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But the effect on literature of times like these would necessarily be twofold. Upon characters instinct with passion and energy, prompt to act, no less than to speculate, proud, vehement, impetuous, such, for example, as Milton, Andrew Marvel, Harrington, Algernon Sydney, it would operate as an irresistible incitement to mingle in public life, and sink or swim with the cause of freedom; while upon the gentler and more timid, upon those who dread, and therefore imagine they scorn the crowd, its necessary fruit would be a deeper and more complete and unbroken retirement. And such, it is well known, was the case with Hobbes, who trembled in his very closet at the shouts of the agora, even as re-echoed by the page of history; but pre-eminently was it so with Sir Thomas Browne, whose morbid sensibility shrunk in alarm from all contact with the rough humanity of the crowd, always terrible to those who are ignorant of its nature.
We may thus, in great part, account for the ascetic tone which the speculations of this remarkable writer assume. The agitation and turmoil of the world around scared him into himself, where, like Lord Bacon's long-lived hermits in their subterranean abodes,(4) he dug and quarried to the best of his ability for the benefit of future generations. In studying his productions, therefore-more particularly the one before us -we may narrow our view almost to a point. The author,
(4) New Atlantis, p. 254.
his constitution, his creed, the reasons on which it was erected, or the doubts that sapped it--such are the ingredients of the piece. Nay, as we have seen above, his very dreams are brought into play; and elsewhere the privacy of his bed-chamber is laid open, that we may behold him upon his knees.(5)
This extraordinary communicativeness, which many will probably consider, as I do, one of the principal charms of the “ Religio Medici,” somewhat moves the bile of Sir Kenelm Digby, who had not, at that time, composed his own very ~ singular Memoirs. He may, however, on these points, be supposed to represent a very large class of persons, who would have an author always appear before them, like an actor on the stage, in starched, point-device manners, as far removed as may be from those wherewith nature and habit have clothed him. I would not reproach Digby with applying one measure to his neighbour, and another to himself. He possibly could not, at this time, have believed, even had a Calchas foretold it, into what a torrent of egotism his passion for Venetia Stanley would one day melt him. His objections, no doubt, reveal honestly what he felt, in common with many others; and, therefore, in replying to them, I may anticipate what, by critics of similar character, would still be urged against the confessional portions of the “Religio Medici.”
" What should I say of his making so particular a narration of personal things,” inquires Sir Kenelm,
) Relig. Med. p. 173.
“and private thoughts of his own, the knowledge of which cannot much conduce to any man's betterment; which, I make account, is the chief end of his writing this discourse ?” Such is ever the language of contemporaries. They conceive themselves to be overshadowed by the lofty pride of him who, in his published works, dares to speak of himself. Gladly would they, in most cases, do the same ; but, wanting the courage, feel their jealousy excited by the boldness of any who appear to be on better terms with the public, from the confidence with which they entertain it on subjects connected with their own private personal affairs. They would seem never to reflect, that those very particulars which to them appear most frivolous, are sometimes dwelt on with most pleasure by posterity, as supplying an index to many of the secret motives and causes which determined the conduct, or shaped the peculiar opinions of a distinguished writer,
Sir Kenelm Digby then enumerates, but with much courtesy, the several circumstances which, in his judgment, our philosophical physician should have omitted to dwell upon.
“ As where he speaketh of the soundness of his body—of the course of his diet-of the coolness of his blood at the summer solstice of his age-of his neglect of an epitaphhow long he hath lived, or may live—what popes, emperors, kings, grand seigniors, he hath been contemporary unto, and the like.” But the MartyrTyrant's gentleman of the bed-chamber must have been somewhat out of humour when he wrote this. For who can fail to perceive, that most of the particulars which he condemns as insignificant, were in truth possessed of very great interest ? There is more in
book than what the characters of the alphabet represent. The very order and sequence of the words reveal something of the writer's character. In certain passages of authors we discover words which they thought but dared not write, tógether with many which they have written, but did not believe. Nothing, however, so much helps to the proper understanding of an abstruse writer as an acquaintance with his physical conditions, a thorough knowledge of which might almost enable a physiologist to determine à priori, what on every subject the complexion of his creed would be.
But into what errors an imperfect acquaintance with such points is apt to betray us, the case of Sir Thomas Browne may suffice to show, ample, observing his thoughts to be sombre, and clustering frequently and obstinately round the idea of death, our first inference would
unquestionably be, that he was a man of infirm body, whose sufferings and feebleness so shaped the vista of his imagination, that it always terminated in the tomb. But from coming to this erroneous conclusion we are preserved by the author's frank disclosure that he was of “ sound body.”
Again, though beaten from this point, we might break ground on a neighbouring position, and maintain, that however excellent his constitution and general health may have n, he my still have fed habitually on such articles of food as, accord
ing to Burton,' generate and nourish dismal thoughts, line a man's brain with black, and make over the fee-simple of his lucubrations to the devil. Here, once more, the tendency towards rash inference is repressed, by Browne's prudently making us, in confidence, acquainted with “ the course of his diet.” On this head his declarations are as full and frank as need be. “ I am of a constitution so general,” he observes, “ that it comforts and sympathizeth with all things. I have no antipathy, or rather idiosyncracy, in diet, humour, air, anything. I wonder not at the French for their dishes of frogs, snails, and toad-stools; nor at the Jews for locusts and grass-hoppers; but being among them, make them my common viands; and I find they agree with my stomach as well as theirs.
I could digest a salad gathered in a church-yard, as well as in a garden."
“ There is," as Sir Hugh Evans phrases it, “good reasons in this.” We do not, in fact, appear to possess, as yet, a true Catholic taste, or to have included in our list of edible things half the articles which nature intended us to devour. To say nothing of the frogs, snails, &c. about which we are still in debate with the French, there is a delicacy in fashion among the Siamese which should forthwith find a place upon all civilized tables. cent traveller in the Burman empire, wholly unendowed with the latitudinarian palate of our physician, but tormented with all those antipathies and idiosyncrasies, some modification of which makes up the characteristic of so many Englishmen, suf