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other half very out-of-the-way book- questions as “ Whether men weigh lore, this book displays Browne still heavier dead than alive ?” being chain the character of the antiquary, as racteristic questions, is designed with that age understood him. He is a much ambition, under its pedantic Greek kind of Elias Asbmole, dealing with title “Pseudodoxia Epidemica,' as a crinatural objects; which are for him, ticism, a cathartic, an instrument for in the first place, and apart from the the clarifying of the intellect. He remote religious hints and intimations begins from “that first error in Parathey carry with them, curiosities. He dise,” wondering much at “ man's seems to have no true sense of natural deceivability in his perfection "_" at law, as Bacon understood it; nor even such gross deceit." He enters in this of that immanent reason in the natu- connection, with a kind of poetry of ral world, which the Platonic tradition scholasticism, which may interest the supposes. “ Things are really true,' student of 'Paradise Lost,' into what
as they correspond unto we may call the intellectual and moral God's conception; and have so much by-play of the situation of the first verity as they hold of conformity unto man and woman in Paradise, with that intellect, in whose idea they had strange queries about it. Did Adam, their first determinations.” But, for instance, already know of the fall actually, what he is busy in the record of the Angels? Did he really believe of, are matters more or less of the in death till Abel died? It is from nature of caprices; as if things after Julius Scaliger that he takes his all were significant of their higher motto, to the effect that the true verity only at random, in a sort of knowledge of things must be bad surprises, like music in old instruments from things themselves, not from suddenly touched into sound by a books; and he seems as seriously wandering finger, among the lumber concerned as Bacon to dissipate the of people's houses. Nature, “the art crude impressions of a false of God," as he says (varying a little a sense,” of false science, and a fictitious phrase used also by Hobbes, in a work authority. Inverting, oddly, Plato's printed later), Nature, he seems to theory that all learning is but remiprotest, is only a little less magical, its niscence, he reflects with a sigh how processes only a little less in the way much of oblivion must needs be inof alchemy, than you had supposed; volved in the getting of any true or rather not quite after the manner knowledge. “Men that adore times you so lightly thought. We feel that, past, consider not that those times as with that disturbed age in England were once present (that is, as our own generally, (and it is here that he, with are at this present), and ourselves unto it, is so interesting, curious, old-world, those to come, as they unto us at and unlike ourselves, his supposed present." That surely, coming from
) experience might at any moment be one both by temperament and habit broken in upon by a hundred forms of so great an antiquary, has the touch a natural magic, only not quite so of something like an influence in the marvellous as that older sort of magic, atmosphere of the time. That there or alchemy, he is at so much pains to was any actual connection between expose ; and the large promises of Browne's work and Bacon's is but a which, its large words, too, he still surmise.
Yet we almost seem to be regretfully enjoys.
hearing Bacon when Browne disAnd yet the • Discourse of Vulgar courses on the “ use of doubts, and Errors,' seeming, as it often does, to the advantages which might be derived be a serious refutation of fairy tales, from drawing up a calendar of doubts, arguing, for instance, against the falsehoods, and popular errors ;” and, literal truth of the poetic statement as from Bacon, one gets the impresthat “ The pigeon hath no gall”; such sion that men really have been very
much the prisoners of their own crude still believed in the mandrake, for inor pedantic terms, notions, associa- stance; its fondness for places of tions; that they have been very
indo- execution, and its human cries " lent in testing very simple matters-- eradication, with hazard of life to with a wonderful kind of “supinity” them that pull it up.” “In philosophy," as he calls it. In Browne's chapter he observes, meaning to contrast his on the Sources of Error,' again, we free-thinking in that department with may trace much resemblance to Bacon's his orthodoxy in religion, “where truth striking doctrine of the Idola, the seems double-faced, there is no
shams men fall down and worship. more paradoxical than myself:” which Taking source respectively, from the is true, we may think, in a further “common infirmity of human nature,' sense than he meant, and that it was from the “erroneous disposition of the the "paradoxical " that he actually people,” from “confident adherence to preferred. Happy at all events, he authority,” the errors which Browne still remained-undisturbed and happy chooses to deal with may be registered -in a hundred native prepossessions, as Bacon's Idola Tribus, Fori Theatri ; some certainly valueless, some of them the idols of our common human na- perhaps invaluable. And while one ture; of the vulgar, when they get feels that no real logic of fallacies has together; and of the learned, when been achieved by him, one feels still they get together.
