In earnest, considering what is come to our knowledge from the course of this terrestrial polity, I have often wondered to see in so vast a distance of places and times such a concurrence of so great a number of popular and wild opinions, and of savage manners and beliefs, which by no means seem to proceed from our natural meditation. The human mind is a great worker of miracles! But this relation has, moreover, I know not what of extraordinary in it; 'tis found to be in names, also, and a thousand other things; for they found nations there (that, for aught we know, never heard of us) where circumcision was in use; where there were states and great civil governments maintained by women only, without men; where our fasts and Lent were represented, to which was added abstinence from women; where our crosses were several ways in repute; here they were made use of to honour and adorn their sepultures, there they were erected, and particularly that of St Andrew, to protect themselves from nocturnal visions, and to lay upon the cradles of infants against enchantments; elsewhere there was found one of wood, of very great height, which was adored for the god of rain, and this a great way in the interior; there was seen an express image of our penance priests, the use of mitres, the celibacy of priests, the art of divination by the entrails of sacrificed beasts, abstinence from all sorts of flesh and fish in their diet, the manner of priests officiating in a particular and not a vulgar language; and this fancy, that the first god was driven away by a second, his younger brother; that they were created with all sorts of necessaries and conveniences, which have since been in a degree taken from them for their sins, their territory changed, and their natural condition made worse; that they were of old overwhelmed by the inundation of water from heaven; that but few families escaped, who retired into caves on high mountains, the mouths of which they stopped so that the waters could not get in, having shut up, together with themselves, several sorts of animals; that when they perceived the rain to cease they sent out dogs, which returning clean and wet, they judged that the water was not much abated; afterwards sending out others, and seeing them return dirty, they issued out to repeople the world, which they found only full of serpents. In one place we met with the belief of a day of judgment; insomuch that they were marvellously displeased at the Spaniards for discomposing the bones of the dead, in rifling the sepultures for riches, saying that those bones so disordered could not easily rejoin; the traffic by exchange, and no other way; fairs and markets for that end; dwarfs and deformed people for the ornament of the tables of princes; the use of falconry, according to the nature of their hawks; tyrannical subsidies; nicety in gardens; dancing, tumbling tricks, music of instruments, coats of arms, tennis-courts, dice and lotteries, wherein they are sometimes so eager and hot as to stake themselves and their liberty; physic, no otherwise than by charms; the way of writing in cypher; the belief of only one first man, the father of all nations; the adoration of one God, who formerly lived a man in perfect virginity, fasting, and penitence, preaching the laws of nature, and the ceremonies of religion, and that vanished from the world without a natural death; the theory of giants; the custom of making themselves drunk with their beverages, and drinking to the utmost; religious ornaments painted with bones and dead men's skulls; surplices, holy water sprinkled; wives and servants, who present themselves with emulation, burnt and interred with the dead husband or master; a law by which the eldest succeeds to all the estate, no part being left for the younger but obedience; the custom that, upon promotion to a certain office of great authority, the promoted is to take upon him a new name, and to leave that which he had before; another to strew lime upon the knee of the new-born child, with these words:
"From dust thou earnest, and to dust thou must return;" as also the art of augury. The vain shadows of our religion, which are observable in some of these examples, are testimonies of its dignity and divinity. It is not only in some sort insinuated into all the infidel nations on this side of the world, by a certain imitation, but in these barbarians also, as by a common and supernatural inspiration; for we find there the belief of purgatory, but of a new form; that which we give to the fire they give to the cold, and imagine that souls are purged and punished by the rigour of an excessive coldness. And this example puts me in mind of another pleasant diversity; for as there were there some people who delighted to unmuffle the ends of their instruments, and clipped off the prepuce after the Mahometan and Jewish manner; there were others who made so great conscience of laying it bare, that they carefully pursed it up with little strings to keep that end from peeping into the air; and of this other diversity, that whereas we, to honour kings and festivals, put on the best clothes we have; in some regions, to express their disparity and submission to their king, his subjects present themselves before him in their vilest habits, and entering his palace, throw some old tattered garment over their better apparel, to the end that all the lustre and ornament may solely be in him. But to proceed:—
