Chapter 10

Similar, Proportionate instances or physical parallels or resemblances Icon

27 These exhibit resemblances and connection of things, not in minor forms (as the constitutive do), but at once in the concrete.

They are, therefore, the first and lowest steps toward the union of nature.

They do not immediately establish any axiom, but merely indicate and observe a certain relation of bodies to each other. But[174] although they be not of much assistance in discovering forms, yet they are of great advantage in disclosing the frame of parts of the universe, upon whose members they practice a species of anatomy, and thence occasionally lead us gently on to sublime and noble axioms, especially such as relate to the construction of the world, rather than to simple natures and forms.

As an example, take the following similar instances: a mirror and the eye; the formation of the ear, and places which return an echo. From such similarity, besides observing the resemblance (which is useful for many purposes), it is easy to collect and form this axiom. That the organs of the senses, and bodies which produce reflections to the senses, are of a similar nature.

Again, the understanding once informed of this, rises easily to a higher and nobler axiom; namely, that the only distinction between sensitive and inanimate bodies, in those points in which they agree and sympathize, is this: in the former, animal spirit is added to the arrangement of the body, in the latter it is wanting. So that there might be as many senses in animals as there are points of agreement with inanimate bodies, if the animated body were perforated, so as to allow the spirit to have access to the limb properly disposed for action, as a fit organ.

On the other hand, there are, without doubt, as many motions in an inanimate as there are senses in the animated body, though the animal spirit be absent.

There must, however, be many more motions in inanimate bodies than senses in the animated, from the small number of organs of sense. A very plain example of this is afforded by pains. For, as animals are liable to many kinds and various descriptions of pains (such as those of burning, of intense cold, of pricking, squeezing, stretching,[175] and the like), so is it most certain, that the same circumstances, as far as motion is concerned, happen to inanimate bodies, such as wood or stone when burned, frozen, pricked, cut, bent, bruised, and the like; although there be no sensation, owing to the absence of animal spirit.

Again, wonderful as it may appear, the roots and branches of trees are similar instances. For every vegetable swells and throws out its constituent parts toward the circumference, both upward and downward. And there is no difference between the roots and branches, except that the root is buried in the earth, and the branches are exposed to the air and sun. For if one take a young and vigorous shoot, and bend it down to a small portion of loose earth, although it be not fixed to the ground, yet will it immediately produce a root, and not a branch. And, vice versâ, if earth be placed above, and so forced down with a stone or any hard substance, as to confine the plant and prevent its branching upward, it will throw out branches into the air downward.

The gums of trees, and most rock gems, are similar instances; for both of them are exudations and filtered juices, derived in the former instance from trees, in the latter from stones; the brightness and clearness of both arising from a delicate and accurate filtering. For nearly the same reason, the hair of animals is less beautiful and vivid in its color than the plumage of most birds, because the juices are less delicately filtered through the skin than through the quills.

The scrotum of males and matrix of females are also similar instances; so that the noble formation which constitutes the difference of the sexes appears to differ only as to the one being internal and the other external; a greater degree of heat causing the genitals to protrude in the male,[176] while the heat of the female being too weak to effect this, they are retained internally.

The fins of fishes and the feet of quadrupeds, or the feet and wings of birds, are similar instances; to which Aristotle adds the four folds in the motion of serpents;[118] so that in the formation of the universe, the motion of animals appears to be chiefly effected by four joints or bendings.

The teeth of land animals, and the beaks of birds, are similar instances, whence it is clear, that in all perfect animals there is a determination of some hard substance toward the mouth.

Again, the resemblance and conformity of man to an inverted plant is not absurd. For the head is the root of the nerves and animal faculties, and the seminal parts are the lowest, not including the extremities of the legs and arms. But in the plant, the root (which resembles the head) is regularly placed in the lowest, and the seeds in the highest part.[119]

Lastly, we must particularly recommend and suggest, that man’s present industry in the investigation and compilation of natural history be entirely changed, and directed to the reverse of the present system. For it has hitherto been active and curious in noting the variety of things, and explaining the accurate differences of animals, vegetables, and minerals, most of which are the mere sport of nature, rather than of any real utility as concerns the sciences.[177]

Pursuits of this nature are certainly agreeable, and sometimes of practical advantage, but contribute little or nothing to the thorough investigation of nature. Our labor must therefore be directed toward inquiring into and observing resemblances and analogies, both in the whole and its parts, for they unite nature, and lay the foundation of the sciences.

Here, however, a severe and rigorous caution must be observed, that we only consider as similar and proportionate instances, those which (as we first observed) point out physical resemblances; that is, real and substantial resemblances, deeply founded in nature, and not casual and superficial, much less superstitious or curious; such as those which are constantly put forward by the writers on natural magic (the most idle of men, and who are scarcely fit to be named in connection with such serious matters as we now treat of), who, with much vanity and folly, describe, and sometimes too, invent, unmeaning resemblances and sympathies.

