MY zeal for the memory of this illustrious scholar impels me to transcribe, which it will be found I seldom do, from a book that is in every body’s hands. From the faithful and laborious Henry, have collected what follows concerning Roger Bacon—
“We cannot but lament that Friar Bacon met with so many discouragements in the pursuit of useful knowledge. If he had lived in better times, or if he had even been permitted to prosecute that source of enquiries and experiments in which he engaged after his return from Paris, it is highly probable that the world would have many valuable discoveries that are still unknown.
“An excellent modern writer, Dr. Friend, having enumerated some of Bacon’s discoveries, adds—‘These are wonderful discoveries for a man to make in so ignorant an age, who had no master to teach him, but struck it all out of his own brain: but it is stiIl more wonderful that such discoveries should lie so long concealed; till, in the next succeeding centuries, other people should start up, and lay claim to those very inventions to which Bacon alone had a right.’
“Bacon discovered the art of making Reading glasses, the Camera Obscura, Microscopes, Telescopes, and various other mathematical and astronomical instruments. He discovered a method of performing all the chymical operations that are now in use. He combined the mechanical powers in so wonderful a manner, that it was for this he was accused of magic. His discoveries in medicine were by no means unimportant. That the ingredients of gunpowder, and the art of making it were well known to him, is now undeniable: but the humane philosopher, dreading the conseqences of communicating this discovery to the world, transposed the letters of the Latin words, which signify Charcoal, which made the whole obscure. It was done thus—Luru mope can vbre, (carbonum pulvere.) By this means he rendered it difficult to discover this dangerous secret by the perusal of his works: and, at the same time, secured to himself the honour of having known it, by specifying the other ingredients, if it should be discovered by any other person. This accordingly happened after Bacon’s death; for, about the beginning of the fourteenth century, one Barthold Schwartz, a German monk and chymist, accidentally discovered gunpowder, as he was pounding salt-petre, sulphur and charcoal, in a mortar, for some other purpose.”
To this we may add, that the Chinese employed gunpowder in their wars; and were familiar with the art of printing, probably, some centuries before we made use of them in Europe.
Though Bacon is mentioned, in this article, as the inventor of optical glasses, Marville gives a curious piece of information.He says, that “it is generally known, that James Metius, a Dutchman, invented, in 1609, spectacles and telescopes; and that Galileo, being at Venice, imitated as well as he could a telescope, and astonished the learned Venetians from the tower of St. Mark with this novel invention.” He adds—“But there are few who know that the principles of optics, on which telescopes are formed, are to be found in Euclid, and in the antient geometricians; and that it is through want of reflection that this wonderful invention, as well as many others, have remained so long concealed in the majesty of Nature, as Pliny expresses it, till chance has drawn them out.”
Voltaire writes, that the excellent secret of assisting the enfeebled sight, by means of spectacles, was found out by Alexander Spina, towards the end of the thirteenth century.—The fact is indeed not clear. They were known probably before the thirteenth century—Many rude efforts had been made before the days of Galileo to form telescopes; the invention was known, but he greatly perfectted them. Our sublime Milton has perhaps added to the immortality of Galileo, by, this beautiful simile taken from his telescope.
As when by night the GLASS
Of GALILEO, less assur’d, observes
Imagined lands and regions in the moon———
It is proper to remind the reader, that, Galileo during his imprisonment was visited by Milton, who tells us, that he was then poor and old!