Essays book 2

We are to observe that to every thing nothing is more dear and estimable than its being (the lion, the eagle the dolphin, prize nothing above their own kind); and that every thing assimilates the qualities of all other things to its own proper qualities, which we may indeed extend or contract, but that's all; for beyond that relation and principle our imagination cannot go, can guess at nothing else, nor possibly go out thence, nor stretch beyond it; whence spring these ancient conclusions: of all forms the most beautiful is that of man; therefore God must be of that form. No one can be happy without virtue, nor virtue be without reason, and reason cannot inhabit anywhere but in a human shape; God is therefore clothed in a human figure. Ita est informatum et anticipatum mentibus nostris, ut homini, quum de Deo cogitet, forma occurrat hu-mana. "It is so imprinted in our minds, and the fancy is so prepossessed with it, that when a man thinks of God, a human figure ever presents itself to the imagination." Therefore it was that Xenophanes pleasantly said, "That if beasts frame any gods to themselves, as 'tis likely they do, they make them certainly such as themselves are, and glorify themselves in it, as we do. For why may not a goose say thus; "All the parts of the universe I have an interest in; the earth serves me to walk upon; the sun to light me; the stars have their influence upon me; I have such an advantage by the winds and such by the waters; there is nothing that yon heavenly roof looks upon so favourably as me; I am the darling of nature! Is it not man that keeps, lodges, and serves me? 'Tis for me that he both sows and grinds; if he eats me he does the same by his fellow-men, and so do I the worms that kill and devour him." As much might be said by a crane, and with greater confidence, upon the account of the liberty of his flight, and the possession of that high and beautiful region. Tam blanda conciliatrix, et tam sui est lena ipsa natura. "So flattering and wheedling a bawd is nature to herself."

Now by the same consequence, the destinies are then for us; for us the world; it shines it thunders for us; creator and creatures, all are for us; ''tis the mark and point to which the universality of things aims. Look into the records that philosophy has kept for two thousand years and more, of the affairs of heaven; the gods all that while have neither acted nor spoken but for man. She does not allow them any other consultation or occupation. See them here against us in war:—

Domitosque Hercule manu
Telluris juvenes, unde periculum
Fulgens contre mu it domus
Saturai veteris.

"The brawny sons of earth, subdu'd by hand
Of Hercules on the Phlegran strand,
Where the rude shock did such an uproar make,
As made old Saturn's sparkling palace shake."

And here you shall see them participate of our troubles, to make a return for our having so often shared in theirs:—

Neptunus muros, magnoque emota tridenti
Fundamenta quatit, totamque sedibus urbem
Emit: hie Juno Scas svissima portas Prima tenet.

"Amidst that smother Neptune holds his place,
Below the walls' foundation drives his mace,
And heaves the city from its solid base.
See where in arms the cruel Juno stands,
Full in the Scan gate."

The Caunians, jealous of the authority of their own proper gods, armed themselves on the days of their devotion, and through the whole of their precincts ran cutting and slashing the air with their swords, by that means to drive away and banish all foreign gods out of their territory. Their powers are limited according that the plague, that the scurf, that the phthisic; one cures one sort of itch, another another: Adeo minimis etiam rebus prava religio inserit Deos? "At such a rate does false religion create gods for the most contemptible uses." This one makes grapes grow, that onions; this has the presidence over lechery, that over merchandise; for every sort of artisan a god; this has his province and reputation in the east; that his in the west:—

"Here lay her armour, here her chariot stood."

O sancte Apollo, qui umbilicum certum terrarum obtines!

"O sacred Phoebus, who with glorious ray,
From the earth's centre, dost thy light display."

Pallada Cecropid, Minola Creta Dianam,
Vulcanum tellus Hypsipylea colit,
Junonem Sparte, Pelopeladesque Mycen;
Pinigerum Fauni Mnalis ora caput;
Mars Latio venerandus.

"Th' Athenians Pallas, Cynthia Crete adore,
Vulcan is worshipped on the Lemnian shore.
Proud Juno's altars are by Spartans fed,
Th' Arcadians worship Faunus, and 'tis said
To Mars, by Italy, is homage paid."

to our necessity; this cures horses, that men,

Hic illius arma, Hic currus fuit.

This has only one town or family in his possession; that lives alone; that in company, either voluntary or upon necessity:—

Junctaque sunt magno templa nepotis avo.

