The extremities of our perquisition do all fall into astonishment and blindness; as Plutarch says of the testimony of histories, that, according to charts and maps, the utmost bounds of known r countries are taken up with marshes, impenetrable forests, deserts, and uninhabitable places; this is the reason why the most gross and childish ravings were most found in those authors who treat of the most elevated subjects, and proceed the furthest in them, losing themselves in their own curiosity and presumption. The beginning and end of knowledge are equally foolish; observe to what a pitch Plato flies in his poetic clouds; do but take notice there of the gibberish of the gods; but what did he dream of when he defined a man to be "a two-legged animal without feathers: giving those who had a mind to deride him a pleasant occasion; for, having pulled a capon alive, they went about calling it the man of Plato."
And what did the Epicureans think of, out of what simplicity did they first imagine that their atoms that they said were bodies having some weight, and a natural motion downwards, had made the world; till they were put in mind, by their adversaries, that, according to this description, it was impossible they should unite and join to one another, their fall being so direct and perpendicular, and making so many parallel lines throughout? Wherefore there was a necessity that they should since add a fortuitous and sideways motion, and that they should moreover accoutre their atoms with hooked tails, by which they might unite and cling to one another. And even then do not those that attack them upon this second consideration put them hardly to it? "If the atoms have by chance formed so many sorts of figures, why did it never fall out that they made a house or a shoe? Why at the same rate should we not believe that an infinite number of Greek letters, strewed all over a certain place, might fall into the contexture of the Iliad?"—"Whatever is capable of reason," says Zeno, "is better than that which is not capable; there is nothing better than the world; the world is therefore capable of reason." Cotta, by this way of argumentation, makes the world a mathematician; 'and tis also made a musician and an organist by this other argumentation of Zeno: "The whole is more than a part; we are capable of wisdom, and are part of the world; therefore the world is wise." There are infinite like examples, not only of arguments that are false in themselves, but silly ones, that do not hold in themselves, and that accuse their authors not so much of ignorance as imprudence, in the reproaches the philosophers dash one another in the teeth withal, upon their dissensions in their sects and opinions.
Whoever should bundle up a lusty faggot of the fooleries of human wisdom would produce wonders. I willingly muster up these few for a pattern, by a certain meaning not less profitable to consider than the most sound and moderate instructions. Let us judge by these what opinion we are to have of man, of his sense and reason, when in these great persons that have raised human knowledge so high, so many gross mistakes and manifest errors are to be found.
For my part, I am apt to believe that they have treated of knowledge casually, and like a toy, with both hands; and have contended about reason as of a vain and frivolous instrument, setting on foot all sorts of fancies and inventions, sometimes more sinewy, and sometimes weaker. This same Plato, who defines man as if he were a cock, says elsewhere, after Socrates, "That he does not, in truth, know what man is, and that he is a member of the world the hardest to understand." By this variety and instability of opinions, they tacitly lead us, as it were by the hand, to this resolution of their irresolution. They profess not always to deliver their opinions barefaced and apparent to us; they have one while disguised them in the fabulous shadows of poetry, and at another in some other vizor; for our imperfection carries this also along with it, that crude meat is not always proper for our stomachs; we must dry, alter, and mix it; they do the same; they sometimes conceal their real opinions and judgments, and falsify them to accommodate themselves to the public use. They will not make an open profession of ignorance, and of the imbecility of human reason, that they may not fright children; but they sufficiently discover it to us under the appearance of a troubled and inconstant science.
