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His Characteristics.

171 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.'

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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

Sir Thomas Browne of Norwich.

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, Perwonder, 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

His Characteristics.


to see its objects looming through an atmosphere of mystery, and so delighting to end its reasonings in an 'O 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 distinc-/ tion 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,

Sir Thomas Browne of Norwich.

was fitted to be a successful labourer in natural science, is to be decided, they would say, not by any preconception against him as a man intellectually out of his element in that species of labour, but by an examination of his actual scientific writings. In such an examination, too, various things are to be remembered. It is to be remembered that he did not profess to be a man wholly and solely devoted to scientific investigation and discovery, but only a collector in his leisure of miscellaneous scientific facts, with now and then a thought or experiment of his own by way of original contribution. It is to be remembered, also, that he lived and wrote almost before the rise of true mathematical and experimental science in Britain, and that, if in his writings there occur passages conceived in a spirit and couched in language now totally obsolete, he does not differ in this from those of his contemporaries to whom it is quite usual now for the historians of science to accord a high degree of respect. On the whole, if his scientific writings are a good record of much of the physical knowledge of his time, and if here and there they contain, as they do, shrewd hints and pregnant anticipations, that is as much as we could expect. remark that he himself, in his anticipations of the future proIt is interesting also to gress of science, seemed to rely most on the spirit of strict inquiry, and cautious and cold experiment. fantastic mind, he said, might make 'happy gashes,' but the main A discursive and body of solid results were to be looked for from the slow operations of hard persevering reason.

But, whatever may be thought of Browne's merits as a scientific writer and thinker of the seventeenth century, this is not the character in which he is destined to live in our literature. He is one of those men the main effect of whose writings is that they illustrate, and refresh in us as we read them, the eternal distinction that there is between what is possible in science and what is necessary in philosophy. There are among us who would obliterate this distinction, and who maintain that the sole matter of our thoughts as men ought to be what we definitely know and can rationally comprehend respecting the world in which we move. The consummation of wisdom, they think, is in a return, after a better fashion, to the philosophy of Shakespeare's Barnardine

'He apprehends no farther than this world,
And squares his life according.'

It is the very reverse of this philosophy in any form that could
be given to it that Sir Thomas Browne teaches. He was himself
a living violation of it, and all that he wrote is conceived in the

His Characteristics.


spirit of a protest against it. 'Desert not,' he says, 'thy title to a divine particle and union with invisibles.' 'Let intel'lectual tubes,' he says, 'give thee a glance of things which 'visive organs reach not.' 'Have a glimpse,' he says, 'of incomprehensibles; lodge immaterials in thy head; ascend unto 'invisibles; fill thy spirit with spirituals.' The essence of all his teaching is contained in these little sentences; and he lived on the maxims which he taught. Deity,, angels, eternity, infinity, immortality, the resurrection, and the judgment-these were the thoughts in which he loved to lose himself; they alone were the realities, and nature and life the mere flitting phantasmagory through which they could be seen. To study the relations of the various parts of nature within itself was well, but the main relations were those connecting nature as a whole with that which was before it, above it, and beyond it! These were the relations, this was the mystery, which he delighted to contemplate. Whoever viewed nature and life otherwise than with a mind saturated with these contemplations, and to whom his own paltry existence of seventy years, or even the whole history of all the generations of men, appeared otherwise than as a momentary manifestation in one shape of something which had its beginning before the ages, would have its end after them, and meanwhile was looked down upon by invisible intelligences, whose thoughts interpenetrated the brief confusion, and the rustle of whose wings might almost be heard in it, that man, he believed, was destitute of the true sense of being. Such being his doctrine, it is evident that by all who do receive the Barnardine philosophy in any form as the true one, his writings can be regarded only as fantastic and obsolete moonshine. If the notion of the supernatural, and all the various names and terms, such as 'Deity,' 'the soul,' &c., in which this notion has been embodied and perpetuated are, as some say, but the dregs and relics of a mode of thinking characteristic of one stage of the human evolution, but destined to be gradually purged out of our language as science marches on into the field of organic and social life, just as the terms 'phlogiston,' 'lapidifying spirits,' and the like, have been already extinguished during parts of the march already gone over; then, certainly, Browne's meditative and philosophic writings are but in the same predicament as his scientific writings, and are chiefly, if not solely, interesting as records marking the progress of thought at the epoch to which they belong. So far as the interest exceeds this, it can depend only on the greater inherent interest of the object-matter of his religious and speculative writings as compared with the scientific, or the greater nearness in which we

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