Imágenes de página

very nature, must always bear something of an empirical character; it will only acquire certainty in proportion as it rejects opinion, and until its professors shall have learnt to trust only to that which has been tried; then alone will they have ceased, in effect, to employ the equivalents of the magical formulae of Serenius and Aetius. Yet much of the old lore must always remain. The physician must still minister to the mind, under pretence of prescribing for the body; and clothe, in the shape most persuasive to the fancy, the medicine supposed to be adapted to the disease.

Having on various occasions, during the last ten years, addressed our readers upon themes more or less connected with the 'superstitions of the middle ages,' it is now time to cease:—we shall therefore conclude the subject, by stating some of the causes which give value to these hallucinations. Their history is not to be read as a series of idle or amusing tales of wonder; nor should we neglect them as a mockery of the human mind. If we shrink from these contemplations with contempt, we lose the useful lessons of experience. The failings of the human understanding are inseparably commingled with the truths which we have gained.

Superstition appears in its rudest guise, when created by the fears, the hopes, and the opinions of the childhood of the human race. However visionary or unfounded, these are rendered intelligible even by their imbecility. Obscure and innate perceptions of immortality may glance across the mind of the savage; yet in his philosophy he is wholly bounded by the material world. An undefinable horror leads him to fear that the departed may revenge their wrongs upon the living. By self-inflicted pain and suffering, he endeavours to avert the anger of the unseen malignant being whose enmity he dreads, or he wishes to obtain the protection of this evil intelligence, by casting upon another the mischiefs destined for himself. Strange, fantastic and unmeaning rites are cherished as the means of satisfying the innate longing after the forbidden knowledge of futurity. But these superstitions result from uninstructed weakness: they are not matured into a system, nor united to sounder knowledge.

We shall not seek, as some have done, for the seat of the primeval learning of mankind. To guess the wisdom inscribed on the columns fabled to have escaped the overwhelming deluge, will avail us nought. Neither can we trace the first impulse given to the human intellect. Yet we know that the faint though steady light which beams from Caucasus, has been denied to Atlas and the Andes. It can be discerned that the truths of mathematical science were comprehended at a very early period, at an age not very remote from that great catastrophe remembered by all nations, and which is recorded in the characters of nature on the entire surface

N N 3 of of the globe. The reasoning powers were highly cultivated; but men reasoned too much, and rested in abstraction. At the age when the great commonwealth of western Europe assumed its consistency, learning had scarcely varied from the character of the primeval age; it was wholly speculative: magic, astrology, and all the vanities of occult science commanded at that period a credit nearly universal. Such was the shape which learning assumed, according to the received theories, that superstitious abuse was almost the necessary concomitant of the knowledge then possessed by mankind. Let us consider the system of the world created by their contemplative philosophy. Floating in space, the empyreal heaven embraces the crystalline orb, studded with blazing constellations, and the primary source of the energies of the hyle of earth, and of the subtler frames of the lower heavens. Above the middle air in which our globe is suspended, the spheres of water and of fire radiate their elemental virtues. Planets roll on in mazy cycles and epicycles, darting their power on the sublunary world; motion, vegetation, sense, and instinct, flow from these beams. All things live, though in different stages of being; all are parts of one glorious frame, connected and linked into a unit by the pervading vitality. All properties of earth and of its kind are emanations from the guiding stars; no object has a solitary existence: astral fire glows in each gem concealed in the dark caverns of the mine; the plant drinks the sanative dews sprinkled from the aqueous heavens. Wise in ignorance, the instinct of the bird and the beast, undeluded by self-will, becomes the manifestation of the directing energies. The soul of man alone is delivered from direct subservience to the machinery of the universe, yet he moves in harmony with it; and though his freedom is uninfluenced by the wandering fires of the sky, yet they rule his veins and nerves, and connect themselves with the operations of the subtle archseus which first caused his heart to beat and his limbs to grow.

This system spiritualizes the material world, by bringing all its operations into connection with the functions of those incorporeal beings, the belief of whose existence was never questioned. Nature seems to exist only by a perpetual manifestation of the power of unembodied intelligences. Sympathies and antipathies breathe a species of obscure sensation into the dull mould itself; and the effects of these theories are inconceivably heightened by the prevailing doctrines of metaphysical theology.—Soaring above those inquiries, which are within the grasp of the human mind, men sought to pass the 'flaming bounds of space and time:' they *'—: reasoned high

Of providence, fore-knowledge, will and fate;

Fix'd fate, free will, fore knowledge, absolute, . . .

And found no end, in wandering mazes lost.'

* Vain wisdom' resulted from these fruitless labours. Examples afford better illustrations than general characteristics: -for the delineations of the ' philosophers' of the middle ages, let a single portrait be selected. And in order to .estimate the <extent and still more the errors of their learning, it is sufficient to consult the works of Roger Bacon the Franciscan; he who attained that credit which no man living ever had, and who was deemed to have unlocked all the secrets of art and nature. Great men aud wise men partake of certain of the faults of their age, in a much greater degree than their inferior contemporaries. Some epidemics seem to single out the strongest individuals in preference to the weaker crowd. The lofty mountain, on whose summit the light of the sun is seen to stream whilst the vale below remains involved in darkness, often attracts the vapours which float above the lesser and surrounding hills.

