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About The Quest
Several years ago I searched for a text for this class. All the world history texts
were either written for the most basic level of student, or were college texts cluttered
with inordinately egregious academicese. It was incredibly difficult to find a text that fit
the honors program here at GPHS. Perhaps there is a good text out there, but I didn’t
find it. Sometimes, when parents complained about the old text, they would say “You
should write your own!”
So I did.
Over two years (2001-02), I wrote (and Mr. Zottola edited) The Quest and
released it, chapter-by-chapter to the sophomores of 2001-02, then released a second
edition to the sophomores of 2002-03. They were the guinea pigs and their patience and
critique has been a key part of the writing and revision process; each class since then has
made suggestions and we have been constantly updating, editing, and improving the
Each chapter has a similar arrangement. The first section is the “secondary
source” which means it is the author – in this case, me - telling you the story of history.
Secondary sources were not present (generally) when the historical events actually
happened; teachers and texts are secondary sources. Also, most chapters will have one or
two sections of historical fiction in italics and marked by a box, often (but not always)
at the beginning. There are boxes embedded in the text that have quotes from historical
figures, definitions, and “sidebars” with interesting information. Sometimes, set off
by an extra wide margin and noted you will see a short excerpt from a primary source,
embedded in the text. A primary source is an actual document from the historical time
period itself, an eyewitness account. Then there is a second section in each chapter
contains longer excerpts from “primary sources,” (They usually have a short introduction
in italics.) Finally, most chapters conclude with a third section of charts, timelines,
or maps.
Notes About Conventions and Such…
This text mostly occurs after the medieval period. The traditional, western
standard of time, which in the English speaking world is sometimes called BC which
stands for “Before Christ” and AD which stands for anno domini or the “year of our
Lord” and BC (Before Christ). The old usage underlines a historical event that is pivotal
to Western civilization, the birth of Christ. Lately, new terms have come into usage: BCE
(Before the Common [or Christian] Era) and CE (Common [or Christian] Era); those
these please those who prefer a more secular tone, the dates still numerically date from
the approximate birth of Jesus anyway.
Foreign names that have multiple spellings due to transliteration from non-Latin
alphabets use the most current, but generally accepted and familiar spelling, though
often other spellings may be equally acceptable and may or may not be included
parenthetically (e.g., the text uses Beijing, which has replaced Peking; it uses Quran,
instead of the older Koran or more obscure Qu’ran; yet it uses Bombay instead of the
newer spelling Mumbai, which is still unfamiliar to most readers; the text uses Muslim
though it is equally acceptable to use Moslem). The main goal is to avoid confusion,
though that is difficult in some cases. Where rulers are mentioned the abbreviation for
their reign or ruling period appears as an “r” (i.e., Alexander I, r.1801-1825 or Josef
Stalin r.1927-1952). The abbreviation “c” is for “about” (Latin, circa as in: Christ was
born c.4 BC). “B” is for born; “D” is for died. Dates that appear after a person with no
letters are life spans (e.g., Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844-1900).
I also recognize that this book, while talking about the globe, is often western
focused. In the past I have read several texts that claim to avoid ‘Eurocentrism,’ then
proceed to devote less than a third of their chapters to the non-western world. I have
tried to include a great deal on non-western cultures, but I also know it will fall short of
many people’s standards. Nevertheless, I believe it to be sufficient for a book that is
merely attempting a concise history for high school students engaged in a survey of
history. While I might have done more on the non-western world, another goal was to
make this a concise history. In the interest of brevity, I have chosen not to include much
social or artistic history, though I do touch on the big themes in those areas.
Finally, I have very consciously tried to avoid the stilted language of most texts
written by scholarly committees. Frankly most texts, while perhaps excellent repositories
of scholarship and data, are often tombs for academic language rather than a narrative to
excite the young reader. I have tried to use conversational and occasionally light-hearted
language to make this a “story well told.”
--------------------------I would like to thank my colleagues at Grants Pass High School, and especially
those in the humanities honors program for their inspiration, and I thank my students
for their enthusiasm – and their occasional chuckles. Several aides have helped edit this
work, most recently Blanca Mercedes Lewis, class of 2010. I especially thank my friend
and teaching partner Martin D. Zottola, who I have drafted into editing and improving
this writing project, and who has kept me engaged and interested in teaching and
creating. Any errors, grammatical, technical, or historical, are my responsibility and I
welcome the input of readers.