"And temples to the nephew joined are,
To those were reared to the great-grandfather."

In here are some so wretched and mean (for the number amounts to six and thirty thousand) that they must pack five or six together, to produce one ear of corn, and thence take their several names; three to a door—that of the plank, that of the hinge, and that of the threshold. Four to a child—protectors of his swathing-clouts, his drink, meat, and sucking. Some certain, some uncertain and doubtful, and some that are not yet entered Paradise:—

Quos, quoniam coli nondum dignamur honore,
Quas dedimus cert terras habitare sinanras:

"Whom, since we yet not worthy think of heaven,
We suffer to possess the earth we've given."

There are amongst them physicians, poets, and civilians. Some of a mean betwixt the divine and human nature; mediators betwixt God and us, adorned with a certain second and diminutive sort of adoration; infinite in titles and offices; some good; others ill; some old and decrepit, and some that are mortal. For Chrysippus was of opinion that in the last conflagration of the world all the gods were to die but Jupiter. Man makes a thousand pretty societies betwixt God and him; is he not his countryman?

Jovis incunabula Creten.

"Crete, the cradle of Jupiter."

And this is the excuse that, upon consideration of this subject, Scvola, a high priest, and Varro, a great theologian in their times, make us: "That it is necessary that the people should be ignorant of many things that are true, and believe many things that are false." Quum veritatem qua liberetur inquirat credatur ei expedire quod fallitur. "Seeing he inquires into the truth, by which he would be made free, 'tis fit he should be deceived." Human eyes cannot perceive things but by the forms they know; and we do not remember what a leap miserable Phton took for attempting to guide his father's horses with a mortal hand. The mind of man falls into as great a depth, and is after the same manner bruised and shattered by his own rashness. If you ask of philosophy of what matter the heavens and the sun are? what answer will she return, if not that it is iron, or, with Anaxagoras, stone, or some other matter that she makes use of? If a man inquire of Zeno what nature is? "A fire," says he, "an artisan, proper for generation, and regularly proceeding." Archimedes, master of that science which attributes to itself the precedency before all others for truth and certainty; "the sun," says he, "is a god of red-hot iron." Was not this a fine imagination, extracted from the inevitable necessity of geometrical demonstrations? Yet not so inevitable and useful but that Socrates thought it was enough to know so much of geometry only as to measure the land a man bought or sold; and that Polynus, who had been a great and famous doctor in it, despised it, as full of falsity and manifest vanity, after he had once tasted the delicate fruits of the lozelly gardens of Epicurus. Socrates in Xenophon, concerning this affair, says of Anaxagoras, reputed by antiquity learned above all others in celestial and divine matters, "That he had cracked his brain, as all other men do who too immoderately search into knowledges which nothing belong to them:" when he made the sun to be a burning stone, he did not consider that a stone does not shine in the fire; and, which is worse, that it will there consume; and in making the sun and fire one, that fire does not turn the complexions black in shining upon them; that we are able to look fixedly upon fire; and that fire kills herbs and plants. 'Tis Socrates's opinion, and mine too, that the best judging of heaven is not to judge of it at all. Plato having occasion, in his Timous, to speak of the demons, "This undertaking," says he, "exceeds my ability." We are therefore to believe those ancients who said they were begotten by them; 'tis against all reason to refuse a man's faith to the children of the gods, though what they say should not be proved by any necessary or probable reasons; seeing they engage to speak of domestic and familiar things.

Let us see if we have a little more light in the knowledge of human and natural things. Is it not a ridiculous attempt for us to forge for those to whom, by our own confession, our knowledge is not able to attain, another body, and to lend a false form of our own invention; as is manifest in this motion of the planets; to which, seeing our wits cannot possibly arrive, nor conceive their natural conduct, we lend them material, heavy, and substantial springs of our own by which to move:—

Temo aureus, aurea summ
Curvatura rot, radiorum argenteus ordo.

"Gold was the axle, and the beam was gold;
The wheels with silver spokes on golden circles roll'd."

You would say that we had had coachmakers, carpenters, and painters, that went up on high to make engines of various motions, and to range the wheelwork and interfacings of the heavenly bodies of differing colours about the axis of necessity, according to Plato:—

Mundus domus est maxima rerum,
Quam quinque altiton fragmine zon
Cingunt, per quam limbus pictus bis sex signis
Stellimicantibus, altus in obliquo there, lun
Bigas acceptat.