I advised a person in Italy, who had a great mind to speak Italian, that provided he only had a desire to make himself understood, without being ambitious in any other respect to excel, that he should only make use of the first word that came to the tongue's end, whether Latin, French, Spanish, or Gascon, and that, by adding the Italian termination, he could not fail of hitting upon some idiom of the country, either Tuscan, Roman, Venetian, Piedmontese, or Neapolitan, and so fall in with some one of those many forms. I say the same of Philosophy; she has so many faces, so much variety, and has said so many things, that all our dreams and ravings are there to be found. Human fancy can conceive nothing good or bad that is not there: Nihil tam absurde did potest, quod non dicatur ab aliquo philosophorum. "Nothing can be said so absurd, that has not been said before by some of the philosophers." And I am the more willing to expose my whimsies to the public; forasmuch as, though they are spun out of myself, and without any pattern, I know they will be found related to some ancient humour, and some will not stick to say, "See whence he took it!" My manners are natural, I have not called in the assistance of any discipline to erect them; but, weak as they are, when it came into my head to lay them open to the world's view, and that to expose them to the light in a little more decent garb I went to adorn them with reasons and examples, it was a wonder to myself accidentally to find them conformable to so many philosophical discourses and examples. I never knew what regimen my life was of till it was near worn out and spent; a new figure—an unpremeditated and accidental philosopher.
But to return to the soul. Inasmuch as Plato has placed reason in the brain, anger in the heart, and concupiscence in the liver; 'tis likely that it was rather an interpretation of the movements of
the soul, than that he intended a division and separation of it, as of a body, into several members. And the most likely of their opinions is that 'tis always a soul, that by its faculty, reasons, remembers, comprehends, judges, desires, and exercises all its other operations by divers instruments of the body; as the pilot guides his ship according to his experience, one while straining or slacking the cordage, one while hoisting the mainyard, or removing the rudder, by one and the same power carrying on several effects; and that it is lodged in the brain; which appears in that the wounds and accidents that touch that part do immediately offend the faculties of the soul; and 'tis not incongruous that it should thence diffuse itself through the other parts of the body
Medium non deserit unquam
Coeli Phoebus iter; radiis tamen omnia lustrt.
"Phoebus ne'er deviates from the zodiac's way;
Yet all things doth illustrate with his ray."
As the sun sheds from heaven its light and influence, and fills the world with them:—
Ctera pars animas, per totum dissita corpus,
Paret, et ad numen mentis momenque movetur.
"The other part o' th' soul diffus'd all o'er
The body, does obey the reason's lore."
Some have said that there was a general soul, as it were a great body, whence all the particular souls were extracted, and thither again return, always restoring themselves to that universal matter:—
Deum namque ire per omnes
Terrasque, tractusque maris, columque profundum;
Hinc pecudes, armenta, viros, genus omne ferarum,
Quemque sibi tenues nascentem arcessere vitas:
Scilicet hue reddi deinde, ac resoluta referri
Omnia; nec morti esse locum:
"For God goes forth, and spreads throughout the whole
Heaven, earth, and sea, the universal soul;
Each at its birth, from him all beings share,
Both man and brute, the breath of vital air;
To him return, and, loos'd from earthly chain,
Fly whence they sprung, and rest in God again,
Spurn at the grave, and, fearless of decay,
Dwell in high heaven, and star th' ethereal way."
Others, that they only rejoined and reunited themselves to it; others, that they were produced from the divine substance; others, by the angels of fire and air; others, that they were from all antiquity; and some that they were created at the very point of time the bodies wanted them; others make them to descend from the orb of the moon, and return thither; the generality of the ancients believed that they were begotten from father to son, after a like manner, and produced with all other natural things; taking their argument from the likeness of children to their fathers;
Instillata patris virtus tibi;
Fortes creantur fortibus, et bonis;
"Thou hast thy father's virtues with his blood:
For still the brave spring from the brave and good;"
and that we see descend from fathers to their children not only bodily marks, but moreover a resemblance of humours, complexions, and inclinations of the soul:—
Denique cur acris violentia triste leonum
Seminium sequitur? dolus vulpibus, et fuga, cervis
A patribus datur, et patrius pavor incitt artus?
Si non certa suo quia semine seminioque
Vis animi pariter crescit cum corpore toto.
"For why should rage from the fierce lion's seed,
Or from the subtle fox's craft, proceed;
Or why the tim'rous and flying hart
His fear and trembling to his race impart;
But that a certain force of mind does grow,
And still increases as the bodies do?"
