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Instauratio Magna/Proem (Wood)








SEEING he was satisfied that the human understanding creates itself labour, and makes not a judicious and convenient use of such real helps as are within man's power, whence arise both a manifold ignorance of things, and innumerable disadvantages, the consequence of such ignorance; he thought that we ought to endeavour, with all our might, either (if it were possible) completely to restore, or, at all events, to bring to a better issue that free intercourse of the mind with things, nothing similar to which is to be met with on earth, at least as regards earthly objects. But that errors which have gained firm ground, and will forever continue to gain ground, would, if the mind were left to itself, successively correct each other, either from the proper powers of the understanding, or from the helps and support of logic, he entertained not the slightest hope. Because the primary notions of things, which the mind ignorantly and negligently imbibes, stores up, and accumulates, (and from which every thing rise is derived,) are faulty and confused, and carelessly abstracted from the things themselves; and in the secondary and following notions, there is an equal wantonness and inconsistency. Hence it happens that the whole system of human reasoning, as far as we apply it to the investigation of nature, is not skilfully consolidated and built up, but resembles a magnificent pile that has no foundation. For while men admire and celebrate the false energies of the mind, they pass by, and lose sight of the real; such as may exist if the mind adopt proper helps, and act modestly towards things instead of weakly insulting them. But one course was left, to begin the matter anew with better preparation, and to effect a restoration of the sciences, arts, and the whole of human learning, established on their proper foundation. And, although, at the first attempt, this may appear to be infinite, and above the strength of a mere mortal, yet will it, in the execution, be found to be more sound and judicious than the course which has hitherto been pursued. For this method admits at least of some termination, whilst, in the present mode of treating the sciences, there is a sort of whirl, and perpetual hurry round a circle. Nor has he forgotten to observe that he stands alone in this experiment, and that it is too bold and astonishing to obtain credit. Nevertheless, he thought it not right to desert either the cause or himself, by not exploring and entering upon the only way, which is pervious to the human mind. For it is better to commence a matter which may admit of some termination, than to be involved in perpetual exertion and anxiety about that which is interminable. And, indeed, the ways of contemplation nearly resemble those celebrated ways of action; the one of which, steep and rugged at its commencement, terminates in a plain, the other, at the first view smooth and easy, leads only to by-roads and precipices. Uncertain, however, whether these reflections would ever hereafter suggest themselves to another, and, particularly, having observed, that he has never yet met with any person disposed to apply his mind to similar meditations, he determined to publish whatsoever he had first time to conclude. Nor is this the haste of ambition, but of his anxiety, that if the common lot of mankind should befall him, some sketch and determination of the matter his mind had embraced might be extant, as well as an earnest of his will being honourably bent upon promoting the advantage of mankind. He assuredly looked upon any other ambition as beneath the matter he had undertaken; for that which is here treated of is either nothing, or it is so great that he ought to be satisfied with its own worth, and seek no other return.