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In this book, he speaks much, and, in the opinion of Digby, too much of himself; but with such generality and conciseness as affords very little light to his biographer: he declares, that, besides the dialects of different provinces, he understood six languages; that he was no stranger to astronomy; and that he had seen several countries : but what most awakens curiosity, is his solemn assertion, that “ his life has been a miracle of thirty years ; which to relate, were not history but a piece of poetry, and would sound like a fable.”
There is, undoubtedly, a sense, in which all life is miraculous ; as it is an union of powers of which we can image no connexion, a succession of motions of which the first cause must be supernatural: but life, thus explained, whatever it may have of miracle, will have nothing of fable ; and, therefore, the author undoubtedly had regard to something, by which he imagined himself distinguished from the rest of mankind.
Of these wonders, however, the view that can be now taken of his life offers no appearance. The course of his education was like that of others, such as put him little in the way of extraordinary casualties. A scholastick and academical life is very uniform; and has, indeed, more safety than pleasure. A traveller has greater opportunities of adventure ; but Browne traversed no unknown seas, or Arabian deserts : and, surely, a man may visit France and Italy, reside at Montpellier and Padua, and at last take his degree at Leyden, without any thing miraculous. What it was, that would, if it was related, sound so poetical and fabulous, we are left to guess; I believe, without hope of guessing rightly. The wonders probably were transacted in his own mind : self-love, co-operating with an imagination vigorous and fertile as that of Browne, will find or make objects of astonishment in every man's life; and, perhaps, there is no human being, however hid in the crowd from the observation of his fellow-mortals, who, if he has leisure and disposition to recollect his own thoughts and actions, will not conclude his life in some sort a miracle, and imagine himself distinguished from all the rest of his species by many discriminations of nature or of fortune.
The success of this performance was such, as might naturally encourage the author to new undertakings. A gentleman of Cambridge,* whose name was Merryweather, turned it not inelegantly into Latin ; and from his version it was again translated into Italian, German, Dutch, and French ; and at Stras.
* Life, &c. 9 Italian.] This translation I have never met with, nor have I ever seen it more distinctly mentioned than in this notice.
burg, the Latin translation was published with large notes, by Lenuus Nicolaus Moltfarius." Of the English annotations, which in all the editions from 1644 accompany the book, the author is unknown.s
Of Merryweather, to whose zeal Browne was so much indebted for the sudden extension of his renown, I know nothing, but that he published a small treatise for the instruction of young persons in the attainment of a Latin stile. He printed his translation in Holland with some difficulty.* The first printer to whom he offered it, carried it to Salmasius, “who laid it by (says he) in state for three months,” and then discouraged its publication: it was afterwards rejected by two other printers, and at last was received by Hackius.
The peculiarities of this book raised the author, as is usual, many admirers and many enemies ; but we know not of more than one professed answer," written under the title of Medicus Vedicatus, t by Alexander Ross, which was universally neglected by the world.
At the time when book was published, Dr. Browne resided at Norwich, where he had settled in 1636, by the persuasion of Dr. Lushington, his tutor, who was then rector of Burnham Westgates in the neighbourhood. It is recorded by Wood, that his practice was very extensive, and that many patients resorted to him. In 16378 he was incorporated doctor of physick in Oxford.
He married in 1641|| Mrs. Mileham, of a good family in Norfolk ;' " a lady (says Whitefoot) of such symmetrical pro
Y portion to her worthy husband, both in the graces of her body
* Merryweather's Letter—Correspondence.
|| Whitefoot. Lenuus Nicolaus Moltfarius.] The true name is Levinus Nicolaus Moltkenias. He signs his preface in initials thus, L. N. M. E. M. which are thus explained by a French critic :—“Ces lettres initiales designent Levinus Nicolaus Moltkius, dont on a encore Conclave Alexandri VII., et alia Historica conjunctim edita Slesvici, 1656, 8vo.”Viceron, Mém. p. Servir à l'Hist. des Hommes Célèbres, xxiii. 356.
s the author, &c.] Was Mr. Thomas Keck, of the Temple.—Preface to Religio Medici.
Latin stile.] See Supplementary Memoir.
answer.] In 1645.-See Preface to Religio Medici and Supplementary Memoir. * Burnham Westgate.] See Supplementary Memoir.
Mrs. Mileham, &c.] Daughter of Edward Mileham, Esq., of Burlingham, in Norfolk.-See Pedigree, &c.
and mind, that they seemed to come together by a kind of natural magnetism." This marriage could not but draw the raillery of contem
upon a man, who had just been wishing in his new book, “that we might procreate, like trees, without conjunction;" and had lately declared,t that “the whole world was made for man, but only the twelfth part of man for woman;" and, that “man is the whole world, but woman only the rib or crooked part of man.”
Whether the lady had been yet informed of these contemptuous positions, or whether she was pleased with the conquest of so formidable a rebel, and considered it as a double triumph, to attraet so much merit, and overcome so powerful prejudices; or whether, like most others, she married upon mingled motives, between convenience and inclination ; she had, however, no reason to repent: for she lived happily with him one and forty years; and bore him ten? children, of whom one son and three daughters outlived their parents ; she survived him two years, and passed her widowhood in plenty, if not in opulence.
