« 上一頁繼續 »
originality ; they also make it easy to understand the mood in which, a year or two after his return to England, Browne composed, as a sort of private confession, for his own behoof, the Religio Medici. According to the most authentic tradition it was written at Shipden Hall, Halifax-an old house and park, since somewhat rudely encroached upon by industry. Its date is fixed with some precision in the year 1635 by one of the spacious stellar similitudes its author loves. “As yet,” he remarks incidentally, “I have not seen one revolution of Saturn, nor hath my pulse beat thirty years ;" '-a double mode of reckoning in which we seem to catch the far-off murmur of generations of mediæval doctors, prescribing for the unhappy patient with their eyes on the midnight horizon, and cupping him at the bidding of the stars. But the mediæval chord vibrates incessantly in Browne, by whatever richer and rarer notes it be accompanied and outsung.
The Religio Medici was not designed for publication; and it had been read with delight in MS. by a steadily enlarging circle of friends for several years before the indiscretion of one of them gave the eager printer his chance. A pirated edition appeared in December, 1642, followed, early in 1643, by the appearance of the authentic text, which Browne in alarm had hastened to supply, characteristically enough, tc no other than the erring but scarcely penitent pirate himself. The book's fame spread with a rapidity then almost unexampled. Sir Kenelm Digby's account of how he sent his man out to buy a copy, received it at bed-time, read it in rapt excitement through the night-watches, and rose early to write his hundred and more pages of Observations, takes us across two centuries to the days when people fought for Old Mortality and the Heart of Midlothian. A Latin translation, made in Holland, gave the Religio the franchise of the Continent.
The harsher dogmatisms of the age did not fail to resent Browne's sweet reasonableness to heretics and papists ; and the formidable Alexander Ross, in the Medicus Medicatus, drove his heavy bludgeon this way and that
through the tenuous fabric of the Religio without damaging a whit its spiritual substance :
" For it was as the air invulnerable,
When the Religio was thus at length tardily sent forth, Brown had been for some years established as a physician at Norwich, with a thriving practice and considerable private means. He had also married, in 1641, and the mild scorn expressed in the Religio for “that trivial and vulgar way of union” does not appear to have prevented Thomas and Dorothy Browne from enjoying an exceedingly happy married life. Browne's view of woman and her place was, indeed, as uncompromisingly masculine as Milton's, if more quaintly and pleasantly expressed. For him, too, Man was “the whole world, and the Breath of God; Woman the Rib and crooked piece of man." He wrote this while still a bachelor, but even after four years of marriage we find him, in the Vulgar Errors, speculating curiously on God's purpose in creating Eve “as a helpmeet" to Adam. It can only have been, he opines, in view of their function as the future parents of mankind ; "for as for any other help, it had been better to have made another man."
It is clear that Browne, who showed in his speculative enterprises so much of the temper of romance, was not dangerously romantic in private life. He loved to feed his imagination on mysteries, and brood ecstatically in a Platonic page of the Religio (ii. 6) over the mystery of friendship, two bodies and one soul. But one suspects that love and friendship alike were in him only specialized varieties of that diffused kindliness which he extended to all forms of sentient life except “ the Devil” and “the Multitude,” embracing in his sympathy the Spaniard and the Jew, and owning a benign fellowship with the Viper and the Toad. Such a temperament promised a life not very rich in the drama of conflict which for many men makes three-fourths of its interest, but one securely and serenely harmonious. And such was, in fact, the subse
quent 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 phenix 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 to 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 “reason” to have no dealings with their “faith,” nor their "faith” with their 66 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;