« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
His 'Christian Morals.'
where they are not to be found. Seek not for profundity in shallowness, or fertility in a wilderness. Place not the expectations of great happiness here below, or think to find heaven on earth; wherein we must be content with embryon felicities and questions of doubtful faces for the circle of our felicities makes but short arches. In every clime we are in a Periscian state; and, with our light, our shadows and darkness walk about us. Our contentments stand on the tops of pyramids ready to fall off, and the insecurity of their enjoyments abrupteth our tranquillities. What we magnify is magnificent but like to the Colossus, noble without, stuft with rubbage and coarse metal within. Even the sun, whose glorious outside we behold, may have dark and smoky entrails. In vain we admire the lustre of anything seen; that which is truly glorious is invisible.'
'Desert not thy title to a divine particle and union with invisibles. Let true knowledge and virtue tell the lower world thou art a part of the higher. Let thy thoughts be of things which have not entered into the hearts of beasts; think of things long past and long to come; acquaint thyself with the choragium of the stars, and consider the vast expansion beyond them. Let intellectual tubes give thee a glance of things which visive organs reach not. Have a glimpse of incomprehensibles, and thoughts of things which thoughts but tenderly touch. Lodge immaterials in thy head; ascend unto invisibles; fill thy spirit with spirituals, with the mysteries of faith, the magnalities of religion, and thy life with the honour of God; without which, though giants in wealth and dignity, we are but dwarfs and pigmies in humanity, and may hold a pitiful rank in that triple division of mankind into heroes, men, and beasts. For, though human souls are said to be equal, yet is there no small inequality in their operations. Some maintain the allowable station of men; many are far below it; and some have been so divine as to approach the apogeum of their natures and to be in the confinium of spirits.'
From the foregoing survey, cursory as it has been, of the chief writings of Sir Thomas Browne, it cannot be but that some image of the man has formed itself in the mind of the reader. That he was a good man, a man of gentle soul, and true and serious and pious life among his fellows, it is impossible to doubt. When he died, Norwich must have lost one of its worthiest citizens, and England one of the select among its quiet and retiring spirits. As little, on the same evidence, would it be possible to deny that the man was considerable intellectually. The age in which he lived and wrote was the age of Milton and Hobbes and Butler and Cowley and Jeremy Taylor and Barrow and Cudworth and Dryden, and not a few others of not much inferior celebrity in the history of our literature. Yet even among these Browne must be admitted to hold no mean place. He had learning, he had speculative capacity, he had wit and fancy; and the writings he has left behind him are such as
may be read with delight by all who can appreciate the combination of scholarship with bright and ingenious thought, and a power of happy, eloquent, and picturesque expression. His style is rich, free, and vivacious; and the Latinisms and other neologisms with which it abounds, come so flowingly from his pen, and are freighted with conceptions which they carry so easily and naturally, and which are in themselves so fresh and welcome, that any one who might wish to oppose the views of those who are for reducing us back in our speech to our sinewy original Saxon, and debarring us from Latin vocables as unnecessary, could not do better than adduce Browne as an example bearing somewhat to the contrary. One feels that his Latinisms, though sometimes overdone, come with thoughts which could hardly have come at all otherwise; and so, that here again, as in other cases, the quarrel with Latinism in style is really a quarrel with certain modes of thinking, and is valid only in so far as that is valid.
Coming, however, to particulars, one would like to define, if possible, those characteristic peculiarities in Browne, as a man and as a writer, which are felt to distinguish him from most of his eminent contemporaries, and the general impression of which is present with us whenever we speak of him. Comparison of intellectual size apart, he was a very different man from Milton, or Hobbes, or Butler, or Cowley, or Jeremy Taylor, or Barrow, or Cudworth, or Dryden-more different from some of them perhaps than from others, but visibly different from them all. It is one of his maxims that men's names should not be their only distinctions, but that every man should be something that all other men are not, and individual in something else besides his name. The maxim is one which might be better stated as a fact; but, fact or maxim, we are called upon to remember it in connexion with himself. The name Thomas Browne happens to be more common among us than such names as John Milton, Thomas Hobbes, Abraham Cowley, Jeremy Taylor, Isaac Barrow, Ralph Cudworth, and John Dryden. We have, in our catalogue of British authors, Thomas Brown the metaphysician, and Tom Brown the wit. All the more necessary is it to remember that our author wrote his name with an e to it, and that he was Sir Thomas Browne of Norwich.
One peculiarity about Browne was indubitably that which we have taken the liberty to call his unusual molluscousness. We asserted this as one of his peculiarities at the outset, and our sketch of his life and writings must have borne out the assertion. In a time of universal perturbation, he was perhaps the least perturbed man in England; at a period when almost all that came from the printing-press in England was controversial in its
tenor or bore some visible reference to the passing political and social agony, he alone, one might say, sent to the printing-press writings which, now that we read them, seem placidly irrelevant to the contemporary uproar. Hitherto we have been content to point out this as a mere fact, and to associate it with a name, keeping in reserve a very curious passage from Browne himself, which may enable us to understand it better. In that part of his Religio Medici, where he discourses on the nature and obligation of charity, Browne thus speaks of himself:
'Now, for that other virtue of Charity, without which Faith is a mere notion and of no existence, I have ever endeavoured to nourish the merciful disposition and humane inclination I borrowed from my parents, and regulate it to the written and prescribed laws of charity. And, if I hold the true anatomy of myself, I am delineated and naturally framed to such a piece of virtue, for I am of a constitution so general that it consents and sympathizeth with all things. I have no antipathy, or rather idiosyncrasy, in diet, humour, air, anything. I wonder not at the French for their dishes of frogs, snails, and toadstools, nor at the Jews for locusts and grasshoppers; but, being amongst them, make them my common viands; and I find they agree with my stomach as well as theirs. I could digest a salad gathered in a churchyard as well as in a garden. I cannot start at the presence of a serpent, scorpion, lizard, or salamander; at the sight of a toad or viper I find in me no desire to take up a stone to destroy them. I feel not in myself those common antipathies that I can discover in others those national repugnances do not touch me, nor do I behold with prejudice the French, Italian, Spaniard, or Dutch; but where I find their actions in balance with my countrymen's, I honour, love, and embrace them in the same degree. I was born in the eighth climate, but seem to be framed and constituted unto all. I am no plant that will not prosper out of a garden. All places, all airs, make unto me one country; I am in England everywhere and under any meridian. I have been shipwrecked, yet am not enemy with the sea or winds: I can study, play, or sleep in a tempest. In brief, I am averse from nothing: my conscience would give me the lie if I should say I absolutely detest or hate any essence, but the Devil; or so, at least, abhor anything but that we might come to a composition.'
