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Valerius Terminus: of the Interpretation of Nature by Sir Francis Bacon

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sort are for the most part more significant and of better height and
information. That every particular that worketh any effect is a
thing compounded (more or less) of diverse single natures, (more
manifest and more obscure,) and that it appeareth not to whether of
the natures the effect is to be ascribed, and yet notwithstanding
they have taken a course without breaking particulars and reducing
them by exclusions and inclusions to a definite point, to conclude
upon inductions in gross, which empirical course is no less vain than
the scholastical. That all such as have sought action and work out
of their inquiry have been hasty and pressing to discover some
practices for present use, and not to discover Axioms, joining with
them the new assignations as their sureties. That the forerunning of
the mind to frame recipes upon Axioms at the entrance, is like
Atalanta's golden ball that hindereth and interrupteth the course,
and is to be inhibited till you have ascended to a certain stage and
degree of generalities; which forbearance will be liberally
recompensed in the end; and that chance discovereth new inventions by
one and one, but science by knots and clusters. That they have not
collected sufficient quantity of particulars, nor them in sufficient
certainty and subtilty, nor of all several kinds, nor with those
advantages and discretions in the entry and sorting which are
requisite; and of the weak manner of collecting natural history which
hath been used. Lastly that they had no knowledge of the formulary
of interpretation, the work whereof is to abridge experience and to
make things as certainly found out by Axiom in short time, as by
infinite experiences in ages.

CAP. 18.

That the cautels and devices put in practice in the delivery of
knowledge for the covering and palliating of ignorance, and the
gracing and overvaluing of that they utter, are without number; but
none more bold and more hurtful than two; the one that men have used
of a few observations upon any subject to make a solemn and formal
art, by filling it up with discourse, accommodating it with some
circumstances and directions to practice, and digesting it into
method, whereby men grow satisfied and secure, as if no more inquiry
were to be made of that matter; the other, that men have used to
discharge ignorance with credit, in defining all those effects which
they cannot attain unto to be out of the compass of art and human
endeavour. That the very styles and forms of utterance are so many
characters of imposture, some choosing a style of pugnacity and
contention, some of satire and reprehension, some of plausible and
tempting similitudes and examples, some of great words and high
discourse, some of short and dark sentences, some of exactness of
method, all of positive affirmation, without disclosing the true
motives and proofs of their opinions, or free confessing their
ignorance or doubts, except it be now and then for a grace, and in
cunning to win the more credit in the rest, and not in good faith.
That although men be free from these errors and incumbrances in the
will and affection, yet it is not a thing so easy as is conceived to
convey the conceit of one man's mind into the mind of another without
loss or mistaking, specially in notions new and differing from those
that are received. That never any knowledge was delivered in the
same order it was invented, no not in the mathematic, though it
should seem otherwise in regard that the propositions placed last do
use the propositions or grants placed first for their proof and
demonstration. That there are forms and methods of tradition wholly
distinct and differing, according to their ends whereto they are
directed. That there are two ends of tradition of knowledge, the one
to teach and instruct for use and practice, the other to impart or
intimate for re-examination and progression. That the former of
these ends requireth a method not the same whereby it was invented
and induced, but such as is most compendious and ready whereby it may
be used and applied. That the latter of the ends, which is where a
knowledge is delivered to be continued and spun on by a succession of
labours, requireth a method whereby it may be transposed to another
in the same manner as it was collected, to the end it may be
discerned both where the work is weak, and where it breaketh off.
That this latter method is not only unfit for the former end, but
also impossible for all knowledge gathered and insinuated by
Anticipations, because the mind working inwardly of itself, no man
can give a just account how he came to that knowledge which he hath
received, and that therefore this method is peculiar for knowledge
gathered by interpretation. That the discretion anciently observed,
though by the precedent of many vain persons and deceivers disgraced,
of publishing part, and reserving part to a private succession, and
of publishing in a manner whereby it shall not be to the capacity nor
taste of all, but shall as it were single and adopt his reader, is
not to be laid aside, both for the avoiding of abuse in the excluded,
and the stregthening of affection in the admitted. That there are
other virtues of tradition, as that there be no occasion given to
error, and that it carry a vigour to root and spread against the
vanity of wits and injuries of time; all which if they were ever due
to any knowledge delivered, or if they were never due to any human
knowledge heretofore delivered, yet are now due to the knowledge

CAP. 19.

