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have said the same things as the Jews. We only read the Old Testament to prepare ourselves for the New; and in neither the one nor the other do we seek any thing but lessons of benevolence, moderation, gentleness, and true charity.
IT is generally thought that Roger Bacon, the famous monk of the thirteenth century, was a very great man, and that he possessed true knowledge, because he was persecuted and condemned to prison by a set of ignoramuses. It is a great prejudice in his favour, I own. But does it not happen every day, that quacks gravely condemn other quacks, and that fools make other fools pay the penalty of folly? This, our world, has for a long time resembled the compact edifices, in which he who believes in the eternal Father anathematizes him who believes in the Holy Ghost; circumstances which are not very rare even in these days. Among the things which render Friar Bacon commendable, we must first reckon his imprisonment, and then the noble boldness with which he declared that all the books of Aristotle were fit only to be burnt, and that at a time when the learned respected Aristotle much more than the Jansenists respect St. Augustine. Has Roger Bacon, however, done anything better than the Poetics, the Rhetoric, and the Logic of Aristotle? These three immortal works clearly prove that Aristotle was a very great and fine genius-penetrating, profound, and methodical; and that he was only a bad natural philosopher, because it was impossible to penetrate into the depths of physical science without the aid of instruments.
Does Roger Bacon, in his best work, in which he treats of light and vision, express himself much more clearly than Aristotle, when he says, light is created by means of multiplying its luminous species, which action is called univocal and conformable to the agent? He also mentions another equivocal multiplication, by which light engenders heat, and heat putrefaction.
Roger Bacon likewise tells us, that life may be prolonged by means of spermaceti, aloes, and dragons flesh, and that the philosopher's stone would render us immortal. It is thought that besides these fine secrets, he possessed all those of judicial astrology, without exception; as he affirms very positively in his "Opus Majus," that the head of man is subject to the influences of the Ram, his neck to those of the Bull, and his arms to the power of the Twins. He even demonstrates these fine things from experience, and highly praises a great astrologer at Paris, who says, that he hindered a surgeon from putting a plaister on the leg of an invalid, because the sun was then in the sign of Aquarius, and Aquarius is fatal to legs to which plaisters are applied.
It is an opinion pretty gnerally received, that Roger was the inventor of gunpowder. It is certain that it was in his time that important discovery was made; for I always remark that the spirit of invention is of all times, and that the doctors, or sages, who govern both mind and body, are generally profoundly ignorant, foolishly prejudiced, or at war with common sense. It is usually among obscure men, that artists are found animated with a superior instinct, who invent admirable things on which the learned afterwards reason.*
One thing surprises me much, which is, that Friar Bacon knew not the direction of the magnetic needle, which, in his time, began to be understood in Italy; but in lieu thereof, he was acquainted with the secret of the hazel rod, and many such things, of which he treats in his Dignity of the Experimental Art.
Yet, notwithstanding this pitiable number of absurdities and chimeras, it must be confessed that Roger Bacon was an admirable man for his age. What age, you will ask?—that of feudal government,
Voltaire here translates a vague passage from the Opus Majus of Bacon, but omits to notice the celebrated Latin auagram, in which he concealed his discovery of the composition of gunpowder, of the existence of which fact our author appears unconscious in this article.-T.
and of the schoolmen. Figure to yourself Samoieds and Ostiacs, who read Aristotle. Such were we at that
Roger Bacon knew a little of geometry and optics, which made him pass for a sorcerer at Rome and Paris. He was, however, really acquainted with the matter contained in the Arabian Alhazen; for in those days little was known, except through the Arabs. They were the physicians and astrologers of all the Christian kings. The king's fool was always a native,-his doctor, an Arab or a Jew.
Transport this Bacon to the times in which we live, and he would be, no doubt, a very great man. He was gold, encrusted with the rust of the times in which he lived this gold would now be quickly purified.
Poor creatures that we are! how many ages have passed away in acquiring a little reason.
