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Valerius Terminus
of the Interpretation of Nature

Preface by Robert Leslie Ellis

  THE following fragments of a great work on the Interpretation of Nature were first published in Stephens's Letters and Remains [1734]. They consist partly of detached passages, and partly of an epitome of twelve chapters of the first book of the proposed work. The detached passages contain the first, sixth, and eighth chapters, and portions of the fourth, fifth, seventh, ninth, tenth, eleventh, and sixteenth. The epitome contains an account of the contents of all the chapters from the twelfth to the twenty-sixth inclusive, omitting the twentieth, twenty-third, and twenty-fourth. Thus the sixteenth chapter is mentioned both in the epitome and among the detached passages, and we are thus enabled to see that the two portions of the following tract belong to the same work, as it appears from both that the sixteenth chapter was to treat of the doctrine of idola.
    It is impossible to ascertain the motive which determined Bacon to give to the supposed author the name of Valerius Terminus, or to his commentator, of whose annotations we have no remains, that of Hermes Stella. It may be conjectured that by the name Terminus he intended to intimate that the new philosophy would put an end to the wandering of mankind in search of truth, that it would be the terminus ad quem in which when it was once attained the mind would finally acquiesce.
      Again, the obscurity of the text was to be in some measure removed by the annotations of Stella; not however wholly, for Bacon in the epitome of the eighteenth chapter commends the manner of publishing knowledge "whereby it shall not be to the capacity nor taste of all, but shall as it were single and adopt his reader." Stella was therefore to throw a kind of starlight on the subject, enough to prevent the student's losing his way, but not much more.
    However this may be, the tract is undoubtedly obscure, partly from the style in which it is written, and partly from its being only a fragment. It is at the same time full of interest, inasmuch as it is the earliest type of the Instauratio. ...

Note to Preface by James Spedding

THE manuscript from which Robert Stephens printed these fragments was found among some loose papers placed in his hands by the Earl of Oxford, and is now in the British Museum; Harl. MSS. 6462. It is a thin paper volume of the quarto size, written in the hand of one of Bacon's servants, with corrections, erasures, and interlineations in his own.
      The chapters of which it consists are both imperfect in themselves (all but three), -- some breaking off abruptly, others being little more than tables of contents, -- and imperfect in their connexion with each other; so much so as to suggest the idea of a number of separate papers loosely put together. But it was not so (and the fact is important) that the volume itself was actually made up. However they came together, they are here fairly and consecutively copied out. Though it be a collection of fragments therefore, it is such a collection as Bacon thought worthy not only of being preserved, but of being transcribed into a volume; and a particular account of it will not be out of place.
    The contents of the manuscript before Bacon touched it may be thus described.

     1. A titlepage, on which is written "VALERIUS TERMINUS of the Interpretation of Nature, with the annotations of HERMES STELLA."
     2. "Chapter I. Of the limits and end of knowledge;" with a running title, "Of the Interpretation of Nature."
     3. "The chapter immediately following the Inventory; being the 11th in order."
     4. "A part of the 9th chapter, immediately precedent to the Inventory, and inducing the same."
     5. "The Inventory, or an enumeration and view of inventions already discovered and in use, together with a note of the wants and the nature of the supplies; being the 10th chapter, and this a fragment only of the same."
     6. Part of a chapter, not numbered, "Of the internal and profound errors and superstitions in the nature of the mind, and of the four sorts of Idols or fictions which offer themselves to the understanding in the inquisition of knowledge."
     7. "Of the impediments of knowledge; being the third chapter, the preface only of it."
     8. "Of the impediments which have been in the times and in diversion of wits; being the fourth chapter."
     9. "Of the impediments of knowledge for want of a true succession of wits, and that hitherto the length of one man's life hath been the greatest measure of knowledge; being the fifth chapter."
    10. "That the pretended succession of wits hath been evil placed, forasmuch as after variety of sects and opinions the most popular and not the truest prevaileth and weareth out the rest; being the sixth chapter."
    11. "Of the impediments of knowledge in handling it by parts, and in slipping off particular sciences from the root and stock of universal knowledge; being the seventh chapter."
    12. "That the end and scope of knowledge hath been generally mistaken, and that men were never well advised what it was they sought" (part of a chapter not numbered).
    13. "An abridgment of divers chapters of the first book;" namely, the l2th, 13th, and 14th, (over which is a running title "Of active knowledge;") and (without any running title) the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th], 19th, 21st, 22nd, 25th, and 26th. These abridgments have no headings; and at the end is written, "The end of the Abridgment of the first book of the Interpretation of Nature."

    Such was the arrangement of the manuscript as the transcriber left it; which I have thought worth preserving, because I seem to see traces in it of two separate stages in the developement of the work; the order of the chapters as they are transcribed being probably the same in which Bacon wrote them; and the numbers inserted at the end of the headings indicating the order in which, when he placed them in the transcriber's hands, it was his intention to arrange them; and because it proves at any rate that at that time the design of the whole book was clearly laid out in his mind.