If nature enclose within the bounds of her ordinary progress the beliefs, judgments, and opinions of men, as well as all other things; if they have their revolution, their season, their birth and death, like cabbage plants; if the heavens agitate and rule them at their pleasure, what magisterial and permanent authority do we attribute to them? If we experimentally see that the form of our beings depends upon the air, upon the climate, and upon the soil, where we are bom, and not only the colour, the stature, the complexion, and the countenances, but moreover the very faculties of the soul itself: Et plaga codi non solum ad robor corporum, sed etiam anirum facit: "The climate is of great efficacy, not only to the strength of bodies, but to that of souls also," says Vegetius; and that the goddess who founded the city of Athens chose to situate it in a temperature of air fit to make men prudent, as the Egyptian priests told Solon: Athenis tenue colum; ex quo etiam acutiores putantur Attici; crassum Thebis; itaque pingues Thebani, et valentes: "The air of Athens is subtle and thin; whence also the Athenians are reputed to be more acute; and at Thebes more gross and thick; wherefore the Thebans are looked upon as more heavy-witted and more strong." In such sort that, as fruits and animals grow different, men are also more or less warlike, just, temperate, and docile; here given to wine, elsewhere to theft or uncleanness; here inclined to superstition, elsewhere to unbelief; in one place to liberty, in another to servitude; capable of one science or of one art, dull or ingenious, obedient or mutinous, good or bad, according as the place where they are seated inclines them; and assume a new complexion, if removed, like trees, which was the reason why Cyrus would not grant the Persians leave to quit their rough and craggy country to remove to another more pleasant and even, saying, that fertile and tender soils made men effeminate and soft. If we see one while one art and one belief flourish, and another while another, through some celestial influence; such an age to produce such natures, and to incline mankind to such and such a propension, the spirits of men one while gay and another gray, like our fields, what becomes of all those fine prerogatives we so soothe ourselves withal? Seeing that a wise man may be mistaken, and a hundred men and a hundred nations, nay, that even human nature itself, as we believe, is many ages wide in one thing or another, what assurances have we that she should cease to be mistaken, or that in this very age of ours she is not so?
Methinks that amongst other testimonies of our imbecility, this ought not to be forgotten, that man cannot, by his own wish and desire, find out what he wants; that not in fruition only, but in imagination and wish, we cannot agree about what we would have to satisfy and content us. Let us leave it to our own thought to cut out and make up at pleasure; it cannot so much as covet what is proper for it, and satisfy itself:—
Quid enim ratione timemus,
Aut cupimus? Quid tain dextro pede concipis, ut te
Conatus non poniteat, votique peracti?
"For what, with reason, do we speak or shun,
What plan, how happily soe'r begun,
That, when achieved, we do not wish undone?"
And therefore it was that Socrates only begged of the gods that they would give him what they knew to be best for him; and the private and public prayer of the Lacedemonians was simply for good and useful things, referring the choice and election of them to the discretion of the Supreme Power:—
Conjugium petimus, partumqu uxoris; at illis
Notum, qui pueri, qualisque futura sit uxor:
"We ask for Wives and children; they above
Know only, when we have them, what they'll prove;"
and Christians pray to God, "Thy will be done," that they may not fall into the inconvenience the poet feigns of King Midas. He prayed to the gods that all he touched might be turned into gold; his prayer was heard; his wine was gold, his bread was gold, the feathers of his bed, his shirt, his clothes, were all gold, so that he found himself overwhelmed with the fruition of his desire, and endowed with an intolerable benefit, and was fain to unpray his prayers.
Attonitus novitate mali, divesque, miserque,
Effugere optt opes, et, qu modo voverat, odit.
"Astonished at the strangeness of the ill,
To be so rich, yet miserable still;
He wishes now he could his wealth evade,
And hates the thing for which before he prayed."
To instance in myself: being young, I desired of fortune, above all things, the order of St. Michael, which was then the utmost distinction of honour amongst the French nobles, and very rare. She pleasantly gratified my longing; instead of raising me, and lifting me up from my own place to attain to it, she was much kinder to me; for she brought it so low, and made it so cheap, that it stooped down to my shoulders, and lower. Cleobis and Bito, Trophonius and Agamedes, having requested, the first of their goddess, the last of their god, a recompense worthy of their piety, had death for a reward; so differing from ours are heavenly opinions concerning what is fit for us. God might grant us riches, honours, life, and even health, to our own hurt; for every thing that is pleasing to us is not always good for us. If he sends us death, or an increase of sickness, instead of a cure, Vvrga tua et baculus, tuus ipsa me consolata sunt. "Thy rod and thy staff have comforted me," he does it by the rule of his providence, which better and more certainly discerns what is proper for us than we can do; and we ought to take it in good part, as coming from a wise and most friendly hand
Si consilium vis:
Permittee ipsis expendere numinibus, quid
Conveniat nobis, rebusque sit utile nostris...
