網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

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 against the old sumptuous and elaborate prose, with its "amplifica

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

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 à 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 Burial; or a Discourse of the Sepulchral Úrns lately found in Norfolk, 1658; The Garden of Cyrus; or the Quincuncial Lozenge, network

plantations of the Ancients, Artificially, Naturally, Mystically Considered, 1658.

Miscellany Tracts, being mostly letters on a variety of subjects, the greater number of which are addressed to Sir Nicholas Bacon, 1684.

Letter to a Friend upon occasion of the death of his intimate friend, 1690; Posthumous Works, 1712; Christian Morals, 1716.

Works: Folio Edition, 1686; Complete Collections, ed. Pickering, 1835-36.

[ocr errors]
« 上一頁繼續 »