"The world's a mansion that doth all things hold,
Which thundering zones, in number five, enfold,
Through which a girdle, painted with twelve signs,
And that with sparkling constellations, shines,
In heaven's arch marks the diurnal course
For the sun's chariot and his fiery horse."

These are all dreams and fanatic follies. Why will not nature please for once to lay open her bosom to us, and plainly discover to us the means and conduct of her movements, and prepare our eyes to see them? Good God, what abuse, what mistakes should we discover in our poor science! I am mistaken if that weak knowledge of ours holds any one thing as it really is, and I shall depart hence more ignorant of all other things than my own ignorance.

Have I not read in Plato this divine saying, that "nature is nothing but enigmatic poesy!" As if a man might perhaps see a veiled and shady picture, breaking out here and there with an infinite variety of false lights to puzzle our conjectures: Latent ista omnia crassis occullata et circumfusa tenebris; ut nulla acies humani ingenii tanta sit, qu penetrare in coelum, terram intrare, possit. "All those things lie concealed and involved in so dark an obscurity that no point of human wit can be so sharp as to pierce heaven or penetrate the earth." And certainly philosophy is no other than sophisticated poetry. Whence do the ancient writers extract their authorities but from the poets? and the first of them were poets themselves, and writ accordingly. Plato is but a poet unripped. Timon calls him, insultingly, "a monstrous forger of miracles." All superhuman sciences make use of the poetic style. Just as women make use of teeth of ivory where the natural are wanting, and instead of their true complexion make one of some artificial matter; as they stuff themselves out with cotton to appear plump, and in the sight of every one do paint, patch, and trick up themselves with a false and borrowed beauty; so does science (and even our law itself has, they say, legitimate fictions, whereon it builds the truth of its justice); she gives us in presupposition, and for current pay, things which she herself informs us were invented; for these epicycles, eccentrics, and concentrics, which astrology makes use of to carry on the motions of the stars, she gives us for the best she could invent upon that subject; as also, in all the rest, philosophy presents us not that which really is, or what she really believes, but what she has contrived with the greatest and most plausible likelihood of truth, and the quaintest invention. Plato, upon the discourse of the state of human bodies and those of beasts, says, "I should know that what I have said is truth, had I the confirmation of an oracle; but this I will affirm, that what I have said is the most likely to be true of any thing I could say."

'Tis not to heaven only that art sends her ropes, engines, and wheels; let us consider a little what she says of us ourselves, and of our contexture.

There is not more retrogradation, trepidation, accession, recession, and astonishment, in the stars and celestial bodies, than they have found out in this poor little human body. In earnest, they have good reason, upon that very account, to call it the little world, so many tools and parts have they employed to erect and build it. To assist the motions they see in man, and the various functions that we find in ourselves, in how many parts have they divided the soul, in how many places lodged it? in how many orders have they divided, and to how many stories have they raised this poor creature, man, besides those that are natural and to be perceived? And how many offices and vocations have they assigned him? They make it an imaginary public thing. 'Tis a subject that they hold and handle; and they have full power granted to them to rip, place, displace, piece, and stuff it, every one according to his own fancy, and yet they possess it not They cannot, not in reality only, but even in dreams, so govern it that there will not be some cadence or sound that will escape their architecture, as enormous as it is, and botched with a thousand false and fantastic patches. And it is not reason to excuse them; for though we are satisfied with painters when they paint heaven, earth, seas, mountains, and remote islands, that they give us some slight mark of them, and, as of things unknown, are content with a faint and obscure description; yet when they come and draw us after life, or any other creature which is known and familiar to us, we then require of them a perfect and exact representation of lineaments and colours, and despise them if they fail in it.

I am very well pleased with the Milesian girl, who observing the philosopher Thales to be always contemplating the celestial arch, and to have his eyes ever gazing upward, laid something in his way that he might stumble over, to put him in mind that it would be time to take up his thoughts about things that are in the clouds when he had provided for those that were under his feet. Doubtless she advised him well, rather to look to himself than to gaze at heaven; for, as Democritus says, by the mouth of Cicero,—

Quod est ante pedes, nemo spectat: coeli scrutantur plagas.