A. Frye
The Author
Andrew J. Frye (B.A. History, San Diego State University, 1989 and M.A. Liberal Studies
[Political Philosophy and History], Excelsior College, Albany, NY, 2003) is department chair of
Social Studies at Grants Pass High School in Grants Pass, OR. He has taught a wide variety of
courses including his ongoing collaboration in teaching a combined advanced world history and
literature course with Marty Zottola. Mr. Frye is a James Madison Fellow-Scholar and his
graduate work in politics, history, and philosophy included studies at Portland State University,
Georgetown University, and Exeter College at Oxford University. He is married to Theresa and
has two children, Hope and Wesley. He is adjunct faculty at Rogue Community College.
The Editor
Martin D. Zottola (B.S. Secondary Education 1988 and M.S. Humanities, 1996, Southern
Oregon University) is a writer and English teacher at Grants Pass High School. Mr. Zottola has
also done post-graduate work at Notre Dame University, where he studied the works of Blaise
Pascal, and at Oxford University. He is adjunct faculty in the areas of English and humanities at
Rogue Community College. Mr. Zottola has two grown sons, Marcus and Bart.
For Theresa, Hope, and Wesley....
Contact: A. Frye, c/o GPHS 830 NE 9th St. Grants Pass OR 97526 - [email protected]
The Quest
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
- W. Shakespeare As You Like It
Shakespeare’s immortal lines might apply to humans, but they may also apply to
the rise and fall of cultures in world history. Not surprisingly, a key premise of this book
is that the human story is not only a personal narrative, but the narrative of each culture,
each nation, and the human race as a whole.
At this stage (pardon the pun) in your life, you can empathize with the “schoolboy…creeping like snail unwillingly to school.” As we look at the story of humanity we’ll
meet rulers and soldiers “seeking the bubble reputation /Even in the cannon's mouth” as
well as more thoughtful scholars and statesmen “With eyes severe and beard of formal
cut / full of wise saws and modern instances.” But what is it about the drama of history
that makes it a worthwhile study?
History – Why Bother?
Why study history? (Yes, I know it’s a required subject, but that begs the question
– why?). We often hear various versions of 20th century philosopher George Santayana’s
saying about those who fail to understand the lessons of history being doomed to repeat
its mistakes. But most of us won’t be kings or have to decide whether or not to fight a
land war on the Asian continent.
Nevertheless the study of history is more relevant than you might think; it helps
us to comprehend the present, to have perspective beyond our own limited experience.
Consider this thought from the early 20th century rotund and jolly philosopher and
mystery writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton:
The disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the
present. History is a hill or high point of vantage, from which alone men see the
town in which they live or the age in which they are living.
In fact, advertisers, politicians, and movies are always citing history. Of course, they
often misquote or mis-state the facts (sometimes called lying), because they know that
history (or history as they wish it to be) can be persuasive.
Who controls the past, controls the present.
Who controls the present, controls the future.
- George Orwell, 1984
Or how about this critique of the teaching of history – and why the “so what” must
ultimately be why we study history?
Instruction in world history in the so-called high schools is even today in a very
sorry condition. Few teachers understand that the study of history can never be
to learn historical dates and events by heart and recite them by rote; that what
matters is not whether the child knows exactly when this battle or that was
fought, when a general was born, or even when a monarch (usually a very
insignificant one) came into the crown of his forefathers…this is very
unimportant. To 'learn' history means to seek and find the forces which are the
causes leading to those effects which we subsequently perceive as historical
Did you like that one? That’s from a nasty little book called Mein Kampf (My Struggle)
by Adolf Hitler.
How do historians know anything?
Historians want to be objective, we really, really do. The problem is, we historians
are not infallible, nor are we omniscient. We’re stuck with ourselves. We historians can’t
help but bring our own worldview to the table. On the other hand students of history
generally find that the average person has a highly romanticized version of the past – at
the very least, the student of history knows that the past was neither all bad nor all good,
but very human.
At the end of the day we humans can prove almost nothing. We can no more
prove evolution than creation; we can no more prove there was a Robin Hood than we
can prove there was an Abraham Lincoln. We must put faith in witnesses long dead and
interpretations of scraps and fragments of evidence – but isn’t that true of most things?
Instead of proof, perhaps we should consider the word plausible. When we say
something is true (“My grandmother loves me” or “King Henry VIII killed a couple of his
brides”) we are, in both cases, relying on the preponderance of evidence (“grandma says
so” and “the English history books say so”) and our own judgment of believability –
always with the possibility we may be, in part, wrong. The historian must remain open to
new interpretations or bits of evidence, though they can at least tell the story of history
with a measure of confidence – always balanced with humility.
