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Of Innovations

As the births of living creatures at first are ill-shapen, so are all Innovations, which are the births of time. Surely every medicine is an innovation; and he that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator; and if time of course alter things to the worse, and wisdom and counsel shall not alter them to the better, what shall be the end? It is true, that what is settled by custom, though it be not good, yet at least it is fit: and those things which have long gone together, are as it were confederate within themselves; whereas new things piece not so well; but though they help by their utility, yet they trouble by their inconformity. All this is true, if time stood still; which transversely moves so round, that a obstinate retention of custom is as turbulent a thing as an innovation; and they that reverence too much old times, are but a scorn to the new.

It were good therefore that men in their innovations would follow the example of time itself; which indeed innovates greatly, but quietly, and by degrees scarce to be perceived. It is good also not to try experiments in states, except the necessity be urgent, or the utility evident; and well to beware that it be the reformation that draws on the change, and not the desire of change that simulates the refor-mation. And lastly, that the novelty, though it be not rejected, yet be held for a suspect; and, as the Scripture saith, 'that we make a stand upon the ancient way, and then look about us, and discover what is the straight and right way, and so to walk in it.'

Who wrote this essay, and when? Send your answers to Eleanor Glor.

Response: Hippocrates?

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With thanks to Jean-Pierre Leduc, Canadian Foreign Service Institute, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canada.

Updated May 27, 2002

Last updated: November 2009