If any philosophers have written of these subjects—as I make no question or doubt but they have—of all that Nature hath discovered, either in mere thought and speculation, or other ways in observation, yet it is more than I know of. For I never read nor heard of any English book to instruct me, and truly I understand no other language—not French, although I was in France five years, neither do I understand my own native language very well, for there are many words I know not what they signify, so as1 I have only the vulgar part: I mean, that which is most usually spoke. I do not mean that which is used to be spoke by clowns in every shire, where in some parts their language is known to none but those that are bred there. And not only every shire hath a several language, but every family, giving marks for things according to their fancy. But my2 ignorance of the mother tongues, in which learning is propagated,3 makes me ignorant of the opinions and discourses in former times, wherefore I may be absurd and err grossly. I cannot say I have not heard of atoms, and figures, and motion, and matter—but not throughly reasoned on. But if I do err, it is no great matter, for my discourse of them is not to be accounted authentic. So, if there be anything worthy of noting,4 it is a good chance; if not, there is no harm done, nor time lost. For I had nothing to do when I wrote it, and I suppose those have nothing or little else to do that read it. And the reason why I write it in verse is because I thought errors might better pass there than in prose—since poets write most fiction, and fiction is not given for truth, but pastime—and I fear my atoms will be as small pastime as themselves, for nothing can be less than an atom. But my desire that they should please the readers is as big as the world they make, and my fears are of the same bulk. Yet my hopes fall to a single atom again, and so shall I remain an unsettled atom, or a confused heap, till I hear my censure. If I be praised it fixes them, but if I am condemned I shall be annihilated to nothing. But my ambition is such, that5 I would either be a world, or nothing.
I desire all that are not quick in apprehending, or will not trouble themselves with such small things as atoms, to skip this part of my book and view the other, for fear these6 may seem tedious; yet7 the subject is8 light and the chapters short. Perchance the other may please better; if not the second, the third; if not the third, the fourth; if not the fourth, the fifth. And if they cannot please for lack of wit, they may please in9 variety, for most palates are greedy after change. And though they are not of the choicest meats, yet there is none dangerous; neither is there so much of particular meat, that10 any can fear a surfeit; but the better pleased you are, the better welcome. I wish heartily my brain had been richer, to make you a fine entertainment: truly I should have spared no cost, neither have I spared any pains. For my thoughts have been very busily employed these eight or nine months when they have not been taken away by worldly cares and trouble, which I confess hath been a great hinderance to this work. Yet have they sat up late, and risen early, running about until they have been in a fiery heat, so as their service hath not been wanton, nor their industry slack. What is amiss, excuse it as a fault of too much care, for there may be faults committed with being over-busy, as soon as for want of diligence. But those that are poor, have nothing but their labor to bestow, and though I cannot serve you on agate tables and Persian carpets with golden dishes and crystal glasses, nor feast you with ambrosia and nectar, yet perchance my rye loaf and new butter may taste more savory than those that are sweet and delicious.
If you dislike, and rise to go away,
Pray do not scoff, and tell what I did say.
But if you do, the matter is not great,
For ’tis but foolish words you can repeat.
Pray do not censure all you do not know,
But let my atoms to the learnèd go.
If y’judge11 and understand not, you may take
For nonsense that which learning sense will make.
But I may say, as some have said before, 5
I’m not to12 fetch you wit from Nature’s store.