But that is also the delight of history. It is a story with a million tales; one could
spend lifetimes studying and never know it all – and just when you think you do, you
find that the story has changed. It is a story so exciting that Hollywood plunders it for
plots; a story so odd and strange that it proves the old saying that truth is stranger than
fiction – and the truth of history is not always what we would like it to be.
“Truth, of course, must be stranger than fiction,
for we have made fiction to suit ourselves.”
G.K. Chesterton
This book will travel not only to different times, but different places and cultures. So we
should probably discuss that idea for a moment…
World Cultures and Worldviews
A culture is founded on the ideas of a people, expressed in a variety of ways
including law, language, customs, rituals, the arts, the routines of family and social life –
in short in all the methods of human expression. For example, the dominant cultural
traits and behaviors of Europe and areas predominantly settled by Europeans (including
the United States) are known as Western Civilization. We say “Western” from the
perspective of Greece, Rome, and the rest of Europe in contrast to the great civilizations
to the “east” such as Egypt (in the “Near East” or “Middle East”) and India and China in
the “Far East.”
The roots of Western Civilization go back to the Mediterranean region of the
world, back to two main worldviews: the philosophy of the Greeks and Romans and the
ethical beliefs of the Jews which were later adapted and redefined by Christianity. In
fact, the rise of European Christianity was the point at which Greco-Roman and Judaic
ideas converged to create the beginning of “the West.”1
We should also pause to define the very term worldview. The word itself comes
from the German philosopher Immanuel Kant [1724-1804] and in German the word
[Weltanschauung] literally means “world-outlook.” A worldview begins with the ideas or
presuppositions that every person and every culture uses to process their
experiences of the world. Everyone – whether they admit it or not – has a worldview;
our minds need a “starting point” to process experiences. Everyone must begin by
looking at the world with some presuppositions, if only of a belief or disbelief in the
order or coherence of the world, the possibility of knowing anything or nothing at all, or
the existence (or not) of something beyond the obvious. American scholar David Wells
elaborates the concept this way: “Worldviews are interpretive grids that enable us to
understand our experience, to read its meaning, to see it in a wider perspective. They
enable us to see the world as a whole and, in that light, to find meaning…Worldviews are
thus rooted in our understanding of what the world is.”
Though it should be noted that Christianity adapted and appeared in other cultures even before its
dominance of Europe; early Christianity was a faith with adherents in Africa, India, and Central Asia when
most Europeans were still pagan.
Each culture has a worldview (or a set of competing worldviews) that form the
foundation of that culture, though there may be competing or minority worldviews
within a culture as well. We might also use the words “religion” or “philosophy” or
“cultural attitudes,” but we really mean a generally accepted set of core beliefs and
assumptions about truth that a culture generally uses to interpret experiences. To
understand the past or to understand a culture in the present, it is essential to know
something about their worldview. Worldviews can be studied by asking how a religion, a
culture, a philosopher or a person (yep, that means you too) answers these basic
1. What is prime reality? What is the most real thing by which we measure the
truth of everything else? Or if I can flip the question: “What is the most True
thing by which we shall judge whether other things are real?” Whether you know
it or not you have a standard, an absolute by which you judge things to be really
real. We continually make these determinations. Is that oncoming car real? Is
that really the best way to get to my destination? Will that shirt really make me
look attractive to the opposite sex? Is that really not butter? That ultimate
standard of reality which we might call “prime reality.” Most of you might
respond like the 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson, who kicked a rock
and declared “That’s how I decide what is real!” But, as a Buddhist might argue,
how does Samuel Johnson know he exists, that senses are trustworthy, or that
this all isn’t a dream? Why does anything exist at all? (Of course, there is the old
story about the philosophy student who asked “Professor, how do I know I exist?”
The professor replied, “And whom should I say is asking?”).
2. Who am I? It’s logical that after we decide how we shall judge reality we ask
ourselves who we are. Indeed, Socrates once said that the root of philosophy was
to “know thyself.” If we are not thoughtful then it is very hard to live a meaningful
life; Henry David Thoreau warned us “the unexamined life isn’t worth living.” As
we study the nature of our own existence we naturally wonder about the behavior
and essence of other humans; this is the question of human nature. This can
lead us to other questions like “Am I just physical or do I have a soul?” “Am I free
or a puppet of forces beyond my control?” “Why am I here?” “Are we are all the
same / equal?” “Should I go to college or be a rapper and barista?” and “What is
my purpose?” and “How did we get here?” For many, that leads to…
3. What about god? In the words of 20th century philosopher Mortimer Adler,
“More consequences for life and action follow from the affirmation or denial of
God than any other basic question.” Theology is the study of the nature of the
spiritual or metaphysical – that reality which lies [perhaps] beyond the physical
stuff of matter. If there is a god, it is only logical that we should seek to find out
about god’s/the gods nature and attributes, so the question follows: what can
we know about god?2
Indeed, people who don’t believe in god will still often tell all about the nature and characteristics of the
god they say isn’t there; as G.K. Chesterton joked, “If there were no god, there would be no atheists.”
