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dashed off at a sitting, the "Observations" went not to the press without correction and careful revision.
However this may be, other proofs occur in the brochure of Digby, that he was more solicitous to exhibit his own quick discernment, than to be sure of the writer's meaning. And, as an example, I may adduce what he says on the subject of Ptolemy and the Koran. "I doubt he mistakes in his chro
nology," says he, or the printer in the name, when he maketh Ptolemy condemn the Alcoran." This would no doubt tell well enough in the letter of one courtier to another, and succeed in provoking the intended smile. Anachronisms, when sufficiently striking, have always a comic effect, whether designedly perpetrated or not. Thus a dramatic poet of Athens introduces Hercules on the stage studying the" Almanache des Gourmands," of the age of Pericles, purposely, of course, to set the Demos "in a roar." But in the passage alluded to, of the "Religio Medici," Browne is speaking seriously; and if we laugh, it must be at him, not with him. Let us, however, look at his own words.
Setting forth very earnestly the excellence of the Bible, he observes "were it of man, I could not choose but say, it was the singularest and superlativest piece that hath been extant since the creation. Were I a pagan I should not forbear the lecture of it; and cannot but commend the judgment of Ptolemy, that thought not his library complete without it. The Alcoran of the Turks (I speak it
without prejudice) is an ill-composed piece, containing in it vain and ridiculous errors in philosophy, impossibilities, fictions, and vanities beyond laughter." There is here, the reader will perceive, no mistake in chronology, or error of the printer. Ptolemy's solicitude is confined to the Greek translation of the Scriptures; the critique on the Koran is Sir Thomas Browne's own.
Nevertheless, though I may have appeared somewhat forward to enter the lists in defence of the author of the "Religio Medici," it is not my design to deny that he is often vain, and sometimes in error. I have only striven to prove that, in the instances above mentioned, the charges are ill-founded. My notes will show how far I am from falling in with all he advances; and I must even, before entering on the work itself, hazard more than one remark anything but complimentary to its writer.
What the final purpose of Browne may have been, is more than I can pretend even to conjecture. Sometimes it appears to have been one thing, sometimes another. It would probably, even had he chosen to be candid, have been beyond his own power so to analyse the impelling motives as to determine exactly with which had been the initiative, and whether the primary impulse continued throughout to preserve the lead. And what he could not have determined I will not pretend to know; nor is it of paramount importance. The book is before us: what is its tendency? Whither does it lead? In my opinion, the sceptical portion is subordinate, and the piety predominates.
There are many errors, much that is mischievous; but there are still more truths, there is still more sound religion, and excellent philosophy.
The imperfections, therefore, of the "Religio Medici," should in no degree prejudice its popularity, and will not probably diminish its usefulness. For, who refuses to peruse a book because its author is sometimes egotistical, and occasionally mistaken? Every work composed by man is more or less in the same predicament. But of some writers the very errors are pregnant with instruction; since, if they teach us nothing else, this at least we may learn from them—that no amount of intellect, no force of genius, no care, no industry, is sufficient to insure, on all occasions, the attainment of truth; and that time, in its progress, reveals to the humble in talent, no less than in station, truths which once lay concealed from the wisest and proudest of philosophers.
Nay, to the vigorous and inquiring mind, it may be an advantage to converse with a body of propositions of which some are evil. “Prove all things—hold fast that which is good." The first of the suspicious brood with which we meet rouses our caution, puts us on our guard, calls into activity all our powers of discernment and discrimination. We are prepared to scrutinize narrowly and try the value of everything before we receive it. That indolent habit, which the feeding on mere literary luxuries engenders is for the moment, at least, cast aside; and a keen and searching spirit, without which to read is little better than to sleep, is substituted in its stead. Somed
thing of this is required, at all times, in studying our older literature, wherein "la vertu, qu'on nom bienseance," (seldom the pervading spirit of any age,) is still less observable, perhaps, than in the productions of our own generation. The people for whom the "Religio Medici" was written were a plain race, and their language was plain. They spoke and wrote frankly of many things, which a greater progress in refinement, a more fastidious taste, and, perhaps, an instinctive desire to make up, by superior polish for what is wanting in vigour, have long since banished from the circles of popular speculation. In fact, an exact line had not then been drawn between the domains of literature and science; and physiology was consequently permitted to mingle itself up too intimately with considerations purely moral, the result of which was a vocabulary not sufficiently weeded.
Where, however, the error lies rather in the matter than in the style, the author, rather than the spirit of his age, should answer for it. And this is particularly the case with Sir Thomas Browne. His faults, in whatever form they might have manifested themselves, would still have constituted part and parcel of his character, and consequently have appeared in his works, had he lived in our own times. He would, for example, have been at once sceptical and superstitious; incredulous, where he should have believed; credulous, even to anility where disbelief would have been more commendable. He seems to have been complexionably inclined to strain at a gnat and swallow
a camel. He could, at one period of his life, doubt of the immortality of the soul, but nevertheless maintain the firmest possible faith in witchcraft; and not only so, but denounce as "atheists" all who
called in question this important article of his philosophical creed. That is, it seemed incredible to him, upon the mere evidence of reason, (for as an article of faith he admitted it,) that the Creator of all things should give perpetuity of existence to rational intelligences called into being ex nihilo,— for such are our souls,-while his reason was fully able to digest the notion, that a number of poor old women in every parish-for so numerous in popular belief are witches-have the power to mount astride, through the atmosphere, upon a broomstick, and whisk their tails above the clouds!
To me, that declaration of his, that "religion contains not impossibilities enough for an active faith," which so marvellously contents Sir Kenelm Digby, appears to be conceived in anything but a spirit of piety. I make no account of Tertullian's "credo quia impossibile est." In one of his temper and calibre it might be sheer absurdity. But for a writer so cool as Sir Thomas Browne, the same apology can scarcely be made; and, accordingly, I am surprised at the almost infantine simplicity-if I should not rather say, the hypocrisy-of Digby, who thus expresses his approval: "I am extremely pleased with him when he saith, there are not impossibilities enough in religion for an active faith.'
Now, in what, to say the least of it, has all the