But leaving such to themselves, similar instances are not to be neglected, in the greater portions of the world’s conformation; such as Africa and the Peruvian continent, which reaches to the Straits of Magellan; both of which possess a similar isthmus and similar capes, a circumstance not to be attributed to mere accident.

Again, the New and Old World are both of them broad and expanded toward the north, and narrow and pointed toward the south.

Again, we have very remarkable similar instances in the intense cold, toward the middle regions (as it is termed) of the air, and the violent fires which are often found to burst from subterraneous spots, the similarity consisting in both being ends and extremes; the extreme of the nature of cold,[178] for instance, is toward the boundary of heaven, and that of the nature of heat toward the centre of the earth, by a similar species of opposition or rejection of the contrary nature.

Lastly, in the axioms of the sciences, there is a similarity of instances worthy of observation. Thus the rhetorical trope which is called surprise, is similar to that of music termed the declining of a cadence. Again—the mathematical postulate, that things which are equal to the same are equal to one another, is similar to the form of the syllogism in logic, which unites things agreeing in the middle term.[120] Lastly, a certain degree of sagacity in collecting and searching for physical points of similarity, is very useful in many respects.[121]

7. singular instances or irregular or heteroclite (to borrow a term from the grammarians).

28 These exhibit bodies in the concrete,[179] of an apparently extravagant and separate nature, agreeing but little with other things of the same species. For, while the similar instances resemble each other, those we now speak of are only like themselves. Their use is much the same with that of clandestine instances: they bring out and unite nature, and discover genera or common natures, which must afterward be limited by real differences. Nor should we desist from inquiry, until the properties and qualities of those things, which may be deemed miracles, as it were, of nature, be reduced to, and comprehended in, some form or certain law; so that all irregularity or singularity may be found to depend on some common form; and the miracle only consists in accurate differences, degree, and rare coincidence, not in the species itself. Man’s meditation proceeds no further at present, than just to consider things of this kind as the secrets and vast efforts of nature, without an assignable cause, and, as it were, exceptions to general rules.

As examples of singular instances, we have the sun and moon among the heavenly bodies; the magnet among minerals; quicksilver among metals; the elephant among quadrupeds; the venereal sensation among the different kinds of touch; the scent of sporting dogs among those of smell. The letter S, too, is considered by the grammarians as sui generis, from its easily uniting with double or triple consonants, which no other letter will. These instances are of great value, because they excite and keep alive inquiry, and correct an understanding depraved by habit and the common course of things.

8. Deviating instances

29 Examples are the errors of nature, or strange and monstrous objects, in which nature deviates[180] and turns from her ordinary course. For the errors of nature differ from singular instances, inasmuch as the latter are the miracles of species, the former of individuals.

Their use is much the same, for they rectify the understanding in opposition to habit, and reveal common forms. For with regard to these, also, we must not desist from inquiry, till we discern the cause of the deviation. The cause does not, however, in such cases rise to a regular form, but only to the latent process toward such a form. For he who is acquainted with the paths of nature, will more readily observe her deviations; and, vice versâ, he who has learned her deviations will be able more accurately to describe her paths.

They differ again from singular instances, by being much more apt for practice and the operative branch. For it would be very difficult to generate new species, but less so to vary known species, and thus produce many rare and unusual results.[122] The passage from the miracles of nature to those of art is easy; for if nature be once seized in her variations, and the cause be manifest, it will be easy to lead her by art to such deviation as she was at first led to by chance; and not only to that but others, since deviations on the one side lead and open the way to others in every direction. Of this we do not require any examples, since they are so abundant. For a compilation, or particular natural history, must be made of all monsters and prodigious births of nature; of everything, in short, which is new, rare and unusual in nature. This should be done with a rigorous selection, so as to be worthy of credit.[181] Those are most to be suspected which depend upon superstition, as the prodigies of Livy, and those perhaps, but little less, which are found in the works of writers on natural magic, or even alchemy, and the like; for such men, as it were, are the very suitors and lovers of fables; but our instances should be derived from some grave and credible history, and faithful narration.

9. Bordering instances or participants

30 These:

  • exhibit those species of bodies which appear to be composed of two species, or to be the rudiments between the one and the other.
  • can be classed with the singular or heteroclite instances

In the whole system of things, they are rare and extraordinary. Yet from their dignity, they must be treated of and classed separately, for they point out admirably the order and constitution of things, and suggest the causes of the number and quality of the more common species in the universe, leading the understanding from that which is, to that which is possible.

We have examples of them:

  • in moss, which is something between putrescence and a plant;[123]
  • in some comets, which hold a place between stars and ignited meteors
  • in flying fishes, between fishes and birds
  • in bats, between birds and quadrupeds.[124] Again,

Simia quam similis turpissima bestia nobis.

We have also biformed fœtus, mingled species and the like.


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