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When and where RELIGIO MEDICI was written-Surreptitiously printed
in 1642—Two impressions of that edition in the same year-Authorized edition of 1643–Observations by Sir K. Digby-Ross's Medicus Medicatus-Annotations on the obscure Passages-Supposed author of the Annotations—Subsequent Editions of Religio Medici— Translations into Latin, Dutch, French, German, &c.—Present editionImitations and Works with a similar title.
So few particulars have been transmitted to us of the earlier years of Sir Thomas Browne's life, that it is not easy to determine precisely at what period he composed his Religio Medici, or where he resided at the time. Dr. Johnson seems to have supposed that it was written in London ;--but internal evidence exists to disprove this. Dr. Watson, in his History of Halifax, mentions that “he was said to have fixed himself, as a physician, in his juvenile years, in the parish of Halifax, and to have written his Religio Medici, in 1630, at Shipden-Hall, near Halifax.” This date, however, must be incorrect:-he did not receive his diploma till 1633, and can scarcely be said to have fixed himself in any place as a physician, three years before that event. Besides, the period named is otherwise disposed of in the accounts we have of his life ;-for some time after he took his degree of master of arts (June, 1629), he is said to have resided in Oxfordshire, and thence to have proceeded on his travels, first in Ireland, with his father-in-law Sir Thomas Dutton, and afterwards on the continent, till 1633, when he received his degree of Doctor of physick at Leyden, just before his return. His residence near Halifax, then, must be supposed subsequent to his return; and, as it is clear from several passages in Religio Medici that it was written, also, after his travels, we may perhaps safely venture to assign the same period to both ;-and conclude that he composed this celebrated treatise, in the seclusion of Shipden-Hall, as a relaxation in the intervals of his professional occupation in that neighbourhood, between the years 1633 and 1635 ;-after his wanderings had terminated, and some time before his residence at Norwich commenced.
There seems no sufficient reason to question the sincerity of Browne's declaration, that this piece was composed for his private exercise and satisfaction, and not intended for publication. Some years had elapsed since its completion and his attention very probably was already occupied in collecting materials for a larger undertaking-when the appearance, in 1642, of an anonymous and surreptitious edition of his first work, together with the notice it attracted from the Earl of Dorset and Sir Kenelm Digby, determined him to acknowledge and revise it for the press. Johnson, in his notice of this circumstance, seems to suspect the author (though he professes to acquit him) of having contrived the anonymous publication of the work, in order to try its success with the publick ; observing (in allusion to the author's complaint that the “ broken and imperfect copy.” he had lent had suffered " by frequent transcription,") that "a long treatise, however, elegant, is not often copied by mere zeal or curiosity.” No one, however, acquainted with Browne's character would hesitate to repel this insinuation :-it cannot for a moment be admitted that he was capable of using such means to obtain literary fame ;-and certainly, if he had, he would not have risked his character on an edition so incorrect as to deserve immediate suppression. In reply to the alleged improbability of transcription, may be pleaded the fact, that there is ample proof of the work having been repeatedly transcribed while in manuscript:-two complete copies are in my own possession ;a third exists in the Bodleian, and part of a fourth in the British Museum :-none of them transcripts of an existing edition. One of these (MS. W.), though so nearly approaching the edition of 1642, as to lead to the belief that they had a common origin, is clearly not a copy from it: MSS. W. 2 and R. differ from it still more widely, but resemble each other sufficiently to be considered as the descendants of a second original manuscript: the other (MS. L.) is a fragment, but it is interesting, both as possessing a date three years earlier than the spurious edition (1639), and as containing some curious variations from every other manuscript and edition. I am, therefore, perfectly satisfied that Sir Thomas Browne had several originals written by his own hand, differing from each other. This opinion is confirmed, -by the information of those who knew him, that it was his constant practice to make repeated copies of his compositions,"—as well as by an examination of his remaining manuscripts. There are, in his common-place books, many pages occupied by passages, which, with slight variations, occur in his printed works-espe
cially in Hydriotaphia, Quincunx, and Christian Morals, besides several of the Tracts entire, and of the Brampton Urns two copies, both differing from the printed copy. There is sufficient evidence too, that he was very willing to lend out his works, in manuscript; and some of his lesser pieces were even composed at the request of his friends and for their use. It is therefore easily to be supposed that one of those copies of Religio Medici, which he had lent, found its way “without his assent or privacy,” to the press.