4. How do I know what is true? (Of course, academics have fancy words for
all these things – the “study of how we know that we know what we know” is
called epistemology.) At the simplest level we either know because…
1. Logic
2. Intuition
3. Experience
4. Revelation
…or some combination of those things. Some people might declare that “there is
no truth,” but they have immediately broken their own rule; that is it itself a truth
statement. One of the key principles of logic is the law of non- contradiction,
one of the foundations of logic cited by Plato, Aristotle, and the medieval Muslim
philosopher Avicenna. Simply put, two contradictory propositions cannot be
simultaneously true (though they may both be untrue when compared to a third
contradictory proposition). Avicenna (or Abu Ali ibnSina Balkhi of Persia, 9801037) put it this way in his Metaphysics, a comment on Aristotle: “Anyone who
denies the law of non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits
that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the
same as not to be burned.” And they say philosophers lack passion.
5. How do we explain the world being here at all? German philosopher
Martin Heidegger once said that the only real question that matters was, “why
does anything exist at all?” Make no mistake, the origin of existence is not merely
a question for scientists; what we believe about where we came from is vital to
understanding who we are and our belief about why we are here at all.
6. What’s the purpose of life? You might have guessed that philosophers
have a special word for this: teleology is the study of purpose,3 Is there a point
to the story of history, or is it all “sound and fury, signifying nothing”?4 The
Greeks noted that the fact of our death – human mortality – is the eternal fact
that focuses us on deeper things. How does this all end? Is it, as Shakespeare
seems to say, merely a brief appearance on stage where we will exit as we came
in? Put another way, how do we live “the good life” or, yet another way, what
direction do we run as we “pursue happiness?”
7. What is good, virtuous, and beautiful; and – conversely – what is
evil? The answers to those questions are called Ethics which, by the way,
becomes law when enacted by a society. (See there is a practical side to this
philosophizing.) Thus, as we study the laws and government of a culture or era,
we gain powerful insight into its worldview.
8. Why is the world broken…and is there hope to change that
condition? No one that we would call sane believes that the world is perfect; we
all have the deep knowledge that some things in this world are “gone wrong” –
which implies that there is a “right” (a wholeness) to which we are comparing the
wrong (or broken) world. Some call this Eden; some call it a “state of innocence.”
How do we “get back to the garden” (to quote hippie crooner Joni Mitchell)? Is
Teleos [Greek] refers to an archery target – what’s the point – literally!
From Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
there any hope to save humankind from suffering? If there is such a hope, then
logically it could define virtue, clarify ethics, and guide the actions of virtuous
men and women in their quest for the good life.
These are the questions asked and answered every person, consciously or
subconsciously (yes even you), the questions of philosophy, questions answered or at
least grappled with to some extent by the study of history. The answers to those
questions constitute a “worldview.” Even if we don’t ever think we are thinking about
philosophy, we live out our worldview or philosophy in our every action.
Studying a variety of cultures and worldviews broadens our perspective. In fact,
studying other views does not necessarily lead to despair about knowing truth but rather
it clarifies our own worldview and can cause us to become more certain of what we hold
true. It also helps us refine our understanding of truth. “A man who has lived in many
places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village,” said the 20th
century literary historian C.S. Lewis. “The scholar has lived in many times and is
therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from
the press…of his own age.”
So, history can give us a perspective on our own times, our heritage, our selves,
and why things are the way they are. And it is better understood by understanding the
causes and forces that are afoot in the world. But additionally, history is a story, a
narrative of the human experience. As such, it tells us about who we are as human
beings, offering us insight into human nature; we may argue that history is the
laboratory of human nature. Put another way, “History,” said the 18th century Lord
Henry Bolingbrooke, “is philosophy teaching by example.” What you are about to read
and learn is not just the dead past, but the lively story of man’s quest for answers, for the
answer. The famous American historian Will Durant wrote, “We shall learn more of the
nature of man through [studying the] centuries than by reading Plato and Aristotle,
Spinoza and Kant.” Though, gentle reader, I will confess that you may leave this book
with more questions than answers.