Carior est illis homo quam sibi;
"If thou'lt be rul'd, to th' gods thy fortunes trust,
Their thoughts are wise, their dispensations just.
What best may profit or delight they know,
And real good, for fancied bliss, bestow;
With eyes of pity, they our frailties scan,
More dear to them, than to himself, is man;"
for to require of him honours and commands, is to require 'that he may throw you into a battle, set you upon a cast at dice, or something of the like nature, whereof the issue is to you unknown, and the fruit doubtful.
There is no dispute so sharp and violent amongst the philosophers, as about the question of the sovereign good of man; whence, by the calculation of Varro, rose two hundred and eighty-eight sects. Qui autem de summo bono dissentit, de tot philosophies ratione disputt. "For whoever enters into controversy concerning the supreme good, disputes upon the whole matter of philosophy."
Trs mihi conviv prope dissentire videntur,
Poscentes vario mul turn divers a palato;
Quid dem? Quid non dem? Renuis tu quod jubet alter;
Quod petis, id sane est invisum acidumque duobus;
"I have three guests invited to a feast,
And all appear to have a different taste;
What shall I give them? What shall I refuse?
What one dislikes the other two shall choose;
And e'en the very dish you like the best
Is acid or insipid to the rest:"
nature should say the same to their contests and debates. Some say that our well-being lies in virtue, others in pleasure, others in submitting to nature; one in knowledge, another in being exempt from pain, another in not suffering ourselves to be carried away by appearances; and this fancy seems to have some relation to that of the ancient Pythagoras,
Nil admirari, prope res est una, Numici,
Solaque, qu possit facere et servare beatum:
"Not to admire's the only art I know
Can make us happy, and can keep us so;"
which is the drift of the Pyrrhonian sect; Aristotle attributes the admiring nothing to magnanimity; and Arcesilaus said, that constancy and a right inflexible state of judgment were the true good, and consent and application the sin and evil; and there, it is true, in being thus positive, and establishing a certain axiom, he quitted Pyrrhonism; for the' Pyrrhonians, when they say that ataraxy, which is the immobility of judgment, is the sovereign good, do not design to speak it affirmatively; but that the same motion of soul which makes them avoid precipices, and take shelter from the cold, presents them such a fancy, and makes them refuse another.
How much do I wish that, whilst I live, either some other or Justus Lipsius, the most learned man now living, of a most polite and judicious understanding, truly resembling my Turnebus, had both the will and health, and leisure sufficient, carefully and conscientiously to collect into a register, according to their divisions and classes, as many as are to be found, of the opinions of the ancient philosophers, about the subject of our being and manners, their controversies, the succession and reputation of sects; with the application of the lives of the authors and their disciples to their own precepts, in memorable accidents, and upon exemplary occasions. What a beautiful and useful work that would be!
As to what remains, if it be from ourselves that we are to extract the rules of our manners, upon what a confusion do we throw ourselves! For that which our reason advises us to, as the most likely, is generally for every one to obey the laws of his country, as was the advice of Socrates, inspired, as he says, by a divine counsel; and by that, what would it say, but that our duty has no other rule but what is accidental? Truth ought to have a like and universal visage; if man could know equity and justice that had a body and a true being, he would not fetter it to the conditions of this country or that; it would not be from the whimsies of the Persians or Indians that virtue would receive its form. There is nothing more subject to perpetual agitation than the laws; since I was born, I have known those of the English, our neighbours, three or four times changed, not only in matters of civil regimen, which is the only thing wherein constancy may be dispensed with, but in the most important subject that can be, namely, religion, at which I am the more troubled and ashamed, because it is a nation with whom those of my province have formerly had so great familiarity and acquaintance, that there yet remains in my house some footsteps of our ancient kindred; and here with us at home, I have known a thing that was capital to become lawful; and we that hold of others are likewise, according to the chance of war, in a possibility of being one day found guilty of high-treason, both divine and human, should the justice of our arms fall into the power of injustice, and, after a few years' possession, take a quite contrary being. How could that ancient god more clearly accuse the ignorance of human knowledge concerning the divine Being, and give men to understand that their religion was but a thing of their own contrivance, useful as a bond to their society, than declaring as he did to those who came to his tripod for instruction, that every one's true worship was that which he found in use in the place where he chanced to be? O God, what infinite obligation have we to the bounty of our sovereign Creator, for having disabused our belief from these wandering and arbitrary devotions, and for having seated it upon the eternal foundation of his holy word? But what then will philosophers say to us in this necessity? "That we follow the laws of our country;" that is to say, this floating sea of the opinions of a republic, or a prince, that will paint out justice for me in as many colours, and form it as many ways as there are changes of passions in themselves; I cannot suffer my judgment to be so flexible. What kind of virtue is that which I see one day in repute, and that to-morrow shall be in none, and which the crossing of a river makes a crime? What sort of truth can that be, which these mountains limit to us, and make a lie to all the world beyond them?