When the work had thus unexpectedly made its appearance, it must have struck the author that his name would in all probability be speedily connected with it:-at the same time, its reception (though under the disadvantage of gross inaccuracy) was so flattering, that he probably felt little hesitation in determining to anticipate discovery by avowal, and thus secure to himself the credit and advantage of the work, together with the power of giving it such revision as he wished. In doing this, it was undoubtedly his object, not only to correct the clerical and typographical errors with which the spurious edition abounded, but to modify or expunge certain passages not suited to the temper of the times, or which his more cautious feelings, or altered opinions, made him wish to suppress: he was desirous, also, of making such additions as might justify_his having called the former copy " broken and imperfect.” In short, he wished to supersede, and altogether to disown, that edition, and in all probability took care to remove every trace of its original ;-for scarcely a fragment of the work remains amongst the Manuscripts he has left. But while the edition of 1643 is to be regarded as that which he intended for the public eye_I am persuaded, from comparing the alterations, additions, and omissions it exhibits, with the Manuscripts and surreptitious editions, that these not only have an equal claim to rank as his composition, but that they alone must be considered to exhibit the work as originally composed “ for his own private exercise and satisfaction." In all the manuscript copies are to be found, without exception, those passages of the surreptitious edition which have been omitted in that of 1643, but not one of the numerous additions nor of the most important alterations it contains.--Now, as it has been shown that those manuscript copies most probably represent three distinct originals, their remarkable agreement with the surreptitious edition, where it differs from the genuine, strongly favours the opinion that the latter was not printed from an existing and more perfect manuscript, but from a copy then first prepared, for the express purpose of publication. The former, in short, contains his private soliloquies, the latter his published opinions.
In the mean time, the surreptitious edition appears to have been rapidly sold, and a second impression of it was printed. Neither of these has a printed title-page, but both have an engraved frontispiece, by Marshall, representing a figure, which a hand from the clouds has caught by the arm, in the act of falling from a rock into the sea ; the motto à coelo salus is engraved by the side of the figure, and Religio Medici below it; at the foot of the plate, Printed for Andrew Crooke, 1642. Will. Marshall scu. Both impressions are in very small octavo; the one has 190 pp., the other 159 pp. ;-the latter has a larger page of type, but is much more accurately and better printed, and probably is the later of the two. These impressions are extremely rare, especially the former, of which my copy is the only one I have seen. In some of the following notes, it is mentioned as Ed. 1642, W.-the other, as Ed. 1642, C.
Whether the engraved frontispiece had any other origin than the fancy of Marshall the engraver, it is difficult to say, but it seems to have pleased Browne ; for it appears at the head of his first, and has accompanied every subsequent, edition. The author's frontispiece however differs from the former, in not having Religio Medici in the middle of the design, nor the engraver's name; it has at foot the following words : A true and full copy of that which was most imperfectly and surreptitiously printed before under the name of Religio Medici. Printed for Andrew Crooke, 1643.
In the same year appeared, Observations upon Religio Medici, occasionally written by Sir Kenelome Digby, Knight ; printed in the same size, and containing 124 pages. A second edition came out in 1644; the third was published, in 1659, with the fifth edition of Religio Medici, to which work it has ever since been appended, though written with reference to the surreptitious edition.
In 1645, that remarkable personage, Alexander Ross, made an attack on both parties, in his Medicus Medicatus : or the Physician's Religion cured, by a lenitive or gentle Potion : with some animadversions upon Sir Kenelme Digby's Observations on Religio Medici, pp. 112, very small 8vo. "Browne's too great lenity towards Papists, his too free use of “rhetorical phrase" in religious subjects, his apparent leaning to judicial astrology and other heresies, and the far too measured terms in which he questioned certain opinions which Ross roundly condemns,form the general subject of his remarks ; which, though often absurd, and sometimes ludicrous, are by no means devoid either of spirit or shrewdness,—though not remarkable, it must be confessed, for candour. In his animadversions on Sir Kenelm, which constitute a third of his book, he chiefly attacks the