« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Cromwell's death, though sufficiently before that event for Cromwell to have seen a copy of it. We can fancy nothing more grim than the Protector's face poring, at a leisure moment, over such a specimen of the literature of his reign, and trying to decide whether there was really anything in these quincunxes or in the author's brain who wrote about them. We fear the decision would have been a very short one.
The so-called Miscellany Tracts are thirteen in number, and are all on topics of natural history or archæology. There is an account of some of the plants mentioned in Scripture; there is a dissertation on garlands and the habit of wearing them; there is a treatise on the fishes eaten by Christ with his disciples; there is a paper answering miscellaneous queries about fishes, birds, and insects; there are tracts on hawks and falconry, on cymbals and other musical instruments of the ancients, on ropalic verses and other metrical oddities, on philology and especially on the Saxon tongue in its relations to English, and on artificial mounds and barrows; there are essays on the sites of Troas, Sodom and Gomorrah, &c., on the oracular responses to Croesus; there is a grotesque Prophecy of the Future State of Several Nations; and the series closes with a paper, entitled 'Musæum Clausum, or Bibliotheca Abscondita,' that is, an enumeration of remarkable books, pictures, &c., that had never or seldom been seen by any man living. Not a few of these tracts contain good and interesting matter. The following passage, for example, from the philological tract, may stand as, even yet, a good summary of the history of our English tongue :
'The Saxons, settling all over England, maintained an uniform language, only diversified in dialects, idioms, and minor differences, according to their different nations, which came in unto the common Conquest (which may yet be a cause of the variation in the speech and words of several parts of England, where different nations most abode and settled); and, having expelled the Britons, their wars were chiefly among themselves, with little action with foreign nations until the union of the Heptarchy under Egbert: after which time, though the Danes infested this land and scarce left any part free, yet their incursions made more havoc in buildings, churches, and cities than in the language of the country, because their language was in effect the same, and such as whereby they might easily understand one another. And if the Normans, which came into Neustria, or Normandy, with Rollo the Dane, had preserved their language in their new acquists, the succeeding conquest of England by Duke William of his race had not begot among us such notable alterations: but, having lost their language in their abode in Normandy, before they adventured upon England, they confounded the English with their French, and made the grand mutation, which was successively increased by our possessions in Normandy,
Guien, and Acquitain, by our long wars in France, by frequent resort of the French, who, to the number of some thousands, came over with Isabel, queen to Edward the Second, and the several matches of England with the daughters of France before and since that time. But this commixture, though sufficient to confuse, proved not of ability to abolish the Saxon words; for from the French we have borrowed many substantives, adjectives, and some verbs, but the great body of numerals, auxiliary verbs, articles, pronouns, adverbs, conjunctions, and prepositions which are the distinguishing and lasting parts of a language-remain with us from the Saxon; which, having suffered no great alteration for many hundred years, may probably still remain, though English swell with the invasion of Italian, French, and Latin.'
To exemplify these remarks, Browne writes a number of complete English sentences, all the words in every one of which are pure Saxon. He also gives a list of provincial Norfolkshire words having a Saxon or Danish origin.