To the same effect are many incidental passages and phrases scattered through all Browne's works. Thus, in one place, 'I can behold vice without a satire;' and, again, 'I can hold there 'is no such thing as injury; and, again, Methinks there is no man bad, no man's mind of so discordant and jarring a temper to which a tuneable disposition may not strike a harmony.' In short, it is clear not only that the philosopher of Norwich was, by constitution, the reverse of what his admirer, Johnson, said he liked a good hater;' but, also, that he dissented theo
retically from this much-vaunted Johnsonian principle. For our part, we like him none the less on this account. We are inclined to think that, on a strict investigation, the Johnsonian principle, excellent enough in epigram, would not stand its ground in philosophy; or, at all events, that, on a due examination of the history of the human mind as manifested in literature, it would be found that the 'good haters' do not hold the highest, but only at most the second rank. This is not the place, however, to discuss so profound a question in the science of character. Neither is it the place to inquire how Browne's views about the relativeness of evil are to be reconciled with other parts of his belief. It is sufficient to note, that in the description given above of his character we have the key to that peculiarity of his intellectual and literary life which we are now considering. Whether hatred is intellectual strength, or intellectual weakness, a man cannot lead the life of a partisan without it. However the case may stand with the philosopher or the poet, the efficient social functionary must be a man who hates, and who knows what he hates. The only essence which Browne could conscientiously say he hated was the Devil; and against him, in his own way, he did fight. But the Devil is a widely-diffused and very subtle essence; and, in the warfare of the social world, they fight best who have least uncertainty as to where he lurks, or perhaps least belief in the equability of his diffusion.
Subordinate to this all-affecting moral peculiarity in Browne, though connected with it as a cause, was the fact of a peculiar configuration of intellect. There were undoubtedly other men of his time and one or two of those above-named might be cited among the number-who bore some resemblance to him in respect of calmness and imperturbability during that period of strife and vicissitude. But even from those who came nearest to him in this respect he differed intellectually. To use his own phrase, his head was an extravagant and irregular' one. haps it was so literally and physically. Perhaps a phrenologist, on an inspection of his cranium, would have found wit, ideality, wonder, and veneration unusually large in it, benevolence, comparison and some of the perceptive organs also large, and causality and some other such organs moderate. At all events, we may talk so, in describing him from his writings. Or, abandoning such easy and offhand language, and using instead another popular form of speech, equally lax but as expressive, we may say that his intellect was of the Platonic rather than of the Aristotelian type. It was an intellect working in unison with the imagination and affections; an intellect whose most potent force was a kind of poetic instinct of analogy; an intellect loving
to see its objects looming through an atmosphere of mystery, and so delighting to end its reasonings in anO altitudo! that it was often nothing loth to make an end in the middle, and content itself prematurely and consciously with an allegory or adumbration. Coleridge and others who have had a fondness for this type of intellect have provided a somewhat ex parte name for it, by their well-known distinction between the Reason as peculiarly the Platonic and the Understanding as peculiarly the Aristotelian faculty. With those who rely on this distinction Sir Thomas Browne has always been a favourite, though by no means the most superb, instance of the Platonic order of mind. It is sufficient for us here if we say simply that his intellect had a tendency to the mystic in it, and worked habitually in alliance with the imagination.
This peculiarly constituted intellect he applied, in part, as we have seen, to natural history and the kindred sciences of his time. And here there might arise a very interesting controversy. With an intellect constituted as we have described it, was Browne in his proper element in natural history or in any other form of science commonly so called? According to some, he was not. According to some, it is not that kind of intellect which works in alliance with any high degree of the affections or of the imagination, and whose most potent instrument is the sense of poetic analogy, that is fitted either for physical or for hard metaphysical science. A man who loves to lose himself in a wonder, whose intellectual terminus ad quem is an 'O altitudo ! and who consequently is under a temptation to come to an end as soon as possible, and to make his exclamation and his ascent as soon as he sees mist, is, say they, not the man from whom the sciences can have much hope. On the contrary, they say, it is the men who are constitutionally insensible to the emotional and poetic relations of phenomena, or who have trained themselves to neglect them, that win triumphs in science. It is the men who think solely of the relations of number, weight, causal sequence, and the like, and who can detain a fact never so sublime in their hard mathematical or other intellectual pincers till they have done with it, that make scientific discoveries! In illustration of this they point to the example of Newton as the highest type of the strictly scientific mind. On the other hand, there are not wanting men who maintain a contrary theory, and, as against Newton, set up Kepler. Such instances, they hold, prove that minds of the mystic, or impassioned, or highly poetic cast may do great things in science, and this through the very instrumentality of their quest of the wonderful, and their sensibility to analogies of every order. Whether Browne, therefore,