THE greatest service perhaps rendered to philosophy by Francis Bacon, has been that of suggesting attraction. He says, on the close of the sixteenth century, in his "Novum Organum Scientiarum :"
"It should be inquired, whether there be not a kind of magnetic force, which operates between the earth and heavy bodies; between the moon and the ocean, and between the planets respectively. It must either be, that weighty substances are forced towards the earth, or that they are mutually attracted; and in this last case it is evident, that the nearer falling bodies approach to the earth the more strongly they are attracted. It might be tried, whether a pendulum of the same weight will go quicker on the top of a mountain than at the bottom of a mine. If the force of the weight diminishes on the mountain, and increases in the mine, it would appear that the earth has a true attraction."
About a hundred years afterwards this attraction, this gravitation, this universal property of matter, this
cause which retains the planets in their orbits, which acts in the sun, and which directs an iron bar towards the centre of the earth, has been discovered, calculated, and demonstrated by the great Newton. But what sagacity in Bacon to have imagined what no one else had ever thought of!
This is a very different notion from the subtle matter produced by tubular atoms, which sometimes turn about themselves, although in a plenum, or from the globular matter formed of such particles. These ridiculous opinions were received for some time among the curious. They formed a very bad romance; but not only succeeded, like Cyrus and Pharamond, but were embraced as a truth by people who endeavoured to think. If we except Bacon, Galileo, Toricelli, and a very small number of sages, the world was then quite blind on the subject of physics.
These blind philosophers quitted Greek chimeras for chimeras of vortices and tubular atoms, and when at last attraction and gravitation are discovered and demonstrated, they declaim about occult qualities. Alas! are not all the primary principles of nature occult qualities to us? The causes of motion, repulsion, generation; the immutability of the various species of sentiment, memory, and thought-are they not all profoundly concealed?
Bacon suspected, and Newton demonstrated, the existence of a principle, until then unknown. Men must abide by it until they become gods. Newton was wise enough in demonstrating the laws of attraction to say, that he was ignorant of the cause of it. He added, that it was perhaps an impulse, perhaps a light substance, prodigiously elastic, spread throughout nature. He apparently endeavours, by these perhapses, to reconcile minds which are scared at the word attraction, and at a property of matter which acts throughout the universe without apparent contact.*
* Much reasoning and pleasantry of Voltaire, in reference to the opponents of attraction, is here omitted as unnecessary to the generality of English readers, although judiciously opposed to the national vanity of that day in France, which was naturally
It is not long since the following useless and frivolous question was agitated in a celebrated company. "Which was the greatest man, Cæsar, Alexander, Tamerlane, or Cromwell?" Some one replied, without contradiction, that the greatest man was Sir Isaac Newton. This person was right, for if true greatness consists in having received a powerful genius from heaven, and in making use of it to enlighten ourselves and others, such a man as Sir Isaac Newton, who is scarcely found in six centuries, is truly the great man; and politicians and conquerors, in which no age has been deficient, are generally nothing more than illustrious evils. It is to him who prevails over minds by the force of truth, and not to them who make slaves by violence; it is to him who knew the universe, rather than to those who disfigure it, that we owe respect.
The great Bacon was the son of a keeper of the seals, and for a long time chancellor himself under King James the First. Thus, in the midst of the intrigues of the court, and the duties of his situation, which required a man quite devoted to them, he found time to be a great philosopher, a good historian, and an elegant writer. What is still more astonishing, he lived in an age in which the art of good writing was still less known than sound philosophy. He has been, as it is the custom among men, more esteemed since his death than he was during his life. His enemies were in the court of London, his admirers were foreigners. When the Marquis d'Effiat carried the princess Henrietta Maria, daughter of Henry the Great, over to England to become the wife of King Charles I., that minister visited Bacon, who being ill in bed, received him with the curtains drawn. "You resemble
disposed to uphold the system of Descartes against that of a foreign rival. The argument retained remains applicable, attraction being still disputed, although very little seems likely to be gained by the substitution of the word pressure. Whether the action be attributable to pushing or pulling, the laws which govern it are similar, and the cause, as Voltaire justly observes, equally occult.-T.