That thereupon the divine justice is grounded, punishing in the children the faults of their fathers; forasmuch as the contagion of paternal vices is in some sort imprinted in the soul of children, and that the ill government of their will extends to them; moreover, that if souls had any other derivation than a natural consequence, and that they had been some other thins out of the body, they would retain some memory of their first being, the natural faculties that are proper to them of discoursing, reasoning, and remembering, being considered:—
Si in corpus nascentibus insinuatur,
Cur super anteactam tatem meminisse nequimus,
Nec vestigia gestarum rerum ulla tenemus?
"For at our birth if it infused be,
Why do we then retain no memory
Of our foregoing life, and why no more
Remember any thing we did before?"
for, to make the condition of our souls such as we would have it to be, we must suppose them all-knowing, even in their natural simplicity and purity; by these means they had been such, being free from the prison of the body, as well before they entered into it, as we hope they shall be after they are gone out of it; and from this knowledge it should follow that they should remember, being got in the body, as Plato said, "That what we learn is no other than a remembrance of what we knew before;" a thing which every one by experience may maintain to be false. Forasmuch, in the first place, as that we do not justly remember any thing but what we have been taught, and that if the memory did purely perform its office it would at least suggest to us something more than what we have learned. Secondly, that which she knew being in her purity, was a true knowledge, knowing things as they are by her divine intelligence; whereas here we make her receive falsehood and vice when we instruct her; wherein she cannot employ her reminiscence, that image and conception having never been planted in her. To say that the corporal prison does in such sort suffocate her natural faculties, that they are there utterly extinct, is first contrary to this other belief of acknowledging her power to be so great, and the operations of it that men sensibly perceive in this life so admirable, as to have thereby concluded that divinity and eternity past, and the immortality to come:—
Nam si tantopere est anirai mutata potestas,
Omnia ut actarum exciderit retinentia rerum,
Non, ut opinor, ea ab letho jam longior errat.
"For if the mind be changed to that degree
As of past things to lose all memory,
So great a change as that, I must confess,
Appears to me than death but little less."
Furthermore, 'tis here with us, and not elsewhere, that the force and effects of the soul ought to be considered; all the rest of her perfections are vain and useless to her; 'tis by her present condition that all her immortality is to be rewarded and paid, and of the life of man only that she is to render an account It had been injustice to have stripped her of her means and powers; to have disarmed her in order, in the time of her captivity and imprisonment in the flesh, of her weakness and infirmity in the time wherein she was forced and compelled, to pass an infinite and perpetual sentence and condemnation, and to insist upon the consideration of so short a time, peradventure but an hour or two, or at the most but a century, which has no more proportion with infinity than an instant; in this momentary interval to ordain and definitively to determine of her whole being; it were an unreasonable disproportion, too, to assign an eternal recompense in consequence of so short a life. Plato, to defend himself from this inconvenience, will have future payments limited to the term of a hundred years, relatively to human duration; and of us ourselves there are enough who have given them temporal limits. By this they judged that the generation of the soul followed the common condition of human things, as also her life, according to the opinion of Epicurus and Democritus, which has been the most received; in consequence of these fine appearances that they saw it bom, and that, according as the body grew more capable, they saw it increase in vigour as the other did; that its feebleness in infancy was very manifest, and in time its better strength and maturity, and after that its declension and old age, and at last its decrepitude:—
Gigni pariter cum corpore, et una
Crescere sentimus, pariterque senescere mentem.
"Souls with the bodies to be born we may
Discern, with them t' increase, with them decay."
They perceived it to be capable of divers passions, and agitated with divers painful motions, whence it fell into lassitude and uneasiness; capable of alteration and change, of cheerfulness, of stupidity and languor, and subject to diseases and injuries, as the stomach or the foot;
Mentem sanari, corpus ut grum,
Ceraimus, et flecti medicin posse videmus;
"Sick minds, as well as bodies, we do see
By Med'cine's virtue oft restored to be;"
dazzled and intoxicated with the fumes of wine, jostled from her seat by the vapours of a burning fever, laid asleep by the application of some medicaments, and roused by others,—
Corpoream naturam animi esse necesse est,
Corporeis quoniam telis ictuque laborat;
"There must be of necessity, we find,
A nature that's corporeal of the mind,
Because we evidently see it smarts
And wounded is with shafts the body darts;"
they saw it astonished and overthrown in all its faculties through the mere bite of a mad dog, and in that condition to have no stability of reason, no sufficiency, no virtue, no philosophical resolution, no resistance that could exempt it from the subjection of such accidents; the slaver of a contemptible cur shed upon the hand of Socrates, to shake all his wisdom and all his great and regulated imaginations, and so to annihilate them, ad that there remained no trace of his former knowledge,—
Vis.... animal Conturbatur, et.... divisa seorsum
Disjectatur, eodem illo distracta veneno;
"The power of the soul's disturbed; and when
That once is but sequestered from her, then
By the same poison 'tis dispersed abroad;"
and this poison to find no more resistance in that great soul than in an infant of four years old; a poison sufficient to make all philosophy, if it were incarnate, become furious and mad; insomuch that Cato, who ever disdained death and fortune, could not endure the sight of a looking-glass, or of water, overwhelmed with horror and affright at the thought of falling, by the contagion of a mad dog, into the disease called by physicians hydrophobia:—
Vis morbi distracta per artus
Turbat agens animam, spumantes quore salso
Ventorum ut validis fervescunt viribus und.
"Throughout the limbs diffused, the fierce disease
Disturbs the soul, as in the briny seas,
The foaming waves to swell and boil we see,
Stirred by the wind's impetuosity."
Now, as to this particular, philosophy has sufficiently armed man to encounter all other accidents either with patience, or, if the search of that costs too dear, by an infallible defeat, in totally depriving himself of all sentiment; but these are expedients that are only of use to a soul being itself, and in its full power, capable of reason and deliberation; but not at all proper for this inconvenience, where, in a philosopher, the soul becomes the soul of a madman, troubled, overturned, and lost; which many occasions may produce, as a too vehement agitation that any violent passion of the soul may beget in itself; or a wound in a certain part of the person, or vapours from the stomach, any of which may stupefy the understanding and turn the brain.
Morbis in corporis avius errat
Spe animus; dementit enim, deliraque fatur;
Interdumque gravi lethargo fertur in altum
ternumque soporem, oculis mi tuque cadenti:
"For when the body's sick, and ill at ease,
The mind doth often share in the disease;
Wonders, grows wild, and raves, and sometimes by
A heavy and a stupid lethargy,
Is overcome and cast into a deep,
A most profound and everlasting sleep."
The philosophers, methinks, have not much touched this string, no more than another of equal importance; they have this dilemma continually in their mouths, to console our mortal condition: "The soul is either mortal or immortal; if mortal, it will suffer no pain; if immortal, it will change for the better."—They never touch the other branch, "What if she change for the worse?" and leave to the poets the menaces of future torments. But thereby they make themselves a good game. These are two omissions that I often meet with in their discourses. I return to the first.
This soul loses the use of the sovereign stoical good, so constant and so firm. Our fine human wisdom must here yield, and give up her arms. As to the rest, they also considered, by the vanity of human reason, that the mixture and association of two so contrary things as the mortal and the immortal, was unimaginable:—
Quippe etenim mortale terao jungere, et una
Consentire putare, et fungi mutua posse,
Desipere est. Quid enim diversius esse putandum est,
Aut magis inter se disjunctum discrepitansque,
Quam, mortale quod est, immortali atque perenni
Junctum, in concilio, svas tolerare procellas?
"The mortal and th' eternal, then, to blend,
And think they can pursue one common end,
Is madness: for what things more diff'rent are.
Distinct in nature, and disposed to jar?
How can it then be thought that these should bear,
When thus conjoined, of harms an equal share?"
Moreover, they perceived the soul tending towards death as well as the body:—
Simul ovo fessa fatiscit:
"Fatigued together with the weight of years:"
which, according to Zeno, the image of sleep does sufficiently demonstrate to us; for he looks upon it "as a fainting and fall of the soul, as well as of the body:" Contrahi animum et quasi labi putat atque decidere: and, what they perceived in some, that the soul maintained its force and vigour to the last gasp of life, they attributed to the variety of diseases, as it is observable in men at the last extremity, that some retain one sense, and some another; one the hearing, and another the smell, without any manner of defect or alteration; and that there is not so universal a deprivation that some parts do not remain vigorous and entire:—
Non alio pacto, quam si, pes cum dolet gri,
In nullo caput interea sit forte dolore.
"So, often of the gout a man complains,
Whose head is, at the same time, free from pains."
The sight of our judgment is, to truth, the same that the owl's eyes are to the splendour of the sun, says Aristotle. By what can we better convince him, than by so gross blindness in so apparent a light? For the contrary opinion of the immortality of the soul, which, Cicero says, was first introduced, according to the testimony of books at least, by Pherecydes
Syrius, in the time of King Tullus (though some attribute it to Thales, and others to others), 'tis the part of human science that is treated of with the greatest doubt and
reservation. The most positive dogmatists are fain, in this point principally, to fly to the refuge of the Academy. No one doubts what Aristotle has established upon this subject, no more than all the ancients in general, who handle it with a wavering belief: Rem gratissimam promittentium magis quam probantium: "A thing more acceptable in the promisors than the provers." He conceals himself in clouds of words of difficult, unintelligible sense, and has left to those of his sect as great a dispute about his judgment as about the matter itself.
Two things rendered this opinion plausible to them; one, that, without the immortality of souls, there would be nothing whereon to ground the vain hopes of glory, which is a consideration of wonderful
repute in the world; the other, that it is a very profitable impression, as Plato says, that vices, when they escape the discovery and cognizance of human justice, are still within the reach of the divine, which will pursue them even after the death of the guilty. Man is excessively solicitous to prolong his being, and has to the utmost of his power provided for it; there are monuments for the conservation of the body, and glory to preserve the name. He has employed all his wit and opinion to the rebuilding of himself, impatient of his fortune, and to prop himself by his inventions. The soul, by reason of its anxiety and impotence, being unable to stand by itself, wanders up and down to seek out consolations, hopes, and foundations, and alien circumstances, to which she adheres and fixes; and how light or fantastic soever invention delivers them to her, relies more willingly, and with greater assurance, upon them than upon herself. But 'tis wonderful to observe how the most constant and obstinate maintainers of this just and clear persuasion of the immortality of the soul fall short, and how weak their arguments are, when they go about to prove it by human reason: Somnia sunt non docentis, sed optantis: "They are dreams, not of the teacher, but wisher," says one of the ancients. By which testimony man may know that he owes the truth he himself finds out to fortune and accident; since that even then, when it is fallen into his hand, he has not wherewith to hold and maintain it, and that his reason has not force to make use of it. All things produced by our own meditation and understanding, whether true or false, are subject to incertitude and controversy. 'Twas for the chastisement of our pride, and for the instruction of our miserable condition and incapacity, that God wrought the perplexity and confusion of the tower of Babel. Whatever we undertake without his assistance, whatever we see without the lamp of his grace, is but vanity and folly. We corrupt the very essence of truth, which is uniform and constant, by our weakness, when fortune puts it into our possession. What course soever man takes of himself, God still permits it to come to the same confusion, the image whereof he so lively represents to us in the just chastisement wherewith he crushed Nimrod's presumption, and frustrated the vain attempt of his proud structure; Perdam sapientiam sapientium, et prudentiam prudentium reprobabo. "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." The diversity of idioms and tongues, with which he disturbed this work, what are they other than this infinite and perpetual alteration and discordance of opinions and reasons, which accompany and confound the vain building of human wisdom, and to very good effect too; for what would hold us, if we had but the least grain of knowledge? This saint has very much obliged me: Ipsa veritatis occultatio ant humili-tatis exercitatio est, aut elationis attritio "The very concealment of the truth is either an exercise of humility or a quelling of presumption." To what a pitch of presumption and insolence do we raise our blindness and folly!
