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quént life of Browne, cast though it was in a stormy time.
The civil troubles did not disturb his tranquil labours ; amid the “ drums and tramplings of conquest,“ to apply his own famous phrase, he had his “quiet rest"; for the Parliament was from the first securely established in Norfolk, and Browne, though a convinced Royalist, was the most practicable of partisans. Hardly an allusion to politics crosses his page. During the first fury of the struggle he offered the world, in the Religio, his serene exposition of a religious faith utterly remote in temper, if not in substance, from any of the contending creeds. When the Royal cause was tottering towards its final fall he came forward again to make known the results of his inquiries into the reality of the phonix and the griffin, whether swans sing before they die, and whether the right and the left legs of badgers are equally long. When the death of Cromwell at length opened a prospect of the “joyful Restoration,” Browne, silent through the whole Commonwealth period, found his voice again in a meditation upon the cinerary urns and the "elegant co-ordination of vegetables," as majestically irrelevant as Paradise Lost itself to the passions and policies of the hour. For twenty-four years after the publication of the
Hydrio taphia and the Garden of Cyrus Browne lived on, famous, wealthy, indisputably the first man in Norwich, bringing up a large family of sons who distinguished themselves, and daughters who married well. He died on his seventyseventh birthday, October 19,
1682. To the last he occasionally wrote. But it was not until 1690 that the world read his Letter tô a Friend, and not until the lapse of a generation that his Christian Morals was at length (in 1716) made known.
Men whose lives pass in such complete and unbroken harmony are not often so detached and lonely in their thought. There is no work of Browne's which can be said to reflect, or to stand in any direct relation with, any dominant body of opinion, any prevailing method of
speculation, or any defined literary tradition. Even his enthusiastic Anglicanism was, like Hobbes's theory of absolute monarchy, too deeply dyed in the curious idiosyncrasy of the thinker's brain to be congenial to plainminded adherents. In the very title of his first book, The Religion of a Physician, there lay, for contemporary ears, a certain element of paradox; for the profession was commonly reputed to have no religion. A course of medical study, he himself hints, furnished a presumption of Atheism. “ In despite of which,” he adds, “I dare without usurpation assume the honourable style of a Christian.” Our interest, as Blougram says, is “on the dangerous edge of things":
“ The honest thief, the tender murderer,
The superstitious Atheist." And the seventeenth century would have added, “the devout physician.” Browne affords this piquant interest in rich measure. Two great intellectual traditions which had for the most part run counter met in his mind in a curious, unexpected harmony-a harmony obtained without apparent commotion or forced diversion of either from its course ; as if the contending streams which in other intellects jostled each other aside or settled their differences by compromise and subterfuge had in his been transmuted into a warp and woof of differently-coloured threads, whose crossing only evolved a brilliant pattern.
Browne does, no doubt, recognise distinct provinces and procedures for his “religion” and his " philosophy," but it is misleading to class him with the “water-tight compartment” theorists, more common in the Catholic Church than in Protestantism, who allow their
to have no dealings with their “faith,” nor their “faith” with their s reason.” The water-tight compartments” with him have many valves and sluices, and the sustaining water flows readily to and fro. What was most vital both in his religion and in his speculation sprang from the same root -an imaginative sympathy with every form of existence,
allured by the remote, arrested by the singular, fascinated by the marvellous. “I am of a constitution so general," he tells us in one of the famous opening sentences of the second part of the Religio, “that it consorts and sympathizeth with all things. I was born in the eighth Climate, but seem for to be framed and constellated unto all. All places, all airs, make unto me one Country ; I am in England everywhere and under any Meridian.”
This is not the temperament of a keen critic, and Browne's intellect was always rather the servant and minister of his temperamental needs and impulses than their controller and curb. A useful and efficient servant, inexhaustible in the quest of curious learning, posting over land and ocean without rest at the bidding of that lordly and eager imagination, and always ready, when its superior needed exhilarating exercise, to take the foils and be discreetly overcome. “'Tis my solitary recreation,” cries Browne, in a sort of epicurean rapture, “to pose my apprehension with those involved Ænigmas and riddles of the Trinity. . .. I can answer all the Objections of Satan and my rebellious reason with that odd resolution I learned of Tertullian, .Certum est, quia impossibile est.'" It might be said of Browne that he thought with his imagination, so potent are its intuitions in determining the texture of his faith. A suggestive similitude will at any time more than half capture his assent. The allegorical description of God as a circle whose centre is everywhere and its circumference nowhere “pleaseth me beyond all the Metaphysical definitions of Divines.” And no visionary speculation of mystic or Platonist appealed in vain to Sir Thomas Browne. Man was the microcosm of the universe ; the visible world a picture of the invisible; and in "that vulgar and Tavern musick, which makes one man merry, another mad,” he discovered, with awed rapture,
an Hieroglyphical and shadowed lesson of the whole World. ... Such a melody to the ear as the whole World, well understood, would afford the understanding ;
in brief, a sensible fit of that harmony which intellectually sounds in the ears of God.”
To say that Browne " thought with his imagination” is only to say that his supreme merit belongs to literature, not to philosophy. Still less did it belong to science. If the author of the Religio Medici stood aloof from his age, the laborious inquirer into “Vulgar Errors" stood far behind it. The lofty assumption, in the preface, of Baconian phrases about the need of first-hand experience and the fallacies of tradition and authority, is in piquant contrast with the meanderings of Browne's inquiring intellect, just one step more emancipated than the “vulgar," whose erroneous beliefs about phenixes and griffins, after anxiously weighing all the possibilities, he decides, as it were by the turning of a hair, to be wrong. It is the old story of Apollo leaving his Parnassian haunts to stray across the severe threshold of Academe, insufficiently equipped with the geometry requisite there. And the sages of the English Academe did not hesitate to make the respected intruder understand that he was out of place." In an interesting section of his admirable life of Browne, just published, Mr. Gosse has plausibly surmised that his absence from the roll of members of the Royal Society was due to a deliberate determination of the committee to exclude him.
The line between literature and science was then indecisively drawn, and Browne's letters to the secretary make it tolerably evident that he would have liked to join a body few of whom could rival the natural history collections of his Norwich home, while still fewer probably could claim, as he could, to have dared dyspepsia or worse, for Science's sake, by experimental meals upon spiders and bees. A distinguished son of his own was, moreover, a member. But it may be that the real rock of offence was just that which has become the corner-stone of his fame-his style. It is well known how peremptorily the newly-founded Royal Society set its face ag nst the old sumptuous and elaborate prose, with its “amplifica
tions, digressions, and swellings of style," and did its best to recover “ the primitive purity and shortness, when men delivered so many things almost in an equal number of words.” It accordingly “exacted from all its members a close, naked, natural way of speaking; positive expressions
.. bringing all things as near the mathematical plainness as they can.” So writes Sprat, the historian of the Society, and one of its earliest Fellows. It is hard to believe that Browne's splendour of apparel was not expressly glanced at by this advocate of nakedness. But we are not further concerned with his criticism. For Browne's ends and aims his writing is incomparable. It is not a cumbrous and artificial way of conveying facts, any more than a symphony is a vague and equivocal way of telling a story. Like music, it creates and suggests more than it articulately expresses.
If there is any English prose which it is not wholly profane to compare with a symphony of Beethoven, it is surely the magnificent discourse of the Hydriotaphia, with its vast undulations of rhythmic sound, its triumphal processions, its funereal pageants, its abysmal plunges into unfathomable depths, its ecstatic soarings to the heights of heaven.
C. H. HERFORD.
EDITOR'S NOTE.—The foregoing introduction is based upon an essay written for Browne's Tercentenary and published in the Manchester Guardian; and some passages of it are here reproduced by kind permission of the Editor and publishers of that journal.
The following list comprises the published works of Sir
Thomas Browne (1605-1682) as originally issued :
Religio Medici, probably written in 1635, published, surrepti. tiously, 1642; authorised edition, 1643 ; Pseudodoxia Epidemica, or Enquiries into very many received tenets and com. monly-presumed truths, which examined prove but Vulgar and Common Errors, 1646; Hydriotaphia, Urn urial; or a Dis. course of the Sepulchral Urns lately found in Norfolk, 1658 ; The Garden of Cyrus; or the Quincuncial Lozenge, network