Friar Bacon, anticipating the mode of investigation perfected by bis great namesake, declared that experiment was the test of truth. Argument and experiment, he observes, are the two modes of gaining knowledge; argument may compel us to admit a position, but until the mind is convinced by experiment, it will never rest satisfied. The learned vulgar of Bacon's era being completely ignorant of experimental science, he states that he is sensible that he cannot persuade others of its utility, unless by showing its efficacy and virtue. Experimental science alone, he declares, can ascertain the effects to be performed by the powers of nature, or by human art; that science alone, he continues, enables us to investigate the practices of magic, not with the intent of confirming them, but that they may be avoided by the philosopher, in the same manner that logic teaches us to search out sophistry. i Bacon, thus determined to consider the properties of material substances as matters of fact, and not of belief, easily ascertained that many of the opinions ' which writers assert, and which the vulgar believe, were wholly false.' 'They suppose that the diamond'—he continues-—' cannot be cut but by the help of the blood of a goat, and philosophers and theologians abuse this opinion;' but the Friar, by entering the workshop of a lapidary, easily convinced himself of the possibility of severing the gem without having recourse to occult qualities. And he gives other instances in support of his general position. .' ...

Experimental science, which thus taught Bacon to discern the falsity of the marvels of magic, enabled him to discover that many wonderful effects ' which seemed as magic to the multitude,' were really producible by mere physical causes. Concealing one of the potent ingredients in a mysterious anagram, he declared the qualities of that composition whose flame and sound would equal the

H H 4 lightning lightning and the thunder. He acquired a distinct and accurate idea of various properties of light; of the structure and operation •of the eye; and his chapters on perspective indicate his acquaintance both with the theory and the construction of the telescope and the microscope. Amongst the wonderful instruments of art, the diving-bell is also enumerated: and with an obscure prophetic presentiment of the progress of science, he maintains that the vessel shall be steered by one man with greater velocity than if she was impelled by the toiling crew, and that man shall make himself wings like the bird, and be seen soaring through the liquid air.

Whatever positive additions Bacon might have been qualified to make to the general fund of knowledge, these were, in his opinion, of comparatively trifling importance. Again anticipating Lord Bacon, he wished to furnish the means of improvement. He states the discoveries to be effected by science, for the purpose of winning protection for science itself; thus, to recommend his most favourite studies, he shows the necessity of the reformation of the calendar. Addressing his arguments to the Roman Pontiff, as the head and representative of Christendom, they are directed to prove the necessity of cultivating practical knowledge, and the exact sciences, in addition to abstract speculation. Deploring the ignorance of the Latin world, he earnestly advocated the study of the Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic languages. A proficiency in these unknown tongues was intended to facilitate the acquirement of the mathematics, which he designates as being the key of all the useful sciences. Bacon felt that his labours could not produce an immediate diffusion of knowledge; his zeal was therefore directed to excite a thirst for knowledge. He wished to rouse the spirit of inquiry, to give an impulse to the human mind; conscious that if a beginning was made in the good work, it would proceed, without stop or slay, in the after-time. And exhorting the Pontiff to plant the root, to dig for the spring, to lay the foundation, he represses the idea of attaining, in his own age, that consummation which he sought to effect for futurity.

Judgment and ardour appear hitherto to have been admirably combined in Bacon. It might be expected that a mind thus constituted would instinctively reject all unreasonable belief. A firm persuasion that all real knowledge was to be acquired only by actual experience ought to have repressed all extravagant credulity; this was not the case: like ' the greatest, wisest, meanest of mankind,' his character involves, in appearance, the most singular contradictions. Roger Bacon, the philosopher, derided the fictions of magic. He would have smiled at the glassy globe of King Riance; and instead of seeking a vision, he would have shown how the sun-beam was deflected in the crystal. Yet he maintained the

possibility possibility of framing a spherical astrolabe, which, displaying all the circles of the heavens, should turn round its axis in self-impelled and perpetual motion. Bacon declares that the ' experimental investigator' may discover the means of perfecting the machine by considering those things which are influenced by the movements of the heavens. He adduces the following examples. The elements circulate by celestial movements; the tides of the sea ebb and flow, and the brain and marrow wax and wane according to the phases of the changing planet; herbs also open and shut with the appearance and disappearance of the sun; and many other motions are directed either wholly or partially by the movement of the heavens. 'Let the sage, therefore, attend to these considerations, as he best may understand them, and hence he will gain instruction, enabling him to frame this machine which will be worth a king's treasure, and become the fairest spectacle of science.'

These wild speculations are found in a chapter entitled 'On the Productions of Experimental Science.' In the same chapter, his sound and sensible aphorisms respecting the regimen of health, are followed by an elaborate dissertation on the possibility of attaining antediluvian longevity. According to Bacon, the sage pursuer 'of experimental science' profits by the intuitive wisdom of the crow, the serpent, and the eagle, whose inborn knowledge - teaches them to find the means of retarding the termination of their existence. This knowledge was given to the brute for the profit of man; and therefore the wise have ever closely watched the lower animals, for the purpose of stealing their knowledge of the powers of herbs and stones and metals. At Paris, Bacon relates there was lately a Sage who sought out the serpent's nest, and selecting one of the reptiles, he cut it into small pieces, leaving only as much undissected membrane as was sufficient to prevent the fragments from falling asunder. The dying serpent crawled, as well as it could, until it found a leaf whose touch immediately united the severed body; and the Sage, thus guided by the creature whom he had mangled, was taught to gather a plant of inestimable-virtue. No medicament is of so much efficacy, Bacon asserts, in prolonging human life, as the flesh of the dragons of Ethiopia. The Moors, by a secret art which they possess, attract the dragons out of the caverns in which they hide. The huntsmen are prepared with bridles and saddles, and after securing the dragons, they mount them, and vex them by the quickest and sharpest flight. The Moors do so in order that the rigidity of the dragon's flesh may be mortified and its hardness abated, just as boars, and bears, and bulls are hunted by dogs and driven before they are killed for food.

« AnteriorContinuar »