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Cosmic Consciousness, by Richard Maurice Bucke, [1901], at

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Roger Bacon.

1214–1294 (?).

Neither this nor any other man should be classed among the members of the new race because he had an extraordinary wit, for some of the greatest human intellects are clearly outside Cosmic Consciousness; neither would any extraordinary development of this faculty alone lead a man into it. It is not, then, because of his intelligence, extraordinary as this seems to have been, that the question, Was Roger Bacon a case of Cosmic Consciousness? is raised here. On the other hand, unfortunately, no details, such as instantaneous illumination or the subjective light, have come down to us as having existed in this case. All we have are references of Bacon's to a certain "Master Peter," from whom he received extraordinary assistance in his philosophical work. And the question is, Does not this Master Peter bear the same relation to Bacon that Christ bore to Paul, Beatrice to Dante, Seraphita to Balzac, Gabriel to Mohammed? For we must never forget the essential quality of the Cosmic Conscious mind.

This, then, according to Charles [58], is the way matters stood between Bacon and Master Peter. Let each judge for himself who or what Master Peter may have been. Charles has been speaking of the intellectual stir and life of the time, and goes on: "In the midst of it all under what flag shall the Oxford student fight? What master shall he choose among so many illustrious doctors? He contemplates at its most brilliant focus this science of which his contemporaries are so proud, and the sentiment he feels is not enthusiasm but scorn. He listens to the most eloquent voices, but for master he chooses not an Alexander of Hales, or an Albert, but an obscure person of whom history knows nothing. This apparent renaissance seems to him a veritable decadence. To him these Dominicans and Franciscans are ignorant men when compared with Robert de Lincoln and his friends, and the moderns

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generally barbarians as contrasted with the Greeks and the Arabs. Experience, he thinks, is worth more than all the writings of Aristotle, and a little grammar and mathematics more useful than all the metaphysics of the schools. So he applied himself passionately to these disdained sciences. He learns Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee—four languages—in an age in which Albert knew only one of them and in which St. Thomas is glad to use the bad translations of William de Morbeke. He reads with avidity the books of the ancients, studies mathematics, alchemy, optics. Before reforming the education of his age he reconstructs his own education, and to this end associates himself with mathematicians and obscure savants in preference to the most renowned philosophers. Alexander de Hales inspires him with nothing but scorn. Albert, in his eyes, is ignorant and presumptuous, and his influence fatal to the epoch over which its dominance extends. William of Auvergne alone merits respect. The friends whom he values are less celebrated persons—William of Shirwood, according to him, much more learned than Albert; Campano de Novarre, mathematician and arithmetician; Nicolas, tutor of Amansy de Montfort; John of London, believed by Jeff to be John Peckham, and, above all, the most unknown, according to him, the most learned of the men of that time, him whom he venerates as his master, admires as the living example of true science and whom he names 'Master Peter.'

"If we judge by the portrait Bacon has drawn of him, this is a singular person. Master Peter is a solitary, as careful to avoid renown as others to seek it; taking pains to veil and hide his science from men, and who refuses men the truth which they are not worthy to receive. Master Peter does not belong to any of the powerful church orders of the day; he does not teach, and desires neither students nor admirers; he shuns the importunity of the vulgar. He is proud, and to his disdain of the crowd he unites an immense faith in himself. He lives isolated, content with the mental wealth he has, which he could multiply many times if he desired so to do. Did he deign to fill a professor's chair the whole world would come to Paris to hear him; should he be willing to

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attach himself to some sovereign no treasury could pay the value of his marvellous science. But he despises the mass made up of madmen tainted with the subtleties of law, charlatans who by their sophisms dishonor philosophy, render medicine ridiculous and falsify theology itself. The most clear-sighted of them are blind, or should they make vain efforts to use their eyes the truth dazzles them. They are like bats in the twilight—the less light there is the better they see. He alone looks face to face at the radiant sun. Hidden in a retreat which gives him security with silence, Master Peter leaves to others long discourses and the war of words to give himself up to the study of chemistry, the natural sciences, mathematics, medicine, and, above all, experience, of which he alone in this age realizes the importance. His disciple salutes him by the name of 'Master of Experience,' which replaces in his case the ambitious and sonorous titles of the other doctors.

"Experience reveals to him the secrets of nature, the curative art, celestial phenomena and their relation to those of earth; he disdains nothing and does not shrink from applying science to the realities of the common earth; he would blush if he found a layman, an old woman, a soldier or a peasant better informed than himself in matters that concern each.

"To cast and forge metals, to manipulate silver, gold and all minerals, * to invent deadly instruments of war, new arms, to make a science of agriculture and of the labor of the rustic, not to neglect surveying nor the art of building, to seek with diligence the basis of truth hidden even under the charms of the sorcerer, under the impostures and artifices of jugglers—this is the work to which he has devoted his life. He has examined all, learned all, separated everywhere the true from the false, and through the void and sterile wilderness has discovered a practicable route. Is it desired to hasten the progress of science 2 Here is the only man equal to the task. Should he make up his mind to divulge his secrets, kings and princes would crown him with honors and gifts,

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and in an expedition against the infidel he would render more service to St. Louis than half—yes, than all—his army. *

"It is from this great unknown, this undiscovered genius, whose name has remained unregistered in the history of science, that (according to him) Bacon learned languages, astronomy, mathematics, experimental science, everything, in fact, that he knew. Compared with this Master Peter, the students, professors, writers, masters, thinkers of the universities were dull, lumpish, insensate [compare Paul, Bacon, Behmen, Mohammed; it is indeed the universal testimony that when the Cosmic Sense appears the wisdom of self consciousness is reduced to dust and ashes]. The piety of Bacon toward his unknown master ought to rescue this latter from the obscurity in which he is buried, but it seems impossible to identify him among the infinite number of savants of the same name who are to be found in the catalogues" [58:14 et seq.].


271:* "In the labor of engines and trades and the labor of fields I find the developments, and find the eternal meanings" [193: 169].

272:* The above account of Master Peter is collected by Charles from Bacon's "Opus Tertium," "Opus Minus," his "De Septem Peccatis," and other works.

Next: Chapter 8. Blaise Pascal