Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
On the Transmission of Immateriate Virtues
By Francis Bacon (15611626)
From the Sylva Sylvarum
IT is mentioned in some stories that where children have been exposed, or taken away young from their parents, and that afterwards they have approached to their parents presence, the parents (although they have not known them) have had a secret joy or other alteration thereupon.
There was an Egyptian soothsayer, that made Antonius believe that his genius (which otherwise was brave and confident) was, in the presence of Octavianus Cæsar, poor and cowardly: and therefore he advised him to absent himself as much as he could, and remove far from him. This soothsayer was thought to be suborned by Cleopatra to make him live in Egypt, and other remote places from Rome. Howsoever the conceit of a predominant or mastering spirit of one man over another is ancient, and received still, even in vulgar opinion.
There are conceits that some men, that are of an ill and melancholy nature, do incline the company into which they come to be sad and ill-disposed; and contrariwise, that others, that are of a jovial nature, do dispose the company to be merry and cheerful. And again, that some men are lucky to be kept company with and employed; and others unlucky. Certainly it is agreeable to reason, that there are at the least some light effluxions from spirit to spirit, when men are in presence one with another, as well as from body to body.
It hath been observed that old men who have loved young company and been conversant continually with them, have been of long life; their spirits (as it seemeth) being recreated by such company. Such were the ancient sophists and rhetoricians; which ever had young auditors and disciples; as Gorgias, Protagoras, Isocrates, etc., who lived till they were an hundred years old. And so likewise did many of the grammarians and schoolmasters; such as was Orbilius, etc.
Audacity and confidence doth, in civil business, so great effects, as a man may reasonably doubt that, besides the very daring and earnestness and persisting and importunity, there should be some secret binding and stooping of other mens spirits to such persons.
The affections (no doubt) do make the spirits more powerful and active; and especially those affections, which draw the spirits into the eyes: which are two: love, and envy, which is called oculus malus. As for love, the Platonists (some of them) go so far as to hold that the spirit of the lover doth pass into the spirits of the person loved; which causeth the desire of return into the body whence it was emitted: whereupon followeth that appetite of contact and conjunction which is in lovers. And this is observed likewise, that the aspects that procure love, are not gazings, but sudden glances and dartings of the eye. As for envy, that emitteth some malign and poisonous spirit, which taketh hold of the spirit of another; and is likewise of greatest force when the cast of the eye is oblique. It hath been noted also that it is most dangerous when an envious eye is cast upon persons in glory and triumph and joy: the reason whereof is, for that at such times the spirits come forth most into the outward parts, and so meet the percussion of the envious eye more at hand; and therefore it hath been noted, that after great triumphs, men have been ill-disposed for some days following. We see the opinion of fascination is ancient, for both effects: of procuring love, and sickness caused by envy: and fascination is ever by the eye. But yet if there be any such infection from spirit to spirit, there is no doubt but that it worketh by presence, and not by the eye alone; yet most forcibly by the eye.
Fear and shame are likewise infective; for we see that the starting of one will make another ready to start: and when one man is out of countenance in a company, others do likewise blush in his behalf.
Now we will speak of the force of imagination upon other bodies, and of the means to exalt and strengthen it. Imagination in this place I understand to be the representation of an individual thought. Imagination is of three kinds: the first joined with belief of that which is to come: the second joined with memory of that which is past: and the third is of things present, or as if they were present: for I comprehend in this, imaginations feigned and at pleasure; as if one should imagine such a man to be in the vestments of a pope, or to have wings. I single out, for this time, that which is with faith or belief of that which is to come. The inquisition of this subject in our way (which is by induction) is wonderful hard: for the things that are reported are full of fables; and new experiments can hardly be made but with extreme caution, for the reason which we will hereafter declare.
The power of imagination is in three kinds: the first upon the body of the imaginant, including likewise the child in the mothers womb; the second is, the power of it upon dead bodies, as plants, wood, stone, metal, etc.; the third is, the power of it upon the spirits of men and living creatures: and with this last we will only meddle.
The problem therefore is, whether a man constantly and strongly believing that such a thing shall be (as that such an one will love him, or that such an one will grant him his request, or that such an one shall recover a sickness, or the like), it doth help any thing to the effecting of the thing itself. And here again we must warily distinguish; for it is not meant (as hath been partly said before) that it should help by making a man more stout, or more industrious (in which kind constant belief doth much); but merely by a secret operation, or binding, or changing the spirit of another: and in this it is hard (as we began to say) to make any new experiment; for I cannot command myself to believe what I will, and so no trial can be made. Nay, it is worse; for whatsoever a man imagineth doubtingly, or with fear, must needs do hurt, if imagination have any power at all; for a man representeth that oftener that he feareth, than the contrary.
The help therefore is, for a man to work by another in whom he may create belief, and not by himself until himself have found by experience, that imagination doth prevail; for then experience worketh in himself belief; if the belief that such a thing shall be, be joined with a belief that his imagination may procure it.