Part I

Right understanding is the most equally divided thing in the World; for every one beleevs himself so well stor'd with it, that even those who in all other things are the hardest to be pleas'd, seldom desire more of it then they have; wherein it is not likely that all Men are deceived: But it rather witnesseth, That the faculty of right-judging and distinguishing truth from falshood (which is properly call'd, Understanding or Reason) is naturally equal in all Men. And as the diversity of our Opinions, is not, because some are more reasonable then others; but only that we direct our thoughts several ways, neither do we consider the same things. For 'tis not enough to have good faculties, but the principal is, to apply them well. The greatest Souls are as capable of the greatest Vices, as of the most eminent Vertues: And those who move but very slowly, may advance much farther, if they always follow the right way; then those who run and straggle from it.

For my part, I never presum'd that my Minde was more perfect in any thing then an ordinary Mans; nay, I have often wish'd to have had my thoughts as quick, my imagination as clear and distinct, and my memory as large and as ready as some other Men have had. And I know no Qualities which serve more then those to the perfection of the Minde; for as for Reason or Understanding, forasmuch as it is the only thing which makes us Men, and distinguisheth us from beasts, I will beleeve it to be entire in every One, and follow herein the common opinion of the Philosophers, who say, That there is only more or less among the Accidents, and not amongst the Forms or nature of the Individuals of one species.

But I shall not stick to say, That I beleeve my self very happy, in having encountred from my youth with certain ways which have led me to considerations and Maximes, from which I have found a Method; whereby methinks, I have the means by degrees to augment my knowledg, and by little and little to raise it up to the highest pitch, whereto the meaness of my capacity, & the short course of my life can permit it to attain. For I have already reaped such fruits from it, that although in the judgment I make of my self, I endevour always rather to incline to mistrust, then to presumption. And looking on the divers actions and undertakings of all Men, with the eye of a Philosopher, there is almost none which to me seems not vain and useless. Yet I am extremely satisfied with the Progress, which (as it seems to me) I have already made in the search of Truth, and do conceive such hopes for the future, That if among the employments of Men, purely Men, there is any solidly good, and of importance, I dare beleeve it is that which I have chosen: Yet it may be that I deceive my self, and perhaps it is but a little Copper and Glass which I take for Gold and Diamonds. I know how subject we are to mistake in those things which concern us, and how jealous we ought to be of the judgment of our friends, when it is in our favor. But I should willingly in this Discourse, trace out unto you the ways which I have followed, and represent therein my life, as in a Picture, to the end, that every one may judge thereof; and that learning from common Fame, what mens opinions are of it, I may finde a new means of instructing my self; which I shall add to those which I customarily make use of.

Neither is it my design to teach a Method which every Man ought to follow, for the good conduct of his reason; but only to shew after what manner I have endevoured to order mine own. Those who undertake to give precepts, ought to esteem themselves more able, then those to whom they give them, and are blame-worthy, if they fail in the least. But proposing this but as a History, or if you will have it so, but as a Fable; wherein amongst other examples, which may be imitated, we may perhaps find divers others which we may have reason to decline: I hope it will be profitable to some, without being hurtfull to any; and that the liberty I take will be gratefull to all.

I have been bred up to Letters from mine infancy; & because I was perswaded, that by their means a man might acquire a clear and certain knowledg of all that's usefull for this life, I was extremely desirous to learn them: But as soon as I had finish'd all the course of my Studies, at the end whereof Men are usually receiv'd amongst the rank of the learned. I wholly changed my opinion, for I found my self intangled in so many doubts and errors, that me thought I had made no other profit in seeking to instruct my self, but that I had the more discovered mine own ignorance. Yet I was in one of the most famous Schools in Europe; where I thought, if there were any on earth, there ought to have been learned Men. I had learnt all what others had learnt; even unsatisfied with the Sciences which were taught us, I had read over all Books (which I could possibly procure) treating of such as are held to be the rarest and the most curious. Withall, I knew the judgment others made of me; and I perceiv'd that I was no less esteem'd then my fellow Students, although there were some amongst them that were destin'd to fill our Masters rooms. And in fine, our age seem'd to me as flourishing and as fertile of good Wits, as any of the preceding, which made me take the liberty to judg of all other men by my self, and to think, That there was no such learning in the world, as formerly I had been made beleeve.

Yet did I continue the esteem I had of those exercises which are the employments of the Schools: I knew that Languages which are there learnt, are necessary for the understanding of ancient Writers, That the quaintness of Fables awakens the Minde; That the memorable actions in History raise it up, and that being read with discretion, they help to form the judgment. That the reading of good books, is like the conversation with the honestest persons of the past age, who were the Authors of them, and even a studyed conversation, wherein they discover to us the best only of their thoughts. That eloquence hath forces & beauties which are incomparable. That Poetry hath delicacies and sweets extremly ravishing; That the Mathematicks hath most subtile inventions, which very much conduce aswel to content the curious, as to facilitate all arts, and to lessen the labour of Men: That those writings which treat of manners contain divers instructions, and exhortations to vertue, which are very usefull. That Theology teacheth the way to heaven; That Philosophy affords us the means to speake of all things with probability, and makes her self admir'd, by the least knowing Men. That Law, Physick and other sciences bring honor and riches to those who practice them; Finally that its good to have examin'd them all even the falsest and the most superstitious, that we may discover their just value, and preserve our selves from their cheats.

