Page images
[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

tion of oracles, and Friar Bacon's brazen | temporally considereth all things. Our fathers head that spoke. He very worthily labors, find their graves in our short memories, and likewise, to set right the minds of the un

sadly tell us how we may be buried in our educated common people, on the river Nile,

survivors. Grave-stones tell truth scarce forty “ theme of many fables," and makes some

years. Generations pass while some trees

stand, and old families last not three oaks. To very sage observations and discoveries re

be read by bare inscriptions, like many in Gruter, specting the aged and venerable Methuse- to hope for eternity by enigmatical epithets, or lah. He deems the romantic wish of the first letters of our naines, to be studied by antiancient Philoxenus (that he might have the quaries who we were, and have new names neck of a crane) worthy of a dissertation, given us, like many of the mummies, are cold and indulges his imaginative and con

consolations unto the students of perpetuity, jecture-loving mind in threading some of even by everlasting languages.

“ To be content that times to come should the mysterious mazes of Gipsy history.

only know there was such a man, not caring From all this variety of disquisition we whether they know more of him, was a frigid get an idea, it is true, of the singular cast ambition in Cardan; disparaging of his horoand complexion of the author's mind-an scopal inclination and judgment of himself, insight of his " hidden life” and his pecu

+ who cares to subsist, like Hippocrates' patients, liar intellectual constitution, such as we

or Achilles' horses, in Homer, under naked could less clearly obtain from the Religio

nominations, without deserts and noble acts,

which are the balsam of our memories, the enMedici alone. We need to take it into the

telechia and soul of our subsistences ? To be account, therefore, in forming a conception nameless in worthy deeds exceeds an infamous of Browne's intellectual character, and even history. The Canaanitish woman lives more in rightly understanding and justly esti happily without a name than Herodias with one. mating that earlier work itself. But to ac And who had not rather have been the good

thief, than Pilate? cept it as a type of his genius, would be manifestly an error.

" But the iniquity of oblivion blindly scatter

eth her poppy, and deals with the memory of Strictly characteristic—full of sublime

men without distinction to mer

of perpetuity : contemplations and manifold learning-—as who can but pity the founder of the pyramids ? is the 'TIydiotaphia, it is not, perhaps, Herostratus lives, that burnt the temple of Dimuch nearer to a true representation of ana; he is almost lost that built it: time hath the distinctive qualities of this celebrated

spared the epitaph of Adrian's horse; confound

ed that of himself. In vain we compute our scholar. The subject is one that admits of

felicities by the advantage of our good names, no general unfalding of the author's inner

since bad have equal durations ; and Therself. Modes of burial and funeral cere

sites is like to live as long as Agamemnon, monies appropriately attach to themselves without the favor of the everlasting register. a degree of importance, since they nearly Who knows whether the best of men be known? touch the affections and the self-medita or whether there be not more remarkable men tions of all human beings. The occasion

forgot than any that stand remembered in the which such topics afford for moralizing, of

account of time? Without the favor of the à grand and elevated description, could

everlasting register, the first man had been as

unknown as the last, and Methuselali's long life not have fallen to a better pen than that of

had been his only chronicle. Sir Thomas Browne. Some of the noblest “..... Darkness and light divide the and most eloquent passages of all, occur in course of time, and oblivion shares with memthis work. Especially those characteristic ory a great part even of our living beings; we words upon Oblivion, (we can quote but a slightly remember our felicities, and the smart

est strokes of affiction leave but short smart part, though the full effect cannot be obtained without the whole,) we remember,

upon us. Sense endureth no extremities. and

sorrows destroy us or themselves. To weep first stole over our own mind like the har

into stones are fables. Afflictions induce calmonies of some solemn and wonderful

losities ; miseries are slippery, or fall like snow music, far away in the distance,—to haunt upon us, which, notwithstanding, is no untappy the memory, at intervals, forever after stupidity. To be ignorant of evils to come, and ward.

forgetful of evils past, is a merciful provision in

nature, whereby we digest the mixture of our " Circles and right lines," says he,“ limit and few and evil days; and our delivered senses not close all bodies, and the mortal right-lined cir relapsing into cutting remembrances, our sorcle must conclude and shut up all. There is rows are not kept raw by the edge of repetitions. no antidote against the opium of time, which | A great part of 'antiquity contented their hopes