"No man regards what is under his feet;
They are always prying towards heaven."

But our condition will have it so, that the knowledge of what we have in hand is as remote from us, and as much above the clouds, as that of the stars. As Socrates says, in Plato, "That whoever meddles with philosophy may be reproached as Thales was by the woman, that he sees nothing of that which is before him. For every philosopher is ignorant of what his neighbour does; aye, and of what he does himself, and is ignorant of what they both are, whether beasts or men."

Those people, who find Sebond's arguments too weak, that are ignorant of nothing, that govern the world, that know all,—

Qu mare compescant caus; quid temperet annum;
Stell sponte su, jussve, vagentur et errent;
Quid premat obscurum lun, quid profrt orbem;
Quid velit et posait rerum concordia discors;

"What governs ocean's tides,
And through the various year the seasons guides;
Whether the stars by their own proper force,
Or foreign power, pursue their wand'ring course;
Why shadows darken the pale queen of night;
Whence she renews her orb and spreads her light;—
What nature's jarring sympathy can mean;"

have they not sometimes in their writings sounded the difficulties they have met with of knowing their own being? We see very well that the finger moves, that the foot moves, that some parts assume a voluntary motion of themselves without our consent, and that others work by our direction; that one sort of apprehension occasions blushing; another paleness; such an imagination works upon the spleen only, another upon the brain; one occasions laughter, another tears; another stupefies and astonishes all our senses, and arrests the motion of all our members; at one object the stomach will rise, at another a member that lies something lower; but how a spiritual impression should make such a breach into a massy and solid subject, and the nature of the connection and contexture of these admirable springs and movements, never yet man knew: Omnia incerta ratione, et in natur majestate abdita. "All uncertain in reason, and concealed in the majesty of nature," says Pliny. And St Augustin, Modus quo corporibus adhorent spiritus.... omnino minis est, nec comprehendi ab homine potest; et hoc ipse homo est, "The manner whereby souls adhere to bodies is altogether wonderful, and cannot be conceived by man, and yet this is man." And yet it is not so much as doubted; for the opinions of men are received according to the ancient belief, by authority and upon trust, as if it were religion and law. 'Tis received as gibberish which is commonly spoken; this truth, with all its clutter of arguments and proofs, is admitted as a firm and solid body, that is no more to be shaken, no more to be judged of; on the contrary, every one, according to the best of his talent, corroborates and fortifies this received belief with the utmost power of his reason, which is a supple utensil, pliable, and to be accommodated to any figure; and thus the world comes to be filled with lies and fopperies. The reason that men doubt of divers things is that they never examine common impressions; they do not dig to the root, where the faults and defects lie; they only debate upon the branches; they do not examine whether such and such a thing be true, but if it has been so and so understood; it is not inquired into whether Galen has said any thing to purpose, but whether he has said so or so. In truth it was very good reason that this curb to the liberty of our judgments and that tyranny over our opinions, should be extended to the schools and arts. The god of scholastic knowledge is Aristotle; 'tis irreligion to question any of his decrees, as it was those of Lucurgus at Sparta; his doctrine is a magisterial law, which, peradventure, is as false as another. I do not know why I should not as willingly embrace either the ideas of Plato, or the atoms of Epicurus, or the plenum or vacuum of Leucippus and Democritus, or the water of Thales, or the infinity of nature of Anaximander, or the air of Diogenes, or the numbers and symmetry of Pythagoras, or the infinity of Parmenides, or the One of Musus, or the water and fire of Apollodorus, or the similar parts of Anaxagoras, or the discord and friendship of Empedocles, or the fire of Heraclitus, or any other opinion of that infinite confusion of opinions and determinations, which this fine human reason produces by its certitude and clearsightedness in every thing it meddles withal, as I should the opinion of Aristotle upon this subject of the principles of natural things; which principles he builds of three pieces—matter, form, and privation. And what can be more vain than to make inanity itself the cause of the production of things? Privation is a negative; of what humour could he then make the cause and original of things that are? And yet that were not to be controverted but for the exercise of logic; there is nothing disputed therein to bring it into doubt, but to defend the author of the school from foreign objections; his authority is the non-ultra, beyond which it is not permitted to inquire.

