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years, and passed her widowhood in plenty, if by sympathy the same direction, "stood like the not in opulence. 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, having now entered the world as an author, and experienced the delights of praise and molestations of censure, probably found his dread of the public eye diminished; and there-Browne might himself have obtained the same
conviction by a method less operose, if he had thrust his needles through corks, and 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 was surely plausible, even before it was con. firmed by later observations.
fore was not long before he trusted his name to the critics a second time; for in 1646 he printed "Enquiries into vulgar and common Errours;" 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 arose 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 Errours." He published in 1673 the sixth edition, with some improvements; but I think rather with explication of what he had already written, than any new heads of disquisition. But with the work such as the author, whether hindered from 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 discow as 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 sympathetic 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
Life of Sir Thomas Browne.
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 physics of Magirus; of which Browne took care to clear himself, by modestly advertising, that "if any mant 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, Urn-burial, 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 the 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 o. the body were distinguished from those of othe. substances. Of the uselessness of these inquiries 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
Wood, and Life of Sir Thomas Browne. +At the end of Hydriotaphia.
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 mind fell often upon 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 a man, to tell him that he is at the end of his nature; or that there is no further state to come, unto which this seems progressional, and otherwise made in vain: without this accomplishment, the natural expectation and desire of such a state were but a fallacy in nature; unsatisfied considerators would quarrel at the justness of the constitution, and rest content that Adam had fallen lower, whereby, by knowing no other original, and deeper ignorance of themselves, they might have enjoyed the happiness of inferior creatures, who in tranquillity possess their constitutions, as having not the apprehension to deplore their own natures; and being framed below the circumference of these hopes of cognition of better things, the wisdom of God hath necessitated their contentment. But the superior ingredient and obscured part of ourselves, whereto all present felicities afford no resting contentment, will be able at last to tell us we are more than our present selves: and evacuate such hopes in the fruition of their own accomplishments."
To his treatise on "Urn-burial" was added "The Garden of Cyrus, or the quincunxial lozenge, or network plantation of the Ancients, artificially, naturally, mystically, considered.' This discourse he begins with the "Sacred Garden," in which the first man was placed; and deduces the practice of horticulture from the earliest accounts of antiquity, to the time of the Persian Cyrus, the first man whom we actually know to have planted a quincunx; which, however, our author is inclined to believe of longer date, and not only discovers it in the description of the hanging gardens of Babylon, but seems willing to believe, and to persuade his reader, that it was practised by the feeders on vegetables before the flood.
Some of the most pleasing performances have been produced by learning and genius exercised upon subjects of little importance. It seems to have been in all ages the pride of wit, to show how it could exalt the low, and amplify the little. To speak not inadequately of things really and naturally great, is a task not only difficult but disagreeable; because the writer is degraded in his own eyes by standing in comparison with his subject, to which he can hope to add nothing from his imagination: but it is a
perpetual triumph of fancy to expand a scanty theme, to raise glittering ideas from obscure properties, and to produce to the world an ob ject of wonder to which nature had contributed: little. To this ambition, perhaps we owe the frogs of Homer, the gnat and the bees of Virgil, the butterfly of Spenser, the shadow of Wowerus, and the quincunx of Browne.
In the prosecution of this sport of fancy, he considers every production of art and nature in which he could find any decussation or approaches to the form of a quincunx: and, as a man once resolved upon ideal discoveries seldom searches long in vain, he finds his favourite figure in almost every thing, whether natural or invented, ancient or modern, rude or artificial, sacred or civil; so that a reader, not watchful against the power of his infusions, would imagine that decussation was the great business of the world, and that nature and art had no other purpose than to exemplify and imitate a quincunx.
To show the excellence of this figure he enumerates all its properties; and finds in it almost every thing of use or pleasure: and to show how readily he supplies what we cannot find, one instance may be sufficient: "though therein (says he) we meet not with right angles, yet every rhombus containing four angles equal unto two right, it virtually contains two right in every one."
The fanciful sports of great minds are never without some advantage to knowledge. Browne has interspersed many curious observations on the form of plants, and the laws of vegetation; and appears to have been a very accurate observer of the modes of germination, and to have watched with great nicety the evolution of the parts of plants from their seminal principles.
