of the Abridgment of the first book of the Interpretation of Nature."
Such was the arrangement of the manuscript as the transcriber left it; which I have thought worth preserving, because I seem to see traces in it of two separate stages in the developement of the work; the order of the chapters as they are transcribed being probably the same in which Bacon wrote them; and the numbers inserted at the end of the headings indicating the order in which, when he placed them in the transcriber's hands, it was his intention to arrange them ; and because it proves at any rate that at that time the design of the whole book was clearly laid out in his mind.
There is nothing, unfortunately, to fix the date of the transcript, unless it be implied in certain astronomical or astrological symbols written on the blank outside of the volume; in which the figures 1603 occur.' This may possibly be the transcriber's note of the
See the second page of the facsimile at the beginning of this volume.
cover, if there ever was one, is lost.
The ink with which the line containing the
is placed symmetrically in the middle of the page, near the top.
The two lower
time when he finished his work ; for which (but for one circumstance which I shall mention presently) I should think the year 1603 as likely a date as any; for we know from a letter of Bacon's, dated 3rd July 1603, that he had at that time resolved “to meddle as little as possible in the King's causes," and to “put his ambition wholly upon his pen ;” and we know from the Advancement of Learning that in 1605 he was engaged upon a work entitled “ The Interpretation of Nature:” to which I may add that there is in the Lambeth Library a copy of a letter from Bacon to Lord Kinlosse, dated 25th March, 1603, and written in the same hand as this manuscript.
Bacon's corrections, if I may judge from the character of the handwriting, were inserted a little later; for it is a fact that about the beginning of James's reign his writing underwent a remarkable
lines are apparently by another hand, probably of later date, certainly in ink of a dif. ferent colour, and paler. The word “ Philosophy" is in Bacon's own hand, written lightly in the upper corner at the left, and is no doubt merely a docket inserted afterwards when he was sorting his papers. What connexion there was between the note and the MS. it is impossible to say. But it is evidently a careful memorandum of something, set down by somebody when the MS. was at hand; and so many of the character's resemble those adopted to represent the planets and the signs of the zodiac, tiat one is led to suspect in it a note of the positions of the heavenly bodies at the time of some remarkable accident; - perhaps the plague, of which 30,578 persons died in London, during the year ending 22nd December, 1603. The period of the commencement, the duration, or the cessation of such an epidemic might naturally be so noted. Now three of the characters clearly represent respectively Mercury, Aquarius, and Sagittarius. The sign for Jupiter, as we find it in old books, is so like a 4, that the first figure of 45 may very well have been meant for it. The monogram at the beginning of the line bears a near resemblance to the sign of Capricorn in its most characteristic feature. And the mark over the sign of Aquarius appears to be an abbreviation of that which usually represents the Sun. (The blot between 1603 and B is nothing ; being only meant to represent a figure 6 blotted out with the finger before the ink was dry.) Suspecting therefore that the writing contained a note of the positions of Mercury and Jupiter in the year 1603, I sent a copy tu a scientific friend and asked him if from such data he could determine the month indicated. He found upon a rough calculation (taking account of mean motions only) that Jupiter did enter the sign of Sagittarius about the 10tl: of August, 1603, and continued there for about a twelvemonth ; that the Sun entered Aquarius about the 12th or 13th of January, 1603-4 ; and that Mercury was about the 16th or 17th of the same month in the 26th or 27th degree of Capricorn : -- coincidences which would have been almost conclusive as to the date indicated, if Capricorn had only stood where Aquarius does, and vice versa. But their position as they actually stood in the MS, is a formidable, if not fatal, objection to the interpretation.