It is very easy, upon approved foundations, to build whatever we please; for, according to the law and ordering of this beginning, the other parts of the structure are easily carried on without any failure. By this way we find our reason well-grounded, and discourse at a venture; for our masters prepossess and gain beforehand as much room in our belief as is necessary towards concluding afterwards what they please, as geometricians do by their granted demands, the consent and approbation we allow them giving them wherewith to draw us to the right and left, and to whirl us about at their pleasure. Whatever springs from these presuppositions is our master and our God; he will take the level of his foundations so ample and so easy that by them he may mount us up to the clouds, if he so please. In this practice and negotiation of science we have taken the saying of Pythagoras, "That every expert person ought to be believed in his own art" for current pay. The logician refers the signification of words to the grammarians; the rhetorician borrows the state of arguments from the logician; the poet his measure from the musician: the geometrician his proportions from the arithmetician, and the metaphysicians take physical conjectures for their foundations; for every science has its principle presupposed, by which human judgment is everywhere kept in check. If you come to rush against the bar where the principal error lies, they have presently this sentence in their mouths, "That there is no disputing with persons who deny principles." Now men can have no principles if not revealed to them by the divinity; of all the rest the beginning, the middle, and the end, is nothing but dream and vapour. To those that contend upon presupposition we must, on the contrary, presuppose to them the same axiom upon which the dispute is. For every human presupposition and declaration has as much authority one as another, if reason do not make the difference. Wherefore they are all to be put into the balance, and first the generals and those that tyrannize over us. The persuasion of certainty is a certain testimony of folly and extreme incertainty; and there are not a more foolish sort of men, nor that are less philosophers, than the Philodoxes of Plato; we must inquire whether fire be hot? whether snow be white? if there be any such things as hard or soft within our knowledge?

And as to those answers of which they make old stories, as he that doubted if there was any such thing as heat, whom they bid throw himself into the fire; and he that denied the coldness of ice, whom they bid to put ice into his bosom;—they are pitiful things, unworthy of the profession of philosophy. If they had let us alone in our natural being, to receive the appearance of things without us, according as they present themselves to us by our senses, and had permitted us to follow our own natural appetites, governed by the condition of our birth, they might then have reason to talk at that rate; but 'tis from them we have learned to make ourselves judges of the world; 'tis from them that we derive this fancy, "That human reason is controller-general of all that is without and within the roof of heaven; that comprehends every thing, that can do every thing; by the means of which every thing is known and understood." This answer would be good among the cannibals, who enjoy the happiness of a long, quiet, and peaceable life, without Aristotle's precepts, and without the knowledge of the name of physics; this answer would perhaps be of more value and greater force than all those they borrow from their reason and invention; of this all animals, and all where the power of the law of nature is yet pure and simple, would be as capable as we, but as for them they have renounced it. They need not tell us, "It is true, for you see and feel it to be so;" they must tell me whether I really feel what I think I do; and if I do feel it, they must then tell me why I feel it, and how, and what; let them tell me the name, original, the parts and junctures of heat and cold, the qualities of the agent and patient; or let them give up their profession, which is not to admit or approve of any thing but by the way of reason; that is their test in all sorts of essays; but, certainly, 'tis a test full of falsity, error, weakness, and defect.

Which way can we better prove it than by itself? If we are not to believe her when speaking of herself, she can hardly be thought fit to judge of foreign things; if she know any thing, it must at least be her own being and abode; she is in the soul, and either a part or an effect of it; for true and essential reason, from which we by a false colour borrow the name, is lodged in the bosom of the Almighty; there is her habitation and recess; 'tis thence that she imparts her rays, when God is pleased to impart any beam of it to mankind, as Balias issued from her father's head, to communicate herself to the world.

Now let us see what human reason tells us of herself and of the soul, not of the soul in general, of which almost all philosophy makes the celestial and first bodies participants; nor of that which Thales attributed to things which themselves are reputed inanimate, lead thereto by the consideration of the loadstone; but of that which appertains to us, and that we ought the best to know:—

Ignoratur enim, qu sit natura animai;
Nata sit; an, contra, nascentibus insinuetur;
Et simnl intereat nobiscum morte dirempta;
An tenebras Orci visat, vastasque lacunas,
An pecudes alias divinitns insinuet se.

"For none the nature of the soul doth know,
Whether that it be born with us, or no;
Or be infused into us at our birth,
And dies with us when we return to earth,
Or then descends to the black shades below,
Or into other animals does go."

