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THE Meditationes Sacra were written by Bacon in Latin, and published in 1597 in the same volume with the Essays and the Colours of Good and Evil. This volume was reprinted the next year by the same publisher (whether with Bacon's knowledge and sanction or not, does not appear) — only that an English translation of the Meditationes Sacra, under the title of Religious Meditations, was substituted for the original Latin. The translation is upon the whole good, and may well enough have had Bacon's imprimatur, though I can hardly think it was his own doing; the rather because, though it was afterwards included in all those editions of the Essays which, being merely reprints, may be supposed to have been printer's speculations in which he took no concern, I do not find in any volume subsequently brought out by himself either the translation or the original. Of the original indeed, which had not been reprinted, he may possibly in later years have been unable to procure a copy: but if he ever cared enough for it to translate it into English with his own hand, it seems unlikely that he should not have cared to preserve the translation. I suppose he added it to his Essays of 1597 in order to make that very thin volume a little thicker: but afterwards, judging it too
slight a thing to stand by itself under such a title, preferred to disperse through his other writings such of the thoughts as he considered worth preserving.
However this may be, there is something in these Meditations very characteristic, and as a sample of what at the age of 37 he thought worth setting down on such subjects, they cannot but be read with interest: none more so perhaps than the meditation de spe terrestri- the doctrine of which is not propounded by him elsewhere, as far as I recollect; certainly not in such latitude. The aphorism attributed to Heraclitus, that dry light is the best soul, was indeed at all times a favourite with him. But I do not think that he has anywhere else made so resolute an attempt to translate it into a practical precept for the regulation of the mind, and fairly to follow to its legitimate consequences the doctrine that absolute veracity and freedom from all delusion is the only sound condition of the soul. Upon this principle, a reasonable expectation of good to come, formed upon a just estimate of probabilities, is the only kind of hope which in the things of this ́life a man is permitted to indulge: all hope that goes beyond this being to be reserved for the life to come. The spirit of hope must have been strong in Bacon himself, if at the age of 37 he could still believe it possible for man to walk by the light of reason alone. I suppose it did not hold out much longer. His own experience must have taught him that had he never hoped to do more than he succeeded in doing, he could never have had spirit to proceed; and that to reduce hope within the limits of reasonable expectation would be to abjure the possunt quia posse videntur, and to clip the wings of enterprise: and he learned before
he died to recommend the "entertaining of hopes" as one of the best medicines for the preservation of health.
The seeds or rough notes of this meditation may be seen fairly written in Bacon's own hand in a loose sheet belonging to the bundle which I have described under the head of Formularies and Elegancies: Harl. MSS. 7017. fo. 118. And as those who are curious about his smaller habits and methods of working may like to see it, I subjoin a copy.
Melior est oculorum visio quam animi progressio.
Spes in dolio remansit, sed non ut antidotus, sed ut major morbus.
Spes omnis in futuram vitam consumenda est: Sufficit præsentibus bonis purus sensus.
Spes vigilantis somnium: Vitæ summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longam.
Spes facit animos leves, tumidos, inæquales, peregrinantes.
Vidi universos ambulantes sub sole cum adolescente secundo qui consurget post eum.
Imaginationes omnia turbant, timores multiplicant, voluptates corrumpunt.
Anticipatio timoris salubris, ob inventionem remedii; spei in
Imminent futuro, ingrati in præteritum, semper adolescentes. Vitam sua sponte fluxam magis fluxam reddimus per continuationes spei.
Præsentia erunt futura, non contra.