IN October 1605 Francis Bacon published his Treatise on the Advancement of Learning, a work designed to interest the king in the new philosophical ideas of which Bacon was the principal exponent; and in this book virtually the whole of his philosophy is implicitly contained. This review of the existing state of knowledge was intended to be made, later, into the first part of the Instauratio Magna (his project of a comprehensive treatise of all philosophical knowledge), under the title of Partitiones Scientiarum. Bacon constantly revised the work, and eventually had it translated into Latin under the title De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum, and republished in this form, with considerable additions, in 1623.
LET us weigh the dignity of knowledge in the balance with other things. In its archetype it is the Divine wisdom, or sapience, manifested in the creation. In the celestial hierarchy the supposed Dionysius of Athens places the angels of knowledge and illumination before those of office. Then, the first material form that was created was light, which corresponds in corporal things to knowledge in incorporal. The day wherein God contemplated His own works was blessed above the days wherein He accomplished them.
Man's first employment in Paradise consist of of the two chief parts of knowledge, the viewed creatures and the imposition of names. In the age before the Flood, Scripture honours the names of the inventors of music and of works in metal. Moses was accomplished in all the learning of the Egyptians. The book of Job is pregnant with natural philosophy. In Solomon, the gift of wisdom and learning is preferred before all other earthly and temporal felicity.
Our Saviour first showed His power to subdue ignorance by His conference with the doctors, before He showed His power to subdue nature by miracles; and the coming of the Holy Spirit was chiefly figured in the gift of tongues, which are the vehicles of knowledge.
St. Paul, most learned of the apostles, had his pen most used in the New Testament. Many of the ancient fathers of the Church were excellently read in all the learning of the heathen; and that heathen learning was preserved, amid Scythian and Saracen invasions, in the sacred bosom of the Church. And in our own day, when God has called the Roman church to account for degenerate manners and obnoxious doctrines, He has also ordained a renovation of all other knowledges; and, on the other side, the Jesuits by quickening the state of learning have done notable service to the Roman See.
Wherefore two principal services are performed to religion by human learning: first, the contemplation of God's works is an effectual inducement to the exaltation of His glory; and secondly, true learning is a singular preservative against unbelief.
To pass now to human proofs of the dignity of learning, we find that among the heathens the inventors of new arts, such as Ceres, Bacchus and Apollo, were consecrated among the gods themselves by apotheosis. The fable of Orpheus, wherein quarrelsome beasts stood sociably listening to the harp, aptly described the nature of men, among whom peace is maintained so long as they give ear to precepts, laws, and religion. It has been said that people would then be happy, when kings were philosophers, or philosophers kings; and history shows that the best times have ever been under learned princes.
As for the services of knowledge to private virtue, it takes away all levity, temerity and insolence by copious suggestion of all doubts and difficulties, and acquainting the mind to balance reasons on both sides. It takes away vain admiration of anything, which is the root of all weakness. No man can marvel at the play of puppets that goes behind the curtain. And certainly, if a man meditate much upon the universal frame of nature, the earth with men upon it (the divineness of souls except) will not seem much other than an ant hill, where some ants carry corn, and some carry their young, and some go empty, and all to and fro a little heap of dust.
Knowledge crowns man's nature with power. It even gives fortune to particular persons; and it is hard to say whether arms or learning have advanced greater numbers.
Lastly, by learning, man excels man in that wherein man excels beasts. The great dignity of knowledge lies in immortality or continuance. Have not the verses of Homer continued twenty-five hundred years or more, without the loss of a syllable or letter, during which time infinite palaces, temples, castles, cities have been decayed and demolished? If the invention of the ship was thought so noble, which carries riches and commodities from place to place, and consociates the most remote regions in participation of their fruits, how much more are letters to be magnified? Popular and mistaken judgements will continue as they have ever been, but so will that also continue whereupon learning has ever relied, and which fails not.
"Wisdom is justified of her children."
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