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that Sir Thomas Browne “contemned and laughed at” that vast majority of mankind whom he denominates “ the multitude.” It was a piece of sheer affectation, or he misunderstood himself. Otherwise, he was inferior, in whatever is noble and generous, to that very multitude: for the multitude, or, which is all one, the people, never hate. And hence, perhaps, arose the saying, that “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” It has no hatred in it. Angry it may be, or changeful, or wild, or impetuous; it may terrify by its loudness, like the hurricane; it may bring scorn upon the proud, and death to the glory-seeker, but without a touch of malice. Placable, too, and full of forgiveness are the people. Nay, among their faults are their patience, their endurance of wrong, their too great and indiscriminate clemency. For, did ever popular favourite, fallen, whether justly, or unjustly, into disgrace, sue vainly to this “many-headed monster” for forgiveness ? Did any man, in any age or country, ever confer openly a favour on the people, for which they did not first or last reward him with all they have to give-glory and an immortal name ? Look over the whole earth at the monuments of human gratitude, which, in many countries has plunged them into idolatry, and bent their knee in worship of their fellow-creatures.—It is not the people who are ungrateful, but their benefactors who are insatiable. They would become tyrants because they have performed some signal service for their countrymen: that is, degrade whom they have benefited into slaves.
But I have said that Browne misunderstood himself, and it will be easy to prove it. In that part of his work wherein he investigates the nature of benevolence, he observes, “ I hold not so narrow a conceit of this virtue, as to conceive that to give alms is only to be charitable, or think a piece of liberality can comprehend the total of charity. Divinity bath wisely divided the acts thereof into many branches, and hath taught us, in this narrow way, many paths unto goodness : as many ways
we may do good, so many ways we may be charitable. There are infirmities not only of body but of soul and fortunes, which do require the merciful hand of our abilities. I cannot contemn a man for ignorance, but behold him with as much pity as I do Lazarus. It is no greater charity to clothe his body, than apparel the nakedness of his soul.”("?)
In this language, which evidently comes warm from the heart, I can discover nothing of that contempt which exults over the ignorance of the majority, a matter purely accidental, and therefore not to be imputed to them for a fault. A man's lameness, blindness, poverty, sickness, childlessness, are as proper subjects for laughter and ridicule as his involuntary ignorance. Accordingly, no philosopher and a fortiori, no Christian, ever despised or poured scorn on the multitude for the mental hunger they endure. If they are starving, he will, if it be in his power, give them bread, and if ignorant, know
(12) Religio Medici. pt. II. p. 116.
ledge. Did Christ contemn or laugh at the people? Did he hate them when his heart's-blood was on their spear's point ? No, his compassion for their ignorance still overmastered every other feeling, and he prayed,“ Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” Philosophy therefore, if it require a lesson in humanity, may come to school here. The feeling which prompted those words touched the highest culminating point of human nature, where divinity itself began.
And Browne had been in this school, and notwithstanding his affectation, profited greatly. He could not “contemn a man for his ignorance;” and if he could not contemn one, so neither could he ten thousand. The number is nothing. Here, as in many other things, c'est le premier pas qui coûte. The “ multitude” resolves itself into units, and those units are men. If we contemn the whole, therefore, we must contemn each ; with that which we contemn we can have no sympathy; and with. out sympathy we can make no effort to relieve. But our physician overflowed with compassion and benevolence." Aristotle,” he remarks,“ is too severe, that will not allow us to be truly liberal without wealth, and the bountiful hand of fortune;" (he misunderstood Aristotle, but that is nothing ;) “if this be true, I must confess I am charitable only in my liberal intentions, and bountiful well-wishes.” Nay, not in wishes only: his charities bore fruit as well as blossoms—they ripened from wishes into acts. For thus he proceeds: “But if the example of the mite be not only an act of wonder, but an example of the noblest charity, surely poor men may also build hospitals, and the rich alone have not erected cathedrals.” And then he makes the transition to himself. “I have a private method which others observe not; I take the opportunity of myself to do good: I borrow occasion of charity from mine own necessities, and supply the wants of others, when I am in most need myself; for it is an honest stratagem to make advantage of ourselves, and so to husband the acts of virtue, that where they were defective in one circumstance, they may repay their want, and multiply their goodness in another.”
Still the best passage on this subject is to come; “ He is rich who hath enough to be charitable ; and it is hard to be so poor, that a noble mind may not find a way to this piece of goodness. He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord :' there is more rhetoric in that one sentence than in a library of sermons; and indeed if those sentences were understood by the reader, with the same emphasis as they are delivered by the author, we needed not those volumes of instructions, but might be honest by an epitome. Upon this motive only I cannot behold a beggar without relieving his necessities with my purse, or his soul with my prayers: these. scenical and accidental differences between us, cannot make me forget that common and untouched part of us both; there is under these cantos and miserable outsides, these mutilate and semi-bodies, a soul of the same alloy with our own, whose ge
nealogy is God's, as well as ours, and is in as fair a way to salvation as ourselves.”(12)
From what has been said above it will, I think, be very clear that, taken altogether, the “Religio Medici” is far from being a common work. By an historian of English literature it would, no doubt, be viewed in conjunction with the other literary productions of the period, as receiving or reflecting light on them. He might probably inquire to what extent Browne was indebted to his predecessors or contemporaries, and how far his example may have influenced succeeding authors. Both these inquiries are foreign to my present purpose. I have preferred considering it as a solitary monument, as a means of penetrating into the singular character of the writer. My object has been to render the reader better acquainted with Sir Thomas Browne, and, consequently, in my opinion, better pleased with his mind and character. There no doubt exist several obstacles. He addresses himself less to the understanding than to the fancy-to the passions still less than to either. There are few attempts at severe logic. He tells us what he believed, what he disbelieved, what he doubted. He speculates on dogmas, on crotchets, or conceits, but disturbs no principle of action. On our duties as citizens he seldom touches. His meditations have
much the character of ghost-stories--they are wild, dark, often sepulchral: they carry us beyond the circle of our ordinary associations--they interest, they
(12) Religio Medici. part. II. p. 145.