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


of subsistency with a transmigration of their We accordingly look for no insane rhapsouls—a good way to continue their memories, sodies—for none of the ecstatic raptures of while, having the advantage of plural successions, they could not but act something re

an Ignatius Loyola or a St. Theresa—for markable in such variety of beings; and, enjoy

none of the sickly "experiences" of a John ing the fame of their passed selves, make ac- Bunyan. Morbid fanaticism and morose cumulation of glory to their last durations. religionism, we well know, could have no Others, rather than be lost in the uncomfortable place in the mind of a man so educated, night of nothing, were content to recede into and bred to such habits. Browne was the common being, and make one particle of trained in the Church of England, and acthe public soul of all things, which was no more than to return into their unknown and customed to sober views of its nature, divine original again. Egyptian ingenuity was

doctrines, and polity. Christianity was more unsatisfied, contriving their bodies in not to him a bundle of wild and enthusiassweet consistencies to attend the return of their tic notions, nor the Christian life an unsouls. But all was vanity, feeding the wind, ceasing effort after self-torture and distorand folly: The Egytian mummies, which time tion. To that part of the world with whom or Cambyses hath spared, avarice now con- religion is something to be exhibited, and sumeth. Mummy is become merchandise :-Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharoah is sold

worn for a show-a matter to be inconsidfor balsams."

erately obtruded upon everybody's notice,

and forced into every incongruous conThe “Christian Morals” would seem to nection with everything to which it has no be designed especially as a legacy to the proper relation-Browne might very natyoung, whose character is unformed, and urally appear as anything but a religious to whom the world is new and untried.

For my religion,” he admits, Embodying as it does a rich fund of men- therefore, at the very outset, there be tal experience, we may draw from it much several circumstances that might persuade in confirmation or elucidation of what is the world I have none at all.” And that elsewhere less perfectly exhibited. It is such always has been, always will be, and replete with maxims of true wisdom—nor always ought to be, the judgment of cerdoes it want the brilliancy of setting and tain people respecting the most truly religithe occasional smoothness of polish, which ous men, we regard as a circumstance no are found in the earlier and more general less fortunate than it is inevitable. A reworks.

ligion that can be paraded with effect, and To speak of the Religio Medici as strict- made available for the admiration of the ly a confession of the religious faith of a vulgar, is a very different affair from that physician, would be to narrow the work to which we have ever applied the name, or within limits to which it was never meant ever mean to. And if any reader has been to be confined. It oversteps the bounda so rash as to take up this book of Sir ries so prescribed, in the direction of almost Thomas Browne, expecting to find in it a every other great topic of human contem- gratification for any sickly craving of this plation, and so becomes a general record of sort, or from so unworthy a motive as seekthe inner experience and observation of a ing a subject for ridicule in the blind and scholar. It is as such a work, that it has ignorant observations of a sombre religionattained, and still maintains, a universal ist, he probably encountered a startling disreputation. Without any technical the appointment. ology, and in no sense controversial or We have said that the real life of the proselytic, it becomes, in its religious aspect scholar is mainly hidden—that in external, alone, deeply interesting to all for whom palpable incidents, it is barren and unimthe great concerns of human life, and the portant. Could we but have the interior bigher destinies of man, afford any subject history of such a man as John Milton, or for earnest and solicitous inquiry. The Jeremy Taylor, or of one of the chief phititle itself is captivating, for the very reason losophers of ancient times, we might well that the medical profession have in general dispense with whole libraries else, that so little repute, (not altogether justly,) for would, indeed, in such a case, become useany particular relish of the loftier range of less. Shakspeare, in his Sonnets, is thought spiritual contemplations, and for the consid- to have given us some transient glimpses of erations that transcend the region of matter. I what had gone on in his spirit, unseen by all

eyes, and scarcely surmised, perhaps, by characteristic—softened and shadowed as those most nearly about him. But those it is, by a respectful deference to the opinfew gleams do little more than to reveal ions of others, and a mild and habitual the immense sum of experience to which all charity. A high self-respect is easily clue is cut off. The works of this kind are mistaken by the undiscriminating for an rare and of little consequence; nor can the irrational vanity and conceit; and the ReReligio Medici be assumed as anything ligio Medici, which exhibits this objectionamore than a very remote (though agreea- ble trait rather more strongly than any of ble) approximation—that rather suggests his subsequent works, can well be excused what might have been done by the author, for all such appearances, on the ground and what we could have most heartily that a work of the character therein prowished him to do, than satisfies the curi- posed could not be made to assume a form osity and strong desire which it awakens. which should preclude a large amount of