      There is nothing, unfortunately, to fix the date of the transcript, unless it be implied in certain astronomical or astrological symbols written on the blank outside of the volume; in which the figures 1603 occur. This may possibly be the transcriber's note of the time when he finished his work; for which (but for one circumstance which I shall mention presently) I should think the year 1603 is likely a date as any; for we know from a letter of Bacon's, dated 3rd July 1603, that he had at that time resolved "to meddle as little as possible in the King's causes," and to "put his ambition wholly upon his pen;" and we know from the Advancement of Learning that in 1605 he was engaged upon a work entitled "The Interpretation of Nature:" to which I may add that there is in the Lambeth Library a copy of a letter from Bacon to Lord Kinlosse, dated 25th March, 1603, and written in the same hand as this manuscript.
    Bacon's corrections, if I may judge from the character of the handwriting, were inserted a little later; for it is a fact that about the beginning of James's reign his writing underwent a remarkable change, from the hurried Saxon hand full of large sweeping curves and with letters imperfectly formed and connected, which he wrote in Elizabeth's time, to a small, neat, light, and compact one, formed more upon the Italian model which was then coming into fashion; and when these corrections were made it is evident that this new character had become natural to him and easy. It is of course impossible to fix the precise date of such a change, -- the more so because his autographs of this period are very scarce, -- but whenever it was that he corrected this manuscript, it is evident that he then considered it worthy of careful revision. He has not merely inserted a sentence here and there, altered the numbers of the chapters, and added words to the headings in order to make the description more exact; but he has taken the trouble to add the running title wherever it was wanting, thus writing the words "of the Interpretation of Nature" at full lengths not less than eighteen times over; and upon the blank space of the titlepage he has written out a complete table of contents. In short, if he had been preparing the manuscript for the press or for a fresh transcript, he could not have done it more completely or carefully, -- only that he has given no directions for altering the order of the chapters so as to make it correspond with the numbers. And hence I infer that up to the time when he made these corrections, this was the form of the great work on which he was engaged: it was a work concerning the Interpretation of Nature; which was to begin where the Novum Organum begins; and of which the first book was to include all the preliminary considerations preparatory to the exposition of the formula.
    I place this fragment here in deference to Mr. Ellis's decided opinion that it was written before the Advancement of Learning. The positive ground indeed which he alleges in support of that conclusion I am obliged to set aside, as founded, I think, upon a misapprehension; and the supposition that no part of it was written later involves a difficulty which I cannot yet get over to my own satisfaction. But that the body of it was written earlier I see no reason to doubt; and if so, this is its proper place.
    The particular point on which I venture to disagree with Mr. Ellis I have stated in a note upon his preface to the Novum Organum, promising at the same time a fuller explanation of the grounds of my own conclusion, which I will now give.
      The question is, whether the "Inventory" in the 10th chapter of Valerius Terminus was to have exhibited a general survey of the state of knowledge corresponding with that which fills the second book of the Advancement of Learning. I think not.
    It is true indeed that the title of that 10th chapter, -- namely, "The Inventory, or an enumeration and view of inventions already discovered and in use, with a note of the wants and the nature of the supplies", -- has at first sight a considerable resemblance to the description of the contents of the second book of the Advancement of Learning, -- namely, "A general and faithful perambulation of learning, with an inquiry what parts thereof lie fresh and waste, and not improved and converted by the industry of Man; ... wherein nevertheless my purpose is at this time to note only omissions and deficiencies, and not to make any redargutions of errors," and so on. But an "enumeration of Inventions" is not the same thing as "a perambulation of Learning;" and it will be found upon closer examination that the "Inventory" spoken of in Valerius Terminus does really correspond to one, and one only, of the fifty-one Desiderata set down at the end of the De Augmentis; viz. that Inventarium opum humanarum, which was to be an appendix to the Magia naturalis. See De Aug. iii. 5. This will appear clearly by comparing the descriptions of the two.
    In the Advancement of Learning Bacon tells us that there are two points of much purpose pertaining to the department of Natural Magic: the first of which is, "That there be made a calendar resembling an Inventory of the estate of man, containing all the Inventions, being the works or fruits of nature or art, which are now extant and of which man is already possessed; out of which doth naturally result a note what things are yet held impossible or not invented; which calendar will be the more artificial and serviceable if to every reputed impossibility you add what thing is extant which cometh the nearest in degree to that impossibility: to the end that by these optatives and essentials man's inquiry may be the more awake in deducing direction of works from the speculation of causes."
