« ZurückWeiter »
XIX.-DÆDALUS, OR MECHANICAL SKILL.
EXPLAINED OF ARTS AND ARTISTS IN KINGDOMS AND STATES.
The ancients have left us a description of mechanical skill, industry, and curious arts converted to ill uses, in the person of Dedalus, a most ingenious but execrable artist. This Dædalus was banished for the murder of his brother artist and rival, yet found a kind reception in his banishment from the kings and states where he came. He raised many incomparable edifices to the honour of the gods, and invented many new contrivances for the beautifying and ennobling of cities and public places, but still he was most famous for wicked inventions. Among the rest, by his abominable industry and destructive genius, he assisted in the fatal and infamous production of the monster Minotaur, that devourer of promising youths. And then, to cover one mischief with another, and provide for the security of this monster, he invented and built a labyrinth ; a work infamous for its end and design, but admirable and prodigious for art and workmanship. After this, that he might not only be celebrated for wicked inventions, but be sought after, as well for prevention, as for instruments of mischief, he formed that ingenious device of his clue, which led directly through all the windings of the labyrinth. This Dedalus was persecuted by Minos with the utmost severity, diligence, and inquiry; but he always found refuge and means of escaping. Lastly, endeavouring to teach his son Icarus the art of flying, the novice, trusting too much to his wings, fell from his towering flight, and was drowned in the sea.
EXPLANATION.—The sense of the fable runs thus. It first denotes envy, which is continually upon the watch, and strangely prevails among excellent artificers; for no kind of people are observed to be more implacably and destructively envious to one another than these.
In the next place, it observes an impolitic and improvident kind of of punishment inflicted upon Dedalus,--that of banishment ; for good workmen are gladly received everywhere, so that banishment to an excellent artificer is scarce any punishment at all; whereas other conditions of life cannot easily flourish from home. For the admiration of artists is propagated and increased among foreigners and strangers ; it being a principle in the minds of men to slight and despise the mechanical operators of their own nation.
The succeeding part of the fable is plain, concerning the use of mechanic arts, whereto human life stands greatly indebted, as receiving from this treasury numerous particulars for the service of religion, the ornament of civil society, and the whole provision and apparatus of life ; but then the same magazine supplies instruments of lust, cruelty, and death. For, not to mention the arts of luxury and debauchery, we plainly see how far the business of exquisite poisons, guns, engines of war, and such kind of destructive inventions, exceeds the cruelty and barbarity of the Minotaur himself.
The addition of the labyrinth contains a beautiful allegory, representing the nature of mechanic arts in general; for all ingenious and accurate mechanical inventions may be conceived as a labyrinth, which, by reason of their subtilty, intricacy, crossing, and interfering with one another, and the apparent resemblances they have among themselves, scarce any power of the judgment can unravel and distinguish; so that they are only to be understood and traced by the clue of experience.
It is no less prudently added, that he who invented the windings of the labyrinth, should also show the use and management of the clue ; for mechanical arts have an ambiguous or double use, and serve as well to produce as to prevent mischief and destruction ; so that their virtue almost destroys or unwinds itself.
Unlawful arts, and indeed frequently arts themselves, are persecuted by Minos, that is, by laws, which prohibit and forbid their use among the people ; but notwithstanding this, they are hid, concealed, retained, and everywhere find reception and sculking-places ; a thing well observed by Tacitus of the astrologers and fortune-tellers of his time. These," says he," are a kind of men that will always be prohibited, And yet will always be retained in our city.'
But lastly, all unlawful and vain arts, of what kind soever
lose their reputation in tract of time; grow contemptible and perish, through their over-confidence, like Icarus; being commonly unable to perform what they boasted. And to say the truth, such arts are better suppressed by their own vain pretensions, than checked or restrained by the bridle of laws.a
XX.--ERICTHONIUS, OR IMPOSTURE.
EXPLAINED OF THE IMPROPER USE OF FORCE IN NATURAL PHILOSOPHY.
THE poets feign that Vulcan attempted the chastity of Minerva, and impatient of refusal, had recourse to force; the consequence of which was the birth of Ericthonius, whose body from the middle upwards was comely and well-proportioned, but his thighs and legs small, shrunk, and deformed, like an eel. Conscious of this defect, he became the inventor of chariots, so as to show the graceful, but conceal the deformed part of his body.