Browne having now entered the world as an author, and experienced the delights of praise and molestations of censure, probably found his dread of the publick eye diminished ; and, therefore, was not long before he trusted his name to the criticks a second time : for in 1646 I he printed Enquiries into Vulgar and Common Errors ; a work, which as it arose not from fancy and invention, but from observation and books, and contained not a single discourse of one continued tenor, of which the latter part rose from the former, but an enumeration of many unconnected particulars, must have been the collection of years, and the effect of a design early formed and long pursued, to which his remarks had been continually referred, and which arose gradually to its present bulk by the daily aggregation of new particles of knowledge. It is, indeed, to be wished, that he had longer delayed the publication, and added what the remaining part of his life might have furnished: the thirty-six years which he spent afterwards in study and experience, would doubtless have made large additions to an Enquiry into Vulgar Errors." He published in 1672 the sixth edition, with some improvements; but I think rather with explications of what he had already written, than any new
heads of disquisition. But with the work, such as the author, whether hindered from
* Howell's Letters, book i. 60, and Religio Bibliopolce.
# Life, doc.
continuing it by eagerness of praise, or weariness of labour, thought fit to give, we must be content; and remember, that in all sublunary things, there is something to be wished, which we must wish in vain.
This book, like his former, was received with great applause, was answered by Alexander Ross, and translated into Dutch and German, and not many years ago into French. It might now be proper, had not the favour with which it was at first received filled the kingdom with copies, to reprint it with notes partly supplemental and partly emendatory, to subjoin those discoveries which the industry of the last age has made, and correct those mistakes which the author has committed, not by idleness or negligence, but for want of Boyle's and Newton's philosophy.
He appears, indeed, to have been willing to pay labour for truth." Having heard a flying rumour of sympathetick needles, by which, suspended over a circular alphabet, distant friends or lovers might correspond, he procured two such alphabets to be made, touched his needles with the same magnet, and placed them upon proper spindles : the result was, that when he moved one of his needles, the other, instead of taking by sympathy the same direction, stood like the pillars of Hercules." That it continued motionless, will be easily believed ; and most men would have been content to believe it, without the labour of so hopeless an experiment. Browne might himself have obtained the same conviction by a method less operose, if he had thrust his needles through corks, and then set them afloat in two basons of water.
Notwithstanding his zeal to detect old errors, he seems not very easy to admit new positions ; for he never mentions the motion of the earth but with contempt and ridicule, though the opinion, which admits it, was then growing popular, and
a This book, dc.] See Preface to Pseudodoxia Epidemica, for a detailed account of the replies to it, as well as of the various editions and translations of the work itself. If the present edition be deemed but imperfectly to answer the doctor's description of what it ought to be, I can only offer the plea, that arrangements (on whose efficiency I was justified in relying) have been, in a great measure, frustrated, by the nonfulfilment of engagements, on which those arrangements depended. By this disappointment (which I submitted to repeated delays, in the vain hope of avoiding), I have been deprived of some important scientific illustrations, precisely of the character lescribed in the paragraph. before us.
b truth.] His willingness to take pains to disprove even the most absurd fables, is well evinced in his chapter on the Three Kings of Collein.
was, surely, plausible, even before it was confirmed by later observations.
The reputation of Browne encouraged some low writer to publish, under his name, a book called Nature's Cabinet Unlocked ;"* translated, according to Wood, from the physicks of Magirus ; of which Browne took care to clear himself, by modestly advertising, that - if any man had been benefited by it, he was not so ambitious as to challenge the honour thereof, as having no hand in that work.”+
In 1658 the discovery of some ancient urns in Norfolk gave him occasion to write Hydriotaphia, Urnburial, or a Discourse of Sepulchral Urns, in which he treats with his usual learning on the funeral rites of the ancient nations; exhibits their various treatment of the dead; and examines the substances found in his Norfolcian urns. There is, perhaps, none of his works which better exemplifies his reading or memory. It is scarcely to be imagined, how many particulars he has amassed together, in a treatise which seems to have been occasionally written ; and for which, therefore, no materials could have been previously collected. It is, indeed, like other treatises of antiquity, rather for curiosity than use; for it is of small importance to know which nation buried their dead in the ground, which threw them into the sea, or which gave them to birds and beasts; when the practice of cremation began, or when it was disused; whether the bones of different persons were mingled in the same urn; what oblations were thrown into the pyre ; or how the ashes of the body were distinguished from those of other substances. Of the uselessness of all these enquiries, Browne seems not to have been ignorant; and, therefore, concludes them with an observation which can never be too frequently recollected.
“ All or most apprehensions rested in opinions of some future being, which ignorantly or coldly believed, begat those perverted conceptions, ceremonies, sayings, which Christians pity or laugh at. Happy are they, which live not in that disadvantage of time, when men could say little for futurity, but from reason; whereby the noblest minds fell often
doubtful deaths, and melancholy dissolutions : with these hopes Socrates warmed his doubtful spirits, against the cold potion ; and Cato, before he durst give the fatal stroke, spent part of the night in reading the Immortality of Plato, thereby confirming his wavering hand unto the animosity of that attempt.
It is the heaviest stone that melancholy can throw at man,
* Wood, and Life of Sir Thomas Browne. + At the end of the Garden of Cyrus.