But to return to my subject. It was truly very good reason that we should be beholden to God only, and to the favour of his grace, for the truth of so noble a belief, since from his sole bounty we receive the fruit of immortality, which consists in the enjoyment of eternal beatitude. Let us ingenuously confess that God alone has dictated it to us, and faith; for 'tis no lesson of nature and our own reason. And whoever will inquire into his own being and power, both within and without, without this divine privilege; whoever shall consider man impartially, and without flattery, will see in him no efficacy or faculty that relishes of any thing but death and earth. The more we give and confess to owe and render to God, we do it with the greater Christianity. That which this Stoic philosopher says he holds from the fortuitous consent of the popular voice; had it not been better that he had held it from God? Cum de animarum otemitate disserimus, non leve momentum apud nos habet consensus hominum aut timentium inferos, aut colentium. Utor hc public persuasione. "When we discourse of the immortality of souls, the consent of men that either fear or adore the infernal powers, is of no small advantage. I make use of this public persuasion." Now the weakness of human arguments upon this subject is particularly manifested by the fabulous circumstances they have superadded as consequences of this opinion, to find out of what condition this immortality of ours was. Let us omit the Stoics, (usuram nobis largiuntur tanquam cornicibus; diu mansuros aiunt animos; semper, negant. "They give us a long life, as also they do to crows; they say our soul shall continue long, but that it shall continue always they deny,") who give to souls a life after this, but finite. The most universal and received fancy, and that continues down to our times in various places, is that of which they make Pythagoras the author; not that he was the original inventor, but because it received a great deal of weight and repute by the authority of his approbation: "That souls, at their departure out of us, did nothing but shift from one body to another, from a lion to a horse, from a horse to a king, continually travelling at this rate from habitation to habitation;" and he himself said that he remembered he had been tha-lides, since that Euphorbus, afterwards Hermotimus, and, finally, from Pyrrhus was passed into Pythagoras; having a memory of himself of two hundred and six years. And some have added that these very souls sometimes mount up to heaven, and come down again:—
O pater, aime aliquas ad colum hinc ire putandum est
Sublimes animas, iterumque ad tarda reverti
Corpora? Qu lucis miseris tam dira cupido?
"O, father, is it then to be conceiv'd
That any of these spirits, so sublime,
Should hence to the celestial regions climb,
And thence return to earth to reassume
Their sluggish bodies rotting in a tomb?
For wretched life whence does such fondness come?"
Origen makes them eternally to go and come from a better to a worse estate. The opinion that Varro mentions is that, after four hundred and forty years' revolution, they should be reunited to their first bodies; Chrysippus held that this would happen after a certain space of time unknown and unlimited. Plato, who professes to have embraced this belief from Pindar and the ancient poets, that we are to undergo infinite vicissitudes of mutation, for which the soul is prepared, having neither punishment nor reward in the other world but what is temporal, as its life here is but temporal, concludes that it has a singular knowledge of the affairs of heaven, of hell, of the world, through all which it has passed, repassed, and made stay in several voyages, are matters for her memory. Observe her progress elsewhere: "The soul that has lived well is reunited to the stars to which it is assigned; that which has lived ill removes into a woman, and if it do not there reform, is again removed into a beast of condition suitable to its vicious manners, and shall see no end of its punishments till it be returned to its natural constitution, and that it has, by the force of reason, purged itself from those gross, stupid, and elementary qualities it was polluted with." But I will not omit the objection the Epicureans make against this transmigration from one body to another; 'tis a pleasant one; they ask what expedient would be found out if the number of the dying should chance to be greater than that of those who are coming into the world. For the souls, turned out of their old habitation, would scuffle and crowd which should first get possession of their new lodging; and they further demand how they shall pass away their time, whilst waiting till new quarters are made ready for them? Or, on the contrary, if more animals should be born than die, the body, they say, would be but in an ill condition whilst waiting for a soul to be infused into it; and it would fall out that some bodies would die before they had been alive.
