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DR. JOHNSON'S LIFE

OF

SIR THOMAS BROWNE.

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Though the writer of the following Essaysseems to have had the fortune common among men of letters, of raising little curiosity after his private life, and has, therefore, few memorials preserved of his felicities or misfortunes ; yet, because an edition of a posthumous work appears imperfect and neglected, without some account of the author, it was thought necessary to attempt the gratification of that curiosity, which naturally inquires by what peculiarities of nature or fortune eminent men have been distinguished, how uncommon attainments have been gained, and what influence learning has had on its possessors, or virtue on its teachers. Sir Thomas Browne was born at London, in the parish of

St. Michael in Cheapside, on the 19th of October, 1605.* His

* Life of Sir Thomas Browne, prefixed to the Antiquities of Norwich.

a the following Essays.] It will be recollected that this life was written in 1756, not for an entire edition of Browne's works, but for a second impression of his Christian Morals, originally published by Archdeacon Jeffery in 1716, and reprinted by Payne in 1756.

St. Michael in Cheapside.] St. Michael's Cheap, as it was formerly called, or St. Michael-le-Quern, probably a corruption of the translation of St. Michael ad Bladum, or “at the Corn :" the church having been originally erected, about the reign of Edward III., on the site of a corn market. The church was taken down and rebuilt in 1430, in the eighth of Henry VI. In the great fire of London it was destroyed, and not subsequently rebuilt, the parish being united to that of St. Vedast, in Foster-lane. The registers have all perished. VOL. I.

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father was a merchants of an ancient family at Upton in Cheshire. Of the name or family of his mother, I find no account.

Of his childhood or youth, there is little known; except that he lost his father very early ; that he was, according to the common fate of orphans,* defrauded by one of his guardians ; and that he was placed for his education at the school of Winchester.

His mother, having taken three thousand pounds, as the third part of her husband's property, left her son, by consequence, six thousand ;8 a large fortune for a man destined to learning, at that time when commerce had not yet filled the nation with nominal riches. But it happened to him as to many others, to be made poorer by opulence; for his mother soon married Sir Thomas Dutton, probably by the inducement of her fortune ; and he was left to the rapacity of his guardian, deprived now of both his parents, and therefore helpless and unprotected.

He was removed in the beginning of the year 1623 from Winchester to Oxford ; and entered a gentleman-commoner of Broadgate Hall, which was soon afterwards endowed, and took the name of Pembroke College, from the Earl of Pembroke, then Chancellor of the University. He was admitted to the degree of bachelor of arts, Januaryh 31, 1626-7, being, as Wood remarks, the first man of eminence graduated from the new college, to which the zeal or gratitude of those that love it most, can wish little better, than that it may long proceed as it began.

Having afterwards taken his degree of master of arts, he * Whitefoot's Character of Sir Thomas Browne, in a marginal note. + Life, &c.

# Wood's Athence Oxonienses. ? His father.] Whom Blomfield erroneously names John.

merchant.] Mrs. Lyttelton (as we are informed by Bishop Kennet) says that her father was “a tradesman, a mercer ; but a gentleman of good family in Cheshire.”Europ. Mag. xl. p. 89.

no account.] From a pedigree in the College of Arms (which I have printed), it appears that his mother was Ann, the daughter of Paul Garraway, of Lewes, in Sussex. He mentions his grandfather in a letter.

f the school, dc.] Wykeham's school, near Winchester.Posth. Life.

8 left her son, &c.] This would be correct, had he been an only child ; but he had a brother and wo sisters.

h January.] June 30, 1626 ; half a year earlier, says Wood. - Fasti, i. 426, ed. Bliss.

i master of arts.] June 11, 1629.— Wood's Fasti.

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turned his studies to physick, and practised it for some time in Oxfordshire ;* but soon afterwards, either induced by curiosity, or invited by promises, he quitted his settlement, and accompanied his father-in-law, who had some employment in Ireland, in a visitation of the forts and castles, which the state of Ireland then made necessary.

He that has once prevailed on himself to break his connexions of acquaintance, and begin a wandering life, very easily continues it. Ireland had, at that time, very little to offer to the observation of a man of letters: he therefore passed into France and Italy; I made some stay at Montpellier and Padua, which were then the celebrated schools of physick; and returning home through Holland, procured himself to be created doctor of physick at Leyden."

When he began his travels, or when he concluded them, there is no certain account;' nor do there remain any observations made by him in his passage through those countries which he visited. To consider, therefore, what pleasure or instruction might have been received from the remarks of a man so curious and diligent, would be voluntarily to indulge a painful reflection, and load the imagination with a wish, which, while it is formed, is known to be vain. It is, however, to be lamented, that those who are most capable of improving mankind, very frequently neglect to communicate their knowledge ; either because it is more pleasing to gather ideas than to impart them, or because to minds naturally great, few things appear of so much importance as to deserve the notice of the publick.

About the year 1634,9 he is supposed to have returned to London ;

and the next year to have written his celebrated treatise, called Religio Medici,“ “ the religion of a physician,” || which he

* Wood's Athence Oxonienses, vol. i. col. 713. + Life, &c. # Ibid. & Biographia Britannica. || Letter to Sir Kenelm Digby. at Leyden.] About 1633, probably. | When he began, dc.] It was between 1630 and 1633.