Why Quest?
Since homo sapiens first appeared, they have been restless creatures. The Book of
Genesis tells the tale of how humans could not leave the tree of the knowledge of Good
and Evil alone, and thus fell from grace. The Greeks told the story of the ever curious
Pandora, whose restless curiosity caused her to open a forbidden box, releasing evil into
the world. Obviously, these cautionary tales remind us that the restless human quest has
been stained by tragedy, greed, suffering, and disaster.
But that same searching spirit has caused us to tap in to the “better angels of our
nature” as Abraham Lincoln phrased it. Our quest for truth has caused us to seek the
divine, seek knowledge, seek science, seek new lands, seek understanding, and seek a
better way to live. In the end the story of human civilizations is the story of humanity’s
ongoing, restless, curious quest for a better world. These quests are sometimes
misguided and disastrous, sometimes saintly or scientific, sometimes successful,
sometimes a failure – but never dull. History is the ongoing story that is stranger and
more intriguing than any Hollywood tale.
Here then is the story of the human quest for truth and civilization. Have we
arrived at our holy grail? Will we ever reach our goal? You, fair reader, are left to answer
those questions. You’ll meet characters of all sizes, creeds, proportions, colors, and
styles; some are villainous while some are noble, some are profound, some are heroic,
some are hopeful, some are hopeless, some are fools, and some are comic – but all make
up the story of the human Quest.
Philosophy for the Schoolroom
by G.K. Chesterton
Gilbert Keith Chesterton was a prolific writer, journalist, and speaker
in late 19th and early 20th century England. He inspired Gandhi and
Orwell, befriended his most adamant enemies, and was famous for
debating with humor and his absent mindedness. He is notorious for his
love of paradoxes and his quotability.
[A] What modern people want to be made to understand is simply that all argument begins with an
assumption; that is, with something that you do not doubt. You can, of course, if you like, doubt the
assumption at the beginning of your argument, but in that case you are beginning a different
argument with another assumption at the beginning of it. Every argument begins with an infallible
dogma, and that infallible dogma can only be disputed by falling back on some other infallible
dogma; you can never prove your first statement or it would not be your first. All this is the alphabet
of thinking. And it has this special and positive point about it, that it can be taught in a school, like
the other alphabet. Not to start an argument without stating your postulates could be taught in
philosophy as it is taught in Euclid, in a common schoolroom with a blackboard. And I think it
might be taught in some simple and rational degree even to the young, before they go out into the
streets and are delivered over entirely to the logic and philosophy of the Daily Mail.
[B] Much of our chaos about religion and doubt arises from this - that our modern skeptics always
begin by telling us what they do not believe. But even in a skeptic we want to know first what he
does believe. Before arguing, we want to know what we need not argue about. And this confusion is
infinitely increased by the fact that all the skeptics of our time are skeptics at different degrees of the
dissolution of skepticism.
[C] Now you and I have, I hope, this advantage over all those clever new philosophers - that we
happen not to be mad. All of us believe in St. Paul's Cathedral; most of us believe in St. Paul. But let
us clearly realize this fact, that we do believe in a number of things which are part of our existence,
but which cannot be demonstrated. Leave religion for the moment wholly out of the question. All
sane men, I say, believe firmly and unalterably in a certain number of things which are unproved and
unprovable. Let us state them roughly.
(1) Every sane man believes that the world around him and the people in it are real, and not his own
delusion or dream. No man starts burning London in the belief that his servant will soon wake him
for breakfast. But that I, at any given moment, am not in a dream, is unproved and unprovable. That
anything exists except myself is unproved and unprovable.
(2) All sane men believe that this world not only exists, but matters. Every man believes there is a
sort of obligation on us to interest ourselves in this vision or panorama of life. He would think a man
wrong who said, "I did not ask for this farce and it bores me. I am aware that an old lady is being
murdered down-stairs, but I am going to sleep." That there is any such duty to improve the things we
did not make is a thing unproved and unprovable.
(3) All sane men believe that there is such a thing as a self, or ego, which is continuous. There is no
inch of my brain matter the same as it was ten years ago. But if I have saved a man in battle ten years
ago, I am proud; if I have run away, I am ashamed. That there is such a paramount "I" is unproved
and unprovable. But it is more than unproved and unprovable; it is definitely disputed by many
(4) Lastly, most sane men believe, and all sane men in practice assume, that they have a power of
choice and responsibility for action…Surely it might be possible to establish some plain, dull
statement such as the above, to make people see where they stand. And if the youth of the future
must not (at present) be taught any religion, it might at least be taught, clearly and firmly, the three or
four sanities and certainties of human free thought.