But they are pleasant, when, to give some certainty to the laws, they say, that there are some firm, perpetual, and immovable, which they call natural, that are imprinted in human kind by the condition of their own proper being; and of these some reckon three, some four, some more, some less; a sign that it is a mark as doubtful as the rest Now they are so unfortunate, (for what can I call it else but misfortune that, of so infinite a number of laws, there should not be found one at least that fortune and the temerity of chance has suffered to be universally received by the consent of all nations?) they are, I say, so miserable, that of these three or four select laws, there is not so much as one that is not contradicted and disowned, not only by one nation, but by many. Now, the only likely sign, by which they can argue or infer some natural laws, is the universality of approbation; for we should, without doubt, follow with a common consent that which nature had truly ordained us; and not only every nation, but every private man, would resent the force and violence that any one should do him who would tempt him to any thing contrary to this law. But let them produce me one of this condition. Proctagoras and Aristo gave no other essence to the justice of laws than the authority and opinion of the legislator; and that, these laid aside, the honest and the good lost their qualities, and remained empty names of indifferent things; Thrasymachus, in Plato, is of opinion that there is no other right but the convenience of the superior. There is not any thing wherein the world is so various as in laws and customs; such a thing is abominable here which is elsewhere in esteem, as in Lacedemon dexterity in stealing; marriages between near relations, are capitally interdicted amongst us; they are elsewhere in honour:—
Gentes esse ferantur,
In quibus et nato genitrix, et nata parenti
Jungitur, et pietas geminato crescit amore;
"There are some nations in the world, 'tis said,
Where fathers daughters, sons their mothers wed;
And their affections thereby higher rise,
More firm and constant by these double ties;"
the murder of infants, the murder of fathers, the community of wives, traffic of robberies, license in all sorts of voluptuousness; in short, there is nothing so extreme that is not allowed by the custom of some nation or other.
It is credible that there are natural laws for us, as we see them in other creatures; but they are lost in us, this fine human reason everywhere so insinuating itself to govern and command, as to shuffle and confound the face of things, according to its own vanity and inconstancy: Nihil itaque amplius nostrum est; quod nostrum dico, artis est: "Therefore nothing is any more truly ours; what we call ours belongs to art." Subjects have divers lustres and divers considerations, and thence the diversity of opinions principally proceeds; one nation considers a subject in one aspect, and stops there: another takes it in a different point of view.
There is nothing of greater horror to be imagined than for a man to eat his father; and yet the people, whose ancient custom it was so to do, looked upon it as a testimony of piety and affection, seeking thereby to give their progenitors the most worthy and honourable sepulture; storing up in themselves, and as it were in their own marrow, the bodies and relics of their fathers; and in some sort regenerating them by transmutation into their living flesh, by means of nourishment and digestion. It is easy to consider what a cruelty and abomination it must have appeared to men possessed and imbued with this snperstition to throw their fathers' remains to the corruption of the earth, and the nourishment of beasts and worms.
Lycurgus considered in theft the vivacity, diligence, boldness, and dexterity of purloining any thing from our neighbours, and the benefit that redounded to the public that every one should look more narrowly to the conservation of what was his own; and believed that, from this double institution of assaulting and defending, advantage was to be made for military discipline (which was the principal science and virtue to which he would inure that nation), of greater consideration than the disorder and injustice of taking another man's goods.
Dionysius, the tyrant, offered Plato a robe of the Persian fashion, long, damasked, and perfumed; Plato refused it, saying, "That being born a man, he would not willingly dress himself in women's clothes;" but Aristippus accepted it with this answer, "That no accoutrement could corrupt a chaste courage." His friends reproaching him with meanness of spirit, for laying it no more to heart that Dionysius had spit in his face, "Fishermen," said he, "suffer themselves to be drenched with the waves of the sea from head to foot to catch a gudgeon." Diogenes was washing cabbages, and seeing him pass by, "If thou couldst live on cabbage," said he, "thou wouldst not fawn upon a tyrant;" to whom Aristippus replied, "And if thou knewest how to live amongst men, thou wouldst not be washing cabbages." Thus reason finds appearances for divers effects; 'tis a pot with two ears that a man may take by the right or left:—
Bellum, o terra hospita, portas:
Bello armantur eqni; bellum hc armenta minantur.
Sed tamen idem olim curru succedere sueti
Quadrupedes, et frena jugo concordia ferre;
Spes est pacis.
"War, war is threatened from this foreign ground
(My father cried), where warlike steeds are found.
Yet, since reclaimed, to chariots they submit,
And bend to stubborn yokes, and champ the bit,
Peace may succeed to war."
Solon, being lectured by his friends not to shed powerless and unprofitable tears for the death of his son, "It is for that reason that I the more justly shed them," said he, "because they are powerless and unprofitable." Socrates's wife exasperated her grief by this circumstance: "Oh, how unjustly do these wicked judges put him to death!" "Why," replied he, "hadst thou rather they should execute me justly?" We have our ears bored; the Greeks looked upon that as a mark of slavery. We retire in private to enjoy our wives; the Indians do it in public. The Scythians immolated strangers in their temples; elsewhere temples were a refuge:—
Inde furor vulgi, quod numina vicinorum
Odit quisque locus, cum solos credat habendos
Esse deos, quos ipse colit.
"Thus 'tis the popular fury that creates
That all their neighbours' gods each nation hates;
Each thinks its own the genuine; in a word,
The only deities to be adored."
I have heard of a judge who, coming upon a sharp conflict betwixt Bartolus and Aldus, and some point controverted with many contrarieties, writ in the margin of his book, "a question for a friend;" that is to say, that truth was there so controverted and disputed that in a like cause he might favour which of the parties he thought fit 'Twas only for want of wit that he did not write "a question for a friend" throughout. The advocates and judges of our times find bias enough in all causes to accommodate them to what they themselves think fit. In so infinite a science, depending upon the authority of so many opinions, and so arbitrary a subject, it cannot be but that of necessity an extreme confusion of judgments must arise; there is hardly any suit so clear wherein opinions do not very much differ; what one court has determined one way another determines quite contrary, and itself contrary to that at another time. Of which we see very frequent examples, owing to that practice admitted amongst us, and which is a marvellous blemish to the ceremonious authority and lustre of our justice, of not abiding by one sentence, but running from judge to judge, and court to court, to decide one and the same cause.
As to the liberty of philosophical opinions concerning vice and virtue, 'tis not necessary to be insisted upon; therein are found many opinions that are better concealed than published to weak minds. Arcesilaus said, "That in venery it was no matter where, or with whom, it was committed:" Et obsccenas voluptates, si natura requirit, non genere, aut loco, aut ordine, sed forma, otate, jigur, metiendas Epicurus putat.... ne amores quidem sanctos a sapiente alienos esse arbitrantur.... Queeramus, ad quam usque otatem juvenes amandi sint. "And obscene pleasures, if nature requires them," Epicurus thinks, "are not to be measured either by race, kind, place, or rank, but by age, shape, and beauty.... Neither are sacred loves thought to be foreign to wise men;... we are to inquire till what age young men are to be loved." These last two stoical quotations, and the reproach that Dicarchus threw into the teeth of Plato himself, upon this account, show how much the soundest philosophy indulges licenses and excesses very remote from common custom.