He is then naturally led to treat of the number Five; and finds, that by this number many things are circumscribed; that there are five kinds of vegetable productions, five sections of
cone, five orders of architecture, and five acts of a play. And observing that five was the ancient conjugal, or wedding number, he proceeds to a speculation which I shall give in his own words; "the ancient uumerists made out the conjugal number by two and three, the first parity and imparity, the active and passive digits, the material and formal principles in generative societies."
These are all the tracts which he published. But many papers were found in his closet: "some of them, (says Whitefoot,) designed for the press, were often transcribed and corrected by his own hand, after the fashion of great and curious writers."
Of these, two collections have been published; one by Dr. Tenison, the other in 1722, by a nameless editor. Whether the one or the other selected those pieces which the author would have preferred, cannot be known; but they have
both the merit of giving to mankind what was particularly the Saxon Tongue." He discourses too valuable to be suppressed; and what might, with great learning, and generally with great without their interposition, have perhaps per-justness, of the derivation and changes of lanished among other innumerable labours of learn-guages; but, like other men of multifarious ed men, or have been burnt in a scarcity of fuel, learning, he receives some notions without exlike the papers of Peireskius. amination. Thus he observes, according to the popular opinion, that the Spaniards have retained so much Latin as to be able to compose sentences that shall be at once grammatically Latin and Castilian: this will appear very unlikely to a man that considers the Spanish terminations; and Howell, who was eminently skilful in the three provincial languages, declares, that after many essays he never could effect it.*
The principal design of this letter is to show the affinity between the modern English and the ancient Saxon; and he observes, very rightly, that "though we have borrowed many substantives, adjectives, and some verbs, from the French; yet the great body of numerals, auxil.
The first of these posthumous treatises contains "Observations upon several Plants mentioned in Scripture:" these remarks, though they do not immediately either rectify the faith, or refine the morals of the reader, yet are by no means to be censured as superfluous niceties, or useless speculations; for they often show some propriety of description, or elegance of allusion, utterly undiscoverable to readers not skilled in orientai botany; and are often of more important use, as they remove some difficulty from narratives, or some obscurity from precepts.
The next is," Of Garlands, or coronary and garland Plants;" a subject merely of learned curiosity, without any other end than the pleas-iary verbs, articles, pronouns, adverbs, conjuncure of reflecting on ancient customs, or on the tions, and prepositions, which are the distinindustry with which studious men have endeav- guishing and lasting parts of a language, remain oured to recover them. with us from the Saxon."
The next is a letter, "On the Fishes eaten by our Saviour with his Disciples, after his Resurrection from the Dead:" which contains no determinate resolution of the question, what they were, for indeed it cannot be determined. All the information that diligence or learning could supply consists in an enumeration of the fishes produced in the waters of Judea.
Then follow, "Answers to certain Queries about Fishes, Birds, and Insects;" and "A Letter of Hawks and Falconry ancient and modern;" in the first of which he gives the proper interpretation of some ancient names of animals, commonly mistaken; and in the other has some curious observations on the art of hawking, which he considers as a practice unknown to the ancients. I believe all our sports of the field are of Gothic original; the ancients neither hunted by the scent, nor seemed much to have practised horsemanship as an exercise; and though in their works there is mention of aucupium and piscatio, they seem no more to have been considered as diversions, than agriculture or any other manual labour.
In two more letters he speaks of the cymbals of the Hebrews, but without any satisfactory determination; and of ropalic or gradual verses, that is, of verses beginning with a word of one syllable, and proceeding by words of which each has a syllable more than the former; as,
"O deus, æternæ stationis conciliator.
And after this manner pursuing the hint, he mentions many other restrained methods of versifying, to which industrious ignorance has sometimes voluntarily subjected itself.
To prove this position more evidently, he has drawn up a short discourse of six paragraphs, in Saxon and English; of which every word is the same in both languages, excepting the terminations and orthography. The words are indeed Saxon, but the phraseology is English ; and, I think, would not have been understood by Bede or Elfric, notwithstanding the confidence of our author. He has, however, sufficiently proved his position, that the English resembles its paternal language more than any modern European dialect.