The style of this, as of all other works personality. of Sir Thomas Browne, is peculiar, and has That this work was never intended to be been a topic of much animadversion. That given to the public, until after it was pubits peculiarities are not in any sense attrib- lished without any formal sanction of the utable to the period at which he wrote, author, is doubtless too broad a statement will at once be seen by comparison with to be strictly correct. It has every intercontemporary authors, such as Owen nal appearance of having been intended, Felltham, Abraham Cowley, and John sooner or later, for at least a wider circuMilton. It has an elevated and independ- lation than amongst his own particular ent tone, indeed, like the prose of Milton, friends ; nor does it need to be defended but without any of its rich harmony and from any defects on such a ground. evenly sustained grandeur. Both are char The obscurity of many of his expressions acterized by much learning, both have and the remoteness of his allusions, in some given currency to many words new-coined cases, are features of his style that grow from the Latin and Greek. But that which directly and unavoidably out of his own with Milton seems to have sprung sponta- peculiar nature. Of a reserved habit, manineously from his own creative genius, festly, and a covert manner of thinking, deeply familiarized with those ancient lan- his writing must necessarily partake of guages, in Browne can hardly escape the those qualities. The plane of his life was imputation of pedantry. And though the elevated far above the mass of men about quaintness with which he is justly charged him. However universal his charity, his seemed to have become an easy and regu- sympathy went not with the multitude. lar habit, it has still an air of affectation, An austere dignity, a heroic virtue, and a to which we are obliged to extend some lofty contemplation, shut out from his degree of forbearance. That a writer mind one half of the great interests of the should avoid any eccentricities of manner, human race, and tended to foster a serene in so far as it is possible, is a no less evident and exalted self-admiration. He speaks requisite to good standing in letters than more than once of the “retired and solitary to a favorable reception in society. Ego- imagination,” which was the prevailing tism of manner as well as of speech-temper and condition of his mind; and and much more any degree of indifference even while disavowing “that father-sin, to the sentiments and feelings of those pride,” discloses quite plainly enough that about us that exceeds this-amounts to he entertained an exalted and habitual positive impoliteness, and betrays the want sense of superiority. What lofty aims he of a gentle disposition and breeding proposed to himself, and with what a Browne's offences of style do not, by any steady, ever-constant purpose, he set about means, amount to such a degree of enor the attainment of what he deemed the mity. There is nothing in his writings like highest perfection of human nature, may a studied contempt of conventional forms, be easily gathered from certain precepts or an attachment to oddity for its own laid down in his “ Christian Morals." There sake. And though he is certainly charge is a heroism about such a scheme of life, able with some degree of egotism, we can and such a devotion to true manliness, not attribute it to him as a predominating / which we cannot but admire, little as its

[ocr errors]

coldness and austerity win upon our | dred to genius essentially is,) in a large affection.

sense, superior to his time, and unsuscepti

ble-encased in the pride of exalted aspira“ Live unto the dignity of thy nature, and

tion-of any decisive influence therefrom. leave it not disputable at last, whether thou hast been a man; or since thou art a composi- ature of two centuries ago with that of the

Any one who has compared the litertion of man and beast, how thou hast predominantly passed thy days, to state the denomina- present, very readily marks a grand distion.

Be not under any brutal tinction between the two periods, both in metempsychosis while thou livest, and walkest the level from which the work issues, and about erectly under the scheme of man. ... the tone with which its contemplations are Let thy thoughts be of things which have not en

uttered. Literature has grown democratic. tered into the hearts of beasts; think of things long past and long to come; acquaint thyself and left entirely out of the reckoning, now

The masses of humanity, before overlooked, with the choragium of the stars, and consider the vast expansion beyond them. Let in assume an importance that almost over. tellectual optics give thee a glance of things shadows the rest of mankind. We do not which visive organs reach not. Have a glimpse refer alone to such writers as Dickens, or of incomprehensibles; and thoughts of things Carlyle. We speak of the general tone of a which thoughts but tenderly touch. Lodge in- large share of the current literature. That materials in thy head; ascend unto invisibles; the tendency in this direction is so strong as fill thy spirit with spirituals, with the mysteries of faith, the magnalities of religion, and thy life to have already become vicious, and to renwith the honor of God; without which, though der a reaction necessary, we firmly believe. giants in wealth and dignity, we are but dwarfs To Sir Thomas Browne, the vulgar were and pigmies in humanity, and may hold a pitiful simply vulgar: the wearing of a human rank in that triple division of mankind, heroes, shape, so far from being a redeeming cirmen, and beasts. For though human souls are said to be equal, yet there is no small inequality his view, from unavoidable contrast with

cumstance, but added to their disgrace, in in their operations; some maintain the allowable station of men, many are far below it; and the dignity and refinement becoming in some have been so divine, as to approach the true men. apogeum of their natures, and to be in the con A certain amount of sympathy with the finium of spirits."*

struggling millions of humanity, whose life

is one continual toil, and whom hardship Such was the mood to which Browne and sorrow perpetually encompass, is inhimself had attained : a stately dignity, lit- dispensable to the highest qualities of the tle warmed by sympathy with human scholar, no less than to true genius. Withhearts, and looking down with pity upon out it, none knows how to touch those the inferior in culture and station, My common chords, whose vibration alone is conversation," he says, “I do acknowledge universal fame, and by means of which, and austere, my behavior full of rigor, some not otherwise, the author gains a permatimes not without morosity.” We are not, nent abode in the hearts of mankind. therefore, surprised to find him saying, From hence we can understand why after avowing a "general charity” for all Browne always has had, and always will men, and a love for everything, (“but the have, from his many admirers, few to love devil :")—" If there be any among those him heartily, and treasure him in their common objects of hatred I do contemn affections. and laugh at, it is that great enemy of Yet the author of Religio Medici was reason, virtue, and religion, the multitude.'

