The History of Nature
6 minutes • 1180 words
Table of contents
1 The parts of human learning have reference to the 3 parts of man’s understanding, which is the seat of learning:
- history to his memory
- poesy to his imagination
- philosophy to his reason.
Divine learning receives the same distribution. This is because the spirit of man is the same, though the revelation of oracle and sense are diverse.
Theology consists of:
- history of the Church
- parables, as divine poesy
- holy doctrine or precept
Prophecy is but divine history.
- It has that prerogative over human history, just as facts are to narration.
2 History is:
- This is deficient
The works of Nature and the civil and ecclesiastical state have been described and represented from age to age.
- But no one has described the state of learning in the same way.
- Without this, the history of the world is like the statue of Polyphemus missing one eye, that eye would have shown the spirit and life of the person
The diverse particular sciences include:
- the jurisconsults
- the mathematicians
- the rhetoricians
- the philosophers
- some small memorials of the schools, authors, and books
- some barren relations touching the invention of arts or usages.
But we still lack a just story of learning. This should contain:
- the antiquities and originals of knowledge and their sects, with their
- diverse administrations and managings
- oppositions, decays, depressions, oblivions, removes, with the causes and occasions of them, and
- all other events concerning learning, throughout the ages of the world
The use and end of this work is not just for curiosity.
- It is for a more serious purpose – to make learned men wise in the use and administration of learning.
An ecclesiastical history, thoroughly read and observed, will make a priest wiser than reading the works of Saint Augustine or Saint Ambrose.
The History of Nature
The History of Nature is of 3 sorts:
- Nature in course, as history of creatures
This exists and is in good perfection.
Nature erring or varying, as history of marvels
Nature altered or wrought, history of arts
The 2 latter are bandied so weakly and unprofitably as to be deficient.
I cannot find competent collections of the works of Nature which have a digression and deflexion from the ordinary course of generations, productions, and motions whether they be:
- singularities of place and region, or
- the strange events of time and chance,
- the effects of yet unknown properties,
- the instances of exception to general kinds.
There are many books of fabulous experiments and secrets, and frivolous impostures for pleasure and strangeness.
- But there is no substantial and serious collections of the heteroclites or irregulars of Nature, well examined and described
Nowadays, untruths in Nature are created by the:
- neglect of examination
- countenance of antiquity
- use of the opinion in similitudes and ornaments of speech
These untruths are never called down.
My work seeks to do what Aristotle did. It seeks to give contentment to the appetite of curious and vain wits, as the manner of Mirabilaries is to do, through 2 ways:
- To correct the partiality of axioms and opinions, which are commonly based on common and familiar examples
- To create wonders of art by following, as it were, hounding Nature in her wanderings, to be able to lead her afterwards to the same place again
Superstitious narrations of sorceries, witchcrafts, dreams, divinations, and the like, where there is an assurance and clear evidence of the fact, should not be excluded altogether. This is because it is not yet known in what cases and how far effects attributed to superstition do participate of natural causes. Therefore, howsoever the practice of such things is to be condemned, yet from the speculation and consideration of them, light may be taken for the further understanding of Nature and not only for the discerning of the offences.
Neither ought a man to make scruple of entering into these things for inquisition of truth, as
Your Majesty has looked deeply and wisely into these shadows to find the truth, using the 2 clear eyes of religion and natural philosophy. You proved yourself to be of the nature of the sun, which passes through pollutions while remaining as pure as before.
Such narrations, which have mixture with superstition, should be separated from the narrations which are merely and sincerely natural.
But the narrations on the miracles of religions are either not true or not natural. Therefore, they are impertinent for the story of Nature.
The history of Nature and mechanics has some collections from agriculture and the manual arts.
- These commonly reject familiar and vulgar experiments.
- This is because they think it a kind of dishonour to learning to ask about mechanical matters unless they are secrets, rarities, and special subtleties.
- This vain and supercilious arrogancy is justly derided by Plato where, in Hippias, he brings a vaunting sophist, disputing with Socrates, a true and unfeigned inquisitor of truth
But the truth is, they be not the highest instances that give the securest information, as may be well expressed in the tale so common of the philosopher that, while he gazed upwards to the stars, fell into the water; for if he had looked down he might have seen the stars in the water, but looking aloft he could not see the water in the stars.
So it comes often to pass that mean and small things discover great, better than great can discover the small; and therefore Aristotle noteth well, “That the nature of everything is best seen in his smallest portions.”
And for that cause he inquireth the nature of a commonwealth, first in a family, and the simple conjugations of man and wife, parent and child, master and servant, which are in every cottage.
Even so likewise the nature of this great city of the world, and the policy thereof, must be first sought in mean concordances and small portions. So we see how that secret of Nature, of the turning of iron touched with the loadstone towards the north, was found out in needles of iron, not in bars of iron.
The use of history mechanical is of all others the most radical and fundamental towards natural philosophy. Such natural philosophy as shall not vanish in the fume of subtle, sublime, or delectable speculation, but such as shall be operative to the endowment and benefit of man’s life.
For it will not only minister and suggest for the present many ingenious practices in all trades, by a connection and transferring of the observations of one art to the use of another, when the experiences of several mysteries shall fall under the consideration of one man’s mind; but further, it will give a more true and real illumination concerning causes and axioms than is hitherto attained.
For like as a man’s disposition is never well known till he be crossed, nor Proteus ever changed shapes till he was straitened and held fast; so the passages and variations of nature cannot appear so fully in the liberty of nature as in the trials and vexations of art.