Friar Bacon, His Discovery of the Miracles of Art, Nature, and Magick
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Roger Bacon can be placed on the boundary between magic and science. This essay starts with a strong dissenting opinion on the existence of magic; but finishes by discussing how to create a 'Philosophers Egg'. In between, Bacon writes about the use of optics, gunpowder, and petroleum in warfare. In fact, Bacon is believed to have introduced gunpowder (a Chinese invention) to the West, and the rest, as they say, was history. He also makes some bold futurist statements, predicting powered ships, automobiles, flying machines, and scuba gear. As Arthur C. Clarke said, 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.'
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That singular Mathematician, learned be yond what the Age he liv'd in did ordinarily bring forth, Roger Bacon an Oxford man, and a Fryer minorite.
The Testimony of Gabriel Powel in his Book of Antichrist in Preface, p.14.
Roger Bacon an Englishman, a founded Scholar of Merton-Colledg in Oxford, a very quick Philosopher, and withall a very famous Divine, he had an incredible knowledge in the Mathematicks, but without Necromancy (as John Balleus doth report) although he be defam'd for it by many: Now this man after he had sharply reproved the times wherein he liv'd; these Errours, saith he, speak Antichrist present. Nicholas the Fourth Pope of Rome did condemn his Doctrine in many things, and he was by him kept in prison for many years together; as Antonine hath it in his Chronicle. He flourished in the year of our Lord, 1270.
John Gerhard Vossius in his Book of the four Popular Arts, printed at Amsterdam, 1650 is every where full of the praises of Bacon, as in the year 1252. About these mens time Roger Bacon also flourished, an Englishman, and a Monk of the Order of St. Francis; who as he had div'd into all Arts and Sciences: so also he writ many things of them, he was a man both learned and subtil unto a Miracle, and did such wonderfull things by the help of Mathematicks, that by such as were envious and ignorant, he was accused of Diabolical Magick, before Pope Clement the 4th, and for that cause was detained in prison by him for some time. Jo. Pecus Earl of Mirandula, the Phenix of all the wits of his Age, cals him likewise, very ingenious. Moranlicus also commends highly his Opticks. He was buried at Oxford in the Monastery of the Monks of his own Order, anno 1284. So Chap.35. §.32. anno 1255. So Chap. 60. §. 13. Of Musick, anno 1270. So Chap.70§.7. 1270. Roger Bacon flourisht in England,a man wonderfully learned. And Chap. 71.§.8. anno 1270. Roger Bacon a Franciscan Monk, and a Divine of Oxford, was famous amongst the English in all sorts of Sciences; a man of so vast learning, that neither England, no nor the world beside, had almost any thing like or equal to him. And either by envy or ignorance of the Age, wherein he lived, was accused of Magick. He in the mean time did write and recommend to the Memory of Posterity, a Book of Weights, of the Centers of heavy things, of the Practicks of Natural Magick, &c. For he was a man well vers'd in all sorts of study, very learned in the Latine, Greek and Hebrew Tongues, a Mathematician every way accomplisht, and very skilfull both in Philosophy, Physick, Law and Divinity.
THAT I may carefully render you an answer to your desire, understand, Nature is potent and admirable in her working, yet Art using the advantage of nature as an instrument (experience tels us) is of greater efficacy than any natural activity.
Whatsoever Acts otherwise than by natural or artificial means, is not humane, but merely fictitious and deceitfull.
We have many men that by the nimblenesse and activity of body, diversification of sounds, exactness of instruments, darkness, or consent, make things seem to be present, which never were really existent in the course of Nature. The world, as any judicious eye may see, groans under such bastard burdens. A Jugler by an handsome sleight of hand, will put a compleat lie upon the very sight. The Pythonissæ sometimes speaking from their bellies, otherwhile from the throat, than by the mouth, do create what voices they please, either speaking at hand, or farre off, in such a manner, as if a Spirit discoursed with a man, and sometimes as though Beasts bellowed, which is all easily discovered by private laying hollow Canes in the grasse, or secret places, for so the voices of men will be known from other creatures.
When inanimate things are violently moved, either in the Morning or Evening twilight, expect no truth therein, but down-right cheating and cousenage.
As for consent, men by it may undertake any thing they please, if so be they have a mutual disposition.
These I mention, as practices wherein neither philosophical Reasons, Art, or power of Nature is prevalent. Beyond these there is a more damnable practice, when men despising the Rules of Philosophy, irrationally call up wicked Spirits, supposing them of Energy to satisfie their desires. In which there is a very vast errour, because such persons imagine they have some authority over Spirits, and that Spirits may be compelled by humane authority, which is altogether impossible, since humane Energy or Authority is inferiour by much to that of Spirits. Besides, they admit a more vast mistake, supposing such natural instruments, as they use, to be able either to call up, or drive away any wicked Spirit. And they continue their mistake in endeavouring by Invocations, Deprecations or Sacrifices to please Spirits, making them propitious to their design. Without all question, the way is incomparably more easie to obtain any thing, that is truly good for men, of God, or good Angels, then of wicked Spirits. As for things which are incommodious for men, wicked Spirits can no further yeeld assistance, then they have permission, for the sins of the sonnes of men, from that God, who governs and directs all humane affairs. Hence therefore I shall conclude (these things being beyond, or rather against the Rules of Wisdome) No true Philosopher did ever regard to work by any of these six wayes.
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