Francis Bacon
Famous for declaring “Knowledge is power”, Bacon (1561-1626) was an
advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, a pioneer of the scientific method and
accused (perhaps correctly) of embezzling, though he
escaped the queen’s executioner. He is considered one
of the founding minds of the modern, rational age and
yet, like most leaders of the Renaissance and
Scientific Revolution, he considered himself to be a
devout Christian. He died of pneumonia after stuffing
snow into a chicken carcass in an early attempt at
freezing leftovers.
The following excerpts are from his “Essays or
Counsels, Civil and Moral.”
Studies serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability. Their chief use for delight, is in privateness
and retiring; for ornament, is in discourse [conversation]; and for ability, is in the judgment, and
disposition of business. For expert men can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars, one by one;
but the general counsels, and the plots and marshalling of affairs, come best, from those that are
learned. To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is
affectation [showing off]; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar. They
perfect nature, and are perfected by experience: for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need
proving, by study; and studies themselves, do give forth directions too much at large, except they be
bounded in by experience.
Crafty [as in scheming low-lifes] men contemn [despise] studies, simple men admire them, and wise
men use them; for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them,
won by observation. Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to
find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be
swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts;
others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and
attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others5; but that
would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books, else distilled books are
like common distilled waters, flashy things. Reading maketh a full [complete] man; conference
[discussion] a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man write little, he had need
have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had
need have much cunning, to seem to know, that he doth not. Histories make men wise; poets witty;
the mathematics subtle; natural philosophy [science] deep; moral philosophy grave; logic and rhetoric
[the art of verbal argument] able to contend.... Nay, there is no impediment in the wit, but may be
Bacon did not, as far as we know, have access to Cliff’s notes.
wrought out by fit studies; like as diseases of the body, may have appropriate exercises. Bowling is
good for the stone and reins; shooting for the lungs and breast; gentle walking for the stomach;
riding for the head; and the like. So if a man's wit be wandering, let him study the mathematics; for in
demonstrations, if his wit be called away never so little, he must begin again. If his wit be not apt to
distinguish or find differences, let him study the schoolmen; if he be not apt to beat over matters,
and to call up one thing to prove and illustrate another, let him study the lawyers' cases. So every
defect of the mind, may have a special receipt [remedy].
HAT is truth? said jesting Pilate(1), and would not stay for an answer. Certainly
there be [those] that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief;
affecting [seeming to believe in] free-will in thinking, as well as in acting. And
though the sects of philosophers of that kind be gone (2), yet there remain certain
discoursing wits, which are of the same veins, though there be not so much blood
in them, as was in those of the ancients.
… A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of
men's minds, vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the
like, but it would leave the minds, of a number of men, poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and
indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves? … But it is not the lie that passes through the mind, but
the lie that sinks in, and settles in it, that doth the hurt; such as we spoke of before. But, howsoever
these things are thus in men's depraved judgments, and affections, yet truth, which only judges itself,
teaches that the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making, or wooing of it, the knowledge of truth,
which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good
of human nature.
…I had rather believe all the fables in the Legend, and the Talmud, and the Quran, than that this
universal frame is without a mind. And therefore, God never wrought miracle, to convince atheism,
because his ordinary works convince it. It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man's mind to
atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion. For while the mind of man
looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it
beholdeth the chain of them, confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and
Deity... The great atheists, indeed are hypocrites; which are ever handling holy things, but without
feeling; so as they must needs be cauterized in the end.
The causes of atheism are: divisions in religion, if they be many; for any one main division, addeth
zeal to both sides; but many divisions introduce atheism. Another is, scandal of priests; A third is,
custom of profane scoffing in holy matters; which doth, by little and little, deface the reverence of
religion. And lastly, learned times, specially with peace and prosperity; for troubles and adversities do
more bow men's minds to religion. They that deny a God, destroy man's nobility; for certainly man is
of kin to the beasts, by his body; and, if he be not of kin to God, by his spirit, he is a base and
ignoble creature. It destroys likewise magnanimity, and the raising of human nature…
(1) Pilate was the Roman governor who tried Christ; when Christ claimed to represent truth, Pilate glibly asked,
“What is truth?”
(2) Here Bacon refers to ancient thinkers.