But I thought I had spent time enough in the languages, and even also in the lecture of ancient books, their histories and their fables. For 'tis even the same thing to converse with those of former ages, as to travel. Its good to know something of the manners of severall Nations, that we may not think that all things against our Mode are ridiculous or unreasonable, as those are wont to do, who have seen Nothing. But when we employ too long time in travell, we at last become strangers to our own Country, and when we are too curious of those things, which we practised in former times, we commonly remain ignorant of those which are now in use. Besides, Fables make us imagine divers events possible, which are not so: And that even the most faithfull Histories, if they neither change or augment the value of things, to render them the more worthy to be read, at least, they always omit the basest and less remarkable circumstances; whence it is, that the rest seems not as it is; and that those who form their Manners by the examples they thence derive, are subject to fall into the extravagancies of the Paladins of our Romances, and to conceive designes beyond their abilities.

I highly priz'd Eloquence, and was in love with Poetry; but I esteem'd both the one and the other, rather gifts of the Minde, then the fruits of study. Those who have the strongest reasoning faculties, and who best digest their thoughts, to render them the more clear and intelligible, may always the better perswade what they propose, although they should speak but a corrupt dialect, and had never learnt Rhetorick: And those whose inventions are most pleasing, and can express them with most ornament and sweetness, will still be the best Poets; although ignorant of the Art of Poetry.

Beyond all, I was most pleas'd with the Mathematicks, for the certainty and evidence of the reasons thereof; but I did not yet observe their true use, and thinking that it served only for Mechanick Arts; I wondred, that since the grounds thereof were so firm and solid, that nothing more sublime had been built thereon. As on the contrary, I compar'd the writings of the Ancient heathen which treated of Manner, to most proud and stately Palaces which were built only on sand and mire, they raise the vertues very high, and make them appear estimable above all the things in the world; but they doe not sufficiently instruct us in the knowledg of them, and often what they call by that fair Name, is but a stupidness, or an act of pride, or of despair, or a paricide.

I reverenc'd our Theology, and pretended to heaven as much as any; But having learnt as a most certain Truth, that the way to it, is no less open to the most ignorant, then to the most learned; and that those revealed truths which led thither, were beyond our understanding, I durst not submit to the weakness of my ratiocination. And I thought, that to undertake to examine them, and to succeed in it, requir'd some extraordinary assistance from heaven, and somewhat more then Man. I shall say nothing of Philosophy, but that seeing it hath been cultivated by the most excellent wits, which have liv'd these many ages, and that yet there is nothing which is undisputed, and by consequence, which is not doubtfull. I could not presume so far, as to hope to succeed better then others. And considering how many different opinions there may be on the same thing, maintain'd by learned Men, and yet that there never can be but one only Truth, I reputed almost all false, which had no more then probability in it.

As for other Sciences, since they borrow their Principles from Philosophy, I judg'd that nothing which was solid could be built upon such unsound foundations; and neither honour nor wealth were sufficient to invite me to the study of them. For (I thank God) I found not my self in a condition which obliged me to make a Trade of Letters for the relief of my fortune. And although I made it not my profession to despise glory with the Cynick; yet did I little value that which I could not acquire but by false pretences. And lastly, for unwarrantable Studies, I thought I already too well understood what they were, to be any more subject to be deceived, either by the promises of an Alchymist, or by the predictions of an Astrologer, or by the impostures of a Magician, or by the artifice or brags of those who profess to know more then they do.

By reason whereof, as soon as my years freed me from the subjection of my Tutors, I wholly gave over the study of Letters, and resolving to seek no other knowledge but what I could finde in my self, or in the great book of the World, I imployed the rest of my youth in Travell, to see Courts and Armies, to frequent people of severall humors and conditions, to gain experience, to hazard my self in those encounters of fortune which should occurr; and every-where to make such a reflection on those things which presented themselves to me, that I might draw profit from them. For (me thought) I could meet with far more truth in the discourses which every man makes touching those affairs which concern him, whose event would quickly condemn him, if he had judg'd amisse; then amongst those which letter'd Men make in their closets touching speculations, which produce no effect, and are of no consequence to them, but that perhaps they may gain so much the more vanity, as they are farther different from the common understanding: Forasmuch as he must have imployed the more wit and subtilty in endeavouring to render them probable. And I had always an extreme desire to learn to distinguish Truth from Falshood, that I might see cleerly into my actions, and passe this life with assurance.

Its true, that whiles I did but consider the Manners of other men, I found little or nothing wherein I might confirm my self: And I observ'd in them even as much diversity as I had found before in the opinions of the Philosophers: So that the greatest profit I could reap from them was, that seeing divers things, which although they seem to us very extravagant and ridiculous, are nevertheless commonly received and approved by other great Nations, I learn'd to beleeve nothing too firmly, of what had been onely perswaded me by example or by custom, and so by little and little I freed my self from many errors, which might eclipse our naturall light, and render us lesse able to comprehend reason. But after I had imployed some years in thus studying the Book of the World, and endeavouring to get experience, I took one day a resolution to study also within my self, and to employ all the forces of my minde in the choice of the way I was to follow: which (me thought) succeeded much better, then if I had never estranged my self from my Country, or from my Books.