Denique comrabia ad Veneris, partusque ferarum
Esse animas prsto, deridiculum esse videtur;
Et spectare immortales mortalia membra
Innumero numro, certareque prproperanter
Inter se, qu prima potissimaq insinueter.
"Absurd to think that whilst wild beasts beget,
Or bear their young, a thousand souls do wait,
Expect the falling body, fight and strive
Which first shall enter in and make it live."
Others have arrested the soul in the body of the deceased, with it to animate serpents, worms, and other beasts, which are said to be bred out of the corruption of our members, and even out of our ashes; others divide them into two parts, the one mortal, the other immortal; others make it corporeal, and nevertheless immortal. Some make it immortal, without
sense or knowledge. There are others, even among ourselves, who have believed that devils were made of the souls of the damned; as Plutarch thinks that gods were made of those that were saved; for there are few things which that author is so positive in as he is in this; maintaining elsewhere a doubtful and ambiguous way of expression. "We are told," says he, "and steadfastly should believe, that the souls of virtuous men, both according to nature and the divine justice, become saints, and from saints demigods, and from demigods, after they are perfectly, as in sacrifices of purgation, cleansed and purified, being delivered from all passibility and all mortality, they become, not by any civil decree, but in real truth, and according to all probability of reason, entire and perfect gods, in receiving a most happy and glorious end." But who desires to see him—him, who is yet the most sober and moderate of the whole gang of philosophers, lay about him with greater boldness, and relate his miracles upon this subject, I refer him to his treatise of the Moon, and of the Demon of Socrates, where he may, as evidently as in any other place whatever, satisfy himself that the mysteries of philosophy have many strange things in common with those of poetry; human understanding losing itself in attempting to sound and search all things to the bottom; even as we, tired and worn out with a long course of life, return to infancy and dotage. See here the fine and certain instructions which we extract from human knowledge concerning the soul.
Neither is there less temerity in what they teach us touching our corporal parts. Let us choose out one or two examples; for otherwise we should lose ourselves in this vast and troubled ocean of medical errors. Let us first know whether, at least, they agree about the matter whereof men produce one another; for as to their first production it is no wonder if, in a thing so high and so long since past, human understanding finds itself puzzled and perplexed. Archelaus, the physician, whose disciple and favourite Socrates was, according to Aristoxenus, said that both men and beasts were made of a lacteous slime, expressed by the heat of the earth; Pythagoras says that our seed is the foam or cream of our better blood; Plato, that it is the distillation of the marrow of the backbone; raising his argument from this, that that part is first sensible of being weary of the work; Alcmeon, that it is part of the substance of the brain, and that it is so, says he, is proved by the weakness of the eyes in those who are immoderate in that exercise; Democritus, that it is a substance extracted from the whole mass of the body; Epicurus, an extract from soul and body; Aristotle, an excrement drawn from the aliment of the blood, the last which is diffused over our members; others, that it is a blood concocted and digested by the heat of the genitals, which they judge, by reason that in excessive endeavours a man voids pure blood; wherein there seems to be more likelihood, could a man extract any appearance from so infinite a confusion. Now, to bring this seed to do its work, how many contrary opinions do they set on foot? Aristotle and Democritus are of opinion that women have no sperm, and that 'tis nothing but a sweat that they distil in the heat of pleasure and motion, and that contributes nothing at all to generation. Galen, on the contrary, and his followers, believe that without the concurrence of seeds there can be no generation. Here are the physicians, the philosophers, the lawyers, and divines, by the ears with our wives about the dispute, "For what term women carry their fruit?" and I, for my part, by the example of myself, stick with those that maintain a woman goes eleven months with child. The world is built upon this experience; there is no so commonplace a woman that cannot give her judgment in all these controversies; and yet we cannot agree.