« PredošláPokračovať »
lifesome in the southern page, transplanted into the Septentrionalian, assume a rugged, dank, unjoyous aspect, like the mist-dripping plants of a Scotch ravine. At every step we feel the influences of a Boreal atmosphere. The horizon is contracted, the clouds hang lowering about us, and the winds howl drearily over a scene invested by its very monotony with something of the sublime.
Nevertheless, since the author himself appears to derive satisfaction from the investigation of his subject, we also, in a little time, learn to do the same; for habits are soon formed. Besides, there is a certain grotesque earnestness about him which has almost the effect of humour. He grapples with a shadow, a thing of his own creation, a mere hallucination of fancy, with a determination no less resolute than if he had to overthrow a logical Antæos. There is no doubt about his being serious. He pursues the phantom, he puts himself in an attitude of attack, he brandishes his weapons, and, like the knight of La Mancha, seems fully persuaded that he has gained a victory, though his antagonist may all the while have been but a syllogism with one leg. By degrees, however, this skiamachy grows amusing. We experience at every page more and more of sympathy for the writer, and, at length, consent to take all his fancies, all his theories, all his rhapsodies, at his own valuation.
And this more, perhaps, than anything proves the author to have possessed very great skill and
ability. He had to entertain the reader through a whole volume on one topic-his personal beliefdiversified, no doubt, but still one topic; and he has succeeded so well, that very few, I imagine, ever drew near the last page of the "Religio Medici" without regret. Many writers, with precisely the same subject to handle, and endowed with equal mental powers, would, notwithstanding, have produced an inferior moral effect. They would have let in upon it the lights of a coarse, worldly philosophy. The wings of contemplation, soiled and clogged with the dust of the charnel-house, would have beaten about the crust of our own planet, and soared no more to the stars. Fact would have been piled upon fact, experiment upon experiment, gloss upon gloss. The practical would have triumphed over the speculative. Through the labyrinths of material or atomic theories, "done into English by several eminent hands," the reader would have been conducted, in mire and humiliation, to confound his destiny with the frog's, and to shape his intellectual and moral course accordingly. From this bestial taint the "Religio Medici" is free; which must, however, be attributed solely to the influence of Christianity, since, in a heathen country, and in heathen times, the creed of the author would probably have been that of Epicurus: (2)
"Primum animum dico,-mentem quem sæpe vocamus,In quo concilium vitæ, regimenque locatum 'st,
(*) Conf. Rel. Med.
Esse hominis partem nihilo minus ac manus, et pes,
Sir Kenelm Digby, in his " Observations on the Religio Medici," which the reader will find at the end of Sir Thomas's treatise, cites, from our learned Friar Bacon, several very admirable remarks on the effect of different branches of study in modifying a man's creed. "Those students who busy themselves much with such notions as reside wholly in the fantasy, do hardly ever become idonecus for abstracted metaphysical speculations; the one having bulky foundation of matter, or of the accidents of it, to settle upon,-at the least with one foot; the other flying continually, even to a lessening pitch in the subtile air. And, accordingly, it hath been generally noted, that the exactest mathematicians, who converse altogether with lines, figures, and other differences of quantity, have seldom proved eminent in metaphysics, or speculative divinity. Nor, again, the professors of these sciences in the other arts. Much less can it be expected that an excellent physician, whose fancy is always fraught with the material drugs that he prescribeth his apothecary to compound his medicines of, and whose hands are inured to the cutting up, and eyes to the inspection of anatomised bodies, should easily, and with success fly his thoughts at so towering a game, as a pure intellect, or separated and unbodied soul."
Digby himself evidently viewed the question in
(3) Lucret. 1. iii. p. 70, ed. Baskerville.
the same light as the friar, whose works might still be studied with advantage; and, alluding to the notions of Browne, says, Surely this acute author's sharp wit, had he orderly applied his studies that way, would have been able to satisfy himself with less labour, and others with more plenitude, than it hath been the lot of so dull a brain as mine, concerning the immortality of the soul. And yet I assure you, my lord, the little philosophy that is allowed me for my share, demonstrateth this proposition to me, as well as faith delivereth it; which our physician will not admit in his.”
In Sir Thomas Browne's demiscepticism on this great question, we discover a proof that, recluse as he was, his mind had not escaped the sinister influences then in active operation throughout Europe. Along with a spirit of inquiry, the natural offspring of the Reformation, another less estimable spirit, always existing, had gained strength— the disposition to confound truth with error, and to mistake for philosophical courage, an ostentatious hostility towards both. Similar tendencies were observable in the European intellect during the age immediately preceding the French Revolution; and must be regarded as a consequence of what was going forward at the period of which we are speaking. Men had arisen gifted with the faculty to discern the chains wherewith custom had, until then, bound the mind, and bold enough to attempt the breaking of them. Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Gassendi, and a phalanx of coadjutors, set the example of independent thinking;
and the ambition to co-operate with these seized many whom nature never designed to become leaders in philosophy. Our own countrymen, in whom, though apparently divided from the world, the universal pulse of humanity beats as strongly as in the inhabitants of the greatest continents, may be said to have pushed forward, and led the van at that period; and, though their achievements cannot be regarded as unmixed good, it will ever be recorded of them in the history of philosophy that no men have exhibited greater energy, loftier views, or a more daring freedom of speculation.
Chiefly by their instrumentality, indeed, a reform was effected in philosophy; and in politics, although, from being too abruptly precipitated into trial by events, it fell short of the point aimed at. Time had not been allowed for moulding the public mind into the proper shape, for imparting to it, as a mass, those powerful impulses which might have gone on operating irresistibly for ages, before the Commonwealth sprang into existence at the command of a few highly-educated gentlemen, impatient of monarchy, and eager to realize on a grand scale those schemes of national happiness and prosperity suggested to them by their peculiar studies. The establishment of the Commonwealth, however, was not a vain act. It influenced, and will for ever influence, the politics of the world; and, though its direct agency be more visible in another hemisphere, the leaven it left behind is not yet effete in Europe, as the events of our days have proved,