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many from Ovid's Heroides, and a few from the 1st and 2nd books of his Amores; and so the Promus concludes.
I have been thus particular in describing it, because it is chiefly interesting as an illustration of Bacon's manner of working. There is not much in it of his own. The collection is from books which were then in every scholar's hands, and the selected passages, standing as they do without any comment to show what he found in them or how he meant to apply them, have no peculiar value. That they were set down not as he read, but from memory afterwards, I infer from the fact that many of the quotations are slightly inaccurate. And because so many out of the same volume come together, and in order, I conclude that he was in the habit of sitting down from time to time, reviewing in memory the book he had last read, and jotting down those passages which for some reason or other he wished to fix in his mind. This would in all cases be a good exercise for the memory, and in some cases (as in the long list of classical phrases out of Erasmus, hardly any of which he ever made use of in his own writings) it may have been practised for that alone. But there is something in his selection of sentences and verses out of the poets which seems to require another explanation; for it is difficult sometimes to understand why those particular lines should have been taken and so many others apparently of equal note passed by. My conjecture is, that most of these selected expressions were connected in his mind, by some association more or less fanciful, with certain trains of thought; and stood as mottoes (so to speak) to little chapters of meditation. My meaning will be easily understood by any one who will
observe carefully the manner in which similar passages are introduced by the way, or specially commented upon, in his works. If for instance we had met in some collection like this with Homer's line,
χαίρετε κήρυκες, Διὸς ἄγγελοι ἠδὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν,
we might well have wondered what he saw in it to make him select it for special distinction. But observe how it is introduced in the opening of the 4th book of the De Augmentis Scientiarum, and the value of it is explained. So again if we met in a similar collection with the twenty-four proverbs which are selected for exposition in the 8th book of the De Augmentis, standing by themselves without comment, we might wonder at the selection; but when we read the explanations which are there annexed, we see how much meaning in his mind they carried with them. Some further light may perhaps be thrown on this point by an observation, or the hint of an observation, which I find in a sheet of memoranda in his hand-writing (Harl. MSS. 7017. fo. 107.) which seems to have been preserved in the same bundle with the "Promus." It is a thought jotted down in evident haste, and in circumstances apparently very inconvenient for callig raphy, with a bad pen or bad ink, or in the dark, or perhaps in a carriage, and stands thus, literatim.
"Mot. of the mynd explicate in woords implicate in thowghts. I judg. best implicate in thowg, or pticul. or mark. bycause of swiftnes collocat. and differe. and to make woords sequac."
By which I understand him to mean, that he found the slow and imperfect process of expounding ideas in
words to impede too much the free motions of the mind; and that he judged it a better practice to keep the pure mental conception involved in the thought, or represented by some particular image or simple mark; because by that means the mental process of comparison and distinction could be carried on more swiftly, and a habit acquired of "making words sequacious; that is of teaching words to follow ideas, instead of making ideas wait upon words. I am not aware that he ever recorded this as his final judgment upon the point, but it may serve to explain his own practice at this time of embodying his thoughts in brief sentences, picturesque images, or memorable expressions; such as might serve to represent and recall the entire idea which remained in puris naturalibus in his mind.
From what I have said, it will be readily understood that this Promus, which is of considerable length, is not worth printing in extenso. But my account of it may be thought too incomplete without some extracts by way of specimen. For this purpose I shall select such entries as have most substantial value, independent of that Baconian comment which no editor can now supply; and I shall arrange them as well as I can under separate heads according to their character.
PROMUS OF FORMULARIES AND ELEGANCIES.
It is a fact worth knowing,- for it may serve as a caution and encouragement both, and it is one of those which the reverence of posterity is too apt to overlook or keep out of sight, that the various accomplishments for which Bacon was distinguished among the men of his time, were not given to him ready-made. It may be gathered from this manuscript that the secret of his proficiency was simply that, in the smallest matters no less than in the greatest, he took a great deal of pains. Everybody prepares himself beforehand for great occasions. Bacon seems to have thought it no loss of time to prepare for small ones too, and to have those topics concerning which he was likely to have to express himself in conversation ready at hand and reduced into "forms" convenient for use. Even if no occasion should occur for using them, the practice would still serve for an exercise in the art of expression.
Here for instance are some forms for describing personal characters or qualities:
1. No wise speech, though easy and voluble. 2. Notwithstanding his dialogues (of one that giveth life to his speech by way of question).
3. He can tell a tale well (of those courtly gifts of speech which are better in describing than in considering).
4. A good comediante (of one that hath good grace in his speech).
5. Cunning in the humours of persons, but not in the conditions of actions.
6. He had rather have his will than his wish.
7. A brain cut with fascets.
8. More ingenious than natural.
9. He keeps his ground:- of one that speaketh certainly and pertinently.
10. He lighteth well; - of one that concludeth his speech well.
11. Of speeches digressive: This goeth not to the end of the matter:
from the lawyers.1
12. Per otium: - to anything impertinent.
13. Speech that hangeth not together nor is concludent: Raw silk; sand.
14. Speech of good and various weight but not nearly applied: A great vessel that cannot come near land.
15. Of one that rippeth things up deeply: He shooteth too high a compass to shoot near.
16. Ingenuous honesty and yet with opposition and strength.
1 The last three forms are not from the Promus, but from a separate sheet of similar character, fo. 107. The next four are from another, fo. 109.