    The Inventory which was to have been inserted in the 10th chapter of Valerius Terminus is thus introduced: -- "The plainest method and most directly pertinent to this intention will be to make distribution of sciences, arts, inventions, works, and their portions, according to the use and tribute which they yield and render to the condition of man's life; and under those several uses, being as several offices of provisions, to charge and tax what may be reasonably exacted or demanded, ... and then upon those charges and taxations to distinguish and present as it were in several columns what is extant and already found, and what is defective and further to be provided. Of which provisions because in many of them, after the manner of slothful and faulty accomptants, it will be returned by way of excuse that no such are to be had, it will be fit to give some light of the nature of the supplies; whereby it will evidently appear that they are to be compassed and procured." And that the calendar was to deal, not with knowledge in general, but only with arts and sciences of invention in its more restricted sense -- the pars operativa de natura (De Aug. iii. 5.) -- appears no less clearly from the opening of the 11th chapter, which was designed immediately to follow the "Inventory." "It appeareth then what is now in proposition, not by general circumlocution but by particular note. No former philosophy," &c. &c. "but the revealing and discovering of new inventions and operations, ... the nature and kinds of which inventions have been described as they could be discovered," &c. If further evidence were required of the exact resemblance between the Inventory of Valerius Terminus and the Inventarium of the Advancement and the De Augmentis, I might quote the end of the 9th chapter, where the particular expressions correspond, if possible, more closely still. But I presume that the passages which I have given are enough; and that the opinion which I have elsewhere expressed as to the origin of the Advancement of Learning, -- namely, that the writing of it was a by-thought and no part of the work on the Interpretation of Nature as originally designed, -- will not be considered inconsistent with the evidence afforded by these fragments.
      That the Valerius Terminus was composed before the Advancement, though a conclusion not deducible from the Inventory, is nevertheless probable: but to suppose that it was so composed exactly in its present form, involves, as I said, a difficulty; which I will now state. The point is interesting, as bearing directly upon the developement in Bacon's mind of the doctrine of Idols; concerning which see preface to Novum Organum, note C. But I have to deal with it here merely as bearing upon the probable date of this fragment.
    In treating of the department of Logic in the Advancement, Bacon notices as altogether wanting "the particular elenches or cautions against three false appearances" or fallacies by which the mind of man is beset: the "caution" of which, he says, "doth extremely import the true conduct of human judgment." These false appearances he describes, though he does not give their names; and they correspond respectively to what he afterwards called the Idols of the Tribe, the Cave, and the Forum. But he makes no mention of the fourth; namely, the Idols of the Theatre. Now in Valerius Terminus we find two separate passages in which the Idols are mentioned; and in both all four are enumerated, and all by name; though what he afterwards called Idols of the Forum, he there calls Idols of the Palace; and it seems to me very unlikely that, if when he wrote the Advancement he had already formed that classification he should have omitted all mention of the Idols of the Theatre; for though it is true that that was not the place to discuss them, and therefore in the corresponding passage of the De Augmentis they are noticed as to be passed by "for the present," yet they are noticed by name, and in all Bacon's later writings the confutation of them holds a very prominent place.
    To me the most probable explanation of the fact is this. I have already shown that between the composition and the transcription of these fragments the design of the work appears to have undergone a considerable change; the order of the chapters being entirely altered. We have only to suppose therefore that they were composed before the Advancement and transcribed after, and that in preparing them for the transcriber Bacon made the same kind of alterations in the originals which he afterwards made upon the transcript, and the difficulty disappears. Nothing would be easier than to correct "three" into "four," and insert "the Idols of the Theatre" at the end of the sentence.
    And this reminds me (since I shall have so much to do with these questions of date) to suggest a general caution with regard to them all; namely, that in the case of fragments like these, the comparison of isolated passages can hardly ever be relied upon for evidence of the date or order of composition, or of the progressive developement of the writer's views; and for this simple reason, -- we can never be sure that the passages as they now stand formed part of the original writing. The copy of the fragment which we have may be (as there is reason to believe this was) a transcript from several loose papers, written at different periods and containing alterations or additions made from time to time. We may know perhaps that when Bacon published the Advancemcnt of Learning he was ignorant of some fact with which he afterwards became acquainted; we may find in one of these fragments, -- say the Temporis Partus Masculus, -- a passage implying acquaintance with that fact. Does it follow that the Temporis Partus Masculus was written after the Advancement of Learning? No; for in looking over the manuscript long after it was written, he may have observed and corrected the error. And we cannot conclude that he at the same time altered the whole composition so as to bring it into accordance with the views he then held; for that might be too long a work. He may have inserted a particular correction, but meant to rewrite the whole; and if so, in spite of the later date indicated by that particular passage, the body of the work would still represent a stage in his opinions anterior to the Advancement of Learning.
    I have felt some doubt whether in printing this fragment, I should follow the example of Stephens, who gave it exactly as he found it; or that of later editors, who have altered the order of the chapters so as to make it agree with the numbers. The latter plan will perhaps, upon the whole, be the more convenient. There can he little doubt that the numbers of the chapters indicate the order in which Bacon meant them to be read; and if any one wishes to compare it with the order in which they seem to have been written, he has only to look at Bacon's table of contents, which was made with reference to the transcript, and which I give unaltered, except as to the spelling.
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