There remain five tracts of this collection yet unmentioned; one, "Of artificial Hills, Mounts, or Barrows, in England," in reply to an interrogatory letter of E. D. whom the writers of the Biographia Britannica suppose to be, if rightly printed, W. D. or Sir William Dugdale, one of Browne's correspondents. These are declared by Browne, in concurrence, I think, with all other antiquaries, to be for the most part funeral monuments. He proves, that both the Danes and Saxons buried their men of eminence under piles of earth, "which admitting
Howell, in his Instructions for Foreign Travel, asserts directly the reverse of what Johnson here ascribes to him; "I have beaten my brains (he says) to make one sentence good Italian and congruous Latin, but could never do it; but in Spanish it is very feasible, as, for example, in this stanza:
Infausta Græcia tu paris gentes
which is good Latin enough; and yet is vulgar His next attempt is "On Languages, and Spanish, intelligible by every plebeian."
(says he) neither ornament, epitaph, nor in- | study of Physic;" which, with the essays here scription, may, if earthquakes spare them, out- offered to the public, completes the works of Dr. last other monuments: obelisks have their term, Browne. and pyramids will tumble; but these mountainous monuments may stand, and are like to have the same period with the earth."
In the next, he answers two geographical uestions; one concerning Troas, mentioned in the Acts and Epistles of St. Paul, which he determines to be the city built near the ancient Ilium; and the other concerning the Dead Sea, of which he gives the same account with other writers.
Another letter treats "Of the Answers of the Oracle of Apollo, at Delphos," to Cræsus, king of Lydia. In this tract nothing deserves notice, more than that Browne considers the oracles as evidently and indubitably supernatural, and founds all his disquisition upon that postulate. He wonders why the physiologists of old, having such means of instruction, did not inquire into the secrets of nature: but judiciously concludes, that such questions would probably have been vain; "for in matters cognoscible, and formed for our disquisition, our industry must be our oracle, and reason our Apollo."
The pieces that remain are, "A Prophecy concerning the future State of several Nations;" in which Browne plainly discovers his expectation to be the same with that entertained lately with more confidence by Dr. Berkeley, "that America will be the seat of the fifth empire;" and "Museum clausum, sive Bibliotheca abscondita;" in which the author amuses him. self with imagining the existence of books and curiosities, either never in being or irrecoverably lost.
These pieces I have recounted as they are ranged in Tenison's collection, because the editor has given no account of the time at which any of them were written. Some of them are of little value, more than as they gratify the mind with the picture of a great scholar, turning his learning into amusement; or show upon how great a variety of inquiries the same mind has been successfully employed.
The other collection of his posthumous pieces, published in octavo, London, 1722, contains "Repertorium; or some Account of the Tombs and Monuments in the Cathedral of Norwich;" where, as Tenison observes, there is not matter proportionate to the skill of the antiquary.
The other pieces are "Answers to Sir William Dugdale's Inquiries about the Fens; a letter concerning Ireland; another relating to Urns newly discovered; some short strictures on different subjects; and a letter to a friend, on the death of his intimate friend," published singly by the author's son in 1690.
There is inserted in the Biographia Britannica, "A Letter containing instructions for the
To the life of this learned man there remains little to be added, but that in 1665, he was chosen honorary fellow of the college of physicians, as a man, "Virtute et literis ornatissimus,”eminently embellished with literature and virtue: and, in 1671, received, at Norwich, the honour of knighthood from Charles II. a prince, who, with many frailties and vices, had yet skill to discover excellence, and virtue to reward it with such honorary distinctions at least as cost him nothing, yet, conferred by a king so judicious and so much beloved, had the power of giving merit new lustre and greater popularity.
Thus he lived in high reputation, till in his seventy-sixth year he was seized with a colic, which, after having tortured him about a week, put an end to his life at Norwich, on his birthday, October 19th, 1682.* Some of his last words were expressions of submission to the will of God, and fearlessness of death.
He lies buried in the church of St. Peter Mancroft, in Norwich, with this inscription on a mural monument, placed on the south pillar of the altar:
Hic situs est THOMAS BROWNE, M. D.
Anno 1605, Londini natus ;
Apud Oxonienses bonis literis
In urbe hac Nordovicensi medicinam
Near the foot of this pillar
Lies Sir Thomas Browne, knt. and doctor in hysic,
Besides this lady, who died in 1685, he left a son and three daughters. Of the daughters nothing very remarkable is known: but his son, Edward Browne, requires a particular mention.