Laws derive their authority from possession and custom. 'Tis dangerous to trace them back to their beginning; they grow great, and ennoble themselves, like our rivers, by running on; but follow them upward to their source, 'tis but a little spring, scarce discernable,
that swells thus, and thus fortifies itself by growing old. Do but consult the ancient considerations that gave the first motion to this famous torrent, so full of dignity, awe, and reverence, you will find them so light and weak that it is no wonder if these people, who weigh and reduce every thing to reason, and who admit nothing by authority, or upon trust, have their judgments often very remote, and differing from those of the public. It is no wonder if people, who take their pattern from the first image of nature, should in most of their opinions swerve from the common path; as, for example, few amongst them would have approved of the strict conditions of our marriages, and most of them have been for having wives in common, and without obligation; they would refuse our ceremonies. Chrysippus said, "That a philosopher would make a dozen somersaults, aye, and without his breeches, for a dozen of olives." That philosopher would hardly have advised Clisthenes to have refused Hippoclides the fair Agarista his daughter, for having seen him stand on his head upon a table. Metrocles somewhat indiscreetly broke wind backwards while in disputation, in the presence of a great auditory in his school, and kept himself hid in his own house for shame, till Crates coming to visit him, and adding to his consolations and reasons the example of his own liberty, by falling to try with him who should sound most, cured him of that scruple, and withal drew him to his own stoical sect, more free than that more reserved one of the Peripatetics, of which he had been till then. That which we call decency, not to dare to do that in public which is decent enough to do in private, the Stoics call foppery; and to mince it, and to be so modest as to conceal and disown what nature, custom, and our desires publish and proclaim of our actions, they reputed a vice. The other thought it was to undervalue the mysteries of Venus to draw them out of the private oratory, to expose them to the view of the people; and that to bring them out from behind the curtain was to debase them. Modesty is a thing of weight; secrecy, reservation, and circumspection, are parts of esteem. Pleasure did very ingeniously when, under the mask of virtue, she sued not to be prostituted in the open streets, trodden under foot, and exposed to the public view, wanting the dignity and convenience of her private cabinets. Hence some say that to put down public stews is not only to disperse fornication into all places, that was confined to one, but moreover, by the difficulty, to incite wild and idle people to this vice:—
Mochus es Aufidi, qui vir,
Rivalis fuerat qui tuus, ille vir est.
Cur alina placet tibi, qu tua non placet uxor?
Numquid securus non potes arrigere?
This experience diversifies itself in a thousand examples:—
Nullus in urbe fuit tot, qui tangere vellet
Uxorem gratis, Cciliane, tuam,
Dum licuit: sed nunc, positis custodibus, ingens
Turba fututorum est. Ingeniosus homo es.
A philosopher being taken in the very act, and asked what he was doing, coldly replied, "I am planting man;" no more blushing to be so caught than if they had found him planting garlic.
It is, I suppose, out of tenderness and respect to the natural modesty of mankind that a great and religious author is of opinion that this act is so necessarily obliged to privacy and shame that he cannot persuade himself there could be any absolute performance in those impudent embraces of the Cynics, but that they contented themselves to represent lascivious gestures only, to maintain the impudence of their school's profession; and that, to eject what shame had withheld and restrained, it was afterward necessary for them to withdraw into the shade. But he had not thoroughly examined their debauches; for Diogenes, playing the beast with himself in public, wished, in the presence of all that saw him, that he could fill his belly by that exercise. To those who asked him why he did not find out a more commodious place to eat in than in the open street, he made answer, "Because I am hungry in the open street." The women philosophers who mixed with their sect, mixed also with their persons, in all places, without reservation; and Hipparchia was not received into Crates's society, but upon condition that she should, in all things, follow the practice and customs of his rule. These philosophers set a great price upon virtue, and renounce all other discipline but the moral; and yet, in all their actions, they attributed the sovereign authority to the election of their sage, and above the laws; and gave no other curb to voluptuousness but moderation only, and the conservation of the liberty of others.
Heraclitus and Protagoras, forasmuch as wine seemed bitter to the sick, and pleasant to the sound, the rudder crooked in the water, and straight when out, and such like contrary appearances as are found in subjects, argued thence that all subjects had, in themselves, the causes of these appearances; and there was some bitterness in the wine which had some sympathy with the sick man's taste, and the rudder some bending quality sympathizing with him that looks upon it in the water; and so of all the rest; which is to say, that all is in all things, and, consequently, nothing in any one; for, where all is, there is nothing.