Of the impediments which have been in the affections, the principle
whereof hath been despair or diffidence, and the strong apprehension
of the difficulty, obscurity, and infiniteness which belongeth to the
invention of knowledge, and that men have not known their own
strength, and that the supposed difficulties and vastness of the work
is rather in shew and muster than in state or substance where the
true way is taken. That this diffidence hath moved and caused some
never to enter into search, and others when they have been entered
either to give over or to seek a more compendious course than can
stand with the nature of true search. That of those that have
refused and prejudged inquiry, the more sober and grave sort of wits
have depended upon authors and traditions, and the more vain and
credulous resorted to revelation and intelligence with spirits and
higher natures. That of those that have entered into search, some
having fallen upon some conceits which they after consider to be the
same which they have found in former authors, have suddenly taken a
persuasion that a man shall but with much labour incur and light upon
the same inventions which he might with ease receive from others; and
that it is but a vanity and self-pleasing of the wit to go about
again, as one that would rather have a flower of his own gathering,
than much better gathered to his hand. That the same humour of sloth
and diffidence suggesteth that a man shall but revive some ancient
opinion, which was long ago propounded, examined, and rejected. And
that it is easy to err in conceit that a man's observation or notion
is the same with a former opinion, both because new conceits must of
necessity be uttered in old words, and because upon true and
erroneous grounds men may meet in consequence or conclusion, as
several lines or circles that cut in some one point. That the
greatest part of those that have descended into search have chosen
for the most artificial and compendious course to induce principles
out of particulars, and to reduce all other propositions unto
principles; and so instead of the nearest way, have been led to no
way or a mere labyrinth. That the two contemplative ways have some
resemblance with the old parable of the two moral ways, the one
beginning with incertainty and difficulty, and ending in plainness
and certainty, and the other beginning with shew of plainness and
certainty, and ending in difficulty and incertainty. Of the great
and manifest error and untrue conceit or estimation of the
infiniteness of particulars, whereas indeed all prolixity is in
discourse and derivations; and of the infinite and most laborious
expense of wit that hath been employed upon toys and matters of no
fruit or value. That although the period of one age cannot advance
men to the furthest point of interpretation of nature, (except the
work should be undertaken with greater helps than can be expected),
yet it cannot fail in much less space of time to make return of many
singular commodities towards the state and occasions of man's life.
That there is less reason of distrust in the course of interpretation
now propounded than in any knowledge formerly delivered, because this
course doth in sort equal men's wits, and leaveth no great advantage
or preeminence to the perfect and excellent motions of the spirit.
That to draw a straight line or to make a circle perfect round by aim
of hand only, there must be a great difference between an unsteady
and unpractised hand and a steady and practised, but to do it by rule
or compass it is much alike.

CAP. 21.

Of the impediments which have been in the two extreme humours of
admiration of antiquity and love of novelty, and again of
over-servile reverence or over-light scorn of the opinions of others.

CAP. 22.

Of the impediments which have been in the affection of pride,
specially of one kind, which is the disdain of dwelling and being
conversant much in experiences and particulars, specially such as are
vulgar in occurrency, and base and ignoble in use. That besides
certain higher mysteries of pride, generalities seem to have a
dignity and solemnity, in that they do not put men in mind of their
familiar actions, in that they have less affinity with arts
mechanical and illiberal, in that they are not so subject to be
controlled by persons of mean observation, in that they seem to teach
men that they know not, and not to refer them to that they know. All
which conditions directly feeding the humour of pride, particulars do
want. That the majesty of generalities, and the divine nature of the
mind in taking them (if they be truly collected, and be indeed the
direct reflexions of things,) cannot be too much magnified. And that
it is true that interpretation is the very natural and direct
intention, action, and progression of the understanding delivered
from impediments. And that all Anticipation is but a deflexion or
declination by accident.

CAP. 25.

Of the impediments which have been in the state of heathen religion
and other superstitions and errors of religion. And that in the true
religion there hath not nor is any impediment, except it be by
accident or intermixture of humour. That a religion which consisteth
in rites and forms of adoration, and not in confessions and beliefs,
is adverse to knowledge; because men having liberty to inquire and
discourse of Theology at pleasure, it cometh to pass that all
inquisition of nature endeth and limiteth itself in such metaphysical
or theological discourse; whereas if men's wits be shut out of that
port, it turneth them again to discover, and so to seek reason of
reason more deeply. And that such was the religion of the Heathen.
That a religion that is jealous of the variety of learning, discourse,
opinions, and sects, (as misdoubting it may shake the foundations,)
or that cherisheth devotion upon simplicity and ignorance, as
ascribing ordinary effects to the immediate working of God, is
adverse to knowledge. That such is the religion of the Turk, and
such hath been the abuse of Christian religion at some several times,
and in some several factions. And of the singular advantage which
the Christian religion hath towards the furtherance of true knowledge,
in that it excludeth and interdicteth human reason, whether by
interpretation or anticipation, from examining or discussing of the
mysteries and principles of faith.

CAP. 26.

Of the impediments which have been in the nature of society and the
policies of state. That there is no composition of estate or society,
nor order or quality of persons, which have not some point of
contrariety towards true knowledge. That monarchies incline wits to
profit and pleasure, and commonwealths to glory and vanity. That
universities incline wits to sophistry and affectation, cloisters to
fables and unprofitable subtilty, study at large to variety; and that
it is hard to say, whether mixture of contemplations with an active
life, or retiring wholly to contemplations, do disable and hinder the
mind more.

(Back Cover.)

Line 1: see commentary
Line 2: libri dimidium est, pagina 34
Line 3: pagellarum numeri veri

Writing on the Back Cover of VALERIUS TERMINUS

The writing in the original is on the outside of the last leaf, which
is in fact the cover. The front cover, if there ever was one, is
lost. The ink with which the line containing the symbols is written
corresponds with that in the body of the manuscript; and the line
itself is placed symmetrically in the middle of the page, near the
top. The two lower lines are apparently by another hand, probably of
later date, certainly in ink of a different 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 manuscript it is impossible to say. But it
is evidently a careful memorandum of something, set down by somebody
when the manuscript was at hand; and so many of the characters
resemble those adopted to represent the planets and the signs of the
zodiac, that 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

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 to 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 10th 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 manuscript
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 he unsatisfactory, as leaving so much unexplained.
Those however who are familiar with old manuscripts relating to such
subjects may probably be able to interpret the whole.

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