* Browne's Remains. Whitefoot,
He was born about the year 1642; and, after having passed through the classes of the school at Norwich, became bachelor of physic at Cambridge; and afterwards removing to MertonCollege, in Oxford, was admitted there to the same degree, and afterwards made a doctor. In 1668, he visited part of Germany; and in the year following made a wider excursion into Austria, Hungary, and Thessaly; where the Turkish sultan then kept his court at Larissa. He afterwards passed through Italy. His skill in natural history made him particularly attentive to mines and metallurgy. Upon his return he published an account of the countries through which he had passed; which I have heard commended by a learned traveller, who has visited many places after him, as written with scrupulous and exact veracity, such as is scarcely to be found in any other book of the same kind. But whatever it may contribute to the instruction of a naturalist, I cannot recommend it as likely to give much pleasure to common readers; for whether it be that the world is very uniform, and therefore he who is resolved to adhere to truth will have few novelties to relate; or that Dr. Browne was, by the train of his studies, led to inquire most after those things by which the greatest part of mankind is little affected; a great part of his book seems to contain very unimportant accounts of his passage from one place where he saw little, to another where he saw no more.
Upon his return, he practised physic in London; was made physician first to Charles II., and afterwards, in 1682, to St. Bartholomew's Hospital. About the same time he joined his name to those of many other eminent men, in 66 a translation of Plutarch's Lives." He was first censor, then elect, and treasurer of the college of physicians; of which, in 1705, he was chosen president, and held his office till in 1708, he died in a degree of estimation suitable to a man so variously accomplished, that King Charles had honoured him with this panegyric, that "he was as learned as any of the college, and as well-bred as any of the court."
Of every great and eminent character, part breaks forth into public view, and part lies hid in domestic privacy. Those qualities, which have been exerted in any known and lasting performances, may, at any distance of time, be traced and estimated; but silent excellencies are soon forgotten; and those minute peculiarities which discriminate every man from all others, if they are not recorded by those whom personal knowledge enables to observe them, are irrecoverably lost. This mutilation of character must have happened, among many others, to Sir Thomas Browne, had it not been delineated by his friend, Mr. Whitefoot, "who esteemed it an especial favour of Providence, to have had a
particular acquaintance with him for two-thirds of his life." Part of his observations I shall therefore copy.
"For a character of his person, his complexion and hair was answerable to his name; his stature was moderate, and a habit of body neither fat nor lean, but túrágos.
"In his habit of clothing, he had an aversion to all finery, and affected plainness both in the fashion and ornaments. He ever wore a cloak or boots, when few others did. He kept himself always very warm, and thought it most safe so to do, though he never loaded himself with such a multitude of garınents, as Suetonius reports of Augustus, enough to clothe a good family.
"The horizon of his understanding was much larger than the hemisphere of the world: all that was visible in the heavens he comprehended so well, that few that are under them knew so much he could tell the number of the visible stars in his horizon, and call them all by their names that had any; and of the earth he had such a minute and exact geographical knowledge, as if he had been by Divine Providence ordained surveyor-general of the whole terrestrial orb, and its products, minerals, plants, and animals. He was so curious a botanist, that, besides the specifical distinctions, he made nice and elaborate observations, equally useful as entertaining.
"His memory, though not so eminent as that of Seneca or Scaliger, was capacious and tenacious, insomuch as he remembered all that was remarkable in any book that he had read; and not only knew all persons again that he had ever seen at any distance of time, but remembered the circumstances of their bodies, and their particular discourses and speeches.
"In the Latin poets he remembered every thing that was acute and pungent; he had read most of the historians, ancient and modern, wherein his observations were singular, not taken notice of by common readers; he was excellent company when he was at leisure, and expressed more light than heat in the temper of his brain.
"He had no despotical power over his affections and passions (that was a privilege of original perfection, forfeited by the neglect of the use of it,) but as large a political power over them, as any Stoic, or man of his time; whereof he gave so great experiment, that he hath very rarely been known to have been overcome with any of them. The strongest that were found in him, both of the irascible and concupiscible, were under the controul of his reason. Of admiration, which is one of them, being the only product either of ignorance or uncommon knowledge, he had more and less than other men, upon the same account of his knowing