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PRELIMINARY

DISCOURSE.

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PRELIMINARY DISCOURSE.

Irrideant me arrogantes, et nondum salubriter prostrati et elisi a te, Deus meus, ego tamen confiteor tibi dedecora mea in laude tua. Sine me, obsecro, et da mihi circumire præsenti memoria præteritos circumitus erroris mei, et immolare tibi hostiam jubilationis,

CONFESS. Div. AUGUST. 1. IV. c. l.

INSTEAD of digressing into general considerations of the works of Sir Thomas Browne, of which none is without its peculiar value, I shall, in the present instance, confine my remarks to the “ Religio Medici,” fairly to characterise and appreciate which will, I doubt not, be regarded as an object sufficient for one discourse. We have here, in fact, to do with a very extraordinary production; much less distinguished, however, for its intrinsic excellence than for a certain peculiarity of manner visible throughout. And, therefore, the aim of our criticism should, I think, be, to detect, and, as far as possible, to explain the latent causes that produced so marked an individuality: in other words, to penetrate through the cloud of rhetorical artifices in the midst of which the author delights

to move, so as to discover the real make and complexion and bent of his mind.

To a certain extent the " Religio Medici” may be considered in the light of a confession. For, although the writer does not therein relate formally and in order those external occurrences and events which constitute the ordinary materials of autobiography, he nevertheless, like St. Augustin and Rousseau, enters somewhat at length into the history of his mind's progress and decisions on subjects the most important. And when a speaks much of himself, with whatever design, we shall be ourselves only to blame if we fail to comprehend him. Besides, it will soon be evident to the reader that, if not gifted with any very remarkable share of humility, Browne had still not the ambition to appear

man

teres atque rotundus.”

He was perfectly conscious that his luminous and brilliant character exhibited more than one dark spot; and with a courage not always the property of superior men, not only dared to expose those defects, but, with his own hand, to direct public attention to them.

The motives, however, which determine an author in such cases are not altogether inscrutable. If he acknowledge his errors, if he point out, frankly and boldly, his own imperfections, he will seem with justice to claim the privilege of being equally explicit in what makes for his honour. So much would be required by common candour, were he treating of another man's character—and should he demand less indulgence when pleading his own cause? Other considerations, too, may have had their weight with Sir Thomas Browne. None knew better than he, that the most useful and the most admired authors are not those spruce and trim personages, who, like Handel at the organ, or Buffon in his study, appear from title-page to colophon in bag-wig and ruffles; but rather those prouder and more confident individuals, whose genius, like a youthful beauty, cares not if it be sometimes caught en deshabille.

All his life a sort of helluo librorum,notwithstanding the extraordinary coolness with which, for effect, he speaks of the burning of the Vatican, (') Browne, at the time of writing this work, appears to have been more particularly conversant with Cardan's autobiography, and Montaigne's Essays, whence he probably borrowed more than one hint, both towards the construction and filling up of his plan. Indeed, the influence of the Gascon philosopher on our older literature was very extensive. His thoughts, sometimes in their native livery, but more frequently in disguise, meet us perpetually; and, considering his character, the wonder, perhaps is, not that he was then so much, but that he is now so little read. Very few writers, ancient or modern, have so ably united the habit of borrowing other men's great thoughts with the power of originating others no less lofty

(1) Religio Medici, p. 49.

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