It must not be supposed, however, that in these scientific and archæological writings of Browne there is nothing but what is scientific and archæological. As he wrote these things in his library at Norwich, consulting his books, turning over his herbaria, experimenting with his cups and phials, and bent mainly on giving a form to the stores of his acquired knowledge or on completing curious investigations which he had once begun, the spirit of his earlier ruminations in the solitary Yorkshire roads still remained with him; occasionally the same old meditative mood would come back in the midst of his social cares and more mixed and miscellaneous studies; and through the merest details respecting minerals, plants, animals, relics of the historical past, and local or national customs, there would flash, as he wrote, gleams of the quenchless Platonic light. Passages in proof of this might be quoted in abundance. In all his writings, for example, there is perhaps no strain more rapt and poetical than that which concludes his tract on Urn-Burial. Here is a portion of it :
"Restless inquietude for the diuturnity of our memories unto present considerations seems a vanity almost out of date and superannuated piece of folly. We cannot hope to live so long in our names as some have done in their persons. One face of Janus holds no proportion unto the other. 'Tis too late to be ambitious. The great mutations of the world are acted, or time may be too short for our designs. To extend our memories by monuments, whose death we daily pray for and whose duration we cannot hope without injury to our expectations in the advent of the last day, were a contradiction to our beliefs. We whose generations are ordained in this setting part of time are providentially taken off from such imaginations; and, being necessitated to eye the remaining particle of futurity, are naturally constituted unto
thoughts of the next world, and cannot excusably decline the consideration of that duration which maketh pyramids pillars of snow and all that's past a moment. Circles and right lines limit and close all bodies, and the mortal right-lined circle must conclude and shut up all. There is no antidote against the opium of time, which temporally considereth all things: our fathers find their graves in our short memories, and sadly tell us how we may be buried in our survivors. Gravestones tell truth scarce forty years. Generations pass while some trees stand, and old families last not three oaks. To be read by bare inscriptions, like many in Gruter; to hope for eternity by enigmatical epithets or first letters of our names; to be studied by antiquaries, who we were, and have new names given us like many of the mummiesare cold consolations unto the students of perpetuity even by everlasting languages. . . . Darkness and light divide the course of time, and oblivion shares with memory a great part even of our living beings. We slightly remember our felicities; and the smartest strokes of affliction leave but short smart upon us. Sense endureth no extremities, and sorrows destroy us or themselves. To weep into stones are fables. Afflictions induce callosities; miseries are slippery, or fall like snow upon us; which, notwithstanding, is no unhappy stupidity. To be ignorant of evils to come and forgetful of evils past is a merciful provision in nature, whereby we digest the mixture of our few and evil days, and, our delivered senses not relapsing into cutting remembrances, our sorrows are not kept raw by the edge of repetitions. A great part of antiquity contented their hopes of subsistency with a transmigration of their souls,-a good way to continue their memories; while, having the advantage of plural successions, they could not but act something remarkable in such variety of beings, and, enjoying the fame of their last selves, make accumulation of glory unto their last durations. Others, rather than be lost in the uncomfortable night of nothing, were content to recede into the common being, and make one particle of the public soul of all things; which was no more than to return into their unknown and divine original again. Egyptian ingenuity was more unsatisfied, contriving their bodies in sweet consistencies to attend the return of their souls. But all was vanity, feeding the wind, and folly. The Egyptian mummies which Cambyses or Time hath spared, avarice now consumeth. Mummy is become merchandize; Misraim cures wounds; and Pharaoh is sold for balsams. . . . . Pious spirits, who passed their days in raptures of futurity, made little more of this world than the world that was before it while they lay obscure in the chaos of preordination and night of their forebeings. And if any have been so happy as truly to understand Christian annihilation, ecstasies, exolution, liquefaction, transformation, the kiss of the spouse, gustation of God, and ingression into the Divine shadow, they have already had an handsome anticipation of heaven; the glory of the world is surely over and the earth in ashes unto them.'
III. The Treatise on Christian Morals. But if there should be
His Christian Morals.'