According to another opinion with which I have been favoured, the first monogram is a nota bene ; the next group may mean Dies Mercurii (Wednesday) 26th January, 1603 ; and the rest refers to something not connected with astronomy. But to this also there is a serious objection. The 26th of January, 1603-4, was a Friday; and it seems to me very improbable that any Englishman would have described the preceding January as belonging to the year 1603. Bacon himself invariably dated according to the civil year, and the occasional use of the historical year in loose memoranda would have involved all his dates in confusion. I should think it more probable that the writer (who may have been copying a kind of notation with which he was not familiar) miscopied the sign of Venus into that of Mercury; in which case it would mean Friday, 26th January, 1603-4. But even then the explanation would be un. satisfactory, as leaving so much unexplained. Those however who are familiar with old M$S, relating to such subjects may probably be able to interpret the whole,
change, from the hurried Saxon hand full of large sweeping curves and with letters imperfectly formed and connected, which he wrote in Elizabeth's time, to a small, neat, light, and compact one, formed more upon the Italian model which was then coming into fashion; and when these corrections were made it is evident that this new character had become natural to him and easy. It is of course impossible to fix the precise date of such a change, — the more so because his autographs of this period are very scarce, — but whenever it was that he corrected this manuscript, it is evident that he then considered it worthy of careful revision. He has not merely inserted a sentence here and there, altered the numbers of the chapters, and added words to the headings in order to make the description more exact; but he has taken the trouble to add the running title wherever it was wanting, thus writing the words “of the Interpretation of Nature” at full length not less than eighteen times over; and upon the blank space of the titlepage he has written out a complete table of contents. In short, if he had been preparing the manuscript for the press or for a fresh transcript, he could not have done it more completely or carefully, -only that he has given no directions for altering the order of the chapters so as to make it correspond with the numbers. And hence I infer that up to the time when he made these corrections, this was the form of the great work on which he was engaged: it was a work concerning the Interpretation of Nature; which was to begin where the Novum Organum begins; and of which the first book was to include all the preliminary considerations preparatory to the exposition of the formula.
I place this fragment here in deference to Mr. Ellis's decided opinion that it was written before the Advancement of Learning. The positive ground indeed which he alleges in support of that conclusion I am obliged to set aside, as founded, I think, upon a misapprehension; and the supposition that no part of it was written later involves a difficulty which I cannot yet get over to my own satisfaction. But that the body of it was written earlier I see no reason to doubt; and if so, this is its proper place.
The particular point on which I venture to disagree with Mr. Ellis I have stated in a note upon his preface to the Novum Organum, promising at the same time a fuller explanation of the grounds of my own conclusion, which I will now give. · The question is, whether the “Inventory” in the 10th chapter of Valerius Terminus was to have exhibited a general survey of the state of knowledge corresponding with that which fills the second book of the Advancement of Learning. I think not.
See the facsimile. I am inclined to think that there was an interval between the writing of the first eleven titles and the last two; during which the Italian character had become more familiar to him.
It is true indeed that the title of that 10th chapter,-namely, “ The Inventory, or an enumeration and view of inventions already discovered and in use, with a note of the wants and the nature of the supplies, — has at first sight a considerable resemblance to the description of the contents of the second book of the Advancement of Learning, — namely, “A general and faithful perambulation of learning, with an inquiry what parts thereof lie fresh and waste, and not improved and converted by the industry of Man; . . . . wherein nevertheless my purpose is at this time to note only omissions and deficiencies, and not to make any redargutions of errors,” and so on. But an “enumeration of Intentions” is not the same thing as “a perambulation of Learning ;” and it will be found upon closer examination that the “ Inventory” spoken of in Valerius Terminus does really correspond to one, and one only, of the fifty-one Desiderata set down at the end of the De Augmentis ; viz. that Inventarium opum hu. manarum, which was to be an appendix to the Magia naturalis. See De Aug. iii. 5. This will appear clearly by comparing the descriptions of the two.
In the Advancement of Learning Bacon tells us that there are two points of much purpose pertaining to the department of Natural Magic: the first of which is, “ That there be made a calendar resembling an Inventory of the estate of man, containing all the Inventions, being the works or fruits of nature or art, which are now extant and of which man is already possessed ; out of which doth naturally result a note what things are yet held impossible or not invented; which calendar will be the more artificial and serviceable if to every reputed impossibility you add what thing is extant which cometh the nearest in degree to that impossibility: to the end that by these optatives and essentials man's inquiry may be the more awake in deducing direction of works from the speculation of causes."
The Inventory which was to have been inserted in the 10th chapter of Valerius Terminus is thus introduced :-“ The plainest method and most directly pertinent to this intention will be to make distribution of sciences, arts, inventions, works, and their portions, according to the use and tribute which they yield and render to the condition of man's life; and under those several uses, being as several offices of provisions, to charge and tax what may be reasonably exacted or demanded, .... and then upon those charges and taxations to distinguish and present as it were in several columns what is extant and already found, and what is defective and further to be provided. Of which provisions because in many of them, after the manner of slothful and faulty accomptants, it will be returned by way of excuse that no such are to be liad, it will be fit