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Religio MEDICI was at first surreptitiously published, in 1642. Even in those dissonant times' (to use the gentle phrase of Harry Lawes who lived in them) this piece of serene wisdom found so many readers that two editions were immediately disposed of. It came out under the author's sanction in the following year, and numerous reimpressions were called for in his lifetime. Some of his other works Sir Thomas Browne greatly altered and enlarged, but a majestic self-esteem led him to make no change whatever in this confession of faith after he had once delivered it to the world.
Its fate in one respect has been peculiarly untoward, for it has been constantly printed with great incorrectness. A table of errata prefixed to the authentick edition of 1643, shows that it underwent a nice examination by the author ; who seems thenceforward to have left the care of the press to others, by whom the trust was discharged with singular indiligence. The subsequent editions were printed without any reference having been made to that table! A few of the errours pointed out in it were occasionally detected; but many have been constantly overpassed which mar the author's meaning, and some that contradict and reverse it. The impression of 1682 (the year in which Sir T. B. died) is the faultiest of any, for it not only continues those important blunders but is deformed by many new ones. The latter have been avoided in the folio of 1686, but it leaves the others untouched. The reprint of 1736 cannot claim even this modified praise.*
* There have been three modern editions of RELIGIO MEDICI.
The first of these was printed at Oxford in 1831. The editor states that “every former edition is so corrupt, and so full of errata, as in many places to be utterly unintelligible.” But he himself never saw the table mentioned above, and he perpetuates errours which should have been cured by it.
The second modern edition appeared in the valuable collection of Sir Thomas Browne's Works printed at Norwich in 1835. Mr. Wilkin, the editor, candidly confesses that he did not discover until the last sheet had been worked off, that the errours enumerated in the table of 1643, had passed through every subsequent edition, his own included. He cancelled some, and gave an accurate account of the whole at the end of his preface.
The third was published in London in 1838. The editor did not consider it needful to undergo the fatigue of collating the earlier impressions; he has not even used the information he So much care has been taken to banish the whole
of these errours, as well as to weigh the irresolute punctuation of every previous edition, that the one now offered to the public may venture to claim the singular praise of being the first that presents with accuracy the text of a book which issued from the press two hundred years ago.
Doubtless this work of an original thinker may afford room for annotations ; yet it is hoped there will be no irreverence in divesting it of those (equal to itself in bulk) by which it has been hitherto accompanied.* They have been reprinted often enough to be placed within the reach of any one who may be anxious to consult them, but their constant alliance with the text is unnecessary and uncomfortable. They are by no means entitled to keep company for ever with the tersely-written volume to which they have been tacked so long, for they are often composed in a vein quite repugnant to that of Sir Thomas Browne, and with a total forgetfulness of the caveat to be found at the end of his preface.
might have acquired so easily from Mr. Wilkin, but has been content with giving a tolerably faithful reprint of the worthless edition of 1682.
* Though diffuse they are omissive, and sometimes charge Sir Thomas Browne (as he elsewhere tells us) with borrowing from books which he never read. Sir Kenelm Digby's Observations were occasioned by the corrupt and surreptitious edition, and often have no application to the genuine one. They were accordingly denounced therein as hasty and erroneous, and as intended to exhibit the conceptions of the observator rather than to illustrate those of the author.
Every one acknowledges the luxury of possessing the text of a favourite author (the man who has no favourite books is incapable of friendship) without the clog a commentary proceeding from different and perhaps uncongenial minds. In the wanderings of the eye from the author to his annotators we too often have that train of thought suddenly snapt in which he was profitably leading us,* or we regale upon some frigid criticism which makes nothing manifest but the reluctance dull men feel to let a man of genius express himself after his own fashion. Surely he who wrote RELIGIO MEDICI has attained the dignity of a classic, and well deserves to have his pure gold presented to us unmixt with baser matter.
* The more we read the more perplext,
The few notes which will be found in this edition of RELIGIO
This is one of the books which give pleasing evidence of the stability of our language for the two last centuries. The thoughts of Sir Thomas Browne, profound and original as they are, and notwithstanding the out o'the way-ness of his expressions, may be apprehended as readily now as when they were first poured forth; and this noble creature who wrote 'not for an age, but for all time,' is quite as perspicuous as some whom we call (by the happiest phrase in the world) writers
of THE DAY.
We have the testimony of Sir Thomas's daughter that 'CHRISTIAN MORALS was the last work of her honoured and learned father.' It must be added
with regret, for the fact is not to the credit of his