Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/267

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FRIAR ROGER BACON.

extinction in this material fashion. Bacon is no martyr of science. He was punished for an attack on the very nature and existence of the church itself; for setting up a natural law to govern and limit the things of the spirit.

Owing to the horror which was felt by the writers of that age for the heresies of Bacon, his influence was very small. While Albertus Magnus was entertaining kings, and while Aquinus was the honored expounder of ecclesiastical doctrine, their contemporary and peer was languishing in confinement. His immense work was done in spite of his disgrace. His pupils received his doctrines and through them his ideas gained currency. His writings are scarcely mentioned by the authors of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but we know of at least three cases in which they exerted a profound influence. The admirable doctrine of optics set forth in his work on perspective was known to Descartes, beyond a doubt, and cannot have failed to direct the thoughts of the philosopher to whom we owe the foundation of our modern theories. Again, Paul of Middleburg was deeply concerned with the reform of the calendar, and in his treatise on the subject made great use of Bacon's writings. It was Paul that suggested to Copernicus the need of more accurate tables of the planets, and we may fairly say that Bacon's labors came to fruition in the heliocentric theory of the world. Finally, a long passage in his Opus majus, treating of the probable proximity of Spain and India, was literally transferred (without credit) to the Imago Mundi of Peter d'Ailly. It is Columbus himself, in a letter to the King and Queen of Spain, who cites this passage as one of the authorities that put it into his mind to venture on his great voyage. Truly ideas do not die, and those of Bacon have made great changes in this little world of ours.

We may pass over his influence upon the metaphysical controversies of his time, though it was not small. He was thoroughly versed in scholastic dialectic and was much concerned to combat the pantheistic theories of Averro√ęs and his school. He is of the strictest sect of the Nominalists, with a reasonable practicality all his own. "The prevalent view," he says, "is that universals exist only in the mind. Yet two stones would be like one another even though there should be no mind to perceive them. But it is precisely this likeness of the two stones that constitutes their universal." How modern it sounds! How crisp and neat, like a French logician. With Bacon as with others whom we call the ancients, we perpetually meet the modern note. A man's character is his fate was not written by Taine or Stendhal, but by Heracleitus five centuries before the Christian era.

Bacon proposed to Clement IV. the reform of the calendar in sagacious and artfully presented terms. He points out to the pope the errors of the accepted lunar tables, and proves that after a series