more how little the construction of But of the fourth species of error that branch of logical inquiry really noted by Bacon, the Idola Species, helps men's minds; fallacy, like truth that whole tribe of illusions, which itself, being a matter so dependent on are “bred amongst the weeds and innate gift of apprehension, so prætertares of one's own brain," Browne logical and personal; the original tells us nothing by way of criticism; perception counting for almost everywas himself, rather, a lively example thing, the mere inference for so little. of their operation. Throw them into Yes! “A man may be in as just posconcrete or personal form, suppose
session of truth as of a city, and yet them introduced amorg the other be forced to surrender,” even in conforces of an active intellect, and you troversies not necessarily maladroit. have Sir Thomas Browne himself. The really stirring poetry of science The sceptical inquirer who rises from is not in vague and facile divinations his cathartic, his purging of error, a about it, but in its larger ascertained believer in the supernatural character
truths—the order of infinite space, of pagan oracles, and a cruel judge of the slow method and vast results of supposed witches, must still need as infinite time. For Browne, however, much as
ever that elementary con- the sense of poetry which so ception of the right method and the masters his scientific procedure, dejust limitations of knowledge, by power pends chiefly on its vague possibilities; of which he should not just strain out the empirical philosophy, even after a single error here or there, but make Bacon, being still dominated by a a final precipitate of fallacy.
temper, resultant from the general unAnd yet if the temperament had settlement of men's minds at the been deducted from Browne's work- Reformation, which may be summed that inherent and strongly marked up in the famous question of Montaigne way of deciding things, which has Que sçais-je ? The cold blooded guided with so surprising effect the method of observation and experiment musings of the Letter to a Friend,' was creeping but slowly over the doand the · Urn-burial'—we should pro- main of science; and such unreclaimed bably have remembered him little. portions of it as the phenomena of Pity! some may think, for himself at magnetism had an immense fascinaleast, that he had not lived earlier, and tion for men like Browne and Digby.
Here, in those parts of natural philo- Browne's • Christian Morals ;' but its sophy “but yet in discovery," " the proper and sympathetic collocation America and untravelled parts of would be rather with the · Urn-burial,' truth,” lay for them the true prospect of which it is a kind of prelude, and of science, like the new world itself strikes the key-note. He is writing to a geographical discoverer such as in a very complex situation ; to a Raleigh. And welcome as one of the friend, upon occasion of the death of a minute hints of that country far ahead common friend. The deceased apparof them, the strange bird, or floating ently had been little known to Browne fragment of unfamiliar vegetation, himself till his recent visits, while the which met those early navigators, intimate friend to whom he is writing there was a certain fantastic experi- had been absent at the time ; and the ment, in which, as was alleged, Para- leading motive of Browne's letter is celsus had been lucky. For Browne the deep impression he has received in and others it became the crucial type his visits of a sort of physical beauty of the kind of agency in nature in the coming of death, with which he which, as they conceived, it was the still surprises and moves his reader. proper function of science to reveal in
There had been, in this case, a tardilarger operation. “ The subject of my
ness and reluctancy in the circumlast letter," says Dr. Henry Power, stances of dissolution, which had perthen a student, writing to Browne in mitted him, in the character of a 1648, the last year of Charles the physician, as it were, to assist at the First,“ being so high and noble a piece spiritualising of the bodily frame by of chemistry, invites me once more to natural process; a wonderful new request an experimental eviction of it type of a kind of mortified grace befrom yourself; and I hope you will ing evolved by the way. The spiritual not chide my importunity in this peti body had anticipated the formal
. tion, or be angry at my so frequent moment of death; the alert soul, in knockings at your door to obtain a that tardy decay, changing its vesture grant of so great and admirable a gradually, and as if piece by piece. mystery.” Wbat the enthusiastic The infinite future had invaded this young student expected from Browne, life perceptibly to the senses, like the so high and noble a piece of chemistry, ocean felt far inland up a tidal river.