by no means an inveterate hater. All his The common affections of humanity flowed attempts at hatred take anything but a senot through his heart; the pulses of com rious turn. He owes a particular spite to mon sympathy which have universally vi the devil," (the only creature of God, he brated through the soul of genius, never | admits, that is properly hateful,) and intibeat in his bosom. This was in some sense mates that it would afford him a specialdea fault of his time and place; but it was light to be permitted to propose to him a few not from custom that it had possession of hard questions. For instance, in speaking of his mind, for he was, (as everything kin- the world's final destruction : "To deter

mine the day and year,” says he, "of this in* Christian Morals, III., 14.

evitable time, had been an excellent query

to have posed the devil of Delphos, and therefore, to find him saying that “in one must needs have forced him to some strange dream I can compose a whole comedy, beamphibology.” We like this quaint humor hold the action, apprehend the jests, and of the austere scholar, as it occasionally laugh myself awake at the conceits therebreaks out in the midst of his most serious of.” Mysterious and incomprehensible as disquisitions, hardly conscious, doubtless, it is, our dreams may become our truest 1. to himself, and unexpected by the reader. instructors in self-knowledge, and they are

This humor, however, such as it is, never often the revelators of many a natural finds an object among the low and every quality and innate propensity, which habit day concerns of vulgar life; it never ven has rendered latent, and which in the tures to meddle with a subject less sub- waking life of our spirit have come to be lime than the fallen archangel; and that, perpetually dormant. This element of too, only in his more dignified peculiari- humor, which might, under a different deties. Southey could find an unfailing source velopment, have acquired a predominating of fun in the hoofs and tail of this dis- influence in the mind of Browne, now tinguished personage, but to Sir Thomas

moves “many fathom deep,” like the Browne, there never occurred a train of spirit that followed the ship of the Ancient meditation which was not altogether too Mariner-constantly felt-ever unseen and grave to be intermingled with such gro- obscure. tesque diversion.

The Religio Medici comprises two grand That Browne had, in the common ac

divisions—the first of which seems to be ceptation of the term, any real humor, devoted to the author's Faith ; the second cannot properly be asserted. There is develops his notions of Charity. His penothing of the playful in him. His reader culiar conceptions of the nature and provis taken by surprise at such an allusion as ince of faith are worthy of especial notice. this: “I ever hear a passing-bell, though To give assent to that which reason apin my mirih


pause, and vainly proves, is to him a very small matterattempt to figure to ourselves what sort of faith comes in only where the judgment levity that might be, in which it were possi- ceases to give assent, and has its chief and ble for such a one to bear any part. “I noblest work, where reason even enters have shaked hands with delight, in my her contradictory protest. Indeed, he comwarm blood and canicular days," he plains that “there be not impossibilities says elsewhere,— but in such a manner as enough in religion for an active faith.” to leave us to infer that those were, to his It might be a very natural inquiry mind, only seasons of vanity, long since here, by what law his faith is squared, or passed, and never very heartily embraced. how he shall know what to receive as true, From the time he becomes known to the and what to reject as false—allowing to world, and according to all the tokens that the voice of reason not so much as a veto. remain of his disposition and habits, no one Yet the whole tenor of his life, and the can reasonably take exceptions to his own general cast of his mind, plainly enough account of this matter, or perceive the answer the query, and thereby help us to necessity of any great reserve or caution a glimpse of certain foundation principles in accepting it as the whole truth. “I was of his belief. The established order, both born,” says he, “in the planetary hour of in Church and State, is to him sacred and Saturn, and I think I have a piece of that unquestionable. Dream as he might, on leaden planet in me. I am no way fa- other matters, he seems never to have concetious, nor disposed for the mirth and ceived the possibility of a greater social galliardise of company."

perfection, or of a form of religious belief Yet a sort of covert, elusive, uncon and worship better adapted to the wants of scious humor there is, pervading every human nature. Existing institutions were part of his writings, the most serious no therefore a law to his faith, so perfect and less than the apparently trivial-subtle, inappellable, that even with all his wild vahard to designate or even understand—but garies—his speculations upon the final always to be taken into the account as an cause of eclipses, and his wanton reveries essential ingredient of his style of thought over the oracles of old—he never once overand expression. It is no strange thing, stepped (scarcely ventured even to reach)

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »