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to the mind. His power, like that of death, levels distinctions; for he looks into the soul of things, instead of contemplating merely their external forms. Can any thing be said of the ruins of Babylon equal to the following celebration of a few sepulchral urns? "Now since tl^e dead bpnes have already outlasted the living ones of Methuselah, and in a yard underground, and thin walls of clay, outworn all the strong and spacious buildings above it; and quietly rested under the drums and tramplings of three conquests: What prince can promise such diuturnity unto his reliques, or might not gladly say,
"Sic ego componi versus in assa velim?
"Time, which antiquates antiquities, and hath an art to make dust of all things, hath yet. spared these minor monuments." Thus, by shewing that the lowliest things have consecrating associations equal to the stateliest, he vindicates to Nature and Time, those regalities which we are prone to attribute to stupendous remains of human skill, as if they appertained to them as inherent properties, and were not merely shed on them by hallowing years.
But Sir Thomas Browne finds matter of deeper speculation in the regions of the grave, than any to which we have yet particularly alluded. He derives the nobleness of our nature, even from its mortality on earth. In the most opposite ceremonials, he traces the spirit of a higher and more perfect life. Thus he treats the disregard of interment, as evincing a sense that the frame was but the shell of a finer essence, and the solemnities of burial as proving that man in extending his cares beyond death, displays the instinct of future being. Every thing with him has a profound and sacred meaning. He embodies the abstractions of humanity in the stateliest forms, elevating even the brevity of existence into a distinct being, and endowing it with venerable attributes. Past and Present, Life and Dissolution, Time and Immortality, seem to meet in his works, as in a fane, "for festal purpose decked with unrejoicing berries!" He thus immortalizes transitoriness, and makes oblivion sublime:
"Oblivion is not to be hired: the greater part must be content to be as though they had not been, to be found in the register of God, not in the record of man. Twenty-seven names make up the first story, and the ri-corded names ever since contain not one living century. The number of the dead long exceedeth all that shall live. The night of time far surpasseth the day, and who knows when was the tequinox? Every hour adds unto that current arithmetic^, which scarce stands one moment. And since death must be the Lucina of life, and even pagans could doubt whether thus to live were to die; since our longest sun sets at right descensions, and makes but winter arches, and therefore it cannot be long before we lie down in darkness, and have our light in ashes 5 since the brother of death daily haunts us with dying mementos, and time that grows old itself, bids us hope no long duration: diuturnity is a dream and folly of expectation."
Can any thing be more ingenious, yet more solemn, more quaint, yet more impressive, than the following dissuasive trom anxiety for earthly renown?
"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 thenext world, and cannot excusably decline the consideration of that duration, which maketh pyramids pillars of snow, and all that's past a moment."
What reflections can be more strange, yet more familiar, than the following speculations on human life; entering into the deepest solemnities of our mortal being, and daring to take advantage of those riddles of humanity, which meaner moralists scarce venture to imagine?
"If the nearness of our last necessity, brought a nearer conformity unto it, there were a happiness in hoary hairs, and no calamity in half senses. But the long habit of living indisposeth us for dying— when avarice makes us the sport of death, when even David grew politickly cruel, and Solomon could hardly be said to be the wisest of men. But many are too early old, and before the date of age. Adversity stretcheth our days, misery makes Alcmena's nights, [one night as long as three] and time hath no wings unto it. But the most tedious being is that which can unwish itself, content to be nothing, or never to have been, which was beyond the mal-content of Job, who cursed not the day of his life, but his nativity; content to have so far been, as to have a title to future being; although he had lived here but in a hidden state of life, and as it were an abortion.
"What song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzzling questions, are not beyond all conjecture. What time the persons of these ossuaries entered the famous nations of the dead, and slept with princes and counsellors, might admit a wide solution. But who were the proprietors of these bones, or what bodies these ashes made up, were a question above antiquarism—not to be resolved by man, nor easily perhaps by spirits, except we consult the Provincial Guardians, or Tutelary Observators. Had they made as good provision for their names as they have done for their reliques, they had not so grossly erred in the art of perpetuation; but to subsist in bones, and be but pyramidally extant, is a fallacy in duration. Vain ashes, which in the oblivion of names, persons, times, and sexes, have found unto themselves a fruitless continuation, and only arise unto late posterity, as emblems of mortal vanities; antidotes against pride, vain glory, and madding vices. Pagan vain glories which thought the world might last for ever, had encouragement for ambition, and finding no Atropos unto the immortality of their names, were never dampt with the necessity of oblivion. Even old ambitions had tbe advantage of ours, in the attempts of their vaiD-glories, who acting early and before the probable meridian of time, have by this time found great accomplishment of their designs, whereby the ancient heroes have already out-lasted their monuments, and mechanical preservations. But in this latter scene of time we cannot expect such mummies unto our memories, when ambition may fear the prophecy of Elias, and Charles the Fifth can never hope to live within two Methuselahs of Hector."
He proceeds to argue against the passionate desire of fame, from the slender relics which it usually embalms of its followers. "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 to us like some of the mummies, are cold consolations unto the students of perpetuity, even by everlasting languages." He unmasks the frigid ambition of those, who desire merely to be known as having been. "Who," he demands, " cares to subsist like Hippocrates's patients, or Achilles' horses in Homer, under naked nominations, without deserts or noble acts, which are the balsam of our memories, the Entelechia and soul of our subsistences? To be nameless in worthy deeds, exceeds an infamous history." What moral sublimity is here! And with how noble a glimpse into the night of forgotten things, — a halflifting of the veil of oblivion,—does he ask, "who knows whether the best of men be known? or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot, than any that stand remembered in the known account of time?" Having, with further richness of illustration, and quaint philosophy, shewn the uncertainty of all human memorials of the dead, he holds a question with man's immortality after death, and retaining all reverential belief in future life, yet seems to hesitate whether God hath promised a duration absolutely endless. From this high speculation, he recalls himself to the nobleness of man, as evinced by the solemnities of burial, taking the grave stone for his faith to lean on, and for his hope's moveless resting place—" But man is a noble animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave, solemnizing nativities and deaths with equal lustre, and not omitting ceremonies of bravery in the infamy of his nature."
How stupendous is the following moralizing on human afflictions, on the Pythagorean phantasies, on Egyptian contrivances for preservation of the earthly frame, and on the vain hopes of men to perpetuate their memories in the changeless movements of the stars.
"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 passed 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 publick 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 consistences, 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 merchandise, Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharaoh is sold for balsams.
"In vain do individuals hope for immortality, or any patent from oblivion, in preservations below the moon; men have been deceived even in their flatteries above the sun, and studied conceits to perpetuate their names in heaven. The various cosmography of that part hath already varied the names of contrived constellations; Nimrod is lost in Orion, and Osyris in the Dog-star. While we look for incorruption in the heavens, we find they are but like the earth—durable in their main bodies, alterable in their parts: whereof beside comets and new stars, perspectives begin to tell tales. And the spots that wander about the sun, with Phaeton's favour, would make clear conviction."
Sir Thomas Browne has been contrasted with Bishop Jeremy Taylor, who like him wrote on death, and delighted to contemplate the symbols of man's decay. But no two things can be more opposite than their modes of treating the sacred theme. Jeremy Taylor broods only over the surface of the subject, and tinges it with roseate hues. He enters not the recesses of the grave, but moralizes at its entrance. While Sir Thomas Browne rakes among the bones for some strange relic in the deep bed of mortality; the most christian of bishops gently gathers the sweet flowers which peep forth on the green above it. The former ransacks antiquity, and the hidden corners of strange learning for his illustrations; the latter steals the ready smile of some sleeping child, or the modest bloom of a virgin cheek. The imagination of Sir Thomas Browne reflects the faded forms of old, half forgotten things.; that of Jeremy Taylor is overspread with the blushing tints of aerial beauty, like a lake beneath'the sweetest sky of evening, in which the very multitude of lovely shadows prevent any one clear and majestic image from appearing unbroken. The first carries us out' of ourselves into the grand abstractions of our nature; the last touches the pulses of individual joy, and awakens delicious musings and indistinct emotions of serious delight, such " as make a chrysome child to smile." In the works of Browne, we hear " ancestral voices;" in those of Taylor, we listen to the sweet warblings of the angelic choir. Sir Thomas Browne does not shed sweet radiance on the stream of life—but he fathoms its most awful deeps, and thence discovers, that it rises not within the horizon of sense, but hath its source in other worlds, and will continue its mystic windings far beyond the shadows of death, which limit our present vision.
Art. VIII. Hieronymi Cardani Mediolanensis de Propria Vita Liber. Amstelasdami, Apud Joannem Ravesteinum. 1654. 12mo, pp. 288.
We cannot conceive a more interesting, or more appropriate employment for a man in the decline of life, than to sit down to write the history of his own actions, his feelings, his thoughts, and his adventures—to think over the early time of his youth—to call back the recollection of companions and friends, dead, distant, or nearly forgotten—to trace his designs in their origin and progress, their completion or disappointment, and compare himself with himself in the several changeful acts of his existence. This is seldom done. Specimens of auto-biography are rare, and valuable as rare. Yet old age is proverbially garrulous; and the desire of being remembered after death is as universal as man himself. To counteract the effect of dispositions so likely to produce communications as these, there must operate some powerful and general causes—which may probably, in some small measure, be found in a very common indisposition in'men, who are not accustomed to commit their thoughts to writing, or who are not authors by profession, to put pen to paper, in