This opinion put me in mind of the experience we have that there is no sense or aspect of any thing, whether bitter or sweet, straight or crooked, that the human mind does not find out in the writings it undertakes to tumble over. Into the cleanest, purest, and most perfect words that can possibly be, how many lies and falsities have we suggested! What heresy has not there found ground and testimony sufficient to make itself embraced and defended! 'Tis for this that the authors of such errors will never depart from proof of the testimony of the interpretation of words. A person of dignity, who would approve to me, by authority, the search of the philosopher's stone, wherein he was head over ears engaged, lately alleged to me at least five or six passages of the Bible upon which, he said, he first founded his attempt, for the discharge of his conscience (for he is a divine); and, in truth, the idea was not only pleasant, but, moreover, very well accommodated to the defence of this fine science.
By this way the reputation of divining fables is acquired. There is no fortune-teller, if we have this authority, but, if a man will take the pains to tumble and toss, and narrowly to peep into all the folds and glosses of his words, he may make him, like the Sibyls, say what he will. There are so many ways of interpretation that it will be hard but that, either obliquely or in a direct line, an ingenious wit will find out, in every subject, some air that will serve for his purpose; therefore we find a cloudy and ambiguous style in so frequent and ancient use. Let the author but make himself master of that, to busy posterity about his predictions, which not only his own parts, but the accidental favour of the matter itself, may do for him; and, as to the rest, express himself, whether after a foolish or a subtle manner, somewhat obscurely or contradictorily, 'tis no matter;—a number of wits, shaking and sifting him, will bring out a great many several forms, either according to his meaning, or collateral, or contrary, to it, which will all redound to his honour; he will see himself enriched by the means of his disciples, like the regents of colleges by their pupils yearly presents. This it is which has given reputation to many things of no worth at all; that has brought several writings in vogue, and given them the fame of containing all sorts of matter can be desired; one and the same thing receiving a thousand and a thousand images and various considerations; nay, as many as we please.
Is it possible that Homer could design to say all that we make him say, and that he designed so many and so various figures, as that the divines, law-givers, captains, philosophers, and all sorts of men who treat of sciences, how variously and opposite soever, should indifferently quote him, and support their arguments by his authority, as the sovereign lord and master of all offices, works, and artisans, and counsellor-general of all enterprises? Whoever has had occasion for oracles and predictions has there found sufficient to serve his turn. 'Tis a wonder how many and how admirable concurrences an intelligent person, and a particular friend of mine, has there found out in favour of our religion; and cannot easily be put out of the conceit that it was Homer's design; and yet he is as well acquainted with this author as any man whatever of his time. And what he has found in favour of our religion there, very many anciently have found in favour of theirs. Do but observe how Plato is tumbled and tossed about; every one ennobling his own opinions by applying him to himself, and making him take what side they please. They draw him in, and engage him in all the new opinions the world receives; and make him, according to the different course of things, differ from himself; every one makes him disavow, according to his own sense, the manners and customs lawful in his age, because they are unlawful in ours; and all this with vivacity and power, according to the force and sprightliness of the wit of the interpreter. From the same foundation that Heraclitus and this sentence of his had, "that all things had in them those forms that we discern," Democritus drew quite a contrary conclusion,—"that objects have in them nothing that we discern in them;" and because honey is sweet to one and bitter to another, he thence argued that it was neither sweet nor bitter. The Pyrrhonians would say that they knew not whether it is sweet or bitter, or whether the one or the other, or both; for these always gained the highest point of dubitation. The Cyrenaics held that nothing was perceptible from without, and that that only was perceptible that inwardly touched us, as pain and pleasure; acknowledging neither sound nor colour, but certain affections only that we receive from them; and that man's judgment had no other seat Protagoras believed that "what seems true to every one, is true to every one." The Epicureans lodged all judgment in the senses, and in the knowledge of things, and in pleasure. Plato would have the judgment of truth, and truth itself, derived from opinions and the senses, to belong to the wit and cogitation.
This discourse has put me upon the consideration of the senses, in which lies the greatest foundation and Prof of our ignorance. Whatsoever is known, is doubtless known by the faculty of the knower; for, seeing the judgment proceeds from the operation of him that judges, 'tis reason that this operation be performed by his means and will, not by the constraint of another; as it would happen if we knew things by the power, and according to the law of their essence. Now all knowledge is conveyed to us by the senses; they are our masters:—
Via qua munita fidei
Proxima fert humanum in pectus, templaque mentis;
"It is the surest path that faith can find
By which to enter human heart and mind."
