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PREFACE TO SECOND EDITION.
We may say of improbabilities, as we do of evils, choose the least.
It is antecedently improbable that the Shakespeare Plays, for which the whole domain of human knowledge was laid under contribution, were written by William Shakespeare, for he was uneducated.
It is also antecedently improbable that Francis Bacon, whose name for nearly three hundred years has been a synonym for all that is philosophical and profound, who was so great in another and widely different field of labor that he gave a new direction for all future time to the course of human thought, was the author of them.
And yet, to one or the other of these two men we must give our suffrage for the crowning honors of humanity.
In the claim for Shakespeare, the improbability is so overwhelming that it involves very nearly a violation of the
laws of nature. No man ever did, and, it is safe to say, no man ever can, acquire knowledge intuitively. One may be a genius like Burns, and the world be hushed to silence while he sings; but the injunction, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread,” is as true of intellectual as it is of physical life, everywhere. The fruit of the tree of knowledge can be reached only by hard climbing, the sole instance on record in which it was plucked and handed down to the waiting recipient having proved a failure.
In the case of Bacon, however, the improbability is one of degree only. It is, in fact, not entirely without precedent. Fortune has more than once emptied a whole cornucopia of gifts at a single birth. What diversity, what beauty, what grandeur in the personality of Leonardo da Vinci! He was author, painter, sculptor, architect, musician, civil engineer, inventor—and in each capacity, almost without exception, eminent above his contemporaries. His great painting, the Last Supper, ranks the third among the products in this branch of modern art, Raphael's Madonna di San Sisto and Michael Angelo's Last Judgment being respectively, perhaps, first and second. At the same time, he was the pioneer in the study of the anatomy and structural classification of plants; he founded the science of hydraulics; he invented the camera obscura ; he proclaimed
PREFACE TO SECOND EDITION.
the undulatory theory of light and heat; he investigated the properties of steam, and anticipated by four centuries its use in the propulsion of boats; and he barely missed the great discovery which immortalized Newton. Indeed, we see in Leonardo da Vinci, not a mountain only, but a whole range of sky-piercing peaks !
Another illustrious example is Goethe, scarcely inferior to Bacon, whatever the claims made for the latter, in the brilliancy and scope of his powers. As a poet, Goethe was a star of the first magnitude, a blaze of light in the literary heavens. His Faust is one of the six great epic poems of the world. As a writer of prose fiction he stands in the front rank, his “Wilhelm Meister” a classic side by side with “Ivanhoe,” Middlemarch,” and “The Scarlet Letter.” By a singular coincidence, also, as compared with Bacon, he was one of the master spirits of his age in the sphere of the sciences. An evolutionist before Darwin, he beheld, as in a vision, what is now becoming clear, the application of law to all the phenomena of nature and life. In botany, he made notable additions to the then existing stock of knowledge; and throughout the vast realm of biology he not only developed new methods of inquiry, but he spread over it the glow of imagination, without which the path of discovery is always doubly difficult to tread. In the light of precedents, therefore, the claim made in