Religio Medici.] Dr. Kippis deems himself to have proved, in his note B, p. 628, that Religio Medici was written in 1635. His argument is drawn from a comparison of the date of Browne's Letter to Digby (March 3, 1642), with a passage in his Epistle to the Reader, stating that it was written “about seven years ago.” But this is inconclusive ; because the true date of the letter being 1642-3, the result would be 1636 ; which is contradicted by another passage in Religio Medici, in which Browne says he was not thirty years old, whereas in 1636 he was older. I think it, however, very possible that the true reading of the passage is," above seven years,” which would justify Dr. Johnson's date. See the point spoken of in the Preface to Religio Medici, and in the Supplementary Memoir.

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declares himself never to have intended for the press, having composed it only for his own exercise and entertainment. It, indeed, contains many passages, which, relating merely to his own person, can be of no great importance to the publičk: but when it was written, it happened to him as to others, he was too much pleased with his performance, not to think that it might please others as much ; he, therefore, communicated it to his friends, and receiving, I suppose, that exuberant applause with which every man repays the grant of perusing a manuscript, he was not very diligent to obstruct his own praise by recalling his papers, but suffered them to wander from hand to hand, till at last, without his own consent, they were in 1642 given to a printer.

This has, perhaps, sometimes befallen others; and this, I am willing to believe did really happen to Dr. Browne: but there is surely some reason to doubt the truth of the complaint so frequently made of surreptitious editions. A song, or an epigram, may be easily printed without the author's knowledge ; because

earned when it is repeated, or may be written out with

very little trouble : but a long treatise, however elegant, is not often copied by mere zeal or curiosity, but may be worn out in passing from hand to hand, before it is multiplied by a transcript." It is easy to convey an imperfect book, by a distant hand, to the press, and plead the circulation of a false copy as an excuse for publishing the true, or to correct what is found faulty or offensive, and charge the errors on the transcriber's depravations.

This is a stratagem, by which an author panting for fame, and yet afraid of seeming to challenge it, may at once gratify his vanity, and preserve the appearance of modesty ; may enter the lists, and secure a retreat: and this, candour might suffer to pass undetected as an innocent fraud, but that indeed no fraud is innocent; for the confidence which makes the happiness of society, is in some degree diminished by every man, whose practice is at variance with his words.

The Religio Medici was no sooner published than it excited the attention of the publick, by the novelty of paradoxes, the dignity of sentiment, the quick succession of images, the multitude of abstruse allusions, the subtlety of disquisition, and the strength of language.

What is much read will be much criticised. The Earl of Dorset recommended this book to the perusal of Sir Kenelm Digby, who returned his judgment upon it, not in a letter, but a

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a transcript.] See remarks on this point in the Preface to Religio Medici.

book; in which, though mingled with some positions fabulous and uncertain, there are acute remarks, just censures, and profound speculations, yet its principal claim to admiration is, that it was written in twenty-four hours,* of which part was spent in procuring Browne's book, and part in reading it.

Of these animadversions, when they were yet not all printed, either officiousness or malice informed Dr. Browne; who wrote to Sir Kenelm with much softness and ceremony, declaring the unworthiness of his work to engage such notice, the intended privacy of the composition, and the corruptions of the impression; and received an answer equally gentle and respectful, containing high commendations of the piece, pompous professions of reverence, meek acknowledgments of inability, and anxious apologies for the hastiness of his remarks.

The reciprocal civility of authors is one of the most risible scenes in the farce of life. Who would not have thought, that these two luminaries of their age had ceased endeavour to grow bright by the obscuration of each other; yet the animadversions thus weak, thus precipitate, upon a book thus injured in the transcription, quickly passed the press; and Religio Medici was more accurately published, with an admonition prefixed “ to those who have or shall peruse the observations upon a former corrupt copy ;' in which there is a severe censure, not upon Digby, who was to be used with ceremony, but upon the Observator who had usurped his name ; nor was this invective written by Dr. Browne, who was supposed to be satisfied with his opponent's apology; but by some officious friend zealous for his honour, without his consent.

Browne has, indeed, in his own preface, endeavoured to secure himself from rigorous examination, by alleging, that “ many things are delivered rhetorically, many expressions merely tropical, and therefore many things to be taken in a soft and flexible sense, and not to be called unto the rigid test of reason.” The first glance upon his book will indeed discover examples of this liberty of thought and expression : "I could be content (says he') to be nothing almost to eternity, if I might enjoy my Saviour at the last.” He has little acquaintance with the acuteness of Browne, who suspects him of a serious opinion, that any thing can be “almost eternal,” or that any time beginning and ending is not infinitely less than infinite duration.

* Digby's Letter to Browne. nor was this invective, &c.] Yet the style of this admonition would justify our ascribing it to Browne, quite as much as that of the advertisement relating to Nature's Cabinet Unlocked, which Dr. Johnson considers to have been his.

P (says he.)] Religio Medici.

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