Science begins by them, and is resolved into them. After all, we should know no more than a stone if we did not know there is sound, odour, light, taste, measure, weight, softness, hardness, sharpness, colour, smoothness, breadth, and depth; these are the platforms and principles of the structure of all our knowledge; and, according to some, science is nothing else but sense. He that could make me contradict the senses, would have me by the throat; he could not make me go further back. The senses are the beginning and the end of human knowledge:—
Invenies primis ab sensibns esse creatam
Notitiam veil; neque sensus posse refelli....
Quid majore fide porro, quam sensus, haberi Debet?
"Of truth, whate'er discoveries are made,
Are by the senses to us first conveyed;
Nor will one sense be baffled; for on what
Can we rely more safely than on that?"
Let us attribute to them the least we can, we must, however, of necessity grant them this, that it is by their means and mediation that all our instruction is directed. Cicero says, that Chrysippus having attempted to extenuate the force and virtue of the senses, presented to himself arguments and so vehement oppositions to the contrary that he could not satisfy himself therein; whereupon Cameades, who maintained the contrary side, boasted that he would make use of the very words and arguments of Chrysippus to controvert and confute him, and therefore thus cried out against him: "O miserable! thy force has destroyed thee." There can be nothing absurd to a greater degree than to maintain that fire does not warm, that light does not shine, and that there is no weight nor solidity in iron, which are things conveyed to us by the senses; neither is there belief nor knowledge in man that can be compared to that for certainty.
The first consideration I have upon the subject of the senses is that I make a doubt whether or no man be furnished with all natural senses. I see several animals who live an entire and perfect life, some without sight, others without hearing; who knows whether to us also one, two, three, or many other senses may not be wanting? For if any one be wanting, our examination cannot discover the defect. 'Tis the privilege of the senses to be the utmost limit of our discovery; there is nothing beyond them that can assist us in exploration, not so much as one sense in the discovery of another:—
An poterunt oculos aures reprehendere? an aures
Tactus an hunc porro tactum sapor argnet oris?
An confutabunt nares, oculive revincent?
"Can ears the eyes, the touch the ears, correct?
Or is that touch by tasting to be check'd?
Or th' other senses, shall the nose or eyes
Confute in their peculiar faculties?"
They all make the extremest limits of our ability:—
Seorsum cuique potestas Divisa est, sua vis cuique est,
"Each has its power distinctly and alone,
And every sense's power is its own."
It is impossible to make a man naturally blind conceive that he does not see; impossible to make him desire sight, or to regret his defect; for which reason we ought not to derive any assurance from the soul's being contented and satisfied with those we have; considering that it cannot be sensible herein of its infirmity and imperfection, if there be any such thing. It is impossible to say any thing to this blind man, either by reasoning, argument, or similitude, that can possess his imagination with any apprehension of light, colour, or sight; there's nothing remains behind that can push on the senses to evidence. Those that are born blind, whom we hear wish they could see, it is not that they understand what they desire; they have learned from us that they want something; that there is something to be desired that we have, which they can name indeed and speak of its effect and consequences; but yet they know not what it is, nor apprehend it at all.
I have seen a gentleman of a good family who was born blind, or at least blind from such an age that he knows not what sight is; who is so little sensible of his defect that he makes use as we do of words proper for seeing, and applies them after a manner wholly particular and his own. They brought him a child to which he was god-father, which, having taken into his arms, "Good God," said he, "what a fine child! How beautiful to look upon! what a pretty face it has!" He will say, like one of us, "This room has a very fine prospect;—it is clear weather;—the sun shines bright." And moreover, being that hunting, tennis, and butts are our exercises, and he has heard so, he has taken a liking to them, will ride a-hunting, and believes he has as good share of the sport as we have; and will express himself as angry or pleased as the best of us all, and yet knows nothing of it but by the ear. One cries out to him, "Here's a hare!" when he is upon some even plain where he may safely ride; and afterwards, when they tell him, "The hare is killed," he will be as overjoyed and proud of it as he hears others say they are. He will take a tennis-ball in his left hand and strike it away with the racket; he will shoot with a harquebuss at random, and is contented with what his people tell him, that he is over, or wide.