EXPLANATION.--This strange fable seems to carry this meaning. Art is here represented under the person of Vulcan, by reason of the various uses it makes of fire ; and nature under the person of Minerva, by reason of the industry employed in her works. Art, therefore, whenever it offers violence to nature, in order to conquer, subdue, and bend her to its purpose, by tortures and force of all kinds, seldom obtains the end proposed ; yet upon great struggle and application, there proceed certain imperfect births, or lame abortive works, specious in appearance, but weak and unstable in use ; which are, nevertheless, with great pomp and deceitful appearances, triumphantly carried about, and shown by impostors. A procedure very familiar, and remarkable in chemical productions, and new mechanical inventions ; especially when the inventors rather hug their errors than improve upon them, and go on struggling with nature, not courting her.
a Bacon nowhere speaks with such freedom and perspicuity as under the pretext of explaining these ancient fables ; for which reason they deserve to be the more read by such as desire to understand the rest of his works.
XXI.-DEUCALION, OR RESTITUTION.
EXPLAINED OF A USEFUL HINT IN NATURAL PHILOSOPHY.
THE poets tell us, that the inhabitants of the old world being totally destroyed by the universal deluge, excepting Deucalion and Pyrrha, these two, desiring with zealous and fervent devotion to restore mankind, received this oracle for answer,
they should succeed by throwing their mother's bones behind them.” This at first cast them into great sorrow and despair, because, as all things were levelled by the deluge, it was in vain to seek their mother's tomb; but at length they understood the expression of the oracle to signify the stones of the earth, which is esteemed the mother of all things.
EXPLANATION.—This fable seems to reveal a secret of nature, and correct an error familiar to the mind; for men's ignorance leads them to expect the renovation or restoration of things from their corruption and remains, as the phoenix is said to be restored out of its ashes; which is a very improper procedure, because such kind of materials have finished their course, and are become absolutely unfit to supply the first rudiments of the same things again; whence, in cases of renovation, recourse should be had to mora common principles.
XXII.–NEMESIS, OR THE VICISSITUDE OF THINGS.
EXPLAINED OF THE REVERSES OF FORTUNE.
NEMESIS is represented as a goddess venerated by all
, but feared by the powerful and the fortunate. She is said to be the daughter of Nox and Oceanus. She is drawn with wings, and a crown; a javelin of ash in her right hand ; a glass containing Ethiopians in her left ; and riding upon a stag.
EXPLANATION.—The fable receives this explanation. The word Nemesis manifestly signifies revenge, or retribution ; for the office of this goddess consisted in interposing, like the Roman tribunes, with an
“ I forbid it” in all courses of con
stant and perpetual felicity, so as not only to chastise haughtiness, but also to repay even innocent and moderate happiness with adversity; as if it were decreed, that none human race should be admitted to the banquet of the gods, but for sport. And, indeed, to read over that chapter of Pliny wherein he has collected the miseries and misfortunes of Augustus Cæsar, whom of all mankind one would judge most fortunate, -as he had a certain art of using and enjoying prosperity, with a mind no way tumid, light, effeminate, confused, or melancholic,—one cannot but think this a very great and powerful goddess, who could bring such a victim to her altar.a
The parents of this goddess were Oceanus and Nox; that is, the fluctuating change of things, and the obscure and secret divine decrees. The changes of things are aptly represented by the Ocean, on account of its perpetual ebbing and flowing; and secret providence is justly expressed by Night. Even the heathens have observed this secret Nemesis of the night, or the difference betwixt divine and human judgment.b
Wings are given to Nemesis, because of the sudden and unforeseen changes of things; for, from the earliest account of time, it has been common for great and prudent men to fall by the dangers they most despised. Thus Cicero, when admonished by Brutus of the infidelity and rancour of Octavius, olly wrote back, “I cannot, however, but be obliged to you, Brutus, as I ought, for informing me, though of such a trifle.”c
Nemesis also has her crown, by reason of the invidious and malignant nature of the vulgar, who generally rejoice, triumph, and crown her, at the fall of the fortunate and the powerful. And for the javelin in her right hand, it has regard to those whom she has actually struck and transfixed. But whoever escapes her stroke, or feels not actual calamity or misfortune, she affrights with a black and dismal sight in
• As she also brought the author himself.
cadit Ripheus, justissimus unus, Qui fuit ex Teucris, et servantissimus æqui :
Diis aliter visum.”-Æreid, lib. ii. < Te autem mi Brute sicut debeo, amo, quod istud quicquid est nugarum me scire voluisti,