any doubt that the aged and busy physician of Norwich, amid all his quaint researches as a botanist, a zoologist, a philologist and an antiquary, was still the same man who, in his youth, had occupied himself with mystic contemplations of things invisible, and had found in this exercise the only satisfying rest of his spirit, it is only necessary to read his Christian Morals in order to remove the doubt. In reading this book, we feel that we are still in the presence of the author of the Religio Medici. There are, indeed, differences between that, the work of his youth, and this, the work of his later age. The one is an exposition mainly of metaphysical and theological belief; the other is a collection of ethical maxims, assuming the faith as settled or nearly so, and embodying the results of long experience respecting the conduct to be pursued and the state of temper to be cultivated in this world. We are not sure, either, that there is evidence in the later treatise of precisely the same fixed state of belief as to points of theological doctrine as when the earlier work was written. In publishing that earlier work, the author had distinctly announced that it represented his beliefs only up to the time at which it was written; also that it contained many things delivered rhetorically rather than logically, and that it was given to the world without prejudice to the farther exercise of his judgment. It does not appear impossible that he had taken the benefit of this precaution, and that, in the course of years, his conclusions on some special points of theology had undergone a change. If there was any such change, we should be inclined to say that it was rather in the direction of a laxer adhesion to all particularities of doctrine whatever, and a determination of the mind more exclusively to those few comprehensive generalities which are esteemed sufficient for religious philosophy, though Christian theology demands more. In other words, there is more resemblance in the treatise on Christian Morals to those works of noble ethical philosophy which have been common to all ages than to treatises especially connecting ethics with the peculiarities of the Christian creed. And yet the title of the work is not an inappropriate one. It does breathe the very spirit of Christianity; and if the special tenets of systematic orthodoxy do not present themselves in the text with the same prominence as in the Religio Medici, one sees, at least, the grander doctrines of the Christian scheme rolling underneath. In this respect, the author is true to one of the injunctions of the work itself.
'Rest not in the high-strained paradoxes of old philosophers, supported by naked reason, and the reward of mortal felicity; but labour in the Ethics of Faith, built upon heavenly assistance and the happiness of both beings. Understand the rules, but swear not unto the
doctrines of Zeno or Epicurus. Look beyond Antoninus, and terminate not thy morals in Seneca or Epictetus. Let not the twelve but the two tables be thy law; let Pythagoras be thy remembrancer, not thy textuary and final instructor; and learn the vanity of the world rather from Solomon than Phocyclydes. Sleep not in the dogmas of the Peripatus, Academy, or Porticus. Be a moralist of the Mount, an Epictetus in the Faith, and Christianize thy notions.'
As the work is written throughout in this style of sententious disconnected precept-as it consists, in fact, of a little ocean of maxims rolling over one another and after one another like waves -no abstract of it is possible; and we can only illustrate its character by a few additional quotations.
'Live by old ethics and the classical rules of honesty. Put no new names or notions upon authentic virtues and vices. Think not that morality is ambulatory; that vices in one age are not vices in another, or that virtues which are under the everlasting seal of right reason may be stamped by opinion. And, therefore, though vicious times invert the opinions of things, and set up new ethics against virtue, yet hold them unto old morality; and rather than follow a multitude to do evil, stand, like Pompey's pillar, conspicuous by thyself and single in integrity. And since the worst of times afford imitable examples of virtue, since no deluge of vice is like to be so general but more than eight will escape, eye well those heroes who have held their heads above water, who have touched pitch and not been defiled, and in the common contagion have remained uncorrupted.'
"Value the judicious, and let not mere acquists in minor parts of learning gain thy pre-existimation. 'Tis an unjust way of compute, to magnify a weak head for some Latin abilities, and to undervalue a solid judgment because he knows not the genealogy of Hector. When that notable King of France would have his son to know but one sentence in Latin, had it been a good one, perhaps it had been enough. Natural parts and good judgments rule the world. States are not governed by ergotisms. Many have ruled well who could not perhaps define a commonwealth; and they who understand not the globe of the earth command a great part of it. Where natural logic prevails not, artificial too often faileth. Where nature fills the sails, the vessel goes smoothly on; and, when judgment is the pilot, the insurance need not be high. When industry builds upon nature, we may expect pyramids; when that foundation is wanting, the structure must be low. They do most by books who could do much without them; and he that chiefly owes himself unto himself is the substantial man.'
"'Tis better to think that there are guardian spirits than that there are no spirits to guard us; that vicious persons are slaves than that there is any servitude in virtue; that times past have been better than times present than that times were always bad, and that, to be men, it sufficeth to be no better than men in all ages, and so promiscuously to swim down the turbid stream and make up the grand confusion.'
'Look not for whales in the Euxine Sea, nor expect great matters