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the privy-council, not much inferior to the famous Padre Paulo, the late oracle of the Venetian state. “Though he were no prophet, nor son of a prophet, yet in that faculty which comes nearest it he excelled, i. e. the stochastick, wherein he was seldom mistaken, as to future events, as well publick as private; but not apt to discover any presages or superstition.” It is observable, that he, who in his earlier years had read all the books against religion, was in the latter part of his life averse from controversies. To play with important truths, to disturb the repose of established tenets, to subtilize objections, and elude proof, is too often the sport of youthful vanity, of which maturer experience commonly repents. There is a time when every man is weary of raising difficulties only to task himself with the solution, and desires to enjoy truth without the labour or hazard of contest. There is, perhaps, no better method of encountering these troublesome irruptions of scepticism, with which inquisitive minds are frequently harassed, than that which Browne declares himself to have taken: “If there arise any doubts in my way, I do forget them; or at least defer them, till my better settled judgment, and more manly reason, be able to resolve them : for I perceive, every man's reason is his best CEdipus, and will, upon a reasonable truce, find a way to loose those bonds, wherewith the subtilties of error have enchained our more flexible and tender judgments.” The foregoing character may be confirmed and enlarged by many passages in the Religio Medici; in which it appears, from Whitefoot's testimony, that the author, though no very sparing panegyrist of himself, had not exceeded the truth, with respect to his attainments or visible qualities.
There are, indeed, some interior and secret virtues, which a man may sometimes have without the knowledge of others; and may sometimes assume to himself, without sufficient reasons for his opinion. It is charged upon Browne, by Dr. Watts, as an instance of arrogant temerity, that, after a long detail of his attainments, he declares himself to have escaped “the first and father-sin of pride.” A perusal of the Religio Medici will not much contribute to produce a belief of the author's exemption from this fathersin: pride is a vice, which pride itself inclines every man to find in others, and to overlook in himself.
As easily may we be mistaken in estimating our own courage, as our own humility; and therefore, when Browne shews himself persuaded, that “he could lose an arm without a tear, or with a few groans be quartered to pieces,” I am not sure that he felt in himself any uncommon powers of endurance; or, indeed, any thing more than a sudden effervescence of imagination, which, uncertain and involuntary as it is, he mistook for settled resolution.
“That there were not many extant, that in a noble way feared the face of death less than himself;” he might likewise believe at a very easy expence, while death was yet at a distance; but the time will come to every human being, when it must be known how well he can bear to die; and it has appeared that our author's fortitude did not desert him in the great hour of trial.
It was observed by some of the remarkers on the Religio Medici, that “the author was yet alive, and might grow worse as well as better;" it is therefore happy, that this suspicion can be obviated by a testimony given to the continuance of his virtue, at a time when death had set him free from danger of change, and his panegyrist from temptation to flattery. But it is not on the praises of others, but on his own writings, that he is to depend for the esteem of posterity; of which he will not easily be deprived while learning shall have any reverence among men; for there is no science in which he does not discover some skill; and scarce any kind of knowledge, profane or sacred, abstruse or elegant, which he does not appear to have cultivated with success. His exuberance of knowledge, and plenitude of ideas, sometimes obstruct the tendency of his reasoning and the clearness of his decisions: on whatever subject he employed his mind, there started up immediately so many images before him, that he lost one by grasping another. His memory supplied him with so many illustrations, parallel or dependent notions, that he was always starting into collateral considerations: but the spirit and vigour of his pursuit always gives delight; and the reader follows him, without reluctance, through his mazes, in them. selves flowery and pleasing, and ending at the point originally in view. “To have great excellencies and great faults, magna, virtutes mec minora vitia, is the poesy,” says our author, “of the best natures.” This poesy may be properly applied to the style of Browne; it is vi
gorous, but rugged; it is learned, but pedantick; it is deep, but obscure; it strikes, but does not please; it commands, but does not allure : his tropes are harsh and his combinations uncouth. He fell into an age in which our language began to lose the stability which it had obtained in the time of Elizabeth; and was considered by every writer as a subject on which he might try his plastick skill, by moulding it according to his own fancy. Milton, in consequence of this encroaching licence, began to introduce the Latin idiom: and Browne, though he gave less disturbance to our structures in phraseology, yet poured in a multitude of exotic words; many, indeed, useful and significant, which, if rejected, must be supplied by circumlocution, such as commensality for the state of many living at the same table; but many superfluous, as a paralogical for an unreasonable doubt; and some so obscure, that they conceal his meaning rather than explain it, as arthritical analogies, for parts that serve some animals in the place of joints. His style is, indeed, a tissue of many languages ; a mixture of heterogeneous words, brought together from distant regions, with terms originally appropriated to one art, and drawn by violence into the service of another. He must however be confessed to have augmented our philosophical diction : and in defence of his uncommon words and expressions, we must consider, that he had uncommon sentiments, and was not content to express in many words that idea for which any language could supply a single term. But his innovations are sometimes pleasing, and his temerities happy: he has many verba ardentia, forcible expressions, which he would never have found, but by venturing to the utmost verge of propriety ; and flights which would never have been reached, but by one who had very little fear of the shame of falling. There remains yet an objection against the writings of Browne, more formidable than the animadversions of criticism. There are passages from which some have taken occasion to rank him among deists, and other among atheists. It would be difficult to guess how any such conclusion should be formed, had not experience shewn that there are two sorts of men willing to enlarge the catalogue of infidels. It has been long observed, that an atheist has no just reason for endeavouring conversions; and yet none harass those minds which they can influence, with more importunity of solicitation to adopt their opinions. In proportion as they doubt the truth of their own doctrines, they are desirous to gain the attestation of another understanding: and industriously labour to win a proselyte, and eagerly catch at the slightest pretence to dignify their sect with a celebrated name. * The others become friends to infidelity only by unskilful hostility; men of rigid orthodoxy, cautious conversation, and religious asperity. Among these, it is too frequently the practice, to make in their heat concessions to atheism, or deism, which their most