Crates and Dicarchus were of opinion that there was no soul at all, but that the body thus stirs by a natural motion; Plato, that it was a substance moving of itself; Thales, a nature without repose; Aedepiades, an exercising of the senses; Hesiod and Anaximander, a thing composed of earth and water; Parmenides, of earth and fire; Empedocles, of blood:—

Sanguineam vomit ille animam;

"He vomits up his bloody soul."

Posidonius, Cleanthes, and Galen, that it was heat or a hot complexion—

Igneus est ollis vigor, et colestis origo;

"Their vigour of fire and of heavenly race."

Hippocrates, a spirit diffused all over the body; Varro, that it was an air received at the mouth, heated in the lungs, moistened in the heart, and diffused throughout the whole body; Zeno, the quintessence of the four elements; Heraclides Ponticus, that it was the light; Zenocrates and the Egyptians, a mobile number; the Chaldeans, a virtue without any determinate form:—

Habitum quemdam vitalem corporis esse,
Harmoniam Grci quam dicunt.

"A certain vital habit in man's frame,
Which harmony the Grecian sages name."

Let us not forget Aristotle, who held the soul to be that which naturally causes the body to move, which he calls entelechia, with as cold an invention as any of the rest; for he neither speaks of the essence, nor of the original, nor of the nature of the soul, but only takes notice of the effect Lactantius, Seneca, and most of the Dogmatists, have confessed that it was a thing they did not understand; after all this enumeration of opinions, Harum sententiarum quo vera sit, Deus aliquis viderit: "Of these opinions which is the true, let some god determine," says Cicero. "I know by myself," says St Bernard, "how incomprehensible God is, seeing I cannot comprehend the parts of my own being."

Heraclitus, who was of opinion that every being was full of souls and demons, did nevertheless maintain that no one could advance so far towards the knowledge of the soul as ever to arrive at it; so profound was the essence of it.

Neither is there less controversy and debate about seating of it. Hippocrates and Hierophilus place it in the ventricle of the brain; Democritus and Aristotle throughout the whole body;—

Ut bona spe valetudo cum dicitur esse
Corporis, et non est tamen hc pars ulla ralentis;

"As when the body's health they do it call,
When of a sound man, that's no part at all."

Epicurus in the stomach;

Hic exsultat enim pavor ac metus;
Hc loca circum Ltiti mulcent.

"For this the seat of horror is and fear,
And joys in turn do likewise triumph here."

The Stoics, about and within the heart; Erasistratus, adjoining the membrane of the epicranium; Empedocles, in the blood; as also Moses, which was the reason why he interdicted eating the blood of beasts, because the soul is there seated; Galen thought that every part of the body had its soul; Strato has placed it betwixt the eyebrows; Qu facie quidem sit animus, aut ubi habitet, ne quorendum quidem est: "What figure the soul is of, or what part it inhabits, is not to be inquired into," says Cicero. I very willingly deliver this author to you in his own words; for should I alter eloquence itself? Besides, it were but a poor prize to steal the matter of his inventions; they are neither very frequent, nor of any great weight, and sufficiently known. But the reason why Chrysippus argues it to be about the heart, as all the rest of that sect do, is not to be omitted; "It is," says he, "because when we would affirm any things we lay our hand upon our breasts; and when we would pronounce y, which signifies I, we let the lower jaw fall towards the stomach." This place ought not to be passed over without a remark upon the vanity of so great a man; for besides that these considerations are infinitely light in themselves, the last is only a proof to the Greeks that they have their souls lodged in that part. No human judgment is so sprightly and vigilant that it does not sometimes sleep. Why do we fear to say? The Stoics, the fathers of human prudence, think that the soul of a man, crushed under a ruin, long labours and strives to get out, like a mouse caught in a trap, before it can disengage itself from the burden. Some hold that the world was made to give bodies, by way of punishment, to the spirits fallen, by their own fault, from the purity wherein they had been created, the first creation having been incorporeal; and that, according as they are more or less depraved from their spirituality, so are they more or less jocundly or dully incorporated; and that thence proceeds all the variety of so much created matter. But the spirit that for his punishment was invested with the body of the sun must certainly have a very rare and particular measure of change.

1 of 2
2 of 2