re-individualling of an in- Nowhere, perhaps, is the attitude of cinerated plant"-a violet, turning to questioning awe on the threshold of freshness, and smelling sweet again another life displayed with the expresout of its ashes, under some genially siveness of this unique morsel of fitted conditions of the chemic art. literature; though there is something
Palingenesis, resurrection, effected of the same kind, in another than the by orderly prescription,—the "re-indi- literary medium, in the delicate monuvidualling” of an “incinerated
organ- mental sculpture of the early Tuscan ism,"—is a subject which affords us a School, as also in many of the designs natural transition to the little book of of William Blake, often, though unthe ‘Hydriotaphia,' or Treatise of consciously, much in sympathy with Urn-burial' about fifty or sixty those unsophisticated Italian workmen. pages—which, together with a very With him, as with them and with the singular letter not printed till after writer of the Letter to a Friend Browne's death, is perhaps, after all, upon the occasion of the death of his the best justification of Browne's liter- intimate Friend,'--so strangely! the ary reputation, as it were his own visible function of death is but to curiously figured urn and treasure- refine, to detach from aught that is place of immortal memory
vulgar. And this elfin letter, really In its first presentation to the an impromptu letter to a friend, public this letter was connected with affords the best possible light on the
was the "
general temper of the man who could no fear; noting the various casuistical be moved by the accidental discovery considerations of men's last form of of those old urns at Walsingham- self-love; all those whims of humanity funeral relics of “Romans or Britons as a “student of perpetuity,” the Romanised which had learned Roman mortuary customs of all nations, which, customs "—to the composition of that from their
closeness to our human wonderful book the Hydriotaphia.' nature, arouse in most minds only a He had drawn up a short account of strong feeling of distaste. There is the circumstance; but it was after something congruous with the impasten years' brooding that he put forth sive piety of the man in his waiting the finished treatise, dedicated to an on accident from without to take start eminent collector of ancient coins and for the work, which, of all his work, other rarities, with congratulations is most truly touched by the “divine that he " can daily command the view spark.” Delightsome as its eloquence of so many imperial faces," and with is found to be, it is actually attained (by way of frontispiece) one of the out of a certain difficulty and halting urns,
“ drawn with a coal taken out of crabbedness of expression; the wretchit and found among the burnt bones.” ed punctuation of the piece being not The discovery had resuscitated for the only cause of its impressing the him a whole world of latent observa- reader with the notion that he is but tion, from life, from out-of-the way dealing with a collection of notes for reading, from the natural world, and a more finished composition, and of a fused into a composition, which with different kind; perhaps a purely erudite all its quaintness we may well pro- treatise on its subject, with detachnounce classical, all the heterogeneous ment of all personal colour now adherelements of that singular mind. The ing to it. Out of an atmosphere of desire to " record these risen ashes all-pervading oddity and quaintness-and not to let them be buried twice the quaintness of mind which reflects among us,” had set free, in his manner that this disclosing of the urns of the of conceiving things, something not ancients hath “left unto our view some wholly analysable, something that parts which they never beheld themmay be properly called genius, which selves”—arises a work really ample shapes his use of common words to and grand, nay! classical, as I said, stronger and deeper senses, in a way by virtue of the effectiveness with unusual in prose writing. Let the which it fixes a type in literature; as, regder, for instance, trace his peculiarly indeed, at its best, romantic literature sensitive use of the epithets dark and (and Browne is genuinely romantic) in thin, both here and in the Letter to a every period attains classical quality, Friend.'
