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The OBSERVATIONS ON RELIGIO MEDICI, which occupy the following pages, were communicated by SIR KENELM DIGBY (during his confinement in Winchester House) to the Earl of Dorset. While they were in the press, a correspondence respecting them took place between the author and Sir Thomas Browne, in which it appears to have been Sir Thomas's object to induce Sir Kenelm Digby to delay the publication of his Observations, which were on the surreptitious edition, till the appearance of the genuine one should have enabled him to revise them. That correspondence, together with an anonymous notice on the same subject, were printed at the end of the edition of 1643. In the subsequent editions they precede Religio Medici ; an arrangement which has in the present been preferred.--Ed.
[The numerals which occur throughout these “Observations” indicate
the sections in “Religio Medici” referred to.]
To the Right Honourable Edward Earl of Dorset, Baron
of Buckhurst, &c. MY LORD, I RECEIVED yesternight, your lordship’s of the nineteenth current; wherein you are pleased to oblige me, not only by extreme gallant expressions of favour and kindness, but likewise by taking so far into your care the expending of my time, during the tediousness of my restraint, as to recommend to my reading a book that had received the honour and safeguard of your approbation ; for both which I most humbly thank your lordship. And, since I cannot in the way of gratefulness express unto your lordship, as I would, those hearty sentiments I have of your goodness to me, I will at the least endeavour, in the way of duty and observance, to let you see how the little needle of
is thoroughly touched at the great loadstone of yours, and followeth suddenly and strongly, which way soever you beckon it. In this occasion, the magnetick' motion was impatience to have the book in my hands, that your lordship gave so advantageous a character of; whereupon I sent presently (as late as it was) to Paul's church-yard, for this favourite of yours, Religio Medici : which after a while found me in a condition fit to receive a blessing by a visit from any of such masterpieces, as you look upon with gracious eyes ;—for I was newly gotten into bed. This good natured creature I could easily persuade to be my bed-fellow, and to wake with me, as long as I had any edge to entertain myself with the delights I sucked from 80 noble a conversation. And truly, my lord, I closed not my eyes, till I had enriched myself with (or at least exactly surveyed) all the treasures that are lapped up in the folds of those few sheets. To return only a general commendation of this curious piece, or at large to admire the author's spirit and smartness, were too perfunctory an account, and too slight an one, to so discerning and steady an eye as yours, after so particular and encharged a summons to read heedfully this discourse. I will therefore presume to blot a sheet or two of
upon sundry passages through the whole context of it, as they shall occur to my remembrance. Whereas now your lordship knoweth this packet is not so happy as to carry with it any other expression of my obsequiousness to you, it will be but reasonable, you should even here give over your further trouble, of reading what my respect engageth me to the writing of.
Whose first step is ingenuity and a well natured evenness of judgment, shall be sure of applause and fair hopes in all men for the rest of his journey. And indeed, my lord, methinketh this gentleman setteth out excellently poised with that happy temper: and showeth a great deal of judicious piety in making a right use of the blind zeal that bigots lose themselves in. Yet I cannot satisfy my doubts thoroughly, how he maketh good his professing to follow the great wheel of the church (6) in matters of divinity; which surely is the solid basis of true religion. For to do so, without jarring against the conduct of that first mover by
eccentrical and irregular motions, obligeth one to yield a very dutiful obedience to the determinations of it, without arrogating to one's self a controling ability in liking or misliking the faith, doctrine, and constitutions, of that church which one looketh upon as their north-star: whereas, if I mistake not, this author approveth the church of England, not absolutely, but comparatively with other reformed churches.
My next reflection is, concerning what he hath sprinkled (most wittily) in several places, concerning the nature and immortality of a human soul, and the condition and state it is in, after the dissolution of the body. And here give me leave to observe what our countryman Roger Bacon did long ago :
That those students, who busy themselves much with such notions, as reside wholly in the fantasy, do hardly ever become idoneous for abstracted metaphysical speculations, the one having bulky foundation of matter, or of the accidents of it, to settle upon (at the least, with one foot): the other flying continually, even to a lessening pitch, in the subtile air. And accordingly, it hath been generally noted, that the exactest mathematicians, who converse altogether with lines, figures, and other differences of quantity, have seldom proved eminent in metaphysicks, or speculative divinity. Nor again, the professors of these sciences, in the other arts. Much less can it be expected that an excellent phycisian, whose fancy is always fraught with the material drugs that he prescribeth his apothecary to compound his medicines of, and whose hands are inured to the cutting up, and eyes to the inspection of anatomized bodies, should easily, and with success, fly his thoughts at so towering a game, as a pure intellect, a separated and unbodied soul.” (7) Surely this acute author's sharp wit, had he orderly applied his studies that way, would have been able to satisfy himself with less labour, and others with more plenitude, than it hath been the lot of so dull a brain, as mine, concerning the immortality of the soul.(7) And yet, I assure you, my lord, the little philosophy that is allowed me for my share, demonstrateth this proposition to me, as well as faith delivereth it, which our physician will not admit in his.
To make good this assertion here, were very unreasonable, since that to do it exactly (and without exactness it were no demonstration) requireth a total survey of the whole science of bodies, and of all the operations that we are conversant with, of a rational creature: which I having done with all the succinctness I have been able to explicate so knotty a subject with, hath taken me up in the first draught near two hundred sheets of paper. I shall therefore take leave of this point, with only this note :—that I take the immortality of the soul (under his favour) to be of that nature, that to them only that are not versed in the ways of proving it by reason, it is an article of faith : to others, it is an evident conclusion of demonstrative science.
And with a like short note, I shall observe, how if he had traced the nature of the soul from its first principles, he could not have suspected it should sleep in the grave, till the resurrection of the body.(7) Nor would he have
permitted his compassionative nature to imagine it belonged to God's mercy (7) (as the Chiliasts did) to change its condition, in those that are damned, from pain to happiness. For where God should have done that, he must have made that anguished soul another creature than what it was (as to make fire cease from being hot, requireth to have it become another thing than the element of fire); since, that to be in such a condition as maketh us understand damned souls miserable, is a necessary effect of the temper it is in, when it goeth out of the body, and must necessarily (out of its own nature) remain in, unvariably for all eternity; though, for the conceptions of the vulgar part of mankind (who are not capable of such abstruse notions) it be styled (and truly too) the sentence and punishment of a severe judge.
I am extremely pleased with him, when he saith,(9) “there are not impossibilities enough in religion for an active faith."2 And no whit less, when in philosophy he
I which I having done, &c.] He refers to his Two Treatises concerning the Body and Soul of Man, which he published soon after. Paris, 1644, fol.-Ed.
? I am extremely pleased, &c.] “Sir Kenelm, a Roman Catholic, was, 'extremely pleased,' without question, — and full of hopes, that this young author might at last unreason himself into implicit belief, and go over to a church, which would feed his hungry faith with a