giving true measure of the wholly Upon what a grand note he can limited value of those well-worn critical begin and end chapter or paragraph- distinctions. And though the Urn
“ “When the funeral pyre was out, and burial' certainly has much of the the last valediction over :
character of a poem, yet one is never large part of the earth is still in the allowed to forget that it was designed, urn unto us.” Dealing with a most candidly, as a treatise on one departvague range of feelings, it is his skill ment of ancient “culture”; as much to associate them to
definite so as Guichard's curious old French objects. Like the Soul, in Blake's book on · Divers Manners of Burial'; design, "exploring the recesses of the and was the fruit of much labour, in tomb,” he carries a light, the light of the way especially of industrious selecthe poetic faith which he cannot put tion from remote and difficult writers; off him, into those dark places, "the there being then few or no hand-books, abode of worms and pismires," peering or anything like our modern short cuts round with a boundless curiosity and to varied knowledge. Quite unaffect
_66 And a
edly, a curious learning saturates, with feet. But it is hardly fair to take our a kind of grey and aged colour most leave amid these grievous images of so apt and congruous with the subject happy a writer as Sir Thomas Browne ; matter, all the thoughts that arise in so great a lover of the open air, under him. His great store of reading, so which much of his life was passed. freely displayed, he uses almost as His work, late one night, draws to a poetically as Milton; like him, profit. natural close :—" To keep our eyes ing often by the mere sonorous effect open longer,” he bethinks himself of some heroic or ancient
but to act he can adapt to that same sort of Antipodes. The huntsmen are up in learned sweetness of cadence with America !” which so many of his single sentences What a fund of open-air cheerfulare made to fall upon the ear.
ness, there! in turning to sleep. Pope Gregory, that great religious Still, even in dealing with a writer
a poet, requested by certain eminent in whom mere style counts for so much persons to send them some of those as with Browne, it is impossible to relics he sought for so devoutly in all ignore his matter; and it is with relithe lurking-places of old Rome, took gion he is really occupied from first to up, it is said, a portion of common last, hardly less than Richard Hooker. earth, and delivered it to the messen- And his religion, too, after all, was a gers; and, on their expressing surprise religion of cheerfulness ; he has no at such a gift, pressed the earth to- great consciousness of evil in things, gether in his hand, whereupon the and is no fighter. His religion, if one sacred blood of the Martyrs was may say so, was all profit to him ; beheld flowing out between the fingers. among
ways, in securing an abThe veneration of relics became a part solute staidness and placidity of temof Christian (as some may think it a per, for the intellectual work which part of natural,) religion. All over was the proper business of his life. Rome we may count how much devo- His contributions to “evidence,” in tion in fine art we owe to it; and, the Religio Medici,' for instance, through all ugliness or superstition, hardly tell, because he writes out of the intention of it still speaks to view of a really philosophical criticism. serious minds. The poor dead bones, What does tell in him, in this direcghastly and forbidding,—we know tion, is the witness he brings to men's what Shakspere would have felt about instinct of survival—the “ intimations them—“ Beat not the bones of the of immortality,” as Wordsworth terms buried : when he breathed, he was them, which were natural with him in a man !” And it is with some- surprising force. As was said of Jean thing of a similar feeling that Browne Paul, his special subject was the imis full on the common and general mortality of the soul; with an assurground of humanity; an awe-stricken ance as personal, as fresh and original, sympathy with those, whose bones as it was, on the one hand, in those old "lie at the mercies of the living," half civilised people who had deposited strong enough to unite all his vari- the urns; on the other hand, in the ous chords of feeling into a single cynical French poet of the nineteenth strain of impressive and genuine century, who did not think, but knew, poetry. His real interest is in what that his soul was imperishable. He may be called the ari ties of our lived in an age in which that philocommon humanity. As another might sophy made a great stride which ends be moved at the sight of Alexander's with Hume ; and his lesson, if we may bones, or Cecilia's, or Saint Edmund's, be pardoned for taking away a "lesso he is full of a fine poetical excite- son” from so ethical a writer, is the ment at such lowly relics as the earth force of men's temperaments in the hides almost everywhere beneath our management of opinion, their own or
No. 319-VOL. LIV.